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Classification JAG story, drama, angst, romance (H/M)
 
Length Approximately 63,000 words, 167 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Spoilers Through mid-season 8
Rating GS, some language
 
Author's Notes In no way do I see all gays as stereotypical. Edwin and Allen are based on two relatives of mine – one from each side of the family – whom I love dearly. Remember, in this story these are two 'gentlemen of a certain age' who 'came out' when being gay was much more of a handicap than it is today.

 

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

 

 

October 2003


The tall, auburn-haired woman walked briskly from the jet-bridge into the terminal at Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, dragging her wheeled carry-on bag behind her. The late October weather was much colder than the Indian Summer she had left behind in Washington. It made her glad she'd decided to put the liner in the Burberry trench coat she carried over her arm. Likely she'd need the extra warmth in the evening.

She was exhausted. If this trip hadn't been for a very special occasion, she would have skipped it. The 25th anniversary of two people who had been instrumental in making her what she was today wasn't something she could in good conscience ignore. She marveled at any couple who could stay together that long. Her own marriage had lasted all of six weeks, at least as far as them living under the same roof went.

She'd requested Friday and Monday leave for the weekend event months before, and had told the Admiral that it was extremely important to her. Fortunately, he hadn't pried. While she didn't think he was homophobic, telling him she was attending a 25th 'wedding' anniversary for two people named Edwin and Allen might not have gone over that well.

At least there was light at the end of the tunnel back at JAG. Well, maybe. Harm was coming back on Monday, though with the need to process in and accomplish the reams of personnel paperwork the military thrived on, it would probably be Wednesday or Thursday before he was actually on board to accomplish anything. Unfortunately, his replacement, Carolyn Imes, had ended up causing more work than she accomplished in the two months since she had transferred back from Naples.

It had come as a shock to all of them to find out someone they had worked with for so long and saw as an extremely competent attorney had never passed the bar. Mac saw a grain of logic in the woman's contention that it wasn't a necessary for her to have both graduated from law school and passed the bar. However, she knew very well that the change in regulation in 1991 had rendered that argument moot. It wouldn't get them far in court, though hopefully it would keep Commander Imes from anything more than dismissal.

That wouldn't alleviate the overturning of every conviction in the past 12 years where she had defended. It was a nightmare, one that was likely going to fall directly into Harm's lap. It would be automatically assumed that every defendant whose case she lost had inadequate counsel. Ironically, any case she got a conviction on as prosecutor stood. Fortunately, most of her cases in Europe had fallen in that category.

As she neared the end of the concourse, she saw Edwin waiting for her. As usual, he was animated and happy to see her. After a big hug and a European style kiss on each cheek, he held her away from him for a quick study. His grip was tight on each shoulder. "My dear, what have you been doing! You look dreadful!"

"Thanks, Edwin, I love you too!" she replied tartly. She knew she needed a haircut, color, a manicure. Lately, time for anything more than clean and presentable had been wanting.

"You know you're always stunning, Sarah! But you look exhausted." There was concern evident in the older man's face. He loved this woman like the daughter he never had.

"Work, work and more work. I haven't been out of the office before 2100 any night that I've been in DC in months. And I've been away a lot more than I've been home." She took a deep breath. "The times when I've been away have been even worse." In thinking about what she just said, one particular South American hell came to mind. Definitely worse.

"What's the matter, is the government short of lawyers?" He gave a chuckle. "Somehow, I can't imagine that!"

They left the relative warmth of the terminal, heading to the parking lot. She wasn't surprised to see Edwin stop at a new Hummer. He was always on board for the newest trends, and if 'macho big-boy toys' were what was hot, he'd have one. Fortunately, he had both the aplomb to carry off almost anything, the chutzpah to carry off anything he really shouldn't, and the money to satisfy any hankering he might have.

"No, not the government, but the military is." She climbed in the front seat gratefully. It was good to get away, even if for less than 72 hours. It literally was the first break she had since a short visit to Chloe during the holiday season the year before. All work and no play was making Sarah a very, very dull and tired girl.

"Does war raise your crime rate?" he asked with a trace of humor.

"No, not in the way you mean. But a lot of JAGs have had to deploy to deal with the ROEs. Mostly, it's the more junior ones who are actually in the field and with battle groups."

He nodded for her to go on. While he'd never been able to figure out what someone with Sarah's potential was doing in the military, he found her stories fascinating.

"That leaves us short-staffed at headquarters, and at the base level too. We've all had to pitch in and do some things we're not used to doing. I actually wrote some wills, powers of attorney and temporary child guardianship papers for deploying reservists last week because legal assistance was swamped and they had to be done that day. The unit was shipping out in 24 hours."

She took a deep breathe, a small smile breaking through at the memory of no less a personage than AJ Chegwidden interrupting court. They really were that shorthanded, and the case had been a relatively simple DDO. Unfortunately involving a Lieutenant Colonel and a Colonel, in front the entire command staff, which made if far more important than a PO disobeying an Ensign.

"The trial judge granted a continuance and started helping out too, as well as the other three attorneys involved." The smile got bigger as she remembered the look on some of the junior enlisted Marines faces when they realized Admiral Morris, the Navy's chief judge, and Admiral Chegwidden, the JAG, were writing up instructions on who should get their car and stereo if the worst happened. Actually, both seemed to enjoy it, especially Morris. He said he hadn't done any hands-on non-judicial legal work in over ten years.

"So, what about your love life?" He looked at her over his right shoulder as he put the gargantuan car in gear and drove out of the parking lot.

"Geez, Edwin, a world's record!" She shook her head with a short laugh. "I've been off the plane for exactly 16 minutes. You must be getting old!"

"Dodging the question, counselor?" He raised one eyebrow in a way that reminded her of someone else. Somehow on a British gentleman of 'certain years' as he referred to himself, it was nowhere near as sexy as when a certain sailor did it.

"No need. I have no love life." She gave a deep sigh. "Right now, I have no life outside of the office."

"Sarah, Sarah, Sarah! You know exactly who I'm talking about, so fess up, darling. I want to hear about the latest with tall, dark and gorgeous!"

To her old friend's utter surprise and shock, Sarah Caroline MacKenzie, for the first time in the almost 20 years he had known her, burst into tears.


University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus
Professor Allen Duchamp's office
November, 1987

 


"Miss MacKenzie, thank you for coming in on such short notice." A tall, distinguished looking man of about 50 motioned to the leather chair in front of his desk. He'd recently been appointed a department head, and had moved to roomier quarters in the building that held most of the social science faculty offices.

In any photo spread, he would be earmarked "college professor" complete with worn jeans, button down shirt and tweed jacket with suede elbow patches. On some men, the look would be ridiculous, but it appeared to be made for him.

The slightly built young woman, dressed in what he considered the worst of student fashion, seemed to fumble with her backpack, shuffle her feet and try to sink into the floor all at the same time. She mumbled something that might have been a greeting, or it could have been her laundry list. Speaking up was not one of this student's strong suits. She was still standing a few moments later.

"Have a seat. I have something I'd like to discuss with you."

Sarah sat, her long straight hair obscuring her face. She seldom looked up, almost never looked anyone in the eye, and an intelligible sentence out of her mouth was something he didn't recall ever hearing. The painfully shy exterior, however, was deceiving. It hid a mind as sharp as a steel trap, and an intellect that it would be a shame to waste.

"One of my graduate students has transferred to another university, she's following her husband whose job has taken him east. There's an opening in my Eastern European political study group next semester. You seem to have quite a grasp of the situation in the region. I was wondering if you'd like to take the empty spot."

While it was not all that unusual for professors to offer openings in graduate seminars to promising undergraduate students, they normally were seniors. This student had almost two more years to go to complete her degree, but showed a promise that was hard to quantify. Or, she could, if she could ever be convinced to open her mouth to utter more than monosyllables.

"Me?" The sound came out as a squeak.

"Yes, Miss MacKenzie, you. Is that such a surprise?" He gave her a charming smile, completely lost on her since she was focused on the front of his desk instead of his face.

She lifted her chin, and for the first time he could ever recall, she looked at him while she spoke. "Uh huh."

"For god's sake, Sarah! WHY?" He'd been her faculty adviser, simply through the luck of the draw, since she declared herself a political science major with minors in Russian studies and Slavic languages the year before. Her GPA was 3.9, and she worked two or three jobs besides. Yet he'd never in his life met someone with so little self-confidence.

"Why what?" She was back to mumbling and looking down again.

"Why wouldn't I offer it to you?" He stood up and began to pace his office. "You have a quick mind, you’re likely smarter than most of the grad students in there."

She looked down at her feet and gave a slight shrug of her shoulders. "I'd, I'd like to do it, if I can fit it in."

"Why couldn't you?" He knew none of the other classes in the department would conflict, and she could certainly take her pick of electives she needed to fill out her degree from other departments. This was an opportunity few would refuse, especially if they had their eye on grad school. A stellar performance in a seminar like this, where he called in speakers and panelists he knew from his former days as a career FSO which had culminated in an ambassadorship, albeit to a small country, would be a feather in the cap of any grad school applicant.

"Most of the seminars meet at night or on Saturdays." Since many grad students worked as teaching assistants for the basic freshman and sophomore courses in their fields of study, and others worked at full-time jobs, most of the actual course work was late in the day or on weekends to accommodate their schedules.

"This one meet on Thursday evenings from seven to ten." His tone conveyed his confusion.

"That's one of my best nights." At least that's what he thought she said. It was hard to tell from behind the curtain of hair. "You know, at the diner."

"Sarah, you mean to tell me you're going to pass up the chance to take an seminar like this because of your work schedule at a DINER?"

"You wouldn't understand." At least that's what he thought she said. She slowly got out of the chair, and reached for her backpack. The defeat in the set of her shoulders was telling.

"SIT DOWN!"

She jumped at the loud tenor of his voice, dropping back down with a look of sheer terror on her face.

The normally placid professor took a deep breath. Years on the diplomatic circuit had honed his emotions. He almost never lost his temper, but felt the waste of intelligence in someone like her was next to criminal. "I apologize, Sarah. I shouldn't have raised my voice.”

She continued to study her feet.

"Look, why don't you try and rearrange something? Maybe you can work Friday instead?"

"I already do." She took a deep breathe. "It's well, that's where the, you know, the people who do most of the university services eat. Thursday is payday for most of them, the, well, the tips are better." This last came out in a rush.

This was the single longest statement he'd ever heard the young woman in front of him utter. "And you need the money."

"Yes." She was back to mumbling.

While the fact that her military father had always declared Minnesota as his home of record allowed her to attend the university as a state resident, the tuition and living expenses were still her complete responsibility. Thank God it was much cheaper than if she had attended a private university, or an out-of-state one.

Uncle Matt had offered to help, but she felt she already owed him too much. No way would she ever ask her father for a thing, and she preferred to forget her short, abortive marriage to Chris, not that he would be able to help her out from behind bars anyway. Indeed, she kept Chris a deep, dark secret. He was one reason she had chosen to get far away from Arizona. If he got out of prison, Minnesota would be the last place he'd think to look for her.

"Sarah, let's do this. I'll keep the space open for you, and we'll see what can be worked out somehow." Allen was calm now, and had his thinking cap on.

She nodded her head, leaving the office with the same slump in her shoulders with which she had entered. He had a feeling that it was more in defeat than anything else. However he wasn't one to surrender that easily. As she closed the door to his office, he reached for his phone


Present day
On the way to Edwin and Allen's home

 


Pulling off the highway into a parking lot, Edwin stopped the car, turned off the ignition and took the sobbing woman beside him into his arms. "Sarah, sweetie!" He held her as her tears soaked his new cashmere jacket, not even caring about the wear and tear on his lapels. Being a fashionista from before anyone even knew what one was, this was very un-Edwin like behavior.

In the next 15 minutes, he somehow got a convoluted story about South America, terrorists, diamonds and the sailor he knew damned well she'd been in love with for years out of her. He had no idea what one had to do with the other, but assumed he'd get the whole story eventually.

As best he could fit together, someone, she couldn't/wouldn't say who, which was damning in and of itself, needed her language skills in South America. The intelligence agencies had plenty of Russian speakers, since they continued to recruit them long after it was clear they were looking at the wrong enemy. It was pretty easy to deduce her skills in Farsi and Arabic were what was wanted. The fact that she was a beautiful woman likely didn't hurt the equation either. Men had been underestimating beautiful women at their peril for centuries.

Somehow, in the midst of this, tall, dark and gorgeous had gotten fired, or kicked out of the Navy, or something of the sort. Edwin doubted he left voluntarily, since from what he knew of the man he'd likely had gold braid on his diapers and bled navy blue. Sarah seemed to think it was all her fault, and that TD&G hated her for it. Or maybe that he hated her for something else, that, along with many other parts of the story, wasn't intelligible between her sobs.

While he wasn't all that clear on the details, what she told him, and more so what she didn't tell him, had classified government spook-job written all over it. Now, since he knew sailor-boy was a pilot and a lawyer, how he got involved was a bit of a mystery.

When Allen had worked for the 'real' State Department, there had been enough CIA types cavorting around in the early years of their relationship that their antics just pretty much jumped up and bit you in the ass if you knew what to look and listen for. The tough-as-nails Marine was obviously in total meltdown, and just as obviously, it had been coming for a long, long time.

While he would love to have the whole story immediately he knew he'd get it eventually. If not from her, Allen still had his sources and a very high security clearance. While all intelligence agencies worked on a 'need-to-know' basis, once operations were over there was still an old boys network that gossiped more than women in a hair salon.

He still worked with several think-tanks in Washington and New York as a consultant, even more in the post-9/11 world than he had done previously. With the Balkan situation having proved to be a boot camp for more than one jihadi, his expertise in the area was still in demand many years after he left State. Working for private think-tanks and as a government consultant proved far more lucrative than working for the government outright. It also gave a much greater measure of freedom to express what one really thought. Since they were paying through the nose for it, the powers that be also seemed to pay a little more attention to one’s opinion.

Finally, after what seemed to be an hour but was really only about 20 minutes, she began to slow down. The deep, wrenching sobs were replaced by hiccups and sniffles. She tried to pull away, but he was stronger than he looked, and held her for another few minutes while she regained her composure. Knowing this woman the way he did, he was actually flattered that she had broken down in front of him. There were only a very few people in the world that she was willing to expose her vulnerable side to.

"Dear God, what I wouldn't give to be able to take you to a bar and pour a couple of tots of brandy down your gullet!"

As compassionate as he was capable of being to those he loved, in this case, Edwin was truly shocked. He and Allen knew the 'real' Sarah, the deeply insecure little girl that lived inside the strong woman, but he had never seen that child come out like this before. Even in her worst days, the Sarah he knew had simply done what she had to do without any condemnation of the bad breaks life had thrown at her. He took it as a sign of how bad things really were for her. She'd been holding together with a gossamer thread, and it appeared that the thread had finally snapped.

After wiping her face with the last of a packet of Kleenex from her purse, she managed to get a little better control of herself.

"Not going happen, Edwin. I tried that once over a man, sort of, and it doesn't work very well." Her two Minnesota mentors were members of the select group that knew the story of her alcoholism and recovery. She'd even shared, long after the fact, her fall from grace, as she described it, in the wake of Dalton's murder and her stalker.

"I know, I know." He reached out and patted her thigh. "Well, we'll just have to go home, have tea and you can tell me all about it. Hopefully without the tears this time." He patted her hand, put the car in gear and headed off in his original direction.

It wasn't long before they reached the impressive restored Victorian home in Lake Calhoun. She remembered the first time she'd seen it, decked out in its Christmas best.

 

December 1987
 


Her beat-up old car looked out of place in the circular brick paved driveway of the large Queen Anne-style home. The house was decked out with white lights on the bushes and trees, with floodlights illuminating the wreaths on the double doors and windows. Aside from beautiful brocade bows adorning them, the wreaths were plain evergreen, no glitter or glitz. Although she didn't know exactly how, the young woman knew the place exuded style and taste in its simplicity.

Sarah mounted the steps and rang the bell, surprised to be admitted by a young man in a shirt, bow tie and vest who offered to take her coat. This did not appear to be the simple Christmas party for a few students and faculty members she had expected. All at once, she felt even more self conscious than she had when she left her small, shabby apartment. The student area of the Twin Cities was light-years from this exclusive neighborhood.

After surrendering her winter parka, she looked around the huge foyer in awe. The ceiling was at least 25 feet high, with an elaborate sweeping staircase rising to the second floor. Once again, she didn't know how she knew but sensed that the home was decorated with style, taste, and a very generous pocketbook. Nothing was ostentatious, but it was obvious everything was the best that money could buy.

The antiques that abounded were real, the Persian carpets too. Those at least she had some knowledge of. She didn't know what defined 'mansion' but this home had to be pretty close. Obviously the professor had an income other than his university salary, since she doubted that academia was this lucrative.

Sarah began to wander through the rooms, each decorated with the same elegant simplicity. A bar had been set up in the corner of the living room, and she requested a diet cola. Somehow, just quickly looking around at how the other people in the room were attired, she knew her flowered rayon dress with a ruffled neck was all wrong. Although she had thought it was beautiful when she tried it on in the discount store where she did most of her shopping, in the refined setting of this room, she knew it looked cheap and gaudy.

She saw Professor Duchamp across the room, standing with a man she thought was a Congressman from the local area. A US Congressman, not a state legislator. She'd seen his face on the local news. Come to think of it, a woman across the room looked like the anchorwoman of one of the major network's local stations.

Ever since the invitation had arrived, she'd wondered why on earth Professor Duchamp would invite her to a party at his home. It was described on the invitation as a holiday open house from 6 to 9 pm, which she correctly interpreted as meaning cocktail party. What she had no idea of was why she was there.

She decided to wander around and look for a place to hide until she could politely make her excuses and leave. Assuming that she didn't need to stay more than thirty minutes to avoid abject rudeness, she didn't feel the need to refill her drink before wandering off. After looking in a few more rooms, she came to a deserted solarium toward the back of the house. It must be lovely in the summer, but now seemed rather sad and forlorn. The room was filled with wicker furniture with burgundy and blue paisley cushions and large potted plants. The glass walls looked out onto a large yard and garden, now covered with snow, and a stand of trees about 50 yards away.

Sarah sat on the wicker chair closest to the window, watching the snow fall slowly to the ground. Lost in her thoughts, she was startled when the lights were suddenly turned on. She began to rise.

"No, no, don't get up! You just looked so sad and lonely sitting there in the dark.” The man thought for a moment. "The French have a lovely word for that mood, 'trieste.' French can be so much more expressive than English. Too bad I don't speak it."

She was glad her glass had been almost empty, since her jerky motions would have likely spilled her drink if it hadn't been. "I, ah, I wasn't hiding," she choked out in a trembling voice.

"Of course you were, my dear. And that's fine, Sarah. I told Allen that inviting you here was a mistake, but he insisted."

She looked at the man, puzzled. Although his words sounded harsh, they'd been said with no hint of animosity, and he looked kind. Strange, but kind. Well, at least his clothes were strange. He was wearing a velvet jacket, a shirt that looked like it was silk, a scarf around his neck and plaid, well, tartan trousers. It certainly wasn't an outfit the men she'd grown up around would have been caught dead in, but on the slightly built stranger with the British accent, it looked fine. Elegant, even. Although she wasn't too sure about the shoes. They looked like they were velvet too, and had a crest or something embroidered on the front.

"I should go. I was only going to stay a few minutes, but I didn't want to be rude and go right away, but I ...."

"Slow down, my dear! You're wondering who I am, aren't you?"

She nodded her head in the affirmative.

"Never nod, it's ill bred. Speak up." He took a breath. "I'm Edwin. If life were different, I'd be Allen's Mrs., but since it's not, well, you get the idea." He waved his hand in an expressive way.

"You mean, Professor Duchamp is..."

"Gay? Queer as a three-pound note." Edwin said this in a matter of fact tone, as though anyone who thought ill of the situation was the one who had a problem.

Perhaps because of her military background, she'd always assumed homosexual men were, well, like Edwin. Professor Duchamp was tall, well-built, with steel grey hair, and look manly.

"Surprised?"

She started to nod, then thought better of it and replied, "Yes. No. I mean, I wouldn't know, but...."

Edwin chuckled. "You can't always tell the book by its cover. It's important to remember that, Miss MacKenzie."

"I'm sorry, I..." Sarah was flustered, but didn't feel this man was making fun of her. She just didn't quite know how to respond.

"Oh, you've got nothing to be sorry for. Sit, please. Allen invited you so you and I could have a chat."

Her look was questioning.

"I hear you need a more flexible job."

"It would make life easier." She sounded as though she thought simplifying her life might be a sin.

"I need a research assistant, and if you're half as smart as Allen says you are, you'll fill the bill quite nicely."

 


Minnesota, Present Day
 


15 minutes later the Hummer deposited them in front of the same house, still done in its cream, beige, taupe and cocoa color scheme, with just the tiniest touches of lavender and mauve on some of the gingerbread trim. Edwin claimed he yearned to give the house a bolder paint job, but felt the grey Minnesota winters would be too stark a contrast. His rallying cry was, "If only Allen would get a job teaching at Berkeley!" They all knew it was an empty plea, he fit in perfectly with the art scene in the smaller city, and Northwest had a direct flight that had him in London in less than nine hours when he needed to oversee the business interests he still maintained there.

They immediately started up the staircase, Sarah letting Edwin be the gentleman and carry her bag. He would have insisted anyway. He invariable, even at their first almost disastrous meeting, had treated her like a lady. He also demanded she act like one, and
accept being treated as no less from anyone else.

After placing her suitcase on the luggage rack in the room she always stayed in, he turned to her. "Now, you have 15 minutes to freshen up and get into something more comfortable. Where did you get that suit by the way? Much too severe for you!"

Sarah glanced down at the navy pin-striped pantsuit she was wearing. "I bought it at Barney's the last time we were in New York. You loved it then!"

"Sarah, that was three years ago! Besides, I never expected you to wear it with a navy cashmere sweater under it! MUCH too monotone for you, my dear!"

"Edwin dear, three years old or not, I've only had about four occasions to wear this, it cost me over $1200, and YOU told me it was a classic!" Indeed, the soft wool flannel and cashmere blend fabric could be worn in any weather other than the steamy summers they got in DC. She just hadn't had much occasion for civilian business clothes in the past few years.

"Well, it is! But the way you're wearing it is just DULL!" He paused. "I did not teach you to be dull!" He couldn't believe she'd teamed a navy crew sweater with the suit, with pearls and pearl earrings as her only accessories. She looked like a lawyer. A conservative and plain one at that.

"No, you didn't. I just haven't had much occasion to shop lately." Even the purchase of shoes, her one big vice, had been on hold lately. She just hadn't had much drive to go shopping, not to mention no time. Although, she admitted to herself, in the past she had been busy but had made time for herself doing things she enjoyed. She wondered when the last time was that she had done so, and found she couldn't remember. Probably the weekend she had spent with Chloe last Christmas.

"Well, get comfy and come down to the kitchen. We'll have tea and catch up before Allen gets home and starts to talk to you about the state of the world."

Allen and Edwin were, on the surface at least, proof that opposites did attract. Allen with his learned concerns about the state of the world, still called upon by think-tanks and occasionally the government for his expertise in Eastern European affairs. Edwin had all the flamboyance of someone who existed in the world of art and fashion. How the two of them had come to live together so amiably for so many years was a mystery to many, but Sarah felt that it came down to their core values being the same.

They were at heart family men, loyal to a fault to those they considered part of their circle. In all the time they had known her, the only time either of them had ever expressed anger toward her was in the wake of Chris Ragle's death. Not for her actions, but for her inactions in not coming to them for help in the first place. Had things been different in their younger years, she had no doubt they would have adopted a couple of children and made great Dads. Since the times had denied them that right, they had taken several older 'orphans of the storm' under their wings, herself among them.

Once she had changed into jeans and a white button-down shirt, she joined Edwin in the kitchen. He'd laid out a teapot along with some small sandwiches and a plate of delicate cookies she recognized as from a small bakery in the upscale part of town. If he had gone to this much trouble, she knew he'd been gunning for her before she got off the plane. The man was perceptive to a fault and had likely not bought her replies of 'nothing' when he enquired what was wrong in their last few conversations.

"Bringing out the big guns, are you?" she remarked ironically.

"You really didn't think I believed you, did you?"

She let out a huge sigh. "I know better than to underestimate you, I guess. What gave it away?"

"Well, aside from you sounding basically depressed all summer, you hardly ever mentioned Commander Fabulous. So, that meant either you found someone else, he did, or you two were on the outs. Since you would have dished about a new love, I knew it was number two or three. You usually don't shut up about him. Even when you were supposed to marry what's his name, you talked about the other one all the time."

She looked at him in surprise. "Do I? I mean, talk about Harm all the time?"

"Well, maybe not all the time, but often enough for me to notice the lack. So, without the tears this time, tell me what the bloody hell happened!"

An hour later, she had given him most of the explanation for the rift between her and her former partner, at least the part she understood.

"Sweetie, what I don't understand is why you're dating this other guy?"

Mac thought for a moment. "It's not really dating. It's more, well, we have dinner together sometimes."

"Most people call that dating." Obviously there were things about the heterosexual world he obviously didn't understand.

"If that were dating, then Harm and I have been dating for years." She shook her head in the negative, with a small smile on her face to indicate how ridiculous an idea she considered that.

Edwin continued to give her "the look," and she shook her head to indicate she didn't agree with his assessment.

"We never dated." She paused again. "With Clay it's not romantic, at least not on my part. Not that it was romantic with Harm." she hastened to add.

Edwin raised an eyebrow questioningly, but let her continue.

"I guess, well, he, Clay, said he needed me. It was kind of nice to feel needed. And wanted."

She said this in a small, questioning voice, as if this was the first time she'd thought it through. "And there's some other stuff I can't talk about."

If she'd given any actual thought to the matter, it was that anything, even the sometimes dreary formal charity events Webb dragged her to, was preferable to sitting alone in her apartment waiting for Harm to return one of her phone calls. Then there was the on-going search for Sadik, and at least by seeing Webb, she was kept in the loop more than she would have been otherwise. The Agency had a "don't call us, we'll call you" policy, no matter who you were and how much you might have helped them in the past.

She hadn't realized until seeing Harm the other day how badly his complete dismissal of her from his life had cut. She'd thought no matter what, even if they had both married other people, they would still remain friends. Indeed, she still wasn't really clear on why
Harm had been so angry at her, she just knew that he was. Frankly, she thought she'd given him what he wanted: 'them' back on a basis where there would never be any expectations of anything else other than close friendship.

"Ah, the needy, wounded hero routine. I wonder how many women have gotten suckered in by that one, and five years later woken up to wonder ‘How in hell did I end up with this guy’?"

"That's not going to happen. I, well, he's barely gotten back to work. We don't see each other all that often, though Harm seems to think I jumped into bed with Clay the moment we left the continental US."

"Did you?"

"Edwin! No, God, as usual, I live like a nun, but I have the reputation of a whore, at least as far as Harm is concerned!" Her voice rose an octave, and she was getting upset again. There was obviously a lot going on that she hadn't dealt with in any meaningful
way.

"Sarah, what on earth do you mean!" Knowing how carefully Mac screened the men she got involved with these days, this statement truly shocked him.

Dammit! His kind tone was her undoing. She was in tears again, and it wasn't what she wanted. She could face the fact that Harm saw her as fundamentally flawed in her own head, but admitting it to someone else, someone she loved and respected, that was something else.

"He makes these comments ..." The whole story came pouring out, going back to the remark she had inadvertently overheard him making to Sturgis over two years before. His comments about her making a move as soon as a man showed interest, his remark about her sleeping her way into law school, every hurtful thing he'd ever said found its way out of her mouth, while she tried to choke back the tears that came unbidden.

"I don't know what it is! Other women, one in particular that I managed to save his worthless ass over can actually act like sluts and that's fine ... Christ, I'm not going to judge her! But ... "

"Sarah, calm down! You've had some bad breaks with the men in your life, yes. And I know you’re really very picky about who you see ... "

"Yeah, the stupid jerk doesn't know how many I turn down or just ignore signals from before I decided I'm finally so damned lonely that ... " She took the proffered handkerchief from her host.

"God, Edwin! I've slept with six men in my entire life, I'm 36 years old, and he thinks that makes me a ... " It was pretty obvious this subject was upsetting her even more than she already was. Having been privy to the story of Joe MacKenzie’s diatribes and tirades against his daughter's morals, he had a pretty good idea why questioning, even obliquely, her good name would have Sarah overreacting.

"I don't think he thinks any such thing, Sarah." He said this quietly and sincerely.

"Then why does he say what he does?" Those who only knew the gung ho Marine attorney would have never recognized the whipped puppy voice as coming from the same woman.

"I don't know. But I don't think it's because he thinks you're immoral. He doesn't sound like the kind of person who makes those judgments."

Actually, Edwin had a pretty good idea of why TD&G said the things he did, he was gay, not stupid. It had far more to do with a green-eyed monster than the conclusion Sarah had jumped to. However he also knew anything he said right then to defend the guy would fall on deaf ears.

"Right! That's why he's never made so much as a pass at me, ever. Well, almost." She sniffed loudly. "But that didn't count."

"What doesn't count?" Edwin was absently patting her hand. Thank God so many people in the fashion world were drama queens, he'd had more practice at this than he cared to remember. He could do this blindfolded and with earplugs. He just never thought he'd see this particular person this close to a meltdown. It had been well over a year since she joined him for a quick theatre weekend in New York when he'd been there on business. It didn't seem like that year had treated his darling girl very well.

"At my, well, Mic’s and my engagement party. He ... we, " He encouraged her to go on. "He kissed me."

"People kiss the bride to be at engagement parties all the time, " Edwin stated matter-of-factly.

"Ah, this ... this wasn't that kind of kiss, Edwin." She reacted with a look that could only be called starry-eyed to the memory. "This was a ‘knock-your-socks-off’ kind of kiss."

"Wait a minute. " He held up a hand. "Mr. Truth, Justice and the American Way KISSED you, not like a well wisher, but like, well, a suitor, at your engagement party?"

She nodded her head.

"Well, what the bloody hell happened? I know you finally gave Boomerang Boy the boot, but why didn't you and ....." He could see she was about ready to start blubbering again, so, being a smart man, stuck a particularly decadent chocolate cookie in her mouth.

Allen had been undergoing rehab from a recent heart attack at the time of her aborted wedding, so the two had been unable to make the trip to Washington. She'd had her doubts about introducing them to MIc, though she never would have thought twice about letting them meet Harm. That in and of itself should have given her pause about
the relationship with the Australian officer.

It had taken her a year or more to forgive herself for being the doormat she had allowed herself to become in her relationship with Mic. She'd felt so guilty for not loving him the way he wanted her to that she had allowed every other facet of their life together to be written on his terms alone. Looking back, she barely recognized that woman as herself.

"Oh, Edwin, we managed to screw it up! We always do!"

Just then the back door opened, and Allen entered the kitchen. He came over to give Edwin a affectionate buss on the cheek, then came around the counter to take Sarah into a bear hug.

"Well, Colonel, we thought you fell off the world there for a while!"

They usually managed to get together once or twice a year when he came to Washington on business, but during the last 18 months, he'd been there only when she'd been out of town.

"Excuse me for a minute, you two. I'm going to make a couple of phone calls, then we can decide where we want to have dinner tonight."

As Edwin left the kitchen, the two began a discussion of the political climate in the Middle East in the wake of the Iraq war. It had always been thus, Edwin got the personal details, Allen the professional. They made a good team in more ways than one.
 


Aboard NW Flight 1234
MSP-DCA

 


The weekend had been fun, though exhausting in its own way. Mac reclined her first class seat, glad that she had decided to use some of her frequent flier miles for the luxury. It was seldom enough she got the chance to indulge, even though she probably had enough miles to get a few round trip tickets to the moon. Most of the time her
bookings were so last minute that she couldn't get an upgrade.

At least she looked better than she had when she left Washington on Friday. She'd had Edwin book her an appointment with her old hairdresser Vincenzo – born Vinnie Kaswalski in Newark, but hey, Miliao sold more and pricier haircuts – since she knew she'd need to be out of the house on Saturday while the caterers and such worked
their magic. Instead, after taking a look at her, he booked her in for a total overhaul.

She had to admit, the day of pampering at the day spa was a treat, one she hadn't indulged in since she didn't remember when. When the heck had life become such a chore that she couldn't even take time to get a decent haircut? She admitted to the appalled Vinnie that she had actually taken to hacking at the ends with manicure scissors to keep her hair 'in regs.' Time just was not on her side any more; it was just one more day, one more problem it seemed.

In some ways, even after her short break, Mac dreaded the return to Washington. She knew that Harm was going back on active duty today, although she was sure he wouldn't be anywhere near the office until Wednesday at the earliest. She was pretty sure the Admiral was going to 'finesse' his time away, so it wouldn't end up costing him career-wise.

Harm hadn't exactly applied for reinstatement in the usual manner, a process that could take months to go through channels. Still, the Navy had a paperwork mill to grind through, and getting his records in order at the Washington Navy Yard would be a two day task. She needed the buffer of tomorrow in the office before she faced him on Wednesday.

He called her after he decided to accept the Admiral's offer, just a kind of 'head's up,' nothing more. Right now, she didn't know how they were going to react to one another. She figured she'd try to keep it professional, and take her lead from him. However, whenever she planned anything with Harm in the picture, things had a way of going out of control quickly. She'd just have to wait and see.

She and the anniversary couple had gone out to dinner on Friday night at a local country club they belonged to. Allen was the golfer, though Edwin did play a mean game of tennis. Though the club was one of the most traditional and staid in the city, the ladies enjoyed Edwin's fashion savvy and gossip enough so that even these neo-conservatives turned a blind eye to their status as a non-traditional couple. Having one of the first 'name' hairdressers of the '60's as a member got you lots of perks for your charity fashion shows and dinner dances.

Saturday, Edwin had banished her to the tender mercies of Vinnie, and she had to admit, by the time the party rolled around, she felt and looked a lot better. Although she did antagonize her host when he realized she was wearing her mess dress instead of an evening gown. It was simply a matter of not enough time to shop. The last time she attended a black tie function had been the Surface Warfare ball, and she'd borrowed that dress from a friend. She knew anything in her closet would have been – in her host's view – hopelessly out of date. Edwin hid his shock, but told her not to be surprised if some of their friends thought she was a drag queen in military mode.

It had been a fabulous party, the house was made for entertaining. She'd even met the senior Senator from Minnesota, who served on the military affairs committee. He recognized her – well, her face, not her name – from some work she'd done with Bobbi Latham when the two committees met jointly a year or so before. They'd had a great conversation about his orchids, apparently a passion along with his five grandchildren. Allen and Edwin had an interesting and eclectic group of friends, culled from all walks of life.

Once she relaxed and gotten over her storm of tears, she'd enjoyed herself. Hopefully, now that they would soon be back close to full staff at the office, she might be able to indulge in a break more often in the future. After her initial day there, she hadn't had time to really talk to either of her hosts in depth, though just before she left, Edwin had told her to think about what she wanted and needed to make her happy, and in his words, "Bugger everyone else." A great sentiment, though likely easier said than done.

At least with Harm coming back, there would be no need to break in a new senior attorney. That had been one of the primary reasons Carolyn Imes had gotten Harm's old job, she knew how they worked at headquarters. Unlike the two junior attorneys who replaced Manetti and Singer, both still semi-clueless about headquarters procedures two and four months after coming aboard. She wasn’t sure if it was stubbornness or just stupidity, but she was about to ask the Admiral to find someone else, which was her prerogative as chief of staff. Neither seemed to be up to the workload.

As much as everyone had hated Loren, at least she got her job done on time and without complaining about overwork. These two seemed to think they had signed on for 8-5 Monday through Friday. Okay, that was the official duty day, but none of the attorneys assigned to headquarters ever worked just that on a daily basis. One of them had even reminded her that he had a wife, child and a life outside of headquarters. She was sure he hadn't signed on for a career in the Navy, indeed had only another eight months to go to pay back for law school, but he could at least make an attempt to be a team player until that date came around. Even in the civilian law world, a recommendation from THE Jag was nothing to sneeze at, but Lieutenant Gillespie didn't seem to care. Fine, let him not care writing wills in legal services somewhere, not taking up a headquarters slot and not producing.

Mac knew that some of her bad mood was fear-based. Even though she and Harm had sort of buried the hatchet, she was still leery about seeing him on a daily basis once again. In the six months they had been apart, aside from the phone calls, which she had rationed to one a week, less the weeks she had been out of the country completely, she had done her best to put him out of her mind and her heart.

It had worked, or so she thought. She could look at a picture of the two of them and not cry, she could hear a silly song he liked on the radio and not get choked up. She thought she was getting it together. Until the night she had to ask him for help with Imes case reviews.

When she left the apartment in the wake of Catherine Gale's arrival, her heart was in her throat. She barely managed to drive far enough away to be out of view from his windows before she broke down. How long had they been going out? Since the Angel Shark? Had all the closeness she thought the two of them had been feeling before the Singer debacle blew up in her face been only in her imagination?

She'd never doubted Harm's innocence, although she did for a minute consider he might have been, or thought he might be, the father. She knew he didn't like Loren, but on TDYs in strange places, odder things had happened. When it came down to it, he was a guy, with the same drives as every other one, well, except with her.

What upset her more than anything was his not telling her what he suspected, especially when she figured out that he thought Sergei might have been the baby's father. It had taken about 20 minutes of solid "Why would he?" conjecture on her part to figure out that he was protecting his brother.

They'd been doing well, she thought at least, and still to this day had no idea why he shut her out. She'd been turned away the one time she'd attempted to visit him at the brig, and told that by orders of the CNO, he was to have no visitors other than counsel. Since he didn't call, she assumed he either was restricted from making phone calls, or didn't want to talk to her. The former was probably illegal, as likely was the restriction on visits. His attorney blew her off when she brought the subject up. Her hands had been tied.

Coupled with his contempt for her when he got to Paraguay and his lack of response to her phone calls over the past months, she assumed that maybe she had far more of a stake in their relationship than he did. To her, he was a necessary as air, even though she had come to the conclusion she would have to learn to live without him. It seemed the same couldn't be said on his part. She’d given him what she thought he wanted in Paraguay, and did her best to get on with her life. It hadn't worked yet, but she was still trying.
 


Next Day
JAG Headquarters

 


"Is that all?" Mac facetiously asked Harriet as she handed her a stack of pink message slips half an inch thick. God knows what was on her voice mail at this rate.

"No, Ma'am, this one came in this morning. Although they called on Friday too." Harriet had that intrigued look on her face as she added a few more message slips to the pile in Mac's hand.

"Just pile it on, I'll sort through them when I get in my office. Hopefully some of them aren't urgent." Sometimes taking a few days off just wasn't worth it. You ended up working overtime before you left to clear your desk, then double time when you got back to make up for what happened while you were gone.

"The one that just came in? It's from ‘District Magazine’." Harriet sounded excited enough to make Mac suspicious. Very suspicious.

She was familiar with the publication, had even read it a time or two. It coupled articles about what was currently 'in' around Washington with fashion spreads, upscale real estate listings and restaurant reviews. Occasionally they profiled someone interesting.

"Probably trying to sell me a subscription, Harriet." None of the cases she was working were really high profile, certainly not the sort to elicit their interest. Even the last really high profile case she'd done, Mustaffa Attif's prosecution, hadn't had publicity, at least not personal publicity. The names of the attorneys and the tribunal judges were kept out of the press. There hadn't been a military gag order or anything, just a 'gentleman's agreement' that the names wouldn't be published.

"No, I don't think so, Ma'am. It was their features editor who called." Harriet, bless her little heart, was fishing. Mac's radar went up another notch.

"Well, I'll put them on the list. I have no idea what they want to talk to me about." She balanced her cover on top of the stack of files she was carrying and headed toward her office to dump them before she went and fixed some coffee.

The morning went by slowly, but there had been plenty to keep her occupied. Many of the calls she managed to palm off on one of the paralegal assistants, who should have taken care of them as they came in. Unfortunately, most of them wouldn't say "I'm calling for your attorney" unless the attorney specifically told them to. By 1415, she'd caught up enough to take a break, and headed down to the cafeteria for a sandwich before they closed.

Deciding to bring it back to her desk rather than eat in the now almost deserted room, she caught the elevator just as the door was closing.

"Well, I see nothing's changed. Still eating dead cow."

God, he just about took her breath away. She would have been ready for him tomorrow, but not now, not like this. The roast beef and cheese sandwich, fortunately wrapped in plastic, fell out of her hand.

"Harm! What are you doing here?" She bent down to retrieve her lunch, just as he attempted to do the same. Fortunately, they managed to not bump heads.

"I work here again, remember?" The trademark smile was in place.

"I, ah, " She coughed, then sputtered a little. "I figured you'd have at least two days full of paperwork at personnel."

"I managed to break loose early. Since I'd been working for the Agency, they just faxed my clearances over, so I didn't have to update all that stuff." His gaze was fixed on her face. He'd missed this place. Hell, as much as he didn't want to admit it, he'd missed
her.

"Yeah, well, that would save some time, I guess." God, she couldn't believe how ridiculous she sounded.

"Have you been busy?" He motioned with his chin to the sandwich in her hand. "Late lunch."

"Since the Imes debacle, more so than before, and that was bad enough. It'll be good to have you back, especially since you know your way around already." She paused. "I mean, not that it wouldn't be good for you to be back anyway."

"I know what you mean, Mac." Back where he wanted to be, he was prepared to be magnanimous about some things. He didn't know where the two of them really stood, but he was determined to try and take it easy this time. Life, especially life with Sarah MacKenzie, had a way of biting him in the ass when he least expected it.

In the bullpen, he was greeted like a returning hero by Bud, who obviously wanted to bask in his mentor's return. She gave them both a brief smile and nod, and headed toward the sanctuary of her office.

Unwrapping the sandwich, she glanced at the stack of messages on her desk. A new one had appeared from Harriet, that stupid magazine again. She might as well find out what they wanted.

"This is Colonel Sarah MacKenzie. I have a message to call a Ms. Iverson." She found herself listening to the ubiquitous Muzak while the assistant fetched the editor.

"Good afternoon, Ms. Iverson. What can I do for you?" She wanted to get this over with, she had other, more important things to get on with. Not to mention, since things had been calm for the last week around here, that meant something was bound to break sooner or later, probably sooner.

Mac listened to the woman's pitch for a few minutes, shocked.

"You've got to be kidding." This was about the last thing she expected. The woman droned on a little more. "Okay, you're not kidding."

"This would have to be cleared with the Marine Corps PAO at the Pentagon, and I don't think they'd be very ... oh." She took a deep breath. "General Krusa-Dossin loves the idea?" She rested her head in her hand. "Well, if she loves the idea, then I guess I don't have a lot of choice." In normal circumstances, Lieutenant Colonels didn't say 'no' to Brigadier Generals. It wasn't considered a good career move.

"Next Friday? Let me check my court calendar." She surfed through her computer file, and the date book she kept as a back-up on her desk. "That should be fine."

Admiral Chegwidden outranked the Marine Public Affairs director by one star, but she knew in her heart he wasn't going to save her. Although ultimately in command of all Navy and Marine JAG officers, he tried to walk a fine line with his Marine JAGs. When the Corps requested one for something or other, only a very compelling reason would cause him to deny the request. She had a feeling 'I don't wanna' wasn't going to cut it. Well, she'd done worse in her career.

"Yes, I know where it is." She bent down to get some aspirin out of her desk drawer and swallowed them with the cold, now bitter coffee left in her cup. "I'll be there." She replaced her phone receiver in the cradle, then walked over to her doorway.

In as calm a voice as she could muster, she called out, "Harriet, could I see you in my office for a moment?"

Harriet had been back on the job for only two days from her maternity leave. Since she hadn't had much involvement in anything in the office in over two months, she had a feeling that she knew why the Colonel wanted to see her. She was undoubtedly busted. At least the Colonel didn't sound too upset, but then again, she didn't sound overjoyed either.

"Harriet, the next time you're having a conversation with one of the other Moms at little AJ's daycare, please leave my name out of it!" Mac decided getting right to the point was the way to go. A good offense was better than a good defense, especially with the way Harriet could bob and weave.

"Well, ma'am, you see, I was showing her pictures of AJ as a baby, it was right before Jimmy was born." Mac nodded for her to go on. "One of them was the one of you holding him, you were in uniform, he had on his little sailor suit?"

Mac nodded that she remembered the picture in question. It had been taken when AJ was about a year old, shortly after she'd been promoted.

"Well, she said she really wanted a military officer for the article and photo spread, but since they were focusing on women in their thirties and forties, most of the ones she ran into were married, or in her words, not suitable, so when she saw your picture, and I told her you were single, she got really excited and then I told her that she'd need to contact the Pentagon about it and well it just kind of ... " Mac knew she wasn't going to get contrition out of Harriet, even if she was babbling, out of breath and sounded nervous.

"Never mind, Harriet. It's all for a good cause. Navy/Marine Relief will get $2500 out of it, and it's just one day. But it's not the kind of thing I'm really comfortable with."

"I'm sorry, ma'am, it just got of control. Maybe it was hormones or something."

"Right, Harriet, hormones. Or something. Okay." She waved Harriet out of her office, and got back to the pile of work on her desk.

The next week passed by quickly. Things were busy at work, so what else was new? As she had predicted, poor Harm got the brunt of the cases the Imes matter generated to review.

She felt sorry for him, but on the other hand, a good portion of the cases were his to begin with. He had always read poor Caroline pretty well, and had an impressive won/loss record against her when he prosecuted.

Later in the week, Harm asked her to take on the case of a homeless elderly veteran. While swamped herself, she finally gave in. Those puppy dog eyes always worked, as he well knew.

In gratitude for her help, the Admiral had given her all of Singer's cases against Imes to review. He'd made it clear without saying so that no one was supposed to help Harm out with his backlog, and apparently the matter of Terrance Mattingly was to be considered in the same vein.

Of course, the fact that the Admiral had gotten the case resolved himself had no bearing on the matter. Oh, well, what were a few more hours lost sleep? After the last few months, she figured she was only five or six years behind.

She had a dinner date with Webb, or what she thought was one. It turned out to be a wine-tasting and auction to benefit a children's charity his mother supported. While being perfectly happy to support a good cause, she couldn't help but wonder what he had been thinking when he invited her.

She spent most of the evening trying to get out of 'just tasting' one rare vintage or another. When she broached the matter with him, his only comment was, "You said it didn't bother you when other people drank." And he thought Harm was oblivious!

She decided against trying to explain the difference between not being bothered if a friend ordered a drink, and being at an event that completely revolved around alcohol.


If he didn't get it, explaining it wasn't going to make it any clearer.

 

 

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