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Classification Angst, Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 70,000 words; 185 pages (8 ˝” x 11”)
Spoilers Anything up to and including “Back in the Saddle”, although the story deviates from canon.
 
Rating GS
Summary Harm and Mac try to deal with the aftermath of their trip to Paraguay. There is a bit of angst.

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

 

 

Chapter 1

1800
North of Union Station
Harm's apartment


I must be the most stupid man on the planet. I really must. I gave up everything for Mac, and she didn't even say thanks. No, she pointed out every mistake I've ever made, every flaw I've ever had. And then, to top it off, she told me I was nuts for resigning my commission to save her friggin' life. Would she prefer to be dead? Because if I hadn't done what I did, she and Webb would both be dead, Sadiq would have 100 Stinger missiles, and Gunny would be wandering the streets of Ciudad del Este waiting for the cavalry to show up.

But what the hell. Webb told her he loves her. He showed it by almost getting her tortured and killed. So she runs to him? I've said it before, "the men she picks."

So I can't open my mouth and say the words. What ever happened to the concept that actions speak louder than words? Of course, with Mac, I get both. She doesn't care about me, probably never has. I was deluding myself when I thought that we might someday manage to get together. Right now, I'm not so sure that I want to be with her. Looking back at the past six months, I can't honestly remember a single, solitary incident that shows that she's even my friend. She tried to deep six my career on more than one occasion. She let me sit in the brig for a month and didn't even give me time to answer her question about whether or not I was okay when I finally got out. If she really cared, would she have done that? I don't think so. I'm beginning to think that she was just stringing me along, although I sure don't know why.

And what the hell was that today with the Admiral? "You're not a team player." He lost me completely on that one. I'm not a team player? I'm not the one who forgot the concept of "leave no team member behind." I'm not the one who said, "Do what you have to do." I'm not the one who ordered everyone to desert a member of the team who was being tried for a murder he didn't commit. Maybe I just dreamed up all the times I rescued him or his daughter or Mac, or the time I kept him from killing someone in revenge.

For the first time since 1992, I wish I hadn't survived a crash. It would be a hell of a lot easier to be dead than to be sitting here in the middle of the wreckage that is my life. At least back then I still had a job. Maybe not the one I wanted, but at least there was a paycheck coming in. Now, as Mac so kindly put it, I have nothing.

Nothing but an annoying former friend and colleague who's been pounding on my door intermittently for the past half hour. You would think that he'd have given up by now and gone home. But not Sturgis. Nope, ever the preacher's kid, he keeps on knocking and periodically saying he knows I'm in here. I wonder what it'll take to make him go away. I can't even tell him to, because then he'd hear my voice, and I'm not sure I can control it. And I'll be damned if I'll give anyone at JAG the satisfaction of knowing just how depressed I feel right now.

Dead could be good. No more frustration, no more pain. No more visions of the future stretching out endlessly and empty. My sidearm could take care of things in a split second. I wonder if that's why I've been sitting here holding it. Could I really put the gun to my temple and pull the trigger? Would anyone care if I did? Probably not. Hell, unless I did it now, while Sturgis is still lurking in the hallway, it could be months before anyone even knew I was dead.

Yep. There's a full clip in it. The click it makes as I shove it back into the butt is satisfying in a way. I take off the safety, and I put it to my head. The metal is cold, but if I pull the trigger, the cold will turn to heat for a split second. And then it will be over.

I have to admit, I'm tempted. But not enough to actually do it. I wish I knew why. It's not like I have any reason not to. But I just realized that at some point, in a moment of weakness, I made out a will in which I left some personal things to Sarah Mackenzie. And now, well, I don't want her to have anything more of mine. She already has taken my heart and my soul and my career. I'll be damned if I let her have anything else.

I pull the gun away from my temple and let my eyes roam around the room. I really do feel destructive, so I need to find something to shoot. There, on the wall above my desk. The perfect target. I aim and fire. Bull's eye. I aim again, and once again I fire. Another direct hit.

Shit! For a second I forgot that Sturgis was in the hall. Now it sounds like he's trying to break down the door. Next thing I know, he'll be calling the police. I can't face him. I can't face the DC police. How the hell am I gonna get out of this one?


~~~~~~~~~~


Hmm, it's easier to get down via the fire escape than I would have thought. I can hear the sirens in the distance growing louder as I sprint toward my car. The 'Vette roars to life and I slip it into gear. Sturgis, old friend, I'm sorry. I honestly did forget you were there for a second. But you'll survive the encounter with the cops. And maybe in another lifetime, I'll get a chance to explain.


Chapter 2


1820
North of Union Station
Hall in Harm's apartment building

 


What the heck?! Gunshots? Good God, surely Harm wouldn't ... I can't even complete the thought. But then again, who knows? His expression, as he walked out of JAG ops this morning scared the hell out of me. If I hadn't been cutting it close on an appointment, I'd have talked to him then. But duty called, and I answered. And then I came over here as soon as I could, knowing Harm needs a friend more today than he has in years.

But he hasn't let me in. It looks like he's now hiding behind real walls as well as emotional ones. The email I got from Gunny had me worried even before I realized that the Admiral had decided to rid himself of his "problem child." Apparently things could not have been worse between Harm and Mac. Once again, the poor sap got dumped for a lesser man. And to think I used to consider her to be an intelligent woman. Maybe she's suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Shoot. What am I doing? I need to call the police. Harm could be in there lying in a pool of blood. Thank God for cell phones. I report the shots, then continue my onslaught on the door. Harm's apartment is completely silent now. I wish I had his skills at lock-picking.

A squad car makes good time, especially for this time of day. I make a brief report, and then the police officers shoot the lock and shove open the door. I'm almost afraid to even look; I honestly don't know that I can bear to see my oldest friend's lifeless form.

I notice that one of the policemen is talking to me. "Sir, are you sure you heard gunshots? Because there is no one in here. And the only exit besides the front door leads to a fire escape, and it's got a locked dead-bolt on it."

"Yes, I'm sure I heard two gunshots. And I know that the resident of this apartment was in here, because I heard him moving around not long before that. And I've been out in the hall, so he couldn't have come out through the door."

The cop hems and haws. "Well, Sir, I can't really say anything about that. All I know is that the only people in this apartment are us and you."

"Hey, Tony! There were shots fired. Get a load of this!" The younger patrolman gestures to Harm's sofa. Harm's service weapon is lying on the black leather seat, and there are two spent shells on the floor in front. The acrid smell of gunpowder permeates the sitting area. "What the hell did he shoot? I don't see any blood."

The cop sounds almost as puzzled as I feel. If Harm was here and fired two shots, where is he now? I didn't hear a thing after the shots rang out. If Harm left, it had to be by way of the fire escape. But you'd think I would have heard the door open and close. And we still haven't figured out what he shot at.

I sit down on the sofa and sweep the room with my eyes. Nothing seems to be damaged in the sitting area, or the kitchen, or the bookcases near the door. In fact, everything seems perfectly normal, till my gaze lands on Harm's desk. There is a small pile of broken glass on the end near the wall. I slowly look upwards on that section of wall…Well, I'll be damned. There used to be a picture of Harm and Mac on that wall, taken in what now seem to be the good old days. They were on a mission in Afghanistan, and someone caught them on film, laughing and joking, and somehow enjoying a brief moment in that God-forsaken wasteland. Harm and Mac had both framed their copies of the photo, and Harm had hung his over his desk. Now, however, he's apparently used it for target practice. Where Mac's laughing face once was, there is now a nine millimeter hole. Same for his. Two faceless bodies in desert BDUs.

I drag my attention back to the police officers. "Yes, I know there seems to be no crime. Sorry for your trouble." I rise and escort them to the door.

One of them speaks. "You know, Sir. You seem to be concerned about your friend. If you truly believe he's a danger to himself or others, you could look into getting a mental inquest warrant for him."

I try to be gracious. "Thank you, Officer. I'm an attorney. I know about those. We'll see."

The officers nod and leave.

I guess I better call a locksmith. Don't want to leave Harm's apartment wide-open. Since all he has left is what's in this place, I'd hate to be responsible for anything being stolen.

Waiting for the locksmith to arrive gives me time to think about Mac and Harm. Damn them both. Neither one has enough insight into the other to avoid screwing up what could be a beautiful relationship. Of course, it doesn't help that Harm, at the very least, also doesn't have enough insight into himself. He wouldn't know how to open up to Mac if he wanted to. Hell, for all I know, he does want to. But he can't even admit it to me, and we've been friends for over twenty years. God only knows how badly he blew it in Paraguay. And knowing Mac, she was probably even worse.


1930
 

Finally, the lock on Harm's door is repaired, and I've got multiple keys. But I've got to find him, if only to give him his new key. I also want to see for myself that he's going to be around tomorrow. If I know him as well as I think I do, that gun was not originally pointed at the picture. I'm glad that he at least took out his anger on something inanimate. But next time it could be himself. And I don't have so many friends that I can afford to lose one. Especially not one like Harmon Rabb, Jr.

I pay the locksmith, then head toward my car. Maybe I can get in an hour or two of searching before the light fails.


Chapter 3


1900
Georgetown
In front of Mac's apartment

 

It's amazing how your car sometimes seems to know where to go when your brain is half dead. You get in, turn the key, put it in gear, hit the accelerator, and the next thing you know, you've reached your destination without ever being aware of how you got there. It's too damn bad that my car got it wrong this time.

After peeling out of my own neighborhood, two steps ahead of Sturgis's cops, I drove aimlessly around the District for a while. I have nowhere to go, nowhere to be, no one to see. When I was in junior high school, we had to read a story called "The Man without a Country." I guess I'm "the man without a life." I wish I had a clue what to do now. I can't go back to my apartment till I'm sure that Sturgis is gone. And I have nowhere else to go. I realized at some point that all the people I thought were my friends were not. Well, I guess Sturgis is, but I can't face him right now. I'm too emotionally unstable. I might actually let him see how I feel. And then he'd feel sorry for me. And that would undo me completely.

So on I drove. And finally the car seemed to choose a destination. Stupid piece of fiberglass. I found myself in Georgetown, stopped across the street from Mac's building. There's no sign of life in her apartment -- the lights are off; the windows are shut. I don't see her Corvette anywhere around either, but she might have parked in back. I shake my head at my own stupidity. If she returns and sees me sitting here, she'll know that I'm hopelessly screwed up. Can't have that. I step on the clutch and ease the stick shift back into first gear. I pull the car into the traffic lane and begin another trip. Wonder where I'll wind up this time.

~~~~~~~~~~

Damn him. Where the hell would Harm go? I've been past McMurphy's. No red 'Vettes in the vicinity. He's not at Benzinger's, although I'm not sure he'd ever set foot in there again after the fiasco with Lt. Singer. Ordinarily, I'd say he'd make for Mac's like a homing pigeon, but that dog won't hunt this time. Bud and Harriet's? Nah. He'd be too afraid of losing it in front of them, and he wouldn't want to upset her in her current condition. Maybe my dad will have an idea. I pull over to stop the car and reach for my cell phone to call him. At times like this, I'm glad I still have my father to turn to for advice or even just a sympathetic ear. I've always felt bad for Harm and Keeter, losing their fathers as young as they were. Before I finish punching in Dad's number, I realize where Harm has gone. I turn around and head for the Mall.


I find him just where I figured he'd be. Harm's slumped on the ground, his back against the Wall, beneath his father's name. He looks like hell. If I didn't know better, I'd swear he's been crying. But in the twenty-two years since we met on the parade ground at Annapolis, I've never known Harm to cry. Then again, I've never known him to show any weakness at all if he could help it. Sometimes I can't imagine what it must be like to be him -- to need to be the best at everything in a vain attempt to live up to the image of a ghost. It's a hell of a lot easier to meet the standards of Chaplain Turner.

I wish I knew what to say to him. What can I say? Harm has had the year from hell, and it just got worse. I did my fair share to make his life difficult, a fact which makes me understand to a point why he wouldn't open the door earlier this evening. But he needs a friend, and I'm his best shot at this point. I don't even feel comfortable telling him that things will work out. Right now, I honestly don't think that they will. I'm afraid he's finally done it this time. It's a crying shame that the Admiral picked this incident to use for a showdown though. We all figured that the Admiral actually wanted Harm to go find Mac and just went through the motions of pushing him to resign so that if Harm ran into trouble, our CO could keep JAG out of it. It never occurred to any of us that the Admiral would actually send the paperwork on to BUPERS.

I'd love to know what's going on in the Admiral's mind right now. Or then again, maybe not. It might make me lose even more respect for him than I already have. Harm's always been an independent thinker, but to say he's not a team player? C'mon, Admiral. That's horse hockey and you know it.

Harm hasn't moved in the fifteen minutes I've been standing behind this tree, trying to get up the nerve to approach him. He looks like he's in shock, come to think of it. His face is ashen, his eyes flat. He looks a lot like he did the first time I saw him after his ramp strike. Only this time, he's got nothing to cling to. He's lost it all. And for what? Crap.

~~~~~~~~~~

Sturgis thinks I don't know he's here, lurking behind that tree, staring at me. I probably ought to wonder what he's thinking or even why he's here, but I can't summon the energy. I can't even summon the energy to move. So here I sit, my back against the Wall, (I wonder if that is irony -- my back's against the wall, but I have no plan) as the shadows lengthen with the setting sun. Most of the tourists have left, gone on to their restaurant dinners and motel swimming pools. The few people here at the moment seem to be the victims of this terrible war: guys in wheel chairs, guys on crutches, their old, army green fatigue jackets rumpled and faded.

Not for the first time, I wonder how my life would be different if my dad hadn't been captured back in 1969. What if he had come home at the end of his tour? Would I have been driven to become a naval aviator? Would I have become the "loose cannon" that Chegwidden believes I am? I'd give my eyeteeth to know when he stopped approving of my methods. It seems like one day I was the golden boy and the next I was the black sheep, but I'll be damned if I ever saw it coming. It would have been nice to have had some warning. Maybe I would have tried to change. But we'll never know.

Shit. Sturgis seems to have made up his mind. He's heading in my direction. If I try to leave, he'll just chase me down. In my current frame of mind and state of fatigue, I couldn't outrun him if I tried. I guess I might as well try to salvage some shred of dignity. I stand up and walk across the grass to meet him.

"Sturgis, what the hell are you doing here?" I ask, trying not to sound too pissed.

"Looking for you, Buddy. I was worried about you, especially after I heard those gunshots."

He looks like he might actually care. I wonder why. The last time we talked, he was angry because he thought I had given Bud bad advice about Sturgis's hearing on poor defense of that little weasel, Jeremy Duncan. Maybe Sturgis is a forgiving man. Must be his father's influence.

I shrug. "Thanks." I turn and fall into step beside him. "I'm not going to kill myself, if that's why you're here."

"But you considered it." His voice is deep and troubled.

Sturgis probably can't imagine why anyone would even entertain the thought, no matter how fleetingly. He's probably never had a moment of weakness in his life. That thought reminds me of the day Mac accused me of never having a moment of weakness. Of course, she quickly corrected herself, making snarky remarks about my father and my girlfriend. You'd think I'd have learned then that she has a mean streak. But no, I figured it was just the alcohol talking. After the comments she made during our trek out of the Paraguayan wilderness, to say nothing of the comments she continued to make all the way back to Washington, I can definitively state that it wasn't the alcohol. The vodka merely released her inhibitions enough for her to feel comfortable making them. I guess extreme stress works the same way.

My friend is looking at me, expecting an answer. "Yeah. I did. But just for a minute. It seemed like a reasonable alternative to living my life or what's left of it."

"So what stopped you?"

"I thought of Mac." I notice the shocked expression on his face.

"You didn't want to hurt her?"

"Hell no. If I'd thought it would hurt her, I might have done it." I see him flinch. "I remembered she's in my will and decided I didn't want her to get anything else of mine." I shove my hands in the pockets of my jeans. "I think she's already got enough."

Sturgis looks at me, his expression carefully controlled. I can't really tell if he's shocked more by my admission about considering suicide as a viable option or by my bitterness toward Mac.

"What the hell did she do to you, Harm?"

"Sturgis, I know you're trying to help. But if I really talk about it, I'll probably lose it. Right now, my control is hanging by a thread."

He shakes his head. "I just don't get it, Harm. The woman is in love with you."

"God, I hope not. I don't see how anyone could treat the person they love the way she treated me." I can hear the bitter tone in my voice, but I'm powerless to stop it.

"I thought you were in love with her." Now he really looks confused.

"I was. I probably still am. But it doesn't matter. She definitely doesn't love me. Doesn't even like me. God, I'm a fool, Sturgis."

"Why is that?"

"Because I threw away my career, my pension, everything, for her. And she doesn't care. I guess she would have preferred to be tortured and killed."

"Come on, Harm. She cares. Didn't she try to convince the Admiral to take you back?"

"Maybe, but I can't help but think that was guilt more than any real desire to help me. She was probably trying to salvage her own pride and not feel like she owed me one or something. Sturgis, you didn't hear the things she said to me from the moment I found her till we landed at Dulles. Trust me, if she likes me, I wouldn't want to see what it would be like to be hated by her."

Sturgis frowns. "Harm, I wouldn't lie to you. She told me herself she's in love with you."

"Right. If she did, it was a long time ago."

"Well, I can't argue with that. It was. But why would she change?"

"Hell, I don't know. Why did the Admiral go from liking me to firing me?" I look at him and try to grin but fail. "Don't answer that. It was a rhetorical question."

Sturgis shakes his head, his mouth twisted in a frown. "I can't answer that one, Buddy. It makes no sense to me at all. You're the best lawyer in the Navy. You're a decorated war hero. Bad PR if nothing else. Maybe you should sue him."

"Yeah. Right. I resigned my commission. Granted, I didn't really think he'd actually process it, but I did take the risk knowing it could happen. I don't have a case. Don't have any money to hire a lawyer either." My attempt at humor falls flat. Sturgis has always been a serious guy.

"So what now, Harm? Are you okay financially till you find a job?"

I'm not, but I'm not about to tell him that. If things get desperate, I'll ask Frank for a loan before I'll borrow from my friend. God, that sounds pathetic. Friend. In the singular, not the plural. "How the hell did I manage to screw up my life so much?"

"I can't answer that, my friend."

Oh, shit. I didn't say that aloud, did I? But I must have, or Sturgis wouldn't have answered. Shit.

He's talking again. "Other than your love life, which you've always managed to screw up, I don't think you did. I think things just got screwed up by circumstances and other people. Maybe it's a good thing. Maybe you can find something you like even better."

I snort in derision. "Better than military law and Tomcats? Not a chance in hell. Even Mac couldn't stomach civilian law. There's no way I'd be able to."

"So try something completely different. Use your Stearman to open up a flight school somewhere. Apply at the airlines or UPS. Look at the want ads in the back of Soldier of Fortune."

I roll my eyes. "Yeah, right. Actually, Sturgis, I think I better find me a job with the government somewhere. That way, I won't lose my entire retirement."

"You could always go to work for the CIA."

"Oh God."

"The way I see it, they owe you one. If you won't sue Chegwidden, then give your old buddy Kershaw a call. After all, you did go down there and single-handedly clean up Webb's mess."

"I had help, Sturgis. Gunny was there, and so was Mac."

"If you say so. The fact remains, if you hadn't gone down there, the situation would not have been resolved at all. Mac and Webb would be dead. So I think the Company owes you."

"Sturgis, I don't know if I could work for them. They aren't exactly brimming with devotion to integrity and the truth out there at Langley."

"I know, Harm. But it's just for two years. Then you can retire and start that flight school."

I feel queasy at the thought. Two years can be an eternity. It sure as hell was when Mac was with Brumby. "I don't know. Maybe I'm still too shell-shocked to think clearly yet."

"Tell Kershaw that you'll fly airplanes for him but he has to keep you away from the cloak and dagger stuff."

Trust Sturgis to come up with the one thing that might work between my sense of ethics and the CIA's lack of them. "I'll consider it. Okay?"

Sturgis finally looks like he might relax sometime in the next week. I must have really shaken him up. I don't suppose bubbleheads are used to quite this much adrenaline. "I do appreciate the concern. And I'm sorry I got you worried. I honestly didn't think about you being out in the hallway when I shot the gun."

"I understand. That reminds me. I need to give you the keys to your apartment."

He's lost me now. "You don't have any keys to my apartment. Unless Mac gave you her set."

Sturgis looks uncomfortable as he explains. "I called the police when I heard the shots. And they shot the lock off your door to get in. So after they left, I called a locksmith to make repairs. Sorry." He hands me a couple of keys.

"It's all right. Thanks for getting it fixed." I shrug my shoulders. "If I had let you in, you wouldn't have had to call the cops."

"True. Why wouldn't you?" Sturgis's question reminds me of why I didn't.

"Because you ask too damn many questions. I've spent a lifetime shutting people out; and you, my friend, don't seem to get the message." I swallow the lump that has appeared in my throat. "I was too upset to talk to you at the time."

"And now?"

I have to laugh. Sturgis is the most persistent guy I know. “And now I guess I'm glad you found me."

Sturgis looks relieved. "Good. So, Harm, what do you say to getting some food? I don't know about you, but I'm hungry."

I realize that for the first time since I talked to the Admiral I do feel like eating. "Yeah. Let's go eat."


2100
Cafe near Union Station

 

"Thanks, Sturgis. Eating was a good idea." Harm is toying with a cup of tea. He's lost a little of the dazed expression he had when I found him, but he still looks pretty ragged.

"No problem. I needed dinner too." I sip my coffee, trying to decide what to talk about next when Harm opens his mouth.

His voice cracks as he says, "You know what hurts the most, Sturg?"

I shake my head.

"She didn't even say thanks." The defeated look is back on his face.

"What do you mean?" Surely he can't mean what I think he's saying. Mac couldn't possibly be that thoughtless.

"She didn't say thank you. When I found her, she was shackled to a table and was about to be tortured with red-hot steel wool attached to a car battery."

"Good Lord." I can't fathom what that sight must have done to the man who's been in love with her as long as Harm has.

"I had just killed more men than I can count to get to her, and she didn't even say thanks. She glared at me." He takes another swig of his tea. "I could understand it then. Things were still happening and were pretty intense. But after the crash..."

"The crash?" It's obvious I haven't heard half the details yet.

"Yeah, we crashed a plane. Anyway, I was unconscious and she left. When I finally stumbled onto a road and found her, you'd think she could have at least said, 'Thanks for saving my sorry hide, Harm.' But she yelled at me for crashing the plane. And for every other thing I've ever done in the eight years we've known each other that she didn't like. When we met back up with Gunny and Webb, she hugged them and thanked them for saving her. But she never thanked me."

His voice is flat, but I can tell it's not because he has no emotions. It's because he has so many, he's feeling overwhelmed. It's a good thing that Mac isn't here right now, because I'm not sure what I would do. He's looking at me, waiting for a reaction.

"God, Harm. I don't know what to say. I mean, geez. What about when you told her you resigned your commission?"

He tries to laugh. "I believe that is when she looked up at me and said, 'Harm, are you nuts? That job is all you had.'" Harm shrugs. "She was right. She's always right. Just ask her. Anyway, I need to go, Sturgis." He puts the cup back in its saucer and pushes his chair away from the table. "Thanks for being here for me."

"Any time, man." I rise too and walk with him out of the cafe. We reach our cars, and I put out a hand to stop him. "Harm..." I can see the tears in his eyes now that we're in the brightly lit parking lot. Mac has a lot to answer for.

"I promise. I won't do anything stupid. For one thing, it would destroy my mother. For another, like I said before, I don't want to give Mac the satisfaction." He tries to grin. "If it makes you feel any better, you can follow me to my place, and I'll let you have my gun."

"All right." I'm pretty sure that he's going to be okay, but I'll sleep better tonight if I know that he'll have to go to a lot of trouble to end it all. I hope that tomorrow will be a little better for him. It sure as hell can't be any worse. I get in my car and follow him home.

 

Chapter 4

Three days later
1300
Falls Church, Virginia
JAG Headquarters

 

The atmosphere here at JAG Ops is so cold lately that we really need for the Admiral to declare it's time to switch to winter uniforms. Forget what the outside temperature is; inside I'd say that it's about thirty-one degrees Fahrenheit. The tension is so high that if Tom Ridge were here, he'd be looking for a color worse than red. As it is, neither Coates nor Harriet has smiled since Harm left over a week ago on his quest to save Mac. Bud is solemn, and every other attorney on the staff is staying out of the Admiral's way.

He hasn't said anything to anyone as far as I know, but I think the Admiral might be beginning to realize that organizations are like starfish. You can cut off a limb, but you can't remove the heart and expect it to keep living. Whether anyone will admit it or not, Harmon Rabb was the heart of this office. Without him here, it's a cold and lifeless place. The work is getting done; we're all too professional not to do our duty, but the laughter and camaraderie that used to permeate the place is gone. If anyone has let Ted Lindsey know about the changes here, I bet he's laughing his head off in Leavenworth.

I've talked to Harm a couple of times. Thank God he hasn't done anything more stupid than shoot that photograph. The morning after our conversation, the deputy director of the CIA called him and offered him a job in their air wing. Harm tells me he accepted it, and he starts training on Monday. He's not really happy about working for the Agency --he's too aware of the ethical dilemmas he might face -- but as he said, he needs a federal job so that his sacrifice for Mac won't be a total waste of his entire adult life.

I would like to think that there is some hidden agenda working here -- that the Admiral didn't really toss Harm to the wolves of the CIA the way it looks like he did. It seems kind of fishy to me that the CIA would come calling the day after the Navy tells Harm it doesn't want him any more. But if there is some secret deal between Chegwidden and Kershaw, neither Harm nor I have heard about it. It's probably just wishful thinking on my part. I'll admit it. I want Harm back here at JAG. It's not a good place to work anymore. Hasn't been since he got arrested back in April. If something doesn't change around here soon, I think I'm going to talk to my detailer about a transfer. Corrosion prevention detail is beginning to sound more enjoyable than this.

As for Mac, well, I can barely stand to look at her. She seems to be her normal self from what I can tell. Maybe she's really a space alien. I cannot imagine anyone going through what she's just gone through, even if a Marine, and not being affected by it. But Mac seems fine. She smiles at the appropriate times and places, does her work efficiently and competently, and leaves here each evening to go straight to Clayton Webb's hospital room.

I must admit, I'm dreading the next day or two. The Admiral just assigned us to go to Norfolk on an investigation. Hmm. Maybe I'll talk to some people down there, feel 'em out about whether or not it's too late to return to a sub. I sure as hell don't want to spend my free time with her.

I realize that every story has two sides to it, and that the truth is generally somewhere in the middle, but my gut is telling me that this time the truth is pretty close to what Harm told me the other night. He would not have put a loaded gun to his head over nothing. Plus, I've known him for over twenty years. And I've never known him to lie about something like this. If he says that she sniped at him from the get go, then I believe she did. If he says she didn't even say thanks, then I'd stake my soul on the fact that she didn't. And I'm having a real problem getting past the ingratitude. I cannot comprehend that at all. And unless she gives me a reason that makes sense, I can't forgive it. It's going to be an awfully long drive down to Norfolk this afternoon. I think I'll tell Mac I'm driving.


1400
Navy automobile
I-95

 

The glass feels nice and cool against my cheek. Sort of like the atmosphere at JAG ever since I returned to duty the other day. Scratch that. "Cool" doesn't begin to describe the reception I got when I got back. More like "frigid." Sheesh. You'd think that I'm the one who got Harm fired or something. I'm not the impulsive idiot who resigned his commission to go chasing down to Paraguay to rescue someone who is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Gunny was there. He'd have saved us. As I distinctly recall, he was part of that little rescue mission. Harm didn't have to throw away his entire life like he did. So why do people like Harriet and Bud keep looking at me like I shot Bambi?

And it's not like I didn't try to talk the Admiral into letting Harm come back to JAG. So why the hell is everyone mad at me? I don't get it. If it's because I've been going to see Clay at the hospital, then the hell with 'em. He almost died to protect me. The least I can do is visit him. Harm'll be fine. He always is. The man has more lives than a cat. I heard some scuttlebutt that he's going to be flying full time for the CIA. He'll enjoy that. So why is everyone mad at me?

I sit up straight again and glance over at Sturgis. His eyes are fixed squarely on the road, his jaw tight. It looks like he's clenching his teeth. I really thought that Sturgis was my friend. But apparently Navy blue blood is thicker than friendship, and he's chosen to take Harm's part over mine without even hearing my side of the story. He hasn't spoken more than two or three sentences to me all week. This investigation is going to be difficult if Sturgis doesn't get over his sulking and start talking to me. It doesn't look like he's going to be initiating any conversation any time soon. I guess I'll try to get a nap. I'm still exhausted from the trip to Paraguay.


1430
I-95 South


This isn't working. I can't sleep in this car, knowing that there is a six-foot plus tall iceberg in the driver's seat looking daggers at me every time his head turns in this direction. I'm going to set the record straight right now.

"Sturgis, I think we need to talk." My voice sounds too loud to me, but maybe it's just because of the contrast with the dead silence of the ride so far.

He glances over at me, a frown twisting his lips and puckering his forehead. "I think we covered everything we need to about the investigation before we left the office, Colonel."

I never realized that his voice could sound quite that cold. I shiver. I swear, you can almost see icicles hanging from his lips. "I don't want to talk about the case, Sturgis. Or should I say 'Commander?' Are we going to be formal even in the car?"

He shrugs. "Suit yourself."

If I weren't in an automobile going down the interstate at sixty-five miles an hour, I'd be tempted to stomp out of the place, slamming the door behind me. But I am in the car, and we've got another two hours on this road. And I've had it with the attitude of my coworkers this week. "Dammit, Sturgis. I'm not the bad guy here."

"I never said you were." His voice is deep and completely devoid of emotion. I swear, the man is really a Vulcan.

"So who did? Harm? I can't believe even he would stoop that low." I'm really angry now.

"You know better than that, Mac. To the best of my knowledge, Harm hasn't talked to anyone at JAG since the Admiral threw him out."

"Then would you like to tell me why suddenly I'm the office pariah? And don't tell me that I'm not, because I'm not stupid."

"No, you're not stupid. But sometimes you do seem to get target-fixated. And when you do, you can't see the forest for the trees."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I'm about to lose my temper here, and if Sturgis had the sense God gave a flea, he'd back off now.

"It means that you sometimes get fixated on one detail and fail to see the bigger picture. And that's what you're doing now."

"And just what am I fixated on right now?" I glare at him to emphasize my point.

"You're fixated on yourself and your own situation. Your problem is how people are treating you at the office this week." He shrugs again. "Mac, I hate to burst your bubble, but you aren't the center of the universe. People at the office have worries other than your feelings. And right now, a lot of people are more concerned about Harm than they are about you."

I cannot believe he just said that. How cruel can a person be? I'll be damned if I let that last comment go unaddressed. "Sturgis, there is no reason on God's green earth for people to be mad at me because of Harm. As always, he has landed on his feet. Hell, he even got a week of vacation time out of the deal. I hear that he gets to start doing nothing but flying for a living next week. As usual, Harm lies down in dung but comes out smelling like a rose."

"Do you really believe that?"

"Why shouldn't I?"

"Because if you do, I take back what I said. You are stupid."

He returns his complete attention to the road, his lips compressed. Anger radiates off him in waves. Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut. The chill was infinitely preferable to this. But I'm not going to let this go. "Sturgis, if you think I'm such a self-centered person, why not answer my original question? Why are people treating me like it's my fault that Harm is no longer in the Navy?"

He sighs deeply. "Because it is."

"No, it's not. I didn't tell him to get a wild hair up his ass and resign his commission just because Clay and I had missed a couple of check-ins. He thought that up all by himself."

"I know you didn't tell him to. But if you hadn't gone running off to Paraguay with Webb, you wouldn't have needed rescuing. And Harm wouldn't have had to resign to do it. And if I hear you say that you didn't need him to go down there one more time, I may forget every shred of courtesy I ever learned from my parents." He purses his lips as if he's thinking. "Mac, tell me something. If Harm hadn't shown up, at the precise moment that he did, where do you think you'd be right this minute?"

"Gunny would have rescued us." I honestly don't see why nobody but me can understand that.

"Like I said, Mac. You're target-fixated. Let me tell you the truth. Gunny wouldn't have saved you. When Harm got to Ciudad del Este, Gunny was just hanging around the town square waiting for the cavalry to show up. He was alone in Paraguay and wasn't planning on going after the two of you by himself."

"I suppose that Harm told you this? Gunny's a Marine. He'd have rescued us."

Sturgis rolls his eyes. "Good grief, Mac. Why are you so intent on making Harm either the villain or the village idiot? Harm didn't tell me squat about what happened in Paraguay. I got all this from Gunny. And if he bothered to send me an email, I imagine other people got them as well."

I stare at him, my mouth wide open. I don't believe this, but Sturgis wouldn't lie, not even to protect Harm.

"And before you go and get ticked at Gunny, let me remind you that there is no way he could have rescued you and Webb all by himself."

"Fine. So what am I supposed to believe?"

"How about the truth?" His eyes narrow as he glances in my direction. "Or is that going to be too painful to hear?"

"So what is the truth?" I can take it. I'm a Marine.

"The truth is that the CIA was going to let you and Webb die. They didn't give a rat's ass about any part of that mission except perhaps getting the Stingers taken care of. Webb ticked them off over the Angel Shark, and you were part of that. They have a policy of not negotiating with terrorists, along with a belief that if you get caught, you pay the price. For some unknown reason, the Admiral was going to let you die too. Harm asked him to send him to Paraguay TAD, even gave him a decent cover story. When the Admiral refused, Harm asked for leave. The answer was again 'No.' So Harm said he'd resign his commission if he had to. He couldn't let you die. And Chegwidden shrugged his shoulders and said, 'Do what you have to do.'" He looks at me, ice in his eyes. "Now do you understand?"

 

Chapter 5

1445
I-95

 

Mac shrugs. "So Harm probably figured that the Admiral would file his resignation papers in a drawer and tear them up when he got back from Paraguay."

I shake my head. "Mac, you know better than that. I think Harm probably hoped that would be the way it played out, but he knew that there was a good chance that he'd just thrown away his career. He'd been in the Admiral's sights ever since he disobeyed orders to stay on the Seahawk when Bud was injured a year ago."

"Well, I disobeyed orders then, too." She looks smug.

"True. But for whatever reason, the only one who got chewed out was Harm. Do you want me to quote chapter and verse about every time the Admiral has chewed Harm a new six, even when he wasn't the only one who deserved it?"

She shakes her head as she says, "No, I'll take your word for it. You'd probably point out how I deserved to be in trouble each time too." She shifts in her seat, pulling on the seatbelt as if it's choking her. "Look, Sturgis, you know that Harm is probably thrilled with the new job. He loves flying more than anything or anyone."

I cannot believe it. Mac is either completely oblivious or totally in denial. "Mac, you're wrong. Harm loves flying *Tomcats* more than anything else he's ever done. Being a JAG lawyer is a close second. He spent his entire life wanting to be a naval officer. And now, eighteen years into what was once a hell of a career, it's gone. Flying for the CIA isn't going to bring him joy. Harm has always defined himself as a naval officer. It's gone -- which means that his identity is gone as well. As for loving flying more than 'anyone,' I beg to differ with you." She looks like she doesn't believe me. "And Mac, you've worked with the Agency. Can you honestly say you believe Harm will be happy in that environment?"

"What's wrong with it? Clay likes it." Her tone reminds me of a sulky teenager, and her chin is jutting out.

"Gee, I don't know. The complete lack of regard for the truth? The complete lack of loyalty for the rest of the team? The 'screw up and we'll let you die' mentality? Remember, Mac, it's that attitude that sent Harm haring down to Paraguay to save you. If he gets into trouble, are you going to return the favor?"

"Sturgis, that's beside the point."

"Is it? Mac, I honestly don't understand where you're coming from. The guy gave up everything he had, everything he'd worked for his entire life, for you, and you can't even be grateful." I turn my attention back to the road. Talking to Mac right now is like talking to a brick wall. Except the wall wouldn't argue.

"Of course I'm grateful. Why would you say that I'm not?" Her eyes are blazing with anger. "Let me guess. Your good buddy Harm told you I'm not. Probably right after he told you all the rest of the gory details of our weekend in sunny South America."

"Mac, Harm has told me very little about the trip. But the one thing he did say was that you could have at least said thanks." Right now, I wonder why I ever thought she and Harm might make it as a couple. Surely Harm can find someone who would at least appreciate his inept attempts at showing her how he feels.

"That's a pretty nasty thing to say."

"Why? Because it's true?" I roll my eyes. "Mac, I thought you said you could handle the truth."

"I can. But the truth is that I did thank Gunny for saving us. Gave him a hug and everything."

Unbelievable. "Did you hear what you just said?"

"I said I thanked Gunny for saving me and Webb."

"You did. What about Harm? Didn't he deserve a word of thanks?"

"Well, of course he did."

"So why didn't he get one?"


1500
I-95

 

Oh Lord. Sturgis can't be right, can he? Surely I must have thanked Harm for saving me, especially after I found out he had to resign his commission in order to do it. He's my best friend. Of course I thanked him. I try to replay the weekend in my head. Harm burst into the torture room. Shot the guards. Freed me. We went and found Gunny and Webb. Harm was changing the tire while I talked to Webb. Harm and I went looking for the Stingers and found the farmer with the plane. We destroyed the missiles, but the fuel tank got shot, and Harm crashed the plane. I probably didn't thank him then. I mean, first I was in shock when I saw him standing in that doorway. And then we were too busy trying to salvage the mission to worry about polite niceties. But after we crashed...Harm was unconscious. And bleeding. And I left him alone in the jungle to see if I could find the ranch to see if we'd killed all the terrorists. And then when I came back to find him, he shot at me in the truck. And I got out, and I was pissed, I'll admit it. So I probably didn't thank him then either. And after that, we just kept sniping at each other. So maybe I didn't thank him after all.

"I guess you're right, Sturgis. I never did thank Harm for saving my life. Want me to send him a thank you note?" I can't keep the snarky tone out of my voice. So I forgot to thank him. He should know I'm grateful. We've been friends long enough for him to know how I feel.

"Mac, what I want is immaterial here. You asked why everyone was upset with you. I endeavored to give you a straight answer. It's not my fault if you don't like it."

He stares out the windshield at the highway. Sometimes, Sturgis's unflappable personality is really annoying. I know that he is angry with me, but you can't really tell from his tone of voice. It's all in his body language. His shoulders are tense, and his knuckles are almost white where they grip the steering wheel. If he'd only say something really nasty or yell, I could deal with that. But his cool, imperturbable, polite comments are making me want to smack him. But no. Not Sturgis. He honestly believes that I'm responsible for the trashing of his oldest friend's life, and all he does is tell me in that matter-of-fact tone that used to drive Singer crazy. No wonder she used to get so mad at him.

Crap. There must be something wrong with me if I'm identifying with Singer. Uh oh. He looks like he's going to talk again.

"Mac, I've been wondering. Did you and Harm have a fight or something down there?"

Now where did that come from? "I don't know that you'd call it a fight. But I guess we were kind of short with each other. Why?"

"Because you seem awfully defensive about the whole subject, and so does he. When I tried to talk to him, I didn't get much of anything out of him except how he didn't know what the hell to do with his life."

"He has the job with the CIA, remember?"

"This was before that." He rearranges his hands on the steering wheel. "I did get the feeling that he wasn't feeling very good."

Harm not feeling good? Yeah right. "Sturgis, why wouldn't Harm be feeling good? He isn't the one who almost got tortured to death."

"True. Harm was the one who got the concussion in the plane crash and woke up to find you gone. He was the one who went wandering through the jungle seeing two of everything, before going back to try to catch the last terrorist."

I snort. "Harm didn't have a concussion, Sturgis."

"Really. When was the last time you got qualified in first aid, Mac?"

"I don't know. A couple of years probably. Why?"

He sighs. "Because, Mac, I would think that you should have recognized that he had a concussion. He was unconscious for how long?"

"How should I know? Maybe half an hour to an hour?"

"He had blurred vision, was dizzy, and according to the little you've told me, was irritable. All of those are symptoms of a concussion, which is almost a given if someone is unconscious for more than about ten seconds."

"You're kidding!" I really am surprised. Maybe I do need to take a refresher first aid course.

"Mac, did you know he was having any of those problems? Other than the unconsciousness, which you had already seen, that is."

I suddenly feel a little ill myself. "He did say he was having double vision. And he wasn't very steady on his feet at first."

"But you didn't check his eyes? Ask if he had a headache? Didn't get the least bit concerned?"

I shrug. "No, it didn't occur to me. If he was having problems, he should have said something."

Sturgis makes some sort of noise that sounds like he's choking on a sausage. "In the middle of a mission? Don't think I see it myself."

I decide to be gracious. "I guess not. He wouldn't want to show any weakness, would he?"

"Mac, you know what I mean. I hope."

Sturgis looks like he's trying to decide whether or not to bring something else up. His eyes keep darting over at me then back at the road. I think he's going to do it.

"Plus, he wasn't in very good shape before he even left Washington."

"What is that supposed to mean? I went to see him before I left, and he looked all right to me."

"How long did you talk to him?" Sturgis's eyes are smoldering.

"Maybe five, ten minutes. I asked him if he was okay."

"And what did he say?"

I feel like I'm being cross-examined. "He didn't. He noticed the pregnancy suit and asked about it."

"And you just let it go?" The disapproval in his voice is suffocating.

"Well, yeah. He was hugging that guitar like it was a life-preserver. Then he put it down and said he didn't want me to go."

"And?"

"And I made a quick comment and left. I only had a few minutes before I had to meet Webb."

"Did it ever occur to you that the guitar *was* a life-preserver?"

"You lost me."

"Then let me try again. Harm has been through a lot in the last two months. Between the brig time and the trial and then your disappearance, he's about at the end of his rope. You didn't really see him after he got out of the brig, definitely didn't see him at the office. He was not himself."

"That's why I went to see him before I left."

"But you didn't let him talk to you about what was going on with him." He sounds like he's talking to a dimwitted child.

"He changed the subject." I feel a tiny bit ashamed though, as I recall that he changed the subject because I removed my jacket before he had a chance to tell me how he was.

"So why didn't you change it back?" His eyes bore into me.

I moisten my lips with my tongue. Definitely feel like I'm on the witness stand. "I don't know. Maybe because I didn't want to press it. I was leaving, and I didn't want to hear that he wasn't okay."

"Why not?"

"Because then I would have worried about him the whole time I was gone." Did I really say that? What the hell is the matter with me?

"But you didn't worry about him in Paraguay, even though you knew he was hurt?"

"Listen, Sturgis. I know you two go way back. And you have that whole ring-knocker thing going too. But Harm isn't perfect. He was pretty nasty to me in Paraguay."

"I don't doubt you. I'm sure he was. Who started it?"

"He did. The first glimpse I got of him, when I came back for him after the crash, he shot at me."

"Did he know it was you?"

"Well, actually, no. I was driving one of the terrorists' trucks."

"I see." His voice rumbles from deep in his chest. "He shot at you, thinking it was the terrorists. When he had recently woken up from being unconscious for at least half an hour and couldn't see straight, and had then trekked through the jungle for a while."

"Well, yeah."

"And so what happened when you got out of the truck? Did Harm start yelling at you or making nasty cracks?”

I knew there was something I really didn't like about Commander Sturgis Turner. He has a really disgusting habit of getting too close to the truth. And the truth here makes me uncomfortable. I try to get a look at his face without him knowing.

His face seems set in granite. Or perhaps marble. Something cold and hard. I take a deep breath and admit it. "No. I was the one who fired the first shot."

"And he returned fire?"

I nod. I'm starting to see things a little differently. And I don't like what I'm seeing.

 

 

 

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