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Second Degree  Part 2


Chapter 8 

Shortly after Mac had fallen back asleep, Harm returned to base. As much as he preferred staying by Mac’s side, he had several things to deal with before Traci arrived.  All he would have to do after turning the job over to her was convince the General to let him stay with Mac until she was ready to be transported home. He really hoped Cresswell would see things his way.  He didn’t want to have to resign his commission again, that was starting to get old.

Field Hospital in Iraq

Mac woke up off and on throughout the morning. The annoyingly pleasant nurse’s name was Julie and she was actually very nice once you got used to her cheerfulness.

“How long will I be here?” Mac watched Nurse Julie carefully spreading cream on her burned arm.

“Most people want to know how bad the scar will be,” Julie smiled, “but you’re not most people, I can tell.” Looking at Mac’s impatient glare, Julie also knew she wasn’t going to get away with diverting Mac either. “I don’t know exactly.” If you remain stable, they’ll want to ship you to Ramstein as soon as possible.”  Julie finished wrapping the arm and walked around to check her patient’s left arm, the one that collided with the broken chair leg, and then the dislocated shoulder that had taken a bullet in the crossfire. Silently she hoped Mac was right handed. Between the dislocated shoulder, broken wrist, and other contusions, it was going to be a while before she would be using this arm again.

“How long do you think that will be?” Mac felt awful, but she wanted to go home.

“I suppose, if your white count keeps dropping, you might be able to ship out as early as tomorrow,” Julie smiled.

“From Germany I get to go home?” Mac raised her eyebrows, almost daring the nurse to say no.

“The good doctors there will decide when you’ll be ready to travel stateside.” Satisfied with all her dressings and readings, Julie gave Mac a short nod and walked away.

Mac really did feel horrible.  Her head still hurt too much to lift off the pillow, though she wasn’t going to mention that to anyone.  The pain in her leg fluctuated from excruciating to numb.  However, on the bright side, those two things were so overpowering, she hardly noticed the pain in either of her arms at all, and as long as she didn’t breathe, her ribs and stomach felt fine.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been sleeping when she felt a need to wake up.  She didn’t really want to wake up.  All the pain and discomfort felt so far away when she was sleeping, but something, no wait, someone... someone was holding her hand.  Dragging herself back to consciousness, Mac forced her eyes open.

“Hey, sailor.” She tried to smile, loving the feel of her hand in his.

“You should get some more rest,” Harm answered quietly.

“Been resting.  Want you.” Mac fought falling asleep.

Harm’s heart skipped a beat, several beats. He knew she didn’t mean that the way it sounded, but the words thrilled him nonetheless.

“Just checking up on you.  I have to get back. As soon as Traci gets here I’ll be able to stay longer. For now, go back to sleep.” Harm watched Mac lose her battle with sleep, his fingers drawing lazy relaxing circles on the back of her hand.

By 1500 Mac had finally woken up and was hungry. She’d been trying to enjoy the bland soup she’d been served when she saw Harm and another person making their way closer to the bed.

“I understand you’ve gone to quite an extreme to avoid this dusty paradise.” Traci Manetti smiled broadly, waving her arm in a broad gesture.

“Just remember to avoid incoming vehicles.” Mac smiled sincerely. From anyone else, Traci’s comment might have appeared inappropriate, but Mac had worked often enough with Traci to appreciate her southern charm.

“You’re looking much better, Marine.” Harm was pleased to see Mac sitting up slightly and trying to eat. Though, it was obviously very difficult with her burned arm.

“Either I look better than I feel, or you’re a liar.” Mac smiled painfully, dropping her spoon in the bowl. She was still hungry, but the pain in her side and her arm was more irritating than her hunger.  She probably shouldn’t have insisted she could feed herself.  There was just something so demeaning about having to be spoon-fed.

“I’m sorry Colonel, I didn’t mean to disturb your meal.” Traci wasn’t sure if Mac was having difficulties eating, or was just unhappy with her menu options.

“I wouldn’t call this a meal, Traci.  You didn’t happen to bring any contraband, say a cheeseburger?” Mac started to chuckle and stopped suddenly, a look of severe pain on her face.

“What is it?” Harm flew closer to her side, helping her lay back against the bed. He remained, hovering over her, until her features softened and the color returned to her face. His hands only inches away from her, ready to take action if necessary. No that had any real idea how to help, but he needed to stay close just in case.

“If it only hurts when I breathe, I should have known better than to laugh.” Mac closed her eyes, the pain slowly subsiding.

Aware of the intensity with which Traci had just watched their interaction, Harm stepped back a few feet from the bed. He didn’t really care if anyone knew how he felt about Mac, but under the circumstances, now probably wouldn’t be the best time to start broadcasting it.

“Are you okay?” He may have distanced himself physically, but his soft voice showed his concern was still hovering by her side.

“Yeah, but I’d still rather have a cheeseburger,” Mac teased.

“The Commander here tells me that no charges will be brought against the guards at the prison.” Smiling at Mac’s ability to find her sense of humor, Traci thought it best to turn the conversation towards business.  She was starting to feel a little uncomfortable with the closeness between Harm and Mac.  Somehow, she almost felt like a voyeur.

“I could have saved you the trip if I’d have made it back to camp.” Mac’s expression turned serious. “Was anyone else hurt?”

“I met your baby-faced Gunny,” Harm smiled. “He saved your leg.”

“He’s okay?” Mac was relieved to hear he hadn’t been hurt.

“He’s fine. I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t see him and half the platoon passing through here at some point soon.”

“What about the others?” Mac persisted.

“Watkins took some shrapnel to the leg. He’s doing fine.  He’s already been sent to Germany. Another kid didn’t make it.  A corporal.” Harm shook his head just a fragment, his eyes momentarily downcast. He hadn’t really wanted to tell her that yet.

“Beaux,” Mac whispered. “He was a good marine.” She held back the urge to cry. There were too many good marines being lost.  She didn’t have enough tears for all of them.

Harm resisted the urge to move in closer.  He wanted very much to take her in his arms and take away her pain, all of it.

“Well, if you two will excuse me, I think I’m going to better acquaint myself with my duties. Feel better soon, Colonel.” Traci nodded at Mac.

“Thank you, and remember to keep your head down around here,” Mac smiled back.

“Commander,” Traci nodded at him, “I presume I’ll be seeing you later?”

Harm didn’t say a word, he just nodded his assent, and watched Traci turn and walk away.

“You know, I never noticed what a difference a few inches on a pair of high heels can make,” Harm commented absently, noticing how much shorter Traci looked in her cammies.

“Yeah, well, anyone working with you can use whatever advantage they can get.” Mac tried to shift in bed, her face grimacing in pain again.

“Don’t do that!” Harm almost shouted. “Let me help. What do you need?” Harm was once again hovering at her bedside.

“I’m fine!” Mac barked.

“No you’re not. What hurts?” Harm’s hand had dropped onto Mac’s.

She gave him a rather obnoxious look. “You are kidding?”

“Sorry. What especially hurt just now?”  Harm repeated more carefully.

“I don’t know... my leg, my ribs, my wrist, my side.” More like what didn’t hurt, she thought.

“What were you trying to do?” Harm’s fingers had begun gently caressing the top of her hand.

“If you must know, my butt is sore and I wanted to shift my weight.” Mac hated not being one hundred percent.

Harm looked at her studiously for a moment, then asked, “Exactly how do you want to shift?”

“I was trying to pull up a little, maybe turn a bit.”

“Which way?”

“What?” This was starting to get ridiculous, Mac thought.

“Which way did you want to turn, to your left or your right?”

“Well since you’re on my right, I would think it might be considered rude to shift to my left. Don’t you think?” Mac rolled her eyes.  Being hungry and in pain wasn’t doing anything for her disposition.

“Yes, ma’am.” Harm smiled and reached for her, placing one hand under her right arm and one around her left hip. He was careful of her bad shoulder and to avoid brushing up against the incision from surgery.

“What are you doing?!” Mac cried a little louder than she intended.

“I’m going to pull you up.”

“No you’re not.” The Marine drill sergeant in her could be heard loud and clear.

“You said you wanted to move, it hurts to shift on your own, let me help.” Harm gripped her more tightly. Under any other circumstances he would have yielded to her will, but he had to do something, anything to make her more comfortable.

“Harm!” Mac screeched in surprise as he scooted her up the bed a few inches, then turning her slightly onto her right side.  “Ouch...AH…hooh.... Bad idea, turn me back,” Mac winced loudly, her breathing suddenly ragged.

Harm immediately tilted her flat on her back again.

“What happened?  Are you okay?” All the color was gone from Mac and Harm’s faces. He was horrified to have apparently caused her so much pain.

“I didn’t realize how far around my leg must be hurt.  I’d better stay put.” Mac’s tone softened.  “I’m sorry I barked.”  She had a sinking feeling she might need more help than she wanted to admit, and something told her she already knew who that help would be coming from.

Chapter 9

“When do you have to report back?” With Traci here, and no need for further investigation at the prison, Mac knew they didn’t have much time left.

“I don’t.” Harm had been sitting in the chair beside her bed, quietly holding her hand.

“What do you mean, you don’t?”  Immediately, Mac was concerned he might have resigned his commission again.

“I convinced Cresswell to let me take some leave.  I’ve got almost 30 days on the books. Things are better at ops with the new lawyers, so he authorized it,” Harm shrugged one shoulder, tightening the hold on Mac’s hand.

“You’re staying?” Mac wasn’t sure why this surprised her.

“I think they’re going to spring you tomorrow, then we’ll both be going to Germany.  Colonel Howell already approved my accompanying you.” Harm hoped she wouldn’t be upset with him. He kept his fingers crossed that the injured lawyer would keep the independent marine at bay and just accept his gesture.

Mac started to give her standard ‘I’m a marine’ objection when a little voice in her head reminded her not to push him away.  The pain was almost tolerable when he was with her.

“I’m glad. Thank you,” she smiled.

Harm lifted her hand up and gently kissed the back of it.  “I meant what I said, I’m still here. Nothing’s changed. I still want to be part of your life. For a few days there I didn’t think I’d be able to get the chance.  I don’t ever want to feel that again.” 

“I’m sorry.” Mac would have given anything to avoid putting him through this.  She remembered all too well how she felt the time he was lost at sea. It was almost more than she could bear.

“You better get some rest.” Harm watched Mac’s eyelids threatening to close.

“Maybe.” Mac tried to stay awake, she wanted to see where this conversation might go, but her eyes wouldn’t stay open. 

“Sleep well, Sarah,” Harm whispered softly to her sleeping form.

Once again, Harm awoke to a soft pillow under his head, alongside Mac.

“Good morning, Commander.” A familiar voice spoke softly. “It’s a good thing she’s going to Ramstein or you might never get a good night’s sleep again.”

Lifting his too heavy head, Harm opened his eyes slowly.  “Nice to see you again, Margie.”

“You too, Commander.”

“It’s definite then? She’s moving out?”

“Yup, this morning’s numbers all came back good. We can use the space for someone who needs us,” she smiled coyly.  “You’ll probably want to go get your own gear in order, she should be ready to move soon.”

“Thanks, Marge, you’re a doll.” Harm leaned over and softly kissed Mac’s cheek, then carefully backed out of the room.

“Partners huh?” Margie teased as Harm moved past her. 

“Best friends too,” he grinned back.

The next several days flew by quickly.  They’d made it to Ramstein without much ado. The doctors there were pleased with Mac’s progress.  In no time they had authorized her move to Bethesda.   It had been six hours since they had left Germany, a couple more hours and they’d be landing at Andrews.

Mac was breathing more easily, so she was completely off the oxygen.  Her ribs still hurt like the dickens, and moving around in bed was impossible without Harm’s or the nurse’s help.  Although, she didn’t really need the nurses much, she had Harm. Mac couldn’t remember ever seeing such a mother hen side to him before.  The only thing that would be really great now that she was on her way home would be if they’d let her get up and walk around.  She was going to need to start putting some weight on her bad leg, and then she’d have a little physical therapy ahead of her, but she was getting really tired of being restricted to bed rest. 

Andrews Air Force Base

As Mac was rolled off the plane, she was completely taken aback to see Harriet, Bud, and General Cresswell waiting to greet her.  She hadn’t expected anyone there, especially since Harm was traveling with her.

“You’re looking very good, ma’am,” Harriet smiled.

“I could say the same to you.  Where are the twins?”  Mac had regretted not being home for the twins’ birth.

“Jennifer was nice enough to stay with the kids so I could tag along with Bud,” Harriet replied sweetly.

Mac had to draw on years of military training to control the emotions that were building inside her.  After all these people had been through, they were still her family.  Cresswell, that was another story.  She wasn’t sure what to make of his taking time away from the day, but she wasn’t going to question it at this point.

Bethesda Naval Hospital

Barely settled at Bethesda, Mac was already chomping at the bit to go home.  When her new physician came in to examine her, she practically accosted him.

“Even if I didn’t know you were a Lt. Colonel, I’d still have guessed you’re a marine,” the doctor chuckled to quietly.

“So, how long do I have to stay here?” Mac insisted.

“First things first.  How well are you moving after surgery, and with those ribs?” Dr. Paul Schmell inquired frankly.

“They’re better,” Mac dodged.

“Can you sit up straight?”

“Yes,” Mac hedged.

“For how long?” The doctor bore an unusual resemblance to Harm when he raised one eyebrow that way.

“Not very long,” Mac conceded.

“Can you turn over on your own yet?”

“No.” If she were honest, she’d have to admit she didn’t move much in bed.  Between her broken ribs, sore side, her wrist, her shoulder, and the pains in her leg, she needed Harm or a nurse to help her move the tiniest bit.

“I see you’re on a catheter still. It sounds like it’s time to have you start making your way to the restroom on your own.  Have you stood on that leg at all?”

“Not yet. I was told the stitches weren’t ready,” Mac sighed, somewhat exasperated.  She really wanted to go home, but the doctor was right, she needed too much help.

“Well, I think all is looking good.  The burns will need to continue with the antibiotic ointment and bandaging, but I think it’s time you start putting a little weight on that leg.” Dr. Schmell stopped poking at Mac’s leg, looked up over the edge of his glasses, and smiled at her. 

“Then I can start using the restroom?” The sooner she could do that, the sooner she could go home.

“Let’s see how you do, but with help, maybe,” He smiled again.  Taking a closer look at the burns on her right arm, “These are looking very good. Same thing with these burns on your leg, we need to keep them covered and keep using the ointment, we don’t want the blisters to get infected.  Burns like this usually take about three weeks to heal. I’d say they’re right on schedule.  How are we doing controlling the pain for you?”

Mac didn’t like taking medication for pain.  Anything with addictive tendencies concerned her, but the burns especially were very painful.  “I’m managing.”

Dr Schmell was a plump older man with thinning hair.  He looked at Mac carefully, Marines were always a pain, but at least she was a pretty Marine.  “You need something stronger,” he interpreted.

“No, I don’t like taking pain medication.”

“Why not?” She was going to be one of ‘those’ Marines, he thought.

“I’m an alcoholic. I don’t particularly like addictive substances,” Mac sighed, not really caring if she was airing her dirty laundry in public.

“I see. Well, we have plenty of options for pain management that aren’t considered narcotics.” Doc scribbled something on her chart. “I’ll see to it that you’re given something right away.”

“Thank you.” Mac wasn’t sure she liked the idea, but she was often in severe pain, and there was something very endearing and trustworthy about this guy.

Now standing on the other side of the bed, Doc examined her left arm.  “This is looking very good.”

“It feels much better than my right arm,” Mac smiled.

“I bet it does,” Doc chuckled. “Shoulder’s healing well also. Shall we tell your shadow he can come back in now?”

“I suspect his patience is wearing thin by now.  He’s never been very good at waiting in the wings,” Mac chuckled at her own pun.

Harm had been pacing the floor outside Mac’s door since the doctor discovered he wasn’t Mac’s husband and suggested Harm give them some privacy.  Running his fingers through his hair, and doing his best to wear a hole in the floor, Harm decided he was going to have to do something about that, and soon.

Chapter 10 

“Won’t you come in, sir?” In his civvies, the doc had no way of knowing Harm was military. All he knew for certain was that Harm wasn’t related to Mac. The doctor had surmised Harm was obviously very close to her, but based on the awkwardness prior to his examination, not intimate.

“Is she okay?” Harm asked immediately, somehow refraining from shouting, ‘It’s about time!’

“Well, considering she was blown up in a humvee, she’s doing incredibly well.” Doc watched curiously as Harm hurried back to Mac’s side.

“I try not to remember that if I can help it,” Harm mumbled, taking a seat by her bed.

“It’s a little hard to forget,” Mac grumbled, placing her hand in his, a gesture she’d grown so accustomed to, she hadn’t even realized she’d done it.

“I’m also going to order something to help your circulation.  The pain has kept you from moving much in bed, and that makes you more prone to blood clots,” the doctor mentioned casually.

“Blood clots! I thought you said she was doing incredibly well?” Harm’s eyes were wide with fear. The horrors of possible complications ran through his mind.

“Relax, Mr...?” The doctor trailed off. When he had first entered Mac’s room, the nurses had been changing her IVs. In the shuffling of bodies around her bed, no one had bothered with proper introductions.

“Rabb, Commander Harmon Rabb,” Harm filled in.

“Commander Rabb,” Doc nodded his head. “It’s nothing to be concerned about.  I’m surprised this wasn’t mentioned before.  What we’ll do is strap a thin vinyl flap around each of her legs. A small pump will turn on and off creating a massaging effect to help with the circulation.  Nothing complicated.  I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he smiled at Harm in an attempt to alleviate his concerns.

“I see,” Mac answered for Harm.

“As soon as she’s up and walking around some, we won’t need to keep using it,” Doc added.

Harm wasn’t terribly convinced, but Mac had squeezed his hand and given him a sideways glance that very clearly said: ‘Drop it.’

“When can she get up and start walking?” Harm knew Mac was frustrated with being unable to get out of bed.

“Tomorrow.  We’ll start by just getting out of bed and standing.  If that goes well, we’ll do it again a few times.  Then the next day we can try walking, with help, to the bathroom.” 

“That will be great,” Mac laughed to herself, amused that ‘we’ would be doing everything tomorrow. She seriously doubted the doc was planning on staying by her side.  Her eyes closely followed the doctor as he finished scribbling on his clipboard, nodded at Harm and herself, and turned to leave.  The door hadn’t completely closed behind him when Mac managed to fling the blankets off her.

“What the hell are you doing?” Harm jumped up from his chair.

“I’m going to stand.” Mac winced trying to sit up straight. This was going to be harder than she had thought.

“He said tomorrow.” Harm reached to pull the blankets back over her.

“Tomorrow, today. Same thing.” Mac shoved the blankets away again.

“MAC.” Harm grabbed her good wrist. “He said tomorrow, we’re going to wait until tomorrow.  I know you want to go home, but you’ve got to wait until you’re ready.  If you push yourself too hard, too soon, you could be stuck here even longer.” Harm waited until he felt her shoulders slump in surrender before letting go of her wrist and putting the blanket back in place.  “Thank you.”

Mac hated that he was right, but she knew without help from someone, there was no way she would be able to get out of bed, never mind stand up.

The new meds the doctor ordered had indeed made a difference.  Mac was still in pain, but the throbbing in her arm and leg was less intense.  What she didn’t like was the contraption that kept turning on and squeezing her legs.  It was like having your blood pressure taken over and over on your legs, and very annoying.

“I can’t stand it anymore. I’d rather have a blood clot,” Mac growled. “I’m calling the nurse. We’re turning this thing off.”  She fumbled around her bed, searching for the call button.

“Mac.” Harm tried to still her hands.

“Don’t ‘Mac’ me.  You’re not the one with this contraption attached. It’s going.” Mac’s stare dared Harm to argue with her.

He had hoped the nurse would talk her out of it, but of course, she couldn’t force Mac to do something she didn’t want to.  The apparatus was removed, and Harm couldn’t help but chuckle at the look of delight on Mac’s face as she wiggled her toes.  

“What if I were to rub her legs, would that be the same?” Harm asked suddenly.

Mac’s head snapped back towards him.  Anyone would agree, to say she looked shocked would have been a gross understatement.

“It wouldn’t hurt. There’s a small bottle of lotion in her toiletry kit by the bed.” The nurse pointed to the table behind Harm, smiled, and walked away.

Harm rummaged in the bedside drawer and held up the tiny bottle of lotion that had come with the other hospital toiletries. “She wasn’t kidding. This is beyond small.”

“You don’t have to do this.” Mac was still stunned and a little uncomfortable with the idea. Okay, very uncomfortable… bordering on panic might have been a more accurate description.

“No, I want to. If you won’t let the machine do this, I will.” Harm lifted the blanket from the bottom of the bed to expose her legs from the knee down.  A little nervous, pouring the lotion on one hand, he reached for her good leg first.

Silently, Mac was very grateful she had managed to convince the nurse at Ramstein to shave her legs when she’d been given her last sponge bath.  She would have been absolutely mortified if Harm had discovered gorilla legs under the blanket.  She knew she was being silly, but she had to remember to write that woman a thank you note as soon as she was up to it.

Slowly, Harm’s fingers spread over her calf muscles, ran down along her ankle, and then back up again. He spent half an hour rubbing and kneading every inch of her calf and foot.  When his fingers slid up under her knee, Harm paused momentarily to catch his breath.  Her skin was so incredibly soft, something about the back of her knee felt so sensual despite the circumstances.  Guiltily, he moved his hands quickly back down to her ankles.

Mac couldn’t remember the last time she had been so relaxed. Harm had occasionally rubbed the knots out of her shoulder after they’d worked long hours on a case, but this was the first time she’d felt his hands directly on her skin.  If the rest of her weren’t in so much pain, this entire experience would be incredible.

Pulling the blanket down over her leg to keep it warm, Harm stepped to the side to work on Mac’s bad leg.  Very slowly, his fingers inched closer.  There was no sign of injury below the knee, but still, knowing how much pain she was usually in, he was a little intimidated.

Mac could see the tension literally filling his body.   “Thank you.  You certainly beat that machine hands down.” Unsure of how else to ease his obvious apprehension, she contemplated whether or not she should tell him that was enough, let him off the hook. 

“Good,” he smiled, steeling himself to work on her injured leg.

“You don’t have to do the other leg too,” she blurted out quickly.

“Yes, I do.  I told you, I want to help.” Until now he’d felt so helpless just watching her.  His fingers closed around her toes and he glanced up at her face.  Swirling around her toes, his fingers carefully glided down along the side of her foot and around her ankle. Constantly looking back to ensure he wasn’t causing any pain, he continued the same motions, over and over.

“If it’s too much...I mean...tell me if I hurt you. Okay?” Harm slowed his ministrations waiting for Mac to answer.

“You have a wonderful touch.  It won’t hurt.” Mac’s smile tilted up higher on one side of her face. A contented glint sparkled in her eyes.

Harm’s fingers froze on her foot. Her sly smile and suggestive comment sent a small shock wave rippling through his system.  He knew she hadn’t intended for it to sound so erotic, but he couldn’t help how his body responded. Clamping down hard on his feelings, he forced his thoughts back to the here and now, to keeping her safe from blood clots.

“Promise you’ll tell me if it hurts? Please.”  His eyes couldn’t hide how he felt even if his words tried.

“I promise.” Mac thought she could actually feel her heart melting. He’d been so good to her, staying by her side. Now, the look on his face sent every emotion she’d ever tried to bury rushing to the surface.

Chapter 11 

Carefully his hands inched further up her leg.  When he lifted her calf off the bed, he couldn’t help but notice Mac flinch slightly.

“You promised you’d tell me.” Harm set her leg slowly back on the bed.

“I will,” Mac smiled, the minor pain already subsiding.

“Mac, I could see your face scrunch from here.  My eyesight is perfect, remember?” Harm was running his hand up and down Mac’s leg in a soothing motion. 

“Harm, my leg is hurt.  Any motion that jostles it, even a little, is going to hurt some.  It wasn’t really painful.”  She couldn’t remember ever having seen such an expression on Harm’s face before.  He reminded her of a frightened child. “It’s okay. Keep going,” she reassured him.

“I…I don’t know if I can.  I want to make you feel better, Mac, not cause you pain.” Harm was still gently stroking Mac’s leg. There had already been too much pain in both their lives. He couldn’t handle causing more.

“You are helping. Please, the massage feels good. Don’t stop.” She really meant it, too.  The sensation of his fingers against her skin was the best thing that had happened to her in a very long time.  If the only reason he was going to stop was fear of hurting her further, then she very much wanted him to continue. “Hey, when you tried to turn me on my side in Iraq, didn’t I tell you it hurt?” 


“If you really hurt me, I’ll tell you. If I’m going to start walking on this, I’m going to have to put up with at least some pain.  No pain, no gain,” she grinned.

“I suppose there is some twisted marine logic in there somewhere.” Rolling his eyes, Harm very slowly raised her calf slightly to allow his fingers to wrap around her leg. Carefully watching for any more signs of pain or discomfort, he began working the injured leg as he had her good one.

He was relieved to notice her dozing off.  Harm suspected with all the bruising on this leg, perhaps this was the one the doctor was more concerned with.  He continued to rub and massage her calf and foot for much longer than he had the other.  Truth be told, he was enjoying having permission to touch her like this.  Her skin was so soft and supple he had to make a concerted effort not to let his mind get away from him.  It would have been too easy to imagine doing so much more with her, but this was about healing Sarah Mackenzie, about making her whole again. He wanted so much to make things better for her.

Mac opened her eyes. Aware she’d been sleeping, she was surprised to see Harm still rubbing her leg.  If her internal clock was keeping accurate time, she’d been napping for 39 minutes.

“Did you take a break?” Her voice came out a little raspy, startling Harm.

“No.” He glanced up at her briefly, a twinkle in his eye.

“Harm, no one expects you to work on my legs all day.” She knew his dedication to a task was one of his long suits, but this could easily border on ridiculous.

“I’m not doing it all day, just a little while.” This time he smiled at her. It probably wasn’t a good time to tell her he was enjoying it too.

The clanking of the dinner cart disrupted wherever this conversation was heading.

“I don’t suppose there’s a cheeseburger under there?” Mac frowned, partly from the anticipation of another unappetizing meal and partly from the loss of Harm’s touch as he set her leg down on the bed and covered it with the blanket.

“You’re on a light diet, but you do have Jell-O,” the nurse said enthusiastically, as if that were actually a good thing.

“Gee, thanks.” Mac forced a smile. 

Pushing the buttons on the bed to raise herself up, Mac removed the cover from her plate and let out a low groan.

“I don’t suppose you want to go get yourself dinner and bring me back a salad or something?” Mac sighed.

“Salad?” Teasingly, Harm stepped closer and put his hand on her forehead.

“Anything would be better than this bland broth and Jell-O.”

“The applesauce looks good,” Harm smiled.

“I take it that’s a no?” Mac picked up the spoon.  That’s the other thing that was driving her crazy.  More of the soup ended up spilling on her than making its way into her mouth. Of course, in this case that might not be such a bad thing.

Noticing her shakiness, Harm reached for the silverware. “Here, let me help.”

“I can do it,” she snapped.

Harm knew better than to argue with her. He stepped back and would wait until she got too tired, or too frustrated to finish, then he’d offer to help again, just as he’d been doing in Iraq and Germany. Though, he had to admit she was doing better. It was taking her longer and longer before she’d give up the fight and let him help.

Much to his chagrin, Mac managed to eat the entire bowl of soup without any assistance from him.  That was actually a good thing. He was glad she was getting better, but a small part of him liked the idea that for at least a little while, she needed him in some small way.

Dropping her head back heavily against her pillow, exhausted from her efforts, a small whoosh of air rushed from her lungs as the pain in her ribs ricocheted through her body.  She would have to remember that she simply had to move more carefully. Shoving the tray stand off to the side, Mac looked up at Harm.

“You should go get some decent food and a good night’s rest.”

“I’m fine. They’ve got a cafeteria downstairs.”

“That’s not what I consider ‘decent’ food. Besides, you deserve to sleep in a real bed.  I’ll still be here in the morning.”

“I’m fine.”

“I didn’t say you weren’t.  I said you deserve a good night’s rest and you’re not going to get it sleeping in that chair.  Harriet and Bud said they’d be by to visit later. When they come I want you to go.”  Mac used that authoritative tone of voice that usually got her whatever she wanted.

“Don’t try that command presence with me, Jarhead. But you are right, it would be nice to shower in my own apartment.  When Bud and Harriet get here, I’ll go shower, change, and grab a bite to eat, but I’ll be back.” Harm waved a finger at her.

Mac just looked at him, “Harm, I do not expect you back until tomorrow morning.”  She could tell he was ignoring her on purpose. She was going to have to figure out a way to get him to stay down for the night.  It was already 1745 hours. Bud and Harriet would be there soon. Maybe she could get them to help convince him.

Bud and Harriet showed up as expected. To Mac’s surprise, they’d come with Jennifer and the twins in tow.   She wasn’t in any shape to hold one of the babies, but she watched intently when Bud slipped one of the girls into Harm’s arms.  The look of total awe on his face was both heartwarming and heartbreaking.  For so long she’d held onto that dream of sharing a child with him.  She still wasn’t sure if it was fair to saddle him with a woman who most likely couldn’t give him a child of his own flesh and blood.  He looked so fatherly, but then again, this wasn’t even his child.  Maybe he was right. Maybe it didn’t matter if the baby didn’t have Harm’s looks and her brains.  Maybe all that mattered was that they do it together. Sometimes it all seemed so easy, but there were other times when it all seemed so impossible. Her heart was slowly breaking as she thought of the dream she would never have.

“Are you okay, ma’am?” Harriet scurried to Mac’s bedside, concerned by the tears trickling down Mac’s cheek.

“I’m fine Harriet.  Just very appreciative of good friends.” Mac wiped the tears from her face. Her eyes still focused on the baby in Harm’s arms, and the pointed glare he was giving her.  She could tell he was silently asking the same question Harriet had, not having bought her reply.  Letting the corners of her mouth curl up in a partial smile, Mac nodded at Harm. He was right, it was more than friends she was crying about, but she would be fine. 

Waiting until he was sure Mac was okay, Harm handed the baby back to Harriet. “This is my cue to make an exit.”

“Not till morning, sailor,” Mac reminded him, wiping away the last remnant of a tear.

“Call me if anyone needs anything.” Harm understood what had brought Mac to tears. He’d grieved the same thing, but he didn’t care anymore if the baby looked like Mac. He wasn’t sure he cared anymore if there was a baby, as long as whatever they did, they did it together. Somehow he had to make her understand that.

Chapter 12

Mac didn’t need to worry about Harm getting some much-needed rest.  After showering and changing, he heated up some take-out Chinese and sat on the sofa to sort through his mail.  Five hours later he woke up in a pile of paper with a slightly stiff neck.  Aware it was too late to go back to the hospital, he stumbled into bed.

Despite being in his own bed for the first time in ages, Harm was having a hard time falling soundly asleep again. His mind kept drifting back to Mac, to how uncomfortable she was, and how much difficulty she was probably having sleeping.

At 0400 he gave up the fight.  Harm took another shower, ate a quick breakfast, and decided to stop at the all night grocery store on his way to Bethesda.

Bethesda Naval Hospital

Startled to find Mac awake and watching TV, Harm stopped suddenly in the doorway before continuing into the room. “Good thing you don’t have a roomie.”

“I wanted you to get some sleep.” Mac flipped off the TV, her voice dripping with disappointment.

“I did.  What are you doing up at 0530?” Harm set the small bag on the tray by her bed with a hot cup of cappuccino.

“I don’t need much sleep.  What’s that?” Mac twitched her nose at the bag. “Oh, Harm, I smell onions!”

“One onion bagel and cream cheese,” Harm grinned. “But don’t tell Nurse Ratchet.”

She eagerly pulled the bagel out of the bag. “Did you bring a knife?”

Harm reached into his pocket and handed her a plastic knife and some napkins. 

“You’re a peach.”  Struggling in an attempt to slice the bagel, Mac’s jaw tightened in frustration.  She needed two good working arms to hold the bagel and the knife.

“Let me, Mac.” Harm reached for the knife, sliced the bagel, and spread cream cheese on one half.  “There you go.  Now we just have to hope giving you this doesn’t get me banned from the hospital.”

They both found it slightly strange, and at the same time comforting, that being cooped up with each other for so many days hadn’t left them with a lack of things to talk about.  They chatted about Bud and Harriet’s visit last night, about how far Jennifer had come in a few years, and how well she was adjusting to the General.  The different nurses in Iraq were a hot topic for a while, Margie being Harm’s favorite, Judi being Mac’s.  Judi had often kept Mac entertained by teaching her Yiddish expressions.

Mac and Harm couldn’t resist the huge laugh that overcame them remembering in Iraq when Gunny Billings and a corporal came to say goodbye before she shipped out.

“You’re looking really good, ma’am,” Gunny had grinned broadly. Then all the color drained from his face, “I mean... that is... health-wise, ma’am,” he stuttered awkwardly, suddenly terrified he might have accidentally disrespected a superior officer. 

“He did seem awfully relieved when you chuckled, ‘Understood, Gunny.” Harm shifted in his seat, amused by the memory of the nervous soldier, yet eternally grateful for his efforts to save Mac.

“Well, I didn’t want to make him any more uncomfortable than he was, and I certainly didn’t want to laugh at him.” Just remembering the flustered baby-faced Gunny put a huge smile on Mac’s face.

“It’s not like you shouldn’t be used to men falling all over you,” Harm shrugged, getting up to discard the evidence of his earlier contraband.

“What do you mean ‘falling all over me’?” Mac’s brow furrowed somewhere between totally confused and really pissed off.

“Just that you don’t look like your average GI Joe marine, and that probably catches a lot of men off guard, especially the young ones.” Harm could tell he wasn’t helping his cause.

“Gunny’s not that young. He just looks it,” Mac snapped, her brow still crooked.

“I’m sorry I said anything, Mac.  I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just that you’re a beautiful woman, even in uniform, and people are bound to notice. I’m sorry.”  Harm was relieved to hear the door open and see a new nurse come in.  He wasn’t really ready to eat any more of his own words.

“Good morning. I’m Lt. Holford, Patty,” she smiled at both of them. “Are you ready to get out of that bed, Colonel?” The plump redhead in charge of getting Mac ambulatory asked.

“Morning,” Harm mumbled back.

“Am I ever!” There’d be plenty of time for morning salutations later; Mac wanted out of this bed. She looked awkwardly around the room, and then over at Harm. Not only was she not sure she wanted him to see her struggling, but she was especially uncomfortable with the catheter and bag, despite his having been so good to her so far.

Harm saw the unease in Mac’s eyes immediately.  He didn’t fully understand the depth of all her concerns, but he knew as a marine, Mac hated for anyone to see her in a weakened position.

“I think I’ll go get some coffee while you stretch your legs, unless you need me for something.”

“We’ll be fine,” Patty answered for Mac.

Filled with gratitude at his understanding, Mac's gaze caught Harm's. His heart swelled when he recognized the appreciation twinkling in her brown eyes.  Maybe he'd just made up for his earlier comments.

The bed hummed as the nurse pushed different buttons, raising Mac to a near-sitting position.  This was much easier on her ribs than trying to sit up on her own.  The humming sound continued as the elevated foot of the bed returned to its normal, flat position.  Then, the entire bed lowered itself closer to the ground.  Mac hadn’t realized how high up she had been until the bed slowly descended to an average bed height.

“Take this slowly.” The redhead folded back the blankets.   “Let’s start by getting your legs over the side.  Can you do that yourself, or do you want some help?”

“I think I can do it.” Mac’s left leg easily moved towards the edge of the bed, but it was instantly apparent to her that lifting her injured leg wasn’t going to be any picnic in the park.  The moment she tried to raise her knee, the pain shot up her thigh as though she’d been stabbed with a sharp instrument.

Patty hovered, ready to jump in at Mac’s request.

Clenching her teeth, Mac painstakingly dragged her leg to the edge of the bed and over. Taking a slow, deep breath, she closed her eyes and waited for the pain to ease, oblivious to the discomfort the deep breath had caused her ribs.

“Well done, Colonel! I love working with marines!” Practically giddy with enthusiasm for Mac’s small but important accomplishment, Patty moved in closer, wrapping one arm around Mac’s waist for stability. “Now, try and stand.”  Patty was well aware that many patients would not have tolerated the pain of moving their injured limb on their own and would have wasted precious days allowing her to ease them into moving forward.

Mac slid off the edge of the bed.  Placing her full weight on her left leg, slowly she added some weight to her right.

“Don’t push it.  Just put as much weight on the leg as you can stand.  I’ll also show you a few exercises the doctor has ordered for you to do in bed to help with the muscles.”  Patty watched Mac’s face carefully to make sure she wasn’t overdoing. 

“You can let go of me now.” Mac’s voice was much more confident than she was.

Patty took one step back, her arm lingering near Mac, prepared to steady her if necessary. 

“Very good, Colonel.” It was obvious how pleased Patty was with her patient.

“I want to be able to get to the bathroom on my own,” Mac explained.

Every two hours after that, Patty would come in and help Mac stand at the side of her bed.  The third time she came to help Mac, Patty noticed Harm massaging Mac’s leg. “Oh, good. You can help her with her exercises. The Colonel should be flexing her foot whenever she thinks of it. That will help her muscles, and get the circulation moving. She should also slightly raise her knee,” turning to Mac, “Barely,” she reminded her sternly. Then she turned back to Harm. “You, however, can raise her knee higher up and place it back down.”

Standing next to Harm, Patty put one hand under Mac’s knee and the other hand around her ankle.

“After you’ve loosened her up with your rub down, lift the knee like this, slowly, hold and count to five, then set it slowly back down.  Do this five to ten times, depending on how well she tolerates the pain.”

“She’s a marine,” Harm chuckled. “I’m not sure pain is in the Colonel’s vocabulary.”

“Excuse me, but SHE is here.” Mac waved her fingers at the two people holding her leg.

“Yes, ma’am,” Patty nodded, then moved to the other side to help Mac get out of bed.

By now Mac was more comfortable with what was going on and let Harm stay in the room as she went through her bi-hourly routine.  When Mac’s face would scrunch up in pain, her lips tightly pressed, Harm found himself clenching his fists, restraining the urge to jump in and stop whatever was hurting his marine. ‘His’ marine. Lord, how he wanted that to be true.

Chapter 13

In only a few days, with a balancing hand from Harm, Mac was walking to the bathroom pretty much on her own.  The first time she shuffled her way to the bathroom, Harm was terrified to close the door behind her, images of Mac falling and hurting herself assaulted his mind. The only thing that scared him more, was the concern she might actually need his help IN the bathroom.

As soon as Patty had given the okay for Mac to get out of bed more frequently as long as Harm helped, Mac was up and around almost every hour on the hour. She’d been taken off IV antibiotics and was now on oral medication, which made moving around the hospital so much easier. The myriad of tubes previously attached everywhere had made helping Mac off the bed, even just to stand for a few minutes, a challenging experience for both her and Harm.

The hospital food was still bland, but at least they now had her on a diet of real food that could be cut with a knife and fork. The pain in her leg and right arm from the burns was still an issue, but the doctor assured her she was nearing the end of that journey. By the time he’d come to check on her that morning, she was more than ready to go home.

“Well, Colonel.  It looks to me like you’re ready to be released.”

Mac let out a long breath of air, and a huge smile spread across her face.

“Even though you’re walking better, you’re going to need some PT for that leg when the burns finish healing. Most likely the shoulder, too. The burns still have to be tended to twice a day, just like we’ve been doing. The antibiotic ointment will have to be applied and the dressings changed.  I believe there is still plenty left, but I’ll give you a prescription in case you need more.” The doctor shuffled through a few things on the shelf behind him, looking for the ointment. “Yes, here it is.” Turning to face Harm after handing him the tube, doc continued.

“The burns also have to be cleaned once a day.  That might still be painful for her, but I’ve heard wonders about pilot sensitivity.” Doctor Schmell winked conspiratorially at Harm.

Mac’s eyes were as round as a full moon.  Harm was trying desperately not to let his jaw hit the floor.  It was obvious to both of them that the doctor expected Harm to be taking over Mac’s care.

“Is something wrong?” Doc asked, noticing an odd twitch in Harm’s expression.

“YES.” “No.”  The words tumbled out simultaneously from opposite sides of the doctor.

Glancing between the two of them. “Well, which is it? Yes or no?” Doc wasn’t sure if he should be laughing or screaming.

“I, uh...” Harm started.

“He won’t be taking care of me.” Mac cut Harm off.

“Who will?” Doc asked, a little confused. 

“ME,” she replied loudly.

“Colonel, I know you’re a marine, but all kidding aside, can you even see all the burns on your right arm?”  He paused a moment for her to think about the question, but didn’t give her time to answer. “Don’t you think that cast might make applying the ointment a bit difficult?” He pointed to her broken left wrist.  “What about the burns on your leg? Even if you can see most of them, and I’m not conceding you can see all of the affected area, with your sore ribs, sore shoulder, broken wrist, and burned arm, do you really think you have the mobility to reach around enough to properly clean and dress the wounds?”  This time he waited for her response.

Mac hated it when she was backed into a corner.  “Probably not.”

“It’s my understanding the Commander has been here every day helping with your care.  I fail to see the problem.” He didn’t know, and quite frankly didn’t care what their relationship was. The bond between them was clearly much stronger than one of mere physical intimacy. Harm cared very deeply about Mac, that much would have been obvious to any idiot.

“I don’t mind.” Harm directed his answer to the doctor, but he was really speaking to Mac.

“That’s not the point,” Mac huffed.  “You have a life of your own. The General isn’t going to give you leave forever.”

“I still have a couple of weeks,” Harm offered.

“I can’t let you do that,” Mac insisted.

“Excuse me. I don’t mean to interrupt, but you may not have a choice, Colonel. If you want to leave the hospital, you’ll have to be released to someone who can help with your care. Otherwise, you’ll have to stay here until you can care for yourself unassisted.” Doc Schmell looked from Mac to Harm and back to Mac again.

“Ball’s in your court, Mac,” Harm shrugged.

Mac ran her hand across her forehead and then back through her hair. The gesture brought home the doctor’s words; there was no way she could see the burns on the underside of her upper arm.  “I guess I don’t have much of a choice.  When do we get out of here?”  She wasn’t thrilled about having Harm as her nursemaid, but she was less thrilled with the idea of spending another week or two in the hospital.

“Tomorrow afternoon. It will give the nurses time to show the Commander how to care for the burns, and then you won’t have to dress the wounds again until the next morning,” Doc Schmell smiled.

“It won’t be soon enough.” Somewhat reconciled to her fate, Mac made a meager attempt at smiling back.

“Be sure the nurses show you what will be expected of you after you take her home,” Doc told Harm.

“Yes, sir,” Harm nodded.  He’d known for years he wanted to take care of Mac.  It just hadn’t occurred to him it would be anything like this.

Mac’s apartment
Next day

Mac had never given much thought to how many steps it took to get from the curb by her building to her front door.  She paced herself as best she could, but the closer she got to her apartment, the more she needed to lean on Harm.

Taking her keys, Harm unlocked and opened the apartment door. Still holding onto Mac with his free arm, he turned towards her bedroom.

“Where do you think you’re taking me?” Mac pulled her weight away from Harm.

“To bed.” Of all the times he’d dreamed of saying that to her, none of them had ever included a scenario quite like this.

“Keep dreaming, sailor.” Despite her use of humor, Mac was in no mood for jokes, but she was in less of a mood to argue. “I’ve had enough of bed. I want to sit in a real chair.” She pulled away from Harm and moved towards the sofa.

“Mac, you need to rest.  It was a long walk from the car.” Harm wished he’d have thought to rent a wheelchair or something.  If he hadn’t been afraid of hurting her bad leg, he would have just picked her up and carried her inside.

“I can rest on my sofa just as well as I can rest on my bed. Please?” She shamelessly batted her eyes at him.

How could he resist? Those big, brown, doe eyes were filled with so much exhaustion, and frustration, and something else he couldn’t quite make out.  He could tell she was at the point where begging wouldn’t be beneath her.  “Okay, but take it easy,” he acquiesced.

Sitting back on the sofa was harder than she’d anticipated.  Simply sitting down wasn’t too bad, but when she tried to shift her weight backwards, the pull on her ribcage and stomach, along with the pressure on her leg, assaulted her senses with a sharp pain she couldn’t hide. As soon as he heard her stifled cry, Harm spotted her hand on her ribs and immediately began shoving pillows behind her back to ease the pressure.

“Is that better?” Holding another cushion, Harm waited in case she was still uncomfortable.

“Yes, thank you.”  Mac didn’t dare mention she actually wanted to lay back on the sofa and raise her legs.  It had been too painful just to sit back. She could wait for tomorrow to try a different position.

“Would you like a cup of tea, or something cold to drink?” Harm offered, not completely convinced she was even comfortable, never mind okay.

“No, thank you.” Considering how long it had taken to get her settled somewhat close to comfortably, the last thing she needed was to drink anything, especially not a diuretic.

“What about food, real food. Are you hungry?” he continued.

“As tempting as that offer is, no, thank you.” Oh, this wasn’t looking good.  He was fidgeting nervously. “Will you try and relax? I’m not a porcelain doll,” Mac smiled.

“I know that.” He really did, but he couldn’t help himself. It had taken everything in him to stop reacting to Mac’s pain at the hospital. Recently, it had seemed to be lessening.  To see it flare up again was hard for him, and he hated not being able to do anything about it.  “I think I’ll get something cold to drink.  I stopped at the grocery store last night and stocked up on a few of your favorites,” Harm called over his shoulder, turning into the kitchen doorway.

“That was nice of you. Thanks.” She could tell she was going to have to be thanking him a lot over the next week or so.  “What do you say to picking out a nice movie?  If you’re willing to make popcorn while you’re in there, I’ll share.”

“Sounds like a plan.”  Harm tried to calm down. A good, lighthearted movie was exactly what the doctor ordered. Returning from the kitchen loaded with popcorn, he picked out a comedy he thought she would enjoy and popped My Cousin Vinny into the VCR.   Turning towards the sofa, he set the large bowl next to Mac and then carefully took a seat at the other end.  Sitting down in almost slow motion, an observer might have thought he was the injured party.

“Harm, this will never work if you’re going to move around like that all week.  I’m okay. I’m not in as much pain, and you won’t hurt me by sitting down.  Please try and relax.” Mac couldn’t help laughing just a little at Harm’s over-cautiousness.

“Aye, aye, ma’am.” Harm saluted, breaking into a broad grin.  She was right, he needed to lighten up a little.  Just because she almost died in Iraq didn’t mean she was going to break on him now.

Chapter 14

It felt really good to be able to laugh a little without feeling much pain.  Mac finally felt she was really making progress.  “No matter how many times I see that movie, it still makes me laugh.” She smiled up at Harm.

“I don’t care what anyone says, I think Marissa Tomei deserved that Oscar.” Harm got up and carried the empty popcorn bowl into the kitchen.

“I agree, she was just great.” Mac started chuckling again remembering some of the actresses’ best lines. “I love it when she looks at Vinny and says, ‘like you really blend.’ Or ‘What are you an F’n world traveler’?”

“I know, that movie is filled with great scenes, I love it when Vinny sits back in court, crosses his ankles and says, ‘watch this’.”  Back from the kitchen, Harm held his hand out to Mac. “It’s late.  What do you say we get you ready for bed?”

“Yeah, we can watch TV in my room.”

Harm bent over to give her a little more support to stand up with.  The word ‘we’ echoing in his mind.  Slowly, he walked with Mac back to her room, his hand gently poised at the small of her back. She was walking much better now, he could tell the rest while watching the movie had refreshed her.

“Do you mind if I borrow one of your t-shirts?” Mac asked halfway into her room.

“No.” Harm’s brow curled in confusion.

“The elastic on these sweats is starting to bother my middle.  The scar is still a little tender, and a pair of pajamas would do the same thing. I thought one of your t-shirts would be more comfortable than mine,” Mac explained.  She was looking for a compromise between comfort and modesty and she thought his longer t-shirts would do the trick.

“Sure, let me go get one for you.” Harm left Mac leaning against the bathroom doorway while he went back to the living room and rummaged through his bag for an appropriate t-shirt.

Mac had inched her way into the bathroom and was sitting on the toilet seat waiting for Harm when he appeared, Navy t-shirt in hand. 

“What else can I get for you?” He handed her the shirt.

“This is it, I’m just going to change and brush my teeth.” Mac placed her hand on the vanity and pushed herself up to a standing position, releasing a slow hiss of air as she rose.

“I’ll wait out here in case you think of anything else.” Harm closed the bathroom door.

Mac took off her sweats with no trouble, but she hadn’t realized how much easier it was to put on a sweatshirt than to take it off.  Raising her arms up over her head was more painful than she had expected and was surprised when she heard herself gasp.

“Are you okay?” Harm’s panicked voice came through the door.  He had been standing on the other side of the closed door and was instantly filled with concern to hear the small groan that came from inside the bathroom.

“I’m fine,” she called out. Taking a deep breath, she tugged on the shirt to pull it over her head.  Another sharp pain shot through her ribs and down across her midsection.  She swallowed a low growl, trying to hide the pain from Harm.  If she’d been wearing a bra she would have just called him in to help, but helping now would create more intimacy than she was ready to deal with.  Pulling her arms out of the sleeves and dropping them at her side while the pain subsided, Mac reached over to rub her left shoulder. She couldn’t help but chuckle at her predicament.  Here she was, sitting on the toilet, in her underpants, with a sweatshirt hanging over head.

“Mac?” It was taking her too long he thought, he hadn’t even heard the water running to brush her teeth yet. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Mac could hear the worry in Harm’s voice. “I’m fine, it’s just a little more work to take the sweatshirt off than I thought it would be,” Mac finally admitted, still waiting for the pain to subside before gathering up the nerve to pull the shirt off the last distance.

“Let me help,” Harm suggested. Good heavens, what was he saying? Oh, get a grip Rabb, she needs help, you’re her best friend, he argued with himself.  Mac’s continued silence was only adding to his inner turmoil.

“Mac, what else are you wearing?” Harm had seen her in precious little at the hospital, but he suspected the reason for her silence now was because she was currently wearing even less than that. “Mac?”  If she didn’t answer soon, he was going in to help, whether it was wanted or not.

“I’ve still got the sweatshirt partway on.” Mostly on my head, she thought. “I’ve already taken off my pants,” she added.

“Mac, I’m going to close my eyes and come help you take off the shirt. Ready?” He wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

Letting out a heavy sigh, Mac felt totally silly but really didn’t want to raise her arms again. “Ready.”

Harm closed his eyes and turned the doorknob.  Taking baby steps, he ran his hand along the sink to his left, feeling his way to where Mac was last sitting. “You still on the toilet?” he confirmed.

“Uh huh,” she mumbled.

When Harm’s toes bumped into the edge of Mac’s feet, he dropped his hands to reach for her.  An unexpected rush flooded his system when his left hand landed squarely on what was obviously a bare, naked shoulder.  Harm swallowed hard.  This was no time to let his feelings, physical or otherwise, get in the way. Running his hand across her soft shoulder towards her neck, he let out a sigh of relief when his fingers tangled up in the soft fabric.  Placing both hands firmly on either side near the neck, Harm tugged the sweatshirt lightly over the back of her head and held the now removed garment out for Mac to take hold of. 

Placing it strategically in front of her chest, Mac cleared her throat.  “Thank you.  You can open your eyes now.”  Draped in front of her, the oversized sweatshirt managed to cover her breasts as well as her panties, though her shoulders and thighs were still very visible.

Harm backed out of the bathroom.  Closing the door behind him once again, he took a deep breath and threw himself back against the wall, extremely thankful for loose fitting jeans and cursing himself for needing them.  There was something innately wrong with finding an injured friend incredibly sexy.  Even if the friend was Mac, the only woman who had ever held his heart in her hands.

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