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Classification Romance (H/M), AU
Length Approx 3,500 words, 8 pages (8 ˝” x 11”)
Spoilers Sequel to “Five Whispered Words”.  Almost any episode through Season 8 might be referenced.
 
Rating CF
Summary Mac emerges victorious from one of the hardest battles of her life.

 



PT wing, Bethesda Naval Hospital

Spring 2003

 

Mac stood at one end of the walkway she had come to think of as "the gauntlet", breathing slowly, deliberately, steeling herself for the task at hand, yet savoring the moment and cataloging all the details. She wanted to remember everything about this moment. Today was the day of her rebirth. For the first time in nine months she would walk unassisted: no crutches, no cane, no brace, save the tiny neoprene sleeve on her right knee, no parallel bars, no nothing. She had taken a few steps, but never had she traversed the entire length of the gauntlet without a handrail or a helping hand. Today was the day. She was sure she could do it. She bent and laid her cane on the ground and straightened up. She closed her eyes, mentally preparing herself for this last hurdle, the culmination of months of pain and triumph, heartache and love.

The journey had started when she got caught in the open during a mortar attack. A piece of shrapnel had torn through her leg, fracturing her femur and patella and destroying the muscle, tendons and ligaments in its path. The damage to her knee had been extensive and the doctors had been unable to guarantee that she would ever regain full mobility. The months of uncertainty had been the most difficult of her life. She had worked so hard to wrest control of her life from the bottom of a bottle that she felt cheated when control was stripped from her again. She had no choice but to re-enter the fray.

Somehow she had emerged victorious, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, each fire consuming her and then somehow fueling her reincarnation. She had risen from a wheelchair, through a series of braces and crutches, each time stronger and more confident. Through two "tune-up" surgeries which had set her back a month or more, she pushed upward, unwilling to back down until she had achieved a full comeback.

And all along, there was Harm. The words they had whispered to each other through her drug induced haze all those months ago had sustained them. Neither had backed away though they had ample opportunity. No. He had been with her through every setback and every victory, cheering her when she forged ahead and catching her when she faltered, walking with her every step of the way. His actions made his feelings clear as nothing else could. He loved her and she loved him. They rarely said the words, except in the privacy of intimate moments, but they both knew they would never willingly part.

She opened her eyes and stared down the gauntlet to where he stood, waiting expectantly, like a father watching his baby's first steps. She smiled, involuntarily, at the appropriateness of that particular metaphor. She opened and closed her fists, willing herself to stay calm and focused. She sighed as a hand gently touched her elbow, breaking her from her reverie.

"You ready, Mac?"

Mac turned toward Lt. Linda Jones, her therapist, nodded slowly and turned back toward Harm, who smiled gently at her from the end of walkway. She steeled herself one more time, her determination firmly in place. "Let's do this," she announced to nobody in particular.

She took a tentative step, easing her weight onto her right foot. Waiting until she was sure of her footing, she lifted the left off the ground bearing all her weight on her right leg. It held. Elated, she took another careful step, and another and another. Still, the leg worked as designed. It took her weight without real pain. She looked away from the ground to steal a glance at Harm. He smiled and she returned it. Halfway there, she was halfway there. She took another step and stumbled. Linda reached for her arm but Mac stopped her with a glare. She regained her footing and let out the breath she had been holding. She regrouped for a moment and then took another step. Her knee twinged as it took the weight. The pain was not unexpected, yet she hesitated, unsure of her footing.

"You ok?" Linda asked.

Mac glanced at her and then at Harm. He raised his eyebrows. She smiled at him and nodded to Linda. "I'm ok."

She took another deep breath and took another step. The pain flashed again. She sucked in her breath and continued walking, carefully, slowly toward the finish line, each step more difficult than the last. She glanced at Harm again. He nodded his reassurance. She estimated the number of steps until she reached the end: fifteen, just fifteen more steps. She stopped, regrouping again.

Linda reached for her again and Mac shook her off. "I'm fine. I can do this." Linda backed away.

As Mac took another step, her damaged quads began to protest. She felt sweat beading on her upper lip. Her leg began to tremble. She bit her lip and kept going. She knew this would be tough but she had to finish. She had to do it. She would do it. Just like boot camp, there was no pain in her world. She could not, would not feel it. She took another step, and another, her thigh muscles protesting mightily. She hesitated and checked the distance again. Five steps; just five more steps.

"Almost there, Mac," Harm urged gently. "You can do it."

She took another deep breath and wiped the sweat out of her eyes. She took another step and started to count them down. 4: lift, plant, 3: put it down, pick it up, 2: up, down, 1: drag the toe. Her knee buckled and she felt herself falling.

And then she was there, in his arms. She had done it! She wrapped her arms around Harm as she kissed him, dissolving into tears. For a moment the world contained only the two of them, their bond the only thing of substance. The pain, heartache and uncertainty of the last 9 months fell away like so much cotton batten, weightless and unimportant. All that mattered was the two of them in that moment in that place.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Several hours later—Mac wasn't sure exactly how long—she lay in the peaceful moonlit darkness of their ocean-view room, listening to Harm's quiet breathing. She was totally sated, physically and emotionally. Harm had insisted that she choose the restaurant for dinner. She had briefly considered Beltway's just to push his buttons, but instead chose their favorite sushi place in Annapolis, since Harm seemed to want to head that direction. She had fallen asleep in the car after dinner and only woken when Harm stopped in front of the hotel in Ocean City. They had watched the moonlight flash on the breaking waves as they shared a sparkling grape juice on their deck and then taken a long soak in the in-room Jacuzzi. They had continued their celebration with agonizingly slow love-making, its intensity surprising and delighting both of them. It had been the perfect cap on the day. She smiled in the darkness thinking about how worn out Harm had been, falling asleep almost immediately. She looked at his face, peaceful in slumber, and reached over to ruffle his hair. The past nine months had almost been harder on him than on her. She felt her eyes sting with tears as she gently touched his face. It was at times like these that she felt it most acutely; an almost overwhelming closeness, a feeling like no other she had ever felt before. God, she loved him so much. She rolled toward him and kissed him gently before closing her eyes.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

The smell of coffee and bacon and the clanking of dishes and pans woke her at 0900. Mac stretched and looked around the sunlit room, her gaze finally alighting on Harm, dressed only in gray Navy sweatpants, bustling around the kitchenette.

"Morning, Harm," she called sleepily.

"Morning, Mac. Sleep well?" he asked cheerfully.

She stretched, yawned, and inhaled deeply, savoring the feeling of well being surrounding her. "Yeah, as a matter of fact I did. You?"

"Yeah, like a log." He looked up from the onions he was chopping and looked at her sheepishly. "Sorry about checking out on you like that."

"No problem. You drove all the way out here while I was sleeping." She got out of bed, limped to the kitchen and climbed onto one of the stools across the counter from him. She gestured toward the food he was preparing. "I guess I slept through the trip to the grocery store, too?"

He smiled. "Nope, I had a cooler in the back to the Lexus."

"Hmm. You had this all planned. That's pretty devious, Commander," she teased.

He handed her a cup of coffee. "Well, I can be spontaneous once in a while, Colonel," he protested lightly.

"Ummm," she murmured around the coffee cup. She took a sip and continued, "I seem to recall a couple of occasions of spontaneity..." They shared a laugh.

"So, what do you have planned for today?"

"Well, I thought after the Harmon Rabb special omelet, complete with bacon for the carnivore," he served her a plate with a flourish and then continued, "maybe we could go for a walk along the boardwalk, get some seafood, just kind of hang out. Then there's the hot tub and the indoor pool. Sound good to you?"

"Yeah. Sounds great. I love walking by the beach."

"We'll keep it short," Harm warned.

"Harm, it's ok. I know my limitations. I can walk for a while with the stick and the heavier brace. It's fine. In fact it will be nice to get out and walk a bit. I still have a lot of work to do if I'm going to pass my PFT."

Harm scowled. "This isn't supposed to be therapy, Mac. It's supposed to be fun," he grumbled.

Mac climbed off the stool, biting back a sigh of exasperation at his over protectiveness. "It will be, Harm. Relax, please. I won't overdo. C'mon, let's get dressed and out of here. The day's half gone," she called over her shoulder as she limped toward the bathroom.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

They had been walking along the board-walk past tattoo parlors, penny arcades, salt water taffy shops and snack bars, all of them shuttered and vacant, sentinels waiting for the tourists to return for the summer, expectant. They mirrored her mood. As she and Harm walked, and storm clouds formed just offshore, she had become more and more morose. Harm had become progressively more jittery all afternoon which had done nothing to help her mood. She couldn't really explain how she felt, but she sensed something missing, a whisper of something just beyond her hearing, hanging just beyond her reach. She felt a carrot being dangled in front of her, but like the greyhound chasing the mechanical rabbit, she couldn't seem to catch it to see what it was. It wasn't like she was unhappy, exactly; she just couldn't banish her growing unease. And she couldn't figure out what exactly was the problem.

As they walked along the boardwalk, the gathering storm came to fruition and the skies opened. Harm half-dragged, half-carried her to a nearby pavilion but they were still soaked by the time they got under the roof. They flopped onto a picnic bench, laughing hysterically, their arrival punctuated by a loud clap of thunder and her mood banished for the moment.

"God, I love storms!" Mac announced loudly.

Harm gaped at her. "You're kidding?" he questioned sarcastically.

"No," she answered, surprised. "I take it you don't."

Harm's expression darkened and he look out at the ocean. "Not particularly. Especially after my last experience."

Mac nodded sympathetically. What could she say? His dislike of storms was understandable after nearly drowning in one, but she couldn't help how she felt. She loved the unmitigated power of nature. She always had. She loved the wind and the rain and the thunder and..."Hmm?" she answered distractedly when she realized Harm had asked her a question.

"Why do you like storms so much, Mac?"

She turned to face him. "I grew up in the desert, Harm. It rained so rarely there, but when it did the whole world changed. Dry river beds turned into churning white water rapids, flowers that looked dead bloomed overnight. It was like having a black and white world suddenly turned to Technicolor. Even D.C. changes after a rain. For just a few minutes it smells clean, new. You know what I mean?"

"I guess so," Harm answered uncertainly.

Mac turned back toward the ocean and continued wistfully, "I took a walk during a nor'easter at Rehoboth one time. I walked along the boardwalk for 40 minutes getting pounded by wind and rain; salt and sand stung my face. It was so exhilarating, like being scoured clean, all the stains washed away." She paused and looked down at her feet, embarrassed at having revealed this weakness. She continued more quietly, "It's silly, I know. It's only rain." She looked up at Harm when he gently touched her arm.

"I don't think it's silly at all," he answered kindly, smiling.

Mac smiled back, her embarrassment carried away like the wind-driven rain. She drew him into a hug and gently kissed him. Every day she found something else to love about this man.

He returned the kiss and then pulled out of her arms. "I don't know about you, Mac, but I could use something warm to drink. There's a coffee bar across the street. Shall we?"

"Sure," she answered with more enthusiasm than she felt. She really wanted to stay outside as long as possible, even if she was cold. She stood to join him but sat back down when her quads cramped painfully.

"Hey, you ok?" Harm asked, crouching beside her, frowning with concern.

Mac almost chuckled out loud at his worried expression. She patted his arm where it rested on her good leg. "Yes, Harm, I'm fine. I just overdid it a bit and I've got a Charlie Horse. I think I need to sit for a bit longer."

"Ok. I'll run and get the cappuccino. You sit tight."

"Yes, Dad," she answered sarcastically as he trotted across the street.

As soon as Harm left the shelter, her unease returned. She could not figure out what was bothering her. Harm had been antsy all afternoon. Maybe she was just picking up on his unease? She had tried to talk to him, to figure out what was wrong but he had brushed her off. Could that be it? She blew air out her pursed lips and shook herself. Sulking about it wasn't going to help her figure it out. Her gaze wandered toward the crashing waves, the pull of the storm irresistible.

She struggled to her feet using her cane and the table for support. She limped to the railing just outside of the shelter and stared at the grey, agitated sea. Cold rain mixed with sand and salt pelted her bare face and head. Cold water ran under her collar and down her back and dripped off her nose. Wind buffeted her, threatening to knock her over. The cold rain intensified the pain in her leg, but she didn't care. She struggled to stay upright, relishing the sheer power of nature and its ability to erode the shells she had erected around herself and reduce her to her bare essence. For a few brief minutes it was just her against the storm.

The magic was broken by his hand grabbing her arm and dragging her back under the roof. "What in the Hell were you doing? Trying to get yourself killed?"

"No, of course not," she answered impatiently, prying her arm from his grasp. "I was just watching the storm."

"What if you had fallen?"

Mac sank onto a nearby bench, defeated. "I'm fine, Harm," she mumbled.

"I know," he sighed, "But when I saw you out there, all sorts of terrible scenarios ran through my head."

"Sorry," she answered listlessly and looked away, the uncertainty that had plagued her all afternoon back full force. She quietly sipped her cappuccino and stared at the sea, wishing for answers, and hoping Harm wouldn't pry too deeply.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

"I'm not sure they're worth a penny."

"What's the matter, Mac? You've been pretty quiet since we left the hotel. Talk to me."

Mac sighed involuntarily. She really needed to work this out on her own. Hell, she didn't even really know what the problem was herself. Maybe she had been expecting something more from this weekend. Was that it? Why was she expecting something else to happen? Was Harm? She wondered idly if Bud had felt the same way when he returned to JAG; vaguely unsatisfied, as if his life was anticlimactic. She felt like something was about to happen, like the other shoe was about to drop. No. Not negative. Positive? She just wasn't sure.

Harm gently touched her arm. "Mac? Talk to me. Please."

"I'm sorry, Harm. I just feel out of sorts, like I am missing something or like I am trying to make a major world decision without actually being told what the decision is. I'm sorry I'm spoiling our weekend. I just don't know what to do..." she trailed off.

"Say yes."

"What?" Mac asked, confused.

"Say yes," he whispered touching her palm lightly.

When she looked down at her palm, she discovered an engagement ring, with a small diamond solitaire. It was simple, almost plain, not the least bit ostentatious; and exactly what she would have picked out for herself. Her heart rate quickened and she began to perspire. Her mouth was suddenly dry as the Arizona desert and she found it hard to breathe. She raised her eyes to look into his. The emotion she saw there: love, fear, trust, threatened to overwhelm her.

"Harm. We talked about this. About the timing," she protested gently, confused by his apparent proposal. They had talked about eventually getting married, but not yet. She needed to be more settled. They had to be more public. A thousand reasons to say 'no' raced around in her head.

"Mac. Sarah. If you want to wait to get married until you can walk down the aisle without a cane, I can wait. If you want to wait until you are fully reinstated, I can wait. If you want to wait until I get deployed next year, I can wait. We don't have to get married on anybody else's time table. We can wait as long as you want. But I can't wait any longer to be an official part of your life. I can't wait to tell our friends. I don't want to wait to know that we are forever."

Mac felt tears spring to her eyes as the puzzle pieces slid into place. His unease and jitteriness suddenly made sense. She had picked up on his unease and entwined it with her own uncertainty, effectively multiplying the effects. She smiled. What was she waiting for? She loved him and he loved her. Decisions and crossroads be damned.

"Yes," she blurted out before her head could overrule her heart.

Harm let out a soft whoop of joy as he enveloped her in a bone crushing hug. As Mac pulled back to kiss him, she felt another door in her heart spring open. Her anxiety had vanished, replaced by a sense of wonder.

The other shoe had indeed dropped, and her rebirth was complete.

 
 
   

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