Title: When Lives Intersected (An HBX July and August 2007 challenge lines story)

Author: Janlaw

WARNING: This is not a sunny story. Character death implied (not Harm or Mac). OR – maybe not – the ending is deliberately ambiguous – the choice is yours!

Disclaimer – All the usual legalese. I guess I'll havta give'em back (but not til I'm done).

In memory of my friend MAK. 11 Dec 1952 – 2 August 2007.

The July (as best I could glean from two of the posted stories, since the lines have not yet been archived) and August challenge lines are included. The story begins as Harm calls Mac during JAG: San Diego. We then leave canon behind…

Restaurant in the Gaslamp District
San Diego, CA
11 March 2005

"Harm? Just a moment, I have to move outside where I can hear you better." Something was odd about his voice, and all of Mac's "antennae" were up in an instant. Something was wrong. Something bad had happened. Motioning the LT to go on without her, Mac pushed her way through the crowded entrance area to the sidewalk, which was little better, thronged as it was with people going to the clubs, restaurants and theaters that filled the Gaslamp.

"Harm? Where are you?"

"Blacksburg. The hospital." Standing just outside the main doors of the hospital, Harm tried to hold it together. "Mattie ….there was an accident ….Mattie ..."

Alarms blared in Mac's head as she strained to hear Harm's voice. She didn't hear it all, but she heard enough to feel his pain. His fear. His guilt.

She didn't need to stop to think. "Harm, I'll be there in the morning – I'll get the redeye to Dulles and come straight to the hospital ….you hang in there. She's going to be all right…."

In the friendly skies
United Flight 238
0530 the next morning

"We are beginning our final approach to Dulles. Please turn off all electronic devices and return your seats to their full upright position ….."

The attendant's familiar drone startled Mac awake as the plane's interior lights came on. Somewhere between Indiana and Virginia she'd finally dozed off. The past hours had been a hodgepodge of disjointed actions, their only purpose to get her to Blacksburg. To Harm. To Mattie. She'd moved on automatic. An urgent request for emergency leave. Tossing her room key to Tali Mayfield, asking her to check her out of the BOQ and bring her stuff back to JAG. The taxi ride through evening traffic to Lindburgh Field, while she called for a seat on United's redeye. A hooded sweatshirt hurriedly purchased in the airport gift shop, pulled on over her sundress. A call to Harriet and Bud, asking if they could meet her at Dulles, if she could borrow one of their cars. Waiting impatiently for the flight to board. Calling Harm's cell phone repeatedly – only to get his voicemail each time.

0700
Route 81 south towards Blacksburg

Windows rolled down. Cold air to ensure she didn't fall asleep. Loud rock on the radio. The unrelenting pounding of her thoughts. What would this do to Harm? Ever since Christmas they'd gotten closer. Both determined not to mess up. Taking steps towards the future they both wanted. Whether Mattie lived or died, what would happen? Would he let her comfort him? Would he let her help him? Or would he withdraw into himself, certain that anyone he loved would leave him. Bud had only been able to find out that Mattie was in the ICU, in critical condition.

As snowflakes splattered on the windshield, Mac gripped the wheel tightly, slowing her speed. The pavement was still dry, but there were mounds of dirty snow piled at each side of the road. San Diego's sun and beaches already seemed a lifetime ago.

Late morning
ICU Waiting Room
Blacksburg Hospital

Whoever said that "time is time," 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute ….had clearly never been in a hospital. Most certainly never in an ICU waiting room. Time here moved excruciatingly slowly. They'd taken Mattie for more tests. MRI. Cat Scan. Spinal something. Whatever. The medical acronyms had long ago blurred together. Harm's life had been reduced to basics. Walk to the window. Stare out at the snow swirling through the air, gusting above and across the ground three stories below. Get coffee from the machine. Count the minutes until the next hour when he could spend his allotted 15 minutes with her.

The beige walls stared back at him. Within them were the emotions of the people who had waited here, who'd kept vigil here. Terror. Fear. Grief. Sorrow. Hardly ever happiness or joy.

A familiar scent. Mac. Jerking upright, his body nearly collided against hers. Arms reached around to hug close. Harm's shook. Hers held. For long moments no words were spoken. None were necessary.

Her small hand rubbed soothing circles over his back. Over and over, matching her voice. "She's going to be all right. She's going to be all right."

"Commander?" The day nurse appeared in the doorway. "You can go back in now."

Focusing on her face, Harm nodded. "This is Colonel MacKenzie. My friend and Mattie's. How is…?"

"There's no change."

A few minutes later.
ICU Cubicle

The quiet hum of machinery. The beepings and slurps. The small figure barely visible beneath the medical paraphernalia.

"Matts, I'm back. And Mac's here." Harm tried to force his voice to 'cheerful.'

"Hey, Mattie …you get well soon. We've got a date to go shopping with Susan – you said you want a 'knock-his-socks off' prom dress. Of course, Harm might have a gunny sack in mind….a long-sleeved, high-necked, floor length one." Mac too tried for cheer, as she stroked the small cold hand.

"How did it happen?" Mac whispered as the nurse quietly checked the monitors and lines.

Harm shook his head. "She'd told me she was going to be practicing touch-and-go landings. They said a sudden storm cell - a snow squall – came through. Her instructor landed the plane – they think he mistook the taxiway for the runway; he slammed into a four-seater dead-heading to Charlotte to pick up passengers. They're all dead except Mattie."

"In the blink of an eye…it was just one of those moments, Harm, where lives intersected …" Mac's voice trailed off.

Harm could barely grasp it. "And there wasn't a red light to be found. And even if there'd been one, no one would have seen it. Visibility was about zero." His hand squeezed Mac's almost painfully. "It's my fault. I encouraged her…I paid for the lessons…."

"Harm, stop. She would have found a way. She told me she'd flown since she was a baby on her mother's lap, her mother started teaching her when she was eight. Flying was a part of Mattie's life." Mac knew that Harm was caught in the Hell that was recriminations. The limbo of torment. Guilt. All the emotions of someone who cared. Really cared.

Four nights later.
Holiday Inn across from the hospital.
0230.

The JAG family had rallied around one of its own. The general and his wife came straight from the plane from San Diego. Harm might have felt he barely knew his CO, but their care and concern for a JAG family member was real. Taking Mac aside, Gen Cresswell told her to call him daily, to stay with Harm and Mattie. AJ arrived. Bud must have called him. However he'd felt towards Harm his last years on active duty didn't matter now. He got a room at the Holiday Inn and ordered Mac and Harm to rest each night from 11 to 5. He took the night shift. Friday night, Bud and Harriet came. Then Coates, with Sturgis and his dad. The staff ignored the visitors rules as they held hands, Chaplain Turner leading them in prayer.

Susan Smithfield and her mother came. The pretty blond tried to talk to Mattie, choking through her tears. "Mattie, you have to wake up, we have prom dresses to go get. You promised to get me a date for your prom and I've got you one for mine. He's cute."

The snow had turned to rain. Water gushed relentlessly from the sky and rivulets pounded the windows. Staring into the blackness of the night, Harm had never felt so tired in his life – and so unable to rest. Behind him Mac's arms went around him. Her silent presence comforted.

"She's never been anywhere but Virginia and D.C. I told her we'd go – the three of us – to California this summer. To Disneyland. Sailing. To San Francisco. Or down the Mexican coast through Baja. I wanted her to have time to be happy." Harm could barely get the words out. "When did she have time to be happy?"

"She had 14 years with her mother. She was happy with you, happy flying, happy with her friends. She didn't have to try to be happy, or find the time. She just was. You know she was."

Harm nodded slowly, turning to draw Mac into his arms, his face nuzzling her hair. "Thank you for being here."

The phone shrilled loudly even as the rain pounded and tired bodies clung together.

"Mackenzie."

"Mac, Harm, come now, …come quick."

The end.