The next morning, when Mac gets dressed at the hospital, she puts her uniform on, which she hadn't worn since this whole ordeal got started. I knew then that we'd be getting a military greeting upon landing; similar to the one we gave Bud when he was injured. Only difference this time is it's me and I still have my leg.
The plane ride home is long and uncomfortable. A lot of care was taken to provide my knee with support, but the support was only so effective with the amount of turbulence we experienced. My arm and ribs are doing better, though they are far from healed. The bulk of my pain resides in my knee.
So, here we are now, the runway in sight. And as anxious as I am to get home, I'm nervous, too. I haven't seen the people I'm about to in almost two months, not since we left for Webb's mission. It isn't that I'm nervous about seeing them, I'm nervous about what they'll think of me. I'm not the same person I was when I left. I can't describe how I'm different, other than physically, but something inside me has changed. Will they see it? Will they think less of me because of it? This is what is making me nervous.
As the plane taxis down the runway, I glance at Mac and she smiles knowingly at me. Is she nervous, too? I think we've both changed because of this. Good or bad, we aren't the same people. I don't know how somebody could not change after what we've been through. "Nervous?" I ask her.
She nods. "A little. Kind of strange to think that we're back home again."
"Speak for yourself. It'll still be a while before I get to see my place. I'm not home yet."
"You're closer, though."
"Yeah." Being this close to home only brings me closer to having to deal with reality. As nice as it is to think about seeing everyone else, being able to understand the language, and being so close to everything, I also know that I truly have to face the reality of my situation now. Perhaps for the first time.
Mac rises from her seat to push my wheelchair as we are allowed to disembark the plane. I see the welcoming committee standing, waiting for us. The Admiral, Bud, Harriet, little AJ and David, and Sturgis. I take a deep breath as the wheels of my chair hit the pavement of the runway. Back on American soil. Home. As we reach the group, Mac stops my chair, moves next to me, and we both salute.
The Admiral returns the salute.
"I apologize, Sir, for not rising to my feet, but I am physically unable to. For the moment."
The Admiral looks at me for a moment before breaking out into a grin. "Damn glad to have you home, Commander." He steps forward and shakes my hand.
Sturgis quickly grasps my hand as soon as the Admiral releases it. "Glad to have you back, Harm." He is grinning widely at me.
Bud steps forward and says, "Welcome home, Sir. Glad to see you in one piece."
I can't help but to smile at Bud's choice of words. "I'm just glad to be back alive, whole or not."
"Absolutely, Sir," Bud smiles broadly, nodding his head in agreement.
Harriet is holding David. He has grown so much since I left, although, he wasn't even a week old then. "It is good to have you back, Sir. I know this little one will be glad to have the opportunity to get to know you." She smiles happily, fingering David's tiny hand.
Little AJ looks at me. "Did you loose your leg like Daddy?" he asks.
The innocence of his childhood is marred by one event. "No, buddy, I still got mine. But I won't be able to give you pony rides for a while."
AJ frowns at that thought. "But someday you give me a ride 'gain?"
"You bet," I say, touching his nose. This makes him smile and giggle. I look up at Mac. She has stood silently by this whole time. Nobody has said a word to her, but she doesn't seem to mind. Amazingly, it is little AJ that first speaks to her.
"Mac!" he squeals, running toward her.
She bends down and welcomes him into her arms. She scoops him up off the ground and gives him an Eskimo kiss. "Hey, little guy! How are ya?"
"Good. I got new shoes!" he points down excitedly.
"Spider-Man?" Mac asks incredulously.
"Uh-huh," AJ smiles proudly.
"I love Spider-Man! I want some shoes just like yours!"
"They wouldn't fit you!" AJ giggles at the thought. Mac laughs with him. I can only imagine her with her own kid. She'd make an excellent mother. I hope she gets that chance one day.
"Welcome back, Ma'am," Harriet says as Mac deposits AJ back down on the ground.
"Yeah, it's good to see you, too," Bud says, taking her hand.
"Yes, it is," Sturgis echoes, grinning broadly at her as well and takes her hand.
"You took good care of him, Colonel," the Admiral says. He, too, shakes her hand and passes her a grateful smile.
Again, I look up at Mac. I feel better now that she isn't being left out. I know everybody was worried about me, but Mac was out there, too, she just made it out in better shape than I did. She looks down at me and places her hand on my shoulder and I take it with my good arm.
"Actually, Sir," she begins, looking at the Admiral for a moment before returning her gaze to me, "I think we took good care of each other."
Silence reigns over the group for a moment, broken only by the sound of a plane taking off on another runway.
"Come on, people," the Admiral says, ending the moment. "The Commander needs to get to Bethesda and the rest of us have jobs to do. We are still shorthanded."
A round of "Aye, aye, Sir," follows.
Mac pushes my wheelchair along with the group and for a moment, we fall behind. "You okay?" she asks.
"Yeah. Are you?"
"Yeah. Just kind of strange, being home, seeing everyone."
"I know what you mean," I say. I think I understand what she means.
"Makes this all seem more real."
"I was thinking on the flight that I guess I'll really have to deal with it now. As long as I was in Italy, I could kind of convince myself that it wasn't real, it was all part of a bad dream and I might wake up at any moment, safe in bed, never having left for Iraq with Webb."
"Was it all bad?" she asks, chewing nervously on her lower lip.
"No, not all of it. Being held captive by terrorists, being afraid that I'd lose you, being stuck in the hospital for days on end, the injuries, losing my wings, all of that was bad."
"So, what was good?"
"The garden, getting out of that cave, you."
Mac smiles tenderly at me.
Bud falls back from the group for a moment, his hand wrapped around AJ's. "Will you be having to go through physical therapy?"
"Hours and hours of it."
Bud winces at the memory. "Hopefully it won't be as bad as mine was. Just stick with it. It really does help."
"I have no doubt that it does." I pause for a moment, at a loss for words. "So, how are things, Bud?" I ask, searching for a change of topics.
"How's David treating you?" Mac asks. I suspect that she is as eager for a new topic as I am.
"He's great! He's sleeping through the night most nights now. And AJ likes having his mommy around a lot more often. I only wish I could be around more than I am. Even with Commander Willis, we're still shorthanded."
Unsure of what to say, I say nothing.
"I didn't mean that in a bad way, Sir, Ma'am. It's just that, ever since Lieutenant Singer left, we've been shorthanded and then the two of you were gone with Webb. Scuttlebutt even suggests that the Commander has been offered the opportunity to stay here, seeing as Lieutenant Singer won't be returning," he smiles slightly, grimly.
"It'll be a while longer before I'm back, Bud. You guys might as well have somebody else to help out." Our procession continues across the tarmac. Eventually, we are done with Andrews Air Force Base and the Admiral leads us to a van, a handicapped van. "Sir, you shouldn't have!" I joke.
"You're right. I probably shouldn't have," he jokes right back, offering up one of his rare smiles. "Okay, Commander Turner, you and Lieutenant Roberts head back to JAG. Lieutenant Sims, go on home with the boys."
"Aye, aye, Sir," the three say together. The three of them quickly say their good-byes to Mac and I.
"Sir, I-" Mac begins but the Admiral cuts her off.
"Colonel, you'll be accompanying the Commander and I to Bethesda."
"Aye, Sir," she responds, smiling.
The two of them get me loaded into the van. I'm very happy to have seen everyone, but this total loss of control and inability to help brings me down. On the way to Bethesda, the three of us keep up a light chatter, the Admiral telling us about the recent happenings at JAG and Mac and I tell him about our stay in the hospital. None of us bring up the events that landed us in the current situation.
At the hospital, the paperwork is filled out, x-rays and test results handed over, and I am checked into my new room, my home for the next few weeks. The doctor, Captain Locke, looks over the records from Italy. He informs me that the therapy will not start until my ribs and arm are better healed and that could be a few more weeks away. He also informs me that they will be running their own tests and taking their own x-rays tomorrow, but I am to spend the rest of the day getting settled. Mac and the Admiral stay with me for a while. I'm tired and want to sleep, but I don't think I can in front of the Admiral, not knowingly, anyway. Mac, too, looks tired. She yawns, which consequently, makes me yawn.
"Mac," the Admiral asks. "I need to get the van back. Can I give you a ride home?"
She looks at me and I nod. All I plan on doing is sleeping anyway.
"I'd appreciate that, Sir."
"Commander, I'll stop by tomorrow. Have a good night." He turns to leave the room. "I'll meet you outside," he says to Mac, giving us privacy.
For the first time in more than a week, Mac and I are going our separate ways. All her errands in Italy don't quite count. She is really leaving this time. Welcome home, Harm, and welcome back to real life, where Mac is not your twenty-four hour babysitter.
She seems to be thinking the same thing. "I'll be back tonight."
"You don't have to come back, Mac."
"I know. I want to," she smiles. She leans over and softly kisses my forehead. "Take it easy, Harm. Get some sleep. I'll see you later." She walks away without looking back.
"See you later, Mac," I call after her. I don't know if she heard me or not. And that was it, our good-bye, no drama, and no emotion. So why does it hurt so badly? Why do I suddenly feel empty? Why do I suddenly feel so damn alone, like I'm out in this big, bad world without a raft to float on?
Not wanting to think about the answers to those questions, I close my eyes to try and sleep. It doesn't take me long to get there.
I'm awakened for dinner and Mac still isn't back. I eat it and wait for the usual nausea to pass. When it does, I sit up and turn the television on. I flip through the channels for a while and finally stop on the Discovery channel. They are doing a documentary about giraffes. Giraffes are strange looking creatures, so tall and spindly, that they have to spread their front legs wide just to drink water. And they look rather goofy while they do it. I can't help but think that the video would be funnier if Mac was here with me. She makes almost everything funnier. I think it just has something to do with having someone to laugh with.
When the documentary goes off, Mac still isn't here. I turn the TV off and pick up my book to read. A nurse comes in to check on me. Visiting hours end at 2100 and Mac hasn't come back. She hasn't called and I'm a little worried about her, but I know, deep down, she's okay. I'm more hurt than anything. Sitting in this hospital room for a few hours, alone, has made me appreciate all the time she has spent with me lately. I guess I'd better get used to it, though, since now that we are back home, Mac will probably be heading back to JAG. I think that maybe I should have visited Bud a little more often when he was here. He may have welcomed the company as much as I would right about now. Of course, Bud had a roommate, who turned out to be a pretty cool guy. I've got a room to myself. Lucky me.
I pass the rest of the evening in my own world, reading and flipping channels. I can feel my eyes getting tired, so I put my book down, turn the light off, and close my eyes, hoping for sleep. I keep thinking about Mac. Where is she? Is she all right? Is she sick of my company? Did I drive her crazy? Am I really so bad that she didn't want to come back for me? She'll risk her life for me, but won't drive to the hospital for me. I can't help it, I am hurt. At least she could have called. I feel like a worthless human being because I've chased her away again.
It's a long time before I get to sleep.