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  Aerogirl   Valerie
 

 

Disclaimer

 

Classification JAG Story, adventure, romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 36,000, 91 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Spoilers “The Prisoner,” “Death Watch,” “Answered Prayers”
Rating GS
Author's Notes

(Aerogirl)

Housekeeping stuff out of the way first. The story is set in the present (season eight), although there is no mention of Singer’s current condition. Actually, Singer doesn’t even get a cameo. (You’re welcome.)

On a personal note – well, this was one highly entertaining experiment. I’ve never tried to write with a partner before, and I really started at the top, didn’t I? It’s truly frightening how much Valerie and I think alike sometimes – aero engineers of the fanfic world unite. This should have been difficult, probably, but instead it was a blast, and I think I’ll be a better writer for it. Thanks, Val.
 

Author's Notes

(Valerie)

You know, we're probably the only two female aerospace engineers out there who are writing JAG fanfic... maybe any fanfic at all. I'm going to have to dub myself AeroGirl II or something. Anyway, I have to agree with AG—this was a blast. As for what I've learned from the experience, well, I've learned that it is possible for me to write a story that's not umpteen-bizillion chapters long :) AeroGirl manages to pack an incredible amount of plot into few words, without sacrificing quality of writing. Definitely something I want to learn. So, enjoy. We certainly had fun writing it.
 
Summary When a critical figure from Harm’s past resurfaces, he is faced with some difficult realizations as well as a choice.

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

 

 

 

 

What's past is prologue; what to come
In yours and my discharge.
--The Tempest, by William Shakespeare

 

 

Chapter 1

She was just closing up her briefcase when the director knocked on the open door.

"Sir," she greeted him automatically, her eyes straying to the file in his hand. "Is that my life?"

"For lack of a better word, yes." The older man stepped into the office and handed the folder to her. "We renewed your driver's license, passport, and Social Security card, as well as opened a bank account in your name with a little bit in there to get you started again." As he spoke, she inventoried the folder's contents, finding her identity cards as well as a brand new checkbook and various official notifications from the bank and government agencies.

She nodded. "Thank you."

The director shrugged, the corners of his mouth curling upward. "All part of the package. This isn't the first time we've done this, you know."

That made her grin as a mixture of excitement and trepidation filled her. To finally be going back to her life...

A new thought struck her. "What about the Navy?"

This time his shrug was less encouraging. "It's not as easy to pull strings at the Pentagon. Their bureaucracy doesn't handle this kind of thing very well, so I guess you'll have to look into it once you're settled."

She chewed on her lip for a moment, her heart growing heavy with uncertainty. "I have a... friend who should be in the Navy's JAG Corps somewhere."

He nodded. "A lawyer's probably what you'll need. It helps to know someone."

She looked down at her shoes. Friend, she'd called him. The term was singularly insufficient to describe their relationship. She wondered how their reunion would play out. Would he feel betrayed? Hurt? Overjoyed?

"Here's your plane ticket," the director went on, handing her the typical packet stamped with a familiar carrier's logo.

She fingered it, both relieved and overwhelmed by what it and the other papers in her hand signified. "Well, I guess I'd better head for the airport," she said after a moment. Despite the many doubts that plagued her, she knew she was doing what she needed to—for herself, her family, and her future.

The director gave her an odd smile. "I have trouble thinking of you by anything other than your cover name, so..." He stuck out his hand. "Safe trip, Alison. Good luck."

She gave him a genuine smile as she returned the handshake. "Thank you, sir."

~~~~~~~~~~

Harm breezed into work just in time to catch Mac headed the other way, briefcase in hand. They met just shy of the doors fronting the bullpen, a gentle collision that produced a brilliant cascade of sparks. Mac rocked back a half step, cocking her head in an expression Harm had learned meant she would rather have avoided him at that particular moment. He bit back a sigh. Why was it that every time they tried to have a conversation about the future, it ended up becoming an argument over who was responsible for the past?

"Morning, Mac," he said with forced cheer, holding out a hand in an effort to corral his partner and keep her from slipping past without some kind of acknowledgement.

She flashed him a look of annoyance. "Harm, I'm due in court."

"And that's reason enough not to say good morning to your best friend?"

She bit her lip. "Good morning. Now get out of my way."

After a moment he stepped aside, allowing her to pass. Casting a resentful glance over her shoulder, Mac brushed past him and pushed through the bullpen doors, her stride swift and angry.

He shook his head as he turned away. Maybe she was just in a hurry. Reading Mac's emotions was not on his list of well-honed skills. And getting her to open up about it when she was mad at him fell even lower on that list.

Suck it up, Rabb. There's nothing you can do about it right now. Maybe, in a couple of days, they'd be able to talk about it. He would just have to live with the sick knot in his gut until then.

He wandered back to his office, intent on catching up on some of the paperwork that seemed to reproduce at an alarming rate when left alone on his desk for any length of time. He managed to distract himself with work for almost two solid hours before something tickled his radar, making him raise his head and look beyond the confines of his office.

To his surprise he saw Mac standing in the middle of the bullpen, dressed in casual civilian clothing and looking around like she'd forgotten something but couldn't quite remember what it was. As he watched, Bud passed by, folder in one hand and cane in the other.

"Good morning, ma'am," Bud said, his eyes never leaving the folder he was perusing.

Mac just stared at him.

Bud paused. "Aren't you supposed to be in court this morning?" he asked, glancing at her.

Her mouth opened soundlessly, then snapped shut.

Harm rose from his desk, concerned by the odd behavior. She was supposed to be in court and Admiral Morris was going to have her butt in a sling if she didn't have a good reason for not being there. He headed toward his partner.

As he approached, Harriet joined her husband. "Good morning, ma'am," she told Mac with a bright smile, which immediately turned curious. "Did you change your hair? It's cute."

Harm hadn't really registered the difference until Harriet said something, but Mac's hair was different. A little darker and curled under a bit, like she'd worn it back when they'd first met.

Mac's hand immediately went to her hair, fingers twining in the dark locks in a girlish gesture Harm had never seen her use.

Truly concerned now, but not wanting to further provoke his partner given her mood this morning, he opted for a lighthearted approach.

"Did you decide to play hooky from court today, Marine?"

Mac whirled at the sound of his voice, and on seeing him, her face lit with a dazzling smile of joy and relief. "Harm!"

His brow dipped in confusion for the complete one-eighty her behavior had taken. "Yes?" he asked warily. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a warning voice had begun to chatter an indecipherable message of caution.

Mac's face fell by degrees. She stared at him with a pained, confused expression. "Harm, it's me."

Harm stared at her as the warnings in his head intensified. That wasn't Mac's voice. It was too high, too soft. It was a voice he knew by heart, one that sometimes still floated through his dreams, taunting him with could-have-beens.

In an instant Harm's world shattered, demolishing his heart with it. He watched, stunned, as everything he'd believed to be true unraveled before his eyes, all because of this woman. Sagging against the corner of a nearby desk, he managed to choke out her name.

"Diane."

 

 

Chapter 2

Activity in the bullpen ground to a near-halt. The staff pretended to be occupied with other duties, but everyone was curiously monitoring the bizarre encounter taking place in the middle of the room. While none of them had a clue what was going on, the complete and utter shock written on the features of the normally unflappable commander had made an immediate impact.

Bud was the only one with the knowledge necessary to figure it out, and once he had, he managed to ignore the apparent impossibility of it all and move quickly.

"Sir, ma'am," he said quietly, breaking through the powerful, tense gaze the two shared.

Diane blinked at him, the memory returning after a moment. "Uh, it's good to see you, Ens—ah, Lieutenant Roberts."

"I guess I can say the same, ma'am, although I'm really confused right now."

"You're not the only one," Harm echoed in a low, sardonic voice.

Diane's gaze returned to the commander's, once again locking with his in a palpable connection.

"I know this is a shock, Harm—"

The commander's eyebrow rose in understated vehemence. "A shock?"

Bud knew that tone of voice. He shoved his own overwhelming curiosity away in the interest of protecting his superior and friend from broadcasting what would undoubtedly be a difficult conversation.

"Sir," he interjected quickly, "wouldn't you rather use your office to ... uh, catch up?"

Harm straightened, his typical cool demeanor snapping back into place. Mostly.

"Good idea, Bud." He gestured for Diane to follow as he led the way to his office. Once there, he opened the door for her, then closed it securely once they were both inside.

No sooner had the door clicked shut than the bullpen began to hum with murmurs. Harriet studied her husband's face and read something in it that she'd never seen before. Taking a guess, she asked tentatively, "That wasn't Colonel Mackenzie, was it?"

He shook his head. "No."

That left only one explanation, and her eyes widened. "Was it—?"

"I think so."

Sturgis wandered into the bullpen then, noting the commotion with a puzzled expression.

"Stand down, folks," he commented, coming over to join the two flabbergasted lieutenants. "What's the story in here?"

Bud hesitated, knowing how wrong the explanation would sound. "Sir, Commander Rabb had a fairly strong reaction to a visitor, and people are a little confused about it."

Sturgis's gaze flicked over to his friend's closed door, the puzzled crease between his eyes deepening. "Why, who was it?"

Bud gave him a helpless look. "That's the thing, sir. It was—I mean, it is—I don't even know if she has a rank anymore, but... Diane Schonke is here."

Immediately, Sturgis's eyes flashed, and he lowered his voice. "That isn't funny, Lieutenant."

"Sir, you don't have to tell me that." Bud's response was uncharacteristically forceful. "I was the one who found her body."

The commander stared at him for a moment, then shook his head. "I was at her funeral," he said distantly. "My father did the service, for God's sake..."

Bud braced himself for his next question. "Sir, not to be disrespectful in any way, but was there by any chance a closed casket?"

~~~~~~~~~~


Inside the office, Harm just looked at Diane, still trying to reconcile two very different images in his head. She was here, standing in front of him with the same bright eyes and glowing presence he'd tried so hard not to forget: but she was also lying on that stretcher back in Norfolk, too, cold and lifeless. He'd been there, damn it. He'd seen her, touched her, even had thoughts of kissing her goodbye.

And yet, he couldn't chalk this situation up to a madman's twisted scheme or a concussion-induced hallucination. She was here. There was no getting around it.

"I'm sorry," Diane began before he could convince his mind to formulate a proper question. "Before I try to explain all this, I want to say that. I know how badly I must be freaking you out right now, and—"

"Oh, you do, do you?" Something warned him that lashing out at her wasn't a good idea, but the shock of it all had paralyzed his sense of tact. "Do you know how badly you freaked me out when I opened up that body bag six years ago, too?"

This time, she was the one who went white. "You were there?" she whispered.

"It was my case!" At the horror and guilt in her dark eyes, his anger cooled somewhat, replaced by more confusion. What else didn't she know? What the hell was going on here?

"You were dead," he told her flatly, his voice beginning to waver. "I know what death looks and feels like, and trust me, you fit the profile. Now you come to me after six years—six years—and tell me that it was faked?"

Her lip trembled, but she held her ground. "Not entirely. I really was shot by that creep Holbarth. What happened afterward is something that I didn't have a whole lot of control over until after I recovered, and by then..." Her eyes pleaded with him for understanding. "I'll tell you everything. I promise. Just please don't lock me out of your life. Not until you've heard me out. There's so little left of the life I remember, and I've spent so much time wondering what I'd do if I could see you again..."

"So have I," Harm admitted, his voice barely audible.

Impulsively, Diane stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his neck. After a moment of awkwardness, he closed his arms around her, evoking a long-buried memory, and he knew he couldn't just push her away.

She stepped back after a few seconds, looking away. "I probably shouldn't have done that."

Harm braced his hands on the desktop behind him. "I'm not sorry you did. But, Diane—" Even saying her name again felt strange. "—I'm going to need some time to work through all this in my head, and I don't know how long it's going to take."

"I know. I'm not going to ask you to go back in time. I just want—" She sighed. "I need your help. Whatever happens as a result, I'll accept."

"Okay." Some of the tension in his frame eased, and he looked at her with something akin to a smile. "You look good."

She smiled. "You, too. Older, of course."

He rolled his eyes. "Thanks a lot."

"I meant it kindly." Her scolding grin brought up a score of memories. "More secure—maybe even wiser—in both good ways and bad." A shadow fell across her face. "I suppose I'm responsible for more of the bad than the good."

He wasn't sure how to respond to that, so he chose to stay silent until she spoke again.

"Who did you think I was?"

Harm froze. "What?"

"When you first saw me, you called me 'Marine'—?"

Oh, Lord. "That's, um, complicated."

~~~~~~~~~~

At approximately the same time, Mac came striding through the bullpen, a woman on a mission. No more messing around. If that self-centered jetjock happened to be in his office, he wasn't getting out until she could get her point of view through his thick skull.

Bud and Sturgis both moved to head her off.

"Ma'am, this isn't a good time."

She didn't break stride. "It never is, Bud."

Sturgis planted himself in front of her and placed a gentle restraining hand on her arm. "Mac, trust me, you'd be hard-pressed to pick a worse time."

She glanced down at the hand on her sleeve. "Knock it off, Sturgis. Let him prepare his own defense, all right?"

"It's not about that, Mac." Something in his voice caught her attention. A quiet reserve that said she could do real damage here if she wasn't careful.

She paused, staring into his dark eyes. Sturgis was a sensitive man, and a cautious one. A warning from him wasn't to be taken lightly. And yet...

And yet. Harm couldn't hide behind his well-intentioned friend. With a tight smile, she sidestepped Sturgis and headed toward Harm's office.

Behind her, the two men exchanged helpless looks, then turned smartly on their heels and made haste in opposite directions. They, like everyone who worked at JAG headquarters for any length of time, knew when to get out of the line of fire.

Mac opened her partner's door without knocking—and walked into possibly the most surreal experience of her life.

 

 

Chapter 3

Mac wasn't sure what she'd expected to find in her thickheaded partner's office, but another woman, honestly, wasn't very high on her list. They were past that—or so she'd thought. But the way the woman stood, hovering just within the boundary that defined Harm's personal space, branded her as something other than a business contact. His body language, too, shouted that this was a woman with whom he was intimate... if not entirely comfortable.

Mac gripped the doorknob until her knuckles turned white. This was what Sturgis didn't want her to interrupt?

Harm's head jerked up at her entrance, his face betraying surprise, guilt, and a kind of shell-shocked emptiness that alarmed her even through her anger.

"Mac—"

Whatever followed her name dissolved into an indistinguishable buzz as the woman with Harm turned around. Mac found herself staring at a mirror image of herself. A flesh and blood woman wearing her face, which paled in shock even as Mac's jaw sagged open. They stared at each other in stunned silence.

Harm finally broke the stalemate. He cleared his throat, sounding acutely uncomfortable. "Diane Schonke... meet Sarah Mackenzie." He gestured to each in turn. "Mac, this is Diane."

Diane. The name jolted Mac all the way down to her toes.

"You're supposed to be dead," she blurted before either courtesy or good sense could reassert itself.

Diane turned a pleading look on Harm. "I don't understand..." she managed.

Harm shrugged helplessly.

Finally, Mac wrestled herself under some kind of control. She closed her mouth, moistening her lips as she crossed the office, and extended her hand toward the other woman.

"Hello, Diane. Harm's told me a lot about you."

Diane stared at her hand as if it might suddenly turn into a snake. The moment stretched until Diane hesitantly extended her arm. Mac had a strange thought—wondering if she and Diane might not spontaneously combust when they touched, as if the two of them couldn't exist in the same universe. She twitched, resisting the impulse to snatch her hand back. Then Diane's hand closed on her own, smooth-skinned and a touch clammy. Her grip was weak, feminine.

They separated quickly, still staring, though Mac had the distinct feeling Diane was reeling even more thoroughly than herself. But then, Diane hadn't had any forewarning.

Only then did Mac remember the third member of their bizarre trio. Her head snapped up, centering on her partner's face.

"Harm?" She didn't need to say more than his name to convey the many levels of her concern. After all these years, and after all the hurt Diane's death had caused him...

His ever-changeable eyes, at the office usually blue in reflection of the navy blue uniform, had clouded to gray. He gave a minute shake of his head, his eyes pleading with her to let it go, at least for now.

Unable to tear her gaze away, she gestured toward the closed door at her back. "I should—I should probably go now. Harm, don't forget we have a meeting with Master Chief Zonne to go over his appeal at 1600." That was a couple of hours from now, but she'd needed something... official to say.

He gave her another nod and a lightning-quick smile that didn't go near his eyes. “I’ll be there.”

“All right, then.” She mustered a pleasant expression for Diane, not knowing what else she could possibly say, and rushed out.

The door swung shut, and Diane looked up at Harm, her face registering the same kind of shock he'd worn only minutes before. “Did I imagine that, or did it really happen?” she finally asked.

“Imagine how I felt when I first met her. You'd only been gone maybe six months, and for weeks I was doing double-takes every time she walked into the room.”

Obviously you got over that, she almost said, noting the familiarity the two officers had shared even in that brief, awkward exchange. But common sense quickly prevailed, and instead she asked, “You've been colleagues since then?”

He nodded, his expression neutral. “And close friends.”

“Am I allowed to ask how close?”

His tone grew sharp. “I don't know if you and I are in a place right now where I want to discuss that.”

Hurt flashed in her eyes, but to her credit, she didn't take offense. “I understand. I only ask because the reason I came here first is that I need legal assistance to get my life back in order, and I was hoping you'd help me. It's going to take a while to explain the whole story, so if you intend to turn around and relay it all to her, I figured I might as well get it over with and tell you both at once. Maybe she'd be willing to help, too.”

“I can't speak for her, Di.” The nickname slipped out almost unconsciously, and it brought a hint of a wistful smile to her lips. “I'll ask, but neither of us can really spare any duty hours. Unless you're somehow still in the Navy.”

“I'm not. That's what I need assistance with.”

“Then it'll have to wait until this evening. Do you, um, do you have somewhere to stay?” That didn't seem like quite the right question, but what precisely was one supposed to say to a person who'd recently returned from the grave?

“I have money. I got a hotel room and a rental car for the time being.”

“Then come to my apartment tonight at 1900.”

“Are you still on Columbus Avenue?”

He shook his head. “I moved away from there years ago. Nicer apartment, but a worse neighborhood.” He scribbled his address down on the back of a business card. “I'll ask Mac to come, too, and we can get started on clearing all this up.”

“Thank you.” Relief was evident in her voice. She reached out to take the card from him, and he willed himself not to react as their fingers brushed.

A sudden thought occurred to him. “Have you been home yet?”

She hesitated, recognizing his meaning. “Not yet. I guess I was hoping that maybe you'd be willing to call my dad—you know, to prepare him a little.”

Her wording didn't escape his notice. “Then you know?”

She sighed. “They didn't tell me until a week or two after it happened, but yes, I know. They sent me her obituary—it said that she was buried next to her daughter." She shook her head sadly. "Life's so bizarre sometimes.”

Harm wanted to tell her that he'd spoken to Michael Schonke at Ellen's funeral, and that he'd seen a man utterly devastated by loss; first his daughter, then his wife. He wanted to tell her that she bore responsibility for some of the pain her father felt, the pain he himself had felt. But that wouldn't solve anything, and he suspected that she was already well aware of it. So he said nothing.

Holding up his card gratefully, Diane moved toward the door. Impulsively, he called after her. “Diane—who's ‘they’? And while I'm at it, how exactly did you get in here?”

In response, she reached into her purse and handed him two ID cards. “Go ahead and hold onto them. I can't see myself needing them anytime soon.”

She disappeared through the doorway, and he looked down at the cards. One had been issued by a company named Reliant Technologies. The second bore the logo of the National Security Agency. Both were in the name of Alison Marie Markham, and both bore Diane’s picture.

Shaking his head, he followed her out into the bullpen. For damage control, he told himself. The staff had witnessed enough to send the scuttlebutt flying. It would probably be good to introduce Diane to a few people before she got away. And that way, a little voice in the back of his mind told him, he'd have multiple witnesses that she'd really been there.

Bud was standing at the corner of his wife's desk, looking remarkably busy with the file in his hands. Harm caught up to Diane and, gently taking her elbow, steered her in that direction.

"Come meet some of my friends, Di."

Both Bud and Harriet looked up at their approach. Harriet studied Diane with frank curiosity, then slowly shook her head.

"Honey, I'm sorry I didn't believe you," she told her husband.

Bud shrugged. "That's okay, Harriet. It's one of those too-weird-to-be-true things that happens sometimes."

Diane glanced up at Harm, many thoughts spinning behind her eyes. She seemed to be taking in just how strange the situation was now that she'd met Mac. The image of Diane and Mac shaking hands—mirrors of each other even in their expressions of shock—wasn't one he would easily forget. For many years he'd tried to tell himself the uncanny resemblance was as much in his mind as anything else, but seeing them together shattered that bit of wishful thinking.

He shoved his reflections to the back of his mind. "Diane, you know Lieutenant Roberts. He came to work for us after he finished his tour on the Seahawk." The two traded nods and smiles.

"And this is his wife, Lieutenant Harriet Sims."

Harriet stuck out her hand with a bright smile. "It's nice to meet you, ma'am," she said.

"And you." Diane returned the smile with one of her own. It was a far more open expression than Mac's when meeting someone new.

"Colonel Mackenzie, I don't recall giving you the day off."

The foursome had been so involved in their conversation that none of them had noticed the Admiral's approach. He stood a few paces behind Diane, his hands clasped behind his back, his expression diffident.

All four spun to face Chegwidden.

"Uh, sir—" Harm began.

"Sir, this isn't—" Bud said at the same time.

Diane stepped forward, her soft voice cutting across both of theirs. "Sir, I'm not Colonel Mackenzie," she told the Admiral.

Chegwidden blinked at that. Then he turned his head toward Mac's office. Harm knew the exact moment he spied the colonel through her blinds. He turned back, pinning Diane with a stern stare.

"So who are you, then, Ms.—?"

"Schonke, sir. Diane Schonke. I used to be a lieutenant in the Navy, but... not anymore."

Chegwidden's face was hard to read. "What happened?"

"I died, sir."

He eyed her for a long moment. "You obviously didn't do a very good job of it."

A step behind her, Harm nearly choked.

"Uh, no, sir." Diane was starting to look exceedingly uncomfortable. "It's a long story, sir."

Harm decided he'd better step in before the situation got any worse. "Diane went to the Academy with Sturgis and me, Admiral."

Diane’s head swung around in surprise. “Sturgis is here? I thought—"

He shrugged fractionally. “It's been a long time. Things have changed.”

Meanwhile, Chegwidden had turned a less-than-happy stare on his senior attorney. Harm managed not to blanch.

"Now that I think about it, I seem to recall you investigating Lieutenant Schonke’s murder, Commander."

Harm nodded, his throat dry. "Yes, sir." Though Holbarth had met his fate falling off a pier, the Admiral was perceptive enough to have realized the truth immediately; that Harm had had every intention of killing the man himself. It was something Harm was ashamed to admit, and he suspected the Admiral considered it a black mark on his character, if not his record.

The Admiral chewed his lip for a moment, then turned away. He turned back almost immediately, as if a thought had just occurred to him.

"The CIA didn't have anything to do with this, did they?" he asked Diane.

She gave him an odd look, but one didn't question an admiral. "No, sir."

"Apparently, it was NSA," Harm supplied.

Chegwidden nodded, looking just a bit disappointed. "Well, I suppose there had to be something Agent Webb isn't responsible for."

On the heels of that cryptic statement, he returned to his office. Diane gave Harm a questioning look. He just shook his head.

"Don't ask."

 

 

Chapter 4

Inside the sanctuary of her office, Mac had collapsed into a chair, shaken to her very foundation. She remembered well the chill that had run through her when she'd stumbled upon that picture five years ago, a mirror image of herself in a Naval Academy uniform. Actually seeing the woman in the flesh, looking into unfamiliar eyes that stared out at her from her very own face ... the word 'unnerving' seemed woefully inadequate, but it was all she had.

You're exaggerating, some rational compartment of her mind pointed out. You're not identical. It's just an extremely eerie similarity ... made all the more so by the fact that she's supposed to be freaking dead!

She could still feel the stab of anguish that had resulted each time her partner had given her a look meant for someone else. It had faded with time, but now it seemed as if that anguish was soon to become a constant presence.

And if it could unravel her so effectively, what must it be doing to Harm?

There was a soft knock on her door, and the subject of her concerns stuck his head into her office, looking lost. “May I come in, or do you want—"

“No, come in. Please.”

Harm closed the door behind him and stood in front of her desk. “You okay?”

In this case, the right answer was not the truthful one. “Sure,” she said, pasting on a calm demeanor. “What about you?”

The helplessness that flickered across his features worried her further. “I don't know.”

Mac rose from her desk and came around to sit on the corner closest to him. “Harm, you saw her body. Didn't you? I mean, if I have yet another twin out there—"

“It was her.” The quiet vehemence of his reply convinced her not to question. “I think I'm angry, and I'm trying not to be, but... I just don't know.” He held up Diane's NSA badge for her to examine. “She says she needs legal help, and that she'll explain it all to us. I told her to come to my place at 1900.”

Mac tried unsuccessfully to read his expression. “Us?”

“If you're okay with it. I know it'll be extremely weird for you. I should probably fill Sturgis in, so I'll ask him to come along, if that helps at all.”

It didn't, since she knew the three classmates could easily go off on a nostalgic side trip and leave her in the dust. But that wasn't the point. “I'll be okay with it if you want me to be,” she said carefully.

At that, Harm almost smiled. “I want you to be there,” he said softly. “You've always been good at locating my sanity when I misplace it.”

In spite of the surreal situation, Mac was warmed by the statement, and she gave him a wry grin. “You realize how close I was to throttling you earlier, right?”

He winced. “I know. We have a conversation to finish.”

“It can wait. At least until after you've recovered from the shock of this whole deal.”

“That could be a while,” he muttered, half to himself. Abruptly, though, he straightened up, as if summoning his confidence. “Anyway, we've got a meeting, don't we?”

“We do. I'll meet you in the conference room.”

“We're going to work this out, Mac. I'm not sure how, but when it's all said and done, all this is going to make sense, and things are going to be all right.”

She smiled bravely. “I know.”

That wasn't the truth, either.

~~~~~~~~~~

Harm had been pacing the confines of his apartment, occasionally wiping his palms on the rough denim of his jeans, when the first knock came. He whirled, hands seizing into fists that he had to force to unclench as he crossed to the door. He reached for the doorknob, then paused.

Time to put on your game face, Hammer, he told himself. Grabbing the knob, he yanked it open. Sturgis stood in the hallway, his jacket balled uncomfortably in his hands.

Harm couldn't help the sigh of relief that escaped him.

Sturgis flashed a smile. "I figured you wouldn't want to be alone with either of the ladies yet."

Harm wondered how much he was supposed to read into that statement, then decided to drop it. The last thing he needed at this point was to second-guess an all around good guy like Sturgis.

"Thanks." He stepped back to allow Sturgis to enter, then turned toward the kitchen. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"I'm fine." Sturgis wandered inside while Harm ensconced himself behind the bulwark of his counter. He had a large pot on the stove.

"What's cooking?" Sturgis asked.

Harm glanced at the covered pot. "Vegetable soup."

"I didn't realize this was a dinner thing."

"It's not. The soup won't be ready for hours. I just... needed to chop things." Harm shrugged uncomfortably at the admission.

Sturgis chuckled and leaned his elbows on the counter. "Therapeutic vegetable massacre?"

Harm snorted in short-lived amusement. "Something like that."

They fell silent. Sturgis watched with interest, whether real or feigned, as Harm peeked under the pot's lid, then puttered about with a dishcloth, cleaning.

"Did you and Diane end up dating?" Sturgis asked suddenly.

Harm turned, his stomach twisting at the memories.

His old friend watched him sympathetically. "I know you two were only friends at the Academy, but I'd heard some rumors after that—" He shrugged. "You and I didn't cross paths for a while and then... well, Diane's funeral didn't seem like the place to indulge my curiosity."

Harm braced himself against the counter as resurrected hurt rose to the surface.

"Diane took leave... after my crash." He stared at the countertop, watching it blur in his vision. "She just... showed up one day, with a suitcase in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other, and said she'd come to cheer me up."

"Champagne?" He could hear the note of curiosity in Sturgis' voice.

Harm nodded. "To celebrate my 'triumphant return to the air,' she said." His voice broke on the second-to-last syllable. He gripped the edge of the counter until it cut into his fingers. "Until that moment, it hadn't even occurred to me that I might get back into an airplane—any airplane. Diane considered it a foregone conclusion." He straightened abruptly. "She was just like that. In less than five seconds, she upended my entire world, Sturgis."

"Sounds like all she did was turn it right side up again."

Harm ran a hand through his hair, feeling the newly trimmed stubble on the back of his neck. Mac had a thing about his hair when it was freshly cut. Every chance she got, she'd run her fingertips across those short hairs and grin impishly. It was one of his favorite expressions.

Shaking his head sharply, Harm forced himself to reorient his thought. He was terrified of the idea that he might get Mac and Diane mixed up somehow. "She did. I'm not sure I would have made it through the review board or rehab without her." He paused as the memories washed over him. "Somewhere in there, we stopped being just friends... but it was never official."

Sturgis regarded him for a moment. "'Official' as in...?"

Harm looked away. "Exclusive." He waved a hand vaguely. "I was here in Washington, she was in San Diego or deployed. We never connected as often as we wanted to, but when we did..." He looked away. "I guess we were too young and stupid to realize what we had while we had it. And then one day..." He snapped his fingers sharply. "It was gone, just like that."

For a moment, the gulf of anguish that lived perpetually in the back of Harm's mind threatened to rise up and swallow him, but he fought it back. He wasn't sure how long it took, but when he finally came back to himself he found Sturgis staring off into the distance, his expression profoundly sad.

He didn't get to ask about it, though, as another knock sounded at the door. Sturgis' expression cleared immediately as he turned toward the sound. "Do you want me to get it?" he asked.

"Yeah, if you would." Harm gave his friend a grateful look.

"Care to guess who it'll be?" Sturgis asked lightly as he walked toward the door.

Harm checked his watch, which read 1900 exactly. "It's Mac."

Sturgis opened the door. Mac raised one hand in a jerky wave, a strained smile appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye. "Hi, Sturgis." She was dressed in chocolate brown slacks and a deep red sweater with a swoop neck. A slender gold chain decorated her throat. From the kitchen, Harm watched her, struck as always by her unconscious beauty.

Sturgis ushered Mac inside, his warm bass voice filling up the awkward silence. They walked over to the barstools lining the back of the counter. Mac tossed her jacket across the back of her usual chair and plopped her purse beneath it. Harm set a bottled water down in front of her. Their eyes met across the counter, and something inside Harm unexpectedly loosened.

"Hey, Mac." He smiled a real smile, happy to see her no matter what the circumstances.

She picked up the water bottle, twisted it open, and drank. "Hi, yourself." Her brief smile was both shy and warm.

A knock at the door shattered their rapport.

"I'll get it," Sturgis said quickly. He trotted dutifully to the door. Harm heard him greet Diane, and her subdued answer. On the far side of the counter, Mac turned to watch, her elbows braced against the edge. Sturgis stepped back, allowing Diane to enter. Harm blinked in surprise. Diane wore jeans, but her turtleneck was a deep red—the same color as Mac's.

Mac straightened abruptly as Diane walked into the room. The two women stared at each other. Then Diane raised one hand to shake a finger in Mac's direction.

"You know, I shouldn't be surprised at that. Red is my best color."

Mac stared at her, mouth working soundlessly.

Diane pressed her lips together, a flush rising in her cheeks. "Um... yeah. Listen, Colonel—"

"You can call me Mac." From behind, Harm couldn't read Mac's expression, but he could see the tension in her shoulders.

Diane nodded. "Okay. Mac. This is going to sound really strange, but would you mind if we found a mirror somewhere? I think I need to see us side-by-side before it drives me completely nuts."

To Harm's surprise, Mac nodded. "Me, too." She gestured to Diane. "Come on, there's one back here." As the men watched in bemusement, she led the way toward Harm's bedroom.

When they were gone, Sturgis turned to look at Harm with a faint expression of horror.

"What?" Harm asked.

"I'm just hoping you don't have a secret fantasy about twins."

~~~~~~~~~~

Side by side, the two women stared into the bathroom mirror.

"My hair is a little darker," Diane said after a moment. Mac wondered if the relief she heard in her voice was real or just her own projection. She also chose not to mention the fact that she highlighted her hair.

"I'm a little taller," Mac added.

Diane looked down. "No, I think that's just the shoes."

Mac followed her gaze and had to agree. Diane had on casual sneakers versus her own boots. "You're 5'9"?"

"Yeah."

"Me, too."

They stared at their combined reflection. Diane blinked first.

"I keep thinking the weirdness will go away, y'know?" She gave Mac a rueful look.

Mac sighed. "I guess we're just going to have to get used to it." She paused, then forced herself to go on. "I used to wear my hair like that." She indicated the loose, swept-under curl that rested on Diane’s shoulders.

Diane turned to look at her directly. "What made you change it?"

"Harm—" she blurted, then shook her head. "No. He didn't make me change it." She couldn't meet the other woman's eyes. "He just—I never knew who he was seeing when he looked at me. And then when I saw a picture of you, I understood why."

Diane stared at her for several long minutes, absently nibbling at her lower lip as she did. "Can I—can I ask you something before we go back out there? About Harm," she hurried to add.

Mac's gut clenched. "Okay."

"Is he... happy being a JAG? I was never sure." She shrugged uncomfortably. "He always said he loved trial law, but next to flying..." She straightened. "I saw he's wearing his wings again. He swore he wouldn't, but I always believed... eventually..."

Mac stared at her, realizing for the first time just how much Diane had missed. And for the first time since their bizarre meeting, she felt a ray of hope.

She found herself smiling. "Yes, I believe he's where he wants to be." He'd come back to JAG, after all.

As if her answer had lifted a weight from Diane's shoulders, the other woman nodded and turned back to the mirror. Mac's gaze followed and they once again studied their oh-so-similar features.

"You weren't by chance adopted, were you?" Diane cocked her head to the side, her expression quizzical.

Mac snorted. "Nope. You?"

"No." Diane heaved a sigh. "It was worth a try, though."

 

 

Chapter 5

Harm all but leapt up from the couch when Diane and Mac reentered the room. He’d forced himself to sit down so that he wouldn’t pace restlessly around the apartment, but he’d only succeeded in bottling up all his nervous energy and turning himself into a tightly coiled human spring.

“So,” he began, with levity that was obviously and painfully false. “Did you find any differences, or are we going to have to issue name tags?”

Mac lifted an eyebrow. “Well, since none of you knows where my tattoo is…”

Sturgis cleared his throat. “Maybe we should name you Thing 1 and Thing 2, like in the Dr. Seuss books.”

“I will not answer, Sam I Am,” Diane promptly responded, eliciting a muted laugh from the others. Quickly, though, the room fell silent, and Diane drew a deep breath. “Okay, this isn’t going to get any easier if I keep stalling, so I guess I’ll just jump right into it. You all might as well get comfortable.”

Mac waited uncertainly to see where Harm sat before choosing her own seat. Part of her wanted to sit down right next to him, clearly marking her territory, but she just wasn’t sure how far her territory extended at the moment. He took the chair, though, leaving her little choice but to share the couch with Sturgis. Instead of taking the desk chair, Diane sat down on the floor, tucking her legs up underneath her.

“Let’s start with what you already know. The night I was shot, I was going ashore to file a complaint against Commander Holbarth for refusing to address my charges of harassment. But that wasn’t the only reason I left the ship. I also had a meeting set up with an agent from NSA, to discuss the position they’d recently offered me. They needed someone with my cryptology skills for a long-term mission in Southeast Asia, and they contacted me about a month before the Seahawk cruise ended.”

She’d only begun this confession, but already Harm was stinging. Sensing his reaction, Diane rushed ahead. “I didn’t have any intention of keeping that from you, Harm. It would have been the first topic of discussion that weekend, regardless of the sensitivity of the information. And honestly, I hadn’t completely decided whether I was going to take the job. Until Holbarth stepped in and made that decision for me.”

“He really did shoot you,” Sturgis said, for clarification. Diane nodded, eyes cold, and her fingers touched an area just under her collarbone.

“If my sweater was a little more like Mac’s, I’d show you the scar. He must have followed me to my car—I don’t remember a lot of it. I didn’t even know it was him until I saw the updated casefile a couple of years later.” Her gaze flicked back to Harm, wanting to question him about that, but his hardened stare told her that now wasn’t the time. “But just after it happened, my NSA contact came looking for me, and he called in a team of agency paramedics who kept me from bleeding to death. The agent in charge had to make a fast decision, and he decided that the opportunity to tie up some loose ends was too good to pass up. So they stabilized me, slowed my heart rate enough to fool whoever found me—"

“That would be Bud Roberts,” Mac broke in. Diane’s eyes widened, but she continued.

“—and switched their ambulance for a coroner’s truck, and that was that. There were agents all over the place, pretending to be medical examiners or NCIS investigators, so they were always hovering around enough to keep any of the real investigators from looking too closely.”

“I didn’t want to look too closely,” Harm said in a low voice, not looking at any of them. “As it was, five seconds after I saw you, I was already on the edge of the dock throwing up.”

“They never told me you were there,” Diane claimed, sympathy and remorse causing her voice to waver momentarily. “They just submitted a phony autopsy report and made me disappear. I woke up in an agency hospital two days later, and they gave me a choice. I could either go back to the life I had, where I wasn’t sure of my future and where someone was apparently trying to kill me… or I could accept an assignment that would made vast strides in a critical area of our intelligence network. Since the damage to everyone I cared about had already been done, and since these people had saved my life, I agreed to take the assignment.”

“Then you’ve been in Asia for the past few years?” Mac asked, trying to focus on the mechanics of the situation rather than the emotions.

Diane nodded again. “In Taiwan, working for a front company called Reliant Technologies. We deal in information technology and network support systems. A number of our customers are defense subcontractors who do business with the Chinese military. We got into their databases whenever it was safely possible, and as a result, we now have a much clearer picture of China’s capabilities in terms of weapons development. It’s an extremely well run operation. I was proud to be a part of it.”

“So why did you come back?” Harm asked bluntly, looking over at her for the first time.

“We were all functionally undercover twenty-four hours a day for years at a time. You can only do that for so long before you start to push the limits of your cover.” She sighed. “In my case, there was a man. Specifically, there was an American businessman who was fairly bright and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I couldn’t call the police on him without drawing more attention to myself. So I kept our director advised on the situation, and eventually he decided that I’d gone as far as I could without endangering the larger mission. I could have stayed with the NSA, but I wanted my life back, so I resigned.”

“And you want to rejoin the Navy?” Sturgis asked.

“Well, to be honest, I don’t know if I really have to ‘rejoin.’ I never officially separated from the service.”

Harm snorted. “Your father has a folded flag in his possession. That’s about as official as it gets.”

Both Mac and Sturgis looked at him askance, put off by the unbridled bitterness in their friend’s tone. Diane recognized it, though, and replied without commenting on it. “The Department of Defense doesn’t do well with requests to change a service member’s status. I realize that. I also realize that even if I succeed, I’ll be coming back as an O-3, and I’ll probably be serving under O-4s and even O-5s who are years younger than I am. But I still want to serve. It’s the life I chose, and I still take a kind of refuge in it. I want to be back out at sea, especially now, with the world so uncertain. I can’t imagine that the Navy would be so rigid that they’d refuse a qualified cryptologist just because they already played Taps at my funeral.”

“Don’t underestimate them,” Mac said dryly. “No, I’m sure we can make some inquiries and find out if it’s possible to get your status changed. But shouldn’t your former superiors over at NSA be able to give you some help with this?”

“I wish. But in bringing me in the way they did, my chief even had to bend some of NSA’s own rules. Officially, no one named Diane Schonke ever worked for the National Security Agency. From the moment I left the hospital six years ago, I was Alison Markham. Even letting two people deep inside the Pentagon in on my cover would have been two too many for their liking. If someone comes out and publicly admits to the DoD that a deception of this magnitude was perpetrated on the Navy, all the usual inter-agency skirmishes will escalate into a full-blown war, and that’s the last thing anyone needs at a time like this. So any help I get from NSA will have to be extremely quiet. You see, that’s why I need you—at least, as many of you who are willing. I need to sneak this through the tiniest backchannels possible to avoid a public confrontation.”

“That’s not going to be easy,” Sturgis warned. “We all know a few people who can get things done, but they’re not going to act without some kind of corroboration for your story. If you walk up to the Navy with evidence of nothing besides your identity, the first thing they’ll probably do is make us charge you with desertion.”

“Worst-case scenario,” Mac added, her brow furrowing. “You were assigned to the Seahawk at the time of your... disappearance, and your battle group had just returned from supporting Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia. If the convening authorities wanted to get really nasty, they could try for desertion in a time of war.”

Diane paled. “You don’t really think—"

“Only if NSA completely cuts you loose, and even then it’s not likely,” Sturgis assured her. “Still, we have to be prepared. We all worked on a desertion case for a Jewish Marine last fall, and these two argued that he hadn’t deserted in order to avoid hazardous duty. I think that applies here.”

“Well, it didn't advance our case as far as we would have liked, but going from one branch of the U.S. government to another has got to look better than ditching the Marines in favor of the Israeli army.” Mac turned to her partner. “And an attempt on a defendant’s life is a pretty good rationale for a duress argument, wouldn’t you say?”

Harm didn’t respond, and the room took on an immediate chill. The three people there knew him better than just about anyone else on the planet, and his expression made it clear to them that he wasn’t simply lost in thought. He knew he’d been asked a question, and he was choosing not to answer for a reason.

Ever the peacemaker, Sturgis chose to face the mounting tension head-on in an attempt to defuse it. “Listen, Di, none of us was in your shoes when all this happened, so we’re not going to try and pass judgment on anything you did. Right, buddy?” When Harm remained silent, Sturgis kicked him none too discreetly in the shin. “Rabb. Speak.”

Harm continued to focus his stony gaze on a corner of the coffee table. “I was always taught that if I couldn’t say something nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all.”

Diane had expected him to be hurt, even angry. She hadn't expected this... coldness. “You don’t even care, do you?” she asked, almost in disbelief. “I realize how awful this seems, but I thought you of all people—"

He gave a short laugh. “You’re not in the best position to be talking about empathy at the moment.”

“You think I haven’t reconsidered that decision every day for the last six years? I didn’t see that I had much choice! Someone wanted me dead, remember? You saw yourself what he did to me—"

“And now you see what that did to me. Does that make us even?”

She recoiled from the ugly tone. “Have you really changed this much?” she whispered. “I don’t even think I recognize you right now.”

“Of course I changed! I thought I’d lost everything that day, and it did change me, all right? It changed me into a person who was capable of taking vengeance, and believe me, that was a big step. Only now it sounds like maybe I had less to lose than I thought.”

“Wait a minute!” Diane jumped to her feet. “Just what did you think you had?”

“I thought I had something worth holding onto. Something I wouldn’t so easily have obliterated to go play spy games.”

“Are you actually trivializing the concept of serving our country because of personal spite?”

“I’m not trivializing anything. I’m well aware that 99.9 percent of American citizens would probably approve and even praise your sacrifice. But all those people don’t know you, do they? All I’m saying is that you chose that service over everyone who loved you. I know I don’t get to decide whether that’s right or wrong, but damn it, you don’t get to decide how I feel about it!”

Harm flung himself out of the chair and stalked away from the group.

“What do you want from me?” Diane demanded hotly, trembling. “Am I supposed to apologize for not being dead? Is that it? I’m screwing up your tragic hero self-portrait or something?”

“I don’t want an apology!” He whirled back toward her. “What I want is to know why I almost killed a man for something that turned out to be a lie!”

Silence descended heavily on the room. As they stared at each other, anguish burning white-hot between them, Sturgis rose from his seat. "I think we should go.” He reached out to tug Mac's sleeve.

Fighting back overwhelming curiosity and concern for her partner, Mac reluctantly nodded and followed him. “We’ll be in touch,” she murmured in Diane’s direction, then laid a hand on Harm’s arm. “See you tomorrow?”

“Right.” He didn't move, however, until the door had closed behind his friends.

“So, that discussion about the future,” he began, in a more controlled voice. “The one we were supposed to have had that weekend at Norfolk. Since you’d been considering the NSA job, I’m guessing you weren’t going to suggest that we make our relationship more serious.”

“Your friend Maria might have had something to say about that,” Diane fired back, still smarting.

“Oh, for the love of—I didn’t learn to make Thai food and watch baseball for Maria, all right? I didn’t spend four hours in the back of a freezing C-141 and break all speed limits on station at San Diego to pin lieutenant’s bars on Maria! The only reason I ever spent any time with her in the first place was because I couldn’t be with you, and we never pretended otherwise. What the hell did Keeter tell you, anyway?”

“Nothing I didn’t already know. You weren’t prepared to sit down and map out a future with me or anybody else. Why should I have rejected NSA out of hand, when all they were asking for at first was a trial assignment?”

The second part of that statement was completely lost on him as he struggled to grasp the first part. “What did I say or do to make you think I didn’t want to think about the future? Why do you think I was so determined to see you that weekend?”

When she only looked at him, disbelieving, a new wound was torn open on his scarred soul. All this time, he’d held a certain image in his mind, a surprisingly romantic idea that had fate not intervened that night, everything would have fallen into place for them at last. That had somehow become his truth without him even realizing it—the lens through which he looked back on that chapter of his life. Only now, as that flimsy construct came crumbling down, did he see it for what it was.

“I see,” he said dully, turning away from her. “I’m sorry. I must have... misinterpreted.”

Beginning to understand, Diane felt a painful lump rise in her throat. She’d hurt him all over again, simply by not knowing how deeply she’d hurt him the first time. “It’s not that I didn't want a future for us,” she attempted to explain. “But you wouldn’t have been able to make any major decisions at that point. You’d just started at JAG a few months before, and Luke had just died, and everything felt so up in the air...”

“You thought that I wouldn’t be able to make a commitment, so you weren’t even going to bother trying for one?”

“Harm, we weren’t kids, even then,” she said softly. “We’d known each other for more than ten years, and in all that time we’d never been able to get past a certain level. I couldn’t find any reason to believe that things were going to change. Could you?”

His response was low, defeated. “Back then, actually, I could. Since everything else in my life had changed over the course of those couple of years, I guess I thought we could, too.”

Tears brimmed in her large brown eyes, and she resisted the urge to reach out to him. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

“Me, too.”

She tried to laugh, but it came out choked and awkward. “Really? I’m sorry for the lies, and for not giving you the chance you wanted, and for ripping your heart out and stomping on it. What are you sorry for?”

He kept his gaze focused on the floor, only glancing up at her from under his brows. “I’m sorry for not taking any of the other chances we had, and for throwing everything back in your face tonight ... but mainly, I’m sorry for being late.”

“Late?”

He shrugged impassively. “If I’d come to meet the ship when you first docked, maybe none of this would have happened.”

There was another silence—not as painful as the first, but not comfortable, either. “So where do we go from here?” Diane asked tentatively.

Harm shrugged again, trying to sound neutral. “We focus on the task at hand. We find a way to get you back into the Navy, and I guess we see where that takes us.”

She lifted a hand to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, unsure of her next question. “Do you think we’ll be able to be friends again?”

Before she could drop her hand, he reached out and caught it in his. “You shouldn’t have to ask that,” he said quietly. “I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but as long as we both walk this earth, I’ll still be your friend.”

Scrubbing a few stray tears from her eyes, she squeezed his hand and stepped back to retrieve her purse. “I guess I’ll talk to you tomorrow, then.”

“You know where to find me.”

After she’d gone, Harm stood in the center of the room, lost. In the span of a few hours, nearly every constant in his life had been torn to shreds, and the pieces seemed to be reassembling into something unrecognizable. Was he supposed to just buck up and move on in the same direction as before? How could he continue in the present when someone had altered the past?

Feeling more alone than ever, he reached for the phone and hit the memory button.

“Mackenzie.”

Her calm, confident voice, so different from Diane's ... “Are you busy right now?” he asked, forgetting to identify himself.

Of course, he didn’t have to. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Huh? How are you—"

“Do you need a friend right about now?”

He sighed. “I need you right about now.”

Although he couldn’t have picked up on it over the phone, that comment both elated and worried her. “Then don’t question my methods.”

“Okay.” He slumped down onto the couch, too rocked by the evening’s events to consider doubting her. “I’m so damn confused, Mac.”

“You’re entitled to be. They don’t make self-help books for this one.”

“But I ought to be able to handle it better. I ought to be happy, for God’s sake. I thought she was gone, and now I have a chance to know her again. The thing is... what happened to her feels like such a big part of who I am, and I don’t know how to undo that. I’m not even sure if I want to.”

“It’ll be all right. Unlock your door.”

He frowned even as he moved to comply. “Mac, a Tomcat couldn’t have gotten you here this fast.”

“Just open the door, would you?”

He did, and a few seconds later, Mac walked through it, dropping her cell phone on his desk. She took one look at him, at the utter helplessness that marred his features, and immediately wrapped her arms around his neck.

“I was out front in my car,” she confessed as he returned the embrace, willingly receiving the strength she offered. “Just in case.”

“You’re incredible,” he mumbled into her shoulder.

She stayed for an hour, and in that time only a few words passed between them. She didn’t need to be told, and he didn’t want to speak. Yet that nearly silent visit would be his foundation for the days and weeks to come.

 

 

 

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