Any Other Way by MelTitle: Any Other Way Author: Mel (e-mail me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) Disclaimer: The characters of JAG are the property of Donald Bellasario, CBS and Paramount and no profit has been made by my utilising them in my story. Everyone else belongs to me. Rating: PG-13 for language and angst. Pairings: Harm/Mac friendship. Spoilers: This takes place in the mid-sixth season Summery: After a serious accident, Mac is forced to make a life-and-death decision on Harm's behalf, but will she be able to live with the consequences? The story is from Mac's POV. Archiving: As long as you ask first, it should be okay. Author's Notes: I haven't seen the latter half of the fifth season so there may be some mistakes. __________________________________________________________________________________________ JAG Headquarters Falls Church, Virginia 1320 EST, November 15th It had been a miserable morning for me; I had forgotten to set my alarm clock so I ended up having to dash around the house in order to arrive at work on time and, as if the fates had conspired against me, the roads were all iced up and it appeared like everyone in DC was out on the roads. When I finally made it to the office, half-an-hour late, I found a huge pile of reports waiting on my desk. Now, three hours of sitting cramped behind my desk, it was needless to say that I was not in the best of moods. Suddenly, there was a knock on my office door. I shook my head in disgust. There was always guaranteed to be some brave or ignorant fool who didn't realise that it was dangerous to intrude on a pissed-off Marine. "What?!" I shouted, not bothering to look up. Hesitantly the door opened, and Harm stuck his head around. He studied me for a moment, almost like he was trying to anticipate if it was safe to continue. Then he shot me a dazzling smile, probably in the hopes he could soften my temper. It worked a little. "What is it, Harm?" I sighed, tolerantly. "I'm kind of busy here." Harm was one of those annoying people who just couldn't comprehend why someone would be sulking for nothing. Instead of taking the hint and leaving me in peace, he would quiz me in order to figure out why I didn't feel 'happy'. No, not in the mood for Twenty Questions, I decided it was be easier for me if I just indulged him. "Want to get some lunch?" he asked. "I'll even let you chose." I glanced at the reports that were still waiting for me then at Harm, who was giving me a buoyant smile that reminded me so much of a little kid eagerly waiting for Mommy to take him out for some ice cream. I knew Harm wouldn't let me away with a simple 'no', informing me about low blood sugar and the importance of eating regularly. And then, there was the fact I hadn't had time for breakfast and you could be damned sure my empty stomach was letting me know too. However, more importantly, Harm and I were just starting to bridge the rift that had formed over his little flying spree and the whole Mic Brumby fiasco. We had to take whatever chances arose to regain our close friendship, and though lunch was such an inconsequential part of life, it was something that we could do together. For me, that made it ten times more important than these reports. "Okay," I replied, to be rewarded with a broader smile. "Great! Where do you want to go?" "Oh, I get to choose?" I stood up, gathering my coat and my wallet. He held the door open for me, like a true gentleman, and followed me to through the bullpen. "Let's go Italian...No, Chinese...Tell you what? You can decide, surprise me." At the relief on his face, I had to laugh. "What? Were you worried there?" "Yes," he admitted, "I can still feel my arteries are clogged up from our last trip to Beltway Burgers." Then a crafty glint crossed his eyes. "I heard a nice Japanese restaurant opened in town." I could only groan inwardly. Japanese? Don't get me wrong; I loved Japan, and its people and rich culture. But from my stint in Okinawa, what I remember most about Japanese cuisine is that they love their rice and fish, i.e., they liked healthy eating. And while rice and fish was great for contributing to that high life expectancy in Japan, my idea of food was greasy, artery-clogging junk. Those reports were actually starting to look attractive now... ************************************* En Route To JAG Headquarters 1425 EST, November 15th "Well, I know you enjoyed that," Harm teased. "And to think you didn't trust me." He was focusing on the road but I could see a faint smug grin pull at his lips. And yes, surprisingly, the food at the Japanese restaurant was excellent and although I was not too keen on the suishi, I did manage to find something that wet my tastebuds. Not to mention, the deserts were terrific with a huge range of ice creams and cakes, and since it was mid-afternoon, it was rather quiet so we were served immediately. "Don't get too big-headed about it, Harm," I warned, "or next time, we'll go visit this other new restaurant I quite fancy. It's called Bill's Grease Hut." "If the Department Of Health hasn't shut it down by then," was my muttered reply. I smiled and relaxed back into my seat, resting my eyes. Harm was driving cautiously as the roads were still quite icy and the weather dull and misty. An easy silence fell between as Harm concentrated on his driving and I was lulled into a doze from the smooth ride. Lunch had went exceedingly well on both the eating and friendship front. While before, during our spat of petty squabbles earlier in the year, whenever we were together our conversations did not delve beyond small talk and work matters. This time I felt we were both able to be ourselves with each other and *really* talk about what's up in our lives. There was no pressure for once. I could- My thoughts were interrupted by Harm's irritated tone. "What the hell is that moron doing?!" It was not like Harm to experience road-rage so I glanced in the rear-view mirror to see some joker, who was driving a hefty truck, swerve from lane to lane. I had to agree with Harm- this guy *was* a moron. Darting around like that on the freeway in icy, slippery conditions was just suicide. Just as I was about to comment on the IQ of some people, Harm shouted, "Hold on!" I just had time to see the truck speeding without control towards us as Harm hit the brakes in a vain attempt to by-pass it. He didn't have the time to move his SUV to safety. The truck plowed into his side of the car, sideswiping us with such a force that we smashed through the guardrail and sent spinning down an embankment. The last thing I remember clearly was my own scream before everything went black and I slipped into dark oblivion... ************************************* Exact Location Unknown- Between Shintaro Restaurant And JAG Headquarters Time Unknown, November 15th "Ma'am? Ma'am, can you hear me?" I couldn't be sure how much time had passed. It felt like days or weeks; all I knew for certain was my head was pounding and my left arm was throbbing. I opened my eyes to the voice of a young man, and the sudden jolt to wakefulness shot stars through my skull. At my groan, the voice said, "Don't try to move." Gee, now is a great time to tell me, kid. Peeling my eyes open slowly this time, I found a young blond man peering at me. He was dressed in EMT blues and looked barely old enough to have graduated from high school. It was then I realised I was lying on something soft. I attempted to move my head to have a better view of my surroundings when I realised my head wouldn't move; something was stopping it. I blinked in surprise, feeling one of those cervical collar immobilizing my neck. Those things were only for shows like 'ER' and 'Chicago Hope'- why the hell did they have one on me?! "Try not to move, ma'am," the kid instructed. "You're going to be fine." "W-what happened?" I groaned, becoming increasingly aware of my poor aching muscles. Wait a minute...Car crash? Some jerk had plowed into us. HARM?! Where was Harm? Usually, if I was hurt, he was hovering around me like a mother hen. "Where's Harm?" I demanded. "Is he okay? Where is he?" I tried to sit up but something was restraining me. What the hell was up with these people that they were determined to keep me from doing anything? "Ma'am, please relax," placated the kid, his voice soft as if he was talking to a pre-school child. "Where is my friend?" I quizzed in no uncertain terms, this time shaking the confused weakness from my own voice. The kid sighed. "He's not doing too good, he's still stuck in the car." He was stuck in the car?! Well, the medics had another thing coming if they thought I was going to obediently go to the hospital while my best friend was trapped and injured. I was not leaving Harm; that was one of the first things taught to me when I joined the Marines- we don't leave our own behind. I hadn't done so before and I was *not* going to start now. "Let me up," I said, struggling against the restraints. "Look, ma'am, you may have a concussion or spinal injuries-" I scowled. "I don't give a damn!" At that very moment, I couldn't care less if my legs fell off, I just wanted to see Harm. "Is there something wrong, Dave?" an older man said, approaching us. I was stunned to see Admiral Chegwidden follow closely behind. How long had I been here for? It couldn't have been more than a few hours, but that begged the question, if Harm was badly injured then could he afford those few hours? I had to see him for myself, I had to give him strength. "Colonel, are you not co-operating with the EMTs?" he asked, almost chastising me. "Sir," I said, speaking directly to him, "I *need* to see Harm. Please, sir?" "Colonel..." "Admiral, I've been around long enough to know if I'm paralysed and my head isn't hurting as much any more." A lie, but who could tell? Probably everyone from my face, which now screwed up in pain. "I just want to see Harm." Chegwidden stared at me for a moment, as if trying to size me up, then he sighed heavily. "Alright." He nodded to the elder EMT. "Let her up, she won't stop griping until you do." The EMT snorted in disgust before unfastening the safety straps that were imprisoning me. When I sat up, he handed me a form and a pen. "You need to sign this AMA form, Ma'am. We can't be responsible for you if you go and fall on your ass." I grinned in victory, happily signing the form without even reading it. Yes, I knew that was bad practice, especially for someone's who is a lawyer and meant to know better, but I couldn't really give a damn if I was signing away my soul to Satan himself. My only interest was Harm, and I was willing to do anything to reach my goal. I impatiently allowed the EMT to splint my arm in a spongy material, and agreed to keep my new torture of the c-collar (I'm now sure that the 'c' in c-collar stood for choking) on until I could be checked out at the hospital, then I was guided to our SUV. On my travels, I noticed a sedate med-evac chopper sitting near an ambulance and that brought home to me how serious this situation must be. And when I finally saw the SUV, I think if Chegwidden hadn't kept a firm hold of my shoulder, I would have had a re-lapse and fainted like one of those pathetic actresses in the romantic films of the sixties. "Oh God..." was all I could murmur as I took in the sight before me. For someone who prides herself for being quite articulate, that was all I was capable of saying at that point. But believe me, internally my mind was racing at a million miles a minute. Things along the lines of 'how can anyone ever survive that?' and 'they had better help him' were the more popular thoughts popping into my head. But most prominent had to be 'if you give up, Harm, if you go and die then I will kill you!'. The door of the front passenger side of the car- my side- was hanging from its hinges, but I could see I had escaped lightly since that side was mainly dented and scrapped. But then, the impact of the truck on the driver's side of the car...Harm's side, and that much was obvious. The entire driver's side of the SUV was caved in on itself, the hood was crushed back with the tyre only partially molded around the now pentagonal-shaped, horizontal front wheel. The emergency services had managed to pull the mangled door from Harm's side and, as I inched closer, I could see the dashboard was pushed up against him, ensnaring his concealed right leg, and the steering wheel pressing hard on his chest. Harm's left leg was laid out the car, supported in an inflated splint, but Harm himself was well and truly trapped. The EMTs had started an IV of both blood and clear stuff (if I remembered my 'ER' 101 correctly, then I think that had to be saline) on his left arm and his head was bandaged although blood was seeping through. His skin was bleached with the only colour being purple bruises that marred his cheek and right eye. Harm's eyes were glazed and at half-mast as he struggled to remain conscious, and basically, he looked like shit. "Colonel, are you okay?" the Admiral asked, his gruff voice softening in concern. "Eh...I-I don't know." How could I be? I had walked away from this crash with a broken arm and a headache, and Harm would be lucky if he escaped with his life. "Colonel, you have to believe he's going to be fine; you lose faith now and he'll know it." I turned to him, and he gave me a tight smile. "Now let's go see our hotshot." I shrugged away from his comforting hold to move to Harm's side alone, feeling almost in a trance. Kneeling down, I plastered a smile. "Hey, Harm, you always have to look for trouble, huh?" Harm's head lolled in my direction, and his own lips twitched in a faint smile. "Y-you know...me..." he rasped, his voice hoarse with pain. I looked up. "Has he been given anything for the pain?" I asked. A dark-haired young man in his early thirties, stepped forward. He too was dressed in an EMT uniform that was decorated with splotches of blood. "Hi, my name is Steve Connelly." He notched his head at another EMT, slightly older in his early forties, who was in deep conversation with a group of fire fighters that had just arrived. "That's my partner, Mike Shield. We're dealing with Harm here." I knew from my days during combat training and in Bosnia that it was standard practice for them to give out their names in cases such as this. It gave the relatives and friends of the victim a placating front to deal with, an almost friendly character who would reassure. Unfortunately, it lost effect when the friends were already aware of the game. "Hi," I said, dismissively, my focus entirely on Harm, "have you given him anything? He's in a lot of pain." "He's been given a mild painkiller but we can't give him anything stronger because of his concussion and already depressed system." I sighed, inwardly. I hated seeing Harm in pain but I had to suck it up for his sake. "How are you feeling, Harm?" He smiled crookedly. "I feel...great." At my frown, his false cheer fell away. "Hurtz, Mac." "I know." What else could I say? "But we'll get through this together, won't we?" "Like always..." He gasped slightly as a shot of pain passed through him. Instantly, Connelly was by his side, placing an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. "Is the pain in your chest getting worse, Harm?" he asked, frowning in concern as he listened to Harm's chest with a stethoscope. "Mmm..." I think that was a 'yes'. "Just relax, this will be over soon, okay?" "...'kay..." When Connelly stood up, I followed suit wanting some answers without Harm overhearing. "What's wrong with him?" I spoke on no uncertain terms, making it clear I wanted some real answers and not the usual 'he'll be fine' spiel that's reserved for the innocent and fragile. Connelly pursed his lips "The steering wheel has no doubt fracture some ribs, which in turn have punctured his lung causing a pneumothorax. Air and blood are now filling up in his lung making it harder for him to breathe. He needs to be in a hospital, he needs surgery." "How long have we been here?" I whispered. I realised my internal clock was out-of-sinc; a knock on the head tended to do that. "Witnesses put the crash about half-an-hour ago, it took us ten minutes to get here and from your ID, we were able to call out your boss and he arrived here about ten minutes ago. The fire guys only got here five minutes ago." At my burning glare, he quickly said, "They had to get through the lunchtime rush-hour and they were just finishing up at a pile-up involving six cars and a school bus in DC. In this weather, you get a lot of accidents and that so they were pretty busy and this isn't exactly the most central location." I had to give him that. "How long will you take to get him out?" "Ma'am-" "Call me 'Mac', only small children and those below me in rank call me 'Ma'am.'" "Okay, Mac," he said, putting us on equal ground and acknowledging the fact that I did not want anything sugar-coated, "Harm not only has complications from ribs fractures but he also has a concussion, a fractured collar bone and he's suffering from shock. We need to get him out now. His Golden Hour is rapidly running out." It didn't take a brain scientist to figure that out, but there was more to this. "Well, why don't you?" He sighed; we all seemed to be doing that constantly today. "It's more complicated than that. You see, his leg is trapped. According to Harm, he thinks his leg below the knee is trapped under the dashboard but his foot has bent under his seat." At my wince, he nodded. "Yeah, I know it doesn't sound pretty. What I mean to say is he doesn't have much time." "Why don't they just cut the dashboard off him?" "That may take more time than he has, they just can't cut it off in one go. There may be some decisions to make...Mac, we may have to amputate." I felt as if my lungs were just sucked dry. Amputate? No, I shook my head inwardly; they couldn't do that to Harm. Did they not know what that would mean? His career in the Navy would be snatched out of his hands and he would be discharged from service with a disability pension. He could go into civilian law, however that wasn't what he would want. Harm loved the Navy and I wasn't sure what would happen to him if he lost one of his greatest passions. "You can't," I murmured "It's just a possibility," Connelly said, "it might not happen if we can get him out soon." "Then you'd better all get to it." As the firefighters prepared their cutting equipment, I prepared Harm for the noise that was sure to follow. There wasn't a need to do that since he had slipped into semi-consciousness but speaking to him made me feel like I was helping him. A team of firefighters were working on the roof of the car whilst another team were dealing with the hood. I did my best to ignore all the activity and focus on Harm, coaxing him into a more wakeful state. "How are you doing?" I asked, with my ever-present smile that was forced on in an attempt to reassure him. Harm moaned in pain. "When...will...get outta...here?" "Soon, I promise." "Leg...numb, Mac." "You're going to be fine, don't worry about it." He smirked slightly. "We'll be...late from...lunch." "I'll let the Admiral tan your hide later." "You too...No, better...not...People might get...the wrong...idea." I pursed my lips mock-stern. "Red light, Commander," I said, falling back on our old bantering game. Harm opened into mouth to reply when he burst into a spasm of painful coughs. I jerked back in shock as blood expelled from his mouth, a trickle running down his chin. His wheezing increased in volume and his face took a decidedly bluish hue. Instantly, Connelly order the firefighters to stop and he crouch to Harm's side, gently pushing me away from his patient. "Harm?" he asked, over Harm's ceaseless coughing and wheezing. "Harm, can you hear me? Come on, Commander, answer me." Harm's eyes were squeezed shut in pain and he only managed a weak nod. My heart shuddered in my chest as I watched his wheezing turned into a gasp for air and his body limply lolled to the side. "Patient has lost consciousness," Connelly called to his partner. He listened to Harm's chest through his stethoscope. "Breath sounds are shallow and laboured."Suddenly, there was silence. No coughs, no wheezes, no gasps...no breathing. "Respiratory arrest!" Connelly pulled out another mask from his hold-all. Swiftly yanking off the oxygen mask from his patient's face, the EMT placed the new mask over Harm's mouth and nose and began rhythmically squeezing the hollow bulb attached to the mask thus forcing Harm to breathe. I relaxed when Harm's chest moved in cadence. Connelly's partner, Mike Shield, moved forward from where he was in discussion with the rescue team and knelt between Connelly and myself. His brow was furrowed in an expression that coerced a twinge of dread to twist my stomach. "How's going, Steve?" Shield asked of his partner. Connelly's eyes darkened. "We need to move *now*, Mike. He can't hold on much longer. His BP is bottoming out and I'm feeling resistance when I bag him. He needs his chest to be decompressed and a vent." I knew those words were for my benefit, almost information to prepare for what Shield was going to suggest next. Shield nodded, sighing heavily. He turned to one of the other EMTs who was hovering nearby. "Paula, advise Bethesda that we're requesting permission to amputate." The woman, evidently named Paula, glanced at Harm and I glowered at the pity and sorrow I could read in her features. "Yes, sir," she replied, unclipping a walkie-talkie from her belt. Before she could carry out her order, someone said, "No!" The word was spoken in no uncertain terms, and it took me a second or so to realise it had been me who had spoken. They wanted to cut off Harm's leg and I was the only one who could prevent that from happening. "No," I reiterated, "I can't allow you to take his leg, not until the very last moment. Give him more time." "He doesn't have *more* time," Connelly said, simply, but not relenting in assisting Harm's breathing. "His lungs have given out and his heart is next. We don't move him immediately and he'll die." "Well, find the time. Work faster but I want to give him another fifteen minutes before you do anything you can't take back."
I had to give Harm a chance, a stake in his future. I was his friend and that was my responsibility. I would expect the same of him so who was I to do any less? I knew if it were me in that car, Harm would move Heaven and Earth to make sure I was kept in one piece. I had to honour that same courtesy. "Ma'am," Shield said, approaching me, "I'm sorry but you are not in any position to decide what happens here. I know this is hard for you but he will die if we don't do this." I smiled without humour. "That's where you're wrong. You see, I'm Harm's next of kin and I hold his medical power of attorney. If anyone here can decide what's going when Harm can't decide for himself, then that job falls to me." Next of kin: the title had filled me with a sense of belonging and protectiveness towards Harm. That was the first time I had ever asked to become a next of kin to anyone, I never let people close enough for them to feel they could trust me with their medical issues. Trust in the field and trust in personal matters were too different things; close to fifteen years in the Marines had taught me as much. I could trust most of my colleagues' with my life in combat but only a handful know about my alcoholism. It was about two years into our partnership that I had forced myself to go to Harm to ask if he could sign my medical forms, declaring him my next of kin and the holder of my medical power of attorney. My Uncle Matt was in prison and I would have rather died in gut-wrenching agony than allowed my 'loving' parents to be responsible for my health- they had the chance when I was a child and they failed me then. Hell, at the time, I didn't even know where my mother was and I hadn't spoken to my now late father in over ten years. However, military procedure demanded that I have someone who could be contacted in an emergency and Harm was the only person who I knew cared about me enough to bother. Then, a few months later, not long after he had concussed himself wandering around on that damned wreak of a ship, I was stunned when Harm asked the same of me. Why me? I mean, he had a wonderful mother and a large circle of friends that could easily fill the position. His answer was what made me realise exactly what I meant to him- he said, that although I didn't have a medical degree, he could trust me to ensure he had the best care or, if the circumstances were dire, to make any life or death decisions for him. I wasn't going to let him down. "I don't want you to amputate," I said, silencing the movement of the EMTs and the firefighters. "Go as fast as you can when you're cutting, but give him a chance." Chegwidden's face softened. "Colonel, he's dying..." I knew that, dammit. And I also knew there was other ways to die than just physical death. "Yes, but what the hell do you think it will do to him if you take his leg?! I won't let them do that to him, not unless there is no other choice...not until he's near his last heartbeat." I heard Connelly murmur something about 'concussion' and 'restraints' which made me see red. What these people forgot that I a woman in the mainly male-dominated Marines. I had learned early to fight for what I wanted and I was damned if I was going to let go of those early lessons. "I am not concussed and if you amputate, if you so much as look at his leg in the wrong way, I'll sue you all the way to the moon and back. Even your *grandkids*-to-be will be paying out if you don't listen to me." I knew that I sounded like a bitch, but I didn't care. My only concern was for my best friend. "Colonel," the Admiral said, a distinct warning tone in his voice that was masking his concern. I knew he wanted me to listen to the EMT, that by pulling rank was his way of making me see what he saw as sense. However, this was not JAG and I couldn't think as a Marine Colonel but as Harm's best friend. And in the end, it was not the military that could judge me, it was my own conscience. I had to do what I thought was best. "No, sir, *I* am Harm's next of kin and this is my decision. Don't you dare touch him." Connelly and Shield looked questioningly at the Admiral, who shook his head in defeat. The EMTs knew the threat of law suits and bad publicity hung heavy in the modern US, and this threat was felt more acutely given the fact they were dealing with two military lawyers. Shield sighed. "Fine then," he glared. "It's *his* life you're risking but we'll go with you for now." Connelly said nothing, just continued to pump air into Harm's prone lungs. I could see the anger and disgust clearly on his face but to his credit, that did not interfere in his treatment of Harm. For the next ten minutes I forced myself to watch the rescue team cut each part of the car away, timing their speed against my internal clock. Closing my eyes briefly, I almost gave in and let them do what they wanted but I shoved that hesitation away. I couldn't second-guess myself on this. Suddenly, the drills were silenced and the fire fighters eased the last part of the hood off to reveal Harm's bloodied lower body. Sure enough, his right leg was bent back awkwardly under his seat. It sickened me and I had to physically force down the contents of my stomach. Wasting no time, the EMTs moved in and eased Harm onto a backboard. The rescue team cut the chair apart as the group of EMTs lifted Harm up. Finally he was laid flat on a stretcher and secured in. Connelly expertly inserted a tube into Harm's throat, attaching it to some device that took over his non-existent breathing, while the others stabilised his leg and connected him to heart monitor. I heard whispers of 'amputation is still possible' and just looking at Harm's twisted leg, I could see that was true. After all that, he might still lose his leg and with the way things looked, he could also lose his life. The med-evac helicopter had now sprung to life and I felt Chegwidden lead my lifeless form to it, following after Harm's stretcher. As Harm was loaded into the chopper, the rapid blips of the heart monitor oscillated to the constant hum of flat-line. I watched in mute horror as the EMTs jumped into action, applying cardiac massage and injecting medication. For one brief second, my eyes fused with Connelly's and I could see what was going through his mind just by reading his eyes. He was thinking, 'you may have cost him his life.' ************************************* Bethesda Naval Hospital Bethesda, Maryland 0240 EST, November 16th I hate hospitals. I hate the antiseptic, cold smell and I hate the mix of condescending or arrogant doctors that I seem to perpetually end up with. But I think I would have walked through molten lava if that was what it took to stay by Harm's side. And for that very reason, I tolerated the smell and the doctors so I could sit in the ICU cubical that was now Harm's little domain. "Hey, Harm, you're going to be fine," I reminded him for the hundredth time in the hour that I had been there. Of course, I wasn't ignorant, I knew that he no doubt couldn't hear me. After three minutes in cardiac arrest, the EMT crew had managed to re-start Harm's heart but that was only the beginning of his long fight. He was now in a barbituate coma, induced to give his frail body the chance to heal. And he needed every chance he could get if he was ever going to heal. He was a mess, in many ways he looked worse than he did in the car. Blood and saline IVs snaked into his arms, bandages encircled his head and chest with the blanket covering his bolted and pinned leg. But when it came to what was the most frightening, it was a toss up between the large tube that exited from within his chest and the horrible tube that protruded from his mouth, in turn attached to a ventilator to regulate his breathing. And somewhere under all that medical technology and tubes was my friend... "You just get better, Harm," I whispered to him. It wasn't fair that all I recieved from the crash was a few bruises, a fractured arm and a mild concussion while Harm lay near death with an injury scale that rivaled 'War And Peace'. Where was the justice in that? I would have gladly taken on some pain if it meant Harm's chances of surviving were increased. The police had caught the driver of the truck not long after Harm had been wheeled into surgery. Apparently, it was some twenty-year-old kid who was new to the trucking business and had decided to have a 'quick' drink on his journey home. What was saddening was that his 'quick' drink had not only cost this boy his freedom as he faced a prison term for reckless driving but resulted in a good man fighting for his life. Nonetheless, as much as I wanted to blame some drunken bum for Harm's struggle to live, I knew that I was as much to blame. They could have had him out of the car much earlier if I hadn't stood in their way and because of my own stupid stubborness, Harm could die. He could have eventually coped with losing his leg, he wasn't one to give up, and I'm more than certain his mother would prefer those consequences compared with having a dead son. I looked up when a nurse entered the room to begin another regular check-up. These were done every quarter of the hour, and I wasn't sure if I was reassured by the constant scrutiny Harm was under or worried that the medical staff obviously felt he sick enough to require such an intense standard of care. But, hell, that was why they called it Intensive Care, and I would have been damned pissed off if I thought Harm wasn't receiving the best. After what I had done practically landing him in here in the first place, the least I could do was make sure they were looking after him properly. A tendril of dread twist up my spine when I noticed the nurse frown at her readings. "What's wrong?" I asked, determined not to be left out of the loop. "His temp is up to hundred and three." I might not have had a medical degree and, besides basic first aid, I was not what one would call medically inclined but even I knew that although an increase of those few degrees might not be so bad for a healthy person, in Harm's case a raised temperature could be deadly. With his injuries and so soon after a difficult surgery, he couldn't afford any more pitfalls. I watched her closely as she listened to Harm's chest and when she straightened to fill in her notations on Harm's chart, I cocked an eyebrow at her. Noticing my piercing stare, the nurse sighed. "I think he's developing pneumonia. I'll have Doctor Spence come down and take a look at him." She smiled slightly, putting her hand on my shoulder in a motherly gesture. "Don't worry, honey, he's a strong one. I'm sure he'll be fine." When she hurried off to alert the doctor, I just dropped my head heavily into my hands. Oh, I didn't need telling that Harm was strong. I was more than aware he was strong but he was also so badly hurt. No-one could blame him for his lagging strength at the moment. That blame was reserved for me. And I knew that if his strength left him, if Harm died, then I didn't think I could live with myself. I couldn't live with the sentence of Harm's manslaughter hanging over my conscience every time I went to the office, every time I saw a plane, every time I looked in the mirror...
************************************* Bethesda Naval Hospital Bethesda, Maryland 1235 EST, December 29th It had been over a month since the accident...since I nearly killed him, and Harm was still hospitalised. He had largely recovered from his injuries but he was facing months of rigorous respiratory and physical therapy. Though he denied it, I knew it was painful for him; I could tell from his bleached, pinched pallor after he returned from each session. I spent a great deal of time at the hospital, trying to keep his mind occupied and veer him away boredom. Harm often told me that I should spend some time on myself, especially on Christmas when he was still stuck in the confines Bethesda, but he was my best friend- where else would I want when he was injured other than at his side? However, today was special. Harm's impatience was not due to his own inability to do the simplest of tasks by himself but because Harriet Simms' had been admitted in the early hours of the morning when her waters broke. We were both there when AJ was born so it was only fitting that we should be nearby for the birth of the Roberts' second child. "How long does it take to have a baby?" Harm grumbled, glancing at his clock for the tenth time in five minutes. "It's not a race," I snorted. "Anyway, last time I heard, childbirth is quite a painful process and until men are the ones who have the babies, they can't really moan and bitch about the damn time." Harm grinned. "And that's why men don't have the kids, we're too impatient." "I couldn't have said that better myself." It was not just Bud and Harriet who were excited over this new baby. We were too, and for not just the obvious reason that everyone loves a newborn. This tiny child was also the symbol of a fresh start, the knowledge that life moves on and it *does* get better. That was something that I think both Harm and I needed to be reminded; he was lost to his physical trauma and to the fact that he had to be patient with his recovery, and I was stuck in the abyss as I lived with the guilt of almost costing my best friend his life. Just before Harm could begin another impatient tirade, we heard rapid feet dashing down the corridor and a moment later Bud rushed into the room, carrying a wide-eyed AJ on his shoulders. Bud was grinning widely reminding me of a guy who had just won the lottery, and I suppose in so many ways, he had done one better. I could see AJ was a little uncertain about his father's exuberance so I moved to take the toddler into my arms. "Harriet just gave birth to a perfect baby girl," the second-time father proudly announced. "Seven pounds six ounces." Both Harm and I broke into smiles that could have rivaled Bud's. Seeing we were in good spirits, AJ must have decided to join in the euphoric mood and in turn bounced happily on my knee, clapping his hands. "Congratulations, Bud," Harm enthused. "How are Harriet and the baby?" "They're both fine and healthy; the labour only lasted four hours." "Me gotted thith'er, Unca Ham!" enlightened AJ, which I roughly translated to 'I have a sister, Uncle Harm.' "That's great, AJ," Harm said, "you're a big brother now, huh?" "Yeh!" Harm patted a space next to him on the bed, and I placed AJ so the toddler was sitting comfortably between Harm and the top section of the guard rail. I shook my head good-naturedly as he gave AJ one of the many boxes of chocolates that he had received and was accumulating on his bedside cabinet. I knew that Harriet was always trying to limit her son's sugar intake but as his godparents, Harm and I felt it was our duty to spoil the kid with candy and toys. We both did it, and would no doubt continue the tradition with the Roberts' new daughter. With AJ now happily munching away, Harm turned his attention back to Bud. "So, any decisions about a name?" During a girls' chat, Harriet had suggested naming the baby after Harm- the man who had actually introduced her and Bud, and had done so much for their little family- but that was obviously not an option now. Possible names for a girl had been 'Cordellia' and 'Darly'. I had just grinned and bared it; not everyone was for conventional names and who was I to dictate what Harriet named her child? "We were going to name her after you," Bud informed us, confirming my previous thoughts, "but the only feminine version of Harmon we could think of was either Harmination or Harmonie." Harm screwed up his face in distaste. "Don't inflict those names on your daughter, Bud, not unless you want to send her to martial arts if she's ever going to survive in the playground." I had to agree wholeheartedly. Speaking as a former schoolground bully, a kid might get away with 'Darly' or even the atrocious 'Cordellia' but a child burdened with a name like 'Harmination' would have to learn to fight early. "Yes, that was what we thought so we've finally decided on 'Reegan Sarah Roberts.'" "I like that," Harm said, smiling warmly at me. "That's a wonderful name, Bud." I did not agree. In fact, the thought of this innocent child being named for me was rather nauseating and cloying. *I* had almost cost Harm his life by denying the medical and fire services to do what they thought was best, *I* had almost killed him. Hell, I was practically a murderer. "Yes, that's a good name," I tightly concurred. From the corner of my eye, I caught Harm watching me in puzzlement but I ignored him. I had decided that Harm need never know the difficulty I was having accepting my role in the accident. That he was exceedingly lucky that my stupid instincts and stubborness had not killed him. It was better for him to remain blissfully unaware, for if he did know he would only take my own guilt onto himself. He was like that sometimes, especially when it came to innocents and to his own friends. I could tell every time he saw a six-year-old girl laughing in the streets, he thought of Annie and Darlin Lewis and regretted not doing more. Each time he looked his mother, he remembered his father and how he was too late to save him. Hell, if the damned martians invaded tomorrow and took the world hostage, Harm would find someway to feel guilty for it. No, we might have a vow of friendship that said to share everything, however this was my burden and mine alone. "Well, I'd better get back," Bud said, interrupting my secret turmoil. When he went to pick up AJ, the boy smacked his father's hands away. "I wi' Unca Ham an' Aun'ie Mac," AJ explained firmly. He might have been only all of two years old but AJ was smart enough to have figured out that going with Daddy would only result in being stuck in Harriet's hospital room while the couple chatted about their new child. If he stayed with his Uncle 'Ham' and Auntie Mac, however, he would not only be fed an endless supply of candy and be given a relatively free-rein of the TV set but he would also have all the attention a tot could want. "It's okay," Harm smiled, liberally handing AJ another box of chocolate and the TV remote control, "he can stay with us, Bud. I'm sure you and Harriet want a little time alone with Reegan." Bud eyed Harm doubtfully, probably wondering if either Harm or AJ could be trusted. Like any toddler, AJ could be quite manipulative when he wanted and Harm fell for it each and every time. It was quite astonishing that an accomplished JAG officer who had met a good deal of scum in his time could become so gullible in the presence of a two-year-old. "I'll make sure they behave, Bud," I assured him. With that, Bud assented and hurried back to his wife and new daughter, leaving us to keep his son amused. For two hours, we occupied AJ with stories and candy. Harm came out with the most amazing of tales that had captivated me as well. Encouraged by his enthusiasm and AJ's cajoling pleas, I found myself coming out with a rather interesting story, which was oddly pleasing considering I always used to receive a 'D' for my imaginative English assignments in high school. Just as the three of us were watching the eighth episode from the 'Teletubbies' marathon, I noticed it was rather quiet for a change. I smiled as I saw both Harm and AJ deep in slumber, the toddler sleeping sideways with his legs hanging over the guard rail, his body sprawled against Harm and his head pillowed on his guardian's chest. Even in his sleep, Harm's arm was holding AJ protectively. They looked so cute together! "Wha' are you smiling at?" Harm slurred, one eye open and regarding me. "Nothing," I said. I knew it was 'macho' to have a woman comment on your cuteness factor. There was silence for a moment before Harm eyed me thoughtfully, a determined glint casting over his eyes. "Hey, lets go see little Reegan. She'll probably be in the nursery by now." "Uh, Harm, I don't know..." He still wasn't very steady on his feet but he would only become defensive if I phrased it like that. "Come on, Mac, don't be a Nazi about. It'll give AJ a chance to see his new sister." His eyes were wide and imploring. Damn, I hated it when he manipulated me like this. It made me wonder how his mother was ever able to resist his charms as a little boy. "Okay, okay," I sighed, "but we're only going for a little while. I don't want you tiring yourself out." I stood up and pulled his wheelchair from the corner. Harm glared at it, but at my equally stubborn glower he kept his mouth shut. Gently lifting AJ off him, I helped Harm manoeuvre into the despised wheelchair. Being so independent, that was what Harm loathed the most, the fact that he couldn't walk completely on his own. He was forced to depend on crutches for short distances to the toilet or across the room, anything more and he had to rely on the wheelchair. However, as much as it bothered him, that was the only thing that comforted me and my conscience. You see, every time I see him struggling to walk, I know it could have been much worse. Since the amputation would have taken place above the knee joint, Harm would have been crutch-dependant for life. But then I watch him wheezing for breath after a session of physio or just walking across his room, still a long way from recovering his full lung capacity, and I'm left with a chill and the knowledge that he might be left with that condition for many months. My little guilt-trip was interrupted by Harm's concern voice. "Mac, are you okay? You look a little ill." I smile assuredly at him. "I'm fine." He cocked his head slightly but anything he was going to say was cut off by the waking of a grumpy AJ. "Daddy?" the toddler called out from the bed, rubbing his eyes. "Mommy?" His lower lip began to quiver as he realised his parents were not nearby. Harm reached over and scooped him into his arms. "What's up, big guy?" "Wan' Mommy." "Okay, but how about we take a ride first?" Harm smiled. AJ studied the wheelchair then his face lit up. "Go 'thpeedy like a pwane?" At his young age, the chair must have just been like a huge pushchair. I remember when I was a kid, around six or so, and across the street lived a disabled boy. On my way to school each morning, I would see the boy being pushed down his drive, and I could recall thinking how neat it would be if someone would push *me* to school like that. That was one of the wonderful things about children; they didn't always see the tragic truth for what it was. "We'll go faster than the fastest plane." Harm shot me a mischievous grin. "Won't we, Mac?" "Oh yeah, you guys have a nice seat and I do all the hard work." "Aww, Aun'ie Mac, go fath!" AJ pleaded, wide-eyed and imploring. It was the very same pose Harm had used to con me into taking him up to visit the maternity unit. This child was getting to be very cunning, though he had spent the whole afternoon with his Uncle Harm so I shouldn't have expected anything less. "Yes, Auntie Mac, go fast." Well, if that was what they wanted... Holding AJ tightly, Harm winced in anticipation of a crash as I tore down the hospital corridor, darting the wheelchair away from the path of any passing patients and staff. AJ giggled in delight, however Harm chose to look up at me from the wheelchair, his eyebrow quirked up in quiet amusement. It made a pleasant change from his usually solemn mood. Much to AJ's dismay, I was forced to slow down as we approached the lift and by the time we departed it four floors up at the maternity unit, we were moving at a sedate pace. I noticed Harm brightened in response to the change in environment and I was suddenly glad I had allowed him to hoodwink me into bringing him up here. Where there was an almost somber tone in the rehabilitation unit, the atmosphere darkened by pain and struggles, it was a stark comparison here in the maternity ward where the cheery decor and the cries of newborn babies were enough to lift the heaviest of souls. In the waiting room, where the window that on-looked the nursery was located, AJ took one glance at his new sister before the toy box in the corner proved to be more enticing to him. With the toddler occupied, I was alarmed to find Harm pulled himself to his feet. "Harm! Should you be doing that? I don't think you should. You're not up to this exertion." Both hands gripping the frame of the window tightly, Harm twisted to face me. "Mac, please don't treat me like I'm made of glass, I've had enough of that over the past month." I wanted to protest further but the sparkle of tenacity in his eyes forced me to realise Harm was not some fragile china doll. He wasn't slipping away from me any longer and it was time I started handing him back his independence. Unable to meet his eyes, I glanced back the rows of cots that held the tiny forms of newly born infants. "I know," I admitted, my voice low, "it's just hard, it's hard to let go. You were so sick in the beginning, we weren't sure if you'd pull through. Now that the danger is over, it's not easy to forget how bad it was...how bad it could have been." I heard him sigh. "I know this has all been as hard for you as it's been for me." I was rendered speechless. How could he be so selfless about this? Most people would have been filled with anger and resentment had they been involved in an devastating crash. Nevertheless, despite having his moments of silence and melancholy, Harm was remarkably resilient to self-pity. "Isn't she so cute?" Harm murmured. I glanced sideways to see Harm studying the infant on the far left corner, the child whose cot had the name 'ROBERTS, R.S.' affixed to it. "Yes, she is. Makes you wonder who has the better deal in life- us with our high-flying careers or Bud and Harriet who have a great marriage and two beautiful children." "Definitely them." There was a hesitance. "I gather you didn't like their choice for the baby's name." I didn't answer his unspoken question. "Or could it have been their choice for the baby's namesake that you didn't like?" This time Harm turned to her, his stare boring into her. "They shouldn't have done it," I muttered, sullenly, "they shouldn't have called her after me." "Why not?" Well, if it hadn't been for me, he wouldn't be plagued with so many problems and yet if I *had* agreed to the amputation, would Harm be the same man I knew before the accident? It was a Catch 21 situation, but one I felt I had caused. As if sensing my self-recriminations, Harm shook his head wearily. "This wasn't your fault, Mac, none of this was. It was that drunk driver and sheer bad luck. Not everything is about you." "I shouldn't have said yes to lunch," I said. "I was hungry too," Harm pointed out. "I should have been looking out for that truck." "But *I* was driving and I didn't see it until it was too late." "I should have let the EMTs do whatever they thought was best..." This time my voice was barely a whisper. It was obvious Harm was tiring but he was determined to see this through. Just watching him ignited my guilt, for before a simple conversation whilst standing up would never have exhausted Harm's endless energy supply. "I know that they wanted to take my leg," Harm said, quietly. "Yes, but I didn't let them. They knew that you would have been better off it they had amputated. You could have died because I never let them do their job." "But I didn't." "But you could have. You can't see that now, but I see it. You were dying and I let it happen. It could have been much worse." "Don't, Mac, don't feel bad for something that I thank you for everyday." I was going to protest but he shook his head. "I...I don't think I could have coped if they'd taken my leg. I'm not sure if I have it in me to go on. Mac, I wouldn't have had it any other way. My father always told me that sometimes we have to fight to for what we want and I'm glad you gave me that option." He was asking me to let go. Harm nearly died because of my choices and he was asking me to come to terms with my decision. If it had come from anyone else but him, I would have continued to wallow in my guilt...However, Harm was here with me and I realised I should be thankful for that instead of tearing myself apart for what could have been. Finally, after being absolved, I was able to begin my own healing with Harm safely by my side. ************************************* The Roberts' Residence Georgetown, Washington DC 1615 EST, July 10th "Hey, Mac, aren't you playing?" Harm called from the middle of the back yard. "No, I think you children are having enough fun without me," I grinned from the deckchair. Harm was standing there, drenched from the game of 'Water Battles' that he and three-year-old AJ Roberts were engaged in, oblivious to the toddler coiled around his shoulders squirting him. He was looking was healthy and carefree, the only reminder of that terrible accident in November being his slight limp. He had started back to work three months ago and it finally seemed as if we could put those dark days behind us. Today we were enjoying a quiet barbecue at the Roberts' house and I have to admit this is what we all needed after all the turmoil of the last few months. While the 'boys' occupied themselves with water pistols, I was holding adorable little Reegan as Bud and Harriet were preparing the salad in the kitchen. This was the way I pictured family life to be: quiet, idyllic and relaxing. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, Reegan opened those beautiful baby blue eyes of hers and scrunched up her face, letting out a piercing screech. The thing that I loved best about Reegan and AJ was that they were cute but when they cried, I could hand them back to Harriet. Only this time, Harriet was no-where to be seen. Harm trudged over, AJ still hanging from his neck. "What's up with her?" he asked. "I don't know," I said, frowning deeply. I tried feeding her a bottle to no avail. They say that no woman could resist comforting a crying infant, and I was no different, but 'they' never give any suggestions as to what exactly to *do* with the screaming baby. Harm swung AJ to the ground and scooped Reegan into his arms, rocking her slightly. I blinked in astonishment as the youngest Roberts child gradually stopped crying and began to gurgle in contentment. "The magic touch," Harm explained, not without a touch of superiority. "Mmm, and what happens to 'the magic touch' when it's diaper changing time?" I retorted. "Geez, Mac, some people are never happy." Adjusting Reegan to a better position and pulling his water pistol from his belt, he grinned boyishly at me. "Wanna play then? Boys against girls? Or Reegan and I against you and AJ?" "I gotted 'notha gun, Aun'ie Mac," AJ offered. "Wanna pway?" I shook my head in amusement. "It's okay, AJ, you play with your Uncle Harm. Though we could have done kids against adults, but I'd be outnumbered three to one." "Ha ha," Harm snorted. "Come on, AJ, the battle awaits." I had to smile as I watched Harm and AJ march off to begin a new game. I noticed he was still holding the baby, who for her part was quite happy with all the attention she was receiving from her Uncle Harm. He really was good with children. "Hey, Harm, why don't you give Reegan to me?" "It's okay," he replied, "I'm fine." And he was... I know that I spend many hours worrying over my decision but I know I made the right choice. Harm survived, though he had to face a long and difficult recovery. Had I chosen to let the emergency services amputate, Harm's survival would have been a given but I know I would have been responsible for killing his spirit, for murdering his soul. No, just watching Harm dash around the garden with a chortling Reegan clutched firmly to his chest and little AJ chasing him armed with a loaded water pistol, I could now say for certain that I don't regret my decision. Harm had to fight to live but he's alive and with me- his mind intact and physically almost back to normal...I wouldn't have had it any other way.
___________________________________________________________________________________________ Well, what did you think? I've heard rumours that Bud and Harriet's new baby was going to be called Sarah which I think is a terrible idea (can't TPTB think of other names or something?!) but I relented slightly just so it fitted the story.
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