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Classification Action, Drama, Romance (H/M)
 
Length Approximately 54,000 words, or 110 pages in MSWord (8 ½ x 11" paper)
Spoilers Everything up to ‘Answered Prayers’ (mid-season 7)
Rating GS
Author's Notes I had almost forgotten about this story that I’d buried deep in my archives a year and a half ago due to a major case of writer’s block. When I remembered it, I thought that no one would want to read it anymore. Yet, the complete lack of shippiness JAG is suffering at the moment made me rethink that point. I felt inclined to go back to the good old times and finally complete this piece, be it just to tie up loose ends.

We’re back in the middle of season 7, just after ‘Answered Prayers’. So Sergei has just come to the U.S. and Bud still walks on his own two feet.
 

Summary Two people have finally found their way to one another when a tragedy forces them to turn back to the very beginning...

 

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

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Dec. 31st
2320 ZULU
The Roberts’s home
Rosslyn, VA

 

“You sure you’re gonna be okay?” Mac looked intently at the young girl in front of her.

“Sure.” Chloe seemed to grow at least another two inches. “You just go and have fun. We’ll be all right.”

“Did Harriet show you where you can find everything?”

“Yeah, and she also showed me how to change diapers.” Chloe made a slight face.

Mac chuckled. “You know, Chloe, you never know when something you learn might come in handy.”

“That’s exactly what Harriet told me.” Chloe let her gaze run up and down Mac’s figure. “You look so beautiful. When I’m grown I want to be just like you.”

Mac blushed slightly. “You never will for you are a blonde with blue eyes and I’m dark all over. But I’m sure you’ll be a beauty one day. I can see that.”

Now it was Chloe’s turn to blush. Luckily she was spared a reply because Harriet entered the room, a half-sleeping toddler on her arms.

“He’s got all he needs for tonight. If he should get hungry, just give him a bit of yogurt and at midnight let him stand up for a couple of minutes so he can see the fireworks and won’t be afraid of any strange noises, okay?” Harriet put her son into Chloe’s arms and rearranged her night blue silk dress. “Did I spill anything over myself?”

“No. You look great, Harriet.” Mac gave her a critical survey and then nodded approvingly.

They were interrupted by the doorbell. Straightening the collar of his galas, Bud came running out of the bedroom and hurried to open. Male voices could be heard from the corridor. Mac cast one last quick glance in the nearby mirror and checked her make-up. Chloe observed her closely with the slightest knowing smile.

“I heard there was some stunning Marine waiting to be accompanied to some ball tonight.” Harm entered the room with a smug grin. Mac stifled a small gasp. This was definitely something she needed to get used to. Ever since Harm had kissed her under the mistletoe in this very same house, only a week ago, he couldn’t seem to fight the urge to flirt with her. Noticing that she wasn’t alone in the room, though, seemed to dampen this notion immediately and his expression became somewhat embarrassed.

“Hi Harriet, hi Chloe...” All of a sudden, he didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands.

Mac noticed the winks and grins Harriet and Chloe exchanged as they greeted their friend. She desperately searched for an innocent topic but her brain suddenly felt void. Inwardly cursing her counterpart for being able to throw her off the track like this, she only managed a strained smile in his direction.

As the awkward silence began to stretch, Harriet saved the situation. “Sir, we were just about to put AJ to bed, but maybe you’d like to see to that yourself?” Mac made a mental note to thank her once she could catch her alone.

“Very kind of you, ladies.” Harm knelt down and looked at AJ, obviously glad to have something else to focus on. “Hey, young man, can you say hello to Uncle Harm?”

The toddler sleepily traipsed over into Harm’s arms and fell asleep the moment Harm lifted him up into the air.

“Take the towel.” Harriet placed it under AJ’s little head that was resting against Harm’s broad shoulder. “You can never be sure if your galas will survive a three year old boy. Chloe, I want to show you something else in the kitchen.” She and the girl left the room. Harm seized the opportunity and stepped over to the window. Mac felt her panic rise when she saw that the smug expression had returned to his gaze. What the hell had happened to this man? How was she supposed to react? True, the idea of Harm coming forth and making a move was a nice concept for a change. Still, having it actually happen was a scenario she simply wasn’t prepared for. Whether in Australia or on Chegwidden’s porch, it had been her to force him to react. Maybe the fear she was feeling was just the same he had felt back then. ‘God, Harm, I’m so sorry... I’ll never do it again, I promise... but, please, stop flirting with me until I work out a strategy how to react!’

“Somehow I was hoping for a somewhat warmer welcome.” He was entirely too close for her liking.

Mac decided that attack was the best defense. She turned around and threw him a mockingly annoyed glance. “Embarrass me again in front of everyone and you’ll notice just how cold I can get.”

Harm grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, I was sure Harriet and Chloe were putting AJ to bed because I didn’t hear any voices from the living-room. You know, women tend to be rather noisy folks when in large numbers.”

Putting her hands to her hips, Mac shook her head. “I won’t take any more of this macho talk, boy toy. By the way: hi.”

Harm put a finger to his lips, indicating their sleeping godson. “Like to help me put him to bed?” he said in a low voice that was dripping with barely veiled innuendo. Again fighting the impulse to run and hide, Mac made a movement with her right hand as if to slap him. He caught her hand in mid-air and brought it to his lips, his eyes never leaving hers. “By the way: Hi.”

Once more, Mac’s breath caught in her throat. She swallowed but held his gaze. For a magical second she thought he might renew the kiss from a week ago – but the moment passed and she drew back self-consciously. He let go of her hand and they went to little AJ’s room. From the corner of her eye, Mac observed Harm with the little boy. It seemed so natural to see him tuck his godson in and gently kiss him goodnight. A slight smile played on his lips as he stood and watched AJ cuddle into his quilt in his sleep. Mac knelt down beside the bed and, careful not to wake the boy, brushed a strand of hair from his forehead.

“Good night, munchkin,” she whispered and stood up again. They switched on the baby monitor and left the room. Mac felt Harm’s eyes on her as she was listening through the closed door to check if AJ was asleep for good. Suddenly she was glad she had chosen the new dark green silk dress with matching stola.

“What I said earlier was true: you sure do look stunning tonight, Marine,” he said in a low voice, offering her his arm to lead her back into the living-room.

“Well, thank you,” she replied, trying to sound casual but inwardly jumping with joy about the compliment.

In the corridor, Bud was waiting with Sergei. “What did you do to your brother, sir?” he asked, indicating the plaster cast on Sergei’s left leg.

“Don’t look at me that way, Bud, it was him who went skating without proper equipment.” Harm led Mac over to his brother who greeted her warmly in Russian and then continued in English, “I just wanted to find out if your ice is as slippery as ours.” He grinned slyly.

Bud raised his eyebrows. “I see you found out it is. You sure you’re okay, staying behind with Chloe and AJ?”

Sergei smiled in a way Mac found was very similar to his elder brother’s. He lifted one of his crutches and banged it against the other. “I couldn’t dance anyway. I’m sure Chloe and I will have fun.”

Harm looked sternly at his brother. “Okay, pal. I’ll hold you responsible for everything that’s going on here tonight, is that clear?”

Sergei snapped to attention. “Aye, sir!” he bellowed.

“Shut up,” Harm chuckled, shaking his head. Chloe and Harriet returned from the kitchen. The officers helped their ladies into their coats, they waved to Sergei and Chloe and headed for the waiting taxi.

 

Jan. 1st
0445 ZULU
Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C
.

 

Midnight was approaching fast but the crowd on the great dance floor still hadn’t thinned. Harm thought he didn’t mind. It was the best excuse he had for holding Mac close to him while they were dancing. He had been dancing with her ever since dinner had been over, only interrupted by the few times when Admiral Chegwidden, Bud, Sturgis or Webb had asked Mac to dance. Reluctantly, Harm had then asked Harriet, Bobbi and even Singer but he couldn’t wait to go back to Mac. There were few opportunities to have her to himself like this and he wanted to make the most of it. As they were now slowly waltzing along the line of tables at the side of the dance floor, Harm saw Sturgis wink at him. He frowned and led Mac through a swift combination of steps, showing off a little. Luckily Mac was easy to guide in dancing. Sturgis raised an astonished eyebrow.

“What was that for, sailor?” Mac whispered into his ear.

“Just defending my honor.”

Mac had apparently decided she didn’t need to know any particulars. Harm was glad. Any explanation would only have disturbed the magic of the moment. Instead, Mac closed her eyes and let herself be carried away by the music. Moon River. Harm softly hummed along with Sinatra, watching a slight smile play on her features. He could have gone on like this forever.

Being completely honest with himself, he had to admit he was feeling a lot more uneasy about the situation than he’d let on. In the last few days, his behavior had been something he had begun to worry about. Flirting wasn’t new to him, but he had found himself flirting with Mac, and that was definitely a new one. He couldn’t even remember how it had started but that tender, chaste kiss they had shared under Harriet’s mistletoe had apparently pulled a plug somewhere inside him and set free what he had been afraid of for so long.

At first he hadn’t even noticed. He had been with his family for three days after the Roberts’s Christmas party. When he had returned to D.C., he and Mac had spent a lot of time with each other, redecorating his apartment a little, and by the time he’d become aware of the gradual change in his attitude towards her, he’d already been on a downhill road – and strangely, no fear would follow the revelation. On the contrary, he felt he was getting addicted to this new dynamic that was building up between them. He felt a need to catch her glance, to touch her arm, to smile, to throw witty remarks. Two days ago, he had noticed that she was becoming increasingly unsure around him and he had known he’d crossed the point of no return. Unwillingly maybe, but he definitely had. ‘So be it.’ He tightened his grip, feeling her body mold to his. This time he wouldn’t run.

All of a sudden, they encountered a traffic jam on the dance floor. Waiting for the others to clear the way, Harm just held her tightly against him. Then the moment was over and the dancers moved on. But Harm never loosened his firm hold, forcing their movements into perfect unison. When the song was over, they just looked at each other for a few endless seconds, then Harm broke the eye-contact and offered her his arm to guide her to their table. Neither of them spoke a word.

“Get your champagne ready, people, it’s almost midnight.” The admiral joined them and all took their glasses and went outside to watch New Year coming. Outside, they were standing on a platform, looking up into the black sky where laser beams were creating a large clock. Harm and Mac had found a spot a little ways away from their colleagues. As they were counting down the last seconds, Harm felt Mac turn to him and again met her gaze, unconsciously reaching for her hand. She started to tremble slightly, whether from the cold or due to sudden emotions he couldn’t tell. ‘Don’t back away now,’ he implored himself as he stepped closer.

Midnight. Someone started singing Auld Lang Syne and people immediately joined in, Harm took a deep breath and closed the distance. Very shyly, he allowed his lips to brush hers and linger there for the briefest moment as if to ask if he should go on. He needed all of his willpower not to jump when Mac carefully deepened the kiss. Shaking, he went along with her actions and kissed her more passionately. It was like they were the only people around, the crowd just forming an indefinite mass of movement and noise.

When he finally broke the contact, he saw that there were tears in her eyes. He caught one of them on her cheek with his thumb and tenderly brushed it away, trying not to hope for too much as to what might follow. It was still too wonderful to believe that finally, a year and a half after her almost marrying the wrong man and him almost dying in the effort to attend her wedding, they seemed to come closer than they had ever been before.

“Happy New Year, Sarah.” He heard the slight tremor in his voice but for once wasn’t afraid to show how he felt.

“Happy New Year,” she replied almost reverently. “May all our wishes come true.”

In silence, leaning onto each other, they watched the fireworks. Words were surplus to requirements.

 

Jan. 1st
1040 ZULU
Mac’s apartment
Georgetown, D.C.

 

During the ride home they hadn’t spoken much to each other, still reliving the events of this very special night. Now that the taxi had been sent away and Harm had to get home in his own car, Mac felt a strong urge to say something that would make him stay. Something meaningful that would seal what had transpired but hadn’t been spoken aloud yet. But as it turned out, she was spared the effort.

He fixed his gaze to hers and touched her arm. “Mac...”

She swallowed. “Yes?”

“May I... can I come in for a moment, please?”

“Umm... sure.” Shaking a little, she opened the door and let him in.

When the door was firmly closed behind them, she shyly looked at him and waited. Harm cleared his throat and nervously ran his fingers through his hair.

“Mac, I... I just wanted to say that... You have to know...” He stopped, helpless, apparently not knowing how to address the subject.

Mac felt an inward tension so strong she thought she would explode any moment if he didn’t go on. “What?” she urged him to speak.

Harm drew a deep breath and stepped closer. “What happened tonight...” he looked at her pleadingly as he went on very low. “I don’t want this to stop right here. I...” He reached out and with his fingers traced the contours of her face. “You said we should go back to the beginning. I guess we did. Thoroughly.” With a helpless laugh, he averted his eyes. “Somehow I feel we’ve managed to get beyond even where we were in our best times. I don’t know if you...” his voice lowered to almost a whisper. “Do you think, after all that’s happened, you’d be willing to give this... ‘thing’ between us a try?”

Mac didn’t know how to react. Paralyzed, she listened to the man she loved as he told her what she’d longed to hear for so long. Just a week ago, she would have judged this impossible. Yet, here he was, handing her his heart. As the reality of the situation finally sank in, she wanted to throw herself into his arms. But she knew she had to take up his timing. Unsure, she waited for him to do something. Anything...

When he looked up again, she saw the fear in his eyes and realized she still hadn’t answered. Stepping closer to him but not daring to touch him, she said in a low voice, “If I weren’t willing to try we’d never have gotten to this point.” She held her breath.

Comprehension seemed to dawn slowly on him. When he finally dared to believe his luck, he only took her into his arms and held her close for she knew not how long. Silent tears of yearlong suffering and final relief were shed on both sides as they were seeking comfort in an embrace that suddenly seemed to open up a whole new future. Finally, Mac stepped back and grinned, thoroughly embarrassed.

“Do you... uhm... want to stay the night or what’s left of it?” she asked with a not entirely stable voice.

Harm avoided her gaze, playing nervously with his fingers. “There might be enough left of it after all,” he said hoarsely. Then he met with Mac’s eyes and they both burst out laughing, easing away the tension. Harm got rid of his coat, then again pulled her tightly to him and kissed her fervently. She put her arms around his neck and deepened the kiss even more. Long suppressed desire suddenly washed over them, but just as Mac was about to lose herself in oblivion, Harm pulled back and lifted his right hand as if to stop her. She looked at him with raised eyebrows.

“Wait a second. I forgot something. I’ll be right back. Don’t move.” He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and made a beeline for his coat. Having taken something from his pocket, he returned to where she stood. “Close your eyes.”

“Harm, what...”

“Just a second. Please, Mac.”

Mac shook her head at him, smiling, and closed her eyes, wondering just what he might be up to. Then she felt him step up behind her and nestle something around her neck. Amazed, she lifted her right hand to her bust and instead of her pearl necklace, she encountered a small metal object.

“What’s this?” She opened her eyes and turned to face him, sure her surprise was visible on her features.

He smiled at her. “Have a look.”

Mac went over to the mirror and looked, feeling new tears well up inside her. Around her neck, she saw a delicate white golden necklace. A little heart was hanging from it, not attached in the middle but, as the pendant was shaped only as a heart’s outlines, the heart was dangling freely from the chain. At a loss of words, she turned to face Harm who had stepped close to her.

“Harm, I...” She swallowed.

“Like it?” The slight fear had returned to his eyes and she hurried to set him at ease.

“This is so beautiful, thank you.” Resting her right hand on the pendant, she lifted her face and kissed him softly. “What’s the reason?” she asked when they broke apart.

Harm laid his left hand on her right that was still resting on the necklace. “This is a very special jewel, you know. My father gave it to my mother when I was born. Mom tells me he said that with this pendant, he wanted to give her the whole of his heart. And he told her to give it to me when I had found the woman I really loved, so I could pass it on to her.” He sobered, his emotions showing clearly in his eyes. As if to make sure she was awake, Mac reached for his hand and squeezed it tightly, drawing a smile that made her hold her breath once again.

“When I was at La Jolla for Christmas,” Harm went on, “I told my mother I had finally decided to give the heart away. She didn’t even ask to whom I intended to give it.” He chuckled softly. “She only got up, fetched the case and said, ‘Give my love to Mac, my dear. Make sure you deserve her.’”

At this, Mac couldn’t prevent herself from laughing out loud, blushing deeply. Harm took her in his arms, caressing her back. “Trouble was, I didn’t know how you’d feel about this.” He leaned back to watch her, grinning. “Seriously, I was scared like hell all day you’d push me away. You would have had some reason I daresay.” He sighed deeply, making her laugh even harder. Then he gently cupped her face with his hands.

“I love you, Sarah Mackenzie. I always have, you know,” he said softly.

The words. He had said them. Mac tightened her hold on him a little, afraid the impact would make her faint. The reaction wasn’t lost on him and his smile turned just a little guilty. Glad to see a way out, she only stated, “Well, if you did, you had an odd way of showing me.”

He fell earnest. “I know. I’m so sorry.” He shook his head as if he couldn’t believe his own stupidity. “Really, I mean it. I am infinitely sorry it took me so long to make up my mind. I could have spared us a lot of heartache if I hadn’t been such a coward back in Sydney. Even back then there was nothing I wanted more than to have you by my side.” His smile crept back up to his eyes. “Maybe the magical third kiss did the trick...”

Mac rested her hands on his that were still holding her face. “Don’t trouble yourself with could-haves. You didn’t back away this time. On the contrary, you started.” Swallowing a sob, she lowered her voice. “This is all I ever wanted. I love you, too.”

The overwhelmed expression on his features was enough to make her knees buckle for real. Harm caught her, swept her up and held her, laughing with her. “Don’t let that boost your ego, flyboy,” she managed to get out despite her laughter.

“I’ll know how to interpret this,” he retorted smugly, “You know what they say about dress whites and gold wings...”

“Oh, shut up!” Her lips silenced him effectively, and with a start she noticed that his hands had found the zipper of her dress.

Just then, the telephone cruelly interrupted the bliss. Mac rolled her eyes in exasperation. Who would call her on New Year at six o’clock in the morning? Harm stretched out his arm to reach for the receiver but Mac stopped him and gave him a warning look.

“We’d better get used to this ourselves first before we let the others know.” She placed a quick kiss on Harm’s lips and then picked up the phone. “Mackenzie.”

[“Ma’am? This is Harriet. They... oh God... There was...”] The rest was lost to helpless sobbing.

Feeling the color drain from her face and reaching for Harm’s hand, Mac pushed the speaker button. “Calm down, Harriet,” she said with more conviction than she felt. “What happened?”

Harriet’s answer came in between little sobs. [“The front door has been forced, Ma’am. AJ, Chloe and Sergei are gone.”]

 

Chapter 2

 

Harm felt the ground fall away from beneath his feet. He steadied himself, leaning against the nearby wall, pulling Mac to him. He couldn’t lose Sergei again, now that he’d just gotten him back. And his godson, the nearest thing he had to a child of his own... And would Mac be forced to suffer yet another loss in her life, that of her little adopted sister? He slid his arm around her, trying to appear stronger than he felt. He had to. He could see what the news was doing to Mac.

“No traces whatsoever?” she asked in a panic-stricken voice, biting her lower lip and forcefully gulping down tears as she listened. Then, all of a sudden, the Marine took over. “Okay, Harriet, I know where to find the commander. We’ll be right there. Hang on.” She flung the receiver onto the cradle and then turned to Harm, shaking. He embraced her firmly for a moment, searching for strength himself. Then he looked at her, determination shining in his eyes. “Come on, Colonel, put on some sweats and let’s go.”

 

Jan. 1st
1135 ZULU
Roberts Residence
Rosslyn, VA

 

“What happened?” AJ Chegwidden thundered as he stepped into the living room, still wearing his galas. Behind him appeared Sturgis and Bobbi. Luckily Singer didn’t show up. Tiner had taken her home earlier.

A very pale but composed Mac came to meet him. “We don’t know, sir. We didn’t call the police, just in case whoever is involved in this might take it as a direct provocation. So we’re looking for any traces ourselves. There’s blood on the carpet, but not much, and we didn’t find much evidence of a fight, either. So maybe they are all well, but we don’t have a clue where they are or who kidnapped them.”

“Dammit,” the admiral uttered between his teeth. “Any missing objects?”

“Only AJ’s diaper bag, bottle and blanket. Looks like they want him taken care of for whatever reason. Sir...” Mac swallowed. “Could you go over to Bud and Harriet and try to, well, keep them out of the way? We’re all very scared but they’re really not being very helpful.”

Bobbi and Sturgis joined them. “Don’t worry, Colonel, we’ll take care of it. The admiral might be needed in the investigation,” the congresswoman said with a questioning glance in Sturgis’s direction. Sturgis nodded consent and they walked over to the couch where Harm was trying to soothe a crying Harriet and a raving Bud.

Harm gladly left the Roberts’ in their care and walked over to Mac and the admiral. He was suffering far more anxiety than he would let show. “Sir, they’ve left behind Sergei’s crutches. He’ll be completely helpless by now,” he said, wiping some sweat off his forehead. He was beginning to feel desperate. If they only knew what to look for! He looked at Mac and felt his heart aching even more. They hadn’t talked much since Harriet’s phone call and he could see she was slowly going crazy with worry. He stepped over and, not caring that his CO was standing nearby, pulled Mac into his arms for a moment. AJ stood quietly and waited. When they parted, he cleared his throat a little uneasily and sent them back to search for what, no one knew.

Harm noticed that every so often, Mac would stop looking around for a moment, close her eyes and take a firm hold on the little heart he had given her as if she were searching for a source of strength. He was touched by how much his little gift seemed to mean to her and he swore to himself that when all this was over, he’d take Mac on a holiday to make her – make them – forget about this horror.

Suddenly Mac gave a little cry of surprise. In an instant they were all by her side, Harriet holding her breath, supported by Bobbi, Sturgis firmly holding Bud.

“There’s blood, here on the windowsill,” she indicated, her voice shaking. “It’s in the shadow so maybe that’s why you didn’t see it at first. But there’s more. These are no stains, they’re letters. Russian letters. Which means Sergei tried to leave us a hint. Harriet, do you have a flashlight?”

Harriet only nodded while Bud was already on his way to get it. He handed it to Mac and stepped back as she bent over the windowsill, examining the smears.

“It’s only half a word,” she said, frustration making her voice shake even more. “I can’t make out any sense.”

Harm stepped close to Mac and reassuringly put his hand on her back, trying to hide his own turmoil of feelings. “Can you pronounce it?”

“Yes, but as I said, the letters make no sense. I don’t know any word that’d fit with these syllables.”

“Anyway, what’s the sound of them?”

Mac again looked down and then said, “It could be as much as “goal-‘enn”.

Harm slowly repeated the sound over and over, pacing up and down like a lion in a cage. If Sergei had wanted to leave word he’d have encrypted it, leaving a Russian word that he knew his friends would be able to make out, but not the enemy. But then he would have left a message that was easy to understand, not with words so rarely used that Mac wouldn’t know them. So what if this wasn’t Russian at all? ‘goal-‘enn’... And then it struck him. He spun around, facing the whole party but addressing Mac.

“Mac, it’s not Russian at all. He used the letters to encrypt his message. It’s a name. It’s ‘Golden’.”

Mac gasped in shock but had at once gotten Harm’s point. “Of course... He’s taking revenge on the three people that destroyed his plans, that’d be you, Bud and me. But how the hell would he know that he would have such a chance tonight?”

AJ stepped in, holding up his hands. “Easy, Colonel, Commander. Would you care to inform us what this is all about?”

“Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Golden was sentenced to life at Leavenworth, sir,” said Bud, having understood as well and fighting hard to keep his composure. “It’s been ten months or so. He and a couple of his colleagues at Miramar were trafficking in human beings and drugs, using the sea route from Baja California. The whole thing was discovered when two missing sailors were found dead on the beach a little south of San Diego. Golden was accused of murder. I’m sure you’ll remember the court-martial, sir.”

AJ nodded slowly but it was obvious that he was confused. “I think I do, but cold-blooded slave trade and revenge as personal as this don’t seem to fit into the same picture. Can you give me a few more details, please?”

Taking a deep breath to steady himself, the lieutenant complied. “Of course, sir. That was just the point that made this case so different from the many precedents we dug up. Golden doesn’t have the usual business mentality but seemed to do it for more personal reasons that no one understood. And he was obsessed with what he was doing, unlike his partners who were in for the money alone.” Bud paused a few seconds, apparently giving the admiral a chance to comment, but AJ was waiting patiently, so he went on.

“Commander Rabb and I prosecuted and Colonel Mackenzie defended. It was obvious that Golden had killed the men but it was difficult to prove it without a doubt. The case took many unexpected turns that dragged out the court-martial. When the verdict was finally read, Golden asked if he might say something. When Judge Sebring allowed it, Golden swore an oath that he’d get back at us, especially at Colonel Mackenzie. He said that her failed defense ruined him forever and that he would take revenge - may it be the last thing he’d ever do in his life. The MPs immediately took him away but we were all pretty shaken by the display, sir. Golden must have had his men spying on us ever since, waiting for his chance.”

“If he monitored our telephones he must have known that he could at least get his hands on AJ and Chloe tonight,” Harm cut in. “I’m sure he’s congratulating himself on his good luck that my brother was there as well.” His brow furrowed in rage.

“But how would Sergei know who is behind all this?” The admiral’s frown fully mirrored Harm’s.

“Pure chance again, sir. Sergei and I talked about this case just two days ago,” Harm explained. “He wanted me to tell him a little about what I was doing at JAG, and the Golden case offered a lot of possibilities for explanation. So I’m sure Sergei immediately knew what this was about when he somehow managed to get a hint as to the kidnappers’ identities.”

“But...” Harriet had finally gained control of her voice. “Golden should know that the government would never trade hostages for prisoners.”

Harm looked at her earnestly. “Golden’s not the man who wants to bargain. He wants his revenge carried out. So he may take care of his hostages for the moment but I’m sure he only wants to play with us to savor his vendetta. He’ll kill them in the end so we have to act really quickly.”

At this, Harriet squeezed Bobbi’s hand so tightly that the congresswoman let out a low groan. Mac’s look was one of cold professionalism. Harm sadly noted that if it hadn’t been for the little heart that she was still clutching tightly in her hand, nothing would have been left of the woman he had held in his arms a little about an hour ago.

“I know where he keeps them,” she murmured through clenched teeth.

Harm threw her an astonished glance. “What? Where?”

“Red Rock Mesa.”

“Red Rock...” Harm knew he was gaping at her in a way that was anything but civil but he couldn’t help it. Mac really thought Golden would bother to have his men fly the hostages all across the continent first instead of securing them right away somewhere close by? And then, Golden was apparently directing this operation from his cell in Leavenworth. So what freaking difference would it make to him if the hostages were held near D.C. or anywhere else? Why organize a complicated and risky operation to get them that far away? Even if they hadn’t been brought up to the plateau but were kept somewhere on the ground – it was still extremely difficult to handle the logistics. Mac couldn’t possibly be serious about that. Yet, one look at her face told him that she apparently was. And that she was determined to make her point.

He surrendered. “Why would he go there of all places?” was all he asked, incredulous. “And by the way, how would you know?”

“Because I once told him about my passion for paleontology and about how Uncle Matt and I used to look for ichnites there,” she explained, calmly but firmly. “I wanted to get my hands on any details from Golden’s past, something I could base my defense on. So, to get him to open up, I gave him a few details about myself. Quid pro quo. And then...” Mac swallowed hard. “When they convicted him, he screamed after me that one day people would find my own bones scattered where the dinosaurs would be waiting for me, remember?”

Harm nodded. All of a sudden, he was convinced that she was right. He had been in the courtroom that day. He could see the scene play out in his mind, feeling the same shock and rage he had felt back then.

“Golden’s definitely pigheaded and smart enough to pull off something like that,” Mac went on. “What I learned about him during the court-martial told me enough to see that he’s genial in some distorted way when it comes to carrying out his plans.” Harm could tell Mac was shaking with fury. And fear?

Chegwidden had turned on his heels and was making a phone call. Two minutes later he joined the group.

“Lieutenant Roberts, you stay here with your wife. Commander Turner,” he looked at Sturgis, “You take care of them. Mackenzie, Rabb, we have an aircraft waiting at Andrews. Let’s see to it that we get there ASAP.”

“Aye, sir,” came the echoes from different directions of the room, all voices anxious but somehow relieved as well. At least they now had something to cling to.

 

Jan. 1st
1310 ZULU
Andrews USN Airbase

 

AJ, Mac and Harm were sitting silently in their seats, watching the ground move farther and farther away. Harm had his arm wrapped around Mac and was holding her tight, resting his chin on her head. He didn’t care that Chegwidden saw them – their CO had always been understanding about their close friendship and right now, nothing pointed to the fact that there might be more than that between them. Only he himself and Mac knew, and that was all they needed for now. He had often embraced her like this, but never had he felt so much comfort flowing from her presence as he was feeling at the moment. And he could tell it was just the same for Mac, for she was still holding the gold pendant in a tight grip and it seemed she could not lean close enough to him.

Harm was still amazed by himself. He had thought he would never bring himself to open his heart to her. And more than that, he had doubted she would accept his offer now when he had turned down hers so many times before. But still, she had told him she loved him and this was going to be the strongest source of strength he could ever have wished for. In the following hours, he would it need badly.

He was still deeply touched by how much she seemed to appreciate his gift. She was holding on to it as if to make sure that his heart was still with her. Well, as far as he was concerned, she would always have it. Harm looked up and saw that the admiral was watching them closely. Did he suspect anything? He wouldn’t be surprised if he did. He met his CO’s eyes. In spite of all the worry showing on Chegwidden’s face, Harm thought he could make out the slightest trace of a knowing smile. He smiled back just a little embarrassedly and then rested his head again on Mac’s. Thankfully she had drifted to sleep. He would watch over her.

 

Jan 1st
1500 ZULU
Red Rock Mesa
Arizona

 

Sergei, Chloe and little AJ had been taken to some dark cave. They had been left a little kerosene lamp, rugs and some food, but no hint as to where exactly they were. After the bumpy flight in a small, shabby plane, they had arrived when everything around had still been pitch black. Sergei thought he had made out the outlines of mountains or rocks, but he couldn’t be sure. From where they were now, they had no way of taking a look outside. Their kidnappers had told them in no uncertain terms that, should any of them ever show up at the entrance of the cave, he’d have seen the sun for the last time ever. Not that he’d have been able to try anyway, Sergei thought with a wan smile. Without Chloe’s help, he couldn’t walk anywhere.

AJ had been crying wildly all night, but when they had been able make out the first hints of dawn from their dark dungeon, he had finally fallen asleep and so had Chloe who had been around the little boy all the time. Sergei watched the girl lying on the rugs, holding little AJ tightly in her arms even now. She had been really brave, Sergei thought. He had seen how a few tears had trickled down her cheeks on the flight but she had obviously wanted to soothe the toddler. So she had sat there, desperately biting her lips and rocking AJ in her arms. Sergei knew he hadn’t been much of a help. He had been out for quite a while, only occasionally emerging from his unconsciousness. His head still hurt badly where whoever they were had hit him. He only hoped that Mac had been able to decipher his hint as to who was behind the crime. If so, she and his brother would already be working on their rescue. If not...

He tried to shift his weight but at once let out a groan of pain. There was something wrong with his already injured leg. Well, he would let Chloe sleep for another half-hour or so, but then he would need her because he felt nature calling. Poor little one. She had to support them both now, him physically and AJ as his spare mom. Sergei softly brushed away a strand of Chloe’s blond hair that hung over her mouth and moved when she breathed. But if Chloe was only half as much Mac’s ‘sister’ as he was Harm’s brother, they were going to make it out of here safely.

 

Jan. 1st
1730 ZULU
Red Rock Mesa
Arizona

 

The three humvees bumped along the track. As always when she came here, Mac was awed by the beauty of the scenery. Not even her worries could prevent that. She had wanted to come back here with Harm, all alone, on a weekend trip. Now there were 18 of them: her, Harm, Chegwidden, and a strike team of 15 Marines from Yuma. On the base, they had been given the proper equipment and BDUs to change into. Harriet had called and informed them that a Master Chief Gabriel Wright had called on behalf of the kidnappers, telling them that they wanted five million dollars for Golden’s family and a safe exit out of the country. He had described where exactly he wanted the ransom to be deposited. Mac alone was to deliver it. Obviously any ‘misinterpretations’ of these rules would otherwise lead to the death of one of the hostages.

From the information about where to drop the money, Mac had at once deduced that the hostages had to be not too far away from a cave she and her uncle had sometimes camped in. So that would be where they were to look first. The one advantage they had, she knew, was that Golden’s men wouldn’t be expecting them yet. Sergei’s message had provided them with a five-hour head start.

As this was a Marine operation, Mac had found herself in command, the admiral leaving her the lead. And she was going to get them out safely, she kept swearing to herself. One look at Harm’s equally determined face and she knew she had the best support she could ever have hoped for. Subconsciously she again grabbed Harm’s little heart on her necklace that she hadn’t been able to take off when she had changed. She needed it to survive.

 

Meanwhile in a nearby cave...

 

Chloe woke up as Sergei softly patted her arm. She needed a moment to clear her thoughts but then all the memories of last night rushed into her mind and made her shudder involuntarily. As she lifted her glance she met Sergei’s reassuring smile and was grateful for his presence. Although she didn’t know him very well, she still knew he was Harm’s brother and that Harm and Mac trusted him. That was enough for her to rely on. She looked down on little AJ who was sleeping soundly.

“At least there’s someone who doesn’t care too much about this shit,” she said in a low voice.

“True...” Sergei acknowledged thoughtfully. Then he looked at her, concerned. “Did you get a little rest?”

“Strangely, yes, I did. But Mac once told me you could sleep in the weirdest places if you were tired enough to try. How are you feeling?”

Sergei made a face. “Something happened to my leg. It hurts very badly,” he said. “Hurts ‘like hell’ – you say so, don’t you?”

Chloe smiled. “That’s right.”

“Uhm, Chloe, I...” Sergei looked dreadfully embarrassed. “Could you please help me to get up and go a little further down the cave... I need to...” He stopped, not knowing how to go on. Comprehension dawning, Chloe grinned, feeling embarrassed as well.

“Sure. Put your arms around my neck.” She carefully freed herself from little AJ and crawled over to the young man. “And now help me to get you on your feet.” Sergei gritted his teeth and in a low voice uttered a few Russian curses. But they managed to get him to a spot in the cave where he could lean on the rock. Chloe turned around, waiting for him to summon her for the way back.

“Do you think they’ll find us?” she finally asked once they were again settled on the rugs.

Sergei’s gaze was earnest. Chloe saw that he didn’t even think about lying to her, and she was grateful for that. After all, she was thirteen years old and had a right to know the truth. “I tried to leave a message for Mac right when that guy knocked me out,” Sergei explained in a low voice. “I don’t know if they’ll find it but if they do maybe they can guess where we are.”

“That really sounds like something Harm would have done,” Chloe stated. “And that’s why I’m sure they’ll find it.”

“So am I.”

For a few moments they were silent, each hanging on to their own thoughts. Then Chloe spoke up again, her change of topic seeming to surprise him a little.

“What do you think? Will Harm and Mac ever get together?”

Laughing slightly, Sergei shrugged his shoulders. “Well, everyone can see it would be the best thing for both of them, but then, my brother can be really stubborn...”

“So can Mac,” said Chloe, sighing deeply. “And yet I’m still keeping my hopes up. You know, when Mac was with Mic, I thought they were perfect... but I guess I was right with my first guess after all. Actually, I think she and Harm are a lot closer than they ever were.”

“I think so, too,” Sergei agreed. “Maybe our little adventure out here will bring them closer still.” He raised his eyebrows. “United in worries for brother and sister, together coming to our rescue... who knows?” He held up five to her, grinning mischievously.

A wide grin had spread over Chloe’s face, too. “You’re on!” she said, giving him five. Then she sniffed suspiciously. “Uh oh,” she grimaced, “I think I might get the chance to test my skills in diaper-changing before long.”

But even as she was starting to get up to get AJ’s bag, the sound of gunshots suddenly broke the silence.

Sergei immediately grabbed her arm and pulled hard. “Get down!” he shouted. AJ woke and started crying with fear. Chloe seized him and lay down next to Sergei. He put his arm over her back and pulled her and AJ close to his side. “I only hope my brother will hurry up a little,” he mumbled in a half-hearted attempt to ease the tension.

“Chloe? Sergei? Where are you?” Harm’s voice. Sergei let out a sigh of relief and pushed his body up a little. “Over here. Nice of you to drop by at last”, he called.

Harm immediately came over to them and helped his brother stand up. “Chloe, you okay? How’s AJ?”

“All fine now that you’re here. How did you find us this quickly? Is Mac with you?”

“Yes, Mac’s outside with the admiral and a Marine squad. She knew this cave. She was here with her uncle. So we also knew we could peep in on you from above and see if there were any guards inside. As we found that they were keeping watch only at the front entrance, we thought we’d better not try to negotiate but go for a quick in-and-out op. Now let’s get you out of here.”

Chloe quickly grabbed AJ and his bag and, Harm half-carrying Sergei, they rushed outside to where the jeeps were waiting.

 

Outside...

 

Mac came running to them. “Oh my God, Chloe, are you all right?”

“Yeah, all fine. Let’s just get away.”

“Okay, let me take AJ, and run, quick!”

Chloe handed Mac the toddler and sped to the nearest car where Harm was already helping Sergei settle down. Mac set off to follow her when AJ suddenly began to cry, reaching out for something. She stopped and looked back: he had dropped his teddy bear. Suppressing a groan, Mac hurried back to get the toy, knowing it was AJ’s favorite.

“Ma’am, their reinforcements may be here any minute now, we’d better be out of here,” a young lieutenant yelled.

“I’m aware of that, Lieutenant,” Mac yelled back angrily and turned back to rush over to the second humvee when all of a sudden multiple gunfire erupted from above.

Mac witnessed how horror immediately contorted Harm’s face when it became obvious that she had no cover to run for. He jumped out of the car and ran towards her onto the open space. Her heart skipped a beat. Damn that idiot!

“Harm, are you crazy? Get back!!” she shouted, desperate.

Stubborn, he continued zigzagging towards her, obviously trying to draw a little fire from her.

“Dammit, that’s an order! Get back!! Aaargh...” Excruciating pain shot through her thigh. She wasn’t really surprised when she fell. Sooner or later this had been bound to happen. She tried to move but found she couldn’t get up. Crawling was impossible with the little one in tow. This was starting to get ugly for real.

“Mac!!!” she heard Harm cry out as she was trying to cover AJ with her body. ‘Breathe, Mackenzie, it’s only your thigh.’ Harm was still so far away...

She felt her blood stream out of the wound, soaking her pants, and still the shooting went on. As a second bullet hit her left arm, making her scream in raw pain, realization finally dawned that this time, she wouldn’t make it out safely. She was a first-class target, the only unmoving prominent spot on an open plane, a beginner’s task. If she could only be sure that AJ and Harm would be safe at the end.

She wanted to call out for him when a third bullet hit her right hip. Her whole body was on fire and she felt she was losing the battle. Then Harm had reached her. For a moment she took in the frantic, desperate look on his face. The face she had come to love so much. But she knew he couldn’t save them both. “Take AJ, quick!” she cried, biting down her tears and handing him the boy. All color drained from his face the moment he understood what she was doing. ‘Please, Harm, don’t start a discussion. Please...’

Meanwhile, the Marines had opened fire on their attackers, trying to open them a safe way back. By the by their enemies seemed to lose their stand. However, there was still someone persistently firing in their direction.

“Run, Harm!” Mac urged him to go. A floating image of Harm cradling her body and crying in bottomless grief invaded her mind. That was when she knew this was the last time she would ever see him. The agony in her heart fully matched that of her injuries – and went beyond it.

“No way, Mac, I won’t leave you out here,” Harm yelled, his voice cracking. He reached out for her and for a fleeting moment, hope blossomed in her heart... hope against all rational thought that he might save her after all...

His beautiful eyes that were brimming with unshed tears were the last thing she saw when she felt a hard bolt at the back of her head. Night had fallen.

 

 

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

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