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Chapter 3


After all the darkness, it’s warming to see Harm walking towards me, arms outstretched. He calls my name, but I can’t hear his voice.

I hear them. They are surrounding him, holding him back, the cloud is forming. They float through the cloud covering him, smothering him, wailing mournfully, screaming for help.

He reaches for me, but he is held back, all I hear are the cries of the women, and the voice repeating, ‘you can’t trust them, they will betray you, we give them everything, and they betray you, you can’t ever trust, you can never trust, they will betray…..’


~~~~~~~~~~



“Harm, oh god, Harm!” I scream over, and over, I’m running to him, crying his name. Strong arms catch me, hold me, but they aren’t his arms. I fight frantically, screaming ‘Harm’ again, and again, the arms that hold me are shaking me, I fight but they are strong, I’m surprised they are so strong, why am I so surprised?

“Mac…Mac, wake up, Mac, please,” the arms shake me again.

Finally, I understand, it’s Bud. He’s holding me, shaking me, soothing me.

“Mac, please, it’s ok, please, it’s just a dream, please wake up.” I look up into his very concerned eyes.

“It’s Harm, isn’t it, Mac? It’s him you see. Something about Harm, that’s why you’re so upset,” Bud asks, his voice deep with sympathy.

I can’t hold it any more, the sobs come, and I can’t stop them. Bud knows, god help me, Bud knows. ‘Please god, let him help me,’ I pray silently. I sink to the couch, as the wracking sobs pour out against his shoulder.

 

06:00
Marriott Suites

 

Struggling from the fog of an exhausted sleep, I question where to concentrate my attention. I’m divided between the grogginess and cramped muscles of sleeping on the couch where Bud left me, after laying a blanket over me; or the new terror, that Bud now knows everything. The first can re repaired with a hot shower and strong coffee. The second could be catastrophic. I can’t bear this anymore. I have to find a way to know this isn’t Harm. My heart tells me, and my soul. The logical investigator in me says the evidence is barely circumstantial. It’s only this ghastly feeling, of Harm’ s presence in the dreams, which causes my shattering doubt.

Today. Today I will find a way to know. This isn’t about evidence. If he were any other person I could question him, search his whereabouts at the time of the crimes, even check his DNA. Harm would give permission. If it were anyone else. However, it isn’t anyone else, it’s Harm, and I can’t ask. I cannot allow my lack of faith in him to go that far, to a need to ask.

He’d answer my questions, but something would die between us, because I had to ask. No, I have to find this deep inside myself, somehow I have to know, without a shadow of a doubt, and I have to do it without evidence. Dammit! it’s just a feeling, and as Bud says, feelings can confuse things. I just have to determine why this feeling exists. I know somehow, somewhere, there is a reason for it. I have to find it.


10:30 JAG office
Norfolk Naval station


Returning to the base this morning, we interviewed more of Ensign Lansing’s coworkers, people who had been unavailable yesterday. After discussing what we learned, which was little, Bud went to touch bases with the security police and I sent for Ensign Carlyle. We thought perhaps, she might speak more freely, if I were alone.

It is normally not my habit, to make a reluctant witness comfortable; however, I felt she had information that was vital. Whether she knew it or not, remained to be seen. There would be time enough to take a tough line if necessary.

The ensign enters our temporary office, with a definite look of trepidation on her face. I could almost believe she is frightened; the question is why.

“Have a seat ensign,” I invite, trying to relax her. She won’t volunteer anything at attention.

Yes, the look on her face closely resembles frightened stubbornness. Her superficial similarity to the dead woman, as well as the other women in my dreams, is not lost on me.

“Ensign, yesterday you told me you went to a party for the deceased,” I consult my notes, “at a club, on the Portsmouth waterfront, called ‘Beaches’. Is that correct?”

“Yes ma’am,” she answers stiffly.

“And that was Friday?” I ask, to see if she will be consistent.

“No, ma’am, it was Saturday. Four of us went to the club to celebrate Laura’s new assignment.” She corrects me with veiled contempt for my inefficiency. I consider trying Bud’s game on her. We’ll see.

“I see, and you said she met someone?” I continue casually, as though her information had little importance.

“Most people go there to meet someone, ma’am, it’s that kind of place.” Her manner now patronizingly indicates I might be too old to recognize the type of establishment in question. Her demeanor could be termed insolent, if I didn’t have a deep feeling she’s terrified. I try a different angle.

“You’re married aren’t you, Ensign?” I approach this question as though it were an accusation.

“Yes, ma’am,” she answers stiffly.

“Your husband is deployed?” I push further.

“Yes, ma’am, and for the record, I want to say I’m very happy. I only went with the others to celebrate. That’s why I left early; I went home.” She’s defensive now.

“What do you mean?” She can go in several directions with the answer to that one.

“Well, Laura and one of the other women were married as well. I went along, sort of figuring on safety in numbers. You know, ma’am, girls’ night out.” She’s not quite so impolite, this time.

“Go on,” I nod encouragingly. I have her almost turned around now. Just a little more.

“It was okay for a while, but then…Ma’am, I really don’t want to speak ill, but…,” she falters. Something is holding her back.

“Please tell me Ensign; at least it might help us find him.” I prod gently.

“Well, the other women started flirting with the men who were hanging around. We were approached almost as soon as we arrived, and we sort of stayed to ourselves for a while, but after a few drinks the two single women started really flirting…, Laura and her friend Jaynie said something about not being outdone. Ma’am I couldn’t do it, I wasn’t there for that, I love my husband. So I left.” Concern for her own reputation is breaking her down.

“Did any of the men approach you?” I ask pointedly. I still believe there is more.

“A lot of them talked to us all, you know, they would stop by the table, talk a while, drift off, then come back. I didn’t mind small talk and all, but when the subjects became more personal….um….more suggestive, I excused myself and went home.” Her reply is vague. She keeps emphasizing how she went home. There is still something here.

“Now, you said Laura, Ensign Lansing, spoke of someone she met?” I try another change of subject.

“Yes, ma’am,” I was going to have to drag this out of her.

“Did she tell you who?” I ask with false patience. I’m tired, and not in the mood any longer.

“No, she didn’t tell me a name.” Not helpful, but it could be the truth.

“But you know who it was?” I corner her.

“No, ma’am, not for sure, there were a lot of men there. Everyone was talking to everyone. I left before the choosing of partners really became serious. Look, I know what she did was wrong, but she didn’t deserve to die.” She started to cry.

“No, you’re right, she didn’t deserve to die.” I agree quietly. I still feel she’s hiding something, but I can’t put my finger on it. She neatly sidestepped my question. I dismiss her back to her duties for now.


11:30 JAG office
Norfolk Naval Base


My cell phone rings, and a familiar voice greets me with the sound of a warm smile.

“Hi, little lady, you about ready to swap some information?” His voice always seems to contain a note of simple laughter.

“Hi Ben,” I laugh lightly in response. His friendship is fast becoming one of the warm spots of this investigation. I’m amazed that I don’t get angry at his form of address, but I just can’t make myself be offended by it.

“Look, Bud and I are just finishing here, and then we’re heading back to the hotel to sort it all out. But first we have to check with the NCIS agent Garrett. I need to let him know what I’ve found, which isn’t much, and see if he has anything. Want to stop by about 14:00 we’ll be there by then?” I offer. “It’s the Marriott suites, by the waterfront in Norfolk, room 925.”

“Navy letting you people share a room now? Maybe I should have stayed in a little longer,” he teases.

“Ben,” I explain not too patiently, “it’s a suite; we each have our own rooms.”

He chuckles because he knows he’s pushed my buttons. I can’t believe how quickly I’ve become comfortable with a perfect stranger. Nevertheless, I also possess an underlying crankiness, because of my disrupted sleep, and the reason behind it. I need to curtail that emotion. I won’t accomplish anything, if I alienate everyone who can help, and Ben is much too perceptive to allow him access to my real feelings.

We agree on the time and after hanging up, I call Bud. He’s nearly ready to go back, and I start reviewing this morning’s interview while I wait for him.

A short time later

Navigating the roads is a bear because it’s lunchtime. It takes most of two hours to get to the NCIS office and then back to our hotel. Bud makes short work of the leftover Chinese food, but I decline. My stomach is still upset from last night, and the light breakfast I had isn’t sitting well.

We haven’t had time to talk about what happened, and I’m not sure if it’s a good thing, but I’m not feeling anything different in Bud’s attitude, and that’s a small comfort. If Bud were attaching a great amount of importance to this newly revealed part of my dreams, he would be deeply troubled. He has been thoughtful this morning, but not troubled.

At once, I have the feeling there is something bedeviling his mind that won’t give him rest.

“What is it, Bud?” I ask, aware of what I’m opening up.

“It’s about your dream, or nightmare, Mac.” His voice is quiet, but firm. I need to give him some answers.

“Last night, or the others?” I stall.

“Well, last night, but the others too I guess.” He seems to be looking for specific information, but uncertain where to find it.

I take a deep breath, “What can I tell you?”

“When you told me about them, the dreams, I told you not to include the feelings….could you explain the feelings now?”

“I think I gave you most of it last night, Bud,” I reply, God I don’t want to go into this.

“Not really, only that you feel or see Harm in these dreams. Which is it Mac?” he tries for clarification as gently as possible.

“Both, depends on the dream.” I frown not certain what he is after, I hadn’t really separated the two messages.

“Revisiting this is tough, I know, but it would help to sort it out, if you can. Can you be more specific?” he forges on.

He’s hesitant but stubborn, I know he doesn’t want to push, but something is driving him. I decide to trust his instincts; mine seem to be impaired.

Closing my eyes, I concentrate; consciously picturing the dreams is much too easy, and very disturbing. Trying to sort the attached emotions is almost more than I can handle.

I take several deep breaths and open my eyes. “I see the murder scene, as I told you,” he nods, “virtually as we saw it yesterday.”

He waits patiently a look of deep concern on his face. Finally he asks, “What do you feel when you see this image? Mac do you think the man you see is Harm?”

“No!!” My answer is explosive and quick, erupting from deep inside.

He just looks at me, “What do you feel? Do you feel it’s him?”

“No,” again, then, “No Bud, I feel Harm’s presence, and I feel a very black presence. Sometimes, I feel they are the same, but still not the same, but I really don’t feel it’s him. I don’t think so anyway. Different parts of me are telling me different things.” That sounds confusing, and I’m not completely convinced, but another part of my mind just succumbed.

“Fair enough, now what about the other dreams?” He presses on.

Slowly my mind drifts over the other scene, it almost disturbs me more. It’s less specific but somehow more symbolic, but symbolic of what?

“I see all the women, they sort of float around Harm, he’s reaching for me, calling me, but I don’t hear his words. They seem to be surrounding him, holding him or closing him off….I don’t know, it just doesn’t make sense, Bud. Why Harm, why is he there…. he can’t be involved…. yet his presence….” I let the rest hang. I know I’m rambling; this is making me crazy. I feel like I’m about to shatter into a million pieces.

“Mac. Mac I’m sorry, truly. I know how upsetting this must be. Don’t you see, Harm’s presence is there for a reason? We just have to find the reason. We both know Harm wouldn’t be involved with anything like this, but there is some connection.” He turns thoughtful. “I keep almost forming a thought. It’s sort of on the tip of my brain,” he smiles slightly at the twisted turn of phrase.

“Bud, this all started months ago. Harm was with the CIA, what if….” I start but I can’t seem to put full voice to the thought.

“Maybe,” he sounds doubtful, “I don’t really think so. No, this doesn’t feel like CIA, and anyway Harm was a pilot. If they tried to make him into an assassin, he would have walked. We both know that. No, I think it’s something else. We don’t have all the information. It’s like having the most important piece of a puzzle missing, the one that holds the others all together. It’s sort of like Harm is the key, but we just don’t know which door.” By the time he finishes, it’s almost as if he’s talking to himself.

I nod my head, both confused and consoled by what Bud is saying. Somewhere in this mess, there’s an answer. I feel it too. If I could just clear my head, I know I could find it.

A knock at the door brings me out of my reverie.

“Hi there, Bud, where’s my favorite Marine?” I hear Ben’s voice. “I think we have some horse trading to do.”


~~~~~~~~~~


“Hi Ben,” I call, almost too cheerfully. “Come in.” I’m relieved for the moment to avoid more questions, yet strangely comforted by Bud’s confidence. I know, however, I must hide these revelations from Ben. He’s been much too perceptive, and I have a gut feeling, given his experience with his grandmother, he will need little in the way of clues to understand everything. I can’t put Harm at risk until I understand it all myself.

Ben enters with a smile of accomplishment a mile wide. “I’d say you’ll never believe what I found, but I think you may be more worried about how accurately you saw everything,” he begins, with a tinge of concern.

I try a reassuring look, as I anticipate the information he has brought. “Maybe, but this case cannot come to a conclusion too soon for me,” I declare.

Though a tiny part of my mind is still unconvinced, dreading the outcome, the remainder is fighting harder to dispel my fears. I know there is something I need to find deep inside me that will hold the key.

As we begin to spread the files for sharing, Bud suggests lunch. I cock an eyebrow because he has just polished off the leftover Chinese, but as he logically points out, we have a guest who may not have eaten lunch. I also know he is worried that I haven’t taken much food today.

“You know Bud that sounds terrific, I didn’t realize how hungry I was until you mentioned it,” Ben agrees, once again reading everyone’s mind. “Why don’t you hand me that menu?”

After ordering a huge hamburger, he pointedly passes the menu to me, with a look that suggests ‘no’ is not an option. I sometimes wonder at this universal male obligation to save me from myself. However, at the moment I’m too tired, confused, and emotionally drained, to fight. I surrender to a salad and a bowl of chicken soup. Bud orders a sandwich, then offers to make fresh coffee. Ben’s robust appetite and outgoing manner are having a positive effect on my outlook.

The food arrives as Bud’s coffee finishes brewing, and we arrange ourselves around the table for a working lunch.

I hear Bud chuckle, and look up as he pours the coffee.

“I’m sorry Mac, it’s just you’re usually the one ordering the double everything cheeseburger, and the Captain has the salad.” I smile at the irony, avoiding the penetrating gaze of the local sheriff. He already senses something is wrong; I don’t need him gathering any more information.

“Captain?” He queries, before devouring a portion of a steak fry.

Bud smiles and distracts Ben handily. “They used to be partners. The Commander….um well, he was the Commander then…. he used to tease the Colonel unmercifully about her eating habits.” He explains ingenuously, as he examines, then launches an attack on his ham and cheese.

“What happened, was he transferred?” he asks sensing something deeper.

“Oh no,” Bud explains as only he can. “They just can’t be partners any more.” Somehow, Bud’s angelic innocence tells more than a blatantly suggestive look or comment would.

“Ahhh! I see,” Ben leaps to the correct conclusion. “The ring?”

I nod and smile, as an unblemished image of Harm, all white and gold, passes through my mind. I’m not certain why I always have the best images of Harm in his whites. Perhaps for now, it is because he is so often surrounded by darkness in my mind. The no-nonsense, business-like heaviness of the dark blue is too overwhelming. My mind craves the brightness of the whites with gold wings.

He sees the look that grazes my face, “Someone very special I take it?”

“Very special, Ben,” I reply, feeling almost like a schoolgirl, revealing her first crush.

“How long did you work together?” he probes further.

“Seven years,” I’m guarded now, not certain why he is asking.

“It took him that long?” he exclaims incredulously. His meaning is obvious.

“It took us both that long,” I explain, with a revealing sigh.

He seems to accept that, but I know how his memory banks work, they work a lot like Harm’s. He is more interested in the tone of my response than the words. For now, we return to the files.

I share what I’ve uncovered about the club and Ensign Carlyle, and he suggests a few questions that should have occurred to me. I’m embarrassed for the depth of my distraction, and he notices my subtle self-chastisement. I have a feeling my lapse surprised him as well.

Although the files are arranged differently, the information contained is so identical it could have all been taken from the same investigation.

Aside from names and addresses, the facts are eerily similar. All three women were married, their husbands deployed overseas. All had been to the club ‘Beaches’ within two weeks of their death. All had confided to a co-worker of meeting someone they planned to see again. Each one had a consensual sexual encounter within hours of their death, and the DNA left behind was identical and unidentified. Finally, and most frightening they were all killed precisely the same way. The air supply was diminished until they lost consciousness, before their necks were snapped.

There is little doubt it was the work of one man, and now that we had the information we would be required to contact the FBI. The only loophole we had, to give ourselves a few hours, was that we shouldn’t have this information. Ben wasn’t entitled to the NCIS investigation, nor to my files. I wasn’t entitled to his investigation and the third murder was a file cobbled together of newspaper articles and hand written notes. We would have to work fast. The only thing missing was the information on the first death. We still had nothing.

“Colonel,” Bud breaks our concentration, “when did you say you had the first dream?” he asks absently.

“The week Harm went to fly for the CIA,” I answer in an unguarded split second, fear immediately flooding my veins as I realize I’ve made an indiscreet disclosure.

“Harm? Who is Harm?” is the only reaction from Ben. He either hasn’t realized the importance of my statement, or mistakes my reaction to it. I’m not comfortable with either explanation.

“Captain Rabb,” Bud maintains a conversational demeanor, as though it had no importance other than fixing a date.

“The same Captain?” Ben asks, tapping my ring lightly with his pen. I nod mutely, hoping this proves sufficient distraction. “Is this the same person as the Commander you referred to, when you were jerking that NCIS guy around?” He seems amused.

Bud nods and blushes at having been caught out. I wonder at Ben’s perceptiveness, but how we have completely skirted, what is to me the most important aspect of this case, astonishes me further.

“But he’s Navy, what was he doing flying for the CIA?” Oh god, now this is going to get complicated. How can I speak of Harm in detail, without revealing the emotions I’ve worked so hard to conceal?

“A long and dreary story,” I sigh, with tired despair creeping into my voice.

His look is intensely curious, but undemanding. I have the sudden deep feeling his interest is as a friend, and not an adversary. I hope I’m right.

“I told you we worked together for a long time.”

He nods encouragement.

“I was assigned a mission out of the country and it went sour.” I supply further.

“Classified, I assume,” Ben interjects. Nodding, I continue

“Harm came after me, but lost his commission because of it.” He raises his eyebrows, but doesn’t interrupt. “The CIA offered him a job, but after a short time they decided his talents were more suited to the military. Somewhere up the chain of command, someone talked to someone else, and he’s back in the Navy.” This is a seriously condensed account, but I don’t even know all the details, especially of Harm’s reinstatement.

Ben leans back and cocks a sardonic eye at me. “I take it that’s the simple version,” he remarks dryly.

His comment seems to break whatever tension accompanied my recital, and a floodgate opens on comfortable laughter for a few stolen moments.

“You know,” Bud continues, as though he were never interrupted, “it occurred to me, if the sheriff couldn’t find the other murder, or accident, or whatever, maybe it happened on one of the nearby bases. You were so close; it may have been what triggered the first dream.” His musings grab our attention.

We both quicken to the idea, “It’s a long shot, Bud, but a perfectly reasonable one. It’s also going to require a search we may not have time for,” I comment ruefully.

I believe Ben and I have the same agenda. We want to catch this man without outside interference. At least I hope that’s my intention. Snapping back and forth from dedicated investigator to tormented lover is scrambling all my motives, and straining my integrity.

“I’ll go,” Bud suddenly volunteers.

“Bud, you shouldn’t have to do this alone,” I protest

“Really, Colonel, I can handle it. I have several ideas, for search parameters that should narrow the results. The only problem will be if I have to visit each base. In that case, I may need the Admiral to clear the way, and that could take some explaining. I may get lucky though, and be able to access all the files from Norfolk.” He smiles confidently. “Let me try Colonel.” I’m suddenly aware of Bud’s residual need to prove himself useful. His recovery, while remarkable, is nowhere near complete as it appears.

I nod my permission, “If you find anything call me.” It’s more an urgent request than an order.

As Bud leaves, I find myself drawn back to the files before me; something definitely bothers me about them. A few minutes later, I discover the cause of my discomfort.

“Ben,” I call. He’s refilling his coffee cup, and turns back to the table.

“What’s up?” he asks.

“This file, the ‘bootleg’ one,” I point to the unofficial file. He leans over my shoulder to see what I’m indicating.

“What about it?” I can feel the hidden satisfaction in his voice.

“The ME’s report, it’s all in longhand, but the information is as complete as the other two that are on regulation forms. Where did you get this?” I direct my challenge into his ice blue eyes. They begin to twinkle

“I have an inside source,” he confides, in his rumbley voice.

I lift my eyebrows, “An inside source?” I query.

He leans a little closer, and in barely a whisper he discloses, “We have five police jurisdictions but only one ME. I’m sleeping with the county coroner, she’s my wife.” At that moment, as we smile over the shared secret, the door opens.

“Hi,” I hear Harm’s voice, cool and hollow.

His immediate response to the scene is one of alpha possessiveness. I sit and watch fascinated, as the wave of male territoriality rolls from him, to ricochet off the walls. In just the amount of time I anticipated, I observe his emotions rebound to wash over him. Swamped by this unnatural reaction, he imperceptibly shakes himself, before resuming the shell of his familiar personality.

“Hi, Harm, come on in,” I call. I’m little shocked at his reaction, but without the necessary guilty embarrassment to feed his response. “We’re just going over these case files. I didn’t expect you.”

He looks at me for a moment, as though he wants to remark on how obvious my statement is, but he holds his tongue, and walks uncomfortably across the room.

“Ben, this is Captain Harmon Rabb my fiancé, Harm this is Sheriff Ben Farraday. He’s helping with the case; it took place in his jurisdiction. If our killer turns out to be civilian, Bud and I will be working with him.” To me this explains everything.

Harm nods, and steps forward to offer his hand, like a proper officer and gentleman. Ben stretches his equally large hand in cordial greeting. I wince, wondering if I’m going to hear bones crack.

Harm apparently finds it no small shock, when, upon introduction, he has to look up to greet an adversary. It is possibly one of the very few times in his life this has occurred.

“So, you’re the Captain I’ve been hearing so much about?” Ben opens with disarming sincerity. Harm is quickly taken off guard by his candor.

The byplay between Harm and Ben is subtle, a complex dance that might have gone unnoticed, if I didn’t know Harm so well. He’s succumbing to decidedly un-Harm-like emotions, and I’m uncomfortable with what might be feeding them.

“Well, little lady,” Ben offers, correctly interpreting the atmosphere of the room. “I think my next stop is back in Portsmouth. In about two hours, George’s security team will be at that club, and I want to talk to them.”

“George?” I ask absently, still fixed on Harm’s unusual stance.

“George Larson,” he explains allowing his gaze to drift back to Harm. “He owns ‘Beaches’. It’s not only very popular with the young military and locals; it’s also large. It’s a perfect place for questionable behavior. He keeps about a dozen men on his staff, and his security manager, Jim Baldwin, is an old friend of mine. Jim has an office with a one-way window. He may have spotted something. He has a great memory, and the incident is still fairly fresh. If you hear from Bud let me know. I’ll get back to you with what I find out.” He finishes.

His final look at me is questioning, and I barely nod; indicating I’ll be fine. He has assimilated my feelings today, and may have misinterpreted them. Or maybe not, I’ve become more uncertain, as I become aware of the dark wraiths that slipped silently into the room with Harm.

“Nice to meet you Captain,” he offers, still reluctant to leave, but accepting my tacit dismissal.

Harm gives him regulation politeness, that would pass muster with most, I’m not certain it gets by Ben.

“Nice to meet you sir,” he replies. “I’m sure Mac and Bud appreciate your help.” His smile is very nearly genuine, as the door closes on Ben.

“What’s going on, Mac?” He pounces the minute we’re alone. My temper almost flares, a move that will not give me the results I need. My second instinct tells me to withdraw, to seek safety, but I have to do this, I have to know. I do know, but I have to banish the shadows that cling to the doubt.

“What do you mean, Harm?” my attempt to be casual rings hollow.

“I feel like I’m losing you. You’re slipping away, he likes you, he’s attracted to you.” Harm nearly accuses.

I could easily dispel his unfounded fears, defend myself, tell him about Ben. But then I would have to tell him the rest, and it will tear us apart further. No, this can’t be all words; this has to play out.

“Perhaps,” I answer, “but nothing’s wrong. I’m not going anywhere.” I stand and walk a few steps away, in contradiction of my words.

“Aren’t you? The distance between us….I might as well be on the other side of the world. I’m telling you he likes you….a lot.” His voice rises slightly as he paces, rubbing his head in fully agitated Harm mode, before turning in my direction.

“What he likes isn’t important, only what I want is important. Do you trust me Harm?”

The line is crossed; there is no going back.

He takes a step closer, I can feel his breath on my neck, but the cloud is so strong so dark. His hands encircle my arms, and I feel the primitive strength in them. I close my eyes, and await what is to come.


Chapter 4


“Yes,” his voice comes in a hiss; his hands tighten. Then immediately, “I’m sorry, so sorry,” he softens, as he lays his forehead against my hair.

“Mac I….this is so bizarre….I…I went to the ‘O’ club last night….listening to the talk….the men who have been deployed. Some…. not all…. but some have come home to find their wives, girlfriends, lovers gone….drifted to more accessible relationships. It all seemed so shallow, so unjust. I don’t know what happened…. it was like a cloud…..a black suffocating cloud drifted over me; I felt I was strangling. That doesn’t make sense I know, but….” His voice sounds lost. His dissertation is so rambling, so disjointed but the pieces begin to rearrange in my mind.

“When Harm?” I take a shaky breath.

“What?” He sounds bereft, tangled.

“When….when did this happen?” My voice trembles.

“After I got back to the base, I couldn’t sleep so I went by the club for a beer. 22:30 23:00 maybe. Why?” He sounds confused, but a little stronger

Somehow there’s an answer here, but I tense not knowing how to untangle it. My mind reaches for him suddenly, desperately pulling him in.

He responds to the silent plea, moving his body in contact with mine. “What is it Mac?” “Let me in, let me help,” he pleads gently, as he enfolds me.

His touch is golden, his voice warm, his presence reassuring, in spite of the dark shades that swirl around the room. I know now, he feels them too. The smoky wraiths hold to the edges of our perception, unwilling to intrude on the luster of our union. Fearful of the light that will disperse them, they accept grudgingly, that their retribution lies in our combined strength.

In opposition to all that should be, the closer he comes, the more the shadows recede. I should be afraid, but I am comforted. I reach for his mind and his soul, inflaming him with my needs, coaxing and encouraging, taunting and teasing. A dangerous game I concede, but a necessary one to find the truth. If I perish for my misjudgment, I don’t want to live.

He responds by leading me into an elemental and primitive lovers dance, descending with me to a level never before visited; a level where civilized control is not acknowledged, where passion and desire nourish the soul and the heart finds its own truths. A place we had perpetually yearned for, imagined its existence, but never dared hope to attain.

Lost in the maelstrom of our spirits, tangling, blending, and finally colliding, the force of our impact drops us suddenly back to earth without hope of a breath.

Suddenly, our bodies shudder in unison, and our newborn life as a single entity takes its first gasping breath. Never again will we exist as two, the essence of our survival is as one.

My first awareness is the absence of anguish. The doubts, the fears, the terrors are gone, the shadows banished, replaced by a bond no longer tenuous, but unbreakable as nothing in mortal existence.

I feel him stir, then tremble. His fear is real, but of a completely different nature. He draws me close, and moves to look in my eyes.

“Oh god, Mac,” is all that falls from his lips, before he crushes me to his chest.

Somehow, he straightens my clothing; somehow, he pulls his together, before untangling us from the mundane furnishings of this sterile, impersonal public accommodation. Lifting me, he utters no sound as he carries me through to my private room. Gently setting me on my feet, he turns me to face him.

“I don’t know what happened,” his voice trembles desperately. “Why did that happen, Mac? Can you ever forgive me?” He has just given me the greatest gift of half his immortal soul, and he begs forgiveness. Yet he feels it as well, this unbreakable link, for he holds me close, he searches my eyes. Not running, not hiding, not avoiding, as would certainly have been his response in times past.

“It was me, Harm. I needed you; I needed this. I needed your strength, the power of your heart to fight away the shadows. I couldn’t do it alone, and I had to make them go away.” I try urgently to explain.

“Mac, what…please tell me? I felt you moving away, but I didn’t know how to get you back. I was afraid I ruined everything. I don’t understand.” His plea is simple.

“I don’t understand either, Harm.” I shake my head. “I don’t know how to explain. It was the nightmares, I couldn’t shake them, they kept getting stronger and stranger, and I couldn’t fight them alone. I needed you to help me.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” He takes my hands in his and pulls me down beside him on the bed. “You know there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

“Because if I told you, I was worried you would hate me. Turn away from me. I had to find it inside myself, but I needed you to help me. This was the only way.” How can I explain I’ve risked our future on an instinctive reaction?

“I’m still confused, what about the nightmares frightened you so badly....? Oh lord, Mac,” he finally understands. “It was me, somehow in those twisted dreams, you saw me?” This time he almost pulls away, but I hold him tight.

“Yes, Harm, Yes,” I admit harshly, “but I knew it wasn’t about you, at least the deep down part of me did.” I try to explain something I don’t understand.

He looks curious, cautious, uncertain, yet believing, and more than a little worried; but now the weld has cooled on our bond, and he has no power to turn away. It cannot be broken. “Tell me,” he says simply.

“The murders, Harm,” I start, and he nods. “I’ve seen them all.”

“Oh, Sarah,” he pulls me close, understanding the depth of my fear, but not interrupting.

“I didn’t understand before, but it’s clearer now; with the fear gone I can think again,” I explain abstractly. “I understand the feelings now, it wasn’t about you; somehow you were bringing it all to me. I still don’t understand how, or why, but you’re like a link, a conduit to what has occurred.” Clarity comes, as I speak it aloud.

“Wait, you said murders. Has there been another?” He is puzzled.

“No, I mean yes, but they were before, not after.” My thoughts tumble out unsorted. “The first was the week you left to fly for the CIA. I was here in Norfolk, and my last day I woke up screaming with the first dream. It haunted me for weeks. Then the second came to me, and about a month ago the third.” I wonder if I’m making this clearer than mud.

“And Sunday was the newest one?” He considers this, “And you felt me in all of them, but how, I wasn’t even in the country most of the time,” he wonders. His tone is not accusatory, but that of an investigator.

I look at him, stunned, as I realize in one simple statement he has summed up the solution, or at least the path to the solution.

“No, Harm,” I answer in amazement.

“No, what?” He’s confused again.

“No, you weren’t there, not in the first three.” I exclaim, stumbling on a pertinent truth.

“But, I thought you said…” his effort to unscramble this is valiant.

“I thought so too, but I think in my fear, I extrapolated backward. Now my mind has cleared, and I realize you were only in the last one, and the visions and dreams since Sunday, not in the others.” It’s so clear now.

“God, why couldn’t I see this before?” I ask the air. I start to rise in my nervousness and distress, but he pulls me back, sensing my need for reassurance. I’ve spent days torturing myself, and obviously shunning Harm, for nothing. This clarity, that his presence was lacking in the earlier dreams thrills me, but intensifies the confusion over the messages I received. If not from him, where did they come from, how did I receive them?

“I’m not sure any more Harm,” I almost whimper, “I don’t want to go back into them, but I have to, if I’m to find out what I really saw.” I sink against his hard chest, and dissolve into quiet tears of repentance, frustration and a new fear. There’s a vicious killer out there; I have a connection to him, but no idea who he is. Moreover, I have to stop him before he kills again.

He holds me close soothing me, stroking my back, whispering comforts and love. In a sense, we need a moment to regroup. I lose my time sense. As the soothing becomes a caress my response turns outward and open, not demanding and teasing this time, but asking and returning. His giving is gentle and sweet, as we set the capstone to the reconstruction of our love. Our bodies entwine in a restful lovers sleep, the slumber though brief, renews us for the task ahead.

An hour later, we awaken refreshed, though feeling somewhat guilty for the stolen moments.

“I guess I should feel bad for taking you away from your job,” I begin. “I should have been working on those files too, looking for a connection.” We’ve dedicated years to putting the job first, and yet, I find the guilt is only in my words this time, and not in my heart.

He looks at me as he dresses, handing me garments that he sorts from the tangled pile. “I’m not so sure, Mac,” he shakes his head slowly. “Certainly, it’s not a technique I learned in ‘Investigations 101’,” he smiles charmingly, “but this was not an orthodox case. I’m convinced that anything that could clear your mind, and realign your thought processes, might be justified. I guess we just can’t help if it was also fun,” he grins sassily, from the corner of his eye.

I lift my eyebrows in a quick movement, and cock my head at him, “I suppose I don’t have to reveal all my investigative techniques in my report,” I muse.

He laughs and pulls me into a bear hug. “You know what, Mac? We’re still going to be a great team, no matter what the world throws at us. We’re going to be okay.”

I just nod against his chest. I could stay here forever, and yet now that I have a clear path, I can’t wait to work on finding the destination. All the distractions are gone. This must be the way a bloodhound feels, when he quickens to the scent.

Harm knows the look on my face, and concedes the moment. I see the wrinkles appear on his brow. I know those lines; they foretell a thought path all his own.

“What Harm?” I needn’t explain myself; he knows I’m inside his mind.

“I’m not sure, an idea is forming, but it’s not clear. Where’s Bud?” Uh-oh he’s after the fox now.

“He went back to the base to try to find the associated case, the one that started it all.” I explain.

“Does he have an exact date?” he queries.

“No, not exactly, he has a time frame, but I don’t think I pinned it down to an exact day. I was…uh…distracted. I wasn’t correlating the facts clearly, and matching them to the dreams.” Bud warned me to be cautious of the feelings. I was just too close to the subject.

“I know, sweetheart,” he brushes my arms with his hands, and lays a soft, comforting kiss on my forehead. His understanding is complete. I’m almost ashamed for having underestimated him, even in the deepest recesses of my mind, where these black messages were received and stored.

“Harm, I…”

“Shhh,” he quiets me. “I’m not trying to upset you, and we’ve worked way beyond reasons, apologies, or explanations. We have a job to do.”

“Harm, this isn’t your case. You have your own work.” I’m puzzled he would go off track like this.

“I’m about wrapped up,” he explains, “and I’m not so certain we aren’t on a parallel course. Your case is wrapped around the base SEALs, and so is mine. Somehow we have a cross connection. It brought us together on this for a reason. We can’t do anything for the dead women, but we can be certain there will be no more. Trust me on this, if I’m wrong I don’t want to distract you. Let me check something out, then I’ll share what I’m thinking. I’ll be back in an hour OK?” he barters mysteriously.

I nod, “One hour sailor, then I want answers.” I try for sternness, but it doesn’t really work.

He smiles and kisses my nose, before he slips through the door. Ducking his head back in, he looks serious. “I know you’ll hate me for this, but lock the door and don’t let anyone in, except me, Bud, or your pet sheriff, OK?” He winks mischievously at me, but there is an undercurrent of concern.

“Harm,” I warn him. He closes the door, just as the throw pillow hits where his head was. In this case, I admit to myself, he may have a point. The one thing clear from my dreams now, is that the killer acknowledged my presence. If it’s someone we have already encountered, he may have recognized me. For some reason, my Marine thing decides to be sensible instead of gung ho, and wait for backup. Besides, I still don’t have a suspect. I make a cup of tea, before tackling the files to look for the clues I need.


18:40


I’ve researched the files twice in the last hour, to my utter frustration. The murders are nearly identical, and match my dreams perfectly. The DNA matches on all three, but remains damnably elusive in identity. Whoever he is, his record is spotless. There is no match in any searchable database we can use.

I’m startled from my reverie when my phone rings.

“Mackenzie.”

“Colonel it’s me, Ensign Carlyle.” The shaky voice identifies itself.

“Yes ensign,” my hair is crawling on the back of my neck. “What can I do for you? Have you remembered something else?”

“Uh…not exactly, that is yes, well no. I mean I knew it all the time. Can you meet me? I’m so frightened Colonel.” Something in my stomach identifies her as the next victim.

“Can you come here Ensign, to my hotel?” It seems a safe choice.

“No! Nowhere he can find me.” She shudders audibly.

“He won’t find you here,” I reassure her.

“Yes, he can, not there,” she insists stubbornly.

“Okay, Ensign, where?” I surrender, uncertain why she is so afraid to come here.

“Beaches’, meet me at ‘Beaches’ in half an hour,” the line goes dead.

I won’t find out what she wants to tell me by sitting here. ‘Beaches’ is in the opposite direction from the base. Logically, it takes me further from the danger Harm fears, and I know exists. I write Harm and Bud a note, and grab my cap, before I head for the front entrance to hail a cab.


~~~~~~~~~~


The cab ride only adds to the agitation of my already highly anxious mental state. Something tells me I shouldn’t be doing this. If I get hurt, Harm will kill me. I contain a rueful chuckle at the allusion. The thought puts my sensors on full alert, as we pull up in front of the club.

As I enter the ‘Happy Hour’ atmosphere, I could kick myself for not changing clothes. My uniform makes me a target. I’m not certain what kind of target, but my worst fear is that the killer may actually be here.

It’s early though, and the after work crowd are just gathering, prepared to enjoy the softer music and lights that allow for quiet conversations, before the more hedonistic rituals begin. The late crowd will expect a stronger atmosphere of darkness, punctuated by bright flashing lights, and music that thunders through their edgy hormones, setting the tone for anticipated alliances.

I pick a seat and order my usual tonic with lime. Pre-emptively, I position myself for a panoramic view of the area behind me, in the huge mirror that backs the bar. From here, I can see the entire room, including the entrance and side exit, with only the slightest movement of my eyes.

She’s fifteen minutes late. I’m getting anxious; she sounded so frightened. I wonder if she decided not to show up, or if this has a more sinister meaning. The sound of my cell buzzing softly in my pocket startles me, and I bark into it more harshly than I intended.

“Mackenzie”

“Mac, where are you?” It’s Harm, and he sounds both angry and worried.

“Harm, I left you a note. Carlyle called, she has information. I think she knows who he is but…..” he cuts me off.

“I know who he is, Mac, where are you?” he demands again, anxiously.

“At ‘Beaches,’ the club in Portsmouth, where are you?”

“I’m in my car; Bud is just ahead of me. We were worried when you didn’t answer the room phone. I thought I told you to stay put.” I hold my temper just long enough to realize that this is bad, if Harm is daring to take that tone with me.

“Harm what’s up? What did you find?” I think my voice holds just a note of fear, that I’ve pushed my luck too far, and he relents a little.

“Okay, listen, we’re sure it Kensington,” he blurts without preamble.

“God, Harm. Really, are you certain?” I can’t believe this; it doesn’t make sense. A chill goes through me at the ramifications; not the least of which, is facing down a murderous, combat ready SEAL.

“Too certain to take any chances,” he answers. “According to his records, he came back from his mission the same week you were down here. He apparently discovered his wife was three months pregnant.”

“I take it that wasn’t good,” I leap ahead of his information

“No, it wasn’t,” I can hear Harms jaw clench, “he’d been gone four months. If not for the episode with the school, his deployment would have been for six months. Maybe she thought she could mess with the dates. Who knows? The night after he returned, she fell down the stairs and broke her neck. No one correlated the timing of the pregnancy, they just ruled it a tragic accident, and filed it away. He was supposed to be a hero, Mac, no one suspected a thing. He apparently made it his personal mission to stop this from happening to other servicemen.”

“Still Harm, that’s mostly conjecture, how can you be sure?” It seems to be a leap of logic, but I know Harm’s powers of reasoning. My skin is starting to crawl.

“The DNA, Mac, Bud had a copy with him from the other cases. Since Kensington told the investigators at the time, that he woke up and found his wife dead, they took his DNA to rule out an intruder. It was on file with the security report.” Harm answers coldly.

“So he preyed on anyone who….?” I let the sentence hang, astonished at the conclusion.

“Yes, Mac, but right now we can’t find him. You have to get out of there,” Harm insists frantically.

It’s that moment, I feel the enveloping darkness creep over me, my vision turns inward. I’ve fought this for days and months, and now centered in the cloud covering my minds eye, is my own back and head. Slowly, it comes closer, until I feel its cold tendrils on the back of my neck. Straightening in my seat, I lift my gaze to the mirror before me, completing the psychic circle. I find myself staring straight into the deep green eyes of a paradox, a man who is at once, both a hero and a monster. He has found me. He knows me. I am trapped.

I hear Harm’s voice barely cutting through the fog, as he desperately calls my name.

“It’s too late, Harm. He’s here, he’s found me.” My voice sounds unearthly to my ears.

“Maaac!!!” I hear him cry, as I fold the phone and drop it into my pocket.

Desperately fighting the image and the cloud, I find a small zone of safety, as my Marine training instinctively engages. ‘You know your enemy,’ it whispers, ‘plan your battle, anticipate his moves.’ If I can just stall him, keep him from finding the Ensign, maybe Harm will have time…

“Evening Colonel,” the silky voice of a national hero slides over me. Softly, suggestively, without foreknowledge, the man’s charm and style could easily win an advantage. Looking at him one would never suspect, the warped mind of a vicious killer lurks beneath the still pond of his penetrating gaze.

“Good evening,” I answer with my most charming smile, a question in my voice. My inquiring tone is accepted byplay, among prowling strangers in a singles bar. I’m familiar with the game; the difficulty is to prolong it.

“Are you waiting for someone?” He doesn’t waste time establishing my availability.

“I don’t know, are you someone?” I smile saucily, sucking on the straw from my drink. I have to slow this down. I can’t be certain he’s made the same connection I have, but for my safety, I have to assume so. This is tricky and dangerous, but I doubt he’ll try anything in here.

“Is it wise to do this in uniform, Colonel?” he arches an eyebrow, not disapproving, more amused.

“I just returned from a trip. I stopped to relax for a few minutes before going home. I so hate to be alone. Don’t you?” I glance at him through my lashes, sounding both vague and specific.

“Yes I do. Are you looking for company?” He seems less interested than he should be; perhaps he isn’t sure about me. That could be an advantage. I decide to play my trump card. Moving my hand, I flash Harm’s ring. I get my reward. His eyes flare, his interest renewed.

“Engaged?” he asks. Now I hear the faint tone of disapproval. It’s masked, nevertheless present.

I nod once. “Deployed,” I explain. “Three months,” I add a dramatic heavy sigh.

“Do you miss him?” He’s curious

“Sometimes. I miss parts of him,” I smile suggestively, holding my small lunch down with an effort. If he doesn’t take the bait soon, I’m certain to throw up. Harm and Bud can’t be too far away, unless Harm was stopped or speeding.

“I see,” he leans closer. I can feel the heat radiating from him. My first instinct is to have him on the floor, on his face, but I remind myself he is a combat ready SEAL, and he outweighs me by a good eighty pounds of muscle. He is likely to know every trick I know, for hand to hand, as well as a few I never heard of. My mind searches for ways to stall for backup. For once, I have to admit I’m outclassed, there’s no way I can do this alone. My only advantage is surprise, if he doesn’t know me.

Struggling to think clearly, I tear my eyes away from his grasp, for a moment, just a brief moment. I have to break from this filthy charade to clear my thoughts.

Glancing desperately around the room, I see the one thing I hoped to avoid. The terrified face of Ensign Carlyle, as she pushes the side door open, and flees into the dark parking lot.

Quickly I look back to Kensington, hoping to recapture his attention, but my heart sinks when I realize I’m too late. He’s seen Carlyle, and with a knowing smile, he throws me a half salute and turns to the door. He knows who I am; dear god I can feel it. He’s going after our only witness, and he knows I will follow. I can’t allow the woman to be killed; my only hope is that he can’t handle us both. As I hurry through the door behind them, I pray Harm is near. If I can just get to them, perhaps Carlyle and I together, can delay him.

For one brief moment, I feel another presence, but I haven’t time to identify it, before bursting through the door, into the high contrast lighting of the parking lot. Bright lights and deep shadows are difficult to adjust to, after the soft even lighting of the club, and it takes me a fateful moment to locate the ensign, already on the ground between two cars.

Kensington is nowhere to be seen, but I feel his presence. With extreme caution, I move to check the woman. Praying silently she isn’t dead, I approach her limp form, watching the shadows, using my skill and training, to search for danger. My fatal mistake is evident, as I bend to check her pulse point. I see him behind me, as I feel his arm slip silently around my neck, pulling me between the parked vehicles.

As my vision narrows with diminished air, I hear Harm’s voice, “Kensington, let her go, talk to me,” he coaxes with quiet desperation.

“No,” he nearly screams, “she’s one of them. I have to stop them from hurting anyone else.” His voice now changed, with an underlying madness.

“No, she isn’t, she’s mine, Commander. She wouldn’t betray me,” he says softly, his voice strong and confident.

“You’re wrong, you’re a fool, Rabb. She would have gone with me. She said so,” he declares triumphant in his conquest.

“No, she wouldn’t, she knew you; she said that to stop you. It won’t help anyone if you hurt her. Please, let her go,” Harm pleads desperately.

My mind is sinking; my vision is gone, overcome now by a permanent darkness. Somehow, as I drift towards numbing cold, I hear the words “Be still, little lady”.


~~~~~~~~~~


My next awareness is of strong arms restraining me, something over my face and a pressing tightness around my neck. My instinct to fight resurfaces. As I tear my way to consciousness, fighting and struggling against the restraints, the strong arms become familiar, the muscle structure intimate. The plastic cup over my face falls away, and with a deep, gasping, breath, my lungs fill with the scent of his aftershave, his body. Layered beneath is the unmistakable adrenaline, present from his attempt to save me; and very likely his residual fear when he thought he failed.

“Mac, please” I feel his words tickle my temple. “Mac, it’s okay, you’re safe. Thank god, you’re safe” I relax slightly against him, as my mind, now freed from possession, fights the fog of near asphyxiation.

“Wha…?” my voice croaks unable to form the word.

“Here,” someone hands Harm a bottle of water, and he gently applies it to my lips.

“Thanks,” I offer my gratitude generally, as my throat gathers moisture, and my voice returns. After a few sips I began assessing myself, torn between the comfort of Harm’s embrace, and a still frantic need for freedom.

“What’s this,” I demand tearing at the restraint around my neck. My returning personal strength, is replacing the weakness that is my voice.

“It’s a collar ma’am, we weren’t sure….” a voice comes from somewhere behind me.

“It’s okay Mac, it’s just a precaution. He almost….” Harms voice falters.

“Take it off, Harm.” I demand interrupting him.

“Maaaac.” I know that tone, and it’s pissing me off.

“Hold on a minute,” he bargains, looking to the medic

“Ma’am, we can’t do that until….” His tone is placating, but it’s not helping.

“Harm, please,” I plead, getting agitated. “I can’t breathe, please.” my voice is rising as I claw at the offending appliance.

“Ma’am, please listen,” his voice, lowered slightly, is soothing and deeply concerned, “let me give you some air.” he replaces the heavy mask from before, with a small plastic tube, almost as effective, but less intrusive. “Now, just breathe slow and deep, ma’am, that’s it slow and deep, in and out.” He drags the words in an hypnotic cadence that is strangely calming. I take a deep gasping breath, then another; each comes easier.

One second at a time my agitation is released, my nerves untense, and I melt more closely against Harm’s surrounding arms, nearly succumbing to an overwhelming sleepiness.

In a smaller voice, I finally protest, “But I’m really alright, really.” Harm looks unconvinced.

“Ma’am, I’d say judging by the salad on your uniform, you’ve been some pretty nasty places, but he had a real bad hold on you, and we just want to be sure, okay? We want to get you back in action. Just let us be sure there won’t be any problems,” his drawling voice is sincere and I relent further, turning my head the slight distance it will move. He adjusts his position until I can see him; his name is Darren. He’s very young, maybe twenty-two or three, and very accomplished at his job. “The Captain here is a lot bigger than me,” he gives me a half smile, indicating Harm with a nod, “and I sure don’t want to have to go head on with him again. We had to pry you away from him; you were out for about…”

“Six minutes and forty seven seconds,” I provide to his astonishment. He looks at Harm with his mouth open.

“It’s a Marine thing,” Harm grins nervously at him.

“A little bit of déjà vu, sailor?” I smile apologetically

“Something like that,” he turns to Darren. “Sorry,” he offers, for whatever his previous behavior had been.

“You two must have an interesting history,” the medic ventures, looking between us and catching the unspoken intimacy.

“Yeah,” I lock my eyes on Harm, “and we’re about to start having an interesting future.”

“Thanks, Mac,” Harm breathes a sigh of relief, as I relax completely.

I still object to all this coddling and the restraint, but my trust in Harm allows it. As my mind clears more, parts of my memory return.

“Thank you, flyboy, thanks for saving my six. I owe you one. Tell me what happened,” I look up at Harm. He’s propped on the side of the gurney that I now realize I’m occupying. His arms surround me and he’s half leaning into me to keep me still. As I relax, he sits back slightly, but his arms remain against me for comfort.

“Well to start with, you have two other people to thank. Bud found the file before I arrived, and correlated it with your dream,” he explains. “After we cross checked all our information, we sent the base guards to check the commander’s residence with no luck.”

I lift my eyes to see Bud standing behind Harm, a mile wide grin on his face, “Glad you’re all right ma’am, uh…Mac,” he says, uncertain which address to use. “You really had us worried. The Captain, that is Harm, was the one who figured out all the motivation. When we checked the gate, and found he had left the base….” Bud let the sentence hang. We all appreciate what Harms reaction was at that point.

“Thanks, Bud, I knew I could count on you.” I offer sincerely.

“And Ben was already in position when I arrived,” he indicates Ben Farraday, who is just approaching from the other side.

“Ben, it was you I felt.” I move my glance to the familiar china blue eyes, and tousled silver mane.

“I was in the security office talking with Jim,” he nods, “when he recognized the Commander as a regular. I noticed you at the same time. Couldn’t figure out what the devil you were doing. When we saw what was happening, I went out the other door. I worked my way behind him just as he grabbed you. Harm was there a heartbeat after me,” he explains.

I have to wonder just how many lives I have left, I really pushed the envelope this time, I doubt I’ll hear the end of it anytime soon.

“You….you said to hold still. I remember that, I just didn’t know what it meant.” I know I heard him, yet he couldn’t have voiced it aloud.

He smiles at me wryly, “Yeah it was kind of a tricky move, he had you pretty tight, and he wasn’t letting go. I didn’t have a choice, but I had to do it fast.” His voice has a tinge of sadness but no real regret.

“Had to do what, Ben? Is he….?” I know, but I need to hear it.

“‘Fraid so, it was him or you, and we didn’t use up any time making our choice. I…uh…” he looks away then back, “I had to use his move on him. Sorry I can’t bring him to trial.” He shakes his head, the only real remorse I sense, is that of the dedicated lawman.

“His move?” I’m puzzled, “how did you learn that?”

“I used to be a SEAL,” he shrugs, strangely modest at this admission.

“Aren’t you kind of tall for a SEAL?” I ask curiously.

“That’s what everyone thought, made a lot of people underestimate me,” he finishes confidently.

“And…and Carlyle,” I ask, afraid of the answer.

“She survived,” Harm provides quickly, sensing my returning tension, “she’s badly injured but she’s alive. You were damn lucky, Marine.”

“I think we need to have a conversation about waiting for backup little lady, I thought they taught you better than that in Marine school,” Ben scolds sternly.

“Yeah, little lady,” Harm jumps in mimicking Ben’s tone, “and I thought I strongly suggested you stay put until I got back.”

I smile at Ben, and glare at Harm. “Harm don’t you dare call me that, ‘I’m a marine’,” we both finish the sentence together.

Ben smirks, commenting, “You two do that act better than you do it with Bud.”

“We’ve been practicing longer,” Harm smiles, gathering me a tiny bit closer. “And why can’t I call you that, he can.”

“Because, Captain,” I point out, “you have other privileges.”

Ben laughs and claps Harm on the shoulder, “Better quit while you’re ahead. Cap’n,” he suggests.

“Uh… ma’am, sir, I hate to interrupt, but we really need to get the Colonel to the hospital. She should be checked over.” The paramedic is still nervous over my desire to remove the collar, and turning me over to the emergency room can’t happen too soon for him.

“Harm, I’m not going to any hospital. We’ll be there all night, then they’ll want to keep me for observation, it’s just not going to happen.” I protest.

“Now, Mac, be reasonable,” he cajoles, “after all, unless you mend, how will we explore those other privileges?” he whispers the last sentence, suggestively into her ear.

I turned slightly, to look at him, giving him the full force of my most alluring smile, but the blush suffusing my cheeks does not escape notice.

“Tell you what, Captain.” I bargain, “I promise to be good and follow the doctors orders, if you will take me to the base, instead of making me go to the hospital in town, deal?”

He hesitates for a full minute before agreeing. “Deal,” he relents with a sigh, knowing I won’t budge any further.

“Uh, sir, I really don’t think that’s wise,” Darren tries to intervene.

Harm turns to address him, “I know this woman, Darren. We’ve been through a lot worse than tonight. She’s tough as nails, but she isn’t stupid,” he smiles down at me. “If she says she’s okay, then she’s okay. Believe me; she is perfectly capable of putting us both on the ground and driving herself home. Work with me here, I promise she’ll keep the collar on until I get her to a doctor.”

“And he never breaks a promise,” I add softly, too tired now to be offended by the fact he’s talking around me. I know there is little wrong with me that a good night’s sleep, in a very special Captain’s arms, won’t cure.

Ben stands aside with his arms crossed, and chuckles lightly, “You two are quite a pair, you know?

“We know,” Harm replies smugly, and standing, he reaches for Ben’s hand, “I can never repay you for saving her,” he admits.

Ben nods his acceptance, but adds, “Without her we might not have nailed the guy, that idiot from NCIS wouldn’t listen, and no-one else would have known about him.”

Harms voice shows his appreciation of the situation. “Mac does have an interesting gift, it saved my life.”

“A story I’d love to hear,” Ben answers.

“Look us up if you get to DC. We’ll give you a call, next time we’re down here,” Harm offers.

“You have a deal,” Ben agrees. “May I,” he indicates me.

Harm cocks an eye at me, and I nod.

Ben leans over and kisses my cheek, “Take care, little lady,” he murmurs before retreating.

“You too, Ben,” I smile at him.

Harm leans down, and scoops me into his arms, turning towards his car, parked sideways at the entrance to the lot.

The small gathering of news people fire up their cameras, as they capture the scene of a tall, handsome, Navy Captain carrying an injured Marine colonel to his cherry red corvette. At the last minute, he turns and calls to Darren.

The young man approaches in two strides. “Just remember, you instructed me to take her for medical attention.” Darren looks perplexed. “There’s an Admiral out there somewhere, who might pick up a paper tomorrow.” Harm explains, indicating the reporters.

“Right, gotcha, sir. I’ll be sure the local newsies are filled in on my suggestion,” he smiles conspiratorially, and turns back to the voracious group of reporters.

“C’mon, Marine,” Harm smiles softly. Relief is evident in his face, as we leave this place of near tragedy for us. “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going, Harm?” I ask as he tucks me into his car. I’m hoping I can talk him into going straight home, but I realize it isn’t going to happen when he replies.

“To the base hospital, then maybe home, if the doctor releases you.” His soft smile remains, but it’s teased at the edges by a wicked grin, “when you’re all better, you can tell me about those privileges.” Folding himself into the driver’s seat, he fires the powerful engine.

Slowly he pulls into traffic and turns towards the Naval base. After running through the gears, he reaches for my hand.

The End

 


Author’s end notes

I know: There’s a military hospital in Portsmouth, but it didn’t fit my riding off into the sunset finish.

It’s unwise, for a person to refuse the aid of an ambulance, but they can if they are coherent. They can’t go home, it’s too far and they have too much paperwork to do in the morning.

None of that stuff is romantic, and this is after all a romance.

 

 

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