EXCHANGE OF HEARTS
Summary: Harm's big mouth gets him into hot water.
Disclaimer: JAG and its characters belong to you know who. I'm only going to borrow them for a little while, but I promise to put them back when I'm done. (At least until I want to play with them again). It should be obvious that no profit is being made from this.
Feedback is always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
"I still don't see what the big rush is," Mac grumbled as she fastened her seatbelt in the passenger's seat. She said this despite the fact that she DID know what the rush was.
Ensign Frank Mickewich had been arrested by Baltimore Police on a charge of attempted murder. On leave with other members of the crew of the USS Brunswick, Mickewich had gotten drunk in a local bar. A fight between Mickewich and fellow seaman Thomas Fernald left both men bleeding. Mickewich was heard loudly threatening Fernald's life before being dragged from the bar by others. A half hour later, Fernald left the bar. He was pulled into an alley two blocks from the bar and stabbed three times with a three‑inch switchblade. He was left to die in the alley. He was found a short time later by a passing resident, who called an ambulance. Currently, Ensign Fernald was holding onto life by a thin thread.
The Navy likes to prosecute its own, which was the reason for the haste in dispatching the JAG team to investigate. The longer Baltimore PD held onto him, the harder it would be to get him back.
While Mac understood this, she was miffed for several reasons. First, she'd had a date scheduled with Mic tonight. He hadn't been very happy when she'd called to cancel. He hadn't asked about her traveling companion, which was a good thing because the words they'd had would have been harsher if he'd known. Secondly, a severe winter storm was moving up the coast which was expected to drop as much as fifteen inches of snow on the upper half of the eastern seaboard in a relatively short period of time. Finally, she was not looking forward to spending several hours in a closed automobile with Harmon Rabb.
Harm hadn't been exactly looking forward to this trip either. His relationship with Mac was tense and uncomfortable. Gone were the days when they enjoyed each other's company and bantered cheerfully back and forth. They'd both made choices, and they were both living with the fall‑out from those choices.
He, too, had had words with Renee when he'd called to tell her he was going out of town. She HAD asked who he was traveling with. Harm had asked her what difference it made, which was all the answer she'd needed. He wasn't worried about the storm, though. His SUV could handle anything.
They rode for a while in silence. The going was slow. The snow had already accumulated to three inches.
"Why are you driving anyway?" Mac grumbled. She seemed to be itching for a fight.
"Because it's my vehicle," Harm said matter‑of‑factly. "We could have taken your 'vette."
They both knew that was a terrible idea. Neither spoke again for some time.
Road conditions were getting treacherous. Snow continued to fall, reducing visibility dramatically. The few cars on the road were forced to a crawl.
Harm rounded a curve to find police car lights flashing, blocking the highway. Despite the fact that he had been traveling less than thirty‑five miles per hour, it was some time before his vehicle came to a stop.
A policeman approached the car. "Where you headed?" he asked.
"Baltimore," Harm said. "Is there a problem?"
"Tractor trailer jack‑knifed half a mile up the highway. Road's closed and probably will be for a few hours. I'd suggest you either turn back or find someplace to wait it out."
Turning back wasn't an option. "Are there any hotels nearby?" Harm asked. Mac glared at him.
"Take this exit," the officer directed, pointing. "There's a little place about a half mile up on the right."
"Thanks," Harm said. He put the window back up and started toward the exit.
"You could have consulted me first," Mac complained.
"What other option do we have, Mac?"
She didn't respond. At least she wouldn't have to be in this car with him anymore.
This was not going well. Because of the weather and the proximity of the tractor trailer accident, the normally sleepy motel was nearly filled to capacity. Mac and Harm got the last room, and neither was very pleased to be sharing it.
The room was good‑sized, although it only had one double bed. Harm offered it to her.
"No, you take it," she said. "I won't be able to sleep anyway."
Harm thought about arguing with her, but decided against it. He sensed her combative mood and really didn't feel like fueling her anger. He stripped to his boxers and climbed between the sheets.
"Jeez, he could have argued a little!" Mac thought to herself. She sighed loudly and threw herself into the room's only chair. This was going to be a long night.
Harm woke up shivering in the darkness. He sat up. Once his eyes adjusted, he could make out Mac's silhouette as she sat in the chair across the room. "Mac?" he mumbled. "What time is it? And why is it so cold?"
"It's three ten," she said. "The power went out an hour and eighteen minutes ago."
"Have you slept at all?" he asked.
"Off and on," she lied. She hadn't slept at all.
Harm got out of bed and went into the bathroom to relieve himself. When he returned, he asked, "Want the bed for a while?"
"Nah, you go ahead," she said.
"Are you all right?" he asked. "On the way down, you seemed sorta edgy."
"I'm fine," she said into the darkness. "Mic's getting a little tired of all the away trips."
"Renee doesn't like them much either," Harm said quietly.
"We're a pair, aren't we?" Mac mused. "Sitting around in our underwear in the middle of the night talking about relationships."
"Are you in your underwear?" Harm joked.
Mac smiled, then sighed. Why did he always joke when the conversation got anywhere near serious? It wouldn't make any difference if I was sitting here naked, she thought.
"Better get some more sleep," she advised. "It's going to be a long day."
Harm quietly got back into bed. He'd sensed her mood shift. Why couldn't it be like it used to be between them? he wondered. He'd like to have their easy friendship back. He didn't realize that because of what he'd said on the ferry, for Mac it could never be the same.
After some wrangling and a lot of negotiation, they finally convinced Baltimore PD to release Ensign Mickewich to the Navy's custody. It didn't take much of an investigation to conclude that there was enough evidence to charge Mickewich: a barfull of people had heard him threaten Ensign Fernald; Mickewich's buddies had left him shortly after dragging him out of the bar, thereby depriving him of an alibi; and finally, most damningly, Mickewich's fingerprints were on the knife, which had been carelessly tossed into the alley beside Fernald.
Admiral Chegwidden ordered Mac to prosecute Mickewich and Harm to defend. Mickewich was loudly proclaiming his innocence and refused to consider anything but a plea of not guilty to all charges. Three days after the assault, Ensign Fernald died of his injuries, and the charges were upgraded to murder.
Harm was having a difficult time believing his client's protestations of innocence. He had no credible explanation for where he was at the time of the assault. He said only that he'd been out walking and that he didn't remember seeing anyone who could confirm that. He had absolutely no explanation for how his fingerprints could have been on the murder weapon and denied ever having seen the knife.
Harm had tried to get Mac to offer a lesser charge in exchange for a guilty plead, but he had two problems. First, his client adamantly refused to even consider pleading guilty to anything despite his counsel's warning that the deck was stacked against him.
Secondly, Mac refused to consider anything less than the murder charge. She knew she had Mickewich cold, and there was no way she was going to let him off. Harm didn't blame her. She had a great case, and he wouldn't have considered a lesser plea had he been in her shoes.
Mickewich was confident because he thought he had a card to play. Unfortunately for him, he overestimated the value of his trump card, and he underestimated his opponent.
Mac's first witness was one of three she intended to call to testify regarding the fight in the bar. It had taken many interviews before she'd found the relatively few individuals in the bar who hadn't been drinking, but she'd finally found three.
"State your name for the record, please."
"Adrian Cummings," the witness stated.
"And how old are you, Mr. Cummings?" Mac asked.
"Where are you employed?"
"I work at the Boyle Street Pub as a bartender."
"Were you working the night of July fifth?"
"Why do you remember that date, Mr. Cummings?"
"There was a fight at the bar that night."
"Surely you must see lots of bar fights," Mac noted.
"Sure, but usually one guy doesn't kill the other."
"Objection!" Harm interrupted. "States a conclusion."
"Sustained," the judge ruled. "Just answer the questions, Mr. Cummings."
The witness nodded. Mac permitted herself a small smile. She hadn't asked a question. "Was anyone in the courtroom a participant in the fight on that evening?"
"That guy there," Cummings said, pointing at the accused.
"Let the record show that the witness has identified the accused, Ensign Mickewich," Mac said. She handed the witness a photo. "Is this the individual that Ensign Mickewich fought with?"
"Yup, that's him."
"I'd like to introduce prosecution exhibit one, which is a photo of the deceased." Mac handed the photo to the judge. Harm had already seen the photo and indicated with a nod that he had no objection to its being admitted into evidence.
"Would you tell us about the fight, please, Mr. Cummings."
"Well, that guy," again Cummings pointed at Mickewich, "and the dead guy were in each other's faces, yelling. I couldn't make out what they were saying. Suddenly, they started swinging. They both connected a couple of times before two guys hauled him out the door. As he was being carried out, he yelled, 'I'll kill you, you bastard!' or something like that."
"And when you say 'that guy' and 'he', you're referring to the accused?"
"Thank you, Mr. Cummings. I have nothing further." Mac sat down.
Harm stood up. "Mr. Cummings, did you see Ensign Fernald leave the bar after the fight?" he asked.
"No. I was too busy."
"So you don't know when he left?"
"And you have no idea what happened to him after he left the bar, do you?"
"Nope," the witness readily admitted. Mac had prepared him well and told him not to worry about what he didn't know.
"No further questions." Harm sat down feeling like he hadn't done much to lessen the damage this witness had done.
Mac next called Keith Payson, who testified he was a 29‑year old mechanic. He said he'd been at the bar the night of the fight with friends. His version of the fight was nearly identical to Cummings'.
"Mr. Payson, how much had you had to drink that night?" Harm asked.
"Nothing?" Harm asked, clearly disbelieving the witness.
"No, sir. I was the designated driver. My buddies and I all take turns. That night was my turn."
Mac had known the answer to that question and had contemplated asking Payson herself to get it out in the open right away. She'd decided to let Harm ask, knowing that he would. She calculated it would take a little wind out of Harm's sails this way, and she thought now she'd been right. Harm finished up by asking Payson if he'd seen Fernald after he'd left the bar. Payson had not.
Mac's third witness was Anthony Wainer, a 24‑year old milk delivery truck driver. His testimony was similar in all respects to the two who had come before him.
After his testimony, they broke for lunch. When the courtroom had been cleared and his client taken to his holding cell, Harm and Mac were alone at their respective counsel tables.
"Did you find everybody in that place who hadn't been drinking?" he asked jokingly.
"I believe I did," Mac confirmed. "Pretty effective, don't you think?"
Harm smiled grimly in response. "Lunch?"
"No, thanks. I'm gonna stay here and work."
After lunch, Mac called Ensign Jason Quigley to the stand. Quigley was stationed aboard the Brunswick and had accompanied Mickewich and one other fellow seaman to the bar that night.
"Do you know what started the fight, Ensign Quigley?" Mac asked.
"No, ma'am. Frank had gone up to the bar for a refill, and he got into the fight on his way back. By the time I realized what was happening, they'd started swinging at each other. Glenn and I jumped on Frank and hauled him out of there."
"Ensign Quigley, do you consider Frank Mickewich to be a friend?"
Quigley looked uncomfortably at the accused and said, "Yes."
"Your friend gets into a fight, and you jump on him, rather than the other guy? That's a little unusual, isn't it?"
"Objection," Harm said. "This witness can only testify as to what he did."
"I thought it was best, ma'am," Quigley said.
"And why is that, Ensign?"
"Frank has a temper, ma'am. I was afraid of what he might do."
"Frank has a temper," Mac repeated. "And you were afraid of what he might do." She let that statement linger in the quiet courtroom.
"Your honor," Harm said into the silence. "Is counsel going to ask a question?"
"Nope, I'm done," Mac said, smiling brightly.
Harm was surprised. She hadn't taken Quigley through what happened after they'd left the bar with him. Then he realized that she wanted him to do that himself. That obviously would only hurt his case, and he'd be damned if he'd give her the satisfaction of nailing his own client to the wall for her. There was nothing he needed this witness for, and he informed the court that he had no questions.
Mac smiled because he hadn't taken the bait. It didn't matter. She had another witness to establish what she needed.
Ensign Glenn Kershner was the third person in Mickewich's group that night. Mac had him testify regarding the fight, Mickewich's temper, and how he and Quigley had dragged the enraged man out of the bar.
"How would you describe Ensign Mickewich after you dragged him out of the bar?"
"I'd say he was enraged, ma'am."
"Did he make any further threats against the victim?"
"Objection, your honor," Harm said. "The prosecution hasn't established that Ensign Fernald
was a victim."
"Your honor, I'd say it's obvious that Thomas Fernald was a victim. He's dead."
"Be that as it may, Colonel," the judge admonished. "You must still prove a connection."
"All right. I'll rephrase the question. Did Ensign Mickewich make any further threats against Ensign Fernald after you took him out of the bar?"
"A couple of times," Kershner admitted. "He told us to let him go so he could go back in there and kill the bastard."
"Did you let him go?"
"Not at first, ma'am. He was too mad. After ten minutes or so, he calmed down. Jason and I left him then. He said he wanted to walk back to the ship."
"Did you see him again that night?"
"Thank you, Ensign."
Again, there was nothing Harm could do, other than have Kershner confirm that after he'd left Mickewich, he had no idea where Mickewich had gone or what he'd done.
Mac's next witness was Ensign Stan Wilson. He and Fernald had gone to the bar together that night. Wilson hadn't seen what started the fight, and before he could intervene on his friend's behalf, others had pulled the combatants apart. Wilson had heard Mickewich's parting threat. Twenty minutes later, he testified, Fernald wanted to leave.
"I told him I was staying," Wilson said.
"Why, Ensign Wilson?" Mac asked gently. She knew how bad Ensign Wilson felt about letting his friend go alone.
"I'd met a girl, ma'am. I didn't want to leave because I'd met a girl."
"So Ensign Fernald left alone?"
"Did you see him again that night?"
"Yes, ma'am. After I heard what happened, I went to the hospital. They let me see him for a minute. He was unconscious."
"Thank you, Ensign Wilson."
Mac sat down, and Harm got to his feet.
"So you let Ensign Fernald leave alone?"
"If you'd left with him, do you think he'd be alive today?"
Mac was on her feet immediately. "Objection! Calls for speculation. Besides, Ensign Wilson isn't on trial here."
"Did you see Ensign Mickewich leave the bar?"
"So you have no idea where he went?"
"Or what he did?"
"That's correct, sir."
"Or if he was anywhere near Thomas Fernald at the time he was attacked?"
"I have nothing further," Harm said and sat down.
The judge looked at his watch. "Colonel, will your next witness take longer than twenty minutes?"
"Quite possibly he will, your honor."
"We'll recess until 0800 tomorrow then." He dismissed then with a bang of his gavel.
"Dinner?" Harm asked as he closed his briefcase.
"No, thanks. I've got work to do."
"More nails for the coffin?" Harm joked.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" she teased. "Not that it would help you if you knew."
Harm knew she was right. He also suspected she was avoiding him.
When court convened in the morning, Mac called Baltimore Police Detective Sean Lessard. He had handled the initial investigation before Mickewich had been turned over to the Navy. Mac took him through his credentials and then asked him to describe the crime scene.
"I arrived on the scene before paramedics had removed the injured man. I took some photographs while they were working on him."
Mac interrupted. "Are these the photographs?" she asked as she handed him a bunch of photos.
He looked at them before responding. "They are."
"Prosecution exhibit two, your honor."
"No objection," Harm said.
"Please continue," Mac directed.
"After the victim had been removed, we searched the alley. Along with a bunch of garbage, we found a three‑inch switchblade knife. The blade was open, and there was blood on the blade."
Mac handed him a knife. "Is this the knife you found?"
The detective looked at it. "That's the mark I made, yes."
"And can you tell us if you found any fingerprints on the knife?"
"Objection, your honor," Harm said. "This witness isn't a fingerprint expert."
The judge turned to the witness. "Did you do the fingerprint testing yourself?"
"Then I'll sustain the objection."
After admitting the knife into evidence, Mac went on. It didn't matter. The lab tech who did the fingerprint analysis was awaiting his turn to testify if needed. She had Detective Lessard describe how they'd identified Mickewich as a suspect and how he'd been arrested.
Harm asked the detective if he'd considered other suspects. The detective rather sarcastically told him after they knew the accused's fingerprints were on the murder weapon, they'd stopped looking for other suspects.
Mac's next witness was Sergeant Charles McManus. He testified regarding his analysis of the fingerprints on the knife and the fingerprints of the suspect. He concluded beyond any doubt that they were the same.
Mac's final witness was Dr. Christine Preston, medical examiner for the City of Baltimore. After establishing her qualifications, Mac had the doctor testify that Fernald had three deep stab wounds in his back, one of which penetrated into the right kidney. Fernald also had bruising on the front of his neck. On Mac's careful questioning, the doctor hypothesized that someone had stolen up behind Fernald, put an arm around his throat, and stabbed him fiercely with a sharp object. The knife found in the alley matched perfectly the wounds in the victim's body. Although the knife was only three inches long, some of the damage it had caused showed up more than three and a half inches into the body, suggesting that great force had been used when delivering the blows. Dr. Preston testified that she'd tested blood samples from both the accused and the victim for alcohol content. Fernald's was 1.1 and Mickewich's was 1.2. Finally, Dr. Preston testified that the blood on the knife matched Fernald's blood.
With that, Mac rested, confident that even Harmon Rabb couldn't pull this one out of the fire.
Harm knew he was in deep trouble. Mac had painted a circumstantial box around his client, and there was nothing he could do to get Mickewich out. His client had given him nothing to work with: not witnesses, no way to corroborate his claim that he was nowhere near the scene of the attack at the time it occurred, nothing. Harm hadn't even been able to find anyone who could provide testimony regarding Mickewich's good character. The man was universally disliked by most and tolerated by a few. Even those that tolerated him admitted what a fierce temper he had.
Harm was left with putting his client on the stand, and he had very mixed feelings about doing that. The only change they had was that the members would believe his story. Harm thought the chances of that were very slim. The chances were much greater that Mac would rip Mickewich to shreds on the stand. Ultimately, Harm put him on the stand because Mickewich insisted on it.
After a lunch break, Mickewich took his place in the witness box. Harm first had him describe his military service. He led him gently into the night in question and had him describe the fight. According to Mickewich, Fernald had called him derogatory names and goaded him into fighting.
"Did you threaten to kill him, Ensign Mickewich?"
Mickewich looked sheepish. "Yes, sir. I did. I was pretty mad."
"What did you do after your friends took you outside?"
"The guys stayed with me for a while. Then I started walking. I met up with an old buddy, and we spent the rest of the night catching up on old times. He's right back there," Mickewich said, pointing to a man in the back of the courtroom. "Ted Casselli."
Harm couldn't believe what he was hearing. Bells and whistles were sounding in his head, and he was too numbed to shut his client up. Finally, he came to his senses. "Your honor, I'd like to request a brief recess."
Mac stood up. "I object. We just had a break. And I also object to this other witness testifying. His name is not on the witness list, and if he was going to testify, he should have been sequestered."
"Counsel, approach, please," the judge ordered.
Harm and Mac approached the bench. Mac was ready to fight this tooth and nail.
"What's going on here, Commander Rabb?" the judge asked.
"I need some time to confer with my client," Harm begged.
"You just had an hour," Mac pointed out.
"Your client seems to have caught you by surprise," the judge noted. "I'll give you fifteen minutes, Commander."
"Sir, about this witness . . ." Mac started.
"I'll have him removed from the courtroom, Colonel," the judge interrupted. "If Commander Rabb wants to call him after his client testifies, you can renew your objection at that time. And I have to warn you, Commander, I'll probably sustain that objection." He motioned them away from the bench and banged his gavel. "We'll take a fifteen minute break. I apologize to the members for the inconvenience."
Grim‑faced, Harm followed his client back to the conference room. "What in the hell are you doing?!" he exploded after the door had been closed.
"What do you mean?" Mickewich asked, taken aback. "I've got a witness who will say I was with him. How is that bad?"
"You can't really be this stupid, can you? Everybody in that room saw through that cheap ploy! And even if it was the truth, which I doubt, we can't use a witness we haven't identified. This isn't Perry Mason, Mickewich! It's real life! And you are really screwed!" Harm took a deep breath to calm himself. "Is that guy really willing to come in here and perjure himself?"
"It's only perjury if someone proves he's lying, right?" Mickewich challenged. "How could anyone prove he was lying?"
Harm sighed. "I can't put him on the stand if I know he's going to lie! Hell, I can't even put you back on the stand! Look, we've got only a few minutes to figure out what we're gonna do to save this. I think you should change your plea."
"No. I won't do that."
"If we rest with what we've got now, they're going to convict you."
"I'll take that chance."
"Changing your plea now could keep your sentence down. I can't promise you anything, but let me talk to the Colonel," Harm tried to reason.
"She's not gonna deal with you. That bitch has us right where she wants us."
"You watch yourself," Harm warned, pointing at Mickewich. "But you are right about one thing. She does have us where she wants us. You should change your plea."
"I won't do it."
"Then you leave me with no choice but to rest."
Harm did when they returned to the courtroom.
"This case is really very simple," Mac started her closing. "The accused argued with the victim, loudly and in front of a crowd. He threatened Ensign Fernald's life. And when his friends left him, he waited outside that bar until Ensign Fernald left. He crept up behind Fernald, put him in a choke‑hold, and stabbed him three times in the back. How do we know it was Ensign Mickewich? He threatened the victim. He has no credible explanation for where he was at the time of the attack. Those two facts alone aren't enough to convict anyone of anything. But the accused's fingerprints were on the murder weapon. And that is all you need to know. If Mickewich was nowhere near the scene of the crime, how did a knife with his fingerprints and the victim's blood on it get in that alley? I think when you answer that question, you'll find that you have no choice but to convict Ensign Mickewich on all charges."
It was one of the shortest closing Mac had ever given. What else was there to say?
Harm stood up after Mac sat down. "This case really isn't as simple as my worthy colleague would have you believe. No one knows what happened in that alley. No one saw my client anywhere near that alley, let alone in it. No one saw who attacked Ensign Fernald. How can you convict someone based on the circumstantial evidence shown to you by the prosecution? Think about what you've heard and give every benefit of the doubt to Ensign Mickewich. We can't ask you for anything less. Thank you."
Harm sat down, feeling as though the job he'd done was wholly inadequate. He knew he had no chance of getting Mickewich off, and quite frankly, he didn't think Mickewich deserved to get off.
The member had been deliberating for only forty‑five minutes. Harm knew that that was a very bad sign.
Everyone reassembled in the courtroom for the verdict.
"Would the defense please rise," the judge requested. "Please announce your findings," he requested of the members.
Harm and Mickewich rose to their feet.
"Ensign Mickewich, on the charge and specification of murder, this court martial finds you guilty."
"Sentencing will take place at 0900 tomorrow," the judge intoned with a bang of the gavel.
Suddenly, someone in the back of the courtroom jumped to his feet. Harm noticed the sudden movement. As he turned, he saw the glint of light on metal. "Gun!" he yelled, and
pandemonium broke out.
Harm saw the next few moments in brief flashes. The man with the gun was the friend who had come to lie for Mickewich. He was holding a pistol, pointing it wildly around him as people ran for cover and ducked. MP's moved to surround the accused as others ran to provide cover for the judge. Harm saw the gun swing until it was pointing at Mac.
"Mac! Look out!" He dove for her as the shot rang out. The two of them crashed to the floor as someone finally subdued the gunman. Mac slammed her head on the floor, knocking her briefly unconscious.
"Mac! Are you all right?!" Harm called. He noticed blood on this clothing and on Mac's. He didn't think he'd been hit. It must be Mac! "Get a corpsman!" he called. "She's been hit!"
Harm sat beside her bed, watching her sleep. The doctor had told him that she'd be fine, but he wanted her to have a familiar face beside her when the anesthesia wore off. The bullet had entered her upper arm and lodged under the bone. The doctor had removed the bullet, and Mac now lay sleeping after the surgery.
As he watched her, a thought jumped unbidden into his head. "She's so incredibly beautiful." Now where did that come from, he wondered. Wherever it came from, it was certainly true. She was a beautiful woman. As he watched her now, Mac smiled in her sleep, which made Harm smile, and a wave of tenderness washed over him. He'd been so worried about her when he'd seen the blood. She'd been knocked unconscious, and it was several anxious moments before he'd been able to figure out where she'd been hit. He'd ridden with her in the ambulance and had been there when she'd regained consciousness shortly before being taken to the operating room. She'd been in obvious pain, but she'd still managed to rub it in that she'd won the case. He smiled again at the memory. She was so courageous. But then, he figured, she'd seen a lot in her life, and those experiences had forged a molten steel core inside that incredible body. She looked so small and vulnerable, yet he knew just how tough she could be.
His mind wandered back to the ferry, as it had done a lot of late. He sighed loudly. "Oh, Mac. How could I have been so stupid? You gave me an opportunity to make a commitment to the most amazing woman I've ever known, and I threw it away. You have to know how I feel about you. I know you do. The fact that I can't say it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with me. If you were awake right now, I'd tell you exactly how I feel." Of course, he only said that because she WASN'T awake. Besides, it would be necessary for him to figure it out before he could tell her.
"I guess I always knew it would come to this," a voice behind him said.
Harm recognized the voice instantly. He'd asked the Admiral to call Brumby to inform him about Mac's injury. He'd obviously come down to be with her. Harm wondered just how much he'd heard. All of it, he suspected. He turned around slowly. "Mic, I . . ."
"Don't bother, Harm," the Australian said kindly. "I already know. I think we need to talk. Come get a cup of coffee with me."
Harm didn't really want to leave Mac, but he couldn't refuse Mic, much as he wanted to. What on earth was he going to say to him?
They didn't speak at all while they waited to pay for their coffee. The silence was tense and uncomfortable. They sat at the table and finally faced one another, man to man as they had both wanted to for so many months.
"What do you think that you can give Sarah that I can't?" Mic asked.
Harm shifted uncomfortably. "I never said I wanted to give her anything," he said lamely. "Look, I really don't want to talk about this."
"Then listen," Mic said. "I can give her everything – a home, a family, love. I'd have given her all of those things by now if she'd have let me. She's given me her love and her body, but there's one thing she can't give me, and that's her heart. It's not hers to give. Someone took it from her long ago. And even though she's figured out that she has not future with this man, she can't figure out how to get her heart back. He's got a hold of it and won't let go. And the worst part is I don't think he realizes just how tightly he holds her. So tight that she can't give herself completely to anyone else. Now I thought that given enough time, she'd come around, and I was willing to wait however long it took. Lord know, she's worth the wait. but the picture changed when this other chap finally decided that he was going to tell her how he felt. As soon as that happened, I knew I was a goner."
Harm sat silent for a moment. Was Mic backing out of the picture? What did all of this mean to him and Mac? WAS there a him and Mac? He looked at Mic. He wasn't such a bad guy, Harm supposed. Mac could have done worse, and had more than once in her life. But as I any better for her than Dalton Lowne was? he asked himself. I know I'm better for her than Chris Ragle was, he decided. Great. I fit in somewhere between Chris Ragle and Dalton Lowne. Stiff competition.
"Are you going to say anything, Mate?" Mic asked after watching Harm obviously furiously thinking.
"I don't know what to say," Harm finally admitted.
"Then start with this. How do you feel about Sarah?"
Harm sighed. How DID he feel about Sarah? She was his friend, someone who had been with him through some of the most difficult times of his adult life. She'd been with him through some things he had no right to ask anyone for. Yet she had gone willingly, knowing her life could be in danger. No one else had been there so consistently for him. No one else had ever laid it on the line for him like she had done repeatedly. How could he formulate these thoughts into words?
"Why is this so difficult?" Mic prodded. "Why can't you just admit that you love her? I think every man she's ever met has fallen in love with her to some degree. Some of us just have it worse than others. Just say it, Harm."
Harm took a deep breath. "I love her," he said, still not sure what that meant. He did love her as a friend. But was there more? The obvious answer was yes, but how much more?
"See? That wasn't so hard now, was it?" Mic asked. He'd forced Harm to say it, knowing that once it was said, his own relationship with the woman he loved was over. "Now you need to tell her."
"Why are you doing this?" Harm asked, confused. He felt like Brumby was pushing him towards Mac. Brumby was her fiancee. Shouldn't he be trying to keep them apart? "Why didn't you convince her to go back to Australia with you?" Then this wouldn't be happening.
"Think that would have been any easier for you, Harm?" Mic asked, mocking slightly. "Out of sight, out of mind? Well, let me tell you something. It doesn't work. I know. Being away from her only made me want her more."
Harm already knew that was true. When he'd returned to flying, he'd missed her more than he'd thought it possible to miss anyone. "Then I don't understand why you're doing this," Harm persisted. "What do you gain from this?"
"Sarah's happiness," Mic said simply. "That's all I've ever wanted. She's a very special lady, Harm. But I don't want part of her. If I can't have the whole package, I'm willing to let her go. But only if I know that she's going to be loved and taken care of like she deserves to be."
"You don't have to worry about that," Harm said quietly.
Mic stood up. "Well, she'll be waking soon, I expect. You'd better get back up there."
Harm stood up. "Aren't you going to . . ."
"Say good‑bye? No. I'm not a masochist. Just tell her that I'll talk to her in a couple of weeks. And tell her that I . . . No, better not do that."
Harm extended his hand to Mic. "I never thought I'd say this, but it's been a pleasure knowing you, Mic."
Mic shook his hand. "If I ever hear that you've hurt Sarah, I'll come back and finish what I started in Sydney," he threatened.
Harm smiled. "I know you will."
Harm sat beside her bed again, rehearsing what he was going to say. He hoped she would sleep a long time yet.
Mac felt as though she were swimming in the blackest of seas. Ahead of her she could see a light, and she moved toward it very slowly. As she got closer, the light got brighter and brighter, until finally she opened her eyes and looked around the hospital room. Within second, she remembered what had happened and why she was here. She spotted Harm staring out a window, and she looked at him a moment before she opened her mouth and croaked out, "Hey."
He turned to her and smiled, that smile that could make her toes tingle. "Hey, yourself. About time you woke up. I thought you were going to sleep all day." He moved to her bedside. "So how do you feel?"
"My head hurts," she said, and she attempted to move her right arm up to rub her aching temples. A burst of pain arrested that movement. "Ow! So does my arm!"
"I'm afraid the headache is my fault," Harm confessed. "When I jumped on you, you hit the floor pretty hard."
Mac sighed. "Just another day in the life of those of us who revolve around Harmful Rabb." She smiled at him to show him she was joking.
He smiled back. "The doctor took the bullet out of your arm. No permanent damage."
"Did you save the bullet? I kept the one from my leg when those poachers shot me. I figured I'd keep all of the bullets from the gunshot wounds I seem to get when I'm around you. When I get enough, I'll have a necklace made. Shouldn't take much longer."
"Hey, this wasn't my fault!" he defended himself. "The police have the bullet. Evidence."
"Well, I want it back," Mac stated. "Did they catch him?"
"Yeah. He was Mickewich's buddy. They'll both be looking at cell walls for a long time to come."
Mac shifted uncomfortably in the bed. "When can I get out of here?"
"I don't know. The doctor will need to look at you first. Once they do, I'll take you home."
"You don't have to wait around. I'm sure Mic will come and pick me up." Mac noticed the strange look that crossed Harm's face. "Did you call Mic and tell him what happened?"
"I asked the Admiral to call him."
Men could be so childish. "Is he coming?"
Harm didn't answer. This isn't how he'd practiced this scene.
"Harm, is he coming?" Mac demanded.
"He's already been here," he admitted.
"And he didn't stay? Did he have something better to do?" she asked angrily.
"It wasn't like that," Harm said weakly.
"Well, I'll just call him right now," Mac said. The phone was on the left side of the bed. With her right arm in the condition it was, she couldn't reach over and get it. "Could you get the phone for me?" she asked.
"Mac, I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Why not? Something's going on, isn't it? I can see it in your face. What are you hiding from me? Has something happened to Mic?"
"No. Mic's fine. In fact, he's much finer than I ever suspected."
"Now I know something's wrong! You just complimented Mic! You'd better tell me what's going on, or I'll just get up and find out myself." She flung the sheet off and swung her legs around to get out of bed.
"Hold on there, chief!" Harm said, catching her when dizziness threw her balance off. "Just calm down. " He maneuvered her back into bed and covered her again.
"Then tell me what's going on!" she demanded.
He sighed and sat beside her on the bed. His moment of truth was fast approaching. "Mic and I had a talk while he was here."
"And he said to tell you he'd talk to you in a couple of weeks."
"A couple of weeks? I don't get it. Did he dump me?" her eyes searched his face for some answers that made sense. "Geez, just because a girl gets shot!" she tried to joke, but she felt tears dangerously close to falling. ""Why, Harm? Why did he do this?"
He couldn't look at her. What did he think, that she wouldn't be upset? She loved Brumby. Of course it would hurt when he left. I'm an idiot, Harm thought. And I'm screwing this up badly.
"Look at me, Harmon Rabb Junior!" she ordered.
When he did, he saw that a lone tear had escaped.
She saw something in his eyes that made her ask. "What did you do?"
He sighed again. Where was he going to find the words?
"Would you stop sighing like a steam engine and tell me what's going on!"
Harm took her hand. She couldn't very well take her hand out of his grip. It hurt to much to move her arm. "Brumby didn't really dump you," he said.
"What would you call it?" she asked.
Transfer of ownership? he mused, knowing better than to voice that thought. Sore arm or not, she'd knock his block off if she even knew he was thinking that. "Uh, he just thought it was better this way."
"Better for whom?" she demanded.
"Better for both of you."
"He thought you'd be better off with someone else." He couldn't look at her again.
"Oh? And who might that be?" she asked coldly. She knew where this was going, but she wanted to make him confess.
"Me," he said simply. He chanced a quick glance at her and was frightened by the anger he saw in her eyes.
"You?" she spat. Pain be damned, she pulled her hand away from his. "And why would he think that?"
"Because I told him I love you." There. He'd said it. Now how would she react? He wasn't prepared for the fury directed at him now.
"Of all the arrogant, egotistical . . . ! Do you think I've just been sitting around mooning over you like some lovesick teenager?! Do you actually think you're worth the time and effort that would take?! You made your feelings perfectly plain. I tried to build something with Mic. Now you think with one word from you that I'm just gonna drop everything and come running to you? Well, think again, Commander! I may be cheap, but I'm not that easy!"
A nurse burst into the room. "What's going on in here?" she asked. "Most of our patients don't wake up screaming" She looked at both of them, but neither spoke. Sure that no one was in imminent danger, she said, "The doctor wanted to see you as soon as you woke up. I'll go get him."
As soon as she'd left, Harm said, "Mac, I . . ."
"Just don't, okay?!" she interrupted. She could only hold the tears back so much longer, and she wanted him to be gone when they came. "Go now. I don't want you here any more."
He stood up. "How will you get home?" he asked quietly.
"I don't care. Just go."
After a couple of days off, Mac returned to work, her right arm in a sling. She'd come to realize how much one took for granted when one's body worked as it should. Being one‑armed was a pain in the butt. She couldn't write or tie her own shoes. She hated being dependent on anyone for anything.
She hadn't spoken to Harm since her blow‑up in the hospital, and she was still angry at him. How dare he meddle in her life like he had done! And what was the matter with Mic? He was willing to just walk away? Wasn't she worth a fight? That was a bridge she'd cross later. She hadn't called him and was waiting for him to make the first move. She wasn't very pleased with him either. She'd taken his ring off and put it in her jewelry box.
She and Harriet had been closeted in the library for an hour. Mac needed to do some research on a case she was handling. In her condition, writing her own notes was impossible, so she dictated notes to Harriet, who had graciously offered her assistance. While they were so involved, Harm opened the door and stuck his head in.
"There you are," he said. "Just wanted to say welcome back. Can I talk to you?"
"I'm kind of busy right now," she said coldly.
"Well, later then. Just come see me when you get a minute."
"Is that an order, Commander?" she asked.
"Of course not, Mac," he said. He looked at her, the plea in his eyes obvious, then left.
"Where were we, Harriet?" Mac asked.
"Is everything all right, Ma'am?" Harriet asked, gathering all her courage. With the mood the Colonel was in, she could easily have her head handed to her. But she'd noticed the missing ring right away and had been dying to ask all morning.
"No, Harriet. It's not. But then, it never is where men are concerned. I should be used to that."
"Is it anything you'd like to talk about?"
Mac sighed. She'd love to have someone to talk to about this. Right now, she'd almost kill to have a supportive mother or a sister to help her straighten this mess out. Although Harriet was a good friend, this was the wrong subject to be discussing with her. This concerned people she worked with. "Thanks, Harriet. But I think the less you know, the better off you'll be."
It was a confusing answer. Harriet smiled uncertainly. "If you change your mind, ma'am, I'm always here."
Mac smiled in return. "I appreciate that."
Mac tried to cook dinner with one hand. This was getting frustrating. The doctor better take this sling off next week, she thought to herself, or I'll do it for him. The knock on her door was almost a welcome intrusion.
Until she saw who it was. Despite his request, Mac hadn't gone to see Harm. She was still too angry at him to discuss anything rationally, especially at the office. She opened the door. "What do you want?"
"We need to talk. Can I come in?"
"I'd rather you didn't. It's late."
"Mac, it's only 0630."
"Maybe I meant it's TOO late."
Her words chilled him. "Look, we're going to talk about this. We might as well do it now. I feel safer with you incapacitated like that," he joked.
"I could still kick you in the head," she pointed out.
"I'll take my chances."
She sighed and stepped away from the door. She returned to the kitchen and her attempts to feed herself.
Harm followed her after greeting Jingo. "Looks like you're having a problem there."
"Have you ever tried to use a can opener with one hand?" she asked irritably.
"Let me," he said. He took the can and the opener away from her and opened the can quickly. He dumped the contents into the pan waiting on the stove and turned the burner on.
"Have you eaten?" she asked.
She took two bowls from the cupboard and set them on the table. This was her invitation to dinner.
They hardly spoke a word until they'd eaten and cleaned away the dishes.
"Now that you've been fed, maybe we can have a civilized discussion," Harm joked as they sat down with coffee in the living room.
She looked at him coldly, and his smile disappeared.
"I'm really sorry about all of this," he said. "I never meant for any of this to happen." He looked at her, but she had no intention of helping him. "You're not going to make this easy, are you?"
"Give me one reason why I should."
"There aren't any," he conceded. He ran a hand through his hair. "I'm much better at talking to you when you're unconscious."
"You want me to pass out?" she offered.
He smiled. "No. That's what got me into this mess to begin with."
She looked at him, not understanding.
"The reason Brumby and I had the discussion I told you about was because he overheard me . . . saying things to you while . . . you were still sleeping after your surgery."
"What did you say?"
"I told you what a fool I'd been that day on the ferry to pass up what you were offering to me. I told you if you were awake, I'd tell you how I felt about you. Brumby overheard all that. He insisted we talk."
"And what did you talk about?"
He couldn't read her tone, and she wouldn't look him in the eyes. He'd always been able to seen in her eyes so much more than she was saying with her words.
"He told me how much he loved you and how he wanted to give you everything. He said that you could give him everything but your heat because that wasn't yours to give. He seemed to think you'd already given it to me."
She looked up at him now, and he could see all the way to her soul. In her eyes, he saw many things: accusations, recriminations, and something else. Was it forgiveness? He could only hope.
"He said that all he wanted was for you to be happy. He said that he'd known all along that I'd figure out how I felt about you and that once I did, he wouldn't stand a chance. He's a very decent guy, Mac. I'm sorry I didn't see that sooner."
"Yes, he is a decent guy," she agreed. "And he deserves so much more than I could ever give him. Why do I always hurt the people I love?"
"Mac, you can't change the things that have happened to you in the past. You've told me what I think must be just the tip of a very large iceberg about your past. Your father was a terrible person and didn't deserve to have a child as incredible as you are. And your mother did a horrible thing when she walked out and left you. The drinking and all the bad choices that went with it are demons that are going to dog you for the rest of your life. But don't you see? If those things had never happened to you, you wouldn't be what you are today. If you'd had parents who loved you and cared for you, you wouldn't have gown up so defensive and defenseless. You probably wouldn't have started drinking. If none of those things had happened to you, there would have been no reason for Uncle Matt to rescue you. And you probably wouldn't have joined the Marines. You might be a lawyer, but probably not a JAG lawyer. And we never would have met.
"So you're saying that having the crap beat out of me and having my mother abandon me were good things?" she asked, only half joking.
"Of course not. But they happened, and they led you to a point in your life where you had to make a choice. Either you let the demons win, or you shoved them aside and made something of yourself. You won, Mac. The Marines took a scared kid with nothing going for her and used an inner strength and determination I'll bet she didn't even know she had and made her into the woman I see today. The person that you were isn't gone, Mac. She'll always be with you to remind you of what life could have been like and to remind you to be thankful for what they are."
"I never heard you talk this much outside of a courtroom," she joked.
Harm could tell her anger had vanished. "I'm not finished," he said. "When I look at you, I see a woman who's been tested by the fires of hell, but who was courageous enough to beat the fires back. Your intelligence and perception scare me sometimes because I wonder if I can keep up. You care about the people around you to the point where you risk your life for them without a second thought. You are an amazing person, Sarah Mackenzie. I've always known that. But when I discovered what an incredible woman you are, that's when I realized just how much I love you."
"Well, it sure took you along time to say that," she said with a small smile on her lips.
"I had a lot to say," he pointed out.
"That's not quite what I meant," she said. "I've been waiting to hear you say that for four
years, seven months, three days, six hours, and thirteen minutes."
He smiled at her then. "But I've know you for more than five years."
"I don't believe in love at first sight," she said. "Do you?"
He slid closer to her on the couch. "I never did before I laid eyes on you. But you haven't said how you feel."
"If you don't know that, then you're not half as smart as you think you are," she teased. "I've loved you for four years, seven months, three . . ."
He interrupted her by leaning in to kiss her. He kissed her gently at first, then looked to her for some sign that he was moving too fast.
"I can see I've got some things to teach you," she whispered. She leaned toward him and kissed him the way she'd wanted to for four years, seven months . . . She lost track of time as their lips locked together, years of unacknowledged passion finally finding its release. They'd always know it would be like this, those few times when they'd allowed themselves to imagine.
Finally, when they had to breathe, Harm said, "You're pretty good at that." He couldn't take his eyes away from hers.
"I could do that with one wing tied behind my back, Lindy," she quipped.
He raised his eyebrows. "Sounds kinky!"
She laughed then, the joy of this moment bubbling up from her soul. "Lead the way, Commander," she said, standing up and offering her hand.
He stood up, but instead of taking her hand, he scooped her off her feet and walked with her toward the bedroom.
"It's my arm that's injured, Harm, not my legs."
"Shut up, Marine," he growled. "Navy's on the scene." He kissed her hungrily as he walked into her bedroom, kicking the door closed on an inquisitive Jingo. It was time to find out just how much this Marine could take.
He placed her on the bed, their lips never parting.
"Wait a minute," she said. "You've got my heart. I think you need to give me something in return."
"You chump," he said between kisses on her neck, her ears, her lips. "You've already got it. You've had it for four years, seven months, etcetera etcetera."
She laughed again as his hands roamed over her. When one hand slipped under her shirt, she stopped laughing.
"Should I stop?" he asked breathlessly.
"If you do, I'll break your hand."
"I never knew Marines could be so romantic," he joked.
All joking ended when she slipped her hand under his belt. It was time to see if what they said about Navy fliers was true.