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Chapter 31


1930
Friday
March 25th
McMurphy’s Bar and Grill
Georgetown


Mike and Faith sat at a table they were beginning to think of as theirs. It had been a long week and they were ready for the weekend. Mike was finally making good on his promise of a steak dinner if Faith went with him to Commander Turner’s engagement party. They had finished their meal and were lingering over coffee. They had an ease to their relationship now. The discomfort Faith had seemed to feel at times when they were alone had disappeared. She had allowed him to pick her up this time. He had called for her on his cell phone from his car, though. He hadn’t come up to the apartment.

“Did you enjoy your dinner?” He smiled at her.

“Yes, thank you. It was perfect. I think I’m getting addicted to the steaks here.” If she were honest with herself she would say she was beginning to count on his company as well.

Mike looked up to see Lieutenant Vukovic walk through the door. He nodded but did not rise to greet him. He didn’t trust this guy. Something about him seemed slimy; he just couldn’t put his finger on it.

Faith turned around to see where he was looking. The lieutenant had already seated himself at the bar by the time she saw him. She looked back at Mike. “You really don’t like him, do you?”

“I can’t say that I do.” He turned to look at Vukovic again. “I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I have a really bad feeling about this guy. The concerns you had in the beginning weren’t unfounded.” He thought of telling her about his problems with him when the lieutenant was his second chair but thought better of it.

Faith remembered their ‘conversation’ about him when he had first come to JAG. “Yes, I remember.” She looked down into her coffee cup.

Mike looked at her, knowing what she was thinking about. “I really am sorry about that, Faith.”

She looked up at him and smiled. “It’s all right. It seems like a million years ago that we had that conversation about him. I was still busy giving you my bad first impression.” She also knew that Michael’s pride was a little wounded at the time; she had just beaten him badly in court the week before.

Mike returned her smile. “You have improved with time, Commander.”

“Thank you.”

“Are you ready to go?” Mike didn’t want the evening to be over yet. “Why don’t we walk down the block and get some dessert?”

“I really couldn’t eat another bite.” She waved him off.

“Well you could go with me while I have -my- dessert” He huffed, feigning irritation.

“All right, counselor, since you gave such an eloquent argument.” She stood and took her coat from the hook near their table.

Mike stood and casually took her coat from her, opening it for her to slip into. He did it as though he had been doing this every day of his life. Faith didn’t make more of it than it was. She thought Mike probably did that for his mother or his sisters or any female friend he happened to be out with. She was glad to be among his friends.

The gesture did not, however, go unnoticed by the lieutenant at the bar.

They left and walked the two blocks to a small bistro, where Faith watched Mike eat an unbelievably rich piece of mocha espresso cake.


2140
McMurphy’s Bar and Grill
Georgetown



Faith and Mike walked past the bar, heading to Mike’s car in the parking lot. The evening had been perfect. Mike had taken her hand and placed it in the crook of his arm and they walked in step. Spring was in the air. The days and nights were getting warmer. The biting cold of winter was becoming a distant memory.

“This has been fun.” Faith looked up at him.

“I agree, I’m having a pretty good time too.” He looked down and winked at her.

“I still can’t believe you ate all of that cake as well as dinner.” She shook her head slightly. “You don’t look as though you have ever overeaten in your life.”

He turned to her and smiled slyly. “Why, thank you, Faith.”

She nudged him slightly. “You know what I mean.”

“No…I don’t think I do.” They had reached his car but he did not open the door. He turned her to face him. “Care to explain?”

“All right, don’t try giving me a hard time, Michael. It never works out for you,” she answered, looking at him smugly.

Mike decided it was time to change the subject. “I don’t want to go in. It’s so nice outside.” Mike had been looking around and up at the starlit sky. “It’s a beautiful night.” He looked at her.

“I know…” Faith felt the same way, but she was starting to get anxious about getting home. The look he was giving her made her want to invite him to her apartment or herself to his. She knew she wasn’t ready for that yet.

“Faith –”

“Michael –” They both spoke at once and laughed sheepishly.

Faith began. “Michael, I did have a great time tonight. I would love to invite you to my apartment… just for coffee, mind you.” She arched a brow, teasing him. “I don’t want this evening to end, either. I don’t know when I’ve had such a good time.”

Mike decided to help her finish this. “You’re not ready yet, I know.” He wanted to ask what had happened. He wanted to help her if he could. Instead, he impulsively reached for her hand and gave it a light squeeze.

Faith was touched at how patient he was with her. Suddenly it didn’t seem fair to shut him out. “I just need a little more time to work on this.”

“I’d like to help, Faith, if you’ll let me.”

She nodded in answer to his invitation. It was time she trusted someone. She stared at the pavement at her feet, trying to think of how to begin.

“Tell me what happened.” Her hand still in his, he gave it a shake, trying to get her to look at him.

She looked up at him anxiously, “Let’s walk – maybe that will make it easier.”

Along the street there were storefronts with well lit bricked pavement for about three blocks. They started down the street with Faith walking beside him, her arms folded across her chest. Their steps on the pavement seemed loud as she screwed up her courage to start.

“I don’t know where to begin.” She blew out a breath she had been holding.

“You could begin with why it upset you so badly that I was in your apartment.” He tried to keep his tone of voice even and not accusatory. He wanted her to trust him; it was very important to him that she did.

“I…I’m just not sure I can…Some of it was my own fault… my own problem.” She looked toward the street. The shame of that night crept into her consciousness, making her want to draw into herself, even in memory.

“Then talk to me, Faith.”

Faith was silent for a few moments. “Well, you know that I had…a difficult experience.”

“Faith…” He was getting the generic version again.

“All right…It was a long time ago, six years or so. I developed a …crush on a man I worked with. He wasn’t in my chain of command. This was at JAG San Diego. I…this is difficult.”

Mike knew he could give her an out, but he had to know. He wanted to help. Faith was a great person behind that wall. He wanted her to be happy. He waited quietly for her to begin.

“I had just made lieutenant – I and three others at JAG. So we had our wetting down at…” She looked at him. “T.J’s, as a matter of fact.” Faith continued and seemed to lose herself in her story. Her gait slowed and it was as though she weren’t talking to Mike at all.

“I had a little too much to drink and Mark asked me to dance.” She smiled without humor. “I nearly fell into his arms… I must have looked like a fool…You know that dreamy naïve look someone gets when they see only what they want to see? I must have looked that way…I was so wrong about him.”

Mike thought of asking her who this Mark was, but she continued before she had a chance.

“We danced…he held me close and kissed me.” She touched her lips with the tips of her fingers and then remembering herself, self consciously brought her hands down and behind her back.

“I had never been kissed like that before. All I wanted was for the night to go on forever.”

She paused and cleared her throat. Her voice was at a monotone. “We went to my apartment…”

Silence.

He reached for her elbow and stopped her. She looked at him with pain and what Mike thought was fear in her eyes. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?” He searched her face for a clue, so that she wouldn’t have to say more.

She looked down. “No, not in the way you mean.”

She looked away and began again, resuming their walk. “As I said, we returned to my apartment…and we picked up where we’d left off at T.J.’s. I was still dreamily falling into whatever I thought was happening. I had never…but I thought – I thought there was something between us. He said he had noticed me and had wanted to ask me out for a long time. I was so naïve and stupid. I mistook that for lo… I was wrong.”

They approached the parking lot where Mike’s car was parked.

“Faith, you don’t have to say more. I’m almost sorry I pushed you about this.” He walked her to the passenger side of the vehicle. He didn’t know who this Mark guy was, but he wanted to break him in half.

Faith leaned back against the car door. She looked up at Mike, and without saying a word, the look in her eyes told him she would continue. She reached for his arm and gave it a light touch, trying to reassure him that she would be okay. She looked away after that gesture, though, still not able to look into his eyes and speak of something so intimate.

“It started out so…perfectly. I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought that he…” She was silent for a moment. “Anyway, one thing led to another and I…because I was so inexperienced…my body just didn’t react as it should have.”

She shivered suddenly, folding her arms across her chest. It was not from cold but from the way the situation still made her feel. Mike took off his jacket and draped it loosely around her shoulders.

“Mark was less than kind…he seemed to take it as a personal affront. He kept asking me what my problem was. He was throwing around the word ‘iceberg’ pretty freely. Needless to say, the evening ended quickly and by Monday it was all over JAG that Lieutenant Coleman was an ‘iceberg.’”

Mike knew now that there was a lot more going on that night they were in T.J.’s than he had realized. He was gladder than ever that he had helped her put those ‘ladies’ in their place.

Faith looked back at him. “So…now you know. I know it was my own fault…I didn’t really know this guy…I just had this dream of the person I thought he was.”

Mike couldn’t stand to hear her blame herself anymore. “That was –not- your fault, Faith. Don’t blame yourself because this guy was an ass.”

Faith nodded. “I know that with my head. In hindsight, I know I used it as an excuse to block people out of my life. I’m just not very good at interpersonal relationships.”

Mike reached out to touch her arm and stroked it lightly with the palm of his hand. “I don’t know about that. I think you and I are doing pretty well with our interpersonal relationship.” He gave her a soft smile.

Faith looked into his eyes and to her relief saw no judgment there. She looked lower at his lips, suddenly wanting to kiss them so badly that she leaned forward slightly.

Mike was standing just inches in front of her as she leaned against the car. He reached out and gently grasped her waist with one hand and pulled her nearer to him. This time it was about them. He wasn’t thinking about friendship; he just wanted to show her how special he thought she was. He tasted her lower lip then the top and opened her mouth with his own. As he deepened the kiss, his hand slipped behind her back, pulling her against him.

Faiths hands rested lightly on his chest. She was enjoying this but not giving herself over to his kiss.

He broke the kiss and looking into her eyes and whispered, “There’s nothing ‘cold’ about you, Faith.”

Suddenly Faith felt a surge of feminine power that she had never felt before. She kissed him back, and as she gave herself over to the kiss, she became the aggressor. She was holding a man in her arms that she trusted. One she knew would never hurt her.

He slipped both arms around her waist, snaking them around behind her with his hands coming to rest low on her back. She responded by pulling his body to hers tightly. She trailed her hand up his chest and around his neck. She held his mouth to hers, delving deeper, savoring his flavor. She was hungry for this feeling – the feeling of being totally lost in and connected to someone at the same time.

A low rumbling sound came from deep in his chest when she deepened the kiss. He pushed her back against the car and gave her back everything that she was giving him. He couldn’t get close enough as he pulled her body up and into him.

They both seemed to remember themselves at the same time. They broke the kiss. Faith suddenly felt self-conscious and started to slip out of his embrace.

“No…just hold on…a moment.” This moment had been too perfect. Mike wasn’t going to let it end badly.

She gave him a questioning look.

“No backing away and hiding.” Mike was still slightly short of breath.

“Mike, I…”

“Hang on, Faith…just let me…hold on.” He looked at her with a sappy smile on his face. He was holding her loosely in his arms.

She looked at him and couldn’t help but return the smile. “That was…”

He finished her sentence. “Very nice.” He kissed her lightly on the cheek and stepped back to open the car door for her.

They didn’t notice Lieutenant Vukovic standing in the shadows just outside the entrance to McMurphy’s. Vukovic waited until they left the parking lot to return to his car.

He thought, ‘You never know when something like this could come in handy.’ He spoke aloud to himself, “Very nice indeed.”

 

0635
Saturday
March 26th
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania



Harm stood on the front porch drinking his coffee. He had gotten up before anyone else just to have this moment. He loved this place. Oscar sat at his feet, standing his watch with his favorite visitor. It was still cool outside, but spring was well underway. The trees were budding and the grass was greening up. In the distance he could hear what sounded to him like a tractor. Spring was a busy time in the country; he and Mac had noticed a lot of the fields they had seen on their way in that had already been tilled and replanted.

The simple ease of this place grounded him. Mac had known he needed to come back here for a while and he already felt better just being here. It was going to be a clear day; the sun had risen giving off its blinding yellow light to the east. The sky seemed bluer and the air cleaner after the cold of winter. Harm walked down the steps and Oscar followed. He reached down to scratch him behind his ears. Eight-year old-Oscar was now a puppy again and jumped up, resting his paws on Harm’s side. Harm picked up a stick and threw it, sending Oscar bounding off down the drive.

Mrs. Rabb looked out of her kitchen window. She had heard Harm get up, and had waited until he had gone outdoors to get up. She knew he needed this time. Whatever worries or concerns he had about the new baby coming, he seemed to have resolved them for the time being. She was so glad for both his and Mac’s sake. Mac had come downstairs and poured herself a cup of the ‘decaf’ she was drinking now. Harm had made it for her before he left the house, knowing she wouldn’t be far behind him.

“Good morning, Sarah.” Mac stood next to her at the window. She saw Harm walking down the drive. They both knew where he was going. Mac wanted to go with him, but thought she might intrude on some quiet time Harm needed.

“Go on, Mac, he’s been up and out for quite a while.” Mrs. Rabb nudged her, and she started for the front door and the porch beyond it.

Harm drew in a deep breath, taking in the scent of the turned earth and the farm. He started walking down the path to the gravel driveway. He thought of his mother and father. He felt so close to them here; he could not understand why, but when he walked this drive it was almost as though he could see them both. Over the years, when he thought of his father in his everyday life, he had trouble picturing him in his mind’s eye. There were times lately when he was that way about his mother as well, but when he walked here, he couldn’t picture one of them without the other. The image was clear and there was no pain attached to the memory.

He heard a sound behind him and looked back toward the house, where Mac stood on the porch with her cup of coffee in hand. She was wearing jeans and one of his sweatshirts from the Seahawk. Her face was freshly scrubbed and her hair pulled back from her face. She looked about 15 years old.

“Hey, Sailor, do you mind if I tag along?” She had thought about letting him take his walk alone this morning. She decided she wanted to be with him this morning, in this place. Their lives had been so busy and complicated – she just wanted to walk with him and just be.

Harm smiled at her. “Sure, come on.”

Mac sat her coffee cup on the rail of the porch and walked down the drive to him. She slipped her arm around him and tucked herself under his arm. They began to walk down the drive, automatically in step, without missing a beat. Mac thought it was as though they were one person walking down the drive.

“How long have you been up?” She looked up at him.

“About an hour.” He nodded toward Oscar, who was leading the way. “Oscar and I watched the sun rise.” They had walked over to the family cemetery and left the daffodils that he had brought with him on his mother’s grave. Harm thought that he needed that time alone to remember her.

“I love this place.” She looked around her and at the canopy of trees over them. Most of the trees had tiny green leaves sprouting, contrasting beautifully against the blue of the sky. The trees made no shade and the sun shone brightly through the branches.

“I do too. I didn’t spend as much time here as I could have when I was younger, but I still feel like I did a lot of my growing up here.”

Mac gave his waist a slight squeeze. “Me too.” She looked up at him and gave him a knowing look.

Harm pulled her closer and kissed her temple. He was so glad to be here and to be with her. He’d had to go away to Fentress last week for his F/A-18 quals.

“You know, I’m going to have to finish my F/A-18 carrier quals between now and May, right?” He looked down at her, raising an eyebrow slightly.

“I know…you still miss it, don’t you?”

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.” They stepped onto the path along the creek heading to Harm’s favorite place.

Mac let go of his waist and took his offered hand as she followed him down the path. “I can tell.”

They walked along in silence for a few moments until he came to the rock he liked to rest upon. He climbed up and held a hand out to Mac. She stepped easily up and stood next to him.

“Are you going to tell me to let go of that lifeline before it becomes a noose?”

He gave her an indulgent look, before helping her sit down. He sat down behind her, stretching both legs out on each side of her and enclosing her in the circle of his arms.

She leaned back slightly, resting her head on his shoulder. “No.” She took his both of his hands in hers and wrapped them around her waist.

“So much has changed since then. We’re both different people now. When I said that I think I was still afraid I’d lose you. I thought back then that it wasn’t possible for us to be anything but friends. I thought if you were at JAG I could keep you in my life. A carrier and your love of flying had taken you out of my life once, and I was afraid it would happen again.”

“I don’t plan on carrier duty any time soon.” He let go of her hands and placed both of his on her stomach. “I’ve got a new project in the works right now.” Her low rise jeans allowed him to flatten his palm over the soft swell of the lower part of her abdomen. He felt a slight flutter under one of his hands. “Was that – ?”

Mac had felt the baby moving a few times during the past week, but always by the time Harm had his hand on her stomach the baby would still. “Yes… you finally felt it.”

“She’s going to be here before you know it.” He pulled her tighter into his embrace with a satisfied smile spreading slowly across his face.

“She?”

“Did I say that?” Harm had been thinking of the baby as a girl; he didn’t know why.

“So…you think it’s a girl?” She turned slightly so she could see his face.

“I do.” He grinned sheepishly.

Mac had been thinking the same thing. She really had wanted a girl first, but with all the problems she had she would settle for healthy.

“So, Daddy… do you have a name in mind?” she teased.

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do.” He wasn’t sure how she would feel about it. It was her baby too, after all. “Jacqueline Patricia.”

She loved it. They would name their daughter for their friend and his mother. She chuckled a bit when she thought of Jack telling them on their wedding day that they could name their first born child after him. “I love it, Harm.”

“Are you sure? We can talk about other names. We don’t have to settle on this one so soon.”

“It’s perfect. I love the way it sounds when I say it. Though, you know, we could have a boy.” She raised an eyebrow at him.

“I don’t think so.” He pulled her closer to him and felt a happiness and peace that he couldn’t describe. He buried his face in her neck and breathed in the scent of her soap and shampoo. “Mmm… let’s just stay out here all day.”

Mac turned to face him again, and he kissed her before she had a chance to speak. After a long moment she broke the kiss.

“Hey, I thought you came out here to do your serious thinking.” She grinned at him mischievously.

He kissed her lightly and looked into her eyes. “I’m thinking…seriously.” He began to kiss her again, but they were startled by Mattie calling them from the drive. She could see them plainly from where she stood.

“Hey, when are you two going to start acting like old married people?”

Mac laughed. “Saved by the bell.”

“Grandma sent me to find you – she has breakfast ready.”

“Okay.” Harm sighed and backed away from Mac to stand up. He helped her stand and then climbed down the rock. He held out a hand and she let him help her down.

As Mac followed him down the path toward Mattie, she whispered so that the teen could not hear her.

“You know, Harm, I’ve been feeling great, but I don’t think I’m up to sex in the great outdoors.”

Harm stopped on the path and turned to kiss her cheek. “Come on, Mac…where is your sense of adventure?”

“Oh, go on.” Mac turned him around by his arms and pushed him down the path, laughing all the way.

Harm walked up the drive with a beautiful girl he loved tucked under each arm. At that moment he felt like the luckiest man on earth.


0830
Saturday
Faith Coleman’s apartment
Alexandria, Virginia



Faith stood at her kitchen sink. She had already had breakfast and been for her morning run. She felt so good this morning. She couldn’t remember when she had ever felt so happy. Last night had been wonderful. Mike had brought her home and kissed her goodbye at her door. She’d been afraid he would ask to come in … it might have been okay, but he chose not to.

She still had a lot to work out; he seemed to know that without her having to say anything. She knew she had to let other people in her life, and that everything couldn’t hinge on his friendship. Michael had just helped her renew her faith in human kindness. She had feelings for him. She couldn’t deny it, and she didn’t want to anymore. She just wasn’t sure where to go from here. She had never really had a long term relationship with anyone. She didn’t want to make more of it than it was, but she didn’t want to let this slip away, either. Michael was already too special to her.

Time would tell, she supposed. She would just have to trust what she and Michael had as friends to work this out.


1600
Sunday
March 27
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania



Harm loaded the last of their things into the SUV. They had to be back and ready to go Monday morning. Mac had been able to get an extra day, but he hadn’t. Mattie wanted to get back that night anyway. Two days was all she could take away from her computer and her friends. Harm hugged his grandmother.

“It was good to have you all here this weekend.” She kissed his cheek and released him. She turned to hug Mattie next. “I especially enjoyed this one.” She patted her back as she spoke.

“I’m sorry it took me so long to get back here. I promise it won’t be three months between visits next time.”

“It’s all right. I understand, Harmon. Maybe I’ll come and see you next time. I could try and talk Jack into bringing me to Washington again.” Mrs. Rabb had enjoyed her last visit, though it had been short.

They were all loaded in the vehicle, and Mrs. Rabb stood beside the driver’s side and spoke through Harm’s open window.

“Try and keep him out of trouble, Mac.” She winked at Mac and gave Harm’s arm a pinch, eliciting a laugh from Mac and Mattie.

Harm put the vehicle into gear and as he was driving away said to his grandmother, “Hey, I’ll give Jack a call. I’m sure he would love to bring you down…as long as you don’t drive.”

It took Mrs. Rabb a second to register what he had said. “Oh! Harmon Rabb.” He was already out of reach, though she could hear him laughing all the way down the driveway. He honked his horn as he pulled out and she waved goodbye to them all.


1000
General Creswell’s office
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Harm and Faith had been summoned to the general’s office. They both sat in front of his desk and waited as he read over a file that sat in front of him on his desk. He spoke:

“Commander Rabb, I want you to head up a JAGMAN investigation of a fire that occurred over the weekend in the family housing unit at Little Creek. There are a few complicating factors. The first one is that a Master Chief David Graham, a SEAL, was killed in that fire. Another is that this is one of the men whose picture was published in all the major newspapers interrogating a prisoner on the ground in Iraq. The last one is that the surviving spouse has asked that the lead NCIS investigator not be involved in this case.”

The general extended his hand, and Harm rose and took the file from it. He sat back in his chair. Harm had heard about the pictures being published; there had been talk about suing the newspapers involved. He opened the file and read the name aloud. “Jethro Gibbs?” He looked at Faith with raised eyebrows. He just figured that this was yet another person that Gibbs had pissed off. He turned to look back at the general. “Did she say why, sir?”

“Yes, she is his first wife.”


1030
Monday
March 7, 2005
NCIS Headquarters
Washington Navy Yard


Agent Tim McGee sat down at his desk and turned on his computer. He noticed something unusual in his peripheral vision. He turned to see that a snapshot was taped to Gibbs’s computer terminal so he rose from his seat to get a closer look. As he stepped toward Gibbs’s desk, Agents Kate Todd and Tony Dinozzo walked into the office. They both noticed the puzzled look on McGee’s face.

“What’s going on, McGee?” Kate watched as he turned his head slightly in curiosity.

McGee got closer and got a clearer view. “Oh….” He stood up straight and started to walk away. It was a picture of a much younger Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Kate recognized him right away and stepped closer to get a better look.

The man in the picture was in bed. His arm was up trying to shield his eyes. He was smiling a sleepy smile at whoever was taking the picture. It was Gibbs, all right; Kate would know him anywhere. Forensics Agent Abby Sciuto had come into the office unnoticed and looked over Kate’s shoulder.

“Wow…nice six pack. Who’s the…oh God, that’s Gibbs!” Abby looked at Kate; both women waggled their eyebrows and laughed. Gibbs was wrapped in a sheet that rested low on his waist, revealing a tanned and very well defined torso. Gibbs had been a true ‘lean mean fighting machine’ in his younger days.

“Is something funny, ladies?” Gibbs stood just outside the group that had congregated around his computer. As he stepped into the group behind his desk he saw the picture.

“What the hell?” He stepped around the desk, quickly dispersing the other three NCIS agents. He stood closer and got a clearer look. He opened his drawer and pulled out a pair of gloves. He put them on and carefully removed the picture from the computer. Turning it over, he saw that someone had written on the back of it. In the right hand corner, the words ‘Summer 75’ had been written. The ink was fading but it was clear enough to read. There was also a verse written in darker ink, which appeared to have been written more recently. It read:

Who is this coming out of the wilderness?
Like pillars of smoke,
Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,
With all the merchant’s fragrant powders?
Behold it is Solomon’s couch,
With sixty valiant men around it,
Of the valiant of Israel.
They all hold swords,
Being expert at war.
Every man has his sword on his thigh
Because of fear in the night
Of the wood of Lebanon
Solomon the King
Made himself a palanquin.

Gibbs turned the picture over again. It had been taken nearly 30 years ago. Only Dani would have this picture; though he certainly hadn’t kept any of her. This was a picture taken in better times, when he and Dani were both different people. He took an evidence bag out of his desk drawer and dropped it in. He took a similar bag out of the breast pocket of his jacket and handed them both to Abby.

“See if you can get prints from these.” He started to walk toward the elevators. The clear bag revealed another picture and what looked like verse written on the back. This one was of a young woman; Abby assumed it was a photo of Gibbs’s first wife. It was already all over the office that Gibbs had been taken off of a case involving his first wife. Her husband, a Navy SEAL, had died in a fire, under suspicious circumstances.

“Boss?” Tony knew that this had to have something to do with the investigation at Little Creek. “Where are you going?”

“To Little Creek.” He looked back at Dinozzo and Kate and emphasized, “Alone.”

Kate immediately began to follow Gibbs toward the elevators “Gibbs, Director Morrow gave me specific instructions to keep you out of this investigation.”

“This isn’t just about a possible murder/arson on a naval base anymore, Kate. This is personal now.” His clear blue gaze held a warning.

Kate stepped onto the elevator. As the doors closed, she leaned back on the wall of the elevator. Gibbs turned to look at her but she was not backing off. This time she was responsible for this investigation and she would know whatever it was that he knew. There was a lot more to those pictures than Gibbs had said.

“What’s the story on those pictures? Why is this personal now?” Kate stopped the elevator and folded her arms across her chest.

Gibbs did not want anyone in the office to know this much about his personal life, especially not this. He joked and complained about his ex-wives all the time – they were all fair game as far as he was concerned – but this was different. The first divorce had cut the deepest, and now she had been thrown back into his life again.

“Look, Gibbs, I don’t want the information for office gossip. This is my investigation and I want to know what you think this has to do with you now.” Kate was getting exasperated.

He knew she was right, but it still pissed him off. “Who wanted me taken off this case, anyway?”

Kate looked down and then back at him. “Mrs. Danielle Graham, for reasons that should be obvious to you. Frankly, given your recent comments about marriage and ex-wives in particular, I’m surprised you want anything to do with this.”

Gibbs face hardened; she had no idea what she was talking about. “All right, Agent Todd, I found the picture I gave Abby taped to my front door last night. It is a picture of my first wife. It was taken in the summer of 1975, as was the one on my computer this morning. It also had a verse written on the back of it.”

Gibbs turned and placed his hands on either side of Kate’s head and glared at her, riveting her to the wall with his icy gaze.
“It read, ‘You are fair my love, and there is no spot on you….’”

He leaned in closer his lips just inches from her. “You have ravished my heart, my sister my bride, you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes, with one link of your necklace.” He thought of Dani and what they had once suddenly it hit him like a hammer.

At that same moment Kate had had enough.

She made a fist and slammed it backward on the wall. Gibbs was startled and stepped back one step, still seemingly determined to do as he pleased as far as the investigation was concerned and to keep his own counsel.

Kate, however, was not going to be deterred. Damn it, he was not going to intimidate her. She had never worked for anyone like him. It was turning into a real love-hate relationship. He was one of the sharpest investigators she had ever worked with and he was also the most arrogant and impatient. He was a game player to the Nth degree and he wasn’t going to win this one.

“Stop it.” She said in an even and determined tone of voice. “I’m not going to back off. Did you or your wife write those verses on the back of the pictures?”

“No…At least I didn’t. I didn’t know that she still had them.”

Kate pushed the button to release the elevator. She was intrigued now. “How did the pictures survive the fire?”

Gibbs looked at Kate, waiting for her to read what he was thinking.

“You think whoever is responsible for the fire is also responsible for leaving the pictures.” She was getting better at reading him, though it frustrated her at times that she had to.

“What do you think?” His expression was sarcastic and not a little inpatient.

“You were ordered to leave the investigation to me, Gibbs. General Creswell notified us this morning that there will also be a JAGMAN investigation being conducted in tandem with ours. It seems that Master Chief Graham may have been an international target. He and a fellow SEAL’s photographs were taken while conducting an interrogation and published in a number of newspapers. The wife has also not been cleared as a suspect.”

Gibbs remembered the situation being discussed among his superiors. He never put Dani’s husband into the mix. He vaguely remembered that she had married a SEAL. He smirked; she’d probably done it out of spite. He hadn’t seen her in over 20 years, but he would bet his life that Dani wouldn’t kill anyone.

Gibbs exited the elevators walking toward the doors out of the building.

“Gibbs, don’t interfere with this….Where are you going?” Kate did not want to go to Director Morrow, but she would to keep this case from being compromised.

Gibbs stopped and turned to look at her knowing she would go to the director. “I won’t go to Little Creek, Kate.” He turned to walk out of the building. He wasn’t going to go…yet.


1200
Monday
March 28
Smith Residence
Virginia Beach, Virginia


Harm and Faith pulled up in front of the residence. It was a beautiful home just south of Rudee Inlet in the resort area of Virginia Beach. They had been notified that Mrs. Graham was staying with her parents until she was able to make other arrangements. They both looked at each other, and then exited the car. Neither officer looked forward to having to interview Mrs. Graham to eliminate her from suspicion in the death of her husband. It had to be done, though, and Harm wanted to start here while Gunny was following up some other leads for him. An elderly and elegantly dressed woman answered the door.

“Can I help you?” The woman looked at them warily.

“I’m Commander Rabb, and this is Commander Coleman. We are from the JAG Corps, ma’am. We’d like to speak with Danielle Graham, if she is available.”

Another woman walked up behind the older one. She was a beautiful woman with strawberry blond hair and striking green hazel eyes. Danielle Graham showed little sign of her 48 years, with the exception of touches of gray at her temples. She was not a frail person, though she gave off an aura of sadness.

“I’m Danielle Graham.” She looked at the older woman. “Its okay, Mom, I’m expecting them.” She looked at Harm and Faith. “Won’t you come in?”

Harm and Faith followed her into the foyer and then to what appeared to be a formal living room.

“Can I get you anything?” Danielle Graham was being gracious, but her grief was evident on her face. Her mother hovered just outside the room, seeming reluctant to leave her alone with them. Harm and Faith declined and Danielle looked at her mother.

“I’m okay, Mom – don’t worry.”

“We’re sorry to have to intrude at this time, ma’am, but we need to ask you a few questions,” Harm began.

Danielle nodded.

Harm reached into his breast pocket and took out copies of the two photos that had been left at Gibbs’s home and office. “Do you recognize these either of these pictures, ma’am?”

Danielle reached for the pictures and blanched. “How?” She paused. “These are pictures of myself and my first husband; they were taken about 30 years ago. What could this have to do with David being killed?”

“They were left in plain sight at Agent Gibbs’s home and at his office. There may or may not be link, ma’am. Agent Gibbs has stated that he did not have copies of these pictures and that you were the only one who could have had them. Have you had any break-ins prior to the fire?”

Danielle thought for a moment. “We had some trouble last fall. A number of homes in our housing subdivision were also hit, but we just thought it was some kids’ pranks. Nothing of value was ever taken; they usually just broke in and made a mess and got out.”

“Did you have these pictures in your home at the time, ma’am?”

“Yes.” It occurred to her just then that she had carried them around all these years. “I think so. I had forgotten I had them” She looked at both pictures. She barely recognized herself. She had been standing at the kitchen sink and Jethro had crept up on her and snapped the picture. She shook her head slightly.

“This was a lifetime ago.” She turned the picture over and read the verse that had been copied on the back of each picture.

“Do you recognize the verse on the pictures?”

“I recognize the verse – it is from the Song of Solomon, but I didn’t write this.” She handed the pictures back to Harm.

“Is there a particular reason you wanted Agent Gibbs removed from this investigation?”

“I was told he would be leading the investigation over the weekend. Nothing out of the ordinary was said or done; I just felt it would be awkward. He is my ex-husband. I haven’t spoken to Jethro in over 20 years.”

Harm smirked and thought, ‘And I thought Harmon was bad.’ “Were you aware of any threats being made to your husband or yourself in the last few months, ma’am?”

“We were all concerned about the pictures of the interrogations in the paper. Some of the members of the SEAL team intend to sue. We had discussed it but hadn’t acted on it yet. We thought that since we lived on base, we’d be safe. We were only supposed to be here another six months, so we just didn’t think anyone could get to us there. There was no specific threat made…no.”

Faith looked at Harm. “Sir, if I may?”

Harm nodded.

Faith continued. “The other break-ins that occurred in your neighborhood: were they members of the SEAL team as well?”

“No, the other team members lived off base; a lot of the men don’t have families.” Dani was suddenly having a difficult time believing that she was never going to see her husband again. She still expected him to walk through the door any minute, his booming laughter filling the room.

Harm asked, “Ma’am, why were you staying here instead of at your home?”

“My father had surgery early last week, so I came to stay with my mother and help her take care of him.”

Harm continued to ask about the details of her weekend. It seemed obvious to him that she had not been involved. She had been with her mother or father the whole weekend.


1745
Monday
March 28
Harm and Mac’s apartment
North of Union Station


Harm unlocked the door; the apartment was quiet and dark. Mac’s car was outside so she had to be home. Harm looked toward the living room and saw Mac stretched out on the couch. There was just enough light outside to allow him to see her. He walked over to the couch and sat down on the coffee table. Mac had a book open and lying across her stomach, holding onto it in her sleep. He read the title and smiled and thought, ‘Typical Mac…always prepared and studying motherhood.’

He stood again, leaving Mac to sleep, and took off his tie and uniform jacket. He hung them up and opened the neck of his shirt, glancing at Mac to see if she would wake. He got himself a bottle of water out of the fridge and leaned back on the kitchen island, watching. He couldn’t believe his coming in hadn’t caused her to wake. She hadn’t worked that day, so she had been here waiting for him. He would never be able to explain it; it was old fashioned, he knew, but he loved that she was here when he came home.

Mac began to stir and turned her head to see him watching her. “Hey…how long have you been here?” She sat up and placed her book on the coffee table. She walked across the room and slipped her arms around his waist.

“I just got in; you looked so peaceful I didn’t have the heart to wake you. Did you enjoy your day off?” He locked his arms around her, kissing her forehead.

“Yes I did, but I don’t think I could take too much of this.” It had been kind of fun to kick back for a while, but she wanted to be back at work…making a difference. That was who she was.

“Reading up on motherhood, Mac?” He raised a brow and looked at her.

“Yeah…you know, I’ve been thinking…we are going to need to start thinking about another place to live.” She leaned back and looked at him.

He knew they needed to move, but he still didn’t like to think of leaving this place. “I know.”

“I don’t want to move either, Harm.” She leaned back and gave him a lopsided smile. She had been reading about how to equip the nursery and all the best things for the baby.

He hugged her to him more closely. “We have four and a half months, Mac. I know we need to do more than think about this. We can look around, but let’s not jump into something we really don’t want because the baby is coming. We’ll find something…that’s just right for us.”

“Too bad we can’t move your grandmother’s house closer to Washington.” When she thought of home now, she thought of the farm in Pennsylvania.

“I know I want something outside D.C., something in the direction of Blacksburg. It’s a long drive there now, I know, but even if we take 25 miles off of the drive it would help. I don’t want to lose Mattie, Mac.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that, Harm. We had a great weekend last weekend.” Mattie was bubbling over with what was happening in her life; her main focus was on getting her pilot’s license. It was just a matter of time now.

“Mattie draws everyone she loves into her circle, and I think we’re lucky to be included in that.”

“Are you tired, honey?” Mac leaned back and looked at him.

“Not really.” Harm raised his brows a bit, hopeful.

“Good…what are you making me for dinner?”


1930
Monday
March 28
Faith’s Apartment
Alexandria, Virginia



Faith had just finished her shower and was combing out her hair when the phone rang. The name on the caller ID made her smile. It was Michael.

“Hello.”

“Hey, how did it go with Commander Rabb?” Mike had been thinking about her off and on all day.

“It wasn’t bad. He was pretty much all business. It’s a tough assignment, really. I’m beginning to feel like a grief counselor.” Her last two major assignments had involved the death of a spouse.

“I don’t envy you that part of it.”

Silence.

They both spoke at once, then laughed at themselves.

Mike began, “I thought Commander Rabb might have been giving you a bit of a hard time about…well, you know, about seeing us out at McMurphy’s.”

“I know, I thought he might too. It seems you’re the one he likes to rib about that.”

“Yeah, I guess he’s not as bad as I thought.”

“We didn’t meet on very good circumstances. You know what kind of first impression I give, and you were trying to get him sent to Leavenworth. So I think we are fortunate that he has a sense of humor at all when it comes to us.”

“Yeah, I suppose that is true. I have to say when we were TAD to Iraq last fall, my opinion of him changed. He is a lot more squared away than I thought. He kids around about the Navy-Marine thing, but he really is a fair man….I just wish he had another focus right now, since I seem to be the one he wants to mess with.”

Faith laughed and agreed with him.

Mike changed the subject. “Hey, do you feel like a cup of coffee?” He hadn’t seen her since Friday night. He hadn’t wanted to push her; he wasn’t sure what he wanted out of this himself, but he wanted to see her…alone.

“I just got out of the shower.” She hesitated, then dove in. “Why don’t you come over? For a cup of coffee, I mean.” She blushed though she was alone in the room.

Mike hadn’t expected that, but he liked the idea. “Yeah, I can do that. Are you sure, Faith?”

“Yes, I am. I’ll see you in about half an hour?”


2030
Monday
March 28
Smith residence
Virginia Beach, Virginia



Dani walked out onto the deck of her parents’ home. She had just helped her father to bed and left her mother reading in the living room. It was a warm night; warm for early spring, anyway. She stepped off of the deck and walked onto the sand pathway that led over the dune to the beach. The moon was full, so the night was not so dark. She needed to think and just breathe. She still had trouble grasping the fact that David was gone. He had been the anchor of her life for over 20 years. What would she do without him? Both of her sons were on their way home from different parts of the world, she needed them now.

She was used to living alone, but only because she’d known that he was coming back. That had been what sustained her. She could bear anything, because at the end of it all, she and David were together. What about the boys? Right at this moment she didn’t know how she would support them when she seemed so unable to even believe what had happened herself. Aaron seemed to be the stronger of the two boys. Boys? They were men now.

Her son Aaron was in Iraq; he was on his way home now. He had chosen the military as a career, but had joined the Army. She had laughed and told him he probably had only joined the Rangers to tweak his father’s nose. The thought still made her smile.

Their youngest son Matt, had chosen the Navy, he was just one year younger than his brother. He was aboard the USS Patrick Henry in the Persian Gulf.

She walked up the steps that bridged the dune and sat down on the top step, facing out to sea. She folded her arms and rested her head on them. Suddenly she thought of every cross word they had ever had, every time she had lost her temper or been impatient.
She remembered how patient he had been with her in the beginning. She‘d been so raw from her first marriage. She hadn’t trusted anyone, and he’d borne the brunt of it. He had loved her through it all.

Suddenly she knew that no one would ever love her like he had, and she felt the loss of it at a visceral level. She doubled over and cried so hard she couldn’t catch her breath. She tried to take in big gulps of air to calm herself. She hadn’t broken down in front of her mother and father, or anyone for that matter. She thanked God she was alone.

She was not alone, though. Gibbs had parked his car in front of her parents’ house and had seen her walk out of the back of the house. He followed slowly behind her as she walked toward the beach. It was odd, but in shadow she looked the same as she had when they were first married. She wore boot cut jeans, she appeared to be barefoot and her hair was long flowing down her back. Her oversized shirt billowed behind her in the wind. They’d always fought about her stealing his shirts out of his closet.

He knew he shouldn’t be there but he followed anyway. He reached the top of the bridge to walk across when he saw her sitting at the top of the steps, resting her head on her crossed arms. He started to walk toward her when he heard her begin to cry. The sound stopped him cold, and Gibbs knew he had no place there. This was not the time. He was grateful that there was just enough wind to cover the sound of his retreating steps. He remembered that sound, the heartbreaking sound of Dani when she finally let herself cry.

Gibbs made his way quietly to his car and left without notice. He was relieved that no one had seen him. There were a lot of unanswered questions, but they couldn’t be answered tonight. It was going to be a long drive home.


2325
Monday
Gibbs residence



Gibbs leaned back on his work bench and sipped the bourbon from his cup. Who the hell could be doing this? He knew that whoever had left the pictures with the verses had to be involved in the arson at Little Creek. This person had to know enough about him to link him to Dani. Her name was not common knowledge to anyone he worked with. Someone was digging deep in his past and he did not like it at all.

He thought again of Dani, of the sound of her crying for her husband. He remembered the time she had cried for him – at the end, when she had finally given up. In his mind’s eye he saw her as they stood outside the courthouse ready to go their separate ways. It was the summer of ‘84.

“I wish you well, Jethro; I hope you find whatever it is you need to make you happy. It sure wasn’t me.”

She had caught him out with someone else. It wasn’t the first time but it had been the last.  “I know it doesn’t matter now, but it really didn’t mean anything.” He’d meant to say that it wasn’t her fault, but it hadn’t come out that way.

“You know, I can accept everything but that. Don’t say it was nothing. It changed everything.” She’d looked at him directly. “I know I’ll never be the same again.”

She’d looked away gathering her courage. She’d still loved him but she could not stay with him anymore.

“I used to think that women who tracked their husbands down like I did that last time were pathetic. I had to, though; if I hadn’t I would have taken you back. I couldn’t lie to myself if I saw it with my own eyes.”

“Dani…” He didn’t know what he was going to say – he just wanted her to stop talking and for this conversation to be over.

She put her hand up. “No… there is nothing else to say.” Tears spilled down her cheeks and she turned and started to walk away. She began to run, leaving him behind and never looking back.

They had married very young; they‘d been only 18 years old. They had been very happy in the beginning. He smiled when he thought of how he used to tease her about wasting his money on living room furniture; they hadn’t used it much that first year. They’d had a lot of potential for happiness, but slowly, without their knowing, it had all slipped away.

He’d made a lot of mistakes, they both had. In spite of it all, he’d thought that he would be with her forever, but looking back to that time he’d seemed to be in a cycle of destruction and his marriage had gone down with it. He had just come back from Lebanon when it all seemed to fall apart. He had been there when the car bomb hit the Marine barracks at Beirut.

Gibbs sat his cup down on his workbench, and then it struck him. Both verses on the back of the pictures mentioned Lebanon. He picked up his phone and dialed a familiar number.


Chapter 32


1535
Wednesday
March 30
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Danielle Graham walked through the glass doors of the bullpen. Petty Officer Jennifer Coates approached her.

“Can I help you, ma’am?”

“Yes, I’m looking for Commander Rabb.”

She was directed to Harm’s office where she knocked gently on the open door. Looking up, Harm greeted her and asked her to sit down.

“Thank you. Mrs. Graham, for coming so quickly.”

“It’s all right. I’m in Washington to arrange my husband’s burial at Arlington.”

Harm picked up his phone and rang Faith’s office. “Commander Coleman, Mrs. Graham has arrived. Could you join us, please?”

Faith was in his office almost immediately. She nodded toward Danielle. “Ma’am.” Harm directed her to be seated.

Harm began, “We have some new information we would like to discuss with you. NCIS forensics was able to determine that Master Chief Graham died of smoke inhalation. He also sustained a blow to the back of his head, in all likelihood rendering him unconscious.”

Danielle folded her arms across her chest and straightened her back, steeling herself so that she could bear what she was hearing. Even though she was deeply involved in the details of her husband’s funeral, the reality was still difficult to grasp.

“At least he didn’t suffer.” Her voice was almost inaudible. She had been haunted by what she thought he may have gone through.

Harm continued, “Forensics was also able to determine that an accelerant was used to start the fire.”

Danielle slowly shook her head, trying to make sense of what she was hearing…even though her husband had a dangerous job, she had never thought that they were anything but safe here in their own home. “I should have been home.” She knew there was nothing she could have done, but she felt it just the same.

Faith spoke up. “Ma’am, if you had been, it is likely that you would be dead as well.”

Danielle looked around quickly at Faith.

“I’m sorry, ma’am.” Faith colored a bit and looked at Harm.

“It’s all right, Commander, I know that’s true.” She gave her a broken smile.

“Mrs. Graham, do you know if your husband had any problems with people he worked with, either now or in the past?” Harm wanted to redirect the conversation.

“No, David got along with everyone. I was never privy to the details of their missions, but I knew about his friendships with the other members of his SEAL team. They were like brothers; I can’t imagine anyone from the team doing anything to harm him.”

“We are still working with NCIS on this case, ma’am. We may have questions in the future and we will keep you apprised of our progress. This may take some time.”

Danielle nodded and rose from her chair. She shook hands with Faith and then with Harm. “Thank you.”

Harm rose and followed her out of his office door. He watched her cross the bullpen, and just as he turned to go back into his office, he saw something in his peripheral vision.

Special Agent Gibbs stepped off of the elevator and approached Danielle. She looked at him and he felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him. She was still as beautiful as ever – a bit of gray at the crown of her head blended beautifully with her golden auburn hair. He gave no outward sign of his reaction; he never had.

“Dani?” She didn’t recognize him at first. Then he saw the recognition light her face.

“Jethro?” She extended her hand and he took it.

“I’m sorry about your husband, Dani.” His expression was softer than usual for Gibbs.

“Thank you and I hope you understand about my requesting that you not be involved. It was just awkward…to tell the truth, I don’t know what I was thinking.” She was still glad she had made the request; she just hadn’t meant to cause a problem for him.

He straightened and the expression on his face hardened. He did understand, but he was still not happy about it. “I understand.”

The elevator opened again and a young man in an Army uniform stepped off of the elevator. His uniform bore the decoration and insignia of an Army Ranger. His name plate read ‘Graham.’

“Mom?” He looked very much like his mother, except for his eye color, a cool shade of blue.

“I’m sorry, son; I was just on my way down. Aaron, I’d like you to meet Jethro Gibbs. Jethro, my son Aaron.”

The two men shook hands, the younger one giving the older man a harder and more appraising look. Aaron had been told about his mother’s first marriage and he knew Gibbs had been her first husband. He nodded to Gibbs and gently but firmly placed his hand on her elbow.

“Are you ready, Mom?”

“Yes, son, I am.” She smiled at Gibbs. “It was good to see you, Jethro.”

“Nice meeting you, sir.” Aaron then turned and guided his mother toward the elevator.

Gibbs nodded and turned to walk into the bullpen; he hadn’t noticed that Harm had been watching this exchange. Harm had just returned to his desk when Gibbs knocked on his door.

“Commander Rabb, a word with you?” He then turned to look at Faith as though he were silently telling her to leave the room.

Harm looked at Faith and she stood. “Commander Coleman, you are dismissed.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Faith left the room, but she knew that this had to be about the case. When she had spoken with Special Agent Todd, she’d warned her that Gibbs had not taken the news that he was off the investigation well.

Harm sat down behind his desk and motioned for Gibbs to do the same. “What can I do for you, Special Agent Gibbs?”

“This is about the case at Little Creek.” Gibbs did not sit down but leaned against the bookcase near the door.

“It is my understanding that Special Agent Todd is leading the investigation.”

“I’m not interfering with her investigation.” Gibbs looked away as he was speaking; whether he was trying to be evasive or cryptic, Harm couldn’t tell.

“So you’re interfering with mine?” Harm gave him a sarcastic smile.

“Look, I have information that may help in this case – do you want it or not?” He leaned forward to push off of the bookcase, stand and walk out of the office.

Harm raised a hand. “What do you have?”

“The verse that was written on the backs of both of those pictures. They both mention Lebanon. I was there in Beirut in October ‘83.” He leaned back again and looked at Harm. “I believe whoever sent those pictures may be linked in some way to that time.”

Harm frowned. “What makes you think this is about you and not about Master Chief Graham?” He had to admit the pictures were part of the puzzle, but Gibbs’s role in this still remained to be seen.

Gibbs was angry immediately. “Look…no other members of the SEAL team have been threatened, Dani is the only one who had the pictures that were sent to me, and her husband is dead, in an apparent arson. You’re going to tell me this is not about me?”

Harm had heard enough. He stood and walked to his office door and closed it. “Special Agent Gibbs, I’m going to tell you that we have not completed this investigation. I’m going to give you the advice that someone once gave me. Do you remember? About conducting an investigation on my own, when it was personal?”

Harm leaned against his desk and crossed his arms. “If you have any other information, Special Agent, I would like it now. Should you be contacted in the future, I expect you to notify Special Agent Todd or myself. Withholding information and acting on your own might be misconstrued and land you in the brig. Are we clear?”

Gibbs glared at Harm; he turned, walked toward the door and opened it. “Yeah…we’re clear.” He looked back at Harm.

“You’re too close to this, Gibbs, and you know it,” Harm warned.

Gibbs turned and kept walking toward the glass doors of the bullpen.

Harm knew what it was like to be involved in something so close to him personally. He knew from experience how disastrous it could be. He also knew that Gibbs knew better than this. It seemed that this time Gibbs was running on emotion, as though this were close to his heart. Harm didn’t know what surprised him more: that he was acting this way or that anyone or anything got close to Gibbs’s heart.

Just as Special Agent Gibbs walked out of the bullpen, Mac was walking in. She didn’t notice Gibbs because she had her eyes focused on Harm. The look on her face caused Harm to freeze in place. Something was wrong. She was pale, her expression a mask, something was not right at all.

“Mac?”

“Harm, can I speak with you in your office?” She walked past him as he stood near the doorway. He stepped inside and closed the door.

“What is it, Mac?” He stood in front of her as she slowly eased into the chair.

“I’ve been hurting all day.” Mac placed her hand on her lower abdomen on the left side.

“What do you mean? I mean...where?” Harm’s heart was in his throat. It was as though all his fears about their having a baby were being realized.

“My incision, the place where I had my surgery, it has been hurting all day. I didn’t think it was anything at first – it just stung a bit after I ran this morning, but now…” She looked up at Harm, her eyes filled with fear. “Oh, Harm, what if I hurt the baby?”

Harm was already turning and picking up the phone to dial General Creswell’s office. “Jen, I need to speak with the general, now.” He turned back and reached for her hand, gently grasping it.

“I’ll get him, sir.” Jen heard the insistence in his voice. He didn’t usually speak to her that way. She knew something had to be wrong. “I’ll transfer you now, sir.”

Harm told the general that Mac needed to get to Bethesda right away and that he was going with her. The general gave his permission without hesitation.

“Keep us apprised, Commander.”

“Yes sir.”

Faith had returned to Commander Rabb’s office to arrange tomorrow’s meeting to discuss their investigation. She started to knock when Harm opened the door.

“Commander Coleman, I will be out of the office the rest of the day and possibly tomorrow.” Harm had his cover and was guiding Mac out of the office. “I will be in touch with you tomorrow morning.”

Faith had sensed immediately that something was wrong. “Yes sir.” She stepped back to allow them to pass.

It seemed everyone in the office knew. The air was filled with tension and suddenly became very quiet. Mike walked to his office doorway and looked at Faith. She walked over to him.

“I hope everything is okay.” Mike looked at her and raised his brows.

She nodded. “I do too.” It wouldn’t be fair if they were to lose this child. They had been her ideal of the ‘happily ever after’ couple. Because of them she believed happiness was possible, in spite of everything.


1830
Wednesday
March 30
National Naval Medical Center
Bethesda, Maryland


Mac lay on the exam table with her head elevated. She had been examined thoroughly, and the baby was being monitored; she could hear its heart beating. Every beat reassured her that everything would be all right. Harm walked into the room.

“Hey.” His expression much more relaxed than it had been when they arrived.

“Did you talk to Commander Fletcher?”

“Yes, she wants you to stay tonight.” Harm raised his brows, as though he were trying the idea out on her.

“I know.”

“I think you should, Mac.” He knew she would be difficult about this.

“I know – I just hate the thought of it, though. It’s just the scar tissue from my surgery, Harm.”

“I would feel a lot better if you would let them keep a close eye on you.” He stood beside her and took her hand in both of his. “You gave us both a pretty good scare today, you know?”

She knew he was right. Commander Fletcher had told them that the baby was fine. Mac’s pain was not about the baby but about her incision. She would have to exercise more conservatively and the doctor also wanted Mac to stay home until the following Monday.

“I’m sorry.”

“Hey, I didn’t mean that it was your fault. I just want to be careful now, that’s all.” Harm leaned in closer and kissed her on the cheek.

She sighed, resigning herself to staying at the hospital. “Oh, all right… but you should go home. There is no sense in both of us being stuck here all night.”

“No.” Harm’s look was loving but very firm.

Mac looked at him directly in the eye and gave him a sly smile. “You’re really loving having the upper hand here, aren’t you, Flyboy?”

He returned her smile. “Yes, as a matter of fact I am…so no arguments. I called Jen. She’s bringing me a change of clothes, and the general gave me tomorrow off, so we’re all set.”

“Enjoy it while you can, Sailor, because when I get better you are in a lot of trouble.” She reached for him and pulled him down closer so that they were face to face.

“Promises, promises.” With that he kissed her softly on the lips. She answered that with a sharp nip to his bottom lip.

“Hey…no biting.” He stepped back and chuckled.


1900
Jen’s apartment
Alexandria, Virginia

Gunny sat in his truck, waiting for Jen to come downstairs. She had called and let him know about Commander Rabb’s call. They had planned to have dinner that night. He had offered to pick her up, drive her over and then have a late dinner after. Jen walked out of her apartment building toward him and as she did she passed a young man walking in. The man turned to watch Jen as she passed him. A slow smile spread across Gunny’s face. Jen was totally oblivious to the man’s attention. Her focus was on him, returning his smile as she walked to the passenger’s side of the vehicle and opened the door.

“Hey…what are you smiling about?” Jen got in and leaned across the seat to kiss his cheek.

“Can’t I smile if I want to?” He knitted his brow but kept his smile in place. The young man who had been watching got the message that Jen was taken. He shrugged his shoulders and continued to walk into the building. In a few moments, without even knowing it, Jen had made Gunny feel 10 ten feet tall.

“Yes, of course you can…you just look like the cat that ate the canary. What are you up to?”

Gunny put the truck into gear and began backing out of the parking place. “Not a thing.”

One hour later…

Gunny and Jen had gone to Harm and Mac’s apartment and picked up changes of clothes for both of them. Gunny was a little uncomfortable being there, but Jen seemed to treat the place like a second home. They were on their way in just a matter of minutes and now were approaching the hospital.

“I hope everything is okay for the colonel.” Gunny had always looked up to Mac; she was the reason he’d come to JAG in the first place. He had been a witness to the things that Harm and Mac had been through together, the good and the bad. He just hoped all would be well in this situation.

“The commander said that the baby was fine and that the colonel was too. That’s enough for me.” Jennifer was determined to look at this in a positive way. It was one of the things that Gunny liked about her. She was direct and to the point and had more hope than someone with her background would be expected to have.

They were in the building shortly thereafter. Harm heard Jennifer asking for Colonel Rabb’s room number. He had told her what floor Mac would be on but didn’t have the room number when he talked to her. He walked out into the hallway.

“Jen?” He looked at the petty officer at the nurses’ station. “It’s okay, Petty Officer, we’re expecting them.”

Gunny and Jen walked toward Harm and into the room. Mac was lying in the hospital bed with her head elevated. Her eyes were closed; both Jen and Gunny hesitated, not wanting to disturb the colonel.

“She’s not asleep, it’s all right,” Harm reassured them.

Gunny still felt ill at ease in a situation this intimate with a superior officer. He didn’t think he would ever reach Jen’s comfort level with the officers she worked for. Mac opened her eyes and turned toward them, pulling up her sheet a bit more.

“Hello, Jen…Gunny. Thanks for helping us out with this. I tried to send Harm home, but he’s not taking orders very well these days.” She gave Harm an indulgent smile. “I hope you didn’t have to alter your plans for us.”

“Not at all, ma’am. We were just going to grab a late dinner anyway.” Jen was glad to be the one that the commander called on when he needed help, no matter how small the task was. She still felt she owed him a great deal

“It’s not a problem, ma’am.” Gunny was still very uncomfortable. He wanted to finish this conversation and get the hell out of there. He didn’t like seeing the colonel this way; there was something backward about it. He was used to Colonel Mackenzie Rabb, the kick ass no-nonsense Marine. This was not a natural state for her as far as he was concerned and he just didn’t like it.

Jen could sense how Gunny was feeling, so she did cut the conversation short and they left very shortly thereafter.

“Gunny and Jen, huh?” Mac smiled at Harm. He sat down on a stool beside her bed.

“Yeah, I think something is going on there, all right.” Harm was thoughtful for a moment. “He’s a good guy, Mac. Jen could do a lot worse.” He knew without a doubt if Gunny and Jen were to have a permanent relationship that Jen would always be taken care of. He still felt a responsibility toward her. He had accepted a long time ago that he always would.

Mac shrugged her shoulders, “Yeah, I suppose so. They are complete opposites, though.”

Harm raised his eyebrows, feigning a look of wonder. “Oh…really?”

Mac swatted at him, missing on purpose. “You know what I mean. Jen is so outspoken, bordering on insubordination at times. Gunny is a by the book Marine, totally squared away. On the outside, they don’t seem to have a lot in common.”

Harm considered that statement. “I could think of a lot of things that I know from personal experience. They are both loyal, dedicated to their jobs and their friends. They are both brave on a lot of levels. They both had things to overcome from their lives when they were young. They joined the military and changed their lives, really.” He looked at Mac, waiting for her to answer.

“Harmon Rabb…have you gone and gotten deep on me?” She smiled at him mischievously.

Harm chuckled. “I wouldn’t go that far.” His smile faded when he suddenly thought of Gunny literally saving his life when they were in Iraq. He was the reason he was sitting there today. Harm reached over and placed his hand on Mac’s stomach.

“Honey, what is it?” Mac placed her hand over his.

“I was just thinking…” He looked into her eyes then back at where his hand was resting on her stomach.

Mac waited.

“About when the gunny and I were in Iraq. He really did save my life that day, Mac. I could have died that day and never…” He looked back up at her again. He was running out of words, and he didn’t want to be too emotional, not now.

“You’ve never really talked about that day, you know.”

“This isn’t the time.” ‘Please, Mac…don’t push,’ he thought.

She began to stroke the back of his hand where it lay on her stomach. “Maybe not…but you need to talk about this. It doesn’t have to be with me, Harm.”

“I’m not trying to shut you out, Mac. I just…”

“This was up close and personal…I do understand.”

Harm looked at her and saw patience and love in her eyes. He stood up from the stool and then sat back down on the side of her bed.

“Is this okay?” He just wanted to get a little closer to her. He leaned down and kissed her cheek and then her lips.

“It’s more than okay…though if you keep kissing me like that, I might not let you leave.”
Her lips were just inches away from his.

“You know…that is the second threat I’ve gotten from you tonight. What is up with that, Mrs. Rabb?”

Mac smiled at him. “Just trying to keep the Sailor in line…in my weakened state.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Gunny and Jen approached his truck and he unlocked the door on the passenger’s side of the vehicle. He had been quiet since they left the colonel’s room. Jen stood in the open doorway of the vehicle.

“Victor?” She never really knew how to take the silences with him; they came out of nowhere sometimes.

He stood in front of her and gazed intensely into her eyes.

“Are you okay? Did I stick my foot in my mouth again?” Jennifer waited slightly unnerved by the look in his eyes.

“No.” Victor’s expression did not change.

Gunny had been thinking since he picked her up that it was time to tell her how he felt about her. They had seen each other often in the time since he returned from Iraq. To say he enjoyed being with her would be an understatement. He couldn’t remember when he had been as happy as he had been in the last few weeks. Outside of a few good night kisses and cuddling up when they watched movies at her apartment or his, he hadn’t been very aggressive in his showing his affection for her. He had definitely been holding back. He was having a great time with her; he didn’t want to move too fast and spoil it.

Seeing the long look she got as she came out of her apartment building made him see that he had better make his intentions known. He was through waiting; he just didn’t know where to begin.

“Jen…I know that you’ve noticed that I’ve been taking…it kind of slow…” This was just not coming out right. “I just want you to know that…I…”

Jen stepped closer to him and slipped her arms into his jacket and around his waist, making him swallow hard. She meant to reassure him but she literally felt his heart rate speed up.

“That you mean a lot to me…you’re special…I…” Gunny was looking at her mouth, he just wanted to kiss her senseless.

Jen kissed him quickly and drew back. “Victor, you talk too much.”

She kissed him again, and he deepened the kiss, pushing her back against the side of the truck. She pulled him even closer; this was what she had been waiting for. She had begun to think that Victor wasn’t attracted to her this way, that she was just someone to spend some time with.

But his kiss was putting all of those thoughts out of her head; his embrace molding his body tightly against hers told her everything she needed to know.


0600
Thursday
March 31
Victor Galindez’s apartment
Alexandria, Virginia



Jen was startled awake by an alarm clock, and nearly bolted out of the bed. She was disoriented at first and didn’t remember where she was. She pushed the button on top of the alarm and stepped back from it. Then realization came, and she calmed down, placing her hand on her chest and slowing her breathing. Where was Victor? The apartment was quiet; she could smell coffee brewing, though, and thought he was in the kitchen.

She wrapped herself in a sheet from the bed and went to look for him. She padded into the living room and looked into the kitchen, then into the open door of the bathroom. He wasn’t there. Jen’s heart sank. She didn’t really know what to think. Last night had been…wonderful. She thought he had enjoyed being with her too. She walked further into the kitchen, deciding that she might as well make a cup of coffee. Neither of them had slept very much and she would need it, so she figured she could even handle Victor’s strong coffee today.

She walked to the counter where the coffee pot sat and noticed a note with her name at the top, sitting next to a clean coffee cup. It read:

‘Jen –
Sorry I had to get out of here early.
I didn’t want to wake you.
I forgot that I’m supposed to meet the general for a run this morning.
Last night was great.

Meet me here at 1800?

Victor’

She smiled to herself, feeling foolish for the panic she’d felt. She should have known he wouldn’t have just walked away without saying anything. She poured herself a cup of coffee and walked to the window to look out. She saw that Victor’s truck was gone and then she realized that she didn’t have her car.

‘Oh my God,’ she thought – how was she going to get to work? Something else Victor had forgotten about. Calling anyone from work was out of the question. She scrambled to the phone, praying that her roommate was still there. Alicia answered, and after much begging and promises of fresh bagels for a week she agreed to leave early, pick Jen up and let her get her car.

Later that morning, Jen was walking into the bullpen from the elevators and passed Victor on her way to her desk.

“Did you enjoy your run?” She smiled at him sweetly.

“Yes, I did.” He gave her a knowing look.

“I had a busy morning too.” She turned to walk toward her desk. “I had to go get my car.”

Gunny had already started walking toward his desk when he froze in place. He had completely forgotten. He turned and started to follow Jen when he heard General Creswell call for her. Jen turned to walk into his office and noticed Gunny’s expression. She gave him a quick wink and stepped into the general’s office.

When she had finished with the general she gave Gunny a call at his desk.

“Gunnery Sergeant Galindez…what seems to be the problem with your memory lately?” She leaned forward so that she could see him from where she spoke on the phone.

Gunny smiled into the phone. “My apologies, Petty Officer. I think I’m being distracted by some of the naval personnel here. One petty officer in particular has caused several lapses in memory lately.” He looked in her direction.

Bud walked into the bullpen and noticed Gunny talking on the phone and looking in Jen’s direction.

“Gunny?”

Gunny snapped his head toward him. “Yes, sir?”

“I need a word with you after staff call. I’m going to need you to follow up on a few things for me.”

“Yes sir.” He still had Jen on the line. “I’ll talk with you later, Petty Officer.”

“Yes… you will.” She smiled smugly and hung up her phone.


1600
Monday
April 4
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Virginia


Mrs. Rabb pulled her Jeep up the drive way and parked it in front of the house. Today had been a very long day. Jack O’Reilly had had a stroke. She had been at the hospital for the last two days. Sam had called her early Saturday morning asking her to come to the hospital in Altoona. Jack was her oldest and dearest friend. He had known her husband and his parents. It was almost as though he was her link to her past, her happy past.

She got out of the vehicle stiffly and walked toward the house. She was being reminded just now that she was not as young as she used to be. She had been sleeping on a cot to be near Jack, to reassure Sam and also herself, if truth be told. She placed a hand to her back, heaving a heavy sigh, and walked up the steps to her porch.

The therapist in her wanted to get Jack moving as soon as he was conscious. His doctors said he would be evaluated in the next 24 to 48 hours. He had come out of the stroke without apparent permanent damage. He had seemed so much frailer, though. He was weaker on one side but was testing out well with sensation on both sides. Jack had recognized her and had spoken to her in the last 24 hours, but Mrs. Rabb knew she was losing him because he was more frail than he had ever been.

She walked into her house and started her coffee, and suddenly she felt so lonely. She felt as though she had been left behind and that all the people who shared her memories were gone. She shook herself mentally and thought, ‘Get hold of yourself, Sarah.’ She knew she was just feeling sorry for herself and that this was no way to be. She had her health, she had Harm and Sarah and the new baby coming this summer. She even had that old rascal Jack Keeter, when he would slow down long enough to visit. Mrs Rabb was pulled from her thoughts by the telephone ringing.

“Hello?” Her voice sounded gravelly from emotion.

“Grandma?” She didn’t sound like herself at all.

“Harmon, yes…how are you, son?” She cleared her throat.

She sounded distracted and Harm was concerned immediately. “Are you okay?”

“Yes…I’m fine. I just got in; I guess I should have called.”

“What’s going on?”

“It’s Jack…he had a stroke…two days ago.” It seemed more like a month ago.

“My God...Is he all right?” Harm knew that his grandmother and Jack O’Reilly had a special friendship.

“He’s recovering. I’ve been at the hospital in Altoona since Saturday.”

“You must be exhausted. I can call back later if you like.”

“No, no. To be honest with you, I needed to hear from you today. You must have radar, son.”

She smiled in spite of herself. She loved her grandson. The very sight of him or the sound of his voice could lift her heart. “What’s happening with you, anyway?”

“I was just going to let you know that Mac went back to work today and she’s fine.” Harm looked at Mac, who was sitting at a chair in front of his desk. She was frowning with concern as she listened to Harm’s side of the conversation.

Mrs. Rabb was relieved; she had been worried about her since Harm’s phone call last Wednesday. “Oh, that’s good to hear. Let me speak with her for a moment.”

Harm reached across his desk and nodded toward Mac. “She wants to talk to you.” He handed her the phone.

“Sarah?” Mac stood in front of Harm’s desk.

“Hello, Mac. Tell me something good and then I’ll fill you in on what’s going on with me. I know you must be wondering after listening to Harm.”

“Yes I am, and I did go back to work today, although I’m feeling like a lightweight these days. No more running for me per doctor’s orders, but I can keep exercising, just not as vigorously as before.”

“It won’t last long, Mac – that baby will be here before you know it. Are you still having any pain?” She sounded more like the clinician than the grandmother just now.

“No, I really am fine. Harm’s been hovering like an old mother hen.”

She gave him an indulgent smile and he returned it with a wink. Harm knew Mac was teasing and that she appreciated that he was there for her.

“Okay, Sarah, I told you about me, now tell me what’s going on with you.”

Mrs. Rabb told her about Jack but tried to put her usual positive light on the situation. Mac knew her well enough to know that she wasn’t telling it all. Something was getting her down; she could hear it in her voice.

“Will you be going back to the hospital soon?” Just then Mac had visions of Mrs. Rabb lying uncomfortably on a waiting room sofa trying to sleep.

“Yes, he will be evaluated for physical therapy in the next couple of days.” Sam had insisted she go home until Wednesday and then she could alternate days with him and his wife Kathie.

“So you’re just making sure they do it right?”

“Something like that.” She grinned sheepishly.

“I was going to suggest you come and visit; I thought it might be nice to get you into the city for a couple of days.”

“Don’t worry about me, Mac, I’ll get out of this funk I’m in. I just need a little rest and then to get back to the hospital.”

“Worrying about you is my prerogative as your granddaughter-in-law. I still want you to consider it, Sarah…after things are settled with Jack.”

“I can’t argue with that…granddaughter-in-law.” She liked the sound of that.

They ended the call shortly thereafter, with Mrs. Rabb promising to keep them posted on Jack’s progress.


0630
Tuesday
April 5
NCIS Headquarters
Washington Navy Yard



A picture of a beautiful young woman was taped to the top of Special Agent Gibbs’s desk, placed dead center. It was a picture of the then Danielle Smith. On the back was written in fading blue ink:

‘To Jethro,
With all my love,
Dani’

There was also a verse written on the back of the picture as had been with the two previous pictures that Gibbs had received.

‘Nevertheless I have this against you,
That you have left your first love.’

The cleaning crews were the only people who had access to the office after hours. One of the crew members had been approached by a young man one afternoon at the beginning of his shift who’d asked him to help him play a practical joke. He placed the picture at the designated desk. The young man had said that he and a man who worked here had been college friends; he had paid him fifty dollars for his trouble. This was the second time he had done this for him. It was an easy way to make a little extra money and harmless as far as he was concerned. He was well dressed and had seemed sophisticated. He was surprised the man had even spoken to him; the cleaning staff was invisible to most people.


0730
Tuesday
April 5
Smith residence
Virginia Beach, Virginia



Dani walked into the kitchen to get her coffee before taking what had become her daily walk on the beach. She took a sip of her coffee and walked to the sliding glass doors off of the kitchen. She was startled by an object that appeared to be taped to the glass. Taking a closer look, she saw that it was a picture of her and Jethro.

It had been taken at one of her family gatherings. She and Jethro were sitting on the beach. She sat between his legs and he had encircled her in his arms. They were looking lovingly into each other’s eyes. Another forgotten picture, but one so intimate she wanted to grab it and hide it from anyone who might see it. She was embarrassed, even though no one else was in the room. She reached for it but then realized that it was taped to the outside of the glass.

She immediately opened the door and took the picture from it. It dawned on her then that someone had been this close to her parents’ house, someone who very well could have murdered her husband. Commander Rabb had not said that the pictures and her husband’s murder were related but that they might be. She considered calling Special Agent Todd but then thought better of it. She would call Commander Rabb at JAG; they were working with NCIS. She didn’t want to deal with Jethro, not even indirectly. She had just buried her husband – she didn’t need this now.

Composing herself, she brought the picture inside. She saw the dark writing on the back of the picture and turned it over to read it. One part of the writing had been what she had written: ‘September 1978 at Mom and Dad’s’ in fading blue ink. The rest was written in stark black:

‘For love is strong as death,
Jealousy is as cruel as the grave’

Dani had the most terrible sense of foreboding. She reconsidered her decision to call Commander Rabb immediately. What if someone were to kill Jethro too? She couldn’t let ancient history be the cause of someone else being killed. She went to her purse and took Special Agent Todd’s card out of her wallet.


0900
Tuesday
April 5
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia



Major McBurney followed Commander Coleman back to her office after staff call. He and Lieutenant Vukovic had been assigned to a case out of San Diego. It was a court martial of a Marine accused of killing a Nicaraguan civilian during a humanitarian mission. He would be prosecuting and the lieutenant would be defending. They would also be attending the annual JAG conference along with Lieutenant Tali Mayfield. She had been welcomed aboard on Monday.

Faith turned to look at Mike as he sat down, taking in the scowl on his face.

“Aren’t you looking forward to San Diego?”

“No, not really.” He looked away from her, not wanting to make eye contact.

“Care to elaborate?” She thought it might be about his apparent dislike of Lieutenant Vukovic.

He looked at her directly. “You know why I’m not looking forward to going out there. I might as well have been designated ‘babysitter’ with Vukovic and now the new lieutenant.” He rolled his eyes. “They’ve got some kind of history, from what I understand… maybe I should be designated the chaperone too.”

Faith was surprised; she knew that Michael thought Lieutenant Vukovic was a pain in the ass, but this looked like real resentment. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s nothing.” Mike sat forward, resting his forearms on his thighs.

“Okay…now you’re starting to worry me. What is it?” She folded her arms across her chest.

“All right…remember the night we… the night we went to McMurphy’s. The night he came in as we were finishing dinner?”

“Yes.” The color started to rise in her cheeks. She would never forget that night as long as she lived. She had never been kissed like that in her life – and she had never kissed back like that before, either.

“The few times we have been alone in the same room, in the break room or in my office, he keeps bringing that night up. Just stupid little details that no one would even think about. Like how warm the weather was that night or how great the steaks are at McMurphy’s. Once he even said something about the parking lot being dark and that they should have it lighted better.”

Faith sat forward in her seat. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“What would I say…that he commented on the weather?”

He sat back and looked at Faith for a long moment. He hadn’t wanted to tell her because it took her so long to let anyone close. He believed his hunch about something not being quite right with Vukovic had been correct. He also thought Vukovic was just the kind of person who could send Faith right back into her shell.

Faith returned his look. “You didn’t think I could handle it…did you?”

Mike looked away from her. “I just didn’t want to go back to the way it was before, Faith.” He looked at her. “I have really enjoyed our time together.”

Faith was touched that he felt that way, but didn’t like it that he thought she was that fragile. “I appreciate that, Michael, but I’m not as fragile as you think.”

He looked at his watch. “I have to get going. I have to be at Andrews by 1300.” He stood and walked toward the open door. He turned and looked at her. “I should have talked with you about this. I’m sorry.”

She smiled at him; he could get under her skin faster than anyone she had ever met. “Apology accepted.”

As he started out of the room, he said, “I guess I need a little more…Faith.” He couldn’t keep from chuckling when he heard Faith’s sharp intake of breath. He walked briskly back toward his office.

“All right, McBurney.” She stood and walked around her desk to follow him when Commander Rabb appeared in her doorway.

“Commander Coleman, we just got a call from Special Agent Todd. We are to be at NCIS headquarters by 1000.”

Faith stopped immediately and returned to her normal closed expression. Her face was still flushed, so much so that the commander asked her if she was all right. She had picked up her cover and closed her office door. She assured the commander that she was fine as she secretly glared at Michael across the bullpen.


0945
NCIS headquarters
Washington Navy Yard


Gibbs walked into the office swiftly. Kate could feel him walk into the room without having heard or seen him. He was furious and she knew why. He had somehow found out about the picture that was left at his ex-wife’s parents’ house.

“Kate?! Where the hell are Dinozzo and McGee?”

Kate calmly closed the file she had been reviewing and started to stand up. Gibbs was in her face before she even had a chance to push her chair back.

“You’d better have someone covering Dani’s family in Virginia Beach, Kate. What the hell are you doing? Are you going to wait till someone kills them, too?”

Before Kate had a chance to answer or react they both heard the booming voice of their director.

“Special Agent Gibbs!”

Gibbs backed off from Kate and looked up to see his boss waiting.

“My office…now.”

Gibbs looked back at Kate for a moment. “This isn’t over.”

Director Morrow heard what had been said. “Special Agent Gibbs….” He turned to walk toward his office, and Gibbs followed him.

Director Morrow walked to his desk and sat down. “Close the door.”

Gibbs did as he was asked. He was silent as he sat down in front of the director’s desk.

“You have been advised to stay clear of this investigation, Gibbs.”

“It’s difficult to do when I keep getting thrown back into the middle of it.” He looked at his boss directly.

“I’m aware of the situation; however, I am only going to tell you this once more. Stay out of Special Agent Todd’s investigation.”

“Director Morrow, I…”

The director raised a hand to stop him. “I heard your…concerns as you stated them earlier to Special Agent Todd. There is a security detail at Mrs. Graham’s parents’ home. There has been since the incident at Little Creek. Special Agents Dinozzo and McGee are following up with Mrs. Graham as we speak.”

He paused for a moment, knowing that Gibbs would realize that someone had seen him at the Smiths’ residence immediately after he had been directed not to stay off this case.

“Yes, you were seen there, but since you did not approach Mrs. Graham and up until this morning have not involved yourself, I was willing to let that go. I will not, however, tolerate anymore of this behavior, Special Agent. I want you to go home; as a matter of fact, I want you out of here for at least three days. Do whatever you have to do but stay out of this case, understood.” The director leaned forward on his desktop and raised his brows.

Gibbs was barely controlling his anger, but he would do ask he was asked. He would stay out of the office, for three days, anyway. He nodded an affirmative.

“That will be all then, Special Agent.”

Gibbs stood and left the office. He walked directly to the elevators and met Harm and Faith coming off of them. He brushed past Harm, nearly knocking him backward.

“Nice to see you too, Gibbs.” Harm turned and brushed the sleeve of his uniform.

Gibbs looked at him but said nothing as the elevator doors closed. Harm arched an eyebrow and looked at Faith. “Not an easy person to deal with, is he, Commander?”

“No, sir.” She gave him a pained smile. The special agent could be a great guy to count on in a tough situation, but more often than not, in the everyday, he was a bastard.


2330
Tuesday
April 5
Harm and Mac’s apartment
North of Union Station


Harm lay awake listening to Mac’s restful breathing as she slept. He had been mulling over the Graham case in his mind. He just couldn’t put Gibbs into the middle of this somehow. The pieces just didn’t fit and yet they were linked.

He and Mac both lay on their sides, spooning as usual. Mac leaned into him slightly and he pulled her closer. She drew a deep breath and seemed to slip further into sleep. He reached down and softly caressed her stomach, scooping his hand low to hold the baby in his hand. Mac was showing a bit more now, but she still carried this pregnancy well. She was as beautiful as ever to him and he had told her so. He felt a light thump under his hand and couldn’t keep from smiling. He was still so fascinated with the fact of the baby. He couldn’t wait until her next ultrasound; he wanted to see how much the baby had grown and that she was all right.

The phone rang, startling Harm and waking Mac.

Harm answered, “Rabb.”

“Commander Rabb, this is Special Agent Todd. There has been a huge break in the Graham case. Meet me at headquarters NCIS in an hour. I don’t think Commander Coleman should accompany you – she may not have clearance.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry to sound so cryptic, Commander, but it is necessary, and once you have the details I’m sure you will understand why.”

Harm looked at the clock. “I’ll be there.”

“Great.” With that she ended the call.

“Harm?” Mac wiped the sleep from her eyes.

“It’s about the Graham investigation. I have to meet Special Agent Todd at NCIS.” He frowned. “This should be interesting.”

He dressed quickly and kissed Mac, who followed him to the door and locked it.


Same time
Gibbs residence


Jethro Gibbs stood sipping his bourbon from his coffee mug, taking a rest from his boat building…in his basement. His cell phone rang and he picked it up. “Gibbs.”

“Special Agent Gibbs?”

“Fornell?” He recognized the voice of FBI Agent T.C. Fornell.

“That’s right. How quickly can you meet me at headquarters NCIS?”

“What do you have?”

“Let’s just say I have some information that will tie up Special Agent Todd’s case along with the JAGMAN investigation.”

“I have been given specific instructions from my superior not to involve myself in this case.”

“The director will be here as well. He is aware that I’m calling you.”

“I’m on my way.”


0045
Wednesday
April 6
NCIS Headquarters
Washington Navy Yard



Director Morrow stood just inside the glass doors of the building, watching Special Agent Gibbs walk toward him. The director knew that he was not going to take what he would learn tonight, well. There was no way around it: they had gotten a hell of a break, though the source may not be to the special agent’s liking.

Gibbs joined his boss and each gave the other an acknowledging nod. He followed the director into the building and onto the elevators. When Morrow pushed the button to the basement and the morgue, Gibbs frowned at him, seeming to question him.

“It is our most secure area for this meeting, Special Agent,” he answered perceptively.

The elevators opened, and Gibbs saw Kate and Commander Rabb just inside the doors to the morgue. Gibbs was beginning to feel cornered. Something about this did not feel right. It seemed as though everyone was in on the story but him and he didn’t like it at all. He walked inside the doors, glancing for a few seconds at Harm and Kate but not acknowledging them.

Harm and Kate looked at each other; Harm had already been briefed before Gibbs had arrived.

He looked back at the director. “Where is Fornell?”

“He will be here momentarily.” The director looked toward the doors leading to the basement garage which housed all vehicles used by the medical examiner.

As though on cue, the doors opened and T.C. Fornell walked in, followed by a man dressed in business attire, his eyes shielded by the position of the hat he wore. As they approached the group, Fornell raised his hand and the man accompanying him stopped.

“We have the individuals responsible for the arson and murder at Little Creek.”

Gibbs looked hard at the man who had yet to look up and allow his face to be seen. “Is this your informant?”

Fornell nodded the affirmative.

“Do you mind if I question him?” Gibbs’s voice was taking on a sarcastic edge.

Just then the man began to look up and he spoke. “You may ask me anything you like, Special Agent Gibbs.” He recognized the man’s smug and mocking smile right away.

“Ari…” Gibbs held his temper but he took one step toward him. Harm and Agent Fornell stepped closer to Gibbs.

“Why the hell would you do anything to help us with this?”

Ari had taken Kate hostage in this building, and he had shot and wounded one of his people – Jackson had still not returned to full duty. He had not been able to prosecute him due to his Mousaad/ Hamas double agent status. Gibbs had been able to repay Ari to a degree; he had given him a shoulder injury much the same as Ari had given Jackson.

Ari feigned offense and said, “Why would I not help you, Gibbs? We are friends, are we not? We have so many…shared experiences.” He returned to his mocking smile.

“Enough Ari.” Kate turned toward Gibbs. “The pictures were not related to the arson and murder at Little Creek.”

He looked at Kate as though he did not believe her, but said nothing. Kate looked at Ari. “It was part of a game he was playing.”

Ari answered, “You should not have shot me…I was in a great deal of pain for many weeks.”

“What the hell are you talking about? If you knew about this, why didn’t you come forward before Master Chief Graham was killed?” He was stepping closer.

“I was made aware only after the fact, Special Agent Gibbs.” Ari placed his hand on his chest. “I would never withhold that kind of information. We are on the same side my friend, brothers in arms…in the war on terror.”

“Brothers in arms don’t shoot or torture each other…my friend.” Gibbs returned his apparent sarcasm.

“Who got access to those pictures and why were they sent to me and to my ex-wife?”

Ari smiled. “Ah…yes…Dani, such a lovely woman.” His voice took on the same quality it had when he taunted her about Kate or Jackson.

Gibbs understood then that it had been Ari who tormented him…them. He had used this opportunity to get back at him. Gibbs did not believe him. He swiftly stepped closer and Fornell and Harm stepped up, keeping Ari out of Gibbs’s reach.

“Why the hell should we believe him?” Gibbs wanted to break his neck.

Ari stepped back, enjoying the effect of his taunt on his nemesis.

Kate spoke up. “The evidence we gathered at the crime scene is directly linked to the individuals that Ari informed us of.”

“That doesn’t mean that he is innocent. There is more to this. “He could feel it in his gut. He knew that Ari wasn’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart. Harm and Fornell had backed off slightly, allowing Gibbs to see him.

“Your lack of faith wounds me, Special Agent Gibbs.”

He had gotten what he came for that night. He had seen the result of the torment he was able to place in the special agent’s mind.

“I must say, though, that your perseverance in your investigation impressed me. Although I do hope your superiors will look into security lapses in this building. You never know who might be able to breach it and get all the way in, even into your office, Special Agent Gibbs.”

Gibbs had reigned himself in and decided to return the jab.

“Is your shoulder healing nicely, Ari?”

He would never regret shooting him; he wished he could have done more. He hated double agents. The only thing their existence proved was that there were people who had no loyalty, other than to themselves. In trusting them there was a 50% chance that you would be the one betrayed. With so much at stake, he didn’t think that percentage was high enough to warrant his trust.

“I’m doing very well, thank you for your concern.” The false sentiment hung in the air.

The director spoke. “This is over. Fornell, get him out of here.”

Fornell and Ari had turned and were walking toward the doors with Gibbs’s piercing gaze following them. Just as Ari walked out the door he looked over his shoulder at Gibbs; his sarcastic and smug smile continuing to taunt him. This was not over, and they both knew it.

“Commander Rabb, you will advise the Judge Advocate General of what has transpired here, with the proper discretion. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.” The director’s implication was that Ari’s role in the capture of the suspects would never be officially acknowledged.

The director looked at Kate. “If you and the commander will excuse us?”

Harm and Kate began to walk toward the elevators.

“I will expect a full report on my desk by 1300 tomorrow, Special Agent.”

Kate acknowledged his request and they exited the room. She walked with Harm to the entrance of the building.

“You understand now why Commander Coleman could not accompany you?”

“Yes, I do.” He paused just inside the doors before walking out. “Sounds like its pretty personal between Ari and Gibbs.”

Kate nodded. “We had an incident last year. Ari took a hostage and wounded a member of our forensics team. Gibbs never really got over Ari’s ability to walk away from the incident with impunity due to his double agent status.”

“Spy games.” Harm shook his head and looked at the special agent, suddenly glad he was at JAG and not playing spook anymore.

“Yeah.” She wasn’t really wild about them either but they were a fact of life here.

“I have to agree with Gibbs, though; I don’t think Ari did this out of the goodness of his heart. It has been my experience that no spook ever does anything if there isn’t something in it for him and all the other players in the game be damned.”

Kate looked at Harm without answering, her expression guarded.

“The arson of the home and the murder of a SEAL who –happened- to be Gibbs’s ex-wife was no coincidence, Special Agent Todd. Someone seems to want to make this personal, very personal for Gibbs.”

Kate couldn’t say any more without feeling like she was betraying Gibbs. He and the commander weren’t enemies, but there was no love lost between them, either. She extended her hand to shake Harm’s.

“Thank you, Commander.”

Harm smiled slightly, understanding and appreciating her discretion. “Anytime, Special Agent.”

At that same time in the morgue…

The director and Gibbs stood between two autopsy tables facing each other, each man leaning against one of them.

“Special Agent Gibbs, I have never considered myself an unreasonable or rigid man. I have always given you a certain amount of license in your investigations, within the law.”

Gibbs knew what was coming. He had to have heard about the amount of investigating he had done on his own. He crossed his arms and waited.

“You already know what I am going to say.”

“Yes.” He was going to volunteer anything but he did know.

“You contacted Agent Fornell; you followed up with the other members of Master Chief Graham’s SEAL team…. I could go on.” He had not expected this from Gibbs; the man might have bent the rules more than once, but until now, he had never broken them.

“Director Morrow…”

He held his hand up to stop him. “I have no choice but to place this in your personnel file. You were warned more than once and yet you continued to interfere.”

Gibbs decided that if it was going into his personnel file, he may as well say what was on his mind.

“We don’t have the whole story, Director Morrow. You know it and I know it.”

“Special Agent Gibbs, there was more at stake here than the incident at Little Creek. The arrests of the individuals responsible will be in the media tomorrow, but we were able to get more substantial intel than that.”

They had been able to arrest 4 young men from a cell there in Virginia. They had been attending a ‘jihad academy’ not 30 miles from Washington D.C. They had the men responsible for the death of Master Chief Graham and a door through which they would be able to infiltrate terror cells here in America.

Gibbs still knew in his gut that they would regret this. He did not know how, but he knew they would.

“Will that be all, sir?” There was no point in pursuing this, since he wasn’t going to be told more than he already had been.

The director nodded in the affirmative.

Gibbs turned and left the room without a backward glance. He knew he was already on thin ice with the director but at this point he didn’t give a damn. He took the elevator up to their office level. He saw Kate standing in her office space perusing a file. When he approached her she was startled. A picture fell from the file folder. It was the one that had been taped to the door at Dani’s parents.

Gibbs picked up the picture and looked at it impassively. “Do we still have a security detail covering Mrs. Graham?”

“Yes, but after the arrests are announced the FBI will take over.”

Gibbs thought that was at least one positive. Fornell would keep him posted if anything should come up. He nodded and then walked away, taking the picture he had picked up from the floor with him. Kate thought about stopping him – the picture belonged in the case file – but she thought better of it. This had been difficult for him.

She didn’t blame him for not wanting the picture to be part of a file kept in this office. It was highly personal and Gibbs was a private person. It had made her uncomfortable to even look at it. It was just a couple obviously in love and in a loose embrace. What had made it so intimate and therefore uncomfortable for her was the unguarded love and desire on his face. She hadn’t seen Gibbs as being capable of showing that kind of emotion and it embarrassed her for reasons she could not explain.

If there were any questions about the missing picture from the file she would handle them. It wasn’t worth it to pry further into Gibbs’s life than she had to for the purposes of this investigation.

Gibbs took the elevator to the ground floor and walked out of the building. He unlocked his Intrepid, got in and reached into his breast pocket, taking out the picture. The lights from the parking lot allowed a clear view. He remembered that day clearly: it hadn’t really been anything special, just a visit with her parents, an unguarded moment captured in an instant. Had he ever been than young…had she? Suddenly he felt a loss that he had never allowed himself to feel. He felt a tug on his heart toward something he knew that there was no road back to. Gibbs replaced the picture in his pocket, then started his vehicle and put it in gear.

He thought that the vehicle was suddenly too quiet and so he decided to turn on the radio.

“Classic Rock…WCAP…Jackson Browne.”

It was a song from their time, his and Dani’s, so Gibbs leaned forward and turned it up.

‘Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you
There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more
But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true
You were turning ‘round to see who was behind you
And I took your childish laughter by surprise
And at the moment that my camera happened to find you
There was just a trace of sorrow in your eyes.

Now the things that I remember seem so distant and so small
Though it hasn’t really been that long a time
What I was seeing wasn’t what was happening at all
Although for a while our path did seem to climb
But when you see through love’s illusion there lies the danger
And your perfect lover just looks like the perfect fool
So you go running off in search of a perfect stranger
While the loneliness seems to spring from your life
Like a fountain from a pool

Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight
You’ve had to hide sometimes, but now you’re all right
And it’s good to see your smiling face tonight…

Gibbs reached back into his pocket and looked at Dani again, her sweet smile and the love so evident on her face. He was glad she had come through this all right; she had always been stronger than he had ever believed. He gave her picture a sad smile and returned it to his pocket.

It was time to listen to something else. He pushed seek on his radio, and it sang out “Shot gun…shoot em ‘fore he run now...” Junior Walker and the All Stars…..now –that- was music. It also seemed appropriate when he thought of Ari. He smiled at the thought of his being ‘in a great deal of pain for many weeks.’

“All right…that’s better.” And with that Gibbs accelerated to a rate of speed that matched his music.

Harm had been on the interstate for just a few minutes when a vehicle blew by him. Although it was dark, he recognized the vehicle. It was Gibbs speeding down the highway; he looked as though he were going 90 miles per hour.

He shook his head, thinking that he didn’t envy him tonight. Gibbs had had a personal stake, although indirect, in this spy game. He had stood there and watched his superior pull the rug right out from under him, knowing there was nothing he could do about it.

He had been there, only to go home alone with nothing and no one there for him. It had taken Paraguay for him to really see what he could lose and how terribly tired he was of all the games, spy and otherwise.

Where had he been a year ago tonight? It occurred to him how completely his life had changed in the space of one year. The last six months had been unbelievable. He had experienced nearly unbearable pain and inexpressible joy, and through it all Mac had always been there.

He was suddenly so grateful that he would be returning to his apartment to find her sleeping in his bed. Harm knew when he slipped under the covers she would turn automatically into his arms, barely waking, to the place they both knew she belonged.

No, he did not envy Gibbs tonight at all.


1200
Sunday
April 10
Faith Coleman’s apartment
Alexandria, Virginia


Faith was surprised by a knock on her door. She looked through the security lens to see Michael waiting. He was in uniform. She unlocked and opened the door.

“Michael?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t call first, Faith. I just got back in from San Diego. Do you have a few minutes?” He clearly had something on his mind.

“Sure, come on in.”

“Thanks.” He took off his cover and walked into her apartment.

“Coffee?”

“Yeah, that would be great.” He seemed distracted and more than a little uncomfortable.

Faith went into her kitchen and began making the coffee and getting their mugs down from the cabinet. She had a studio apartment and the kitchen was open to the living area.

“Tell me what’s going on, Michael – you have me worried.” She looked at him with concern. She knew this had to have something to do with Vukovic.

“It’s a long story; maybe I had better wait till you’re finished with the coffee.” He was walking back and forth between her kitchen island and the window. He was more preoccupied than she had ever seen him.

Faith finished the coffee and brought their mugs to the dining room table and sat down. “What happened, Michael?”

Mike sat down and placed his fingertip on the coffee cup rim. “I had another –altercation- with Lieutenant Vukovic. It wasn’t only that, though – God… I don’t know where to begin, Faith.”

She was starting to get angry; he was still treating her like she was going to shatter at any moment. She gave him a direct and impatient glare. “Tell me.”

Mike looked down at his cup. “You know that I said I didn’t trust Vukovic.”

“Yes.” She had been right.

“In the case we were trying, the government ended up dropping the case against Corporal Duran when new evidence was discovered. I made the motion after I did some investigation with the help of a Lieutenant Graves at North Island.”

“Lieutenant Graves?” Faith had never heard about her before.

“Yes, she came highly recommended to General Creswell. She may join us at JAG in the near future.”

“I’m sorry, go on.”

“After the case was dismissed, we were all at TJ’s. It was Friday and the bar was packed. I didn’t really know anyone there except Vukovic, but I went anyway, just to keep from spending most of my night in a hotel room.”

He shook his head and pushed his chair back. He wished he had never gone to that stupid bar, especially in the company of a snake like Vukovic. He stood and walked toward her living room, then turned to look at her. He continued.

“We had a few drinks… when an old acquaintance of Vukovic’s shows up.”

Faith didn’t like the sound of this. Was it a woman that he wanted to be the one to tell her about first? She waited a few moments and then impatiently said, “Go on.”

“His name was Mark Robbins.”

Faith stood up and walked into her kitchen and stood at the sink with her back to him. He had been Lieutenant Mark Robbins. The man who had tormented her and embarrassed her before she left JAG San Diego.

“Faith, I didn’t want to tell you, but I have to, because there is more. I know this has to be hard for you, but you’re my friend and I need your advice.”

She heard the pleading sound in his voice, something else she had never heard before. If she didn’t want him to treat her like she was fragile, then she needed to stop acting like it. She turned and looked at him and realized how hard it must have been to come here today.

“I’m all right, Michael. Tell me the rest.”

“Robbins is still a lieutenant, and he and Vukovic were coworkers at one time. I didn’t place him until Vukovic said we had a mutual acquaintance. I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. Vukovic mentioned your name and they both…”

Mike wouldn’t go on and repeat what they had done. It would hurt her, and he wasn’t going to do that.

“I could have broken them in half.” He paused for a moment. They had given each other a knowing look. Mike could still see Robbins’s suggestive leer.

“Knowing Mark, I can only imagine what was said.” She looked at him, her countenance clear and determined. “Go on.”

“I thought that Vukovic got that I had had enough, but then he began to talk about the case. He did as he had before, bringing up some of the details of the case, some details were minor…others were not. When he spoke, it was almost as though every other point had a double meaning. Then it occurred to me: at one point while we were negotiating a possible plea agreement, he seemed ready to deal, then out of the blue he had no interest in a deal of any kind…It was as though he knew the case against his client wouldn’t stand up in court.”

“I don’t understand. Do you think he tampered with evidence?” Faith thought he surely couldn’t be that stupid.

“I can’t prove it, but yes, I do.” He looked at her directly. “There is one more thing.”

She wondered what more there could be.

“I hit him.” Mike looked at her and then away, suddenly ashamed of his lack of self control, especially in the presence of an officer he respected and one he wanted to respect him.

Faith was surprised. They were junior officers, and either of them could cause him a great deal of trouble. “You hit whom?”

“I hit them both, actually.” He turned away from her completely, looking out the window at nothing, his mind still reeling with the probable consequences of his actions.

“Why?”

“Faith, I don’t think it’s necessary to tell you every detail.” He again wouldn’t repeat the callous and hurtful things that had been said and implied.

Mike had decided to walk away. He wasn’t playing Vukovic’s game, and he had wanted to retrace his steps on his investigation so that he could be sure evidence hadn’t been tampered with. He’d gotten up from the bar stool and started to leave, when Lieutenant Robbins decided to volley a parting shot.

“So how is the ‘iceberg’ ... I mean. Commander Coleman?” His voice dripped with sarcasm and contempt.

Mike had turned to look at him when Vukovic decided to chime in. “Oh, the iceberg has melted – just ask the major.”

Something in Mike had snapped, and he’d had Vukovic by the shirt before he knew it. He’d wanted to bash both their sleazy faces in, but he’d settled for bashing Lieutenant Robbins in the face with Lieutenant Vukovic’s head.

“Were you in uniform?” She hoped not.

“No.”

‘At least there is that,’ Faith thought. She walked over to where he stood and looked at his hands. They didn’t bear the marks of fighting. She took them in both of hers and asked

“What did you hit them with?”

Mike was still feeling pretty ashamed of himself. He was looking down when he told her.

Faith suddenly pictured the scene with Mark’s face being smashed by Vukovic’s head. She let go of his hands and covered her mouth with the fingertips of one of her hands to keep from laughing out loud.

“You hit Mark with Vukovic?”

He heard the smile in her voice. “Hey… it’s not funny.” At least –she- wasn’t angry with him.

“I know, I know it isn’t, but I….:” She had to walk away for a moment; it would be funny if they didn’t have to worry about what both those sleazes would do.

He turned to look at her, and she looked back at him and smiled. She walked back to him and stood directly in front of him. She realized then how terribly tired he looked. He probably hadn’t slept at all since this happened. She also realized that his reaction to them both had a lot to do with her. She was overcome by the need to pull him into her arms, so she gave into it and did just that.

“Thank you, Michael.” She drew back and he gave her a tired smile.

“You’re welcome.” He pulled her back into his embrace. He hadn’t realized just how much he needed this just now.

Faith held on for just a few more moments, and then she slipped out of his embrace and picked up her telephone.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m calling someone who can help us.”

“This is not your problem, Faith.”

She looked back at him directly and said, “Yes it is, Michael.”

The person that she was calling answered his phone.

“Rabb.”


Chapter 33


1310
Sunday
April 10
Starbucks
E Street
Washington D.C.


Mike sat across from Faith, trying to figure out just what he was going to say to Commander Rabb. This was going to be so awkward. He wouldn’t have agreed to this if Faith hadn’t already called him.

“I still can’t believe you called him about this, Faith.”

“Michael, we have to take care of this before tomorrow morning. You know Vukovic will probably have contacted the general already. I think you should be proactive on this. He is counting on our keeping silent about this.”

“But the commander?” He noticed that she said ‘our’ She spoke of this as though she were in it too. He wasn’t alone in this situation.

“You said yourself that he was a fair man.”

He nodded in agreement; he did say that. He just hadn’t known at the time that his career might be riding on that belief. He looked up at her. He hated that they would have to explain Lieutenant Robbins’s remarks, or at least that he would have to tell the commander about them. How was she going to react to that? Had she even thought about it?

“Are you going to be okay talking with the commander about the….personal side of this?”

She hadn’t given it very much thought. Until just now. This wasn’t going to be easy. All she had been thinking of was how to make sure that Michael would be in as little trouble as possible. She looked away from him, watching the light Sunday traffic pass outside the window.

“I think so.” She looked down at her coffee. “We can keep the discussion pretty generic.” She looked at him. “I can be pretty good at that.”

Mike gave her a knowing smile. “Yes, you can.” It had taken her forever to tell him what had happened. He was so glad to have her trust, especially now.

She looked at her watch. “We’d better go if we want to be there on time.” The commander told them to come at two o’clock.


1410
Sunday
April 10
Harm and Mac’s apartment
North of Union Station


Harm and Mike sat at the dining room table, and Faith stood back from them, leaning on the kitchen island. Mac had offered them coffee, and she brought two mugs for Harm and Mike and placed them in front of them. Tension was thick in the air.

Harm nodded toward Mike. “Maybe you’d better begin, Major.”

Faith without thinking had stayed near the kitchen; somehow feeling less conspicuous if she wasn’t sitting there facing the commander too. Mac seemed to sense this and decided not to sit down just yet either. She busied herself in the kitchen as the major began.

Mike leaned forward in his chair. “Sir…I…”

Harm could see small beads of sweat forming on Mike’s brow. “Relax, McBurney – it can’t be that bad.”

“Just tell him, Michael.” Faith couldn’t stand watching him struggle with this. She wasn’t exactly sure how the commander would react, but she knew they stood a lot better chance of being heard fairly if they spoke with him first.

Mike did finally begin. He started with Vukovic’s odd behavior just after he had seen them at McMurphy’s. He left out the part about thinking that Vukovic may have seen him kissing Faith in the parking lot. He told him about his suspicions about Vukovic tampering with evidence. Mike started to tell Harm about Lieutenant Robbins, but hesitated. He didn’t want to say anything that would make Faith uncomfortable so he looked at her as though he were seeking her permission.

Faith decided this part was her story to tell, so she began.

“Apparently Lieutenant Vukovic and a lieutenant with whom I served at JAG San Diego are old acquaintances.” She folded her arms across her chest. “This lieutenant…Robbins and I have a history.” She was silent for a moment.

Mike picked up the rest of the story…there was no need for her to say more.

“Some comments were made about the commander personally and about myself. Most things that were said could be taken either way. I had intended to walk away. I was going to follow up on my concerns about the case.” Mike folded his hands on the table. “I would have, but as I left their parting comments became more insulting and accusatory to the commander and myself. I lost my temper.” Mike was quiet for a moment.

“And?” Harm gave him a questioning look.

“I hit Lieutenant Robbins.”

“And Lieutenant Vukovic?”

Mike looked down at his folded hands and then at Faith. She nodded, telegraphing ‘go on’.

“I....hit Lieutenant Robbins with…Lieutenant Vukovic.”

“What?” Harm leaned forward, frowning, but Mac could see the amusement dancing in his eyes. Suddenly this struck her as so comical that she turned to open the refrigerator door for a bottle of water, just so that she could hide her smile.

Faith had pressed her lips together in a tight line so that she wouldn’t smile. She knew that as funny as this all sounded, it was very serious.

Harm looked up at Faith, knowing she was probably biting the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling.

“I have to say, McBurney... that was creative.” He looked back at Mac and raised his eyebrows. She covered her mouth to keep from laughing. Harm stood up and walked over to where Mac was standing as she composed herself. He leaned against the kitchen sink and folded his arms.

“I’m glad you both came and talked to me about this, although you will have to see the general. If he doesn’t summon you first.”

“Yes, sir.” Mike still sat rigidly in his chair.

“There are a lot of things at play here.” He looked at Faith and Mike. “I think you should deal with the things we know are true first.”

“Yes, sir.” He had not moved.

“I think you should talk to the general only about what happened at the bar in San Diego. If what you believe about Lieutenant Vukovic’s conduct is true there will be serious consequences. You need to go in there with more than a gut feeling. You have to be able to prove what you believe.”

“Yes, sir.”

Faith looked at him still sitting almost rigidly in the chair. She furrowed her brow and said, “Lighten up, Michael.”

With that comment everyone in the room looked at her and the room fell silent. Faith’s face flushed red with embarrassment and the irony of the situation struck Harm. Commander Coleman was telling someone to ‘lighten up?’ It made him laugh out loud, and Mike and Mac joined him. Faith’s face broke into a smile.

“I’m sorry.”

“Not at all, Faith. I think that’s good advice for the moment.” Harm hoped that they would both relax more when they were in his and Mac’s presence, at least outside the office.

The tension in the room came down to a tolerable level. Mike and Faith didn’t have the same comfort level with the commander and the colonel that most people at JAG had, but they were both breathing easier now that this was out in the open. Mike stood and looked at Faith, silently thanking her for her good idea. She smiled at him.

“Sir, we won’t take any more of your time.”

Harm walked up to him and shook his hand. “Not a problem – I’m glad I could help. I hope you understand I’m not saying I don’t believe you about the possibility of evidence tampering. You just need to be prepared if you intend to pursue this.”

“I understand, sir.” He looked at Mac, who had joined them walking toward the door. “I should have been prepared for this, given his behavior toward the colonel the first time he was before her in court.”

Harm opened the door to the apartment and Mike and Faith passed through. Harm frowned and asked, “His behavior toward the colonel?” He looked from Mike to Mac.

Mike knew immediately that the colonel had never told him about Vukovic’s inappropriate behavior the first time they had been before her in court. He looked at Mac, and she gave him a tight smile. ‘Oh God...what have I done now?’ he thought.

Mac walked up beside Harm. “A minor problem; but we handled it, didn’t we, Major?” She looked up at Harm and then at Mike.

“Yes, ma’am.” Mike’s face turned pale.

Mac looked at Faith and then back again at Mike. “I thought you were told to lighten up.”

They all laughed at that, and Mike and Faith made their escape. Faith decided that if she were to become a friend of anyone at JAG besides Michael that the colonel would be the person she would choose.

Harm closed the door and turned to look at Mac. “What kind of problem did you have with Vukovic in your courtroom, Mac?”

Mac turned to walk back to the kitchen.

“Oh, the lieutenant had a little eye problem and I spoke with he and the major about it.” She looked back at him. “I haven’t had any problems with him since.” She raised her brows and smiled at him smugly.

Harm grinned at her. “An eye problem?”

“It’s not a big deal, Harm.”

“If it’s not a big deal, tell me.”

Mac placed her hands on her hips and gave him an exasperated look. She hadn’t told him about this because she didn’t want Harm to hold it against him. She saw Vukovic as an immature but harmless person who just needed a bit of time to grow into his position. The general seemed to feel that he had a lot of potential. Though, given what McBurney had just told them, what kind of potential he had still remained to be seen.

“It was Vukovic’s first case before me – he sat second chair to McBurney. After court adjourned one day, I happened to look in his direction and he…winked at me.”

“What?” Harm narrowed his eyes. He didn’t look angry; disgusted would have been a better word.

“I called them both into my chambers and informed the lieutenant that I noticed his ‘problem’ with his eyes. I advised him that if he didn’t get the ‘problem’ taken care of that his fellow officers and subordinates might misunderstand his actions. He got the message, end of story.”

Harm raised his eyebrows and a grin spread slowly across his face. “I would have liked to have seen that.”

“Oh, yeah?” She laughed.

Harm closed the distance between them. “Yeah.” He pulled her into his arms.

“So, do you want to go out for dinner or stay in?” She smiled at him mischievously.

He kissed her and lifted her slightly off of the floor, walking her back toward their bedroom. “Mmmm… let’s stay in.”


1530
Sunday
April 10
Faith’s Apartment
Alexandria, Virginia



Mike sat with Faith in front of her apartment. He did not turn off the ignition. He knew he had better get back to his place. Suddenly he felt self-conscious about being alone with her. He felt as though someone might be watching and misconstrue even the most innocent display of affection.

“You’re not coming up?” She gave him a hopeful look.

Mike looked at her, trying to convey his friendship and something else that he hadn’t been able to name as yet.

“I think I’d better not, Faith. I’ve already compromised you in that I made you a part of this stupid fight.”

“It wasn’t a fight, Michael. You only hit them once.” She tried to joke, but it hadn’t come out right.

He tried to smile but tomorrow was weighing heavily on his mind.

Faith reached over and placed her hand over his on the steering wheel. “It’s going to be okay, Michael. You’re a good officer and an excellent attorney. You have an exemplary record. That has to count in your favor.”

He looked at her, feeling so grateful for her support and her belief in him. “Thanks, Faith.” He covered her hand with his own.

“You only have to tell the truth.”

“The truth is I lost my temper and I struck a junior officer. I fully intend to tell the truth. I just don’t know how the general will react to it.”

“A good man once said, ‘the truth is all that matters,’ and I think that’s true in this case.”

Mike smiled at her. “I know.”

Deep down, Faith felt responsible for this mess. He had been goaded into that altercation because of his friendship with her.

“Michael, I’m so sorry that I even told you about Lieutenant Robbins. I hate it that your friendship with me has gotten you into this mess.”

“Hey, my temper got me into this mess. Don’t blame yourself.” He turned toward her, keeping her hand in both of his.

Faith looked into his eyes and saw the warmth, sincerity and honor that had drawn her to him in the first place. She didn’t even realize she had begun to lean toward him.

Mike saw what was coming, and he would have liked nothing more than to kiss her. Her touch was comforting to him, soul deep. He looked at her lips, and as he started to lean in to kiss her, but then Vukovic’s nasty comments about his melting the ‘iceberg’ echoed in his head. He drew back immediately.

“I had better go, Faith. If I don’t, I won’t keep my word to you or myself that I’m not going to do anything to make this situation worse.”

Faith recovered quickly, leaning back into her seat. “I know.” She squeezed his hand. “Good luck tomorrow.” With that she got out of the car.

Mike put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking space. Faith watched him leave and waved to him in his rearview mirror, and he returned a salute. She felt as though her heart were going with Michael as he drove away. ‘Oh God… no….I love him.’ She turned and placed her hand on her chest as she walked up the steps. She all at once felt so happy that she thought her heart would burst and so terrified she wanted to scream.


0730
Monday
April 11
Harm and Mac’s apartment.
North of Union Station



Mac placed her coffee mug in the top rack of the dishwasher and closed it. “Come on, Sailor. I don’t want to be late today.”

Harm was coming down the steps from their bedroom. He straightened his tie and picked up his uniform jacket. “Yes, ma’am,” he teased.

They were on their way in less than a minute. Since they had been married Harm hadn’t been late for one staff call or appointment. It didn’t even seem like the natural order of things anymore. He and Mac were once again a beautiful team. Harm smiled at the thought.

“What are you smiling about, Sailor?”

Harm was pulling away from their apartment building. “I’m thinking about what a great team we make.”

“I have to agree.” She was thoughtful for a moment. She was thinking of another ‘team’ just now. Major McBurney could be in a good deal of trouble.

He had gotten into a fight with not one, but two junior officers. He hadn’t had the luck that Harm and Mic had with Bud. He hadn’t blamed either of them, and had even defended them to both of their superior officers. Somehow she didn’t think that would happen in this case.

Harm noticed that her expression had turned serious. “What are you thinking about, Mac?”

“I’m thinking about Major McBurney. I don’t envy him today.”

Harm raised his eyebrows. “I don’t either. I am glad he came and spoke to me about it before seeing the general today.”

“I think Commander Coleman had a lot to do with that.”

“Yeah, I think they make a pretty good team too. I mean…they’re not exactly like we were but they do seem pretty close.”

Mac was quiet for a moment. “They do remind me of us, in a way.”

“Maybe.” Harm was looking in his blind spot as they merged into traffic on the Beltway.

“They seem to bring out the best in each other. I know that I see Commander Coleman in an entirely different way than I did when was first in my courtroom.”

“I agree; McBurney seems a little less full of himself and Faith is a little more approachable on a personal level.” She had been a good partner on the Graham investigation.

Mac nodded. “They are both excellent attorneys.”

“She seems more squared away than he does most of the time.” She was one of the most by-the-book naval officers he had ever met. Mac was pretty squared away, but that didn’t count; she was a Marine.

“That’s another reason they remind me of us.” She gave him her best Cheshire cat smile.

He looked over at her quickly. “Hey, not funny, Marine.”


0900
Monday
April 11
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


General Creswell finished staff call by asking Lieutenant Vukovic and Major Mc Burney to report to his office immediately following the meeting.

Vukovic followed McBurney out of the conference room. Harm hung back purposely to observe both officers.

“Well, I wonder what that is about.” Vukovic passed McBurney, smirking smugly.

McBurney looked at him and said nothing. He went to his office and left his case file on his desk. He looked across the bullpen into Faith’s office. She gave him a reassuring look and a secret thumbs up. Vukovic was standing near Jen’s desk, waiting to go in to see the general. He saw the look that was exchanged between Mike and Faith.

Mike walked up to Jen’s desk. “The general is expecting us.” He did not acknowledge Vukovic at all.

“I’ll let him know you’re here, sir.” She buzzed his office. “I have Lieutenant Vukovic and Major McBurney for you, sir.”

“Send them in.”

Mike and Vukovic came to attention in front of the general. “At ease.”

He stood and folded his arms looked intently at both men. “I received a call this morning…from NLSO North Island. The commanding officer there reported to me that not one but two of my judge advocates were involved in an altercation with one of the judge advocates under his command.”

He was silent.

Mike remained eyes forward. He knew his whole future hinged on his behavior in this moment.

Lieutenant Vukovic’s turned his head sharply toward Mike and then to the general.

“Sir, I was not the aggressor in that fight. I did not strike anyone. The major...” His voice died in his throat when he saw the look on the general’s face.

“Snap to, Lieutenant.” Vukovic came to attention. The general walked over and stood in front of him. “Did I ask you a question, Lieutenant?”

“No, sir.” He swallowed hard. This was not going to be as easy as he thought it would be.

“You will remain silent, Lieutenant, and speak only when you are spoken to: is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

He walked over to where Mike stood and looked at him directly. “I expected more from you, Major.”

“Yes, sir.”

“What do you have to say about this?”

“I have no excuse, sir.”

“Have you spoken to anyone about this incident?”

“I spoke with Commander and Colonel Rabb about this yesterday.”

Vukovic turned to look at him but did not speak. The general gave him a stern look and he resumed eyes forward.

“May I ask why you thought that was necessary?”

“I spoke with Commander Rabb upon the advice of Commander Coleman. Colonel Rabb was present when I spoke with him.”

The general walked around behind his desk.

“Go on.”

“I was ashamed of my conduct, sir, and concerned about its consequences; Commander Coleman believed that Commander Rabb would give me good counsel on the best way to proceed.”

The general listened and considered what he had said.

“Lieutenant Vukovic, you may –now – report your side of this situation.”

“Sir, I had gone to the bar with the major in what I thought was friendship and he attacked me for no reason at all. The major took offense to a remark that was made by and old acquaintance of mine. He attacked both of us afterward.” He looked at Mike with a self-satisfied sneer. “The major seems to be a bit sensitive when it comes to Commander Coleman.”

Mike did not return his look but he visibly clenched his jaw. ‘That son of a bitch!’ he thought. Mike closed the fist that he held behind his back as he stood at ease.

The general studied the lieutenant for a moment and then looked at the major.

“Is that true, Major?”

“Sir, the commander is a close friend and fellow officer. The remarks made were very personal and derogatory. I admit that I overreacted to them….”

Vukovic interrupted before he could continue. “I never said anything about the commander, you did over react and you are –a lot- more than –close friends-. I saw...”

“Lieutenant Vukovic!” The general was right back in his face. “You will stand down!”

He looked at the lieutenant with an almost incredulous expression. This was no time or place for gossip and innuendo. The general did not want to know too much about anyone’s personal life here. His only concern was the way it affected this office. Even in this situation there were personal things that he didn’t care to know.

This was a side of the lieutenant he had not seen. He had believed the young man had the makings of a fine officer, but his behavior in this situation was beginning to make him reconsider that assessment.

The general walked back around his desk and stood behind it. He looked at both men for a long moment.

“I will consider what actions will be taken regarding this incident.” He folded his arms across his chest. “Make no mistake, gentlemen. There will be consequences. You are dismissed.”

They came to attention. “Aye, aye, sir.”

Without a look at each other, both men left the general’s office.

The general sat down at his desk. He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. He leaned forward and buzzed Jen’s desk. “Petty Officer Coates, have Commander Rabb report to my office ASAP.”

“The commander is in court all morning, sir.”

“What do I have this afternoon, Coates?”

“You have a meeting with your chief of staff at 1400 and you are clear thereafter, sir.”

“Have the commander report to my office at 1500.”

“Yes, sir.”


1345
Monday
April 11
Rabb Farm


Mrs. Rabb sat on her front porch steps. She had just come from the hospital. She sat her purse and keys on the porch next to her because she just did not want to go indoors. She had been sitting there for some time. The day was overcast and a bit cool. It seemed fitting because she had just lost one of her oldest and dearest friends. Jack O’Reilly had died and she was heartbroken. They had thought he had been turning a corner in his recovery, but he had suffered another series of strokes from which he could not recover. She was still in shock; she’d thought Jack would go on forever or at least as long as she did.

She did not want to go inside that quiet house alone. Since her friend’s stroke she had felt more and more lonely. She had never had a problem being alone before; she relished her own space and time to do what she wanted to. Now she felt she understood the phrase ‘the silence is deafening.’ Now when she switched on a radio or heard her own voice in the house it seemed too loud.

It was not like she and Jack spoke every day – it was more about knowing he was there, that she had known him almost all of her life. He was the last person in this community who remembered her David. He was as real a person to Jack O’Reilly as he was to her. He was just a picture to anyone else, even to his own grandson.

She heard someone driving up the gravel driveway. Kathie O’Reilly, Jack’s daughter-in-law, pulled up in front of the house. She got out of her car.

“Sarah?”

Mrs. Rabb got up from the step and brushed the seat of her pants off.

“Are you all right, honey?” Kathie O’Reilly’s brow furrowed with concern.

Mrs. Rabb thought that she must not look very good. She remembered just then that she had been at the hospital all night.

“Yes, I’m okay.”

“How long have you been home?”

She looked at her watch. “About an hour, I guess. Do you want to come in for some coffee?”

Kathie was beginning to worry about Mrs. Rabb. She would go in with her to make sure she settled in and then she would call her grandson. She wasn’t acting like herself. Kathie didn’t think this community could stand to lose both her father-in-law and Mrs. Rabb.


1500
Monday
April 11
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Harm walked up to Jen’s desk. “The general is expecting me.” Jen buzzed the general, and he told her to send him in.

Harm came to attention. “At ease, Commander, be seated.”

“Sir.” Harm sat down.

“I have spoken with Lieutenant Vukovic and Major McBurney about an incident about which you may be aware.”

“Yes, sir.” Harm sat forward on his chair and knitted his fingers together.

“What is your assessment of the situation?”

“I think the major engaged in bad conduct when he was in San Diego and he deeply regrets it. He has accepted his responsibility in the matter, sir.”

The general considered what he said for moment.

“The major said as much this morning. Lieutenant Vukovic sees the whole incident as being the major’s responsibility. However, the lieutenant also demonstrated some difficulty this morning with military decorum, which leads me to believe his statement may not be entirely true. ”

Harm listened, thinking that the general had missed his first apparent breach long ago. He was beginning to think Mac should have busted him then. The more he heard about this guy the less he liked him.

“I had considered having you take the lieutenant under your wing.” The general looked at Harm directly. “Then I reconsidered it.”

Harm stomach knotted at the thought.

The general got up from his desk and walked toward the fireplace.

“The lieutenant, if he is to become a good officer, is going to have to learn to be more disciplined in his conduct. While you are a good officer and have contributed much to this office…” He turned back toward Harm. “You have been rather unorthodox in your methods.”

Harm could not keep from smiling. “Yes, sir.”

The general walked back to his desk and stood behind it. “I am considering giving this task to Commander Turner.”

“Excellent choice, sir.” If anyone at JAG was by the book without question it was Sturgis.

“Thank you for your input, Commander. You are dismissed.”

Harm stood came to attention and left the room.


1645
Monday
April 11
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia



Jen buzzed Harm in his office. “You have a call on line 6, Commander.”

“Thank you, Petty Officer.” He picked up the handset. “Rabb.”

“Harmon?” The voice on the other end of the line didn’t sound familiar or sure of herself.

“This is Commander Harmon Rabb, yes.”

“I’m sorry – I’m Kathie O’Reilly, Sam’s wife. I’m sorry to bother you at work but I thought I should call.”

Harm remembered her now. “That’s not a problem. How can I help you?”

“I think you know my father-in-law, Jack O’Reilly. He passed away early this morning.”

“I’m sorry to hear it.” Jack had been his grandmother’s oldest friend.

“Thank you, but the reason I’m calling is your grandmother.”

“What about her?” Harm remembered his last conversation with his grandmother; he had been worried about her since then.

“She just seems to be taking this harder than I thought she would. She has always been so strong. I never have seen her like this. She is not overly emotional – that’s not her. It’s like she’s disconnected from us…I can’t explain it.”

Harm sat forward in his chair and looked at his calendar. “When will the funeral be held?”

“Wednesday. I was hoping you and your wife could get away. She just lights up when she talks about you two. She’s not sick or anything, Harmon, I just…I just don’t want to lose her too.” She had known Mrs. Rabb better than she had her own mother-in-law.

“I understand. We may not both be able to get away, but she won’t go through this alone.” Harm paused for a moment. “Thank you for calling me about this, Kathie.”

Harm managed to get in to see the general before he left for the day. He had gotten two days’ leave beginning Wednesday. Mac hadn’t wanted to request it since she had been out for so many medical problems. Harm understood and he knew his grandmother would too.


1730
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


The general followed Harm out of his office and they both saw Major McBurney still at his desk in his office. Harm walked back to his office to get his cover and secure for the day.

“Major McBurney.” The general’s voice carried loudly across the mostly deserted office.

Mike looked up quickly. “Yes, sir?”

“See me in my office.” With that the general walked back into his office, leaving the door open.

Mike stood and walked into the bullpen, closing the door to his office behind him as he went. He looked up and saw Harm as he was leaving. Harm nodded as he left, hoping to telegraph some reassurance. Harm knew there was no way he would walk away from this without something in his record. But surely his exemplary conduct so far would ensure that he would be given some leniency. Mike returned the nod and walked into the general’s office to meet his fate.


1830
Monday
April 11
Mike’s apartment
Alexandria, Virginia



Mike drove toward his apartment in solemn silence. He seldom drove without the radio or CD player on. The last three days had taken their toll on him. He had barely slept, and the level of stress he had been feeling kept him from relaxing anywhere. He would not be going to mast. No charges would be leveled against him.

Mike had known it was the general’s discretion as to how they would proceed. He would have a letter of admonition in his record. He had hoped that would be the case, instead of charges being leveled by the general or the commanding officer at NLSO North Island. After he learned the general’s decision, he was relieved but also ashamed that that would be a part of his personnel file for the rest of his career. He’d made the decision to knock Robbins and Vukovic’s heads together; he deserved the admonition. He just felt as though he had let his family and himself down by letting this happen. The tradition of service in his family went back for generations.

Mike pulled the keys from the lock on his door and closed it behind him, exhaling loudly. He felt as though he had been holding that breath all day. Tossing his keys on the counter, he headed straight for the shower. He would call Faith after he finished. He showered quickly and picked up his handheld phone, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. He lay back on the bed for just a moment and before he realized it he was asleep.


1925
Same evening
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


General Creswell replaced the receiver on the handset of his phone. JAG Ops was deserted with the exception of himself. He had just spoken with Captain Stevens, the commanding officer of NLSO North Island. He had informed him of his decision in the matter concerning their ‘fighting judge advocates.’

Apparently Lieutenant Robbins had been a significant problem to the captain’s command for some time. He had failed to advance the last two times he was eligible. He had barely escaped dismissal in another incident involving a possible conduct unbecoming charge. During the past year the DOD was doing what amounted to ‘cleaning house.’ You had to do what the old Marines he’d come up with had advised: ‘fill your uniform,’ or expect to be processed out. The general definitely did not see this as a bad thing.

The general turned off all the lights in his office but his desk lamp. He called his wife to let her know he would be later than usual and sat down with Lieutenant Gregory Vukovic’s personnel file. He was sure that the lieutenant had great potential – a man with ‘fire in his belly.’ He had not given up on the young man just yet. He would, however, ensure that he was supervised more closely. Vukovic would have a letter of counseling placed in his personnel record. Commander Turner was going to supervise some EMI for the lieutenant on military decorum.

He had seen the lieutenant as a kid from the streets that had pulled himself up by his bootstraps and made something of himself. He admired his ambition, and knew that this ambition could affect him one of two ways. Which way it would eventually go did not seem clear at the moment.



2045
Same night
Faith’s apartment


Faith paced back and forth inside her apartment. She would look at the phone periodically, trying to will it to ring. Why hadn’t Mike called? She had been beside herself worrying about him and had not heard one word. She thought that they were becoming closer in their relationship. He could at least let her know what the general had to say. They were friends, after all.

She paced for another half an hour when she couldn’t take it anymore and dialed Mike’s number. It rang a few times, then she heard someone pick up and then the sound of the phone hitting the floor.

“What the hell?....Owww!” Mike had been startled awake by the phone and had no lights on in the house. He had picked up and promptly dropped the phone on his foot as he sat forward to stand up.

“Hello!”

“Michael?” She hadn’t even thought that he might be asleep.

“Faith?” His voice was still gravelly with sleep. “Oh, man, I was going to call after I got out of the shower. What time is it, anyway?”

“It’s nearly nine o’clock.” Faith couldn’t seem to shake the visual of him wrapping a towel around his waist and falling back on his bed.

“I was going to call you as soon as I got in. Some friend, huh?”

Faith felt entirely ashamed of herself for thinking he had been inconsiderate. In truth he had been exhausted.

“You are a good friend, Michael. I was just worried about you. What did the general have to say?”

Mike told her about his letter of admonition and that he wouldn’t be going to mast. He knew she would be relieved about that; she had said over and over how responsible she felt.

“What about Vukovic?”

“I don’t really know what the general has planned for him. I would like to think he would get no less punishment than I did. I was just glad to get out of Creswell’s office with my skin.”

“I have to say it – Vukovic’s a weasel, Michael.”

Mike chuckled deep in his chest. “I can’t argue with that. I don’t think he did very much to recommend himself during our meeting this morning. Whatever good impression Vukovic had made with the general appears to be in serious jeopardy.”

“Good,” she said definitively.

Mike yawned hugely. “Man, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, I’m sorry I woke you up. Go back to sleep.”

“I will, but I’m glad you called, Faith.” He lay back on the bed again, his eyelids already getting heavier.

“I had to. I couldn’t stand the suspense.” She laughed nervously. When he said her name it sounded like an endearment.

“Hey, there it is, she’s still laughing.” He sounded so sleepy. “Seriously, thank you… for everything.” He yawned again, making Faith yawn too.

“Stop it, Michael. Hang up and go to sleep.”

They ended the call, both feeling better about their future at JAG but resolved to keep a wary eye on Vukovic.



2200
Tuesday
April 12
Interstate 76 west
Somewhere in Pennsylvania



The Chrysler 300 C class seemed to be gliding down the highway and around the curves that seemed to come out of nowhere. Jack Keeter looked over at his friend and former shipmate. Harm looked pensively out the window at the dark landscape.

“You okay, Harm?”

“Yeah, just thinking about my grandmother. You know I forget that she’s over 80 years old sometimes.”

“Maybe you should bring her back with you for a while, Harm. It couldn’t hurt.”

“Our apartment is so small. It’s just right for us, but there really isn’t a lot of room for having company overnight. I wouldn’t feel right having my grandmother stay alone, even someplace like the Willard.”

“She’s your grandmother, Harm. I would think about it if I were you. Sometimes when older people lose someone close to them like that…they fail really quickly. She’s all alone out there, Harm.”

“You’re worried about her too, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s independent, Keeter – if she thinks were managing her she will kick us out of there so fast it will make our heads spin.”

“What happened to the old Rabb charm?” He gave him a sidelong glance.

“It doesn’t work on other Rabbs.” He never could get anything past his grandmother. The younger Sarah Rabb had always been hard to charm too.

“Oh.”


1430
Wednesday
April 13
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania



Harm and Keeter walked on each side of Mrs. Rabb. They had just returned from the graveside service. She was supporting herself all right, but she seemed to need someone to guide her along. Kathie O’Reilly had been right. Harm had never seen her like this before. He looked over her head at Keeter, who returned his look.

“Grandma, why don’t you come back to Washington with us?”

She looked at him and frowned. “No, Harmon…You don’t want me underfoot. You and Mac are so busy you barely have time for each other.”

“She just doesn’t want to ride back to Washington with me, Harm.”

Keeter was trying to get a rise out of her and he gave Harm a wink. He was willing to try anything to get her to talk to him like she used to. Jack hadn’t realized how much he enjoyed the lighthearted barbs they threw at each other, or how much he missed them.

She looked up at Keeter and smiled sadly. “Rascal,” she said in a soft voice. She hadn’t said it with her gentle pinch on the arm or tap on the back.

Keeter gave Harm a worried look behind her back. “Hey, I know…I’ll let you drive the Chrysler again. You know you can’t turn that down.”

Harm gave Keeter a sharp look; he didn’t want to take those curves out of nowhere with his grandmother driving.

He said quickly disagreeing, “Oh, Keeter, I don’t think she would want to…”

His grandmother had stopped and looked at Harm with her sad smile still in place…”I’ll think about it, Harm.”

She touched his arm lightly and walked up the stairs of her porch. She knew what they were doing. Everyone had been fussing over her. It was almost embarrassing but she was all right. She was mourning her friend. She had to admit she had been distracted, but she would be fine.

Keeter and Harm stood on the stone pathway to the house watching Mrs. Rabb go inside. Harm looked at his friend.

“You were right, Keeter. I am not leaving her here alone.”


1530
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia



Petty Officer Coates was restocking the last of the staples for the break room. She was standing on a small step ladder. Lieutenant Vukovic walked into the break room, startling her. She dropped a box of Sweet and Low packets, sending them flying everywhere.

“Oh! I’m sorry, sir.” Jen stepped down and immediately began picking them up.

“Not a problem, Petty Officer.” He looked at her from behind, admiring the view.

Jen stood and replaced the packets in the box. “I’m all thumbs sometimes, sir.”

“Oh, I’ll bet you’re really good with your hands, Petty Officer.” He stood a bit too close and winked at her.

Gunny had been walking toward the break room to get his second cup of coffee of the afternoon. He heard the last part of this conversation. He froze just before he rounded the corner into the doorway.

Jen had seen Vukovic’s type before, and she had developed a sure fire way of rebuffing that kind of behavior. She stepped slightly closer to the door and spoke a bit louder than necessary.

“Why yes, sir, I am good with my hands.” Jen made sure her voice would carry outside the room. “I have been able to get my typing speed up to 90 words per minute.” She smiled demurely. “That’s what you meant, isn’t it, sir?”

Vukovic had not charmed the petty officer as he thought he would. He cringed as he imagined who in the bullpen had heard her repeat his exact words. Her voice carried very well in the tone she had used.

“Yes, Petty Officer, of course.” He just wanted to end this conversation as quickly as possible. All he needed was for Commander Turner to pop up out of nowhere. He had been doing that a lot lately.

Outside the break room as Gunny considered whether or not to interrupt this ‘scene.’ A grin spread slowly across his face. Jen handled that with grace and not a little humor. He chuckled under his breath. They were definitely going ‘out’ for dinner tonight. He turned to go back to his desk. He would wait until the lieutenant cleared the break room.

Jen looked at the lieutenant sincerely. “Will that be all, sir?”

“Yeah...I mean yes, Petty Officer.”

She nodded, offering a quick “Sir,” and left the room.

She rounded the corner and passed Gunny on his way back to his desk. They looked at each other for a moment and their eyes locked. She then passed him and walked on to her desk. Jen knew Victor wanted their relationship kept completely out of the office and she understood.

Gunny went to his desk and called her. He said only “McMurphy’s tonight, Petty Officer.”

“Are you buying?”

“That’s affirmative.”

“In that case, I’ll be there.”

“By the way, I just wanted to say I -heard- about the great job you did getting the break room squared away.”

“You did?” Jen understood his meaning. She was hoping –someone- had heard.

“I did. Outstanding, Petty Officer.” Gunny was grinning from ear to ear.

“Thank you, Gunnery Sergeant.”

They ended their call, giving each other a quick glance before carrying on with their day.


1930
Wednesday
April 13
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania


Harm stood in the kitchen and replaced the handset on the telephone. He had just spoken to General Creswell. He was to return to JAG first thing tomorrow morning. He would be flying back to the Persian Gulf. There had been an incident involving Iraqi fisherman approaching an oil platform. Since a similar situation last year resulted in an insurgent attack with a number of American and Iraqi casualties, the ROE needed to be revisited in this situation.

Harm shook his head as he turned to walk into the living room and tell his grandmother what he had to do, and then it occurred to him. He could ask his grandmother to stay while he was away. Since Mac had that little episode of pain at her incision site, he had worried more about her. He had hoped that he wouldn’t have to leave her for an extended period of time until after the baby came. He knew his grandmother would step right in and assume the caregiver role, however minor. It was as much a part of her as flying was to him.


0015
Thursday
April 13
Gunny Galindez’s apartment
Alexandria, Virginia


Jen lay on her side, watching Gunny sleep. They had gone out to dinner at McMurphy’s, danced, and had gotten back late for a week night. He had seemed more open with her tonight than he had ever been. She knew he cared for her and there was no doubt of his attraction to her. Tonight there was something more, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

They had talked about what had happened with Lieutenant Vukovic. He had said over and over how impressed he was with how she had handled the situation. When they sat at their table, he sat closer to her. He was more openly affectionate, holding her hand, leaning in closer when he spoke. Something was definitely going on here.

She had strong and very special feelings for Victor, though she wasn’t quite sure if there was a future in them yet. She was going to be cautious because she didn’t want to be hurt anymore by anyone. She knew that he was a good guy but she just wasn’t sure it was worth it to risk her whole heart.

She watched him sleep. He lay there on his side, facing her. He looked handsome even with the slight frown he had on his face. His arms were folded across his chest, slightly forward, almost shielding his face and upper chest. She wondered if he ever slept any other way. He had probably done that to be able to sleep anywhere he had to be, she thought. In a barracks, on the ground…with someone he wasn’t sure he wanted to let in too closely…maybe it was a way to keep someone at arm’s length.

She thought she might just lean across and kiss his arm or touch him. Suddenly she wanted to so badly, but then she though she had better not. He was a Marine, after all.

Gunny took a deep breath as he began to wake and opened his eyes slightly. “Jen?”

“Hey, I’m sorry I woke you. I couldn’t fall asleep.” She smiled at him and leaned forward, tucking her hand inside his folded arms, kissing his forearm.

He smiled at her sleepily.

“I was thinking about doing that while you were asleep but I was afraid you might think I was a scorpion and kick me out of bed.” She laughed softly.

He unfolded his arms and gathered her in.

“Oh…I don’t think you have to worry about that.” He kissed her and rolled her onto her back. He clasped both of her hands in his own as she slipped beneath him.

“So… you’re not sleepy?”

He dipped his head down, kissing her neck, opening his mouth to taste the skin from below her ear to her shoulder to her collar bone.

“Mmmm, no…no, not really.” Her breathing deepened and she knew without a doubt that she was becoming addicted to this man. She’d never believed she would, but she felt an attraction for him that she hadn’t felt for any man before. He was the most decidedly masculine man she had ever met. He was her complete opposite, and when they made love she had never felt more whole in her life.

“Round two?” He returned to her lips, nipping them and grinning at her devilishly.

“Mmmm …don’t know…” She couldn’t believe how much she wanted him. They had made love, showered and gone to bed just an hour ago. Yet for all she felt for him she could have been without him for days. He was truly ruining her for anyone else.

He stopped kissing her and looked directly into her eyes. “Oh I think you do.”

An hour later they slept; this time Jen was tucked into Victor’s arms, where she remained until they woke the next morning.


0630
Thursday
Interstate 76 east
Somewhere in Pennsylvania



Jack Keeter focused on the road ahead. He was paying more attention than usual, as the morning fog had not burned off yet. He glanced every now and then in his rear view mirror to check on Mrs. Rabb.

She had barely said a word that morning. She was up before they were, with coffee made and her bags packed. It was the first time Keeter could remember that she hadn’t baked anything or tried to feed them both more food than they would ever need, though. She had agreed to come with Harm and stay while he was away, only on the promise that Keeter would bring her back to the farm as soon as Harm returned. She hadn’t wanted to be ‘in the way.’

Harm was lost in his own thoughts that morning. He and Keeter had remained quiet so that Mrs. Rabb could sleep. She had fallen asleep not long after they left the farm, or so they thought. Mrs. Rabb had leaned back and closed her eyes only to keep Harm and Keeter from feeling like they had to entertain her. She knew she was truly blessed to have them, to have Mac and the new baby on the way. She knew she needed to shake this off and go on. Her friend Jack O’Reilly would have said the same thing. She smiled at the thought. She and David and Jack had been a handful when they got together. After she had lost David, Jack had been her mainstay in those first few years. He stepped in as a father figure after Harmon Sr.’s grandfather passed away. She sighed heavily.
She opened her eyes slightly to see Keeter looking at her in the rearview mirror.

“Jack Keeter, stop spying on me, young man.” She teased, feigning irritation.

Jack was startled. “Oh…I’m sorry, Mrs. Rabb.”

Mrs.Rabb chuckled and Harm laughed at him. Mrs. Rabb reached over the front seat and rested her hand on Harm’s shoulder.

“You two stop worrying about me. I’m all right.”

Keeter laughed at himself along with them. “Okay, I’ll stop worrying….when you start giving me a hard time again.”

She folded her arms across her chest and turned toward the car window on her side of the vehicle. She put her head back and closed her eyes.

“I’ll think about it.” She thought for a moment. “You two stop being so quiet. It’s not normal.”

Harm and Keeter looked at each other; each with a sheepish grin. Keeter turned the radio on, and as they sped toward Washington, Mrs. Rabb fell into a peaceful sleep.


1130
Thursday
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Harm strode down the hallway toward Mac’s office hoping that he would be able to see her before he left. He had gone home, gotten into his uniform and picked up his gear. He didn’t think he would be away for a very long time but lately you just never knew. Mac turned the corner on the opposite end of the hall and when she saw him she gave him a radiant smile. She was starting to show now, even in uniform. Somehow, the knowledge that this smart, accomplished and beautiful woman was his wife and that she was carrying his baby made him walk a little taller and push his chest out a bit further.

She had opened the door and waited for him to come inside. She closed it behind him and leapt into his arms. “I missed you.”

“I missed you.” He kissed her hair and her neck. He pulled back to look at her. “I’m sorry, I have to go again. And I’m sorry about bringing my grandmother back with me on such short notice.”

“It’s all right, Harm. From what you’ve told me I’m glad we could be there for her. I’ll never be able to repay her for what she did for me, Harm.” Her expression was serious. “Will she be okay while I’m here, do you think?”

“She’s not that bad, Mac. She’s just so quiet. You’ll see what I mean when you see her. Keeter is going to take her to lunch and show her some of the sights.”

“Oh, poor Sarah.”

They both chuckled at that but then the urgency of the situation came back to the surface. He had to go. She hugged him close again.

“Do you think you’ll be able to get your F/A-18 quals out of the way?” She pulled back for a moment, waiting for the gleam to show up in his eye. She wasn’t disappointed.

“You can’t wait, can you?”

He smiled in spite of himself. “I am looking forward to getting back to a carrier for a while. You know me too well for me to deny it.”

“I don’t want you to deny it, Harm.” It was just another part of Harm that she loved.

“Bud says I have a very large inner child.”

“I would have to agree.”

She laughed at him and her laughter drew him in like a magnet. He kissed her goodbye and all thoughts of military decorum left him. It was a kiss he wanted to keep with him until he got back.

When he broke the kiss, she kissed him again. She said, “You know, you’re going to have to stop kissing me like that when I have to go to court.”

He loosened his embrace and stepped back from her.

“I will if you will.” He kissed her forehead and took one last look. He walked back down the hallway and out of the building. He was due at Andrews by 1300.

An hour later, Harm waited to board the C-130, starting the long trip to the Kennedy in the Persian Gulf. He remembered that he hadn’t told her he loved her before he left. He looked at his watch and thought he might catch her before court resumed. Mac answered on the first ring.

“Colonel Rabb.”

“Hey, I forgot something.”

He smiled sheepishly and turned around so that his fellow passengers might not hear him. He suddenly felt as though everyone in the group waiting to fly over could hear him.

“I was wondering if you would remember.” Mac sat at her desk in her chambers, waiting until she was ready to go to court.

“Ah…now I’m in the middle of a crowd of people”

Mac knew why he called. “When are you going to board?”

“Any minute.”

“Well, honey…what is it?” She feigned ignorance.

“Stop giving me a hard time, Marine. You know why I called.”

She laughed at him, enjoying one more little zing before he left.

The group had started to board and he followed, hanging back slightly. “Okay, I love you. Got to go, bye.”

“Love you.” Mac heard him end the call. She already missed him.

 

 

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