Picking up the Pieces
As the planes hit the towers, and debris fell all around the surrounding area, Meg Austin watched. She was supposed to be on one of those planes, with her mum and brother. Just minutes before, they'd called on their cell phones to tell her that they loved her and would always be with her. Then they hit and Meg burst into tears as debris from the plane and buildings flew everywhere. A large piece of metal flew at Meg and knocked her to the ground, unconscious. More came flying and eventually pinned her to the ground, a pole impaling her. She became semi-conscious and saw the pole and other metal pinning her to the ground. The sight of her own blood pooling around her made her vomit then pass out again.
'She's in and out of consciousness...' Meg heard as she was taken into hospital. She was barely awake. Just give up, she thought, give up and rejoin your family. She lapsed into a coma then and was hurried off to surgery. She was operated on urgently, but lost too much blood and was hooked up to life support. The doctors didn't think she'd survive the night.
'Rabb,' Harm said as he answered his phone. He listened as the doctor at Bethesda told him what had happened the day before.
'She's...I mean she isn't...dead is she?' Harm asked, breathing in sharply. He hadn't seen Meg since 1996 – he had thought about her since then, and worried but never thought this would happen. He listened for a bit longer.
'Coma...she's comatose....what can I do?'
'She has no next of kin. Her father died twenty-four, almost twenty-five years ago I believe and her brother and mother were on one of the planes...'
'What was she doing there?'
'I don't know sir, but I went over her old records, found your name – she listed you as contact here in Washington.'
The doctor didn't sound hopeful for her, Harm thought.
'I'll be there,' He said and hung up. He sat in silence, thinking. He remembered the last time she had been in a coma and everything they'd been through together. But the clearest memory was his first meeting with her with Commander Lindsey on their way to the USS Tigershark. She had always had a sweet, innocent look, compared to Mac's no nonsense, straight to the facts, cut-the-bull look. Harm looked over to a picture frame. It was of him and Meg in Iraq trying to gain freedom for Corporal Anderson after he had crossed a border.
'Penny for your thoughts Harm?' Mac said from the door. She could read him like an open book.
'What? Oh it's nothing...'
'Harm, something's bothering you.' Mac said, coming in and sitting down.
'I have to see the Admiral,'
'Harm,' Mac's voice was gentle.
'Can we talk later? This is important.'
Mac looked at her friend. 'Of course Harm,'
'Admiral, I just got a call from Bethesda...' Harm started but faltered. Would AJ even remember Meg?
'Rabb, if it's about Lieutenant j.g. Austin, they called me too. Go, see her. Say whatever you need to say. I know she is in a coma but if anyone can bring her out you can.'
Harm smiled weakly. 'Thank you sir,'
'Tell the Colonel Harm,'
Bethesda Naval Hospital
Harm sat by Meg. She looked frail and small and had stitches on her face, a bandage around her head and bandages and stitches everywhere else. Her hand rested lightly on her stomach, her arm in a sling. She was pale, and a machine was helping her breathe. Harm listened to the steady bip, bip, bip of the heart monitor.
'Meg, please don't leave me. Wake up; tell me why you were in New York, why you were at the towers so early. back to JAG. I miss you.' Harm said to her still form. Mac stood in the doorway. AJ had asked her to follow Harm, make sure he was okay. Harm looked up for a moment, to blot out the bandages, stitches, bruises and cuts on Meg and saw her.
'The Admiral asked me to come...told me about her, about the two of you...filled me in basically.'
'Mac, what if she doesn't wake up?'
'She will, the Admiral said she was a fighter.' Mac sat beside him, and pulled his hand from Meg's arm.
'She looks so broken Mac. Look, even her eyes are bruised.'
Mac put her arm around him.
'No it isn't. We've both just recovered from our relationships breaking up and my accident...Mac...'
'Were you in love with her?'
'I think I was, and I think I still am,' Harm wouldn't let Mac take him out of the room, even when the doctor came in to check her IV.
'Mac, she lost so much blood...'
'She'll live Harm. Hey, why don't we go down and get something to drink?'
'I'll meet you down there,'
Harm brushed Meg's face lightly.
'Meg, please, come on. Don't give up! I love you!' Harm said before leaving the room.
AJ entered Harm's office.
'How is she?'
'She looks awful...she looks dead.'
'Son, she is only in a coma. And Meg's strong, she's a fighter. She'll come out of it, she always survives these things. Hell, I seem to recall her saving your life a few times,'
'Yeah...' Harm replied shortly.
'Harm, Mac said...I mean...did you love her?'
'Yes, I did.'
'Do you still love her?'
'I think so,' Harm replied.
'Did you tell her that while you were there?'
'She'll live...I'm sure she will.'
'And if she doesn't? Admiral, she has no family left...'
'This is why she needs you, me and Mac...'
'She won't like Mac sir,'
'How do you know?'
'I just know Meg; she had it rough as an undercover marine recruit – tougher than the rest.'
AJ crossed his arms thoughtfully. 'I know, I read the reports.'
'Sir, if anything happens to her...'
Bethesda Naval Hospital, Three months later
Harm again sat beside Meg. She still wasn't awake, but was breathing alone, had been for the past twenty-four hours.
'Meg, please...' Harm begged her. Some of her injuries were better, most of the scratches and bruises, and her arm were fine, but her head and stomach, where she had been impaled weren't.
'Harm...' he heard her say dryly. Her eyes were still closed, her skin still pallid against the stark whiteness of the hospital room. Harm gripped her hand and watched as her eyes opened slowly.
'Ow!' She cried, pulling her hand back and touching her stomach.
'Meg, are you okay?' Harm asked her.
'Harm...' she said, still staring up at the ceiling. Harm gently turned her head and she smiled weakly at him.
'Hey,' he said as he lifted a glass of water to her mouth gently. 'How're you feeling?'
'Sore...I got impaled by a pole,' Meg cringed. The stitches still hurt. 'And something hit my head – I was bleeding from so many places Harm,'
'You're okay now, I'm here.' He replied gently. She started crying softly, tears streaming down her face, her cries barely audible.
'Hey, what's wrong?'
'I have no family left,' Meg replied as Harm wiped her tears away.
'Shhh, I'm your family now Meg. I'll take care of you...' He promised her. He looked up as AJ and Mac came in.
'Hey Lieutenant, haven't seen you for a while,'
'This is Colonel MacKenzie...' Harm began.
'A Marine?' Meg asked warily.
'Yes I'm a Marine Meg but I'm a lawyer as well. I won't hurt you; I'm not a jarhead like some Marines are.' Mac said gently.
'She lives up to the Marine reputation when needed though,' Harm added, stroking Meg's face.
'Harm...I don't remember what happened after our last JAG investigation. The past four, five years are a blank.'
Harm put his arm around Meg, a concerned look on his face while AJ went to get a doctor.
'Meg, please tell me you are joking,' Harm said. Meg just looked at him, her eyes serious.
'Meg...what do you think happened?'
'I don't know...am I still at JAG?'
'No, Colonel MacKenzie has been at JAG since...well a few weeks after...'
Mac silenced him. 'Not now Harm,'
AJ came back with a doctor then.
'She was oxygen deprived for several hours...some brain cells were killed, but there is no permanent damage.'
'No permanent damage? She can't remember anything from the past four years, five years!'
Meg cringed as Harm yelled. Her head was sore still and everything he was saying was echoing loudly in her mind. She buried her head in the pillows to escape the noise.
'Meg?' Harm asked.
'Stop talking loudly!' Meg mumbled. 'My head hurts.'
Harm touched her lightly.
'No, stay Harm.' Meg said. 'Stay,'
Harm sat beside her. 'Meg, I...'
'Rabb, she asked you to stay.' AJ put in.
'But my duties sir,'
'Isn't Meg important?'
'Admiral, I do have a job...'
'And a responsibility to your friend! She needs you,'
Harm looked to Meg, now crying into the pillow.
'She's scared Harm.' Mac said to him. 'She's lost her memory; she needs you to help her.'
Harm looked at them all. AJ and Mac rolled their eyes at him.
'All right, I'll stay...it just hurts me to see her like this.' Harm pulled her into his arms and dried her tears as AJ and Mac left.
'It's okay Meg, I'm here now. Everything is going to be okay.'
'No it isn't, Harm. I have no memory of the past four, five years and I have no family left...'
'What the hell were you doing there so early anyway?' Harm asked her. Meg let him put the bed into a sitting position so she could see him while talking.
'I was meant to be on the plane with my mom and brother...I cancelled at the last minute, said I still had things to do. They were flying out of Boston – I drove, and said I'd meet them at our destination the next day.'
'So, why were you at the towers?'
'Sight-seeing, I think...'
'Meg, you're still in the Navy.'
'I was on leave,' Meg's eyes filled with tears again. She was not only in physical pain but emotional pain. Harm put his arm around her and wiped her tears away.
'You'll remember – you will get better. The Admiral wants you back at JAG, as I do.' Harm said to her.
'Meg, it's all getting sorted as we speak – the Admiral will bring the transfer papers for you to sign soon. And you'll be starting at JAG after Christmas most likely.'
Meg looked at him, confused. Transfer papers? What was Harm on about? She hadn't gone anywhere. Harm caught her look then blushed.
'Sorry Meg! I...you know me!' Harm replied, trying to joke weakly. Meg smiled anyway.
'Did I break anything?'
'Your arm was pretty badly broken,'
'Oh, that's why it feels so stiff,' Meg said. Harm smiled his fly-boy smile at her.
'You'll be fine. The doctor showed me some exercises for you, and asked me to help,' Harm said as he slowly moved her arm in and out to relax her muscles.
'That hurt?' Harm asked after several flexes. Meg nodded and he let her arm flop beside her.
'Meg?' Harm asked as she closed her eyes, her hand over her stomach.
'I'm fine...a little tired.'
'We've tired you out. I'll go...' He kissed her on the forehead and left her sleeping.
'Harm, how is she doing?' Mac came up to him as he got back to JAG.
'She's fine, a little tired. I left her sleeping,' Harm said as he entered his office.
'Harm,' Sturgis came up to him. 'Where have you been?'
'I was at Bethesda,'
'That little lieutenant j.g. still there?' Sturgis' tone was harsh.
'Yes Meg is still there, she just woke up.' Harm said irritably.
'You know Harm; you've been going to see her everyday for the past three months,'
'Yes he has because she is his friend, Sturgis. And he cares about her because she lost her father when she was four years old, the rest of her family died in 9/11. So don't get all snappy at him for not being here.' Mac defended Harm's actions very quickly.
'Mac,' Sturgis began as Harm disappeared into his office.
'Sturgis, I wouldn't even go there. She's hurt physically, and emotionally. The past four, five years are a blank to her. So when you see her do not under any circumstances say anything to her that might confuse her even more.'
'You've only met her once and you're already becoming protective.'
Mac scowled at him and went to her office, leaving Sturgis alone.
'No one said I couldn't go see her,' he thought to himself.
Bethesda Naval Hospital
Sturgis walked into Meg's room. She was awake but not doing much.
'Who are you?' she asked him as he came in.
'Commander Sturgis Turner JAG Corps. Lieutenant, if you take up anymore of Commander Rabb's time then...' He stopped mid-sentence as AJ came in.
'Turner, leave now please. I need to speak with Lieutenant j.g. Austin.'
Sturgis left and AJ sat beside Meg.
'Meg, I really would like it if you came back to JAG,'
'Sir, I never left,'
'Meg, about your memory...'
'What happened to me the past five years sir?'
'As far as I knew, you transferred out of JAG,'
'Oh,' Meg's voice was small and confused.
'Look, you'll remember stuff gradually. Give it time,' AJ said gently to her.
'When do I go home?' Meg asked him. AJ looked at her carefully.
'I don't know Meg...Soon hopefully. Harm will help you,'
A doctor came in then and scowled at AJ.
'Are you a relative?'
'She has no family,' AJ said 'I'm Admiral Chegwidden. I'd like to finish talking with her – I need her to sign something.'
'She is not capable of that,'
'Yes I am,' Meg argued. Her head still hurt like hell but she felt alert enough to be able to sign her name.
'Lieutenant, you may not be able to comprehend...' The doctor droned on and Meg zoned out as AJ gave her the transfer papers, and explained everything to her carefully as they went through and she signed.
'Right, I will see you in the office after Christmas, if not before,' AJ said as he left.
Three days later
Harm settled Meg in with him, while organising for her to move into an apartment down the hall. He contacted her former landlord and had all her furniture and stuff moved into the apartment.
'Meg, you'll be staying with me for a week or so until everything is sorted,' Harm said to her.
'I understand. I cannot wait to lie in my own bed,' she said as he put his arm around her, leading her into his apartment. She curled up on the couch, putting her head on a cushion. The bandage had come off her head just before they left, and the stitches were to come out next week. Harm sat beside her and pulled her into him so her head was against his chest. He ran his hand through her hair gently, calming her when she began to panic.
'It's okay; you'll be fine at JAG.' He said to her as she told him she was nervous, about Commander Turner's visit and everything else.
'Mac's not being intimidating is she?'
Meg shook her head. 'That Commander Turner started reprimanding me because you were with me all the time,'
Harm tightened his grip around her. 'If he threatens you...'
'I can fight my own battles,' Meg said sleepily. She fell asleep in his arms and Harm hated to move her, but had to when there was a knock at the door.
'Hey Mac,' Harm whispered as Mac entered and saw Meg on the couch.
'She looks better,'
'I think she feels better,' Harm said. 'Is this a social call?'
Mac laughed. 'Yes flyboy it is, and I was hoping to catch Meg. She's...'
'I know, give her time, Mac.'
Mac looked from Harm to Meg. 'I know Harm,'
'Mac,' Harm said as she went to leave.
'Harm, you need to be alone with her,' Mac said.
'No, Mac. Stay, please.'
Harm faltered. He was stuck between his feelings for Meg, and those he had for Mac. He couldn't work out which girl he loved more – was it shy, innocent, sweet-tempered Meg, or headstrong, takes-no-crap Mac? Mac saw the look in his eyes.
'You love her, don't you?'
'Yes...No...I'm not sure...' Harm said. Meg was still asleep but shivering.
'I'll go make the coffee Mac,'
'Okay,' Mac went over to Meg, and covered her with the blanket Harm had put out earlier. She stirred and woke up.
'Hey Meg, how are you feeling?'
'Sore,' Meg replied, sitting up slightly. Mac smiled kindly at her, and Meg returned the smile, but her face soon fell and tears welled up in her eyes.
'Meg, what's wrong?' Mac asked her. She waited for a while, as the tears fell silently down Meg's pale face, but didn't need an answer to know Meg was traumatised, and depressed at what she had been through, at losing her family. Mac put her arms around Meg, rubbing her back.
'Its okay, Meg. You're safe, its okay.' Mac said as Harm came through with the coffee.
'I see you two are getting along,' He said gently, setting the mugs down.
'Is one of those for me?' Meg asked, lifting her tear-stained face from Mac's shoulder.
'No, Meg, the doctor said you need your rest. I'll get you some tea,'
'I don't want that,'
'Meg, you haven't eaten since we got home, you must keep your strength up.' Harm said to her pleadingly. 'Come, I'll get you some tea okay?'
'Okay, not too much, though. I feel sick,' Meg replied as she put her head against Mac. Mac looked down at Meg as she closed her eyes briefly.
'You should eat something,' Mac said to her gently, stroking her hair.
'Mmm I know, not now,' Meg replied lazily. She sat up slowly as Harm re-entered with her drink.
'Feeling okay Meg?' He asked.
'Yeah, I guess...' Meg replied, her head on his shoulder. Harm hugged her as she fell asleep.
'You'll be okay,'
'This year my sermon will be about the events of three months ago in New York. This tragedy affected us all, and many people lost loved ones...' Chaplain Turner said at Christmas Mass. Meg bent her head onto Harm's shoulder and the unshed tears began falling. Harm hugged her. AJ had been right. She was only letting him, Mac and Harm near her – everyone else was a no-go.
'When I heard that the planes hit the towers, I, like many others, prayed to God that there would be survivors – and there were. But it was at a cost. A cost that I don't understand. Religion is not meant to be violent, or vengeful. It is meant to be a way of life, and a system of beliefs that are, unfortunately being blown completely out of proportion by some extremists, and not just Islamic extremists.
'Christmas is a time when we need to band together, especially this Christmas. When I look out at the congregation before me, I still see the shock, the pain and the grief of 9/11. I see the hatred of the Al-Qaeda terrorists. But we shouldn't hate the whole religion of Islam for the crimes carried out by the terrorist group. Christmas is a time to spend with those we love. For those affected by this year's tragedy, may you find peace this season, may God restore your faith in the world, and may your healing not take too long. Amen.'
Everyone stood and left then, Harm going to the Vietnam Memorial Wall as usual.
'Meg, come with me. Mac...'
'Harm, this is your thing,' Mac said to him. He gave her a pleading look.
'I want you two there,'
Mac put her arm around Meg's shoulders tightly, almost protectively.
'Harm,' Meg pulled away and went to him, ignoring her own pain of having no family around. He pulled her into a hug.
'I love you...' he said softly in her ear. Meg blushed as he said it, but her happiness dissipated immediately.
'You're only saying that because I have no one left in my life, no family.' Meg said to him. He shook his head.
'That's not true,'
'What about Colonel MacKenzie? What about your recent break up?'
'Meg, that was seven months ago,'
'Still, I'm not ready Harm. Physically and emotionally,' Meg said as he drew her into him, wrapping his jacket firmly around her.
'All right, I understand,'
'I don't think I'll ever be ready.' She said to herself as he held her, warming her up.