The next time I start to drift towards consciousness, I hear guns. In the distance, not in the room. I hear the voices of my captors, worried and excited. I swim toward consciousness, trying to reach it.
I open my eyes and blink several times, trying to clear the fog that coats my vision. The men are scurrying about the room. I hear more gunfire, closer now than a moment ago. I hear a scream a little way off. I'm struggling to keep my eyes open, to keep conscious, focusing my eyes on the entryway. If something, or someone, is coming, I want to know it.
Please, let it be Mac. Or somebody from my side. Let her be safe.
And then, like an angel, there she is, running through the entryway, gun blazing, bullets raining down on the terrorists. I catch a flash of her eyes and they are on fire. Everything is moving in slow motion. The guards by the door are killed, taken swiftly by the intruder, followed by others nearby. The gun points to the back of the room, bullets are fired, and down go the group of men. She glances quickly in my direction, no eye contact, but enough to know I am there, alive. On my far side, three more men are taken down. I'm glad she's on my side.
And only one is left, his gun raised, pointed at my head. He smiles at Mac. She looks at me and for the first time, she looks nervous. One slip, and I could be dead. I know it, she knows it, and my captor knows it. Looking at me, maintaining eye contact, I nod, ever so slightly. Let her do it. If I die, at least I got to see her one last time.
Mac fires, hitting him, not in his head, but his shoulder, the one not attached to the hand with the finger on the trigger. He staggers, pulls the trigger, and for a moment, I am terrified of dying. It is so close; I swear I see the angel of death. But fortune smiles on me, and the bullet misses. My head, anyway, but it hits my knee. I scream in pain. Before the one remaining man can line up his aim to take me out, she fires again, hitting him in the head. He crumples to the ground, dead.
Mac lowers her gun and rushes toward me, never letting it drop. "Harm!" she yells. She wraps her arms tightly around me. I can hear her heart racing, feel her breathing against me.
"Mac! You came," I say weakly.
"I had to. I needed you."
I can see the tears in her eyes and my own eyes start to tear up.
"What do you say we get out of here?" she asks, inspecting the bindings holding me to the chair.
"I want nothing more, as long as you're coming with me."
"Wouldn't dream of anything else." She finds what she's looking for, and drawing a pistol out of the back of her pants, she instructs me, "Hold still." She shoots at the chains, breaking them and freeing me. She returns the gun to her waistband, slings the automatic over her shoulder, and reaches down to help me. She pauses, thinking twice about helping me to my feet. She tears the sleeve off of her clothing, BDUs, and wraps my knee with it. "It won't do much, but every little bit helps." She reaches down again, bending at the waist and hooks herself under my good shoulder and helps me to my feet.
It takes a lot of effort, but I make it. My body is numb from being in one position, but I can distinctly feel the pain in my head, my arm, my ribs, and my knee. I stumble, but Mac catches me, holding me close. "I got you. I'm not going to let you go."
"I know," I smile at her. The world is spinning, faster now than before. I've made it this far; I've got to keep going, but not before I lose the contents of my stomach again. I lean over and vomit, mostly water. It burns as it comes up. I straighten as much as I can. "Sorry."
Mac uses her other sleeve to wipe my chin. "No. I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner." She grips me tightly around the waist, my arm wrapped around her shoulder, my shot knee between us, my broken arm hanging limply at my side. Slowly, we half limp, half hop towards the entryway. I lean against the wall and catch my breath. Mac hands me a canteen and I drink slowly, not wanting to lose it. A few swallows are all I take before I nod gently.
Somehow, I'm not sure how, we make it out of the cave. We stop countless times to let me rest. Never once does Mac ever let me sit down, afraid that she will lose me. I'm afraid I'll go back to the darkness too, and not come back this time. I am so weak. I can't even say anything to Mac, but she seems to know this. We pass bodies on the way, killed by Mac's shooting. After passing the third one, we pause again, and I look intently at her, questioning.
"No back up," she says knowingly. "They called it a suicide mission." She didn't say anymore as my eyes close. "Stay with me, Harm." Her fingers caress my face. "We've come this far. It isn't much farther."
I nod again. We set off, slowly. Mac wasn't being honest when she said it wasn't much further. It was a lot further, but she couldn't tell me that, and I know it. I admire her for it. We stop again and keep on going, passing more bodies as we go. I'm getting weaker by the minute and Mac knows it. Finally, there ahead of us, is the opening. I can smell the fresh air and it revives me, gives me the strength I need to get out.
Out on the open sand, numerous Marines come running our way. Others stand back, their weapons still targeting the opening of the cave. A big guy runs up and relieves Mac of my weight. I am grateful, for her, but I liked being so close to her. "There is no one left alive in there," she tells them. Another radios for a helo. It was apparently close by because within moments I can hear the thumping of the blades.
The helo lands and I am placed onto a gurney. I'm slipping again, back to the darkness, and I know it. Mac grabs my hand and squeezes it gently. "I'm here, I'm not going anywhere, Harm. I promise."
We are lifted into the helo. I feel the rising sensation as it lifts off, carrying us somewhere. I swallow and look up at her. "Thanks, Mac," I manage weakly before succumbing to the darkness.
I wake up later in a bed, surrounded by white. My head is still pounding and I am distinctly aware of the pain in the rest of my body. I hurt so much that I know this isn't in my imagination. This is real. Was escaping real? Was Mac real? I turn my head and I can just slightly make out a figure nearby. Sitting. No weapon. My escape must have been real. I blink my eyes, trying to clear my vision. I want to know who it is.
"Hey, Sailor," she says, rising and moving closer. I can see it is her. Mac.
I try to smile, but I'm not sure if I'm successful. "Hey, Marine," I manage weakly.
"Shh," she says as she picks up my hand. "Don't try to talk, Harm. You're in the hospital. They're stabilizing you so they can move you to Italy to operate on your knee."
"What happened?" I ask her weakly. My throat is dry, scratchy.
Mac senses this and pours a little bit of water into a cup. I try to lift up, but I am so weak. She smiles, perches on the side of the bed, gently uses her arm to raise my head and holds the cup to my lips. "Drink."
I swallow carefully. The liquid feels so good as it slides down. I finish drinking. I am so tired. I want to go back to sleep.
"I'll tell you everything later. You just rest. You need your strength before they transport you. Don't talk, just go to sleep." She caresses my forehead with her fingertips.
I've never been good at following directions. "Will you stay?"
"There's no place I'd rather be."
I smile at her. I know I'm successful this time. I close my eyes and gently drift to sleep as her fingers tenderly stroke my face.
For two days I remain in the hospital, sleeping most of the time. Tests are run, I'm fed through IVs and my arm is properly set and wrapped in a cast. My head is still providing me with a great deal of pain, making me dizzy and nauseous. It's probably a good thing I can't stand anyway. I'd end up so disoriented I wouldn't know which way is up and which way is down. The doctors tell me I have a very severe concussion that will have to be closely monitored. I need to be in a better hospital to have my knee properly operated on, although the bullet and its fragments have been removed. And through it all, Mac is here with me. I don't think she has left the room in days. She is pale, has dark circles under her eyes, looks thin, but she keeps on smiling, even if they seem forced. I'm worried about her, but I know she won't leave me. I wouldn't leave her either. That's just who we are.
I'm transported to Naples, Italy; where I spend another day getting stronger before I'm taken into surgery. For six hours, they operate on my knee, reconstructing the bones and cartilage, tendons and ligaments. A pin is inserted. And it probably won't be the last operation once the healing process begins. Once again, Mac is here when I wake up. I don't stay awake for long, giving into the sleepy state that has claimed most of my time these last few days.
Sometime later, I'm not sure when, I truly wake up for what seems like the first time in days. Mac would know. I turn my head; see her sitting in her familiar chair, gazing at me. "Mac," I call weakly.
"Harm," she says. She pours me a cup of water.
I am able to raise my head and drink it without her help this time. My throat feels better. "How long have I been here?" I ask her.
"In Italy for five days, fourteen hours, thirty-two minutes, and twenty-seven seconds."
"Figured you would know."
"Well…" she trails off, smiling softly.
"To make a long story short, I got myself in trouble, you came and traded yourself for me, and I came back after you, against orders, against the pleadings of many people. Perhaps even against my better judgment."
"Well, I'll never be able to thank you enough."
"No, we're even. You saved me first. If anything, I still owe you one, for Paraguay."
I shake my head slightly. "We've really got to stop doing this sort of thing. I'm getting too old for it," I joke.
"Yeah, I said that once, too." She touches my face, softly. Her fingertips feel so good, so soothing. I wish she never had to leave my side. I close my eyes and just feel. "Go back to sleep. You need it."
When did I get so tired? I just might go back to sleep. It sounds like a good idea. "Thanks, again, Mac," I say softly before I slip back to sleep.
I'm awake again. I don't know how long I've been awake. I can feel Mac asleep beside me, in her chair, her head burrowed up against my shoulder. Her breathing is slow and rhythmic, almost lulling me back to sleep. Almost. I can hear somebody else in the room. I open my eyes to see the Admiral sitting in a chair across the room, under the window. It is dark outside: another night. How long have I been asleep?
"You're awake. Good. I wanted to see you before I left."
I look at him. I didn't even know he was here on this side of the world. When did he arrive? I want to speak, but I don't want to wake Mac. Let her sleep. She needs it. My eyes drift down to her. She's beautiful as she sleeps, like an angel. My angel.
"I think this is the first time she has really slept in days."
"I know," I whisper, hoping she won't awaken.
"I'm leaving her here with you. You'll be here for a while longer before you are sent to Bethesda."
"Thanks," I whisper.
Mac stirs, but doesn't awaken.
"She was worried about you. Nearly got herself killed trying to get to you. Even if she came back with me, she wouldn't do me any good. She'd drive me nuts asking about you."
I want to laugh, but I can't. I know how bad it would hurt my ribs. And it would wake Mac up. But I know that's how Mac would be. I would do the same for her.
The Admiral rises to his feet. "I'll see you when you get back to the States. Take care, Commander." He grasps my hand for a moment and turns to leave.
He turns back.
I look at Mac. He will never understand how grateful I am for her presence. If it were anybody else, the company would be nice, but with Mac, I think I need her here. "Thanks. For everything."
"You're welcome, Harm." He walks out the door.
I lie quietly for a moment, examining the room around me. It isn't spinning anymore. I'd still be afraid to try and stand, even if my knee was okay.
I kiss the top of Mac's head and go back to sleep.