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Monday, July 31, 2006

Making and Remking Mac part 2

Actually, looking back with 20/20 adult hindsight, he had a feeling his
mother had been near a breakdown, that was why they had moved. The guest
house they occupied was on the estate of a medical colleague of his maternal
grandfather's. He had a feeling it was more to keep an eye on Trish and him
than anything else. He knew his mother had refused to move back to Marin
County where her she had grown up and her parents had still lived, not
wanting to be that far away from the reminders of her married life.

"Was it better?"

"Yeah, for her it was. I was always afraid my Dad would come home, and he
wouldn't know where we were."

"That must have been tough."

"Actually, my grandfather sat me down and explained that the Navy kept very
good records about those things, and my Dad would know to ask them where Mom
and I had gone."

"That was perceptive of him."

"Not really, but he handled it well when he found out what I was worried
about. He'd found me walking to the mailbox with a letter to my Dad in North
Vietnam telling him we'd moved."

"God, that's awful!"

Harm thought for a minute. "You know, Mac, at that time, I thought I'd been
dealt the worst hand in the world, with my Dad, my hero, gone. But as I get
older, and I see what other people went through, I realize that my
circumstances didn't even come close." His relationship with Mattie, and
even Jen who had been battered in her own way, had given him a new
perspective on a lot of things. He'd seen the down side of life, like the
horrible condition of Darlyn and Annie, but getting more personally involved
brought deeper perspective.

"That you bore them in a somewhat gilded cage didn't make your demons any
easier to bear, Harm." Mac had always been far better at giving comfort than
taking it, and was calmer now that the tables were turned.

"No, but not having to worry about basic survival made them a lot easier to
obsess over."


The next three days were given over to meetings at the Embassy and with
various functionaries of the court. At the last minute, State wanted to send
over a couple of international law professors who consulted for them to
handle or at least consult on the defense. Secretary Sheffield said no, he
had confidence in "his people."

Mac privately and sarcastically wondered if it was because someone could
always have them court-martialed if they didn't get him off. Not that it
would be couched that way. One loophole missed, one 'i' not dotted or 't'
not crossed could bring charges of dereliction of duty if a convening
authority wanted to push it.

Then there was always that good old catch-all, conduct unbecoming an
officer. In any event, a nice arsenal of threats to make sure they did their
jobs properly. A high powered civilian lawyer wouldn't say anything other
than 'so sue me,' if the case didn't work out. It usually the took actual
commission of a felony or a grievous breach of ethics to get disbarred, and
even that didn't garner the possibility of jail time. The military really
was a whole different world, one she was becoming more and more sure she
would be glad to be rid of in five years.

This case was far more of a political and diplomatic minefield than anything
either of them had ever tried. She and Harm were listed as co-counsels,
neither as lead counsel. Bud was totally off the hook, he was strictly there
as a junior associate, so he had no responsibility whatever occurred. Just
as they decided if something went wrong, they would hang together, the two
of them decided it was best to protect Bud from any possible fallout.

The Admiral had concurred in their decisions, actually she thought he was
somewhat amused that neither of them were demanding to be first chair. Okay,
that Harm didn't assume he was first chair. Although the words were never
spoken amongst she, Harm and the Admiral, there was an unspoken feeling that
they didn't particularly trust their client. After the last year, that would
have taken a either a miracle or stupidity. She wasn't that religious, and
none of them were stupid.

This was more complex than trying things in a military or US civilian court.
The diplomatic types at the Embassy were so worried that they might step on
some toes in the rarefied atmosphere of high level diplomacy, they were
given a crash course in protocol. She and Harm were at any event.

Bud was working with the court recording and translation people to make sure
they would get their transcripts in English sent out to Falls Church and to
the small legal support staff from the Naples LSO that had flown up the day
before to take care of their clerical needs. The last thing they needed was
some kind of computer incompatibility glitch, and that was definitely a job
for Bud.

They had dressed in civilian clothes to better blend in at the Embassy and
on the streets, Harm in a grey suit with a blue shirt and tie, she in one of
the lady lawyer outfits she had bought when she went to work for Lowell,
Hanson and Lowne. Fortunately, lady lawyer clothes were pretty timeless. It
had been decided they would wear uniforms in court, instead of either
civilian clothes or the court robes the prosecutor would wear. Mac kind of
regretted that, she thought Harm had looked pretty cute in Australia,
although she'd taken pains not to mention it to him. Anyway, in this court
the counsels didn't wear wigs.

After almost eight hours, the two of them were fairly fed up with the
diplomatic dog and pony show they were being put through. Finally the
Defense Attachb almost eight hours, the two of them were fairly fed up with the
diplomatic dog and pony show they were being put through. Finally the
Defense Attach‚ entered the protocol office and told the FSO coaching them
that the CNO and the Commandant thought a Annapolis honor's grad and a magna
from Duke Law, both of whom had testified and worked on Capitol Hill, could
manage not to be an embarrassment to their government. The protocol officer,
a snippy blue-blood from Boston with a recognizable old family name backed
off, but still looked at them like they were something a particularly
ill-mannered cat dragged in.

Harm took it all with a grain of salt. He'd known many like Ms. Winthrop in
his days in La Jolla. The California subtype looked a little more laid back,
but the steel backbone and ridged posturing were still visible. They were
the type to whom background and family were all, and to whom merit meant
little or nothing. Mac held her own counsel while they were there, but was
visibly seething when they got back to the hotel suite.

The door had barely shut behind them when she stomped over to the bed,
removing her coat as she walked. She tossed it on the bed and plopped down
beside it. "That..........that....." she was so livid she couldn't even form
words as she rested her face in her hands.

"I think the term you?re searching for is 'tight assed bitch,' Mac." There
was a trace of humor in his voice. He slipped off his overcoat and suit
jacket and started to loosen his tie.

"She... arrrrrrrrghghghghghgh!!!" Mac fell back on the bed, obviously in
need of venting, but not quiet getting the words out.

Harm often found Mac's anger amusing, since he knew how hard she worked not
to show it. Well, amusing when it wasn't him she was angry at anyway. This
was the maddest he'd seen her since the abaya episode in Saudi a few years
back.

She was so angry he could almost see steam coming out of her ears. "Hey,
Marine, as insulting as it was, that what fork to use and who to kowtow
lowest to is her job, as ridiculous as that sounds." She could see a trace
of his cocky grin.

?Yeah, right. And I bet she worked really hard to get it, too." There was a
definite edge in her voice, she knew. The surprising thing was that she
didn't even try to hide it. She had no desire to.

Harm cocked an eyebrow. Mac didn't sound so much angry as bitter, and she
was the least bitter person he'd ever met. She took all the hard knocks life
had thrown at her and got right back up.

"I think maybe I missed something here. Did she say something to you when I
went to the head or took that phone call from the Admiral?"

Actually, his trip to the head had been an excuse. He called the Admiral and
got him to get the bigwigs in the five sided fumble palace to tell State to
leave them alone. He and Mac didn't need the distraction of trying to
memorize the names and titles of myriad people. They'd just fall back on
milspeak and "Sir" all of them when in doubt.

"We just chatted about her career track, Harm." Mac got up and walked over
to the window, looking out at the greying sky. It got dark very early in
this part of Europe. "It seems she took the FSO exam the same year I did."
Mac was speaking quietly, her arms crossed, obviously in a defensive
posture. . "She speaks French, not a language that's on the list for extra
hiring consideration."

"I never knew you took the FSO exam. What, after you finished your
commitment for law school, before you came to JAG?" He didn't think that
made sense, since he was pretty sure Mac was still paying back her
commitment to the Law Education program when she came to Falls Church. She'd
graduated Duke a year after he finished at Georgetown.

"No, Harm, I took it right out of college. I graduated in December, took the
exam the next time they offered it, March of 89."

"And you didn't get a high enough score?" That surprised him. Mac was
extremely bright, he'd seen her college transcript when they worked on her
case after Chris was killed.

"I was number seven over all, after the written exam and oral assessment. I
also spoke three languages, two fluently and one better than most others
they were currently employing. Obviously I had no problem getting a security
clearance, since I got the normal 'Secret' every commissioned officer gets
out of OCS six months later."

"They didn't hire that year?" He was beginning to get the picture, and if he
was right, understood why she was so angry.

"No, they hired all right. It was a good year, they took over five hundred
junior officers."

"The alcohol thing, you couldn't get past the medical?" He questioned that
one, since he knew the commissioning physical for the military had to be
more stringent.

"Nope, I got through that. No one but me ever said I was an alcoholic, and
all the forms say 'Have you ever been diagnosed or undergone rehabilitation
for," not did you ever drink too much." She was still staring at the street;
she knew she couldn't talk about this without breaking down if she saw any
sympathy on his face. "I passed the medical. No one knew about my
alcoholism--that's one of those Catch 22's you know? If you've never been in
a rehab program, you've never formally been diagnosed, so you can check 'no'
on all the forms. One great piece of advice my uncle gave me was if at all
possible, stay out of formal rehab."

"So what happened?" He had a feeling he knew. There was still a lot of the
'old boy and girl network at Foggy Bottom.

"What they euphemistically call the 'final review.' It's where no matter
what, if you don't have the right pedigree, they weed you out. And I sure
didn't have it."

******************************************************************************

University of Minnesota
Late April 1989

Two days after her return from Washington, all her hopes dashed, Sarah sat
in Allen's office. Angry, resentful, down right furious, even with all those
emotions brought to bear, the poised, attractive, articulate women was a far
cry from the one who had sat there less than two years before.

She had become Edwin's assistant, prot‚g‚e, surrogate daughter. Allen had
become not only her adviser, but her mentor into the career track she had
decided would be perfect for her. She a deep interest in world political
affairs, the intellect to go with it and the facility with languages that
would make the job much easier both to get and function in.

"You did what? Sarah, are you certifiably insane?" He was in shock. No, it
was more than that. He felt like he'd taken a blow to the stomach.

"No, Allen, I just know my limitations. I was so damned ready to believe I
could have it all." There was utter defeat on her face, something he hoped
he'd never see again.

She tossed her expensive briefcase--okay, it was Edwin's briefcase--on a
chair in Allen's office.

"Sarah, I don't know what to say." They had been though this twice. He was
sorry he had let her listen in on his call to Washington.

Candidates weren't supposed to know why they hadn't gotten the job, just
that they hadn't. He'd found out her actual scores and evaluations from the
previous two rounds of vetting, and had been convinced she was a lock to be
hired. The fact that she spoke Russian and Farsi fluently, and
Serbo-Croatian well enough to be considered conversational should have given
an already extremely strong candidate a further push.

"I heard them talking, Allen. They laughed. I was probably better prepared
for that damned job than 90% of the other candidates, but because I was the
daughter of a Marine gunny, and not some banker, doctor, lawyer, or even,
praise be, diplomat, I couldn't have the job. How did they put it?" There
was an icy tone in her voice. "They felt my background, let me see,
'wouldn't be suitable to enable me to interact at the levels at which I
would be expected to comport myself, particularly on a spontaneous basis.'"

She got up and paced the room. For several months, she had prepared for the
interviews. She'd had no worries about taking the written exam, she knew the
type of material they were likely to ask, and as for the essay part, she
knew she wrote well.

Allen had coached her, and given her copious recommendations, which should
have carried a good deal of weight, considering he was a career FSO and a
former Ambassador.

Edwin had gone on numerous shopping trips with her, looking for just the
kind of conservative attire that was needed for the multi day interviews.
Her hair had been perfectly coiffed in a French twist, her jewelry consisted
of her UMinn ring, pearls, pearl earrings and the Cartier tank watch on a
crocodile strap the two men had given her for graduation. Her nails were
medium length and polished in a pale peach shade. In short, she looked
conventional, refined and bland, the perfect diplomat want to be.

Over the previous two years, the two men had drawn her out, taught her to
speak up for herself, given her lessons in manners and gracious living
without it even seeming that they were doing so. She was as prepared as
anyone could be. The only thing they couldn't change was where she had come
from.

"Let me see if I can translate that into plain English. Those snobs were
afraid I'd forget everything I've learned over the years and pee in the
potted palms at some reception. So I guess even being better than anyone
else isn't going to do me any good. I might as well at least go where my
family isn't considered a disgrace." She wiped away a tear. She was angry,
and for a change didn't care if someone else knew it.

"But for pity's sake, Sarah! Going into the Marines?" He couldn't think of
much else that would be as big a waste of her potential.

"I'm not completely stupid, Allen. The Naval ROTC prof was more that happy
to call the Pentagon and get Matthew O'Hara's niece a spot in Marine OCS.
It's not like I'll be a private toting a rifle around." She knew Allen
didn't have a grasp of what life in the military was really like. He and
Edwin had met her uncle at her graduation, and the three seemed to get
along, though Edwin had raised macho Uncle Matt's eyebrows a little.

"I know I can get you a teaching assistantship. If not here, then at another
university." Although she hadn't applied to graduate schools, placing all of
her eggs in the State Department basket, with her record, getting her a spot
somewhere could be finessed. Allen had felt that the culture had changed
enough at State for them to look at her record more than her family history,
but unfortunately, they still seemed to be looking for a certain 'breed' of
FSO.

"Be an academic?" She shook her head. "It's not what I want. It's never been
what I wanted once I realized I could reach for more in life than becoming a
high school social studies teacher."

"Surely you don't intend to make this a career?"

"No. I'll do the three and a half years after commissioning, then go on.
Either grad school or some kind of fellowship if I can get one. Then maybe
one of the intelligence agencies or a think tank or something." She took a
deep breath, her rage mollified for the moment.

"But why take the time out? You could do that without wasting the three or
four years."

"I want to be independent. If I go to grad school, I'm going to be working a
couple of jobs just to make ends meet for the next few years. I want a taste
of real life. I can live cheaply on base, save a good bit of my salary.
After I get out, I should have enough socked away so that I can get through
grad school without too much trouble. I should be able to do a masters at
least partially through correspondence while I'm on active duty, they'll pay
part of the tuition. It's a way to do more that just get by."

"There are other things you could do for a couple of years, surely."

"Yes, but not any that will get me some experience in working in another
culture. I'll likely end up overseas for at least two of the three and a
half years, that's how it normally works." The fact was also that if she did
decide to go to one of the intelligence agencies after grad school, veterans
preference would help. She somehow didn't think she' d try the State
Department again.

********

"Wow." Harm never knew that the Corps had been a fallback position for her,
not even one she had seemed all that attracted to, just an expedient means
to an end. "So why are you still in the Marines?"

"I got loaned out to the base JAG office in Okinawa when their admin officer
had a serious accident. They were in the middle of that big rape trial." The
case of three Marines accused of raping an Okinawan school girl was well
known in military legal circles, even after almost fifteen years. "They
needed an administrator more than the headquarters company did. I liked the
work, I'd never thought of law school."

"So neither was your first career choice?" He was surprised. He supposed he
had always thought that as he had wanted to be a Naval Aviator from the time
he could formulate the idea, Mac must have felt the same way about the
Marines. It felt odd to have that assumption taken away after all this time.

"No. I got to know one of the female JAG officers pretty well, she suggested
I take the LSAT's when they gave them that year." It was usually possible
for overseas military members to take graduate school entrance exams through
the base education office. "I did pretty well, so I applied to a few law
schools, John put me in for the Law Education program, and here I am."

"If you didn't want to stay in the Marines, why did you?" He wasn't sure she
was completely sure of her own motives here.

"Well, the idea of someone paying me the same salary I was currently getting
while all I did was go to school full time, give the occasional lecture to
ROTC, and do some summer law clerking on base looked like a pretty good deal
to me. Not to mention paying my tuition." She took a deep breath. "It was
the first time since junior high I wasn't working a couple of jobs as well
as going to school. I actually felt law school was kind of relaxing."

"But you're still here?" He was glad to see she had calmed down some. She
was still looking out the window, but her voice was less strident.

"Well, as you know I almost left, did leave really, when they offered the
early outs." She still had some time to go on her obligation for law school,
but in one of their periodic downsizings, the military was willing to
forgive up to two years of the obligation. "I didn't fit in at Dalton's, it
was like trying to make a silk purse out of a sows ear, I guess. I probably
wouldn't have ever fit in at State either, they would have always known I
was an impostor, a cuckoo in the nest."

"So, you're here for the next fifteen years or so?" He said it with a trace
of humor.

"No, I'll get out at the end of twenty, I've had enough." She was certain of
enough of this to feel comfortable articulating it to him.

"But you just said you didn't like civilian practice."

"Not that kind, no. I'll get something with an agency that works with some
kind of public policy cause, women's issues, neglected kids, something like
that. Or public defender if nothing else."

"Why?" He was reeling. The one thing he always thought he could count on was
her being there, in the office next door or down the hall.

"I want a life, Harm, and I don't seem to be able to find one when I'm gone
more than I'm home."


They were into the second week of the trial. Since the court only met three
days a week, things tended to drag out. The proceedings were much more
formal and hidebound than even federal courts in the US. With judges from
many different countries, translations needed in several languages, and
witnesses coming from vast distances, the days seemed to lag. It was no
where near the pace they were used to in a court-martial, where the entire
proceeding often took less than a day.

Mondays were reserved for motions and any other business with the court,
Fridays were not a day in session because one of the judges and many of the
witnesses were Muslim. It wouldn't do to have the proceedings on their day
of prayer. Naturally, the normal Saturday and Sunday weekend was observed.
It made for a lot more down time than they had figured on when they had
arrived.

Mac had spoken to Webb several times, he was a good back door to information
that the CIA had easier access to than they did. Some background on Iraq
witnesses, nothing classified, just useful information. She knew she was
using him, right now, she didn't really care. She figured he'd used her to
get his stalled career back on track without letting her know exactly what
she was getting herself into. At worst, they were even.

Never one to kid herself, she knew he had an ulterior motive for giving her
what she asked for. Well, he could have all the motives in the world for as
much as it was going to get him. Clay was a nice guy, when you got past the
supercilious spook exterior, but not someone she was interested in a
romantic relationship with.

She hung up the phone and crossed to the table where Harm was sitting, lost
in thought. "Webb sends his love."

"There's a scary thought."

Just as she started to pick his brain about the funk he'd been in for most
of the evening, they were interrupted by a knock on the door. By the time
Bud had delivered his news and left, she felt an adrenalin surge and got
into what Harm called her drill instructor mode.

"Harm, why don't you go to Bud's room and help him pack. Make sure you get
all the notes he has that we'll need." She took a deep breath. "I'm going to
get on the phone with the concierge and see if there's any way we can get
him to London tonight."

Harm was already moving, happy to have something, anything to do. Mac was
better than he was in this kind of crisis. "Okay. Why London?"

"The last time I came back from Europe I had to route through there, and
there is, or there was, an early morning flight to New York. If we can get
him there tonight, he can take that instead of waiting for something later
out of Shipol. When I took it, I grabbed a shuttle down to DC and was in my
apartment by 1300. It's probably the fastest way to get him back."

Harm set off to do her bidding, and she got busy on the phone. By the time
she went to Bud's room fifteen minutes later, there was a ticket waiting at
the British Airways counter at the airport, a reservation at a Heathrow
hotel for a short rest and a car outside to drive him to the airport.

She'd expensed it all on her government credit card. Since she was
technically the senior officer, no one would get too bent out of shape about
it. They had to get him home somehow, and if it took the bending of a rule
or two, she didn't think Admiral Chegwidden would mind. This situation was
exactly what the concept of emergency leave covered.

As they walked him down to the lobby, Bud was babbling. She'd never seen him
so nervous and upset, not even when little Sarah died. That was a tragedy,
but it was finite. There was nothing anyone could do to change her fate.
This was as situation in flux, one that could have a myriad of outcomes,
some good, some that didn't even bear thinking about.

They got him into the car, and waited while it drove off. They would call
Harriet and give her Bud's itinerary, there had been no time to call her
back once the arrangements had been made if he had a hope of making the
plane to London.

As they stood in the elevator up to the rooms, Harm asked, "Do you want to
call her, or should I?"

"I don't want to, but I think it might be better if I did. She may need to
let off a little steam, and I don't know if she'd be as comfortable doing it
to you."

He nodded. "Do you think someone took him?"

She shuddered. The elevator door opened and they walked towards their door.
"I don't want to think about that Harm. Very bad things can happen to little
kids."

He sensed there might be an undercurrent of experience in what she was
saying, and knew that this wasn't the time to broach it. She first went into
the bathroom, and when she came out a few minutes later she was more
composed. Since they had gotten the word an hour before, they had all been
going none stop. It looked like she had taken her makeup off, and she had
her glasses perched her nose. Her contacts must have been bothering her
eyes. As the years had gone by and the long wear lens had gotten better and
better, he didn't get to see her in them much. He'd always thought they made
her look very sexy in a slightly schoolmarmish way.

The call to Harriet was short, she didn't want to tie up the phone in case
the police had some word. Mac got her to promise to call them the minute
they heard something.

Harm looked at her questioningly. "Mike took him to an arcade. He turned his
back for a second, and AJ was gone. Harriet is really angry at Mike."

"Well, I know he was supposed to watch him, but from what Bud says, AJ has
been a real handful lately. This isn't the first time he's wandered off.
Bud's feeling pretty guilty for coming over here with us instead of staying
home. He feels like he dropped the ball, and Harriet had to find help
wherever she could." Harm was standing by the table, his jacket and tie off,
hands shoved in his pockets.

"There may be something to that. I know she sounded pretty stressed even
before Bud left." Mac heaved a sigh. "I wonder if with two kids and a
husband who's out of town more than he's home, plus her job, it's getting to
be too much for her?"

"I don't know, Mac. Even with Mattie, I don't feel I'm doing enough
sometimes, and she's at least old enough to explain things too." He looked
at his watch. "I should give her a call, it's about time for her to get home
from school, she had volleyball practice."

He got out his cell phone to call home, while Mac looked through the notes
they had from Bud. She might as well spend the evening going through them,
she knew she wouldn't sleep. Normally, she managed on two or three hours a
night, she doubted she'd get even that tonight.

After Harm ended the call with a less than happy Mattie, they reviewed the
transcripts from that day. Neither were inclined to want to end the evening
alone, so Harm sat on one side of Mac's bed, propped up against the
headboard, while she sat at the foot on the other side. They were
desultorily going over witness lists that they'd gone through many times
before when they both dozed off sometime after 0200.

Harm awoke to feel his back aching, and an unfamiliar weight on his thigh.
He was still propped against the headboard, but sometime during the night,
Mac's head had come to rest on his thigh. She had one arm wrapped around his
leg, and looked to be huddling against the cold.

The temperature in the room was likely not much about 65, fine with him, but
she had never tolerated the cold very well. He couldn't resist stroking her
hair, just for a moment. At times like this, he wondered about all the
ridiculous excuses he gave himself for keeping them apart.


Early hours of Saturday morning

Mac shuddered in her sleep, and Harm took a moment to sooth her, running his
palm up and down her back. Her bare skin was like silk under his roughened
palm. He only hoped that she wouldn't awaken and regret what had taken place
that night.

The days since Bud had left had been a nightmare. They'd had enough work
with Bud there, without him, they were behind the curve. They waged a debate
about whether or not to have Admiral Chegwidden send over one of the other
junior attorneys from Falls Church or to bring one up from the LSO in
Naples. Even a couple of legal assistants to honcho the computer and
technical work would help.

Finally, they and the Admiral agreed on a Lieutenant jg from Naples who'd
been a computer programmer before she got her law degree. She would bring a
couple more clerical staff along as well.

The idea of getting another attorney up to speed to do Bud's research was
finally deemed impossible. The three of them had worked together enough for
them to fit together seamlessly. At this late date, it would take them
longer to tell someone what needed to be done than to do it themselves.
Fortunately, Bud had left good notes, and had been available by email the
one time they had a question.

On Thursday afternoon, the dam burst. Their Marine Lieutenant witness was
badly wounded as he left the court by one of the Iraqi spectators. Since he
was TAD to the court proceedings, he was their and JAG's responsibility.
After conferring with the prosecutor, Dutch authorities and their client,
both made their way to the hospital where he had been taken. Fortunately,
most of the staff spoke English, and for those that didn't Mac's imprecise
German managed to get their point across.

Neither of them wanted the young man to wake up and not know what was
happening, so they would stay at the hospital until his family arrived. It
took almost 24 hours for his mother to get there from St. Louis. Each had
taken a short break to return to the hotel singly to shower and change, and
they took short breaks for meals. In some ways, although his condition
wasn't as grievous, it reminded both of them of the wait while Bud went
through his surgery almost two years before.

When his mother finally arrived, he still had not regained consciousness,
although the coma he had been in since surgery seemed to be lightening.
Finally, in the late hours of Friday evening, the young man returned to
consciousness. The doctors seemed to think that while his recovery might be
protracted, it would be uneventful from then on.

The consular officials at the Embassy would help out with any arrangements
that were needed as far as his medical care went. They would also coordinate
with the Air Force for a medivac back to the US once the doctors deemed him
strong enough. The two attorneys returned to their hotel to get some long
neglected rest, leaving both their hotel and cell phone numbers and
promising to check in the next afternoon.

They had both immediately gone to shower and await the late dinner Mac
ordered from room service. Now that the worry about their witness was past,
they were free to just concern themselves with the SecNav's case and their
godson.

The later was taken care of shortly after they finished dinner. While both
had been ravenous when they ordered, once the food arrived, they desultorily
picked at their plates. Both knew that the longer AJ was missing, the worse
the outcome would likely be. At a 2232 their time, the phone rang. Harm got
up to answer.

"Rabb."

(Commander, I just wanted you and the Colonel to know. They found AJ
Roberts, he's fine).

"Jesus, Jen, that's great!" He put his hand over the phone to speak to Mac,
"They've got AJ, he's okay!" She looked relieved, but questioning. "What
happened?"

(I don't know all the details, Sir, I'm still at the office. Lt. Roberts
just called to tell the Admiral, and he told me to call you two).

"Thanks, Jen, I guess all the details can wait. Hey, what time is Mattie due
back? I know she has that game down near Oceana tonight."

(Her friend's mom is supposed to meet the bus at 2230, and I'm sure there'll
be the ritual stop for burgers). After a game, the kids were always
starving. When it had been his turn to drive, he'd been unsuccessful in
trying to get them to try a nice salad place called Sprouts instead of the
ubiquitous burger take out.

"So she'll likely just make her midnight curfew?" Harm had agreed that as
long as it was for a school activity, Mattie could be out that late on
Friday and Saturday, provided the driver was an adult, not a kid a year or
two older than she. He had memories of himself and several of his friends at
that age, and unfortunately, teenagers tended to think they were invincible.
If Mattie stayed with him much longer, he knew the dreaded subjects of
dating and riding in cars with brand new drivers was going to come up
eventually. He didn't look forward to it.

(Yes, Sir. She's good about calling when they get picked up, so it's not a
real worry. I'm going to a movie with Casey, the CO of legal services
yeoman--you know that really is sexist, we should be yeopersons). He knew
Jen had become friendly with the other command yeoman in the building, a
young African American woman about her age who'd always intimidated poor
Tiner.

"Well, Jen, Navy tradition is hard to change, I think you may have to take
that one up with the CNO," he joked, his mood considerably lighter after the
day's plethora of good news.

He knew he was extremely lucky to have Jen step in with Mattie. It didn't
really solve the parental responsibility problem. Jen was more like a
sister, but she was still a legal adult, and responsible in her own way. If
he could find a way to spend more time with Mattie, he would, but fate and
career seemed to intervene, like it did so much with his life.

After promising to get up early and call Mattie after she got in to hear all
about her on court prowess, he ended the call, turning to Mac. "She doesn't
know any more than that he's okay, and back with Harriet and Bud. Maybe he
was just hiding or something."

"Maybe. I'm relieved he's back, I'm sure we'll get the whole story
eventually." She got up from the table and stretched, her t-shirt ridding up
from the waist of her sweat pants. "I'm going to try to go to sleep, Harm,
I'm really exhausted."

"That's probably not a bad idea, I'm pretty beat up myself. I'm going to set
the alarm, I need to get a call in to Mattie when she gets home."

She smiled at him, a somewhat wan one, as she stood in the doorway of her
bedroom. "You make a good dad, Flyboy. Good night."

"Good night, Jarhead. Sleep well." He kept the smile on his face long after
she had shut the door to her bedroom.

He could never really be sure what woke him in the wee hours of the night.
He didn't usually have trouble sleeping, unless there was something prying
on his mind. Actually, after losing a nights sleep last night and having
only a few hours the night before, he should be a zombie, but he found
himself wide awake a couple of hours after he had gone to bed. He looked
towards the door, and thought he detected a faint glimmer of light around
the edges.

Getting out of bed and padding to the door in his bare feet, he opened it to
see a small bundle, huddled in blankets in one of the two overstuffed easy
chairs in the conference room. For a moment, he didn't think she knew he was
there, then she looked up, somehow alerted to his presence.

"Mac, what are you doing? Why aren't you in bed?"

"I couldn't get the room warm enough, it's freezing in here."

The conference room was anything but freezing, it had to be at least 80
degrees. She'd turned up the thermostat, and was wrapped in what looked like
the bedspread and blankets from her bed.

He walked closer to her, and could see her shaking. Putting a hand on her
forehead, she was cool to the touch. "Do you feel okay?"

"I'm not sick, I just.....I'm just so cold."

When he thought back on it in future days, he never could figure out what
made him act decisively. Without waiting for protest or permission, he
scooped the blanket wrapped bundle that was his partner up in his arms and
carried her to his bed.

"What are you doing?" It wasn't a protest, it was simply a question.

"I'm taking you to bed. I seem to remember a night a few years ago when I
did a pretty good job of keeping you warm and we didn't even have any
blankets." He put her down in the middle of his bed, wrappings and all, and
climbed in next to her, pulling the duvet over them and drawing her close.

She nuzzled her nose into the crook of his neck, something he fondly
remembered her doing. He could feel wetness on her face. "Hey, hey, hey.
What's wrong? I thought Marines didn't cry?"

He had a feeling he knew. She was melting down emotionally. Mac had been the
one making the decisions, calling the shots, pushing the Embassy when
needed, and translating what was going on at the hospital as best she could
when there wasn?t any English-speaking staff around. In short, she'd taken
over.

She soothed his concerns about AJ, told him not to worry about Mattie being
upset over the lost little boy she liked because Jen would help her through
it, and in short had been the brick wall he leaned on. Now, when everything
was alright, all the suppressed emotion had to go somewhere. It was kind of
like a pilot collapsing on deck after a really hairy situation in the air.
The adrenaline needed an outlet.

"I'm sorry. I'm being silly, I...."

"You're not being silly. You put everything away until it was all over, now
it's coming out. You were the one I was venting to at the hospital."

She chuckled. "Yeah, well, I don't think putting your fist through the wall
was the way to go."

"You're probably right. It would have felt good at the time, but that cast
for six weeks is a bitch."

She wasn't sure if she turned to him, or he came to her, but suddenly their
mouths were as close together as they had been in another bed, in another
hotel, in another hemisphere. This time, there was no knock on the door, or
any other reason not to give in to the desires both had fought for years.

Unbeknownst to the other, each had imagined what this would be like, when it
would happen, innumerable times. Neither had imagined them in the middle of
a case that had world wide attention, while Harm was attempting to parent a
teenager who had been though the wringer. Two months before, neither were
sure they were even friends anymore. Harm still wasn't sure what Mac's
relationship with Clayton Webb was. Mac didn't know if Harm would ever feel
about her the way she felt about him.

They just knew that the moment had finally come when there were just no more
excuses that mattered.


0559 Saturday morning,
Hotel des Indes

While his inner clock was no where near as good as Mac's, Harm knew it was
almost time to get up and call Mattie. He also knew something was wrong, but
in that trance-like state between true wakefulness and sleep, he wasn't sure
what it was.

Just as the alarm began to beep it dawned on him. The pillow next to his was
empty, with only the indentation of her head, and a faint trace of the
elusive scent he would always think of as Sarah remaining.

He grabbed his cell phone, determined to make the call to Mattie quickly. He
then intended to find out why his friend, partner and now lover had taken
off so soon after a night he thought had fulfilled a lot of dreams and
fantasies of the last seven years.

He hit speed dial three, thankful that he'd gone with the international
service phone plan since he never knew where he'd be from one day to the
next. Since the advent of Mattie, JAG Ops had been pushed to number four.
Mac and Mom were numbers one and two. It had driven Renee crazy that Mac's
home number was in first place on his phone. He'd tried to placate her by
saying it was because they were always working together, but he didn't think
she ever bought it.

Thirty-five hundred miles away, he could hear the phone ringing in Mattie
and Jen's living room.

"Hi, Harm!" She sounded way too upbeat and cheerful for the late hour. Oh,
to be that young again.

"How did you know it was me?"

"Duh, the caller id!"

"Oh, yeah, I forgot I made you two get that." He wasn't quite awake yet.

"Right!" Mattie didn't believe for one moment he forgot anything, Harm was
almost obsessive about protecting her and Jen.

"So, how was the game?"

"We won. Easy."

"Good deal. When's the next one?"

"Next Saturday. Are you going to be back?" There was a hopeful note in her
voice.

He winced with guilt, glad she couldn't see him. "I hope so, Mats. But right
now, we don't have a lot of control over what happens. The court here works
at it's own pace."

There was silence on the other end. Finally she said, "Okay."

"Mattie, I tried to explain all this to you before you came to Washington.
Being in the military doesn't give me a lot of options. When the Admiral
orders me to do something, I have to do it." He tried to keep his tone
patient. She had fifteen years experience in the civilian world, less than
two months with the military.

If he was one hundred percent honest, that was only partially true. As had
been made clear, this assignment was strictly voluntary. He knew that he and
Mac were the right people for the job, and would have felt he was shirking
his duty if he hadn't taken the assignment. But was he shirking his duty to
Mattie by being away so much? He wasn't sure. This parental gig might be
easier if you started out before they could talk.

"I'm trying to understand, Harm, really I am. My mom was a teacher before
she decided to start up an FBO like my granddad had. I'm just used to
someone who has the same schedule as I do, I guess." She sounded like she
did understand, at least that was what he hoped.

"We'll work it out, Mats. It's not always this bad, we're just understaffed
right now at the senior level." Two senior Captains had retired the previous
year, as had a couple of Commanders who left right at 20 years, which no one
had expected. The workload and time away from home since 9/11 had been
fierce, putting more of a strain than usual on marriages and family
obligations.

For some, there was also the desire to provide a higher standard of living
for their families. All had children at or approaching college age. Harm had
looked at average costs a few months before, and hoped Mattie's desires
didn't run to the Ivy League. He knew that was what she wanted, he'd have no
compunction about tapping into the trust fund his mother and Frank had set
up years ago with the proceeds from his father's life insurance policies.
They had added to it over the years, contributing what they didn't spend to
send him to college, and adding gifts on Christmas and birthdays.

He'd always felt honor bound to make it on his own. His salary, while no
where near what a lawyer in a successful private practice would earn was
more than enough for his needs. He'd known in his heart that he would want
any of his children to have the benefit of the kind of education his mother
and Frank had provided for him before Annapolis. The subject of private
school had been broached with Mattie, but she had been uncomfortable with
the idea. Harm wasn't sure if it was because she hated school of any kind,
because she'd always gone to public schools or because of the money
involved.

"Just hang in there, okay? I promise, when I get back, we'll do something
special, you decide what." He paused for a moment. "Did you get a chance to
look at any of those brochures I left?"

"Harm, why can't I just stay here for the summer?"

"Because I don't want you just hanging out, watching TV and playing computer
games all day, that's why."

Harm dreaded the idea of Mattie hanging around DC doing nothing all summer
long. He figured a summer camp of some kind would be the answer, and the two
of them had decided on sailing. She had some experience, her maternal
grandfather had a sailboat which she'd crewed with him. That would take up
three weeks. Harm was going to take ten days and take her to California, and
his mom had offered to take Mattie on her annual art hunting trip to Europe.
That should tie up most of the summer. Mattie was torn between doing things
she'd never done before and wanting to hang around being a teenager.

"I kind of like the one on Martha's Vineyard."

"Okay, we'll apply as soon as I get back. You better pick an alternate in
case they're already full."

"Okay."

After a few more exchanges, Mattie said she and Jen were going to watch
Friday Night at the Frights, an offering on a local DC channel that showed
vintage 'B' horror movies. It was complete with 'reviewers' who actually
pretended these were cinematic classics. Harm thought it was the most
ridiculous thing he'd ever seen, but the girls seemed to enjoy getting
scared, if the giggling and screaming were any indication.

He'd kept his voice down while talking to Mattie, and the door leading to
the conference room and Mac's room beyond was shut. He slowly opened it and
saw her sitting at the large table, a file open in front of her. She looked
up, and the blush that stained her cheeks told him at least part of what he
wanted to know. For a few minutes, he'd been wondering if the whole thing
had been a product of his over active imagination or a by product of his
long time sexual drought.

Deciding he may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, he purposefully
strode over to the chair, picked her up and threw her over his shoulder in a
fireman's carry.

"Harm, for God's sake, put me down!" Hanging upside down was not a good way
to start the day, but having a close up view of Harm's butt was a bonus of
sorts.

"Okay." With that he dumped her in the middle of his bed. Before she could
react, he straddled her hips and grabbed both of her wrists in one hand,
holding them over her head.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" She sounded embarrassed and
defensive. Wearing the t-shirt and sweat pants she had on the night before,
she was at an advantage. Harm was clad only in his boxers, but she still
felt vulnerable.

"Assuring that you don't go anywhere while we have a much needed
conversation," He sounded macho and arrogant, even to his own ears.

"I hate it when you get like this!" Her tone softened to an almost pleading
one. "Let me up, please."

He loosened his grip, but didn't move. "We need to talk."

She looked away. "Don't worry, Harm. I've been on the pill since I was
seventeen, and believe me or don't but I haven't slept with anyone since
Mic." Her face was flushed, obviously she was embarrassed.

"That's all very nice." He softened his tone. "But it wasn't what I wanted
to know." He put his free hand under her chin, moving her head so she was
looking straight at him.

"Oh." Her voice was tiny this time; she didn't know what was coming.

"Yeah, ?oh'? He heaved a sigh. This might be worse than he thought.

"What do you want to know?"

"Are you sorry?" He figured straight out was the best way to ask.

"That we, ah, ...." The blush became more pronounced.

"Yeah, that would be what I'm wondering."

"Are you?"

"I asked first. But, no, I'm not sorry unless you're having regrets, then
I'd be upset."

She smiled for the first time that morning, not a full blown smile, but a
definite tuning upward of the corners of her mouth. "I'm not sorry either."

"Why did you leave?" He let go of her hands, and moved to lay down beside
her, the need for macho posturing over. He pushed a strand of hair off her
cheek.

"I, uumm, well, if you...if we....I thought if you didn't..." She couldn't
believe she was acting this way, she sounded like a stammering virgin to her
own ears. This was Harm, her best friend. But then, that was part of the
problem, since he was also the guy she'd been in love with about as long as
she could remember.

"You figured if I wanted, we could just pretend it didn't happen?"

Mac nodded her head affirmatively.

"Why would I have wanted to do that?"

"We don't, we didn't have that kind of relationship."

She turned her head away again, and he sensed the deep vulnerability in her
actions. He pulled her close, kissing the top of her head.

"Doesn't mean we can't. Doesn't mean we weren't going to eventually anyway."

"Yeah?" She decided that maybe letting things get too heavy right now
wouldn't be the best idea. "Who says?"

"Me." He knew this would either get his six kicked for being a jerk, or she
would think it was funny. He hoped it was the latter, he was kind of playing
without a net here.

"Pretty sure of yourself, weren't you, Flyboy?" A teasing note was there.

"Of course." He followed the arrogant statement with his cockiest smile.

She couldn't resist the urge to grab one of the pillows and smack him with
it.


The phone rang around 0930, shattering the blissful stillness they had
enjoyed since the pillow fight ended in a far more enjoyable tussle. It was
their new jg from Naples, with some information that had been faxed through
to the offices she and the clerical staff were using at the courthouse.
Their brief respite in a world of their own was ended.

They ended up spending most of the afternoon looking over the latest
information and background on the last witnesses to be called, and working
on closing arguments. They both hoped the trial was almost over.

Harm felt they had made their case, Mac felt the whole issue had been far
too political to risk a trial in the first place. Both, unspoken felt that
perhaps the best thing that had happened to their case was Lt. Morris's
stabbing. While neither would have wished the injury on the young Marine, it
did much to point out the unpredictable dangers that could exist anywhere,
even in a supposedly secure courtroom.

Walking back to the hotel, followed by their latest acquisition, an agent
from State Department security, they discussed plans for the evening. Harm
said he'd speak to the concierge, and Mac went up to the suite without him.
He followed a few minutes later, and told her to dress up. A few miles from
the hotel was a private supper club, normally reserved for members, but the
concierge was owed a favor by the manager. It was quiet, romantic, and had
dancing on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as a wonderful menu.

Ten weeks later, Jag Headquarters

That small supper club in Amsterdam turned out to be the one romantic
evening in their relationship to date.ÿ Secretary Sheffield's trial ended a
few days later, fortunately with nothing but a $20 million bill to the
taxpayers to replace infrastructure in the town which was likely going to be
replaced anyone.

The case ended on Thursday, but there was inevitably paperwork and motions
that needing to be filed regarding the fine.ÿ Someone needed to see that
through, and they both knew that Mac was the one who had to stay.ÿ Harm had
the more pressing reason to return home, Mattie.ÿ

As he left, he told Mac that if he didn't have the teenager to worry about,
he would have stayed until Sunday, instead of taking Friday as a travel
day.ÿ She found it endearing, but cold comfort as she slept the bed they had
both occupied for the previous all too few nights.

By the time she returned to the office on Thursday after spending four days
tying up loose ends--the bureaucracy of the international court system made
the US military look likeÿ a model of streamlined efficiency--Harm had
departed for San Diegoÿ to try a case that had been on his desk for three
months.ÿÿ

When he got back to Washington, she was at the Submarine base in Connecticut
looking into a procurement anomaly that showed over a million dollars in MWR
money missing. They managed to stay in touch through email and phone
conversations, but it wasn't the same as face to face contact. Having
limited experience with each other as lovers after so many years as friends,
their conversations tended to fall back into that pattern.

Macÿhad a jarring moment one night when she called Harm's apartment from out
of town and Mattie answered.ÿÿ Harm had apparently run to the grocery store,
and Mattie was watching dinner so it didn't burn.ÿ The young woman was
decidedly cool to Mac, and told her she'd relay the message.ÿ It was much
later that night when Harm finally called her on her cell.ÿ He hadn't gotten
the original message, and when he later questioned Mattie about it, she
claimed she 'forgot.'

Something similar happened again on one of the few nights they both had been
in town. Harm had told her to come over for dinner, they both agreed that
they would tell Mattie they were working on a case. They did have a civil
case against a defense contractor to investigate the Navy side of for the
DOJ. With multiple branches of the government involved, the case wouldn't
see the light of day for a year or more. They had several months to do a
minimum amount of work, so it was more an excuse that would past muster with
Jen than anything else.

Neither was comfortable undergoing the extra scrutiny a declared change in
their relationship would encounter at the office right now, so other than
Sturgis, who just figured it out for himself, no one knew. They both assumed
if Mac left at 0545, she'd be gone before Mattie or Jen was up.

Mac had gone downstairs to retrieve a file from her briefcase. When she
returned, she heard Mattie talking to Harm through the door that had been
left ajar. She hadn't seen Mattie since shortly after she and Jen had moved
into the apartment down the hall from Harm's, and was anxious to see how she
was doing in person. The words she heard stopped her short.

"I don't get why she has to eat dinner with us." Mattie's voice was
petulant, with a touch of defiance in it.

"Mattie, Mac and I have dinner together whenever we work on cases outside
work. We both need to eat, and it makes more sense." Harm knew he had to be
missing something, but he wasn't sure what. Jen, who was at an art class
tonight, ate with them all the time. What was the big deal?

"Is that the only reason?" She sounded like she was accusing him of
something.

"You mean, aside from the fact that she's my closest friend and I enjoy her
company?" He was doing his best to be reasonable, but wanted to ask Mattie
just what the hell was going on. If it hadn't been for Mac, Mattie would be
living in a foster home.

"How can you trust her?" The voice was even colder than before.

"What are you talking about?" Now his confusion was total.

"She's a drunk, just like my father. You can't trust a drunk." Mattie's
voice had real venom in it.

"What are you talking about?" Harm had no idea how Mattie could know about
Mac's alcoholism, unless she heard it from Tom Johnson. To the best of his
knowledge, Mattie had refused to speak to her father except when Harm forced
the issue, and then the conversations were in person, with him as referee.

"Jen told me. She said you even called her one in court." Harm was left
speechless.

At this point, Mac stepped in and pretended she hadn't heard anything.
"Harm, here's that file you needed. Silly of me not to bring it up before."
She reached for her coat, which was hung on the pegs by the door.

"Mac, where are you going? Dinner's almost ready."

"I, ah, ....I got a call on my cell while I was downstairs. I need to go see
a client at the brig."

"Tonight?" He sounded unconvinced.

"It might be important." She was speaking softly and keeping her head
averted.

As far as Harm knew, Mac didn't currently have any clients that were in so
much trouble that an after duty hours visit to the brig would be needed. He
also knew that she kept her cell phone in her purse, not her car. That purse
was on the floor underneath her coat.

"Maaacccc...."

"I really have to go, Harm. Call me later, and we'll go over what we need
to, okay?" She had her coat on, and her hand on the doorknob. "Goodnight,
Mattie."


Two hours later Mac was jolted out of her thoughts when her cell phone rang.
She reached for her purse, but by the time she'd juggled it off the floor of
the car and retrieved the phone, all the while speeding down the parkway,
her voice mail had picked up.

She looked at the number displayed. Harm. She might have known.

She hit the code to dial the missed call, and must have caught him before he
moved away from the phone. He answered before it had finished it's first
ring.

"Mac! Thank God!" He was breathless.

She was somewhat dumbfounded by his reaction. "What's wrong?"

"Maaaaccc!" He took a breath, audible even over the scratchy cell phone
link. "I've been calling your apartment for the last hour forty five! I was
getting worried."

"Oh." She couldn't think of anything else to say. His worrying about her
hadn't crossed her mind.

"Where are you? Are you upset?" Stupid question, Rabb. Of course she was
upset. He hadn't bought her explanation for leaving for a second. "

"Ah, ..... there's a sign coming up. I'm, ah, getting near Aberdeen."

"ABERDEEN? What the hell are you doing near Aberdeen?" He hoped that hadn't
been as loud as he thought it probably was. Yelling at her wasn't the way to
go.

"I, ah, just decided to go for a drive." She sounded unsure, as if she
really hadn't consciously decided anything, but just found herself reacting.

He was pretty sure that was exactly what had happened. He knew her reactions
as well as his own when he took the time to think about it. Mac drove when
she was upset, just got in the car and went on autopilot. Sometimes she
ended up two hundred miles away before she was back under control.

He sighed. "How far south of Aberdeen are you?"

She was almost to the exit, but didn't answer him directly. "I'm turning
around, I should be home around 2300."

"I'm coming over, we need to talk." He was using his command, I will brook
no nonsense voice.

"It's....it's alright Harm." She choked up for a minute. "Mattie is more
important. I understand, you don't need to explain." She sounded weary and
defeated.

"Mac, I don't know what you think you understand, but I don't think you do.
I'll be at your place at 2300. Have you eaten?"

"No. I'm not hungry." Now he knew just how upset she was. Mac was never not
hungry unless she was in an emotional quandary.

"Look, just concentrate on your driving, and get home safely, okay? I'll see
you in a little over an hour."

"Harm, you don't have to."

"I know that, but I want to." He took a deep breath. "Mac?"

"What?"

"I bought Pistachio Pistachio for desert."

He heard a sniff and a giggle. "Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Maybe I am a little hungry."

"That's my girl. I'll see you soon, okay?"

"Okay."

They arrived in Georgetown almost simultaneously; Harm pulling up as Mac was
locking her car. He found a parking place conveniently located near the
front door that didn't have a local residents only after 1900 restriction
like many of those in this part of town did.

She waited for him on the front steps, then entered the building in the
lead. As soon as they entered her apartment, he put down the large grocery
bag he was carrying, and looping his arms around her waist, pulled her close
and rested his cheek on top of her head.

For a few moments, they were silent. He softly brushed her hair with his
lips. "Oh, God, Mac, I'm so sorry. So damned sorry. I don't know what got
into her."

"It's okay." Her voice was soft and tiny, the way it got when she just
wanted to forget something. At times like this, Mac the feisty Marine
Lieutenant Colonel was gone, replaced by Sarah, the woman who was unsure and
wounded.

"It's not okay, and we both know it. I just don't know what to do about it."
He rubbed his hands in circles on her back, trying to comfort with his
actions, the comfort he couldn't find the words for.

"She didn't say anything that wasn't factual, Harm." If nothing else, Mac
was almost always fair. Everything Mattie had said was true. Mac might not
have liked the terminology, but the girl had her facts straight.

Harm knew that facts were one thing, the truth was often another. Mac had
three drinks since she was eighteen, those at a time so stressful he didn't
blame her in the least. It hadn't been an a happy time, and she'd thrown
some accusations at him that were unkind. Unkind, but not, with
twenty-twenty hindsight, completely untrue.

"I'm still sorry, Sweetheart." He kissed her hair again.

"There's nothing you can do about it, Harm."

He didn't know what to say, so he fell back into old patterns, and didn't
say anything at all.

The situation with Mattie didn't get any better over the next few weeks. She
was less than pleasant when answering the phone at Harm's, usually not even
acknowledging Mac's greeting . If he wasn't there, the message got through
only if Mac made a point of saying it was in reference to very important
information about a case that Harm needed immediately. She took to calling
him only on his cell phone or at work when she was out of town.

Mac declined to go to Harm's apartment again, saying it didn't make sense to
exacerbate the situation. She felt it would be invading Mattie's home, and
didn't want to add to the girl's resentment.

As such, when they had work on a joint case to do, Harm came to Mac's place.
Normally, he arrived around seven and left sometime after midnight. Their
best nights were when there was no case to work on, Mattie had a volleyball
game out of town and they were both home. They had from after work until at
least ten, later if another parent was the driver meeting the bus. Those
nights were few and far between.

Their time together took on a routine. Finish whatever work they had, if
any, while grabbing a couple of slices of pizza, then a quick adjournment to
the bedroom. Harm never stayed the night, and their time together was spent
with one eye on the clock. It was less than satisfying for both of them. Mac
didn't leave the house when she knew Harm was home, hoping that he would be
able to break away for a few hours. He missed more often than he connected.

Things got worse a few days before Easter. "Hey, Mac! When did you get
back?" Harm wandered out of his office into the bullpen.

"About fifteen minutes ago."

She looked tired. For the last five days, she'd been trying a case at Camp
Lejeune, a rape prosecution that had so much 'he said/she said' conflicting
testimony she wasn't sure which end was up. She was pretty sure something
had happened, but she wasn't sure exactly what. There had been no evidence
as the rape hadn't been reported for weeks.

No one had seen the victim on the night in question, so there was no
corroboration of her state of mind, nor at the time of the exam so many
weeks later had there been any injuries to document or any physical evidence
to be found. She claimed to have tossed out the clothes she'd worn so she
wouldn't be reminded, so even any trace evidence that might have been
available from them wasn't.

The young female Marine had a couple of bruises on her forearm that a
squad-mate remembered seeing around the night in question, but they were the
sort that could have been caused by anything. Even two psychologists were
conflicted on whether or not the young woman had been assaulted, one said
yes, one said no.

The victim had an axe to grind with the accused. He was a more senior
enlisted man, and had been instrumental in prosecuting a friend of hers for
drug possession. The accused had a reputation as a cocky, love 'em and leave
'em ladies man, but no history of violence, sexual or otherwise.

Finally, when the accused took the stand, he admitted that he had grabbed
the woman by the arm, but had said she was attempting to vandalize his car
at the time. He claimed she made up the rest of the story to cover it up, in
case he decided to report the attempted damage to his vehicle.

His testimony wasn't helpful that helpful to himself or Mac's prosecution.
Mac had gotten him to admit he liked women and didn't like to be told no,
but claimed he hadn't done anything more than grab her to stop her from
hitting his car. When asked why he didn't report it, he attempted to dodge
the question, finally saying he knew she was angry, but didn't think she
would do it again. Mac got a sense there was more to the story, but just
didn't know what.

The victim wasn't that good a witness either. In Mac's opinion, she lacked
the evidence of trauma that was normal when victims of sexual assaults had
to testify in court. Frankly, she wondered exactly how this case had ended
up going to trial in the first place. She'd picked it up when the original
counsel had a gall bladder attack two days before trial.

On the witness stand, the victim couldn't seem to get her story straight.
She wouldn't give any reason for not going to the hospital, telling a girl
friend or anyone else about the night in question until weeks later. While
that itself was not unusual, the matter of fact rendition of the her story
that she gave NCIS wasn't either. It was unusual for a rape victim to be so
succinct when telling the story for the first time. Most were either very
emotional or blank almost to the point of shock the first time they had to
relive the experience.

Unfortunately, Mac was just the substitute trial counsel, she hadn't done
any investigation of the case, and all she had were the investigators notes.
He was on a case in Italy, and unable to testify. All in all, not a case she
would want to try again.

Finally, the members came back with a conviction for simple assault, with a
sentence of three months in the brig, suspended, and a fine of two months
pay and allowances. Mac wasn't sure, but she had a feeling since neither the
accused or the victim looked either happy or upset, it was pretty close to
the right verdict.

"How about if I come over tonight?" Harm looked hopeful. Other than passing
by in the hall the week before, her on her way to Lejeune, he on his way
back from the Henry, they hadn't seen each other in almost two weeks. When
one had been home, the other had been gone.

"I'm really tired, Harm. I don't know how late I'll be up." She knew he
wouldn't come if Mattie was home or still awake. Unless they legitimately
had work to do, he only saw her when Mattie wasn't around, or was already in
bed. She couldn't help being a little resentful, although she knew Mattie's
feelings were important. Mac had tried to talk to her once when she was in
the office waiting for Harm, but Mattie just ignored her.

"Mac, I...it's been...well, a while, and I have to go out of town day after
tomorrow. Tomorrow night I have a volleyball game I told Mattie I'd be sure
to get to." She knew what he was saying. If they didn't get together
tonight, God knows when the next time would be.

"Okay." She sounded resigned more than happy at the thought of being with
him. "Look, I'll lock the door but won't put the chain on, okay? I may be in
bed by the time you get there." The headache she had wouldn't quit, she felt
woozy and just all around beat up. The last two nights she'd spent going
over the case file and investigation record, looking for something she'd
missed. She hadn't found anything. but her concerns about either the victim
or the accused not getting justice had kept her awake far later than she
would have liked.

"I'll see you about 2200?"

"Yeah, sure." She headed for her office.

"Aren't you going home?" He was about to head out, his cover and briefcase
in his hand.

"I just want to look at my messages and see if Lieutenant Chandless did any
of the research I asked for on the Schpanski case."



They had a new jg in the office who wasn't exactly the epitome of
efficiency. Unfortunately, Mac had ended up with him in her section. She'd
been having fun for the last couple of months with the other two major trial
section heads, namely Harm and Sturgis, thinking up places to transfer the
obnoxious young attorney. It was the only saving grace of having him around.

RIght now, having him research a suit on native Antarctican rights was her
favorite. Since the only Antarctic natives were penguins, getting impact and
witness statements would take him a while. That one was Sturgis' idea, and
she liked it so much she was tempted to get someone to file suit with the
DOJ just so she could make the jerk work on it. None of them could forget
the famous runway verses reindeer at Keflavik suit a couple of Christmases
back.

When Harm got to her place, she was already sound asleep. He undressed, and
climbed into bed beside her, kissing her neck and shoulder in an effort to
both awaken and arouse her. After a number of minutes, he was getting very
little response, so he switched tactics.

"Mac? Hey, Mac!" She stirred, but only turned over. She was dead to the
world. Finally, Harm resorted to a proven method.

"Attention of deck!"

As he knew it would, this had the desired effect. She was up and out from
under the covers in a shot, almost loosing her balance in an attempt to come
to attention while only half awake. She was also angry as a wet hen when she
discovered she was still in her bedroom, and Harm was smirking at her from
the bed.

"Dammit, Harm! That wasn't funny!"

He annoyed her further by chuckling and making a grab for her which she
dodged.

"I'm not kidding, that was the first decent sleep I've gotten in almost five
days! I told you I was tired!" He reached for her again, but she brushed him
away. "Harm, I'm really not in the mood.'

"If you're too tired to make love, why did you tell me I could come over?"
As soon as the words left his mouth, he knew he'd made a big mistake.

"Get out." She stood, pointing to the door.

She was so angry, he was afraid she'd throw something at him. He put his
palms forward at chest level to ward off an attack. "Mac.....that didn't
come out the way I meant it."

"Why not?" She didn't seem to want to give him an inch.

"You're not... I mean, you're my best friend....I...damn, I'm just getting
myself in more trouble, aren't I?"

She just looked at him, and could see some measure of sincerity at least.
"Look, I'm not angry at you exactly. I just feel lousy, I have a splitting
headache, and I'm exhausted."

She sat down on the edge of the bed, facing away from him and put her head
into her hands. To her everlasting shame, she felt tears pooling in her
eyes. After Mic's departure, and seeing Harm off on the LHA, she'd vowed to
herself she'd never cry over a man again. That hadn't lasted very long, now
had it?

"This sucks, doesn't it?" He gently pulled her down next to him and held
her.

"Yeah, it pretty much sucks, Harm." At least this time the words were
whispered against his chest. She'd managed to hold in the tears, at least
her self control was still working to some extent.

"What are we going to do about it?" He sighed and held her tighter. "I don't
think I can just go back to being your buddy anymore."

She was silent. This had to be his decision.

"Why don't we just try and get through the next couple of months. We're both
probably going to be gone most of it, and then I'll have a break over the
summer. Mattie won't be around, it'll be better." He sounded both desperate
and hopeful.

"Yeah, it'll be better." She didn't sound convinced to either of them.


Several weeks later, outside the Kennedy Center

"This was fabulous, Allen! I'm so glad you're here."

The performance had been breathtaking. The National Opera was
always superb, not that she had that many chances to view it. Although she'd
seen La Traviata a few times and heard it many more, the new staging had
been just different enough to bring a twist to the story.

"It's good to see you too, Sarah. Too bad Edwin couldn't make it, but his
annual tour is on, and you know how he is about business."

Anyone who only had a nodding acquaintance with Edwin would have been
extremely surprised to find out what a good businessman he really was.
Although the day to day management of his hair salon empire had been turned
over to others years before, he was still chairman of the board, and had a
say in the creative end of the business.

Every year he did a tour of some of the shops in the chain, combining a
morale visit that the staff members loved along with an AIDS fund-raiser at
each site. All the proceeds from that days clients were donated to local,
national and international charities dealing with various facets of the
disease. The beneficiaries ranged from large international research
facilities to small local organizations who cared for the pets of AIDS
patients too ill to do so themselves.

"I know." She looked around at the star-lit night. "This is wonderful. I
haven't been out in the evening in ages."

Allen looked confused. "I thought you were having a hot and heavy romance
with Commander Wonderful? Or has work gotten in the way?"

Mac sighed. "Well, sort of. But that's not the main problem." They strolled
toward her car. Allen hated driving in locations he wasn't completely
familiar with.

As the settled themselves into the small interior, he questioned, "You mean,
all these years you've been in love with this guy, and now that you've
finally got him, it's no good?" He was incredulous.

"No, it's not that. Well, not really."

She pulled out into traffic. They'd skipped the curtain calls, the traffic
after a performance could be murder. Both had early mornings the next day.

"Then what is it, exactly?"

Mac proceeded to explain the existence and problem of Mattie. Allen was less
than sympathetic to Harm's situation.

"You're telling me that two consenting adults, who have a relationship
that's completely above board, no wives, husbands, or significant others
hidden away, are running the wheres and hows based on the disapproval of a
fifteen year old girl? Who, by the way isn't actually the child of either?"

"Well, it's not that simple, but more or less, yes."

"Sarah, it IS that simple! You two should sit her down and tell her she
doesn't get a vote."

Mac immediately jumped to Harm's defense. "I don't think it's my place to
tell him what to do, Allen. She has her reasons for not liking me."

Allen shook his head. He was astute enough to know the situation was
something that was complex on many levels. Deciding to change the subject in
a way, he asked, "One thing I find a little odd. States have become
extremely intolerant of drunk driving. If her father killed her mother while
driving drunk, why isn't he in jail instead of rehab?"

"I've asked myself the same question, Allen, but I have no idea. Maybe the
police botched the arrest or something. It wouldn't be the first time."

She'd wondered, but it wasn't something that you brought up in casual
conversation. The one time she and Tom Johnson spoke, he told her Mattie
blamed him for her mother's death. At the time, she thought it was simply an
active alcoholic not taking responsibility for his actions.

She dropped Allen at his hotel and continued her drive home. On entering her
apartment, she noticed the light on the machine was blinking.

"Hey, Mac. I just got back, give me a call." Harm sounded tired. Since the
message was only seventeen minutes old, she decided to try and reach him.

(Rabb.)

"It's me."

(Me who? You'll have to be more specific). A teasing note partially covered
the tiredness.

"If you don't know, your sex life is going to suffer." She could keep the
tone light too.

"Okay, Jarhead. You really know how to motivate a guy." He chuckled.

"How was Pensacola?"

"Hot, humid, reeked of JP5, lots of loud jet noise, full of egotistical
Naval Aviators. You know, the same paradise on earth it's always been."

She laughed as she was meant to. Since the next day was a work day and it
was already almost midnight, they decided on not getting together. Harm said
he would try to break loose the next night, a Friday. He was pretty sure
Mattie had somewhere she was going.

"Maybe we could even go out." He felt guilty as hell. Mac had sounded so
wistful when she talked about how much fun she had with Allen that night. He
wanted to be the one she was having fun with. Harm had actually found
himself jealous of her old friend. Great, the big hotshot jet jock lawyer is
jealous of a man old enough to be Mac's father, whom she looked at as
exactly that. And, who also was gay. This was a little sick.

"That would be nice."

"Hey, we both better get some sleep. You know how crabby Chegwidden is when
we're late."

"What's this 'we,' Flyboy? I'M never late!"

"Okay, when I'm late. But I could tell him it was your fault."

"Maybe that's a can of worms we should be leery of opening!"

"I kind of think he'd be on our side, Mac."

"Maybe. It would be nice if someone was."

A few minutes after hanging up, both were tucked in their respective beds,
trying to get to sleep. It was elusive, as each tried to figure out a
solution to their problem. Unfortunately, nothing came to either of them.

When Harm reached the office the next day, Mac was already bustling around.
She looked stressed and tired, a different woman from the one he had spoken
to less than eight hours before.

"Hey." He was casually leaning in her office door.

"Hey." She packed another set of files in her briefcase.

"What's up? You're in a rush."

"I am." She looked up at him. "I have to be at Dover in five hours."

That never boded well. Usually, when they had to leave out of the Air Force
base in Delaware, it meant a long, uncomfortable flight to a place no
commercial carrier could get them.

"Iraq or Afghanistan?" He sounded troubled even to his own ears.

"The former."

"How long?"

"I don't know. Long, though."

"What's up?"

"They JCOS just formed a task force to look into blue on blue violence,
particularly against female military personnel. It was a talking point until
last night when that news program aired."

"Damn." A major network news magazine show had spent an hour the night
before chronicling the violence military members had perpetrated on one
another in Iraq. It was out of line with what would be expected in a US or
other overseas posting, and in particular, the level of rape and sexual
assaults were very troubling. There had been sporadic reports, but nothing
had been done.

"Yeah, now it's hurry up and CYA. " She sighed, disgruntled at the whole
idea.

"Do you have any idea what's going down?"

"Nope. I'm on it because they need a JAG whose dealt with enough violent
crimes not to be swayed by the arguments that are going to be put forth.
Also, they want someone who's at least been in a combat theater. The fact
that I'm a women whose cases have garnered some publicity is strictly a
coincidence." She looked at him to convey her impression that nothing could
be further from the truth. "Harm, I'm sorry about tonight." She took a deep
breath, looking around her office to see if she had forgotten anything. "Oh.
Can you stop over at my place before you and Mattie go to AJ's party on
Sunday? His gift is wrapped and in my closet, right in front."

"Sure. What did you get him?"

"An X-Box. It'll drive Harriet insane, but Bud will have fun with it." She
looked around again, and closed her briefcase.

Harm moved from the doorway where he had been leaning, entering her office
and shut the door. This was an unexpected blow to their new found intimacy.
The way these things went, Mac would likely be gone for at least a month, if
not more. Sometimes the word duty rang hollow even to his ears. He looked at
the windows, happy to see that the blinds were drawn. He walked around to
her side of the desk, finally stopping when he was less than a foot in front
of her.

"Harm, I ....."

"Just a couple of minutes." He put his arms around her, pulling her close.

"We shouldn't be doing this. The gossip fiends will be having a field day."

"Screw 'em. I'm going to miss you."

She hugged him tighter. "I'm going to miss you too."

Neither could imagine the circumstances that would exist when they next
would be in the same place.


Two weeks later. Kabul Afghanistan

Mac had been on the investigation in Iraq for just ten days when the
proverbial excrement hit the whirling blades in spades. Suddenly pulled out
of Basra, where she'd been interviewing female military and civilian
government personnel who claimed their complaints of sexual violence had
been given short shrift by those in command, she found herself sent to
Qatar.

At the time, she had no idea why, she'd just been told to hop on a helo to
the former Saddam International Airport where the US was operating its
largest Iraqi theater aerial port facility. Once there she was handed a
stack of orders, and told to get on a C130 headed to Doha.

Shortly after her arrival, she was in a briefing with three other JAG's, all
05's. That told her that it was considered important enough for very senior
practicing attorneys, yet not so overwhelming that they were sending in the
big guns. Since CentCom was a joint command, there was one each from the
Army, Air Force and Navy, just sent over from the US. None of them were the
one she was hoping to see.

A story had broken on the news about mistreatment of prisoners. That it had
happened there was no doubt, there were photographs all over the news media
in the US, the Internet, and worse yet in the Arab world. Whether the abuses
had happened at the hands, and more importantly at the behest, of military
intelligence, the MP's charged with guarding the detainees or the ubiquitous
'other government agencies' was the question. Right now, no one seemed to
know, and certainly no one was confessing.

No one seemed to be denying the abuse took place, calling it a set up or
anything of the sort. This was to be a formal JAGMAN investigation, so they
had more or less carte blanche to go and find out what they needed to know.
Because of her ability to communicate in several of the Afghan dialects, she
was being sent there. There were less prisoners to consider, but the
distances were greater, and the military had less infrastructure there.
Also, far fewer troops at this point.

Before her departure, she had a chance to have a quick briefing with Tracy
Manetti, who would continue Mac's investigation in Iraq. The rational for
the change was Mac's familiarity with the language in Afghanistan, and her
Muslim background. The former made sense, references to the latter were
beginning to piss her off royally.

Suddenly, because she had one great grandparent out of eight who was
Muslim--Fatima's mother had been Russian Orthodox, and Fatima herself had
stopped practicing any formal religion long before her marriage to Malcolm
O'Hara--she was tapped as an unbiased expert. The mind boggled at the
rationalization.

It didn't seem to faze the military powers that be that she could be
considered by some who embraced the more fanatical branches of Islam as
nothing short of a heretic, someone who had or should embrace the faith, but
rejected it. No one wanted reality, the way something looked for public
consumption was the driving force behind it.

Mac merely hoped she and the others involved in the investigation were going
to be able to get out with their careers intact. Like any other large
bureaucracy, the military establishment didn't much like the bearers of bad
news. She had a feeling the news was going to be very bad indeed.

Afghanistan was now an almost forgotten backwater, those in Iraq were going
to be more on the firing line. It was a normal reaction. There were about
24,000 combat troops, support personnel and non-military government
civilians, in Afghanistan. The number in Iraq, when US civilian contractors
were included, was nearly ten times that. It was no wonder one made the news
far more than the other.

On the flight from Qatar to Kabul, she made notes on her laptop over the
droning of the engines. The load-master on a 130 at one time had likened the
noise the turbo-prop aircraft made to the 'sound of a million angry bees.'
It wasn't far from the truth.

Because Afghanistan was now an independent country with a more or less
functioning government, her investigation would be more problematic than the
one in Iraq. In Iraq, the CPA and the US military had over all control of
most everything, In Afghanistan, there was the national government in Kabul,
local governments and the ubiquitous war lords to be taken into account too.
Not an easy task. Right now she was on her own. She'd been told that she
would have a State Department escort assigned to her once she reached the
Afghan capitol, and several of the Marine guards from the Embassy as
security.

She was more exhausted than seemed reasonable from the amount of activity
she'd had in the last few weeks. For the past month or more, her stamina
seemed to be at a low ebb, she had no appetite to speak of, and just didn't
feel right. Maybe she'd break her cardinal rule and see a doctor when she
got home.

Except for her required yearly physical, she tended to avoid medical
personnel like the plague. Probably a holdover from the frequent trips to
the ER with Deanna, when she'd been coached by one parent or the other to
say that Mom fell down the stairs, out of bed, slipped on the ice or some
other excuse to field off questions about her injuries. Although she knew
the laws had been far different then, she just wished one doctor had the
guts to look Joe MacKenzie in the face and call him a liar. Life might have
been far different if one had.

By the time she got to the Embassy, where she was to meet her State
Department contact, she was exhausted. It had been a long few days, and she
felt she'd spent the vast majority of them on an aircraft or in briefings.
These investigations were never restful, and she was hoping she wasn't going
to have far to go to find a bed for the night. She knew that while parts of
the country were more secure than they had been during her forays with Harm
into the Afghan countryside a few years before, the wise still didn't travel
at night. If forced to, they used helos.

A young lieutenant, she assumed the XO of the Marine Guard, gave her a note
from the Charge' de Affairs. One of his people would meet with her at 0730
local, and they would plan their expedition from there. As she expected, the
intention was for them to be accompanied by several of the Embassy Marine
guards, and someone from State Department security.

While she had plenty of confidence in the young men, she thought the latter
was probably a good idea. Most of the DOS security people sent to this part
of the world were ex-spec ops types. They'd probably have a better lay of
the land than a couple of young Marines, no matter how good they could shoot
and take orders.

Since space at the Embassy was at a premium, she was assigned to the small
on-site apartment that belonged to the cultural attach‚. She was currently
on home leave and had said she wouldn't someone using her place while she
was gone.

The one thing Mac desperately wanted to do before she went to sleep was call
Harm. Other than a couple of emails, both on the JAG server since she'd had
no access to a commercial terminal while she was moving around Iraq, they
hadn't touched base since she left. Of necessity, both had been rather
impersonal.

Over 8000 miles away, she heard the phone ringing. At least it was Sunday,
so he should be home instead of at the office.

(Hello.)

Damn, the last person she wanted to talk to. "Hi, Mattie. It's Mac. May I
please speak to Harm."

(He's not here.) There was her usual sullen edge in the voice.

"Do you know when he'll be back?" She was determined not to lose her temper,
although given everything that had been going on, a sulky teenager who might
or might not be giving factual information and who might pass on a message
wasn't what she needed.

(No.)

Mac was so tired, and so exasperated she was about ready to burst into
tears. Just as she was about to hang up, she heard a commotion, then Harm
picked up the phone.

(Mac!)

"Hi."

(I was just down the hall unplugging the kitchen sink. Mattie didn't realize
that the drain wasn't the place for a batch of flopped fudge, it got a
little messy).

"Oh." The single syllable conveyed much.

(Did she give you a hard time?)

"No worse than usual, it's just been a bad couple of days."

(I heard you got switched to the abuse investigation).

"Yeah, me and a few other sacrificial JAGs."

(It's really playing out in the press, maybe they'll have to depoliticize
it).

"Yeah, right, Harm. Tell me another one. The officers who had to investigate
Tailhook went on to have stellar careers, now didn't they?"

He paused, unable to argue with her. There had been a 'shoot the messenger'
reaction. Those who were at fault went down, but so did a lot of good people
whose names had only been on reports about it. The military wasn't any
different than most other organizations, they didn't like reminders of their
sins hanging around.

"Never mind. It's not that my career was going to go any farther anyway."

She was thankful that she had decided to get out at twenty, at least she
could tell herself it had been her decision. After this, no matter what her
findings, unless by some miracle the military got a 100% clean slate, she
knew she would be heartily thanked for her work, given a few 'atta girl's'
in her file, and quietly passed over for any further advancement. It was the
way it worked, and why idiots like Teddy Lindsey so often rose to incredible
heights. They were smart enough not to stick their necks out, and
incompetent enough so that no one ever asked them to work the hard ones.

(Mac....I... geez, I hate to hear you so down).

"It doesn't matter. As long as I can get a decent job somewhere, I really
don't care anymore. I'll do my job to the best of my ability, because I
don't know how to do anything else."

(Any idea when you'll be back?)

"I imagine in a couple more weeks, maybe three."

(That long?) If she was going to be gone a few more weeks, he'd likely be in
California with Mattie when she got back. Mattie left for sailing camp on
Saturday, school having ended for the year a few days before.

"I have at least five different sights to cover, maybe more if they want me
to look into any military activity at some facilities run by that 'other
government agency.'" She paused "You know, the one you got a paycheck from
for a few months?"

(I know which one. Hey, think you'll run into Webb?)

"God, I hope not. I'm not in the mood to deal with him right now."

(You sound tired.)

"Exhausted. I feel like something the cat dragged in. I'm not even
interested in food, not that the chow halls are serving any gourmet treats
these days."

(You, not hungry?)

"Yeah, I'm....we'll talk about it when I get home, okay?"

(Mac, you're kind of scaring me here).

"Nothing to be scared about, just not feeling all that great at the moment."

(You sure it's nothing serious?)

"Positive." Well, she wasn't positive, but she didn't feel that ill, and she
didn't need Harm worrying about her. He had enough on his plate with Mattie.
"I'm just over tired, and not very hungry. Probably just need some more
vitamins; you can pick me out some, okay? You're the health nut."

After a few more minutes? conversation, she surrendered the line to an
Embassy employee who wanted to phone his sister. There was only one line
that was open for personal credit card use at US rates at the facility, so
it was used almost 24 hours a day.


Her investigation continued for almost three weeks, going one step forward
and one step back. She had decided when interviewing the Afghan detainees to
keep her knowledge of their language to herself.

A male translator had been provided, and she soon realized that she had made
the right move. Cultural norms being what they were, the prisoners who had
suffered some indignities were more forthcoming to the translator, who in
turn was less forthcoming to her. Male and female were never going to be
equal in this part of the world, and since some tribes in this area looked
at women as barely human, she wasn't getting very far at times.

She had better luck with the American military personnel she interviewed.
After touring all five facilities on her list, the problem in Afghanistan
seemed to be less systematic than it had been in Iraq. The numbers were
fewer, and the circumstances less cut and dried. It was decided that
although there had been military involvement at the CIA's Afghan facilities,
that would be investigated by the one star who was taking over.

Apparently, the issue had now reached higher levels, beyond just military
brass, and needed more of a command spin. She couldn't say she was sorry to
see her part in it end.

After a two day stop in Doha to brief the staff of the Army General taking
over the investigation, she would head home. Hopefully, the book would be
closed, and her name would only appear as an investigator in a footnote
somewhere in the final report. She boarded the 141 headed to Qatar feeling a
sense of relief that it was almost over. Never before had she been so
anxious to get back home.

JAG Headquarters

Previous Day

"So, Commander, you're going to be off for the next two weeks?" Bud was his
usual chipper early morning self.

"Well, actually, I'm doing my quals, so that's why I won't be here next
week. I start leave right after that." His quals would take five days, since
he was now qualifying in Hornets and Tomcats. He actually wondered if this
might be his last chance to fly his old bird onto a carrier deck. While they
were still being used for CAP flights, fewer and fewer F-14's were being
deployed to the fleet these days.

It wasn't unusual to find a carrier with only F-18's in it's fighter
inventory these days. Since there were so many in use in the operational
theater at this point, the transit of the new Ronald Regan to it's home port
in San Diego had been tasked as a useful training opportunity. As long as it
was within reach of land, they could hold quals on board, so it's routing
was somewhat different than it might be otherwise.

"Hey Bud, I didn't see Harriet this morning. Is everything okay?"

Harm thought that the usually chipper Lieutenant had looked a little worse
for wear in the last few days, and hoped the problems with Jimmy and AJ
weren't surfacing again.

He and Mattie had taken AJ for a couple of outings to do 'big kid' things in
the last couple of months. Fortunately, Mattie was still young enough to
find some of the same things amusing that AJ did, although on a different
level. They'd had fun driving go carts one Saturday, and he'd braved a day
trip to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg as a birthday treat for his godson and
ward.

"Well, yes, but no. I mean, she's okay, she's just tired." Bud sounded like
the convoluted, tongue tied Bud of old, not the confident, mature man he had
become.

"Okay." There was obviously more to the story, but Harm had learned through
the years that when Bud was in this mode to just go with it. He'd get to
where he needed to get eventually.

"And she's not eating, and that isn't good for her."

"Huh, sounds like Mac. She hasn't been feeling so great either, same kind of
symptoms."

"Oh, I'm sure Colonel MacKenzie doesn't have what Harriet does. She's going
to have twins in -------------."

Bud left the coffee room, a speechless and shocked Harm in his wake.

When Mac reached Doha, the first thing she did after reporting in and
finding her quarters was to look for a phone. She'd moved around so much in
Afghanistan that she hadn't been able to do more than exchange a few cryptic
emails over the JAG server with Harm in the almost three weeks she'd been
there.

She was exhausted, and at this point just wanted to get everything over
with. Unfortunately, her briefing wasn't scheduled until the next afternoon,
and she was likely going to have to stick around for another day in order to
answer any questions that came up for the team that was heading in. Since it
had now been decided to let the Army investigate it's own, she wasn't going
to be included in the investigation.

It was still duty hours in Falls Church so she decided to try Harm at the
office. If he wasn't there, then she'd try his cell. They'd been out of
touch for a few days, but she'd checked her laptop when she got to
headquarters, and she had no emails. If he had been heading out of town, he
probably would have let her know.

Luck was with her.

(Commander Rabb)

"Hi, stranger."

(MAC! I was beginning to wonder).

"They're pulling me off the investigation, so I'll be home in three days."

(That's good, but I'll be on the Regan by then).

She sighed. She knew his quals had been coming up, and after that, he would
be joining Mattie in California for a sailing trip before she took off to
Europe with Trish. "I figured I'd probably miss you."

(Mac, we need to talk).

Immediately she became alarmed. "About what?"

(About how this happened! I can't believe how poor the timing is!)

"Well, our timing has never been that great. You'll be back in a few weeks,
we can discuss whatever it is you want to talk about then." She was
confused, but so punchy that she didn't couldn't quiet focus on what he was
saying.

(Have you seen a doctor yet?)

"No, but I was planning to make an appointment at Bethesda as soon as I get
home. Everything will be taken care of by the time you get back."

(What do you mean?) She was startled by the tone of his voice. There was the
sound of some commotion in the background. (Mac, I've got to go, the members
are coming back with a verdict.)

"I'll call you back later."

(No, I'm on my way to Pax to pick up a Hornet to ferry out to the carrier in
half an hour). Since he'd been trial counsel, his second chair would have
been more than capable of sitting in on the verdict, but since he was still
available, he needed to be present.

"Well, then I guess I'll talk to you next week."

(Mac, look, don't do anything before we talk, okay? I don't know how it
happened, but we'll figure something out, okay?)

"Yeah, sure." She now knew she was too tired to function, since she had no
idea what Harm had been talking about. "Hey, Flyboy, good luck, okay?"

(Thanks. Look, take care of yourself, I'll talk to you as soon as I can).


They said goodbye quickly, since his co-counsel was standing by his office
door, chomping at the bit.

She hung up the phone, more confused than she had been when she first made
the call.


Walking out of the Centcom regional headquarters in Doha, Mac felt free for
the first time in weeks. One of the clerks had called the Air Force
passenger aerial port desk. If she made it to the military section of the
airport within the next ninety minutes, she could be on a C141 heading
direct to Andrews, an unusual circumstance.

The aircraft was fitted out as a medivac, but had a few additional seats
that were open for duty pax. Normally, medivacs out of Doha, Kuwait, Bahrain
and the Afghan/Iraqi theaters of operations only went as far as Landsthule.
This one was carrying a couple of Army troops seriously burned in a car
accident just outside the city the day before, and was going straight to
Andrews and the burn center at Walter Reed. Even though the trip meant an
arduous fifteen plus hours in the dubious 'comfort' of an Air Force cargo
jet, Mac was more than happy to grab it. It would take her much longer to
get home if she had to use a commercial carrier and stage through Europe,
which was the norm from anywhere in the Middle East.

Arriving at the military section of the airport, she was surprised to see
Tracy Manetti handing her orders and ID card to one of the Air Force
personnel behind the counter. It would be good to have someone to compare
notes with on the way home, although she was hoping to catch up on some much
needed sleep..

Mac was anxious to hear how her originally assigned investigation had
concluded. She'd had a feeling that what had been needed was a few more
mental health and NCIS teams in theater, readily accessible to personnel
with a problem. The bottom line, she figured would be a good swift kick in
the pants to a few of the commanders, either in the form of a reprimand in
their files or a less formal "What the hell were you thinking?" triad from
their superiors.

While Mac understood they had serious security issues dealing with the Iraqi
insurgency, crime perpetrated by one member of the military on another was
serious. These woman had deserved to have their complaints of sexual
assaults treated as such, not swept under the rug as many had been.

"Colonel! I'm surprised to see you here."

"They finally decided the prisoner abuse issue was going to be too big a
mess for a few sacrificial lambs from JAG to investigate. DOD appointed a
one star with special IG powers to deal with it when the proverbial you know
what hit the political fan back home."

"Are you on the 141 to Andrews?"

"Yes, thank God. I can't wait to get home, I've already gone through
everything I packed four times. Getting laundry done while moving around
Afghanistan isn't much easier than it was two years ago. I don't think I
spent two consecutive nights in the same place in the six weeks I've been
away."

"I hear you, Ma'am. I'm pretty anxious to get back to Fort Fumble myself."
Mac smiled at Tracy's irreverent reference to the Pentagon. All officers
stationed there either loved the place or hated it, there wasn't any middle
ground.

Tracy was basically a JAG without portfolio for the Secretary of the Navy,
not a bad posting. He sent her in when he wanted first hand analysis of
issues from someone he knew he could trust, very much the same position
Teddy Lindsey had held for the previous Secretary.

Fortunately, while Mac wasn't entirely sure of the Lieutenant Commander's
allegiance to the Navy rather than the civilian political DON hierarchy,
Manetti was at least a lot more competent and far less smarmy than Lindsey
had been. The mere thought of the ineffectual Commander had always made her
skin crawl, even more so after his veiled attempt at blackmail to her, and
his framing of Harm for Lieutenant Singer's murder the previous year.
Thankfully, he wasn't someone they would ever have to worry about again.

Hours later, Mac began to once again experience the vaguely queasy feeling
she'd had for the last few days. This was a little worse than it had been
previously, for which she blamed the Zoomies in-flight coffee. She, Tracy
and a few other duty pax were positioned in regular airline type seats in
the front of the aircraft. The self contained medivac pallet that for all
intents and purposes turned the cargo aircraft into a flying hospital was
configured towards the rear. That way it was unnecessary for any of the
non-medical passengers or the augmented flight crew to disturb the medical
personnel or their patients.

Mac spend the early part of the flight completing her report, the one she'd
submit to the Admiral at any rate. As per normal procedure, even though what
she had been on wasn't a JAG investigation per se, she would still submit an
overview, minus those parts that were classified. Admiral and Commanding
Officer or not, he had no need to know some of the more sensitive details..

Since JAG's were often called on to investigate issues which had no bearing
on criminal or civil military matters, AJ Chegwidden often found himself in
the uncomfortable position of not knowing exactly what his people had been
doing. In order to foster a congenial working relationship, his officers
were smart enough to keep him in the loop as much as possible.

Shortly after the second mid air refuelling, about ten hours into the
flight, Mac started to feel very unwell. She decided to get up and walk
around, what ever was going on was making her feel very anxious and almost
hypersensitive. All she wanted at this point was to get off the plane, and
get home. Thankfully, she'd gotten a lift to Dover when she left for Iraq.
Earlier that day she reached Sturgis, he had agreed to drive her car to
Andrews and drop it. They would be arriving at a few minutes after midnight,
so she didn't want to wait for a cab.

Suddenly, Mac found herself doubled over in pain.

"Ma'am, are you okay?" The load-master hadn't liked the look of the Marine
officer for the last few hours, she looked pale and clammy. The AFRES crew
had been hauling passengers back and forth from the Middle East since before
the war on terror started after 9/11. He figured she'd likely picked up one
or another of the many food/water born or other intestinal ailments that
were prevalent with many returning from the area. He'd gotten sick a few
times himself over his twenty five years doing this job in some of the more
'exotic' locations the Air Force had a habit of sending it's air crews.

"I don't think so." With that, she keeled over, and he found himself running
for one of the flight nurses in the aircrafts rear.

A few hours later

(JAG Ops, Lieutenant Commander Roberts). Bud had drawn the short straw, and
was pulling senior duty officer on the overnight shift. Since he'd been a
very senior lieutenant, he hadn't had to pull a junior duty officer stint in
years. Now being the most junior field grade officer at JAG headquarters, he
was once again getting the crummy assignments, albeit at a more senior
level.

"Bud, it's Tracy Manetti." She'd heard of Bud's promotion through the
grapevine. How Admiral Chegwidden had pulled that one off was a mystery, not
that Bud didn't deserve it. His limited deployability should have gotten in
the way of his advancement. The workings of promotion boards were always
secret, so it was doubtful anyone who wasn't there would ever know the
answer .

"Yes, Ma..., ah, Tracy, what can I do for you?" Bud, still getting used to
not having to "Ma'am and Sir" Lieutenant Commader's and Major's, was
somewhat surprised that she would be calling ops at this hour. While she
still occasionally interacted with headquarters staff, calling outside of
normal duty hours was unusual.

"You better have someone pull Colonel MacKenzie's next of kin notification
form." The normally unflappable Tracy was overwrought. "We were both coming
back from Doha on a positioning medivac, she was fine when we left. She's
being rushed to Bethesda as we speak."

"Oh, my God!" Bud's surprise was palpable. "What...I mean, is it serious?"

"I don't know Bud, but when I saw them working on her, she was unconscious
and her uniform had blood all over it."


Aboard United flight
ORD IAD 0756 CST
Next day

Harm sat back in the first class seat, thankful he hadn't bothered to ask
Mom what she'd booked. He didn't think he could take the chatter of other
people, people going through the begining of a normal day.

The call had come last evening, San Diego time. He'd been moving ever since.

The two days he and Mattie had spent on Frank's sailboat were almost
idyllic. For Harm they could only have been more so if Mac had been with
them. In different circumstances anyway. Mattie hadn't let up on her
animosity towards Mac at all. He'd had a hope that absence would make the
heart grow fonder, but that hadn't happened.

Harm had been tying down some gear for the night when he heard the satellite
phone ring. Trish phoned every day, after dark when she knew they would have
put in at a marina. Thankfully, Mattie was crazy about Frank, who'd taken
her out to play her first round of golf, and Trish who'd delighted in taking
a teenage girl shopping. Harm was happy that they were happy. Both waited a
long time for him to give them a grandchild. If Mattie wasn't exactly that,
they weren't quibbling.

"Mats, grab the phone, will you?"

"Sure."

She went down to the lower compartment that held a well equipped but small
galley. Other than storing the sandwiches, snacks and drinks they purchased
before setting off each day, it hadn't seen any use. Both of them preferred
to eat breakfast and dinner on shore, it saved a mess on the boat. They
planned to drift south to Baja for a day or so, then head back up the coast
to La Jolla to spend a few days before Harm had to return to Washington and
Trish and Mattie headed for Europe.

"Harm, Trish needs to talk to you, she says it's important."

"Okay. Finish tying this stuff down, will you? I'll check your knots later!"
He was rewarded with 'the look' before he went below. He wondered if anyone
over the age of eighteen was capable of that particular eye roll and head
shake all rolled in to one.

Within a few seconds Trish had given him the news from Bud, and shortly
after, he was throwing his gear in a duffel bag. Trish and Frank would both
drive down and meet them. His mother would drive him to the airport at San
Diego, Frank would stay on the boat with Mattie and sail home the next day.

As he sat in the comfortable seat a few hours later, he couldn't help but
wonder what if? Was he being punished for not being overjoyed at the
prospect of a child? Should he have told Mac he knew? She seemed to be
avoiding the subject with him, he could only assume because of the mess with
Mattie. Had she been courting this by staying in a war zone, with all it's
inherent stress? Had she not wanted the baby? Would she have done anything
about it? When would she have finally told him outright?

From the little Bud told him, and the little he knew for sure, it sounded as
though she had a miscarriage. He wasn't sure, but he didn't think that at an
early stage they could do much about it, and he knew that Mac couldn't have
been more than ten weeks pregnant. She'd had bad cramps one of the last
evenings they had spent together, so the pregnancy must have happened a week
or so afterwards, on one of their "working on a case" evenings.

Mattie had thrown a fit when he left her with Frank, and he hadn't been
supportive in return. He simply told her that all he knew was that Bethesda
had Mac listed as in critical condition, and he was leaving. Period. He
hadn't been able to get any further information from the battle axe nurse at
the information desk. She said she had no way of proving who he was, and
that was all she was authorized to say. When he called from Chicago before
boarding his connecting flight, all he could get out of them was that she
was still in surgery.

He'd need to show up in person and prove who he was before they would
release any detailed medical information. Thankfully, he was still listed as
Mac's next of kin and person to be notified in an emergency. Since she had
no family, early in their partnership, after the difficulties on their day
playing hooky in "Sarah" she'd asked if she could so designate him, and had
also given him medical power of attorney.

He'd been a little more forthcoming with Trish on the ride to the airport.

"Darling, did you know that Mac was ill?" Trish had been curious. His
relationship with Mac was something he didn't talk about. Fortunately,
teenage girls were less reticent.

"Mom, I don't think she was ill." He paused and took a deep breath. "I'm
pretty sure she was pregnant."

Trish drove on for a couple of minutes in silent thought. "Since you've
never really told me much about your relationship with her....."

He put up a hand to still her. "We finally started to get it right about
four months ago. Mattie was a complication, she's not crazy about Mac."

"I can understand that." Trish was matter of fact.

Harm immediately got his hackles up. Trish had met Mac only once, while he
was recovering at Bethesda after his crash. The meeting had been strained
since Renee had hovered the entire time. "Why? Mac's great!"

"So was Frank." There was a wry smile on her face.

He thought for a moment. "Touche'."

"I didn't say that to be cruel, darling. Mattie sees you as her Saviour, and
she's not going to be fond of the idea of sharing you."

"I feel like I let Mac down, and I feel like I'm letting Mattie down."

"Do you love Mac?" Trish had long since learned that blunt questions went
farther with her son than subtlety.

"More than I ever thought possible."

"Have you told her that?"

"No."

"I suggest you do. Maybe that and Mattie's animosity were the reason she
didn't want to tell you, at least until she was 100% sure. I'm imagining she
wouldn't have found out before she left for Iraq."

"No, she probably wouldn't have known, she's been gone over seven weeks."

"Darling, let me tell you something from one who's been there. IF what you
think happened is the case, just be supportive. She'll be blaming herself
more than you ever could, and the likelihood is that nothing she did or
didn't do made an iota's difference."

"What do you mean?"

"Harm, didn't you ever wonder why you were the only kid on the block without
a sister or brother?" She paused. "I mean, before your daddy ...died."

"No, not really, although when I think about it, the other families all
seemed to have more than one kid." Before his father had gone MIA, they had
lived in an off base neighborhood full of military families, most junior
officers just like his dad.

Trish took one hand off the wheel and covered his. "I had a miscarriage
before I had you, a difficult pregnancy and two more later, the last just
six weeks before your Daddy went MIA. That and my age when we got married
were reasons Frank and I never tried to have children together."

"I never knew that." Thinking back, he recalled a period of time when
Trish's mother had come to 'visit' because Trish was sick. Likely, that had
been when she had miscarried.

"Whatever you do, don't blame Mac."

"I don't Mom, if I blame anyone, I blame me. I should have told her I
suspected, but the whole thing with Mattie....." he trailed off.

"Harm, I'm going to tell you something both Grandma Sarah and Grandma
Elizabeth told me the day before I married Frank. You were thirteen, in an
snit, saying you wouldn't go to the wedding. I was ready to call it off."

Harm well remembered his adolescent self. As an adult, he realized his
mother had done the right thing by moving along with her life, but at the
time it stung. Although he knew it was irrational, it still did a little.

"You were? What did they say?"

"They said that you didn't get a vote. That in four years, you'd be off to
college, and if I denied myself a second chance at happiness with a kind and
decent man who loved us both to distraction, I would become a bitter,
miserable woman. You wouldn't need me in the same way anymore, and that I'd
probably become a clinging vine."

"Wow." Harm was especially surprised at Sarah. She'd mourned her dead
husband for years, and had never remarried.

"If you're wondering about Grandma Sarah, she said the biggest mistake she
ever made was not remarrying, or at least giving herself the opportunity
when your grandfather died. She went back home to her family, worked as a
librarian and lived like a nun. It wasn't healthy for her, or for your dad."

Harm thought for a minute or two. "But Mattie's been through at lot."

"Harm, is Mac a bad or destructive person?"

"Of course not!"

"Then Mattie will get over it, and likely will be all the better for knowing
her. We're here." She pulled the car up to the departure area of the
terminal.

As he reclined the seat in hopes of getting a few hours sleep on the last
leg of his cross country jaunt, he thought that maybe after all these years
Mom did know best a after all.


Five weeks later-
In route from Norfolk to Georgetown

Harm eased the classic sports car through the late evening traffic, the hope
of getting back to Washington at a reasonable hour fading fast. It was
already after 2100, and he didn't think he'd make it in less than another
hour. Friday traffic in the summer was always the worst.

He'd been out on the Ike supervising a war game for almost ten days. Ten
days during which Sarah MacKenzie had finally been released from the
hospital. Unfortunately, since this had been a joint exercise with several
allied Navies involved, there had been no way to get out of it. He was doing
double duty, both scoring aerial combat and ruling on the ROE's for the
"conflict." The assignment had been made months before, there had been no
way for him to avoid the trip.

When he'd arrived at Bethesda over a month previously, he'd been surprised
when they told him they had taken Mac back to surgery because the bleeding
had started again. He'd always thought that early miscarriages were fairly
cut and dried.

When he asked the Lieutenant Commander head nurse on the surgical floor if
Mac would suffer any long term consequences as a result of the miscarriage,
she looked at him like he was insane. Then, for a moment until she checked
Mac's chart, she panicked, thinking they had missed a pregnancy. But no, a
test had been done as part of the initial blood work up, and Mac was not and
hadn't been pregnant.

Hopefully, he had finally learned to stop jumping to conclusions where his
Marine was concerned. Just because her vague symptoms had parallelled those
of a pregnant Harriet Sims, he'd assumed that Mac too was pregnant. Nothing
could have been farther from the truth.

In retrospect, after he found himself mourning a child that had never
existed except in his over active imagination, he began to wonder if it in
fact had been wishful thinking. If Mac had been carrying his child, Mattie
or no Mattie, they would have gotten married immediately. He would have
refused to consider any other option. Although he knew she might have
balked, he knew he could have out-stubborned the Marine if it was something
he felt this strongly about. Given Mac's desire for a family, he didn't
really think he would have had to put up too much of an argument.

When he was finally allowed to see her in the surgical ICU and saw how pale
she looked against the white sheets, he was shocked. The seven weeks since
she'd seen left for Iraq had removed at least ten pounds from her already
slight frame. She looked ashen, her normally golden skin pale and grey, even
with the bag of whole blood being pumped into her arm. He would later learn
that was the third they'd transfused, with two more to come.

She would also end up losing even more weight. After the surgery, it would
be long time before she would be allowed anything other than IV nutrition.
By the time he left for the Ike, she looked stronger and had better color,
but was gaunt from the weight loss. Her mood was depressed, and she seemed
almost lost. Mac didn't do 'sick' very well.

If he allowed himself to think of it, he was sorely shaken by how close he
had come to loosing her for good. But for the fact that she had elected to
take a direct flight to Andrews that good fortune had made a medicvac, she
likely would have died, and all for the most mundane of reasons.

With twenty/twenty hindsight, it was easy to see that something had been
wrong for some time. Mac had assumed her constant bouts of indigestion were
due to a combination of her miserable eating habits and the stress of the
previous year. Unfortunately, while they may have contributed, the major
cause was one large gastric ulcer.

On that fateful day in July, it had eaten away the covering of one of the
short gastric blood vessels. Had it not been for the prompt attention of the
medical personnel aboard the flight, the availability of various drugs and
blood volume expanders, Sarah MacKenzie would be in a grave in Arlington
instead of tucked back in her Georgetown apartment.

Even with two emergency surgeries to control the bleeding, her recovery
hadn't been a cakewalk. She had a raging infection from the perforation, and
had been in critical condition for more than a week. Harm had sat at her
bedside in ICU for as much time every day as they would allow.

Trish had rerouted Mattie and herself through DC so they could spend some
time with Harm. Mattie hadn't been thrilled with the idea of hanging around
a hospital. At the time Mac was still semiconscious. Trish had informed
Mattie that they both were going to be there for Harm, whether she liked it
or not.

Put that way, the teenager was more understanding, and seemed to finally
accept the situation, albeit with less than good cheer. A few days later,
once Mac was stable and Harm had at her urging returned to work, the two set
off on their European art jaunt.

Finally nearing his destination, Harm looked for a parking spot in Mac's
always crowded Georgetown neighborhood. He pulled into one near the door to
her building, and gratefully unfolded himself from the car's interior.

Sometimes he wished he didn't love his Corvette as much as he did. Its
confines had never been designed with someone his size in mind. He grabbed
his overnight bag from the trunk, grateful that he didn't have Mattie to
worry about for another few days at least. She and Trish would be back at
the end of the week.

Using his key, he entered the apartment, put down his bag and switched on
the living room light. He sensed some movement in the kitchen, and headed
that way. Harm hadn't known if he was going to be back tonight or not. He'd
emailed Mac shortly before he left the carrier, but hadn't received a reply.
He hadn't called since he wasn't sure if she would be resting or not.

For most of his time away, the Ike had been operating in simulated battle
conditions, and no non-essential message traffic had been allowed. He hadn't
spoken to Mac since a few days before she was released from the hospital.

Harm was surprised when he entered the kitchen to find himself confronted by
a man in a blue silk paisley bathrobe.

"Who the bloody hell are you?"


The unidentified older man looked ridiculous, holding a large bag of
tortilla chips in front of him like a shield.

Harm paused for a moment, then countered "Who the hell are you?"

"I didn't sneak into a woman's apartment in the middle of the night!" the
bath-robed man said with some trepidation.

"I have a key," Harm calmly replied.

The older man turned his focus from Harm to the doorway.

"Sarah, what are you doing out of ......"

Harm turned, just in time to catch Mac before she fell. He scooped her up,
and carried her into the living room.

"Hey, what're you doing back?" She gave him a brief hug as he set her down
on the sofa.

"I emailed you that I'd be back tonight, we were under a comm blackout for
most of the time." He placed a light kiss on her forehead.

"Yeah, I knew you wouldn't be in touch for a while." Even her voice seemed
smaller. "Haven't looked at the pooter since early this morning." She
yawned, obviously exhausted.

He returned the hug briefly, masking his concern at seeing her looking so
ill. Her pallor if anything was worse than it had been when he left her at
the hospital ten days before. She'd lost so much weight, her bones felt
almost birdlike beneath his hands that were gently rubbing her back.

Harm figured since Mac didn't seem at all panicked, whoever the guy in the
bathrobe was, he must belong there. He figured it would get explained
eventually, and continued to hold her loosely. He was afraid if he squeezed
too hard, she'd break. She seemed that frail.

"I didn't want to call when I got to Norfolk in case you were sleeping." He
tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

There was the sound of a throat being cleared. Harm and Mac looked away from
each other to where the mystery man was tapping his slippered foot.

"Oh, Edwin, sorry. Edwin, this is my...ah, friend...Harm. Harm, this is
Edwin. "

"Ah, so this is Commander Wonderful. I was wondering who was sneaking up on
my midnight snack." He held out his hand, "Edwin Marshall."

"Harm Rabb." Harm, standing now, still looked confused as he took the
proffered hand, and shot a questioning glance at Mac.

"Harm, I told you. Remember, Allen Duchamp's, my prof from UMinn?" Mac knew
she sounded vague, but somehow her mind still wasn't working quite
perfectly. She'd been sound asleep and still wasn't totally with the
program.

He nodded but still looked confused.

"I worked for Edwin while I was in college, he and Allen are partners. They
were my mentors. I told you, remember?"

The light suddenly dawned, after he figured out what sort of partner Mac
meant. "Oh, sure. I'm sorry, I'm a little slow, it's been a long day."

"Sarah, dear, I think Commander Wo...ah, Rabb is confused as to why exactly
I'm here, " Edwin said with the patience one would use in speaking to a
child. Dear God, no wonder it had taken these two years to finally get
together!

"Edwin is staying with me."

Harm looked surprised, but nodded for her to continue.

"They wouldn't release me without someone being here with me. Edwin
volunteered to come for a couple of weeks until I can be on my own."

"Mac, the docs didn't say anything about that before I left." Harm was
really concerned now.

"I ...well, they just didn't think I could take care of myself yet." She
paused, not sure how to go on, then decided to plunge in. "Since you were on
record as my next of kin, they thought we lived together, that's why they
never said anything. Then when you weren't around...." her voice trailed
off. Actually the medical staff had assumed they were married. It wasn't
unusual any longer for women to keep their birth names, rather than change
to their husband?s surname. With Harm listed as next of kin, it had been an
easy and natural assumption.

"Jesus, Mac! If I'd known, I'd have taken leave or something. Let me call
the Admiral in the morn......"

"Commander....." Edwin broke in.

"Call me Harm, please."

"Very well then, Harm. I'm perfectly happy to stay with Sarah." He was
trying to be reasonable, and he had a feeling these two were going to be
driven by emotion. Sarah had been pinging between weepy and sleepy in the
five days he'd been there. "I have my work, but I can do it from just about
anywhere I have a modem and a phone. It will do my staff in the area good to
not know when I might pop in for the next few weeks. Keeps them on their
toes." Edwin knew very well, since he hired people who were strictly
professional, well paid and had great benefits, this was somewhat specious,
but thought it sounded like a good rationalization in case these two needed
one.

"But..." Harm was torn between thinking he should be the one taking care of
Mac, and knowing that with Mattie returning from Europe soon and a new
school year starting, he was going to have his hands full.

"Harm, it really is for the best. I'm going to be out of the office for
longer than I thought, so I doubt the Admiral is going to be crazy about
giving you leave to take care of me." She paused. "Besides, you have Mattie
to worry about, and she's not going to want me around." The last was stated
matter of factly, as if it were merely a fact of life she had accepted.

Fortunately, neither Harm nor Edwin had.


Edwin excused himself for a few minutes, heading to the guestroom/office
combination. Harm idly wondered what he thought of Chloe's boy band posters
on the walls. It was considerate of the older man to leave, obviously to
give them some time to talk alone.

He might as well have stayed. Their conversation consisted largely of Harm
asking Mac how she was, and her yawning and saying fine. He didn't believe
her for an instant.

By the time Edwin re-entered the living room fifteen minutes later, Mac was
asleep, her head resting on Harm's shoulder.

"Do you think you can get her into bed without waking her up?"

"I can try." With a little maneuvering, Harm managed to get his arms under
her to lift her. Although she murmured a few times on the way into her
bedroom, a soft, "Go back to sleep' did the trick.

After getting her situated on her bed and tucked under the covers, Harm
placed another soft kiss on her forehead, and turned to leave the room.
Edwin was standing in the doorway.

"Harm, I think we need to talk."

"I think that's pretty obvious."

The two men moved towards the living room seating area, Harm perched on the
edge of the sofa, bent forward, elbows resting on his knees. There was
nothing relaxed or restful about his posture. Edwin sat in one of the wing
chairs, the more relaxed of the two, though that didn't say much.

"She didn't seem that bad when I left for the Ike," Harm paused, unsure of
how much his audience knew about the military. "Ah, that's the Eisenhower,
it's an aircraft carrier."

"When I got here, she was pretty badly off." He looked questioningly at
Harm. "The doctors wondered where her husband had gotten to."

"An easy enough assumption, I suppose." Harm sighed, and explained about the
medical paperwork. "If they thought that, they probably think I'm some ultra
career minded SOB who's so concerned about polishing the brass he wouldn't
even take emergency leave when his wife almost died."

"I think Sarah disabused them of that notion." Edwin had seen how quickly
she had jumped to Harm's defense when one of the nurses had questioned 'her
husband's' whereabouts. "Why do you call her Mac instead of Sarah?"

"It's the name she gave when I met her." Why did he? He often thought about
her as Sarah, but almost never used her name. "Habit, I guess."

"It sounds a little butch coming from a man who's her lover."

"I suppose it does." He wasn't going to argue that one.

"Almost seems like you're trying not to get too close."

"I don't understand what you mean." This time he was a little defensive.

"Sarah thinks that everyone and everything else in your world matters more
than she does."

"You mean Mattie."

Harm knew there was going to end up being a confrontation eventually. They
couldn't go on as they had forever. Mattie had to be taken into account, but
as his mother had pointed out, she didn't get to run the relationships.

Edwin decided he needed to do some plain speaking. Well, Allen was the
bloody diplomat, not him. "I mean everything, your career, flying, life in
general. She's not in a good place right now, and I think....well, you need
to either step up to bat, so to speak, or stay away."

"What do you mean?" Was Mac sicker than he knew?

"Harm, she pretends when you're around. She wants you to think of her as
tough, as capable. THAT's why you didn't know how ill she was; she put up a
front as soon as she was able."

"For Christ's sake, she almost died! Does she think I'd think less of her
for that?"

"In a word, yes."

Harm got up and started pacing the room. "I....she...we've...JESUS!" His
frustration was clear. "I don't know why she'd think that. I don't judge
her!"

"Don't you?"

"NO!" Harm stopped for a moment.

Edwin just stared at him for a long moment, waiting for him to come to the
realization himself.

"You...she told you...it's...it wasn't what it sounded like, not ever!"

"Then what was it?"

"I was angry, frustrated, royally pissed off ...I don't know!" He knew that
in actual fact he'd been extremely jealous, but he wasn't going to admit
that to someone he barely knew.

"You know she thinks she's not good enough for you, don't you?"

"WHAT?"

"Bloody hell, you can't be that thick." Edwin threw up his hands. He went
over and leaned on the mantelpiece, ready to rant. "You tell a someone like
Sarah, who basically had to bring herself up because her parents were each
in their own way absent, whose father demeaned her as a woman, that she
slept her way into law school, that all men she gets involved with are dead
or felt like it and then remind her in court that she's an addict. Then the
last gets picked up by your snotty little ward from someone else's gossip
and you wonder why she doesn't think she's good enough? Or, more probably if
she were completely honest, she thinks YOU don't think she's good enough?
How have you treated her since you started sleeping together? As far as I
know, you show up with a pizza, do some work then have a quickie before you
leave. Now, why on earth wouldn't she think you cared for her and respected
her?"

"It wasn't like that!" Harm was completely defensive now.

He knew that perhaps his actions would sound callous to the casual observer,
but demeaning Mac had never been his intent. Although, looking at things
with hindsight, it all could have been handled better. Hell, the past eight
years could have been handled better.

"Wasn't it?" Edwin wasn't feeling particularly merciful. Sarah was the
daughter they never had, and he was reacting like a tigress protecting her
wounded cub.

Harm sat down hard on the sofa. "I....the reason.....I never made a move
towards her because....because I love her, okay? I wanted her forever, and
even years ago, I knew that somewhere deep down. I also knew I wasn't ready
for it." He leaned back and closed his eyes.

"So you expected her to wait, without ever even cluing her in." It was a
statement, not a question.

"It didn't seem fair to ask her to wait."

"You thought speaking in code and acting like a complete git about any man
she was involved with was better?" He sighed. "Wouldn't it have been nice to
put your cards on the table and let her make the decision?" He paused, "She
loves you too, you know."

Harm nodded his head up and down, if they were being honest, he'd known Mac
loved him for a long, long time. It had scared him to death. "I wasn't even
ready to go that far. It.....I suppose I knew when I left for the Henry, to
go back to flying. She was ......upset. I was too. It was the hardest thing
I ever did."

"Ever tell her that?" Edwin's tone was gentler now that he realized what he
was dealing with

"No."

Edwin sighed. "Look, you're not going to straighten this out in a heartbeat,
but my advice to you is to try and act more like her lover, and less like
her buddy. And for God sake, grow some parental backbone instead of acting
like this teenage girl's overprotective, beneficent sugar daddy."

"Mattie's had a tough time too."

"I'm sure she has. But you and Sarah are adults. You get to decide where
your relationship is going, not this child."

"So, what do I do?"

"You're the only one who can figure that out. All I can tell you is that
woman in there needs unwavering love and support right now. She was pretty
badly off emotionally last fall, and this hasn't helped matters."

"She seemed okay this spring. Last year...well, it was pretty tough. And
since she's been sick...." he trailed off.

"I sensed that." Edwin was happy to note his irony didn't go unnoticed. "She
keeps her feelings bottled up, and tends to assume things are all her
fault."

"We've both screwed up, but if I'm honest, most of the fences were mine to
mend. The times she really needed me to be there for her I wasn't, and when
she wasn't ready I pushed. I guess I needed the control."

"No, you don't say! I can't imagine that a fighter pilot would be at all
concerned about control," Edwin's smile to the bite out of the words. Now
that he knew Commander Wonderful was sincere about his baby girl, he was
prepared to be magnanimous.

Harm grinned at the subtle dig. "She doesn't really call me Commander
Wonderful, does she?" While it would be embarrassing as all hell if she did,
there was a tiny part of him that hoped it was the case.

"No, I do." He paused. "The way she's talked about you for years....well,
I'm not going to swell what is likely an already well developed ego. Let's
just say that even when she was livid about something, she still thought you
were pretty special."


On the short drive to his apartment, Harm mulled over what Edwin had said.
He was willing to do whatever he needed to for Mac, but he wasn't quite sure
what that was.

Edwin said she was at her best at lunch time, then again in the early
evening after an afternoon nap. He suggested Harm show up around 1100 the
next day, and they would take it from there.

Having been away for a while, he had the normal expansive stack of mail to
take care of. Jen was good about bring up his apartment's daily delivery
since Mattie got mail at both. It was neatly laid out on his kitchen island,
the junk separated from the bills and other things that needed attention.

He pulled a beer from the fridge, pondering what to do about Mac. He knew
that she needed reassurance right now. The thin, brittle woman sleeping in
Georgetown tonight was not the same person who saved his sorry ass more than
a couple of times in the past eight years. He wondered how much of it was
her physical condition, and how much was the toll of the last few years
catching up to her.

Since the spring of 2001, their lives had been roller-coasters. His crash,
Mac's broken engagement and mad dash to the Indian Ocean were followed very
quickly by 9/11. The Tribunal, their adventure in Afghanistan, the missile,
Bud, none of these things had added any tranquility to their already less
than placid existence. He knew that he was an adrenaline junkie, and he'd
found some of these experiences exhilarating. Mac, although she would never
admit it out loud, was far more emotionally vulnerable and had reacted
differently.

If those hadn't been bad enough, there was the Singer mess. He still kicked
himself at least every other day for that one. Why the hell he hadn't been
able to just come out and tell her that there was a good chance the baby was
Sergei's? He didn't know and probably never would. Probably something to do
with his own visceral disgust with the idea. While he hadn't wished the
Lieutenant ill, certainly hadn't wished her dead, a life long relationship
with Loren Singer based on the shared relationship to a child had not been
something he'd looked forward to.

He would have saved himself a ton of grief if he had just let Mac know his
suspicions, instead of shutting her out. He knew that instinctively she
would have urged him away from his excesses in the matter, something that
had accomplished nothing but to throw suspicion on him. He wondered if in
fact that wasn't where the crux of all their troubles had really begun, not
with Clayton Webb's appearance in the Admiral's office a few hours after his
aborted trial ended.

Maybe, just maybe, if he hadn't screwed that up, she wouldn't have been so
vulnerable when Webb asked for her help. God, that operation was a classic
SNAFU, goat fuck, cluster fuck, there were no words to adequately describe
just how almighty screwed she and Webb had been in Paraguay. To this day, he
wasn't sure if it was poor planning, a blown op or just Webb being a cowboy.

Mac had always been the more suspicious of the two of them regarding Webb's
motives and missions in the past, but she just went into that one with her
eyes wide shut. If he'd been there, if he'd been around, maybe it wouldn't
have gotten as far off course as it did.

Thinking about it now, he had no doubt that the strain of the last few years
was adding to her physical problems. The situation with Mattie didn't help
either. He was pretty sure Mac had no idea what his real feelings about
their relationship were, that he wanted more than anything for the two of
them, the three of them, to be a family.

Knowing Mac, she felt that her feelings toward him weren't returned, but she
was willing to take whatever he was willing and able to give. Although he
was the one benefiting, he hated that she would have that little regard for
herself. She deserved whatever he could, what he should, give her, Edwin was
right about that.

He wasn't sure why she would find it so hard to believe he loved her, not
that he'd exactly spelled it out in so many words. Likely the result of
seldom getting what she wanted, what she needed, from relationships. Harm
knew that he was going to have to let her know in both words and deeds that
she was the single most important person in his world.

After stewing about it for another hour while thumbing through the week old
news and sports magazines that had come while he was away, he was even less
inspired than he had been previously. He figured he'd try the traditional
stuff first, even though Mac was far from a traditional kind of woman in
most ways.

0930
Mac's apartment

"I'll get it, Edwin!" Mac called from the sofa, on her way to answer the
door before Edwin could make his way from the kitchen.

When she looked out into the hallway via the peephole, trained by Harm's
constant carping on the subject, all she could see was a large bunch of
flowers. She opened the door on the chain, still being a little cautious.

"Sarah MacKenzie?" The vase moved to the side to reveal a harmless looking
college aged boy holding the flowers.

"Yes," she let the chain off the door, while reaching for her handbag on the
side table.

He handed her the vase and a delivery notice to sign, while waiving away the
tip. "The guy who ordered these bribed my mom pretty well to get them here
this early. The tip was included."

"Okay, thanks.'

She shut the door, and set them down on the table. The flowers were arranged
in a large cut crystal pitcher, not the usual florist offering. It almost
looked antique. They were a mixture of pale, almost white, baby roses,
riotously bright pink peonies, larkspur and white lilies, joined together
with various greenery and ribbons.

There was a card attached, not a little florist card, but a regular greeting
card size. On the front it had a silly looking bear in an old fashioned
pilot helmet and scarf. Inside showed the same bear flying a bi-plane,
skywriting, "Get Well Soon." It was signed, "All my love, H."

When Edwin entered the living room, she was brushing a tear away.

"From Commander Wonderful, I suppose?"

"EDWIN! What ever you do, don't call him that to his face, you'll embarrass
him." Neither of them was fooled by exactly whose embarrassment she was
worried about. Even though Edwin bestowed the moniker, she knew her constant
talking about Harm beget it in the first place.

"I already did. He seemed to understand."

She shook her head in exasperation. "God, the two of you together! I don't
know what I've let myself in for."

"Lots of nagging and whatever else we can think of to get you back to your
old self, I imagine!"

She was still smiling at the flowers when Harm arrived ninety minutes later.

Harm came over to the sofa and gave her a hug, Edwin having gotten the door
this time, then made himself scarce. "Hey." He bent down and gave her a kiss
on the forehead.

"Hey, yourself." She gestured toward the vase. "Harm, thanks so much, the
flowers are gorgeous. You didn't have to do that," she paused. "I mean, you
sent me flowers when I was in the hospital, you didn't need to send more."

Perched on the edge of the sofa, he took her hand. "I didn't, not really.
When you were in the hospital, I mean."

"Sure you did."

"Right, yeah." He snorted, somewhat in disgust at himself. "I gave Harriet a
few bucks for the ones she sent from the office. I....I was afraid if I sent
some from myself.....well, once you were out of the ICU and could have
flowers, you had the whole office in and out of your room every day."

He had been surprised by the concern many had shown when Mac was in
Bethesda. While he was the more flamboyant one, she'd always been a quiet
presence who was always there. He knew a number of the female junior
officers often went to her for counsel on various issues, the military still
being a man's world in many ways, but had been unaware of just how highly
they regarded her. "I ....I thought it might make people wonder, you know?"

"I know." To be fair, she had been a little hurt, but understood. "It's
hard. I mean, not that we're doing anything wrong, but people would get the
wrong idea about us." The funny thing was, she knew that had they not had an
intimate relationship, Harm would have had no compunctions about doing
whatever he felt like doing. Their intimacy had made both of them
proverbially look over their shoulder more than they had in the past,
although their relationship was completely within the often archaic military
rules.

"I don't know that they really would, Mac. But I'm glad you like them
anyway." He gave her hand a squeeze. People would likely get exactly the
right idea, and it was probably time that they did. It had taken Sturgis
exactly five minutes in the same room with them after their return from the
Hague to figure out there had been a change in their status, but he'd had
the advantage of knowing Harm for over twenty years.

Jesus, if she was acting this way about a lousy bunch of flowers, what would
she think if he told her the container was an antique that had belonged to
Trish's grandmother? Harm wasn't so much of a guy as to not know that giving
a family heirloom to a woman implied commitment.

He still couldn't exactly remember how he ended up with some pieces from his
grandparent's beautiful Victorian San Francisco home after their deaths.
Shortly after their funeral, his Mom had sent him a large carton with some
"family pieces" in it. The stuff had followed him from his first carrier,
the Corrie, at Pearl, to Bremerton and the Midway, then finally to Norfolk
when he decided to switch oceans for his third carrier assignment that had
turned out to be his last. Maybe his mother had just decided he needed a few
family memories to anchor him in what she referred to as his nomadic
existence.




For the next few weeks, Edwin continued to hover, and Harm to worry. Mac was
getting physically better, but seemed depressed. His time with her was
curtailed a little once Mattie was back in the picture with all the folderol
the start of a new school year brought.

He now told her that he was seeing Mac, she was important to him, and Mattie
could accept it or not, but her opinion wouldn't change the situation. She
seemed less upset at the prospect of someone else in his life. He had a
feeling he had his mother to thank for much of the change in attitude.

The night before Edwin was to fly home, Harm entered Mac's apartment to see
him hanging what he at first thought was a painting over the sofa. When Harm
put down the book he'd been carrying and rushed over to help him, he
realized the large black, white and grey abstract was actually an almost
sofa size blowup of a photograph of Mac. Obviously taken from the magazine
photo shoot earlier that year, the image was both exotic and haunting.

"My God, she's so beautiful." Looking at the photo from a distance, it was
easier to see that it was indeed a woman, her eyes closed, her head tilted
back. The expression on her face was one of rapture. It wasn't tawdry,
certainly not overtly sexy, but was very sensual.

"She could have been one of the great ones if she was a few inches taller."
Edwin had regretted this, but he knew that no matter how much money she
might have made, making a living from her looks would never have satisfied
Sarah. She was far too cerebral.

"Is it that big a deal?" At five eight, a little taller in heels, Harm had
always thought Mac was the perfect height, well, for him anyway. Neither too
tall or too short, he didn't get a crick in his neck when he kissed her
standing up. A guy his size did have to consider a few practical matters.

"Yes, unfortunately. Most of the top models are at least five eleven."

"Does she know you're hanging this?" Harm would have bet anything Mac not
only didn't know, she didn't even know Edwin had the print.

Mac had recently badgered the doctor and Edwin into agreeing that she could
go to the gym, but only if she agreed she'd ride the stationary bikes and
nothing else. They had just returned, and she was in the shower.

It would be another week or two before she was allowed to drive herself,
longer before she would be allowed back at work even part time. Edwin had a
tour of his franchises in Europe to prepare for and needed to get back to
Minneapolis.

Mac was well enough to be on her own while Harm was at work, and he would
take care of driving her where she needed to go in the evenings, and would
take time off when she needed to go to the doctor during the day. He figured
it would force Mattie to be in their company some, at least for dinners on
school nights, so it was a win/win situation.

"No, she doesn't even know I ordered it. I had them leave it with the
doorman."

When Edwin had spotted the copies of the magazine that had been sent to Mac
as a courtesy sitting in a pile in the recycle bin, he'd been intrigued.
He'd contacted the editor and gotten the name of the photographer. Not
something they might have given out to just anyone, but owning a company
that spent a fortune advertising in upmarket publications did have its
perks.

The black and white photograph hadn't appeared in the magazine. It showed
Mac from the collarbone up, her head thrown back and her eyes shut. Since
the gown she had been photographed in was strapless, one could almost
imagine that she was nude. Her hair was slicked back, and she wore very long
earrings that brushed her shoulders.

Harm mouth went dry as he studied it. "Do you think I could get a copy of
that?"

"I've never met a photographer yet who didn't like to sell his work. She had
to sign a blanket release, the only thing he can't do is alter the pictures
to look like something they're not."

Harm continued to stare at the photo, and was still doing so when Mac
entered the room.

"Hey, you're early, Flyboy."

He turned to look at her, and had to swallow hard. Although now that she was
on a bland diet instead of the soft one she'd been on for more than a month
after surgery, Mac had gained a couple of pounds, it was still easy when
comparing the beautiful creature in the photo to the woman in the room to
see how ill she had been. The thought of how close he came to losing her
altogether scared the hell out of him.

"Yeah, I do that sometimes to keep you on your toes." He took her in his
arms for a quick hug and kiss.

"Where did that come from?" She motioned towards the picture.

"Edwin hung it."

"Where did he get it, is the bigger question."

"He said he contacted the photographer."

"I'll bet he did, and I'll bet the guy was overjoyed to make the print."

Mac had an idea how much a photographer would have charged for that large a
photo back when she was modeling in college. She could only assume Edwin had
shelled out a fair chunk of change for it. She wasn't sure how she felt
about it hanging in her living room, but was touched by her mentor's gesture
just the same.

"Whatever it was, it was worth it."

She looked at Harm in surprise. "I thought you hated that photo spread."

Harm decided that maybe she needed 100% percent honesty from him on this. He
looked sheepishly at the floor, remembering his fit of temper at the crab
house.

"Nah, I was just jealous that you might be trolling for a boyfriend in a
magazine, when I'd been in love with you forever."

It wasn't often that Sarah MacKenzie was left speechless.

When she finally recovered her equilibrium, she spoke haltingly.
"You....love me?"

"Did you think I didn't?"

She looked down at the floor. "I....sort of. I mean, sometimes."

Lately, since she'd been home from the hospital, Harm had made a point to
bring her small gifts almost every time he came over. Sometimes they were
silly things, like a dartboard with blunt tipped darts he'd put a sticker of
a caduceus on when she complained about her doctors, or a book of cartoons
about lawyers. Other times they were more romantic, flowers, imported
chocolates now that she could eat them again, a CD of romantic classics. It
almost seemed like he valued her as a woman, as a lover. Due to the up and
down nature of their relationship over the years, and in her general post
operative malaise, she'd been afraid to read anything other than deep
affection in the gestures.

Harm looked around and saw that Edwin had left them alone. "Mac, maybe I
haven't been the greatest at showing it over the years, but I've loved you
for a very long time. And if you let me, I'll spend the rest of my life not
ever letting you doubt it again."

All traces of joviality were gone from his voice. If Harmon Rabb had ever
been deadly serious about anything in his life, this was it.

Mac shyly reached up and put her arms around his neck. "That's good."

"It is? Why?"

"Because I've been in love with you forever too."

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