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Chapter 21:
Red Badges



"Courage is acting in spite of fear."
--Howard W. Hunter



1300 Zulu
6 February 2004
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

 

Mac pulled Harm's Lexus into the parking lot and parked it in her usual spot. She got out of it, hurried around to the other side, pulled out the crutches, and handed them to Harm as he opened the door. "Be careful, Harm," she murmured as he carefully got out of the vehicle.

Harm leaned on his crutches and grimaced. "I've used crutches before, Colonel," he said testily.

"I know you have, sailor, but you didn't have three cracked ribs the last time you had to," she snapped.

Harm shook his head and took a step, carefully keeping his broken leg off the ground. "I'm sorry, Mac," he said. "I really don't want to be here."

"I know, Harm," she murmured. "I promise to try and keep this as short as I can."

"I want to get out of here." Harm stumped forward on his crutches. "I don't want Marine guards waiting outside Gram's house like they were at my apartment and the hospital room, either. I'm *not* some sort of precious possession to be coddled and guarded," he said with a growl.

"Stop right there, Harmon," Mac commanded. "Let me get one thing straight; *you* are the most important thing in the world to me right now, and there are a hell of a lot of people here who care about you. If I have to convince the Admiral to assign guards to you forever to keep some lunatic with a vendetta from coming after you, I will. Got that?"

Harm stopped at her tirade and listened with a bowed head. "Yes, ma'am," he said softly. He knew better than to argue when she was in this kind of mood. All it ever led to were bitter fights, and he didn't have the energy for one at the moment.

Mac steadied him as he propelled himself forward. He showed his ID to the guards at the front desk and followed her to the elevator. A few minutes later, they walked into the bullpen. "Captain on deck," came the call.

The entire staff came to attention as Harm and Mac went by. Admiral Chegwidden came out of his office, a small smile flitting about his lips. "Attention to orders," he said. "Rabb, you're out of uniform."

Harm started to wobble slightly on his crutches. "Sir," he said respectfully as he tried to come to attention.

"At ease, *Captain*," AJ said with a grin. "Coates! Get the Captain a chair, please, before he falls over."

"Aye, sir," came Jen's reply. She grabbed a desk chair and slid it up behind him. "Here you go, sir."

"Thank you, Coates," Harm said as he carefully lowered himself into the chair. From the look on the Admiral's face, he knew it would only land him in hot water to protest the special treatment. He wished that they wouldn't make such a fuss, but he guessed it was so people could see that his time with the CIA hadn't killed him off after all.

AJ stepped forward, motioned for Harm to hold his right hand up, and administered the oath. Harm put his brain on autopilot, refusing to let what was happening register. AJ smiled as they finished. "Son, since your mother couldn't be here, and I'm sure as hell not doing it, Colonel, will you do the honors?"

"Gladly, Admiral," Mac said with a grin. She laid Harm's new uniform coat on the nearest desk and came closer.

"Gently, Marine," Harm murmured.

A mischievous smile stole over her face as she leaned in and captured his lips in a kiss. She teased his lips apart and slipped her tongue in his mouth, completely ignoring the fact that it could probably get them in serious trouble. At Harriet's gasp, they broke off the kiss just in time to see her lean heavily against Bud.

As Harm caught sight of Sturgis's broad smirk, he felt his ears grow hot, and he was sure that he was turning bright red.

AJ cleared his throat. "Well, next time, I guess I should specify *where* the kiss is to be administered," he said gruffly, his eyes suspiciously bright.

"Congratulations, sir," Coates said with a smile. "We've missed you around here."

"There's one more matter we have to take care of before you leave town," AJ said. "Captain Rabb, you are hereby awarded your third distinguished flying cross for landing a damaged C-130 without brakes on the deck of a carrier, thus saving the lives of all aboard." He pinned a medal on the front of Harm's jacket and motioned to Mac. "On the cheek this time, Colonel."

"Aye, sir," she said with a grin, then leaned down to kiss Harm on the cheek.

"The time and place of the Captain's wet-down will be after he returns from leave. Dismissed, people. Rabb and Mackenzie, I need you to come with me."

"Aye, sir," they said. Wordlessly accepting the crutches that Mac handed him, Harm struggled up from his chair.

"I've got Secretary Sheffield in my office," AJ explained softly. "He didn't believe me when I told him that you're in no condition to fly to the Netherlands to defend him, or I would have put this off entirely until you're fit for duty. It was a near thing to convince him to come here instead of ordering us there."

"We'll be okay, sir," Mac answered. She put her hand on Harm's shoulder to lend him support. Harm flashed her a brief grateful glance then concentrated on the floor in front of him. With this lovely bit of news, he was wishing that one of Bud's Star Trek fantasies would come true so that Scotty could beam him anywhere but there.

The three of them walked into the Admiral's office, and Mac closed the door behind them. "Captain Rabb, just the man I wanted to see," Sheffield said with a grin.

"Rabb, Mackenzie, have a seat," AJ ordered quietly.

Before they reached the chairs, Sheffield came over and made as if to clap Harm on the back. Harm flinched back, overbalanced, and almost fell before Mac reached out to steady him. He hadn't quite gotten used to moving around on crutches again, and the last time he'd had to do it, he'd at least been able to use his damaged leg for support.

"Don't touch me," he said harshly.

Sheffield shot him a startled look as Harm moved closer to Mac. He could handle being around people, but he still didn't like being touched. "Is there a problem, *Captain*?" Sheffield asked.

Harm simply moved as close to Mac as he could. "The Captain is on medical leave for good reason," AJ said calmly. "He needs some time to recover from his recent ordeal, and arrangements have been made for him to receive medical treatment at the VA medical center in Pittsburgh starting Monday."

"Psychiatric?" Sheffield asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

"One of the Company's shrinks came to see him in the hospital," Mac said softly. "She said that he'll be okay, given the time and space to recover."

"Fine then," Sheffield said. "If he'll be okay, then he can still fly to the Hague."

Harm moved even closer to Mac, knowing instinctively that she would protect him. Before Mac could say anything, AJ spoke up. "No, sir." He handed the SecNav a sheet of paper. "This is from Rabb's doctor; with that leg, he has to stay stateside until it heals. And this is from the CIA shrink," he said, handing the SecNav another sheet of paper. "It says that his fiancée needs to stay with him for the duration of his recovery."

AJ allowed himself a small smile. "She apparently decided that the Captain and the Colonel are engaged."

Sheffield threw the papers on AJ's desk in disgust. "Fine. Colonel Mackenzie, since you are *not* the Captain's fiancée, then *you* can come to the International Criminal Court with me."

"Respectfully, sir, Harm is family. He's listed as next-of-kin on my paperwork just as I'm listed on his. If you order me to go, I'll resign." Mac folded her arms over her chest and glared at him.

"Before you say anything, I *won't* lose my best officers by ordering them to do something I know they won't do," AJ said. "I've already assigned you two competent lawyers, sir. The CNO is backing me up; Rabb and Mackenzie are off limits."

"Fine," Sheffield snapped, then turned, stomped out the door, and slammed it behind him.

"I'm sorry, son," AJ said. "I didn't want to subject either of you to that, but he was insistent."

Mac answered for both of them. "It's all right, sir. We understand."

"No, it's not," AJ said. "You shouldn't have to put up with that. The two of you are officially on leave." He handed them some papers and smiled. "The only orders I have for you are to keep me updated and to leave a number with Petty Officer Coates where I can contact you."

"Aye, aye sir," they answered together.

"I don't want to see you around here until your doctor clears you for duty, son." AJ smiled at both of them. "I may need you back sooner, Colonel, but you officially have six week's leave. Dismissed."

Mac came to attention and gave AJ a sharp nod, reaching out to steady Harm as he did the same. They left as quickly as Harm could, stopping at Jen's desk to give her the telephone number at the Rabb farm.

Before they could pick Harm's coat up from the bullpen, Harriet stopped them. "Get well soon, sir--we miss you around here."

Bud was right behind her. "Congratulations, sir. We'll talk about sending Little AJ out to see you."

"Thanks, Bud, Harriet." Harm murmured. "Grams will be glad to have him, and so will we."

"Tell Sturgis where he can reach us," Mac said. "You can get the number from Jennifer."

"Aye, ma'am," Harriet answered.

"We'll let you get going; I bet you have a long drive ahead of you." Bud said. He picked up Harm's new jacket and handed it to Mac.

She took it with a smile and the two of them headed towards the elevator. It wasn't long before they were climbing into the car. Mac made sure that Harm was comfortable before she stowed his crutches in the back. "Are you sure that you don't want to try stretching your leg across one of the back seats?" she asked quietly.

Harm shook his head. "I'm too tall, Mac. It wouldn't work."

She nodded, climbed in, and started the car. Harm turned and looked out the window, unwilling to talk, even to Mac. Now that he didn't have the pressure of a lot of people around him, things were better, but it troubled him to feel so uneasy around people who had been his friends.

The only problem was, he wasn't too sure he trusted them at the moment. Hell, the only people he knew he trusted right now were Sarah, Grams, and Little AJ, and he felt almost reluctant to let them close. He was a target. Getting close to him might be hazardous to their health.

Harm closed his eyes, hoping that it would keep Mac from trying to talk to him. He almost smiled as he felt her hand grasp his and give it a squeeze. It felt so good for her to touch him. It was one of the few things that *was* good in his life at the moment. Selfishly, he decided that he wanted her to stay and forget about the danger.

Harm didn't want anybody else to touch him but Sarah. He'd let Little AJ and Grams, but nobody else was allowed. Mac's touch was the only thing that soothed the nightmares, the only thing that kept him from the darkness. He sighed as she let go of his hand long enough to turn the radio to a soft jazz station. As she took his hand back, he let himself be soothed by the soft music and her warm touch. It wasn't long before he drifted back to sleep.

 

Chapter 22:
Interlude



"For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
From a world more full of weeping than he can understand."
--William Butler Yeats "The Stolen Child"



1800 Zulu
6 February 2004
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania

 


Mac glanced over at Harm and smiled. He looked so *innocent* in his sleep. She hadn't minded the quiet car ride at all; it had given her time to think. He'd only roused once, just long enough to drink a few swallows of her Coke to wash down some painkillers and the gel cap of the antidote. She pulled onto the graveled lane and drove carefully up to the house before killing the engine and getting out of the car to stretch.

Mac walked around the car, opened the passenger side door, and laid her hand on Harm's shoulder. "Wake up, Harm. We're here."

Before Harm could open his eyes, Mac heard the sound of a screen door swinging open. She turned and watched as an elderly woman stepped out of the house and hurried down the steps. "Mrs. Rabb?" she asked, as the woman approached her.

The woman nodded. "Call me Grams," she said as she tucked a strand of thick, white hair behind her ear that had escaped from her bun.

"Yes, ma'am," Mac answered.

Grams walked around the side of the car and sighed softly as she caught sight of Harm. "What did they do to you, baby?" she whispered.

Harm opened his eyes, looked at her, and smiled. "I missed you, Grams," he said hoarsely.

Grams held out her hand. "Come on, sweetheart. It's time I put you to bed."

"But Grams," he said, "I just *got* here."

"Harmon Rabb, Junior," she scolded. "You come home with a broken leg, broken ribs, and cuts and bruises all over you; then expect me to let you stay up? You know better than that." Grams kissed him on the cheek. "I talked to your doctor, dear. He said that you need *rest*, so you *will* go to bed."

"Yes, ma'am," he answered, as he swung his legs out of the car.

"I wish *I* could get him to do stuff that easily," Mac observed with a smile.

Grams smiled, her blue eyes twinkling. "Sarah, I've been putting my grandson to bed since before he could walk. He got used to obeying me a long time ago. He does it now, and he'll do it when he's an admiral."

Mac got his crutches out of the back and handed them to him. "Lucky you," she said with a wink. "It takes him forever to agree to do anything I want him to do."

Harm opened his mouth, but Grams stopped him. "Hush, baby. I've got the double bed in the back room made up for you so that you don't have to climb the stairs. We're going to elevate that leg, and I'll bring in something for you to eat."

"Yes, ma'am," he said with a sigh.

"And then I can show Sarah your baby pictures," Grams said with a wide smile. She turned to Mac. "I have the *cutest* picture of him on a bear rug..."

"Grandma!" he protested.

"Harmon, be thankful your mother isn't here. She's got pictures of you from that time in Miramar when you decided that clothes weren't any fun. He was three," she explained, turning to Mac.

Harm moved a little ahead of them, and Mac could hear him muttering about being doomed. She tried to choke back her laughter but was unsuccessful in stopping a monumental case of the giggles.

Grams reached for Mac's hand, picked it up, and patted it. "That wasn't the last time, either, Sarah. I called to talk to his mother once, he was five, I think, and he answered the phone." She smiled in fond reminisce. "He talked to me for a while, then told me that he had to go take off all his clothes and run around the house." She laughed softly. "The next thing I heard was Trish calling his name and ordering him to get his clothes back on."

Mac chuckled. "So you're going to give me more blackmail material?" she asked.

"Of course, honey. That's what grandmas are for; to spoil their grandchildren and then give the love of their lives a steady stream of blackmail material on them." Grams reached out to steady Harm as they walked up the stairs to the wrap-around porch.

Mac opened the door and held it open for Harm and Grams, while Grams ushered him inside. "Follow me, Sarah," she called with a smile. "I'll show you the room I've put both you and my baby in."

Grams stood on her tiptoes and kissed Harm on the cheek. "I knew that you wouldn't want to be without her, Harmon."

Harm turned bright red. "Thanks, Grams," he muttered.

Mac hid a grin behind her hand and followed him into the ground floor room that Grams had prepared. "Sit down before you fall down, Harm," she ordered, pointing towards the wide bed.

Harm shot her a dirty look, but obeyed when his grandmother reinforced the order.

Grams pushed him down on the bed gently, then unbuttoned and pulled off his Class-A Jacket. "Come on, sweetheart. Let's get you comfortable," she said.

"Grams!" Harm protested. "I can undress myself!"

"Go ahead, Harmon," she said with a smile. "I'll go get lunch." Grams walked out, leaving Harm and Mac alone.

"I hate it when she does that," Harm groused. "She *knows* I hate being called 'baby' and stuff like that."

Mac grinned. "I bet she's doing it on purpose so that you behave."

Harm groaned and finished unbuttoning his shirt. Without being asked, Mac helped him take it off then knelt down to untie his shoe. "Thanks, Mac," he said as he unbuckled his belt.

"Need help to get those over the splints, Harm?" she asked.

He nodded and ducked his hand. "Yeah," he admitted. "I still get dizzy when I bend over that far."

Mac carefully worked his pant leg over his splint and helped him lie down. Wordlessly, she grabbed some throw pillows and propped his leg up before covering him with a blanket. "Better, stickboy?" she asked.

"Thanks, Sarah," he murmured.

Mac climbed in next to him and reached for his hand. "*Much* more comfortable than the hospital," she said teasingly.

Whatever Harm was about to say was interrupted by a massive yawn. Mac reached over and started stroking his hair. "I hate painkillers," he grumbled. "Damn things make me sleepy."

"You need the sleep, Harm." Mac said softly.

"I'll sleep if you'll stay," he bargained.

Mac kissed him on the cheek. "I don't have anywhere I'd rather be," she said.

Harm sighed and inched closer to her. "Good," he said, his eyes starting to close from the medication kicking in. "Want you here to hold me."

Mac lay down beside him and threw her arm across his chest. "For as long as you want me to, squid."

She watched as Harm's eyes closed and he fell asleep. She leaned over and kissed him again. With both herself and Grandma Sarah, she was sure that they could get Harm back to a semblance of his old self in no time.

 

1603 Zulu
10 February 2004
Roberts' House
Falls Church, Virginia

 


Little AJ clapped pillows to his ears as the baby started screaming... again. Uncle Admiral AJ had given his daddy the day off, and predictably, he was spending it with the *baby*. He grimaced in disgust. Babies were icky. All they ever did was eat, poop, and cry, but grown-ups still thought that babies were *wonderful*. He didn't see what they were good for.

"Shut up, *baby*," he yelled, throwing his pillows on the floor. Little AJ marched out of his room and headed over to the baby's room. His daddy was asleep in the chair next to the baby's bed, and Jimmy was screaming as usual. "Why can't you be good?" he asked.

Little AJ dragged over a step-stool, climbed on it, and picked Jimmy up. "Stop crying, *baby*," he said, clutching Jimmy tightly as he climbed down from the stool.

Jimmy kept screaming and his little face started to turn as red as a tomato.

Little AJ held Jimmy out in front of him and glared at the small face. "Shut up!" He wrapped his arm around the baby and turned him upside down. He didn't want to *hurt* the dumb baby; the kid *was* his brother. Bobby had said that his baby sister stopped crying when she got turned upside down when *his* daddy was playing with her, so maybe it would make Jimmy stop.

"You're a dumb baby, and you need to *stop* crying. You're noisy and I don't like you much." Little AJ turned his brother right side up.

Jimmy stuffed his tiny fist into his mouth and hiccupped. He regarded Little AJ for a moment, then started howling again. At the sound of Jimmy beginning his wailing anew, Bud woke up. He grabbed the baby from Little AJ and held him tight. "AJ! You know better than to try and pick him up by yourself; he could have gotten hurt!" Bud scolded.

"Dumb baby," Little AJ said. "He never stops crying. I hate him."

"AJ! That's enough. Go to your room, and we'll talk about this later." Bud freed one hand and shooed the child out of the room.

"They don't love me," Little AJ stuck his lip out in a pout. "They just love Jimmy." He shuffled down the hall and went into his room. "Maybe if I went away, *then* they'd love me again."

Little AJ bit his bottom lip and reminded himself that big boys didn't cry. Grandpa Roberts said so. He went over to his closet and pulled out the suitcase he used to visit Grandma and Grandpa Sims. He opened it and stuck some clothes and the toy F-14 that his Uncle Harm had given him inside.

"Uncle Harm and Aunt Mac love me," he said softly. "I can go find them in Penn-Pennsylvania." He pulled on his jacket, zipped up the small suitcase, picked it up, and sneaked out of his room. Carefully, he looked around and left the house. Outside were adventure and a journey to people who loved him. He was sure that Uncle Harm's farm couldn't be too far away. After all, Aunt Mac had been going to drive them there.

And if she could drive them there, then he could surely walk and find them. Little AJ started down the block in the direction that his mom usually used to drive to work. Eventually, he'd find it. Besides, there was a creek down this way. Maybe he wouldn't go to Penn-Pennsylvania after all. Maybe he'd just go live at the creek.

A smile passed over his face. There were *frogs* in the creek. Frogs and some minnows. A boy could have a lot of fun playing there. Especially when there wasn't anybody at home to yell when he messed up his clothes.

Little AJ sped up and hurried to the creek. He'd stay there until he figured out which direction the farm was. After a few minutes of hard walking, he reached the creek. He grinned as he sat down and pulled off his shoes and socks. He shivered briefly as his feet hit the cold, slippery mud and laughed when it squished between his toes.

Little AJ picked up his stuff, got into the creek and waded across. The water was freezing, but he figured that it would warm up soon. There were woods on the other side to hide in, and he was sure that they'd never find him. As far as he was concerned, that was good, because he never wanted to see that stupid baby again.

 

Chapter 23:
Dark Times


 

"In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost."
--Dante Alighieri (1265 - 1321), "The Divine Comedy"


 

2300 Zulu
10 February 2004
Rabb Farm
Belleville Pennsylvania

 


Harm glanced back up at the house before using his crutches to get away as fast as he could. He was sick of them *hovering* over him. He was a grown man and he could take care of himself, dammit! He hurried to the far side of the farmyard, making for the swing that had been hanging under his favorite tree for as long as he could remember.

He stumbled a little on the high roots, but managed to steady himself while he brushed the snow away, and then levered himself into the swing and propped his crutches within easy reach of it. Harm briefly considered climbing the old tree, but there weren't any leaves to hide behind and it'd make his broken bones hurt too much.

He sighed and stuffed his hands into his coat pockets. It was a nice idea, but in his current condition, it just wasn't feasible. Besides, the way Mac had been protecting him, she'd probably overreact and call the fire department out to get him down.

Harm hated the way she treated him now. It was as if she thought he'd break if she looked at him wrong. Mac kept assuring him that she wouldn't ever leave, and he didn’t need it. In fact, it was getting on his nerves. He loved her. Heaven knew that he'd tried not to, but it was an irrevocable fact. The only problem was, she was driving him up the wall.

So what if he still had nightmares about Colombia? He'd dealt with his Paraguay-induced nightmares by himself, and he could damn well deal with the memories of Colombia alone, too. That was just life. Harm figured if you didn't get kicked in the teeth every once in a while, then something had to be wrong.

He used his good foot to start the swing in motion. The fact that his grandmother had been subtly and not-so-subtly pushing them together hadn't helped, either. She'd dropped the sweetness-and-light routine to start behaving like herself, but he could see that she was angling for a great-grandchild. Maybe it would have been better if he'd gone home to California.

Then again, his mom had been saying for years that he ought to marry Mac. She'd probably be worse than Grams. Harm looked up when he heard the crunch of footsteps coming towards him. "Mac," he said with a tight nod.

"Harm, it's freezing out here," Mac said, rubbing her hands together. "Come inside before you get sick."

"Go away, Mac," Harm said. "I'm *fine*, and I don't need you hovering over me like I'm an invalid or something."

"Harm," Mac began.

"What part of 'leave me alone' do you not understand, Marine? I handled my ramp strike, China, my crash into the Atlantic, and a whole lot of other crap by myself. Hell, I even handled Paraguay and you telling me that we were through before we ever really got started alone. I can handle this." Harm started making the swing go faster.

"I just want to help, Harm. I worry about you," Mac said softly.

"You don't have to," he said curtly. "I'm a big boy. I don't need anybody to take care of me." Harm felt a twinge of guilt as Mac drew back, hurt. She probably was still hanging around because she felt guilty, anyway. It wasn't like she'd still be there for him after he was healed, anyway. She'd leave, too. They all left. It was the one constant in his life; he had only himself to rely on.

"If you feel that way, I'll go, but I'm sending Grams out to get you," she snapped. "I *won't* leave you out here to freeze!"

"Fine," he said. "Send her; I don't care."

"If you come back in, you can sit in front of the fire in the living room; both Grams and I will leave you alone," Mac promised.

"All right," Harm capitulated with a scowl. He grabbed his crutches and started to make his way through the snow up to the house. Sooner or later, Mac would leave, and he'd rather that it be on his terms. Nobody ever wanted to hang around him for long.

 

2335 Zulu
10 February 2004
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

 


Harriet dropped the phone into its cradle and ran towards the Admiral's office. She nodded to Jen and burst through the door. "Sir, I've got to secure immediately; Little AJ is missing!"

AJ shoved his chair back and grabbed his coat. "Where was he last seen?" he asked as he pulled it on and reached for his cover.

"Sir, you don't have to come with me," Harriet said, then turned and hurried towards the door.

"That's my namesake that's missing, Lieutenant, of course I do." AJ followed her out the door. "Hold my calls and reschedule my appointments, Petty Officer," he ordered.

Barely registering Coates' answer, AJ followed Harriet out to the parking lot and motioned for her to get into his car. The silent ride to the Roberts's house seemed as if it took forever.

It was Harriet who spoke first. "Thank you, sir," she said finally.

"Don't mention it, Lieutenant. We just have to find Little AJ. Now *where*, exactly, was he last seen?" AJ turned into the driveway and cut the engine.

"Bud sent him to his room, sir, because he'd picked up the baby, and it looked like he was going to drop him." Harriet slid out of the car and slammed the door shut.

"Then you go talk to Bud, and I'll start checking the neighborhood," AJ ordered. "Is there anyplace he likes to go?"

Harriet paused from her flight up to the house. "Yes sir; his favorite place is the creek at the end of the block." She pointed out the direction and started running towards the door.

AJ nodded. "I'll check there first." He turned and hurried down the street in the right direction. If anything happened to that child, he knew that Harriet and Bud would never forgive themselves.

AJ reached the end of the block, closed his eyes, and listened hard for the sound of running water. Hearing it, he set off into the woods and crossed the creek. He smiled as he caught sight of small footprints on the muddy ground and started following them farther into the woods.

He followed the footprints for a little while, then found the other trail that Little AJ had left in his wake. It wasn't hard to follow the freshly-broken branches that the child had left behind him, and it wasn't long before he found Little AJ curled up in a nest of leaves, fast asleep.

AJ picked the boy up and made his way out of the woods and back up the block. Just as he reached the driveway, Bud and Harriet met him coming the other way. "Admiral, thank goodness you've found him!" Harriet said.

Little AJ chose that moment to wake up. "Am I in Penn-penn-Pennsylvania yet?" he asked sleepily.

Bud reached out and took him from the Admiral. "Thank you, sir," he said softly before turning his attention to his son. "AJ, why did you run away?" he demanded.

"Because you love the dumb baby more'n you love me," Little AJ said with a pout.

"No we don't, sweetie," Harriet said.

"Then how come you never pay 'tention to me no more?" Little AJ asked.

"I'll leave the two of you to it," AJ said. He looked at the child sternly. "You are not to run away again, sailor. And that's an order."

Little AJ stuck his lip out farther. "I wanna go see Uncle Harm and Aunt Mac. They love me. I runned away to go see them, and I'll do it again."

AJ crossed his arms over his chest. "No, you won't, sailor. If you did that, you'd be disobeying a direct order, and then you'd get into big trouble."

Little AJ thought for a minute. "That would mean no TV?" he asked.

"Worse," AJ said, biting back a smile.

Little AJ slumped against Bud's chest. "Okay. I won't run away no more. But I still wanna see Aunt Mac and Uncle Harm, 'cause they still love me. Mommy and Daddy don't."

"I think that this is something the two of you have to work out with him. Harriet, you can have the rest of the day, and I'll see you both bright and early tomorrow." AJ gave the trio a sharp nod and headed back towards his car. "I'll get Coates to bring your car by, Harriet."

"Don't worry about it, sir. I'll go in with Bud," Harriet said.

AJ acknowledged her with a wave of his hand, climbed in his car, and drove off.

"We'll always love you, AJ," Bud said. "But right now, you're in trouble for running off like that."

"We were worried sick!" Harriet picked little AJ up and walked towards the house, Bud following behind her.

"We're going to have to have a talk about running away, and I think that you won't be able to go to visit Uncle Harm after all." Bud said.

"But I WANNA see Uncle Harm," Little AJ exclaimed.

"Tough, kiddo," Harriet said. "We were going to let you, but that was before you ran away. Now, I'm taking you upstairs and giving you a bath because you're filthy."

Tears began to stream down Little AJ's face. "NofairnofairnofairNOFAIR!" he yelled.

"Yes it is, AJ," Bud said. "You can yell and cry all you like, but that won't change the fact that you're staying home. You ran away; it's the consequence of what you did wrong."

Little AJ's screaming grew exponentially with each minute that passed. Harriet and Bud hurried into the house, closed the door, and headed upstairs. "AJ, it looks like you're going straight to bed after your bath," Harriet set him down outside the bathroom and started stripping off his muddy clothes.

AJ continued to scream, balled up his fists, and stamped his feet. Bud went into the bathroom and turned on the water. "I think that's a good idea, sweetheart." Before he could say anything more, the baby started crying, adding to the general din.

Harriet and Bud exchanged a look. It was going to be one of those nights when a bottle of Tylenol™ was their best friend.

 

2003 Zulu
10 February 2004
CIA Headquarters
Langley, Virginia

 


Webb sat as his desk and started searching through yet another database for a sign of Sadik's organization. He hadn't come up with much so far, and he was under orders to keep looking until they found something. He sighed. If he'd known beforehand that his time with Jack would be the last mission he'd ever go on, he might've tried harder.

Scuttlebutt had it that if he survived the last encounter with Sadik's remaining goons, he'd be flying a desk for the rest of his career. Maybe it was time to get out. Perhaps he should start to consider settling down; he could start courting Mac seriously, Jack be damned.

Sure, Rabb loved her, but he'd waited too long. Mac had been dating him, not Harmon Rabb, Jr. She was worth a few broken noses. He jerked out of his reverie as intercom buzzed.

"What is it, Laurie?"

"Colonel Mackenzie's on line one, sir."

"Thanks, I've got it." Webb picked up the phone and pressed the blinking button. "Hey, Mac!"

"Hi, Webb. I know I should probably do this in person, but you've been so hard to catch lately--"

"Mac, what's wrong? Please, Sarah, don't do anything rash…"

"This isn't rash, Webb. We're not working. We haven't really been for a long time, and I think it's time we stopped kidding ourselves."

"Sarah, what are you saying? I love you."

"Webb, stop. We're over. I'm not sure we really ever started."

"But Sarah--"

"I'm sorry, Webb. I think this is the best thing for both of us, but I'd still like to be friends."

Stunned, Webb dropped the phone back into its cradle and buried his face in his hands. He pressed the intercom button. "Hold my calls unless it's an emergency, Laurie. I need some time."

"Yes, sir."

Maybe Jack was right; he needed to find a nice schoolteacher to raise more little Webbs with. Military types obviously weren't working.

 

Chapter 24:
Missing the Mark



"Maybe there's a God above
And all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
And it's not a cry you can hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah"

--Rufus Wainwright "Broken Hallelujah"



2145 Zulu
15 February 2004
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania

 


Grandma Sarah sat down in her squashy armchair and watched her grandson play his guitar. He'd been ignoring her and Mac for three days and he'd only spoken when one of them asked him a direct question. Physically, he was better; his cuts had almost healed and his bones were knitting nicely. Conversely, his nightmares had gotten worse until he was barely sleeping.

"Harm," she murmured, "please play something a little more cheerful, sweetie?"

Harm looked at her, glared, shook his head and turned his attention back towards his guitar.

Grandma Sarah sighed, closed her eyes, and leaned back against the back of the armchair. She knew that she couldn't stop him, and the honey-darling-sweetheart routine wasn't working, either. "Harm," she tried again. "Won't you talk to me? You were like this after your ramp strike and after you got back from Vietnam, and you know it'll help if you talk, Harmon."

"I don't want to, Grandma," he said gruffly. "If I talk, it'll be real." Harm strummed the guitar lightly. "And if Sarah knows, she'll leave just like everybody else."

Mac walked into the room, drying her wet hands on a dishtowel. "If I know what, Harm?" she asked quietly.

Grandma Sarah, sensing a fight brewing, stood up and headed towards the kitchen. "I'll just be out back… gathering eggs if you two need me," she called.

"If I know *what*, Harm?" Mac repeated.

Harm shook his head, clutched the guitar closer to his torso, and strummed a chord.

Mac laid her hand on his to stop motion. "I've been being patient, Harmon, and you haven't told me a damn thing. You're using that guitar as a shield, and it's about time you *said* something."

Harm put the guitar down on the couch beside him, grabbed his crutches, stood up and moved away from her. "What do you want me to say, *Sarah*?" he asked harshly. "If I remember correctly, you already *know* what happened to me, because you were questioning me when I was still drugged."

"You can't escape that easily, Harmon Rabb." Mac put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Get your *ass* over here and sit down, sailor. It's obvious that I've been being nice for *way* too long."

Harm scowled and didn't make an effort to move. "If you feel that way, *Sarah*, get the hell out of here and leave me alone!"

Mac crossed her arms over her chest. "Get your ass in the chair or I'll throw it in, *now*," she scowled and used her best DI voice.

Grudgingly, Harm stumped over and lowered himself into the armchair. "You're only here because you feel sorry for me," he said with a frown. "You're gonna leave anyway, so you might as well do it now."

"What makes you think *that*?" Mac asked as she strode over and threw herself on the chair next to his.

"Everybody leaves when they find out how screwed up I am," he said finally.

"I promised I wouldn't. Remember, *Harmon*? Why have you suddenly decided that my word is no good?" Mac arched an eyebrow and glared at him again as he attempted to get up. She stood, took his crutches and put them out of his reach before resuming her seat.

Harm made a fist and slammed it down on the arm of the chair. "I don't want to talk about it, *damnit*! Especially not with *you*."

"Talk, *Harmlet*," she demanded, crossing her arms over her chest. "I want to know why you're shutting me out. I sleep in the same bed, remember? I *know* that you're not sleeping, and I know about your nightmares. Spill it, sailor."

"Why did you say never, Sarah?" he asked quietly. "Our five year deal was almost up, and then I would've asked you for forever."

Mac took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I didn't mean it, Harm. I was a wreck in Paraguay, and it took a good friend of ours to point out how much I hurt you." She opened her eyed and looked at him. "I'm sorry, now *please* get your head out of your six and tell me what the hell is wrong? Why do you think that I'd break a promise to you?"

"Because promises never matter," he mumbled. "Everybody leaves. My father left. My mom left. Diane left. Renee, Annie, and Jordan left. They all promised that they wouldn't, but they did, anyway." Harm turned away. "You've left before, too. You left with Mic, and then with Webb."

"And you left to fly," Mac countered. "We've both left, Harm. And we've both come back. This time, you're stuck with me for good, flyboy. I'm not leaving and if you don't like it, tough."

Harm was silent for a few minutes as he traced a pattern on the fabric of the chair with one finger. "Okay," he said finally. "I'm sorry."

Mac got up, walked over, and gave him a hug. "I'm here, Harm. I'm not leaving you. In fact, if I have it my way, I'll be dragging you down the aisle as soon as you're better."

Harm didn't answer. Instead, he pulled her into his lap and hugged her tightly. For the first time in days, he felt safe again. He felt whole.

"I'm taking you back to the counselor," Mac murmured.

Harm simply nodded. He didn't like going to see a shrink, but he guessed that he'd have to if he wanted to keep his Sarah. He smiled at her as she leaned down to kiss him. As her lips brushed his, he closed his eyes and thought that he'd finally found heaven.

 

1500 Zulu
15 February 2004
Porter Webb's House
Great Falls, Virginia

 

Webb lounged in the deckchair next to his mother's indoor pool and sulked. He'd found out through his contacts that Jack and Beth were being sent to round up the rest of Sadik's thugs, and he was stuck behind a desk. Kershaw had even informed him that he was being taken off field op status permanently.

Webb sighed, picked up the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels beside him and took a healthy swig. The whiskey burned as it went down his throat and warmed his stomach for a few minutes. Sure, he knew that drinking himself senseless wasn't a real solution, but it was better than the cold, empty feeling he'd had ever since being handed over to Jack for more training.

He tipped back the bottle and drank more as he thought about the reason he'd been retrained in the first place. Sarah and Rabb. It was *their* fault. He should've taken a trained operative along to Paraguay instead of the beautiful Marine. Instead, he'd let his hormones pick, and he'd ended up all but thrown out on his ass. He stared moodily into the pool and then drank another swallow.

If Harm hadn't come after them, everything still would've worked out. Maybe without Harmon "Superman" Rabb around, Sarah would have married *him*. Webb sneered elegantly at the bottle, took a slug, and wished that Harm hadn't survived his little adventure in Colombia. Without that boy scout around, he would've had a chance.

Maybe Sarah would be kish-kishng him instead of that pilot of hers. Maybe if that sap hadn't come after them, he wouldn't be flyn' a desk. Webb upended the bottle and drank the last of the whisky. It had gone faster than it should have. He reached out and picked up another bottle with an unsteady hand.

Webb unscrewed the top and cursed as some of his precious elixir splashed on his bare chest. It was only is third bottle, damnit. So what if he hadn't bothered to eat and he'd been drinking the day before, too? He grumbled under his breath as he wiped ineffectually at the spilled liquor on his torso.

Webb gave up momentarily in favor of putting the bottle neck to his lips and taking a long pull. He came up for air and smiled as he noticed that it was still three-fourths full. He drank from it again before he set it on the table next to him--or tried to. He missed the table and dropped the bottle instead. It broke on the rough cement surface, sending glass shards and whiskey all over.

"Damn," he muttered as he pushed himself unsteadily out of the chair. "It was my last bottle." He shrugged fatalistically. He could always get his mother's butler to get him more. He glanced down at himself and wrinkled his nose in disgust. He *had* to get the smell of whiskey off his skin.

Webb smiled as he saw the pool. Perfect. Now if only the room would stop moving, he could make it over there. He swayed on his feet and wobbled and weaved his way over to the edge of the pool. He jumped in quickly, not noticing that he was standing next to the shallow end of the pool.

Webb hit the water with a monumental splash, which was a far cry from his usual neat entry. He lost track of where he was in the water and cracked his head on the bottom, knocking himself unconscious. With a quiet ripple, he bobbed to the surface, his face down in the water and blood streaming from a lump on his temple.

Unfortunately, his mother was out of town, so he wasn't found until the pool man came to clean out the pool the next day. At least he'd died in country so that they had a body to bury.

 

2000 Zulu
15 February 2004
International Criminal Court
The Hague, Netherlands

 


Sturgis shifted slightly in his chair. It had been a long few weeks, and the court battle hadn't been easy. Especially with Captain Krennick as lead council. Sure, she was a good lawyer, but he'd heard rumors about what she'd tried to do to Harm. Who hadn't? It wasn't exactly like she'd been discreet about the way she'd propositioned his old friend.

The Navy could be like a small town sometimes, and with situations like the one she'd created for Harm, word spread. All of the guys knew to keep their distance and lie low when she was around. That is, unless they *wanted* what she was offering; a one-way ticket out of the service.

He tried to focus on what the head judge was saying, but his recalcitrant mind insisted on ducking out and thinking about the last time he'd seen his friend. It was great that Harm had gotten an early promotion, but Sturgis knew it meant a transfer out of HQ, and Harm hadn't looked like he was in good shape for that.

Sturgis hoped that Mac would be able to help; if anybody deserved happiness, those two did. He yanked his mind back to the task at hand as the judge uttered the words they'd been both waiting for and dreading. "Will the defendant stand please?"

The four of them stood up and awaited the verdict.

"This court finds the Secretary of the Navy of the United States not guilty of all charges. However, considerable damage *was* done to the town, and the hospital was destroyed. This court finds that reparations in the amount of six million dollars must be paid to the town of Tikifa to rebuild their hospital and recompense them for the civilian deaths. This court is dismissed." The head judge banged his gavel on the desk.

"Thank you, Captain Krennick, Commander Turner, and Major Pierce. I see my faith in the three of you was justified." Sheffield smiled and held out his hand to each of them in turn to shake.

"Just doing our duty, sir," Sturgis said, not sure if he wanted to shake the man's hand. There was something oily about the SecNav that rubbed him the wrong way. At least they'd survived the case, and tomorrow, he and Major Pierce would be on their way back home.

He looked over at the major and smiled slightly. She seemed to be in awe of their client; if she stayed in JAG, he had a feeling that she'd get over it quickly. Sturgis felt a headache building, so he pinched the bridge of his nose before he picked up his cover and his briefcase.

"Pleasure working with you, Captain," he said pleasantly and gave the blonde-haired woman a nod.

"Likewise. How's Commander Rabb doing these days, anyway? Is he married yet?" she asked with a lecherous smile.

"He's fine, ma'am. After he recovers from some injuries, he'll be getting his own command," Sturgis offered. "He's also engaged to a Marine."

Krennick picked up her purse, cover, and briefcase before answering. "I didn't think Marines were his type," she said. "His loss." She smiled at Sturgis before turning and walking out the door.

Sturgis let out the breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding and turned to Major Pierce. "Let's get the hell out of here and get home, Major."

"Aye sir," she said respectfully and the two of them left.

 

Chapter 25:
Things Change



"Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good and that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything. That power and money mean nothing. That good always triumphs over evil and I want you to remember this, that love ... true love never dies."
--“Secondhand Lions”



2345 Zulu
16 February 2004
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION

 


Jack took the safety off of his weapon and nodded towards his group. They'd managed to insert an agent on the inside ages ago; it turned out that Van Dyne was good for more than his knowledge of diamonds. With a grunt of effort, they broke open the door and swarmed the group of terrorists inside.

Within minutes, all of the terrorists had been rounded up, cuffed, and made ready to haul off to prison. Jack knew that his current bosses wouldn't have minded if they'd simply eliminated the threats, but he didn't like the idea of mass murder, no matter how guilty the victims were.

"Is that all of them, Beth?" he called, trying to make sure.

"That's the last of 'em, Jack," Beth answered as she helped herd the stragglers out of the building. "So, I guess that means that we can get the hell out of here?"

"Yeah. Have you heard from Harm or Mac lately?" he asked.

"Mac says that he's getting better," she responded with a grin. "I threatened her into keeping me updated."

Jack rolled his eyes. "I'm betting she's doing it because she wants to. She's a Marine, Beth. She could probably break you in half without breaking a sweat."

"Sorry, *Gunny*," Beth said. She poked him in the ribs teasingly. "I forgot that you *were* a Marine."

"No such thing as an ex-Marine, *Commander*," he said with a half smile. "Just my luck," he grumbled good-naturedly. "I get stuck with a ex-squid flygirl as a partner for my last month before retirement."

Beth smirked at him. "Tell you what. You stop digging me about my checkered past, and I won't go talking to old friends of yours to get non-classified dirt to tell your son."

"And just how are you going to find these old friends of mine, Beth?" he asked.

"I'm a spook, remember? I know guys who can find out *anything* for me." Beth walked quickly towards the car.

"Yeah, well I've been a spook longer than you, and I can blackmail them into not talking," he called as he hurried to catch up.

"If I don't get to them first!" was her response.

Jack shook his head and chuckled softly. He'd almost miss Webb; he could tell that Beth would keep him on his toes.

 

1250 Zulu
16 March 2004
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

 


Harm fingered the velvet box in his pocket as he struggled to catch up to Mac. He was mostly healed, but after so long without real exercise, he still needed to rebuild his endurance. "Mac, wait up," he called.

Mac turned around and smiled at him. "Hurry up, squid," she called. "The Admiral is waiting for us."

"Maac," he protested. "We're ten minutes early! With that internal clock of yours, we can't really be late."

"If you don't hurry we can be," she retorted. "We have seven minutes and fifty-six seconds to get up there."

Harm finally caught up to her. "Are you *ever* gonna tell me how you do that?"

Mac laughed and put her hand on his shoulder. "A girl's gotta keep *some* secrets, flyboy."

Harm groaned, shook his head, and followed her inside. The ride in the elevator was spent in a companionable silence. They'd had fights in the past month, but the time spent together had only served to bring them closer together. For the first time in what seemed years, they were comfortable around each other, and content with each other's company.

He touched the box in his pocket again and smiled. He knew how she felt about him, and it was well past time for him to do something about it. He couldn't help but think that if he'd been smarter, he would've done it years ago. Before the doors could open, a sudden impulse hit him to get it over with. "Mac," he began. "You know how I feel about you, right?"

The door opened before she could answer. "Not here, Harm," she murmured. "Later, okay?"

Harm choked back a groan. "All right," he said, disappointed.

The duo hurried towards the Admiral's office. "Colonel, Captain," Coates said with a smile. "The Admiral has been waiting, so you can go on in."

"Thanks, Jen," Harm said with a smile. They went in and came to attention in front of AJ's desk.

"Mackenzie and Rabb reporting as ordered, *sir*," Mac said.

"At ease. Take a seat, Colonel, Captain." AJ said, gesturing towards the armchairs in front of his desk.

He waited until they'd settled into the chairs. "So Captain, before I give you your options, are there any plans to... formalize things between you and my chief of staff?"

"Permission to speak freely, sir?" Harm asked before Mac could say anything.

"Granted."

Harm slid out of his chair, onto one knee, and pulled the box out of his pocket. He opened the box, pulled out a ring, and reached for her hand. "You know how I feel about you, Mac," he said. "And I'm pretty sure that I know how you feel about me. Sarah, I never want to be without you again. Marry me?"

"Harm!" Mac hissed. "Why here? Why now?"

"I did ask him, Colonel," AJ said blandly. "Now what's your answer?"

"C'mon, Sarah. I figured that the only way to keep either one of us from running was to have a witness; who better than the Judge Advocate General of the whole damn Navy?"

"Damn straight," AJ muttered. "Answer the man, Colonel. That's an order."

Mac took a deep breath. "Yes," she answered finally.

A full-blown flyboy smile spread over Harm's face as he slid the sparkling engagement ring on her finger then got up.

AJ leaned back in his chair. "Go ahead and kiss her Captain. Just this once, you have my permission to do it in uniform inside JAG, but don't let me catch you doing it again."

Harm's grin got wider. "Aye, sir," he answered, then bent down to kiss her. Because of their location, Harm deliberately kept the kiss short and sweet. He broke off the kiss and then sat back down.

Mac looked at him, smiled, then turned to face the Admiral. "Sir, I believe you said that you were working on some options for us?"

AJ rested his elbows on his desk and leaned forward. "Originally I'd planned on sending one of you over to the judiciary and having you assigned TAD back to JAG when they didn't have enough for you to do, but your promotion, Harm, put a kink in that plan."

"Sorry, sir," Harm said, his smile still in place.

AJ picked up a list from the top of his desk. "It leaves us with fewer options. First, I could send you to learn to drive a ship, Harm, and keep Mac here as my chief of staff. You spend six months of every year deployed, and it'd be good for your career. Our second option is that I send you to Naples or Pearl, both of which will be needing new commanders soon, Mac goes to the judiciary over there, and the two of you stay together. Both of your careers remain on track, and you'd still be a candidate for this chair someday if you want it. Both of you get more experience this way; you both need it if you're going to stay."

Harm and Mac exchanged a glance. "I don't like the thought of you not being here for six months at a time, Harm," Mac said slowly.

Harm nodded. "When we have kids that would get old real fast," he said. "Sir, option two sounds good."

"Good," AJ said with a nod. "Coates has some work for you; new cases for you, Mac, and some Freedom of Information Act requests for you, Harm."

Harm and Mac stood up and came to attention. "Thank you, sir," Mac said.

"Harm, I talked to your doctor, and he told me that you still need to take it easy and build up your strength. Next week, I'll let you work on some cases until your transfer goes through. You'll be in Sturgis's old office for now since you're not going to be here with us much longer. Don't forget your follow-up doctor's appointment this afternoon, and I expect a wedding invitation from both of you. Dismissed."

They left together and gathered their files from Coates. "Think the Admiral'll let us leave early?" Harm asked.

"I doubt it," Mac said with a smile. "But we can try."

"Meet me for lunch?"

"Sure. As long as you're buying."

Harm laughed and headed towards his office. Suddenly, the morning didn't look like it would be so bad after all.

 

0146 Zulu
16 March 2004
Harm's Apartment
North of Union Station

 


Harm leaned back against the couch and watched Mac through half-lidded eyes. She was concentrating on her newest case and wasn’t really paying much attention to him. "You're beautiful, Sarah. You know that, right?"

"Uh huh," she answered absently.

"The doctor gave me a clean bill of health this afternoon," he tried again.

"That's good," she said, still not paying much attention.

"When I was still pulling sea duty, I saw a two-headed duck with two pairs of legs. One set was on its back, and the other where it was supposed to be."

"That's nice, Harm," she answered.

He studied her and decided that if he wanted anything more than "that's nice," he'd have to take matters in his own hands. He sat up, pulled her to him, and kissed her. Carefully he coaxed her mouth open and slipped his tongue inside to explore. It was a kiss that was completely opposite of the one in the Admiral's office, and what he'd wanted to give her earlier that day.

Mac dropped the file she was holding on the coffee table and wound her arms around his neck. After several seconds, they broke off the kiss. "What was that for?" she asked, breathless.

"Have I mentioned lately that I love you?" he asked, his eyes twinkling mischievously.

"Oh, not in the past eight hours or so," she said with a smile.

"Well I do," he said. "And I was just thinking that after all we've been through to get here, we deserve a... celebration."

"Hm. Well, we could go out and get some... dessert," she said. "Or, we could make our own now that you're feeling better."

Harm's eyes darkened. "I think I like the thought about making our own," he said huskily.

Mac leaned in and kissed him. "Works for me," she said in between kisses.

Harm stood up and headed towards the bedroom, exchanging kisses all the way. For years, he'd searched for someone to love and a place to call home. Funny that it'd been right in front of him all along.
 


The End
  

 

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