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Classification Drama, Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 31,000 words, 67 pages (8 ½ x 11”)
Spoilers Everything up to mid-season 8
Rating GS
Supplemental Disclaimer 'Second Chance' is property of Trisha Yearwood, Mark Wright and MCA Nashville. No copyright infringement intended.
 
Author's Notes I promise that this is a shipper story, and it will lead to a happy ending. But I still fear that some of you won't like it. Please, don't sue me... And I just wanted to add that I actually happen to like the names 'David' and 'Catherine', as two people in my family are called that. So, please, don't let your dislike of them being used in JAG fanfic prevent you from reading this story. I know that it's highly improbable that Bud should ever become an admiral, due to his injury. So let's just say that, thirty years from now, the Navy might have changed its policy in this respect, as well as in admitting women to the SEALs.
 
Summary Two young JAG officers are assigned to headquarters - only to find that history seems to repeat itself...

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

 

 

 

What do you do
When love comes along
And offers your heart
A chance to move on
With no guarantees
No safety net
You trust what you feel
You take that first step

Just close your eyes
Reach for the moment
Before it slips by
Here is your second chance
Take it and fly

(Trisha Yearwood: 'Second Chance')

 



Chapter 1

July 6th, A.D. 2033
2334 ZULU
White House Rose Garden
Washington, D.C.

 

"...although by that time his plane had already been hit twice by enemy fire. Still, the captain was able to land safely on Turkish territory where Colonel Shultz finally received the necessary medical attention. For putting the colonel's life and safety ahead of his own, Captain David Mackerras, United States Marine Corps, is awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Captain Mackerras, front and center!"

The tall, young man in impeccable dress blues stepped in front and sharply snapped to attention. President Chelsea Clinton took the award from its case, carefully pinned it to the captain's uniform jacket and then complimented and thanked him. The audience gave a round of applause and the ceremony was over. Mackerras left the stage and was immediately surrounded by well-wishers.

Rear Admiral Bud Jay Roberts, Judge Advocate General of the Navy, rose from his seat, frowning. He knew everyone would let him pass if he pulled rank but even after all the years of his career he was still reluctant to do so. But on the other hand he hated to wait in line. At least today he wasn't alone. Shifting his weight from his prosthesis onto his good leg, Bud turned and smiled at his wife who had, for once, been able to accompany him to an official occasion.

Ever since Captain Harriet Sims had become Brussels NATO headquarters spokeswoman on naval affairs five years ago, Bud was lucky if he saw her once every two months. With AJ away at Aviano and Lydia married in New Zealand, Bud felt lonely more often than he would admit, lonely and old as he had passed 60 a few years back. But he still had his job. And who was he to deny his beloved wife the chance to transfer to Europe? Ever since she had started doing public relations for the Pentagon, her career had progressed marvelously. Brussels was the pinnacle of her career. There was nothing more after that. She had told him so herself. How could he have held her back?

She was still as beautiful as she had been when he'd first met her on the Seahawk during the crossing-the-line investigation with Commander Rabb and Colonel Mackenzie.

Rabb and Mackenzie... Bud's frown deepened. Today had been such a beautiful, sunny day - until he had first set eyes on his new subordinate. A few days back, Bud had skimmed the captain's service record for the first time, and unwelcome memories had surfaced. Memories that he thought he had successfully buried long ago. Obviously, he had been wrong.

A fighter pilot who had lost his full flight status due to an eye injury and had decided to turn lawyer instead. True, David Mackerras was a Marine and he flew Hornets, but the fact that he had, in the course of an investigation, saved his commanding officer's life with a risky flight maneuver while being fired upon and therefore was awarded the DFC, had rung too many bells in Bud's head to make him stay calm. When he had received the invitation to the ceremony that was to be held in the White House Rose Garden, the uneasiness had deepened. But it hadn't been until this morning, when Captain Mackerras had been presented to him, that Bud had felt his stomach knot tightly. Mackerras was at least 6'3 in height, was well-trained and well-built, had dark hair, amazingly blue eyes and the very same one-billion-watts flyboy-smile he knew to be Commander Rabb's. He had needed all of his iron will that he had built up during his rehabilitation to not flinch at the captain's looks.

Harriet had by now managed to join him in the crowd. Smiling encouragingly, she hooked her arm through her husband's.

"The similarity is incredible," she observed quietly, with her head motioning to the captain who seemed to be reveling in everybody's compliments.

"Yeah. But it's more the situation that's getting to me," Bud replied. "You weren't there, but I can tell you, it was exactly the same back then."

"Let's just get it over with, okay, hon?" Harriet gave him another quick smile before it was their turn to compliment Mackerras.

When they had exchanged a few pleasantries, Bud began to walk down the path, making Mackerras follow him.


"You're leaving, sir?" the young man asked.

"Yes, and so are you, Captain," Bud retorted. "You and your new partner have been requested to investigate a case down at Pensacola."

"Uhm, sir, my transfer over here was rather unexpected." Mackerras frowned slightly. "I didn't even get to know whom I would be partnered with."

Bud motioned to a figure clad in immaculate dress whites who was walking in their direction. Mackerras had to squint his eyes almost shut to make out the officer as the late afternoon sun was shining directly into his eyes.

The four officers came to a halt on the gravel path. Mackerras turned his head in surprise as he heard his CO inhale sharply. And in pure bewilderment he noticed that Captain Sims gave her husband's arm a quick encouraging squeeze, having paled a little herself.

"Uhm," Admiral Roberts had found his voice, "Lieutenant, meet Captain David Mackerras, United States Marine Corps. Captain, this is Lieutenant Catherine Raleigh, United States Navy SEALs, your new JAG partner."

'Uh oh, a female SEAL,' Mackerras frowned inwardly. 'Okay, I'm a Marine. I can handle it. Better start with a smile.'


Flashing her a radiant grin, he held out his hand. "Dave," he said simply.

The lieutenant, who until now had looked at her CO, turned to face him... and stared. Seconds ticked by. Three... four... five...

Dave was starting to wonder if he had put on a base-cap instead of his cover or something similar that could cause a reaction as this. Just as he slowly started to let his arm sink, the lieutenant seemed to emerge from her state of haze and hastily grabbed his hand. "Cate," she said slowly, her voice wary.

All at once, the brilliant sun was gone as one of the few fluffy clouds floated in front of it, shading Dave's view. He relaxed his eyes and for the first time really looked at the woman in front of him. And all of a sudden he felt his knees weaken and his stomach tighten while his vision started to blur.

He was looking at the face of a woman that he was sure he had never met. He would have remembered having ever seen such captivating huge eyes. The woman had short brown hair, though not too short, and she was rather tall, at least 5'7. Her skin had a natural tan as if at least one of her ancestors hadn't been Caucasian and her handshake told of power and a strong will.

Cate surely was a fascinating woman, but what troubled Dave considerably, was that, in spite of his brain telling him over and over again that he didn't know her, somewhere deep inside him he was convinced that they must have met before. And the situation began to outright scare him when he realized that Cate's reaction upon seeing him seemed to mirror his own feelings. Her attitude was all professional now, but her eyes couldn't hide the deep disturbance she was obviously feeling in her soul.

As they just stared at each other, the admiral suddenly spoke up, his voice low and strangely uneven. "Do you two know each other?"

"Yes, sir." They answered simultaneously, making their eyes widen still more as they realized what they had just said.

Cate was the first to find her voice. She smiled a little embarrassedly. "Uh, excuse me, Captain, of course I don't know you. I just had some kind of a..."

"Déjà vu, I know, Lieutenant," Dave cut in cautiously, his eyes never leaving hers. "Me, too."

The admiral's voice was suddenly very tight and gruff. "Well, don't get too close, you have to work together," was all he choked out before hurriedly leaving the site without turning back.

Harriet swallowed to will down her own uneasiness and then kindly addressed the two extremely bewildered officers. "You must excuse him. Today is... well, a strange day that somehow keeps bringing up unwelcome memories wherever he looks."


"Yes, ma'am." Dave didn't really know what to make of the Navy captain's enigmatic statement.

Cate drew a deep breath, knowing she was bold to ask what she was about to, but something told her that the captain had the key for her very own stormy state of mind that was utterly inexplicable to her. "Ma'am... if it isn't too much to ask... I think it would be good if we knew what's troubling the admiral... for our future working environment's sake, I mean."

Dave only nodded, pleased to find that his new partner seemed to be quick-thinking.

Harriet smiled slightly. "It's a long story."

"It might be worth it, ma'am," Dave said carefully, burning to know what on earth he had just been dumped into.

"Okay, then." Harriet started to walk down the path, the young officers following her. "I guess I need to start right here, in the White House Rose Garden, on a day just like today, when a young pilot, who had turned JAG lawyer and was to be my husband's mentor, received his first DFC..."

 

July 7th, 2033
0303 ZULU
Base Guest Quarters
Pensacola, Florida

 

Utterly exhausted, Dave was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to get some order into his racing mind. Today was supposed to be nice and easy. He had thought he would first be given a medal and then all the time he needed to adjust to his new designator. He had obviously been wrong. He had gotten far more than he had bargained for.

First of all, his new CO seemed to resent him for something that he didn't know anything about. Then there was his new partner's reaction at seeing him. And finally his own frightening gut feeling that, for some inexplicable, cosmic, statistically impossible, whatever... reason he was sure that he knew her. Where from? He kept searching his mind, over and over again, but couldn't come up with anything that might help him.

And then there was Captain Sims' disconcerting look-alike story. Dave had to concede that, at least from how she had related the events, too many little details seemed to mirror the captain's friends. Hell, something like this would have given him the creeps, too. 'Admit it, Stearman,' he silently told himself, addressing his mind by using his call sign, 'It did give you the creeps when you saw that face. But why?'

A hesitant knock on his door shook him from his musings. "One moment, please." He quickly put on a T-shirt and some sweats and went over to open the door. He wasn't really surprised to see his new partner standing outside, a folder in her hand.

"Uhm... Captain, I'm..."

"Dave," he cut in with a slight smile.

"Yeah, right." She looked away for a moment, nervously clearing her throat. Then she seemed to remember her SEAL training, squared her shoulders and firmly looked up at him again. "I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you. But I thought you might want to see this. Can I come in?"

"Sure. Would you like a cup of tea?"

Her smile was a little curious. "Where did you get it from?"

"Electric kettle."

"Wow. Yes, thank you, I might need a cup of tea."

"Just sit down. I'll be with you in a minute." Dave closed the door behind her and then vanished into the bathroom. "Don't tell me you were still working, Lieutenant," he called while preparing the tea.

"Cate," she called back, her voice holding an amused edge.

"Sorry."

"No problem. No, I wasn't working. But I felt I needed to do a little research on something else and I thought you might want to see what I found."

"A little secretive, aren't we?" Smirking, Dave emerged from the bathroom, carrying two steaming mugs with the teabags still in. He handed her one and then sat down on the chair opposite to hers.

She just smiled back and handed him the folder.

Raising his eyebrows quizzically, Dave took a look at the first page. It was a copy of a Washington Post article from the WP Internet archive, dated thirty years back. 'Bomb at Berlin U.S. Embassy: two Americans dead' he read. And the subtitle went on: 'Navy commander and Marine lieutenant colonel died in the blast. Were they involved in the bombing?' Beneath was a photo of the officers in question. Dave's mouth dropped open. He instantly understood his CO's reaction upon seeing them this morning. Those two, standing in front of the entrance to JAG headquarters, were Cate and his physical twins. And underneath the photo he saw the officers' names, just as he remembered Captain Sims mentioning them a few hours back: Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr. and Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Mackenzie.

He looked up to find Cate thoughtfully looking at him. "What do you say?" she asked simply.

"Feels kind of odd to have a dead double that's accused of bombing an embassy," he stated slowly. "But somehow, from how Captain Sims spoke of them, I can't bring myself to believe that they did it." He thumbed through the thin stack of paper. "Did you find anything that could tell us if they did?"

Cate frowned. "No, and that's the weird part of it. I found lots of stuff about their careers. They must have been an outstanding team. But after this article everything just seems to be erased. No funerals. No further information. I even tried the military databases. Nothing. Okay, I didn't have the time yet to search thoroughly. But it strikes me as kind of odd that all this seems to be highly classified. Or just vanished from the records..." she let her voice trail off, insinuating her opinion where the information had gone.

Dave took a sip from his mug, lost in thoughts. "I'm starting to wonder what kind of man he used to be," he said eventually, staring out of the window. "And if I happen to be anything like him."

"From what I read, Rabb must have been singular," Cate answered quietly. "There is a portrait of him in here that was published in the Navy Times in 2002. It was him who took out the dirty nuclear missile that threatened one of our battle groups during the Afghan war."

"Oh, really?" Dave shot her a surprised glance. "I heard about that in one of my classes. Didn't remember the name, though. What do they say about his personal background?"

"Pretty much the same as Captain Sims told us. Rabb seems to have been a man who easily turned a task into an obsession. Take his father. He went MIA in Vietnam on Christmas Eve of 1969. Rabb managed to trace him all the way up to Siberia, went in search of him on his own, stole a MIG, was shot down and still managed to find out his father's fate and eventually even got to know his Russian half brother."

"And his military career survived that?" Dave's frown was incredulous.

Slight chuckling preceded Cate's answer. "It seems that's where my own double steps into the picture. Mackenzie not only followed him around the world on her own account, it seems that she even convinced their CO that Rabb needed her there. She was with him in the MIG when they went down. And a little further down the article says that, in Afghanistan, she saved him when he stepped on a landmine. But the most extraordinary thing is that she even seems to have supplied the correct coordinates where he was to be found when he was lost at sea once. She claimed that she didn't know how she did it. But the rescue teams found him."

"Wow." Dave needed a moment to digest the information. "So Mackenzie was kind of a guardian angel for him. He must have meant a lot to her."

"And vice versa, apparently," Cate went on, perusing another article. "Here, for example. Rabb and Mackenzie were on the Watertown, doing an investigation, under the polar ice. They had no way of escaping and the ship's doctor all but killed both of them. Especially in her case it seems to have been really close, and if it hadn't been for the commander she would have died. Or over here." Cate's finger moved several paragraphs down. "Her husband died of a gunshot wound and she was accused of murder. Rabb defended her against all odds and cleared her name." She took another thoughtful sip of tea. "I wonder if they ever got involved," she mused.

"Captain Sims told us that they never did," he reminded her. "Although she seems to think that they were meant for each other and deeply in love, both of them."

Cate smiled. "I think the captain is a very emotional woman. What she told us sounded a bit like out of a novel."

"True..." he chuckled, studying his hands that were toying with his mug. "What do you know about Colonel Mackenzie?"

"Oh, that's nice, Captain," she playfully scolded him, "You don't know me and already you have me do all the work and then just fill you in? Sorry, that's not gonna work." Her grin told him that she didn't really mind. She had a beautiful smile, he noticed.

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant," he replied with a smile. "I guess I should have told you right away that I tend to be curious."

"I'll let it slip for now," she conceded, still grinning mischievously, silently enjoying their easy banter. "So, to appease your curiosity, here's what I know about Mackenzie. She grew up in Arizona, apparently with an abusive father. She was an alcoholic at sixteen and married early to get away from home. Eventually she decided to get her life back on track, dried out and ended up in the Corps' Officers Candidates School. Law school, JAG. That's it. She must have been one real iron-willed Marine, or she wouldn't have made it to Chief of Staff at headquarters."

Dave grinned. "Well, that's us. Semper fi."

Cate just grinned back. "I guess we might even have admitted someone like her among us SEALs. And we sure do have the choice, jarhead."

Dave raised his mug over her head in mock threat. "Shut up, squid. I'm a no-nonsense Marine, too."

They stared at one another for a few seconds, both smiling challengingly. Then Dave's mouth began to twitch violently and a suppressed snort from Cate was the answer. The officers finally allowed themselves to share a hearty laugh, both noting in slight astonishment how utterly comfortable with each other they had grown in no time.

"I told you I was curious," Dave went on when they had quieted down a bit. "So, tell me, who's Lieutenant Catherine Raleigh?"

"Well," she answered openly, "To make a long story short, I can sort of identify with the colonel. I'm no alcoholic but I'm trying to quit smoking for the fifth time," she admitted sheepishly, only to add with a tinge of pride in her voice, "My last cigarette dates five months back, that's four weeks longer than last time." Dave raised his eyebrows in amused, but obviously honest acknowledgement.

"I had a happy family until I was sixteen," Cate went on, sobering. "I grew up in a very small town in Ohio. My parents loved us very much, and although we were always a little short on money, they always managed to make ends meet."

"Us?"

"Yeah. My little sister Barbara, me and... my twin sister Larissa." Her expression shadowed at her last words.

"What happened?" Dave asked quietly, not knowing if he was in the place to do so, but deciding that Cate would tell him if he wasn't.

Her voice was rather low and distant when she answered, not really addressing him. "The summer I turned sixteen, Dad and Larissa both died in a car accident. It was dreadful. Mom lost it completely. We had a pretty hard time to keep her from killing herself. That was when I ceased to be a happy child and instead became the caretaker of my family. In one week's time. Kind of defined my personality," she added, looking up at him and smiling wryly.

"I'm sorry," he said simply, compassion shining in his eyes. "What made you join the SEALs?"

"I won a scholarship for a local college. My politics professor had been a SEAL once, and one day he talked to me about joining the Navy. I thought it over and decided it would be the best thing I could do with my life, to provide for my family, too. So I did it. After a couple of operations they seemed to discover that I had a negotiating talent. So they asked if I was interested in becoming a lawyer. I finished law school last year. Any further questions, counselor?" Her smile had returned, at least partially. And Dave was glad about it.

"No, thank you." 'At least for the moment,' he silently added to himself, resisting the sudden urge to ask her if she was currently seeing someone. 'Now, where did that come from?' he wondered, angry with himself. 'You just started working in the same chain of command. Don't screw it up, Stearman.'

"What about you, Captain?" Cate challenged him with a slight smile. "Who's David Mackerras, the aviator-hero?"

Dave winced at her words, blushing slightly. "Please, don't call me that, Cate. I'm no longer an active pilot." Seeing her questioning glance, he explained. "All I ever wanted to do was fly. I don't know where that came from 'cause there are no pilots in my family. My grandfather was a Recon Marine. So it was kind of logical for me to join the Corps. I trained to fly Hornets.

"Five years ago, I was hit by anti-aircraft fire while flying a control mission over Afghanistan. I had to eject and went down somewhere in the desert. Upon landing, I suffered a face injury..." he indicated a long, thin scar that went from the middle of his forehead right down to the corner of his eye, "...that affected my vision. End of dream. I'm only glad I can still fly occasionally although I lost my full flight-status. And that I had an apt face surgeon who didn't screw up my looks," he tried to lighten the mood, flashing her his flyboy-grin. "Anyway, someone came up with the idea of becoming a lawyer and, well, here I am. Graduated last year, just like you."

"And who's Dave, the private person?" she asked.

He gave her a lopsided grin. "A spoiled rich guy from Beacon Hill, Boston. I had everything that a boy could possibly want, up to my first BMW in front of my door on my sixteenth birthday." His smile faded a little, his voice lowering as he went on, never breaking the eye contact. "But I didn't really have a family. My mom and dad didn't get on well, but never divorced, for social reasons. My dad runs a private investment firm that has clients throughout the upper class. Family problems would have ruined the reputation. So they stayed together, but they would always compete for my love. It made me sick. My uncle David, my father's brother after whom I'm named, was the only one who really cared. He's in the Corps, too, a lieutenant colonel, forensic pathologist. He supported me when I eventually dared to tell my parents that I intended to join. Any further questions?" he returned her question from before.

"What do you do when you're not trying to save the world, Captain?"

He once more flashed her his contagious grin. "I look at the clouds."

"What?" Cate let out a little incredulous chuckle.

"I'm very much interested in meteorology. Came with the flying, I guess. And when it gets too dark to watch the sky, I either do a little jazz on my saxophone or watch a nice documentary on TV. You?"

Cate smiled a little sheepishly. "Don't tell anyone, okay?"

"Okay..." he acknowledged, curious.

"I love reading Italian crime stories, like Donna Leon or Andrea Camilleri. And I go out watching birds," she told him.

He cast her an inquisitive look. "What's wrong about birds or Italian crime stories?"

"It's grown to kind of an obsession. I don't have much of a social life, you know..." she answered, sounding a little uneasy.

Somehow her answer made him feel relieved. He again tried to shake off the feeling. "I guess you will have some now," he said, smirking, "From what I hear, Admiral Roberts sees JAG headquarters as some sort of a family. Seems to be a tradition that Rabb and Mackenzie's CO, Admiral Chegwidden, inaugurated and that was continued by Roberts' predecessor, Admiral Turner."

"Oh," was Cate's sole comment. She didn't know if she liked what she had just heard, since she was normally comfortable on her own and was not used to having company too often. But on the other hand - if everyone at HQ turned out to be as easygoing as her new partner, she might as well give it a try, she resolved. After all, being a SEAL, she knew what teamwork meant. Maybe she could just stretch the concept out to encompass her private life as well.

"I should get going," she said finally, gathering the articles and putting them back into the folder she had brought.

Dave walked her to the door. In the doorway she turned, smiling slightly. "I think I might want to know more about what happened to Rabb and Mackenzie."

"Yeah, me, too," he replied, smiling back warmly. "We'll start working on that as soon as we have a little more free time. As neither of us seems to have a significant other to devote time to..."

"I'd love that, Dave," she said. "Good night."

"To you, too." He was about to close the door, but thought the better of it and stepped in the corridor. "Cate," he called softly.

She turned. "Yeah?"

"Somehow I get the impression that we'll make a good team." He didn't really know what had made him say it but he was glad he had.

She smiled. "I think so, too. Very pleased to have met you, Captain."

Dave just nodded a smiling goodnight and closed the door, all of a sudden feeling very eager to continue working. His new job promised to be interesting, to say the least.

 

Chapter 2

July 13th, 2033
2112 ZULU
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

 

A knock on her door made Cate look up from the file she had been intently studying. She couldn't quite wipe the guilty expression off her face as she quickly closed the folder and stuffed it in between the many others that were piling up on her desk. "Uh... enter!"

"You there, Lieutenant?" she heard her partner's slightly amused voice.

"Yeah, right behind the walls of paper."

He stepped up to her desk and removed a stack of folders, enabling them to actually see each other. "Did you plan on setting a new working record, Cate?"

She chuckled slightly. "Not really. But I hate going down to the archives. So I usually take up as much as I can at one time. And, by pure coincidence," she stressed the word, grinning a little mischievously, "I came by this." She handed him the file she had read earlier.

Eyebrows slightly raised, Dave sat down opposite to her and opened the folder. Then she heard him whistle through his teeth. "Coincidence, huh?" he asked with a smiling wink, his voice barely hiding his curiosity. "I doubt you found this in our archive. Files that date more than 25 years back are stored elsewhere. So how did this get here?" he asked sternly.

She grinned slyly. "I requested it."

"While we were at Pensacola?"

"Yup."

Chuckling slightly, Dave shook his head to himself, turning to the first page that read 'People vs. Coen' and dated back to 2003. Sobering, he skimmed the first pages, getting a first insight into the case. Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr. and Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Mackenzie had been sent to Berlin to investigate a small-scale explosion that had caused minor damage at the new American embassy that had just been built next to the Brandenburg Gate, in the very heart of the capital of the reunited Germany. Responsible for the bombing was one Marine Gunnery Sergeant Ari Coen, retired after having fought in the 1991 Gulf War.

Coen apparently wanted to protest against the U.S. trying to reestablish peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. With the help of an ex-Mossad agent he had known in Kuwait, he had smuggled a small explosive device into the nearly completed building. But the bomb had defects and didn't detonate in full. Gunnery Sergeant Coen had been arrested by the Berlin Police. Rabb and Mackenzie had been ordered to fly out together with - Dave stared for a moment - Lieutenant Bud
Roberts.

"The admiral was in on this, Cate." Dave looked up at her in surprise.

"Yes, I know. He was to sit second chair to Colonel Mackenzie as trial counsel."

Again Cate got a full-blown flyboy-grin. "I see you already studied the case. So, tell me, where does it start to get interesting?"

To his slight surprise, his normally humorous partner frowned. "About three pages later on they seemed to be getting to the point. But all pages that might be of interest seem to be missing. I did a little research and I found that the explosion they were to investigate actually happened on June 30th, whereas the bombing that they seem to have died in took place on July 4th. And there's nothing to be found about that in the online files, either."

Dave sighed. "That's unfortunate. All I could dig up was another article, taken from the TIME magazine, two years after the blast. Apparently, on July 4th, President Bush was in Berlin, meeting with the Israeli prime minister Sharon and the Palestinian president Arafat. The German chancellor Schroeder was present, too, although back then the German-American relations were rather strained because of the war in Iraq. But Germany's close relations to Israel as well as Palestine apparently outweighed the transatlantic strain.

"Whoever planted this bomb would have succeeded in killing four heads of government in one single strike if it hadn't, for some reason, exploded within the secluded security bunker. Had the attack been successful, it would have effectively prevented any negotiations from taking place. They were due to start that day, right there in our embassy, on neutral ground, so to say. And thankfully, they did. You know where those peace talks led, don't you?" He looked up to meet her thoughtful glance.

"Wasn't that the first round of the talks that set the ground for the Treaty of Vienna of 2009?" she asked, trying to gather her history knowledge.

"Exactly."

"This doesn't make sense."

"Nope."

"I mean, why would Rabb and Mackenzie want a hand in an attack to prevent Middle-East peace negotiations? What did they have to do with the affair anyway? Neither of them was Jewish or Muslim," she reasoned, more to herself than to him.

"Her grandmother was Iranian," Dave argued, failing to sound convinced by his own argument.

She stared at him indignantly. "Oh, come on, Captain. You don't think that this would make someone like her, a high-ranking Marine officer, I repeat, a Marine, violate your cherished Code of Honor, now, would it?"

He felt just a little offended, but willed himself to swallow it down, knowing his argument had been a stupid one. "Okay, okay..." he held up his hands in defense. "Just thought I'd mention it. But you're probably right."

"Of course I am," she stated firmly.

He frowned. 'A female SEAL, I knew it...'

Seeing him frown, Cate realized she hadn't been too subtle in her choice of words. Blushing slightly, she decided to apologize. "Look, Dave, I... I'm sorry for my Code-of-Honor statement. That was out of line. We have ours and you have yours, they are pretty much the same and that's a good thing. I'm sorry," she repeated.

Somehow he felt flattered that she felt the need to make up for her faux-pas. Casting her a tentative smile, he instantly forgave her. "Let's just forget about it, okay?"

"Okay."

"So," he looked at her expectantly, "Where do we go with this? We haven't really dug up much until now."

Cate shrugged a little helplessly. "Honestly, I don't know. What about talking to Roberts? He was there with them."

Dave's face took up a doubtful expression. "I don't think that will get us much of anything. Roberts still seems to want to avoid seeing us as much as possible."

"Let's just give it a try, okay?"

He sighed. "Okay, but I'll blame it all on you when he begins to chew us for this."

She looked up, momentarily incredulous, only to find him smirking in mockery. Giving him a frowning smile, she slapped him on the arm. That is... tried to slap him on the arm. For, as if he had known beforehand what she was about to do, he had drawn back in time to make her slap stop in mid-air. Cate and Dave exchanged a confused look, both smiling embarrassedly. Judging that whatever had just happened would be treated best if ignored, they made their way for their CO's office.

"Lieutenant Raleigh and Captain Mackerras for you, sir," came the yeoman's voice over the intercom.

Bud involuntarily frowned. 'Just what I needed...' He wiped his face with his hand. "Have them come in, Merrick."

The two young officers entered and came to attention in front of his desk. "At ease," he waved them off. "Have a seat. What can I do for you, Lieutenant, Captain?"

Dave looked at Cate, his expression a little helpless. Then he drew a sharp breath and braced himself, facing the admiral. "Sir, we... uh... your wife informed us about your former colleagues here at JAG, Commander Rabb and Colonel Mackenzie."

Bud's frown intensified notably, making even the decorated Marine aviator flinch a little. Nevertheless Dave went on. "I beg your pardon, sir, for making such a bold request but... the lieutenant and I agreed that, in the interest of our working relationship with you, sir, it might be helpful if we knew what happened at the Berlin embassy. We dug up a little information on our own but there seems to be very little to be had. We thought... as you went with them... maybe you could tell us about that investigation... sir."

Both officers stared and hastily jumped to their feet as they saw their CO get up, walk over to the window and look outside, seemingly seeing nothing. For a few long moments neither spoke a word. Then Bud, never looking at his subordinates, found his speech, his voice tight. "All you need to know is in the papers. Rabb and Mackenzie died in the blast."

"But, sir," Cate spoke up, her voice ringing with doubt, "The question remains if they were really involved in this as everyone claims they were. With all due respect, sir, I find that hard to believe."

"Do you?" Bud's voice was cold and guarded. His gaze never left the window.

Cate cast her partner a puzzled frown. Dave's expression told her that the admiral's reaction was just as surprising to him as it was to her. 'Damn, Raleigh, you're a SEAL. You can handle this.' "Yes, sir, I do," she ventured boldly, waiting for Bud's reaction.

"So what, Lieutenant?" Bud turned and glared at her. Cate was taken aback by the openly displayed hostility in her CO's eyes. But she held his stare and suddenly, somewhere deep down, detected a frightening amount of desperation in the admiral's expression as well.

Dave nervously cleared his throat. The situation was quickly getting out of hand. Better prepare for take-off. "Sir, I'm sorry we bothered you with our request. But you wouldn't happen to know someone who can help us investigate this?" As soon as the words were out, Dave knew he had made a mistake. 'Bravo Zulu, Stearman. Now he's at your tail.'

With a few quick strides, Admiral Roberts stepped up to him and although Dave was several inches taller, his CO's stare made him snap to attention and stare straight out. He almost felt the admiral's nose on his chin.

Bud barely controlled his fury. "This is none of your damned business, Captain!" he shouted. "Rabb and Mackenzie are not to be talked about again, not in this office, not in the bullpen, not anywhere near JAG. They betrayed their country and our trust and they got what they deserved. Period. No one is ever going to investigate this case again! Do I make myself clear??"

"Yes, sir!" Dave and Cate shouted in unison, thoroughly shaken.

Bud drew back a little, panting, and flashed each of his subordinates another killing stare. "Dismissed!" he hissed, deadly calm.

"Aye, aye, sir!" The young officers exercised a by-the-book about-face and exited the office.

Bud briefly closed his eyes and let himself fall into his chair. He had known that, sooner or later, the Rabb-Mackenzie issue would have come up. He just wished he'd have had more time to prepare for the actual emotional impact. This brief exchange had been the exact replica of one of the many occasions when Harm and Mac had been chewed by Admiral Chegwidden. The expression in Mackerras' eyes - Bud knew that, the moment he had denied the information, he had kindled a dangerous flame within the aviator's soul. Dave would make the discovery of the truth his personal quest now, just like Harm would have. And Raleigh had made it clear that she wouldn't leave his side.

Bud sighed deeply, wiping the corners of his eyes. Why did they have to be so similar to them? If they had only half of the heart and passion that he had once known in Harm and Mac, Bud knew he wouldn't be able to keep a professional distance. After so many years, after all that had happened, he still missed them dreadfully. But he knew he never again wanted to be so close a friend to anyone. He had to keep Raleigh and Mackerras out of his heart. Being close to someone just made you hurt all over at the end. Besides Harriet and his kids, Bud was determined to never ever let anyone become dear to him again.

Once they had closed the admiral's door behind themselves, Dave and Cate, as if on silent agreement, both made a beeline to Cate's office. Dave shut the blinds and sat down opposite to Cate at her desk.

"What was that?" he only asked, confused beyond belief.

Cate studied her fingernails, her brow furrowing. "I have no idea." Her voice sounded defeated.

"So they were in on it after all," Dave stated quietly, feeling a sharp pang of disappointment. He had come to like the commander and found him a person to identify with. This news clearly shattered the fine image.

"They weren't," Cate answered distractedly, drawing invisible patterns on her desk with her left index finger.

Dave looked up at her, his confusion still rising if that was even possible. "What do you mean, they weren't?"

Cate stopped her movements and locked her gaze with his. "I saw his eyes, Dave. I swear, I have never in my life seen a man so desperate. This isn't just the despair one feels after the loss of friends or even after having been betrayed by them. This was anxious despair, the urge to let something out but having to keep it inside. There's something lying underneath, I'm sure of it."

Dave felt himself captured by her intense gaze. "How did you figure that out, Lieutenant?" he asked slowly, never breaking the eye contact.

Cate's expression shadowed. "I had a lot of practice reading my mother's mind in the months that followed my dad's and my sister's death," she explained in a low voice, averting her eyes.

"I'm so sorry, Catherine." Dave gently covered her hand with his, feeling her fingers intertwine with his while his stomach tightened.

Her beautiful brown eyes shone with unshed tears when she looked up. Dave's heart immediately went out to her. Cate's face lit up in a slight but sincere smile of gratitude. "Thank you," she only whispered. For a few moments they just sat in silence.

"Dave?" Cate finally asked, noticing that their hands were still joined but feeling reluctant to break the contact.

"Yeah?" his eyes were full of kindness and concern.

"You want them to be innocent as much as I do, don't you?"

"Yeah."

"Let's call Captain Sims in Brussels."

The spell was broken. Dave drew back his hand and raised his eyebrows. "Don't you think you're taking this a little far now? Calling NATO headquarters for personal interest?"

Cate earnestly looked at him. "She was the one who informed us in the first place. I think if she knew something she wouldn't hold it back."

His expression clearly showed his doubts but he was willing to give it a try. "If you call her right now maybe she's still at the office. Do you have the number?"

Cate pulled a business card out of her wallet, giving him a genuine smile. "Up to her personal extension." With that she took the receiver and dialed the number, switching on the loudspeaker.

"Sims."

"Captain Sims? Please excuse me if I'm disturbing you, ma'am. This is Lieutenant Catherine Raleigh from JAG Headquarters."

"Lieutenant!" Harriet's voice was cheerful. "That's a nice surprise. How are you and Captain Mackerras?"

"Uhm... fine, ma'am, thank you," Cate replied self-consciously. 'This was a bad idea, Raleigh,' she scolded herself.

Harriet at once detected the tension and had her suspicions. She immediately decided to spare the young woman the need of having to talk to her about Bud. Harriet was sure that this was why Cate had called. "Let me guess: you asked my husband about Commander Rabb and Colonel Mackenzie and he kicked your sixes," she only stated, her voice neutral.

"Well, yes, ma'am." Cate was at a loss for words at Harriet's direct approach.

"So now you feel you need to collect information on the events to ease the tension at JAG?" Harriet went on.

Despite herself, Cate had to chuckle slightly. "That's right, ma'am."

They could hear Harriet smile as she answered. "I expected as much." Then she seemed to sober. "I'm sorry, I can't tell you anything. I'm not allowed to. But I know someone who might be able to fill you in."

"That would be very helpful, ma'am. Who is he?"

"His name is Clayton Webb and he used to be a CIA deputy director. He was with them when the bombing at the Berlin embassy occurred, but he left the Agency after that. He's living entirely by himself now, up north in Yukon Territory."

"Wow, that's far north. How do we get there, ma'am?"

"Is Captain Mackerras with you, Lieutenant?"

Cate handed Dave the receiver. "I'm here, ma'am."

"Do you know how to fly an antique biplane?"

 

July 15th, 2033
0223 ZULU
Dave's apartment
Georgetown, D.C.

 

The insistent ringing of the phone made Dave's head jerk up. He hadn't fallen asleep over his Post, had he? Frowning, he reached over to where his cordless phone lay on the coffee table.

"Mackerras."

"Flyboy, it's me."

Unbeknownst to him, a smile slowly spread over his face as he leaned back into the sofa cushions. "Hey, ladysquid," he said softly, "To what circumstances exactly do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"

Cate chuckled. "Just shut up, will you?" she replied just as softly.

Sensing that this wasn't just another casual phone call like the ones they had gotten accustomed to over the last few days when they had talked a lot about the case and its implications, he sobered. "You okay, Raleigh?" he asked, concerned.

She inhaled deeply and let out the air in a determined manner. "Yeah. It's just... I just got off the phone with Patricia Burnett."

"With whom?" he asked, at a loss.

"Before she remarried, her name was Rabb."

"What? The commander was married?"

Cate's smile made its way across the phone line. "No. She's his mother."

Oh God. For some reason Dave felt his stomach sink. "Why did you call her?" he only asked quietly.

"Because I had the feeling that if there was anyone who wouldn't hesitate to tell the truth, it would be her. Mac... umm... the colonel doesn't have any living relatives left. So I called Commander Rabb's mother instead although that probably should have been your job."

"Ah..." made Dave, letting his voice trail away. He wasn't really sure if he'd have had the guts to call Mrs. Burnett. "Uh... what's she like? How did you find out about her anyway?"

"I called the airfield that Captain Sims told us about, you know, where Ha... where the commander kept his Stearman."

Dave smirked to himself as he cut in, "Call them by their names, Cate. I tend to do that, too. It's kind of strange you should feel so connected to someone you never knew," he added in a low, thoughtful voice. "Isn't it?"

"Yeah. It scares me quite a bit, Dave," Cate quietly admitted. "Anyway," she went on, trying to lighten the mood, "Harm's biplane is still there. And the guy actually seemed to be pleased to hear that there was someone who still cared for it."

"For 'her', SEAL," Dave gently corrected her. The tender way that he spoke of an old plane, just as if it were an old lady, made her smile. Dave went on. "I'm sure she even has a name."

Cate couldn't suppress a giggle. "Eeyop."

Dave's eyebrows went up. "Don't tell me he called her..."

"Sarah. You get the picture, Marine," she cut in, laughing. "But the guy at the airfield claims that the plane was named after Rabb's grandmother, not after the colonel."

"I'll believe it when I see it," Dave only commented dryly.

"Well, whatever." Cate was obviously eager to go on. "He told me that 'she' was still in excellent condition and that we could always take her up. We just had to get the documents from Harm's mother in California. So I researched her number." Dave could hear that she had sobered again during the last words.

"How did she react?" he asked cautiously.

Cate let out a sigh. "At the beginning it wasn't nice. She was as cold as ice, barely said a word when I explained the reason for my call. Then she, very calmly, asked me if I was out of my mind. I explained what had led us to this point and she eventually seemed to understand that we're not looking for some sensation. I left out the part about our very personal involvement, though."

"Why? I'm sure she would have understood better if she knew our motives," Dave argued.

He heard her swallow. When she went on, her voice was low. "Dave, that woman was broken. Entirely and irreversibly. I mean, imagine: she's young, married to a naval aviator - Harm Senior - who's deployed to a war zone. She is told that he's MIA when her only son is six years old. She tries to be both mother and father to Harm, sees her son grow up to follow his father's footsteps. She almost loses him in that ramp strike. But he grows up to be an outstanding lawyer. He plays the hero without thinking, gets 'this' close to dying several times and yet always comes out unscathed. And then she loses this extraordinary child of hers in a terrorist attack that he, of all people, is proclaimed guilty of. She - for whatever reason - is bound to keep quiet. I could never tell her, 'hey, you know my partner's the spitting image of your son.'"

"Okay, got it," he acknowledged. "So... what did she say about the documents?"

"I wouldn't have thought she'd do it. But she said she'll get them to us when we set off in two days from the airfield."

"Wow." Dave's face again lit up to a smile, both at the thought of going up in the very plane that had given him his call-sign, and at the thought of taking his friend with him. Friend. Was Catherine Raleigh his friend? Dave was determined to believe she was, just as he was ready to be hers if she wanted him to. 'Please do, Cate.'

"Hey, you still with me?" Cate's voice was just a little puzzled.

Dave shook himself from his reverie. "Yeah... sure... I'm sorry. So... we set off to the Yukon the day after tomorrow at 0700, right?" he asked lightly, just to say something.

"Yes. And don't forget the coordinates that Captain Sims gave you," she admonished him.

"I won't," he replied with an audible smile. "By the way, did you know that my call-sign is 'Stearman'?"

"You're kidding."

"No, really."

"How did you come by it?"

"When I was five or six, my uncle gave me a little model of a Stearman and I always had it on my desk on the carrier. Odd coincidence, isn't it?"

Cate's voice took up a resolute edge. "I think it's time we stopped talking of 'coincidences' here, Captain. This is weird and scaring the hell out of me but I refuse to accept that the both of us stumbled into nothing else than a statistically exceptional cluster of similarities!"

Dave's answer was a hearty laugh, albeit tinged with a trace of uneasiness. "Whoa, power down, squid, you needn't try and convince me of something that I could have said myself." He sobered, the uneasiness surfacing clearly. "What would you call it then?"

"I don't know." Cate sounded somewhat distant and lost in reflection. "If we were in India, we'd probably speak of reincarnation," she tried her escape in a joke that, at the same time, sounded half-earnest. "After all, I was born only a few weeks after they died."

"Me, too," Dave chuckled, at the same time feeling his palms get sweaty.

"You don't really believe that, do you?!? Umm... sorry for the sharp tone." Cate became aware that she was clutching her receiver way too firmly.

"Uh... no, of course not. So," he opted for a slight change of topic, "When's your birthday?"

"September 24th, 2003," she gladly took the offered line of conversation.

"Mine's August 1st. At least the dates aren't theirs," he added softly, sensing an odd feeling of relief at the discovery.

"Yeah..."

As the silence stretched, Cate reluctantly decided to end the connection. They both needed rest and time to prepare for what could easily become a journey to their very own roots. "Do you know how to get to the airfield, Marine?"

"Yeah, I have the address on my laptop. Dress in layers, okay? That'll keep you even warmer than the best winter clothes. Remember we'll be immobile up in the air."

"Aye, sir!" she acknowledged mockingly, chuckling. "Good night, Dave," she added in a gentle tone, "And, odd as it may seem, I'm looking forward to our trip."

"So am I," he answered just as warmly, smiling. "Good night, Cate."

 

 

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