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Chapter 34

1130
Thursday
April 26th
USS John Kennedy


Harm stood on ‘vulture’s row’ watching the F/A-18’s take off from the flight deck. He had finished his quals. The last two weeks had been unbelievable. He had been able to finish his quals all right, but he hadn’t been prepared for what happened somewhere in between. Sturgis’s role in the whole fiasco had been the last straw with regard to their friendship. To say they had words would have been an understatement. Colonel Najjar had been right when he said ‘best friends make the worst enemies.’

He had been charged with the murder of a high-ranking Iraqi government official. When he had spoken to Sturgis about it, it was as though he didn’t even know him. They had nearly come to blows; if Colonel Najjar had not interrupted them, he was sure they would have. They had been able to uncover what had really happened, and he had been cleared of the murder charges.

The part of all of this that Harm could not shake was that Sturgis had been perfectly willing to charge him without doing everything he could to be sure that Harm was culpable in this case. ‘By the book’ Sturgis. He’d acted as if Harm had wanted him to compromise himself for his sake. That was not the case at all. He just thought that as his friend he deserved the benefit of the doubt or at the very least a more thorough investigation.

Sturgis had even thrown his acting JAG duties in his face. Yes, it had bothered him that he hadn’t been considered, but he’d had more on his mind than ambition then. All he’d wanted at that time was for Mac to make it through her surgery and have a normal life.

They had spoken again before Sturgis returned to JAG, but the damage had been done. There were times he didn’t think he would ever understand Sturgis. He could have lost everything he had worked for and Sturgis could only quote chapter and verse of the UCMJ. Harm was startled from his reverie by a petty officer who approached him.

“Excuse me, sir.”

“Yes, Petty Officer?”

“You have an emergency ship to shore call, sir.”

Harm’s mouth went dry; his first thought was of Mac. He hurried to answer his call.

“Harm?”

“Mac? Are you okay?” Harm had dozens of scenarios going through his mind and all of them were bad. The old fear of losing her rose to the surface immediately.

“I’m fine, honey – it’s not me.” Where would she begin?

“What is it?”

“Harm… Mattie has been in an accident. She was taking a flying lesson when the weather took a bad turn. Her instructor had landed the plane and they were taxiing down the runway when they collided with another plane.”

Silence on the line.

“Harm?”

“I’m here. Is Tom with her?”

“Yes, we all are. Your grandmother and I came out late last night. I know I should have called right away, but I wanted to make sure you had finished your quals before I told you what was going on.”

“How is she?”

“She hasn’t regained consciousness yet, Harm. She is more stable than she was last night, but until she regains consciousness the doctors won’t be able to assess the damage accurately. We have a neurologist on his way from Johns Hopkins. He may be able to tell us more.”

At that moment Harm felt completely powerless to do anything to help the little girl he had loved like a daughter. He was glad that Mac was there for her along with his grandmother.

“I’m due out of here in the morning. The COD is supposed to be here at 0800 our time. I don’t think I’ll be back to Andrews until late Saturday at the earliest.”

“We have it under control here, Harm. I have notified General Creswell about what is going on. He expects to hear from you ASAP. He has your preliminary reports but everything about the new ROEs was delayed due to the possibility of the charges against you. I’m sure that if you explain the circumstances he will allow you to come out here for at least a couple of days.”

Harm was silent, unable to settle the thoughts in his head. He had been thinking of the resolution of a murder charge and possibly the end of a treasured friendship. Now this with Mattie…my God. How would Tom handle this? Could he stand by her in this – could he be there for her?

“Is Tom holding up all right, Mac?”

“He is understandably upset, Harm. I think he's struggling, but so far he is holding up well for Mattie.” For whatever reason, Mac wanted to give Tom the benefit of the doubt. She knew that it could easily be her. She always kept the phrase ‘you’re only as good as your last sober day’ etched into her memory. She had too much to lose now to ever be complacent in her recovery.

“Thank God.” He had been happy for Mattie that she had been able to mend her relationship with her father. It had gone a long way in helping her grow into the strong young lady she had become. He hoped that he would not fail her this time.

“Are you all right, Harm?” Mac had known about the charges against him. They hadn’t had the chance talk at all since he left.

“I’m okay. I just need to get back there now.” He couldn’t begin to put into words how he felt. He had expected to breeze through his investigation, update the ROEs and enjoy his quals. In less than a week he had expected to be back at JAG. Things had not turned out as he had planned. The last two weeks had been a near nightmare and now this.

“You will be soon, Harm. I know you’re in a place were you can’t really talk to me. Just know that I’m here for you and that I love you.”

“Thanks, Mac...I…well, thanks.” He really wished he could tell her he loved her, but he was in CIC surrounded by his subordinates and superiors. “I’ll talk to you soon.”


2045
Friday
April 29th
St. Vincent Hospital
Blacksburg, Virginia



Mac sat on the waiting room chair, shifting uncomfortably. “Maybe I should walk for a while.” She turned to look at Mrs. Rabb.

“It might be a good idea, Mac. You’ve been sitting most of the day, here and at Mattie’s bedside.” Mrs. Rabb’s brow furrowed with concern. She worried that Mac was not resting enough. She had barely slept at all since they arrived on Thursday night. She had to return to JAG on Monday morning. Mrs. Rabb planned on staying even if Harm was able to make it back to Blacksburg before Mac had to return to Washington.

Mac stood and turned again to Mrs. Rabb. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, I’ll be fine. I just hope Tom comes back soon. I have a very bad feeling about him, Mac.”

She had seen his type when she was a young girl, even before she had been ‘hired out’ to the Rabb family – her father’s friends who frequented the bar they lived above.
All Tom had been able to do was cry and say over and over, “My little girl.’ The self-pity was evident in his tone of voice. ‘She’s all I’ve got,’ he had said.

It was about him, not about what Mattie was suffering or what she could suffer in the future. She would need someone who had the strength to help her through this. Tom didn’t seem to her to be someone who was capable of doing that. Alcoholism was a disease, but a person who would not recognize it and treat it was the worst kind of coward, in Mrs. Rabb’s opinion. They had not seen him since late last night. She had known where he was going.

Mac had nodded and then started down the hallway to the cafeteria. She thought Mrs. Rabb might be right, but she hoped not. When she had spoken to Tom on that Christmas Eve so long ago, she believed that she sensed an ability to put Mattie first in that situation. She hoped that he would be strong enough to do that once again.

As she turned to corner toward the hospital coffee shop, she saw Jen walking toward her.

“Ma’am?” Jen’s voice was nearly cracking with emotion. She had gotten there as quickly as she could after she secured for the day

“Jennifer?” Mac waited for her.

“How is she?” Her eyes were huge with concern.

“There have been no changes, Jen, but she’s holding her own.” Mac knew that Jen had loved Mattie as a sister. This had to be affecting her deeply.

The tears that Jen had kept at bay since she heard the news were now spilling down her cheeks. Mac reached for her arm.

“Jen, she’s going to come out of this.” She refused to believe that Mattie would not pull through. She knew she must stay positive for Mattie’s sake and that Jen would have to be too.

“I’m sorry.” Jen tried to compose herself quickly. She took a handkerchief out of the pocket of her jacket and wiped her tears.

“Come on, let’s go get a cup of coffee and then we can go see her.”

They each got a cup of coffee and sat down.

“Was Gunny not able to get away?”

“He is accompanying Major McBurney and Lieutenant Vukovic to Iraq. He left this afternoon.” Victor had been great about Jen being so preoccupied with Mattie.

Mac thought that it might be a good idea for McBurney to take the gunny; he would need someone to watch his back with Vukovic. She wondered what the general had been thinking by putting those two together so soon after their altercation in San Diego. Maybe that had been the point; you never really knew with General Creswell.

Jen and Mac returned to the waiting area just outside Mattie’s room. Mrs. Rabb was standing beside Mattie’s bed. They could see her speaking to Mattie. Mac stepped just inside the door. She could hear Mrs. Rabb telling her that Harm was on his way and that her father had just stepped out for a little while.

“Sarah?”

Mrs. Rabb was startled. “I’m just trying to coax Mattie back over to this side of the world.” She smiled. “I think we should talk to her, as much as we can. I have always believed that patients who are in this state can hear us on some level or another.”

She walked to the doorway where Mac was. She looked at Jennifer and said hello.

“I think Jen wants to see Mattie.” Mac and Mrs. Rabb had been given expressed permission from Tom to be at her bedside, one at a time.

Jen spoke up. “I won’t be long; I just brought her something that I thought she would like.” Jen lifted her iPod so that they could see it. It had her headphones attached so that Mattie would be able to listen to her favorite music.

“Excellent. What a wonderful idea.” Mrs. Rabb decided that they would just take a chance, and if the nurses said she had to stay outside they would do as they were asked.
Jen crept into the room as she exited.

“Speak to her, honey, I think it might help. Try to stay calm and keep your tone of voice even.” Mrs. Rabb was giving her instructions from the doorway.

Mac looked at Mrs. Rabb and smiled. Her frame of mind had changed dramatically since they were informed of Mattie’s accident. She had become totally focused on her, talking about the possible ways for her to recover, speaking of other patients she had cared for who had recovered fully and gone back to their lives. She never spoke of the negative and wouldn’t let Mac even consider it.

She had said, ‘There will plenty of time to consider other options. We need to stay positive for Mattie’s sake.’ Mrs. Rabb seemed to exude hope and it had been contagious. She had been able to lay her grief aside to help care for Mattie.

They all took a shift that evening and into the next day, speaking to Mattie and playing her favorite music.


1735 Zulu
Saturday
April 30th
Somewhere over Eastern Europe.



Gunny opened his laptop and booted it up. He decided to drop Jen an email even though he knew she wouldn’t see it until she got back to work Monday. She had told him that she would be spending the weekend in Blacksburg with Mattie. She had been nearly inconsolable when she had first heard about the accident. She had eventually reined her feelings in, though, and stayed in touch as much as she could by phone with the colonel, who kept her posted on the girl’s progress. Mattie had not made a lot of progress so far, though. He frowned at the thought, and he hoped that would change soon.

Lieutenant Vukovic noticed Gunny on his laptop and smirked. He hadn’t thought the gunny could handle technology of any kind. He had to be almost 40 and enlisted. He wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t have a cell phone. Why they hadn’t insisted he retire after he had his knee surgery was beyond Vukovic.

“Is there a problem, Lieutenant?” McBurney could not help but notice his expression since he was sitting across from him.

“Oh, no sir.”

The last thing he needed now was to get into it with the major. He plastered an expression of fake respect across his face. He would do his penance for a while, but he knew he would get back in the general’s good graces. He had volunteered to accompany Major McBurney on this case. The general had been impressed with his idea, as he had known he would be.

This would be a high profile case. A marine had been captured on film shooting an unarmed civilian in a mosque, in less than 24 hours it was being seen on every news service in the world. He would be sitting second chair on the defense team of the Marine along with the major. They would be going up against a very highly respected Marine JAG. He intended to be sure he made an impression on them all.


0630
Sunday
May 1st
Andrews Air Force Base
Langley, Virginia


The C-130 had just touched down and Harm gathered his gear, getting ready to leave the plane. It had been a long flight. He had tried to sleep but had been unable to. He had been so worried about Mattie; she had already been through so much in her lifetime. She had to come out of this. She still had so much living yet to do.

Harm looked at his watch; he could be on his way to Blacksburg in about an hour if he planned it right. He hoped Mac would call this morning. He needed to hear from her, but couldn’t call her on her cell because of the hospital regulations.

He had spoken with General Creswell before he left the Kennedy. The general had told him to take all the time he needed. He was grateful; he didn’t know if he would have been able to stay in Washington and at JAG if he had not been given the opportunity to be with her now.

He had hoped to be here late last night, but they had a six-hour delay in Germany. He wanted to talk to Mac but he was glad she was with Mattie, even if that made her unreachable for while. He hoped Tom was with her too.


1300
Sunday
May 1st
St Vincent’s Hospital
Intensive Care Unit


Harm walked toward the nurse’s station with his heart in his throat. She had to be all right – he could not lose her. He was focused on the nurse at the desk and was about to ask for Mattie’s room number when Tom came out of nowhere. He was in Harm’s face and smelled of alcohol so strongly that Harm drew back from him, as did the nurse standing behind the nurse’s station.

“I can’t find my girl…she’s dead…Oh God, she’s dead.” He looked at the nurse. “Where the hell is she? What did you do to her?”

The nurse tried to speak but Tom refused to hear her.

“No, no, no…I know that you know …something.”

His words were loud and seemed to echo off of the walls. Harm grabbed him by both arms.

“Stop it.”

He couldn’t stand to hear another word. It couldn’t be true. The very sound of those words being spoken were so repulsive to him that he nearly lost what little he had to eat that day.

“Harm?” Mac was walking down the hallway toward him with a man he had never seen before.

Harm let go of Tom and fully turned toward her. Tom grasped the nurses’ station to keep from falling down.

“Mac? Where’s Mattie...She’s not…”

Mac walked even more swiftly toward him.

“No, this is Tom’s sponsor from AA. Chris Butler.”

Tom recognized him then and nearly fell toward his sponsor. “Chris, they won’t tell me – I know she’s dead, my little girl, she’s gone, just like her mother. I’m going to lose her too.” Tom began to sob uncontrollably.

Harm could barely stand to hear him speak. He looked at Tom’s sponsor.

“Get him out of here.” He knew if he had to hear much more he would have thrown him out himself.

Chris looked at Mac as he braced Tom on his feet. “I’ll get him sobered up. I’ll be in touch.” Mac nodded and watched him walk away with Tom.

“Where is she, Mac?” Harm’s voice had an edge.

“Come with me. She is responding now, Harm. The neurologist from Johns Hopkins is reviewing her new CT scan as we speak. I just didn’t want to say too much in front of Tom. In his state of mind he could demand to see her and I don’t think either of them needs that now.”

Mac took his hand and led him down the hallway and through a set of double doors labeled ‘Critical Care.’ They walked to the end of the hall, and as he looked into the room at the very end he saw Mattie. She was lying with her head elevated and was wide awake. Jen stood on one side of her and Mrs. Rabb stood on the other. Her face was cut and was bruised and both of her legs were in splints. She had a cast on her left arm.

Harm was so relieved that she was conscious that his knees nearly buckled. Running into Tom and hearing his worst fears spoken aloud had shaken him to the core. He stopped at the foot of her bed.

“Hey, champ.” He hoped his voice would not betray his feelings at that moment.

“Hey.” Her voice was barely there because of the respirator that had been in place just 24 hours before. “They just moved me down here.”

Harm nodded, unable to construct a sentence in his head just now. He was so glad she was still alive, that he hadn’t lost her. Mac came to his rescue.

“I found him looking for you in ICU. I got him redirected.” She took his hand that he had at his side and gave it a squeeze.

He cleared his throat. “Yeah.”

Mattie managed a grin. “You can kiss me hello, I don’t hurt…right here.” She pointed to the right side of her forehead. “No hugs, though…I’m not ready for that.”

Harm walked over to her bedside and kissed the spot not bruised or cut, hoping Mattie wouldn’t see the tears forming in his eyes.

Mac decided she would try and lighten the mood a bit. “You’ll have to excuse Harm, Mattie. He’s been on a plane for the last two days.”

“That’s okay, Harm; I’ve been kind of out of it for the past few days too.” She joked back in her raspy voice, eliciting a chuckle from everyone in the room.

Mrs. Rabb thought this was a good time for them to leave Harm and Mattie alone for a moment. She looked at Mac, who seemed to understand what she was thinking.

“Mattie, I think we girls will take a break and let you and Harm catch up. We’ll be back, but remember, not -too- much talking.” With that Mrs. Rabb led the way out of the room.

Harm sat down beside Mattie’s bed and took her hand. He gave her a soft smile.
“It’s going to be okay, Mats.”

“I know. Have you seen my Dad?” Mattie searched his face.

“Yeah, but he’s not doing too well now, Mattie. Mac called his sponsor and he’s trying to help him get…adjusted to what’s going on now.” Harm wouldn’t say he was drunk but he knew by what he had said Mattie would figure it out. He would not lie and say he was fine. Mattie would see right through that, even in the state she was in now. He had never lied to her; he wouldn’t start now.

Mattie did understand. She frowned slightly and drew a deep breath.

“I shouldn’t have gone up that day.”

“Hey, you can’t take this on. You had no way of knowing what would happen.” He gave her hand a squeeze. “You’re still here, Mattie. And you’re going to get better.”

“Don’t leave me, Harm.”

“I won’t. I swear it.” Harm closed his other hand over their clasped hands.


1435
Sunday
May 1st
St. Vincent’s hospital
Blacksburg, Virginia


Harm walked into the waiting area while Mattie slept. He saw Mac curled up uncomfortably on the sofa. She was resting her head on her hand and had apparently nodded off. He walked up to her quietly and touched her arm.

“Hey, sleepyhead.” He gave her an amused smile.

Mac startled awake and looked up at him.

“I’m sorry, I was just coming down to check on you two.” She scooted down to allow him to sit in the corner of the very uncomfortable sofa. Harm placed his arm on the back of it and pulled her close to him.

“Hello.” He kissed her on her cheek and then quickly on the lips.

“Hi.”

Harm leaned back enough to really look at her face. “How much sleep are you getting, anyway?”

“Thanks a lot, Harm.” She smirked at him, thinking she must look awful. “Do I look that bad?”

“Stop it, Mac. You just look tired. I can worry about you, can’t I?” Harm’s voice was gentle but firm. He was glad she was going home tonight. “You still need to take care of yourself.” He was still studying her face.

“I know. I’m going home in a couple of hours and I’ll catch upon my rest then.” She tucked her head under his chin and hugged him to her. She let out a satisfied sigh. It was so good to see him. These last weeks had been hell for them both.

“What about you, Harm…are you going to be okay? About Sturgis, I mean.” She lifted her head from his shoulder and looked at him.

“Yeah, I think so. We spoke before he left on the COD. He left for the States with a witness that we used to assist in clearing me of the murder charges. A witness he should have spoken to before he decided to charge me.” He shook his head slightly. “I don’t know, Mac. I don’t know if our friendship is going to survive this.”

Mac listened and took his hand. She hoped that they would come to some type of truce in this. She and Sturgis had had their moments too, but he and Harm had been friends since they were in their first year at the Academy. She looked into his eyes.

“One thing at a time, Harm.”

He leaned his dead down slightly and kissed her.

“I’m glad you’re here.” He reached over and placed his hand on her tummy and he was promptly thumped from the inside. “Hey.” His smile beamed full force.

“She’s been really active for the last couple of days. I’ve been a little stressed and she picked up on it right away. I don’t think she’s sleeping much either.” She placed her hand next to Harm’s on her stomach.

Harm was suddenly serious again. “Mac, I don’t want you to overdo it.”

“I’m not, Harm. I told you I’ll rest when I get home, although I do hate leaving you again.” She hugged him to her again.

“I never realized how much the work at JAG took us away from D.C. until I didn’t get to go with you.” She still missed working cases with him. He had truly been her best partner.

“I know.”

He had missed her. He knew she would be all right alone, but he had just wanted to be with her. This last incident with Sturgis and his career in general had given him a lot of cause to do some soul searching.

The charges directed at him made him feel as though everything he had ever done in his career had meant nothing. His help had come from an Iraqi colonel. He just didn’t know anymore. The only thing he did know was that he was going to see Mattie through this time in her life and build a life with Mac and their baby. Everything else, as far as he was concerned, was secondary.


1530
Monday
May 2nd
JAG headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Faith sat at her computer terminal and clicked to view her e mail. She saw right away that she had one from Michael. She opened it and read:

‘Lady Sailor,

Do you miss me yet?

Michael’

Faith frowned, what was that? ‘Lady Sailor?’

She smiled to herself as she thought of a response and sent it back immediately. Her reply read:

‘Mister Marine’

No…not yet.

Faith’


1945
Thursday
May 5th
Martyrs Mosque
Karbala, Iraq


Major McBurney, Lieutenant Vukovic and Gunnery Sergeant Galindez waited outside the mosque. They were escorted by two heavily armed Marines. They had returned to the mosque to investigate their case further. Mike was surprised that the lieutenant had been so zealous in his defense of the young Marine accused in this case.

The lieutenant had studied the video tape over and over, especially after he had spoken with the ZNN reporter. Holloman had been so callous in his remarks that even Vukovic had been put off by them. He had made it clear that it was all about getting the lead story, and not the Marine being accused of murder.

The Marine’s side could not be told. It might upset the folks at home to know that insurgents wired themselves with explosives, so that when they were approached by coalition troops for capture or even medical assistance when they were wounded, they could be blown away.

One of the Marine escorts had given the all clear, and he and the other Marine escort stood watch outside while the rest of the party entered the mosque cautiously. Gunny went up first and was followed by Lieutenant Vukovic. He looked the room over, trying to recreate the picture he saw in his mind’s eye. On film the Iraqi who had allegedly been creeping away from PFC Smith appeared to be reaching for something on the floor, though there appeared to be nothing there. He walked to the approximate place and noticed a notch in one of the boards. He lifted the board.

“Major, I think you should see this, sir.”

There within easy reach was an IED which could possibly have leveled the whole mosque, killing everyone inside. PFC Smith’s actions had in fact saved the lives of everyone inside that building.

Mike walked toward the lieutenant while Gunny kept watch from one of windows of the minaret. As the major knelt to get a closer look, Gunny saw a sniper stand up from the rooftop of a nearby building. The man fired and Gunny took cover to the side of the window.

“Sniper!” Gunny saw the major take a defensive position, but the lieutenant seemed stunned. He was in the line of fire so he tackled the lieutenant, knocking him to his knees.

“Get down, sir!” Gunny shouted over multiple shots being fired at the mosque. The Marines standing guard returned fire and also took cover inside the mosque.

Within a few short moments they were able to isolate where the gunfire had come from. They were able to take one of the snipers out and the other surrendered. As Gunny and one of their Marine escorts made their way toward the insurgent who had surrendered, the lieutenant spoke to Major McBurney.

“Maybe we can learn more about what happened that night. They had to have been watching this mosque so that we wouldn’t find the explosives.”

“If he doesn’t try to blow us to hell first, Lieutenant.”

Mike’s eyes never left Gunny as he assisted the younger Marine in searching their new prisoner. The lieutenant followed his eyes and noticed that the sleeve of Gunny’s shirt was torn and bloody from the elbow down. The surrender was without incident and they made their way back to MEF Headquarters.


1800
Friday
May 6th
Officers Quarters
MEF Headquarters
Karbala, Iraq



Lieutenant Vukovic was stretched out on his rack when Major McBurney walked by his temporary quarters. He stepped up to his doorway.

“Lieutenant.”

The lieutenant stood and came to attention.

“Stand easy.”

Vukovic stood at ease.

“You did a great job with your investigation of this case, Lieutenant. You helped keep PFC Smith out of Leavenworth.”

They had been able to clear him with the evidence they had been able to gather, in spite of the firefight. Their prisoner had been more cooperative than they had believed he would be as well.

“Thank you, sir,” he said sincerely.

He was amazed that after all that had passed between them, the major would give him credit for anything in this case. He knew if the tables had been turned he would not have done the same.

“You may not be thanking me when I tell you what the CO 1st Marines and General Creswell have in mind for you.”

“Sir?”

“They would like you accompany the Marines back into Karbala to provide ROE advice in a field environment. You are to report at 1900.”

“Yes sir.”

“Outside of what we saw yesterday, Lieutenant, have you ever been in combat before?”

“No sir, but I can’t say I haven’t been shot at. Sir, may I ask a question?”

“You may.”

“Is the gunny all right?”

“Yes, Lieutenant – he just had a superficial wound to his arm. He must have incurred it during the firefight.”

“Glad to hear it, sir.” There didn’t appear to be any guile in his voice.

“Very well. Good luck.” McBurney turned and walked back to his quarters, thinking that Vukovic might understand this environment better than he thought.


1645
Friday May 6th
JAG headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia



Bud was closing a case file on his desk when Mac knocked on his open door.

“Have a minute, Commander?”

“Yes ma’am. Please come in.” He started to stand but Mac waved him off. She closed the door behind her.

“I’d like to speak with you about something. Are you aware of the ‘situation’ between Harm and Sturgis?”

Bud leaned slightly forward. “Yes, ma’am.”

He knew what the colonel had on her mind, and he wanted to try and put her at ease without involving himself too deeply. Somehow just now he thought that being in between those two was a bad place to be.

“Ma’am, if I may, they have been friends for a very long time. It seems to me that they have always had their differences. They’ll find a way to work this out.”

Mac nodded. “You seem to have been able to mend your relationship with Sturgis.”

“You could say that. Professionally we get along well. I don’t think you could say we were friends, ma’am. I don’t think Commander Turner is comfortable with being close to anyone that he works with.”

She gave him a tight smile. She knew he was right; she knew from her own experiences with Sturgis that he didn’t seem comfortable knowing any of them…well.

“I hope it works out, ma’am.”

Mac nodded.

“Will you be going to Blacksburg this weekend?” Bud changed the subject because this one was beginning to make -him- uncomfortable.

“Yes, I’ll be leaving from here shortly. Jen is planning on coming tomorrow morning. I think she’s expecting a call from Gunny tonight.”

“She has been great about keeping us up to date on Mattie’s progress. I’m really glad for the commander’s sake as well as hers that Mattie is recovering.”

Jen visited her namesake and her twin sister at least once a week.

“I am too. By the way, Harm should be back Monday. Mrs. Rabb will be staying in Blacksburg until Mattie is released.”

“That’s good to hear, ma’am.”

Bud heaved an inward sigh of relief; with Major McBurney and Lieutenant Vukovic in Iraq he had been a bit overwhelmed this week.

Mac stood and started to leave the room. Bud stood behind his desk. He knew that he had not given her a lot of answers as far as Harm and Commander Turner were concerned, but he really didn’t have them. Commander Turner had never really been an easy person to know. He respected him, but he had never had the mentoring type of relationship with him that he had with the commander and the colonel. He just hoped they would work it out before they had to oppose each other in court.

Mac turned and gave him a sad smile. “Thanks Bud.”


1845
Friday
May 6th
St. Vincent’s Hospital
Blacksburg, Virginia



Harm and Tom Johnson walked down the hallway toward Mattie’s room. They had been able to come to an agreement on how to handle their situation in a way that would benefit Mattie most.

Over the course of the last week, Tom had been able to get sober and make some important decisions. He knew that he had not recovered enough to handle Mattie’s situation at this point. He didn’t think he could stand to fail her anymore. One of the best things he had ever done for her since she lost her mother was to agree to allow Harm to be her guardian. He could not give her up completely, but he would allow Harm to resume his guardianship.

For Harm’s part, he was also ready to do whatever was best for Mattie. As disgusted as he had been with Tom, making an enemy of him would have hurt Mattie more than she had already been. When she had forgiven her father for the accident that had killed her mother, she truly began to be able to reach out to other people and be happy for the first time in her life. He wanted that for her, more than anything else. She needed that to be able to focus on her rehabilitation. Her level of function after she healed was still in question.

Tom looked at Harm just before they reached the door of her hospital room. “I think I need to do this alone.” They stopped, and Harm nodded his understanding.

Tom walked into Mattie’s room. His appearance was far better than it had been when Harm first arrived. He was still feeling hung over and very raw from coming down from his drinking binge; that was apparent from the look on his face. His face was still ruddy and eyes were swollen from crying.

“Dad?” Mattie looked at him questioningly.

“Hey, kid.” He was praying for the strength to do this the right way.

“Are you okay?” Her face showed genuine concern.

“Not really, but I will be.” Honesty always worked best with his daughter.

She reached for his hand and he took it.

“I messed up again, kiddo. I guess I’m not as strong as I thought I was.” He was thanking God that she wasn’t angry with him. He looked into her face and saw acceptance and not a little sadness.

“Please don’t hate me, honey.” He could not keep himself from pleading with her.

“I don’t, Dad.”

She really didn’t. She had learned a lot from her Alateen meetings. When she stopped blaming herself for his alcoholism, she was able to forgive him for the times he had failed she and her mother in the past. The knowledge of that made her less angry at the whole situation. She was also secure in the knowledge that Harm would never leave her. He and Mac and Mrs. Rabb had quickly stepped in to keep the bottom from dropping out of her life.

“Just get better.”

“I will, honey. I promise.”

He tried to smile, hearing the promises he had made in the past to her and to her mother over and over in his head. Suddenly the room seemed crowded with only him and Mattie in it. He felt an overpowering need for a drink, a need so strong that he knew if he didn’t check himself into rehab quickly he would never be able to look at Mattie in the eye again.

“I’m going to go now. I’ll keep up with your progress through Harm. I’ll be thinking of you… every day.” He stood and backed away. He didn’t want to fall apart in front of her after all he had done over the last week to disappoint her.

“I love you, baby girl.”

Mattie watched him leave the room, knowing there was only a 50/50 chance that he would really check himself into rehab.

“I love you too, Dad.” And with that, he was gone.

Harm walked in right after he left. “Are you okay, Mattie?”

She sighed heavily. “Yeah…I’m glad you’re here.” She looked up at Harm.

He took her hand. “I am too.” He winked at her and tried to get her to smile.

She did, with a tear gliding down her cheek.


0230
Saturday
May 7th
Holiday Inn
Blacksburg, Virginia


Mac lay on her back next to her husband, listening to his soft snore. He had been exhausted when she arrived Friday evening. It had taken her, Mattie and Mrs. Rabb to convince him to leave the hospital and get some real sleep. He hadn’t left since he arrived last weekend. He’d kept his promise to Mattie to never leave her. Mrs. Rabb had taken the room so that she and Harm could sleep in shifts, but Harm would not take one.

Mac convinced him to leave the only way she knew how. She told him that she wouldn’t leave if he didn’t. He couldn’t stand the thought of her sleeping in one of the chairs or the sofa in the waiting room. They left the hospital about 2300.

By the time Mac had showered and walked back into the bedroom Harm was out. She padded over to the bed and took off his shoes and belt. She smiled, thinking he looked so young, lying on his back, his mouth slightly open and his limbs heavy with sleep. She had missed him so much.

The intimacy of sleeping in the same bed, the closeness that she had come to rely on, had been absent for nearly a month. She knew it was selfish to covet his time now; he was focused on Mattie, as he should be, but she missed having him to herself.

She shook her head, scolding herself for her thoughts and then covered him with the other half of the bed spread. She slipped onto the other side of the bed after getting an extra blanket from the closet for herself. She turned on her side, facing him, and watched the rise and fall of his chest until it lulled her to sleep.


The next morning...


Mac woke to the feeling of Harm brushing her hair back from her face and the smell of coffee. She opened her eyes to see him smiling at her.

“Hey.” Harm had gotten up and was already dressed.

“Hey yourself.” She sat up slowly and slightly stiff from their uncomfortable bed.
“I know I smell coffee.”

Harm got up from the side of the bed and took one of the coffee cups that he had just brought in for them and handed it to her. “I thought you could use some, even if it is decaf.”

“I’m almost used to it.” In truth she hated it, but it was better than nothing. Decaf did have a small amount of caffeine, didn’t it? She smiled at him and took a sip. “Not bad.”

“Thanks, I made it myself,” he teased. “We’d better get going. I want to be there for Mattie’s PT session this morning. She only gets one today. She should be getting started in about an hour.” He offered his hand. “Come on, Marine, let’s get moving.”

Mac took it and let him help her up. She was just beginning to feel awkward with her growing belly. She was almost self-conscious. She stood and quickly went to get her kit and got ready to leave. As she dressed to go, she took a look at herself in the mirror. It seemed in the past week or so her stomach had gotten so much larger. She had never been out of shape in her life. Even though Mac exercised and was not overweight at all, the changes in her body were beginning to make her feel uncomfortable. Harm was being as sweet as ever, but this was the first time in a long time that he had woken her up with just a cup of coffee. Coffee usually came…after.

Harm walked up behind Mac and saw her studying her thickening waist intently, her brow furrowing with what Harm mistook as pain. “Are you okay, Mac?”

Mac was startled. “Oh, I’m fine.” She immediately felt silly for what she had been thinking. She knew Harm loved her and she was carrying the evidence that he wanted her. Hormones, that’s what this was. “Let’s go.”


1040
Sunday
May 8th
Baghdad International Airport
Baghdad, Iraq



Major Mike McBurney and Gunnery Sergeant Victor Galindez both settled into their seats, waiting for the plane to taxi down the run way. Lieutenant Vukovic would be staying on for a brief TAD with the 1st Marines.

Mike leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to sort out all that had happened in the last 48 hours. Vukovic had volunteered to stay – had really asked to be allowed to stay. He had made a good impression on the commanding general and the prosecutor in this case, Major Atkins. He would be TAD at least six weeks until the permanent JAG field officer could be installed. When he had spoken to General Creswell about it he did not seem surprised. It was as though this had been the plan all along.

Vukovic had come to his quarters last night and asked to speak with him. He still wasn’t sure how to take what he had said. He had apologized for his behavior in San Diego. He had taken responsibility for his part of their –disagreement-.

Mike had asked him, “Why all the innuendo with regard to Commander Coleman and even the case we were trying?”

“I have no excuse, sir.” He didn’t have one. He had taken an instant dislike of the major. He had wanted what McBurney had, the respect of his peers and his subordinates – something he knew he didn’t have, and he hated him for it.

“Why the change of heart, Lieutenant?”

“A number of things, sir. Some are hard to explain.”

“Give it a try, Lieutenant.” The major still wasn’t sure he wasn’t trying to play him.

“Well...sir, the respect and trust our client put in us, his willingness to lay down his life to protect me or anyone else. He is only 19 years old. You don’t want to know what I was like at 19.” The lieutenant caught his informality. “Sorry, sir.”

“Go on.”

“Sir, being here, seeing our job for what it really is … I just think I want to do what I can to make their jobs easier, I mean for the Marines here on the ground. They are the ones putting it on the line.”

“You put it on the line this week too, Lieutenant.”

Vukovic nodded. “Yes sir. We all did.”

Mike raised his brows, thinking ‘humility?’ Maybe Vukovic did learn something after all. Faith would love this.

He was startled from his thoughts as the plane began to pick up speed and take off.

Mike looked across the aisle at Gunny, who was looking out of the window of the plane. “Doing okay, Gunny?”

“Oh, yes sir.” He smiled. He was ready to go home. He felt their near miss more keenly this time than he had before. The thought that he might not get home to Jen had occurred to him for the first time. The plane could not get him back to her fast enough.


0700
Monday
May 9th
Harm and Mac’s Apartment
North of Union Station



Mac stood in front of the full length mirror in their bedroom. She buttoned the jacket of her uniform. It was getting almost too tight. She would have to get another or have this one altered. She could hear Harm humming to himself as he shaved in the bathroom. She sighed. They had come in late last night and had both fallen into bed.

She was still feeling a little off-balance and self-conscious about her body. Harm’s preoccupation with Mattie and the fact that they had spent most of the last week apart meant that they hadn’t really had a chance to make love since he returned from the Kennedy. As she looked at herself in the mirror she started to wonder if it wasn’t because she was getting so huge that Harm was put off by her.

Harm had stepped into the room and she saw his reflection in the mirror standing behind her.

“Honey, what is it?” Mac looked so upset. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” She stepped away from the mirror and down the steps into the living room. “Are you ready?”

Harm stood at the top of steps, looking so fit and handsome in his summer whites. Mac looked down at her swollen tummy and then looked away. Pregnant or not, looking at him like that still made her weak in the knees.

“Something is wrong. Mac, talk to me.” Harm walked over to her and turned her toward him. He tipped her chin up so that she had to look at him.

“What is it?” The love and sincerity in his blue-green gaze nearly melted her heart.

Mac didn’t want to tell him; she felt so childish suddenly, but she had no choice.

“Oh…I look like a hand grenade!” She tugged her chin away from his and stepped away from him. She hadn’t meant to say it quite that way, but there it was.

“What?” Harm had to try hard not to laugh out loud. “Hand grenade?” He hadn’t been able to keep the chuckle out of his voice.

“It’s not funny.” This was getting worse by the minute. She sounded like a big baby, even to herself.

Harm walked up to her and pulled her into his arms. “Honey, I’m sorry.” He was still laughing, though – he couldn’t help it.

She pretended to punch him in the chest. “Jerk.”

“What’s making you feel like that? I think you look beautiful.” He leaned back and looked at her, giving her one of his most charming smiles.

“I know I’m being silly, I’m sorry too. I just feel so awkward. And I…I’ve missed you. I’ve missed us.” She looked at his lips and then into his eyes.

He had been preoccupied with Mattie, but he had missed her too – she hadn’t been aware of how much. He looked at her intently. “You’re not thinking I don’t want you, are you?”

Mac looked away from him, still too embarrassed to admit what she had been feeling.

“That could not be further from the truth.” He turned her face to his and kissed her softly on the lips. Mac deepened the kiss and Harm pulled her into his arms. As she slipped her arms around his neck her internal clock told her that if they did not leave for work now they would be late.

“We should go.” She broke the kiss but kept him close to her.

“I know.” He looked at her and kissed her quickly and started to loosen his hold on her.

“So I don’t look like a hand grenade?” She looked up at him questioningly.

Harm laughed again in spite of himself. “Don’t say that.”

“I do, don’t I?” What a choice of words – she would never live that one down.

“No, it just sounds funny.”

“Right…Let’s go…we’ll be late.”

She picked up her cover and briefcase from the dining room table and Harm followed still laughing. ‘Hand grenade’ – he would have to remember that one.


Chapter 35


2130
Wednesday
May 11th
Reagan International Airport.
Washington D.C.



Major Mike McBurney and Gunnery Sergeant Victor Galindez made their way down the concourse toward baggage claim. They had flown commercial from Germany with a layover long enough to get some chow and a shower. The airport was less busy this late in the evening; both men were far away in their thoughts. Gunny was trying to decide whether he should call Jen this late. Mike just wanted to get home and get back to JAG tomorrow. Faith wouldn’t believe the turn around that Vukovic seemed to be experiencing. Time would tell though. Mike was also ready to try a case in a courtroom instead of a tent, for awhile anyway.

Jen and Gunny’s relationship had grown considerably in the last couple of months but still there was no real commitment made. Gunny still didn’t know how he felt about that. He knew he cared for her deeply, he loved her, but that was something he hadn’t said to anyone in a long time and he wasn’t sure he was ready to start now. As they approached the escalator they looked down to the lower level and saw Jen with her arms folded across her chest looking for them.

She smiled at Gunny.

“Hello.”

She wasn’t sure how he would feel about this. She had gotten their itinerary as a matter of course at work, so she knew their flight numbers and what time they would be in. She just didn’t want to wait until tomorrow to see Victor. She had missed him. She looked at the major and quickly.

“Hello, sir.”

“Petty Officer Coates.” Mike nodded toward her; he could feel the tension in the air kick up a notch when Gunny saw Jen waiting for them. He felt like an intruder suddenly and walked swiftly ahead of them toward baggage claim.

Jen and Gunny followed, hanging back just enough not be overheard.

“I hope you don’t mind. I know I could have waited until tomorrow.”

Gunny answered quickly “No...Dont worry about it”

He had almost sounded short with her. Jen quickly looked up at him, the question still in her eyes. Gunny answered in the most even tone he could muster.

‘It’s okay Jen.”

He just wanted to get the major on his way to their government-issue vehicle so that he could be away from him and alone with Jen. He kept her at arm’s length, not trusting himself to stand too closely. He thought he must be getting soft in his old age because he was having a hell of a time keeping his hands off of her.

Mike had gotten his sea bag from baggage claim and had started back toward Jen and Gunny.

“Will you be taking Gunny back to his car Coates?” Gunny had left his car behind at JAG.

‘Yes sir, if that is all right?” She knew it would be, she asked as a courtesy.

“That’s fine.” He walked past them and started for the shuttle to take him to the parking lot. “See you in the morning.”

“Yes sir” they both said in unison.

Gunny continued to walk toward the baggage claim and picked up his sea bag. He turned and walked past Jen.

“Where are you parked?” He just wanted to get somewhere that he could at least hold her without embarrassing himself.

“Victor?” Jen stopped and looked at him. “Are you mad at me for coming here tonight?”

“No.”

He had said it almost too loudly. He stopped and turned back to look at her. She was standing there giving him that look that made his heart squeeze in his chest. It was her eyes that got him every time. He was lost from the time he had first really looked into them.

He had been talking to her about her ‘friend’ Pia and also about her friendship with Commander Rabb. Now he saw sincerity, apprehension and innocence and if, he were honest, he hoped he saw love in her eyes. All of her emotions seemed to reflect in them and made him want to know more. She had seemed to him world-wise and naive all at the same time.

“I know I should have probably…” Jen stopped speaking because Gunny put his sea bag down and was walking toward her with a look that, if Jen hadn’t really known him, would have frightened her. His brow was drawn into a frown and his eyes shone with an intensity that nearly took her breath away.

Gunny couldn’t take it anymore, he finally didn’t care who saw him. He pulled her into a tight embrace and said,

“No…Jen…I’m glad you’re here.”

His voice was a hoarse whisper, full of barely contained passion as he spoke into her ear. He pulled back and looked at her directly in the eyes for a second before he kissed her. He had always been very private about things like that. He had always given the younger Marines in his units a hard time in the past when their girlfriends showed up right after a deployment. He’d lecture them about ‘exercising control.’ He smiled at the thought as he broke the kiss.

“What are you smiling about?” Jen kissed him again, lightly, and he looked into her eyes again.

“What have you done to me Jen?” Gunny thought that the old-fashioned word would be ‘smitten.’

“Something good, I hope.” She waggled her eyebrows slightly.

“Yeah…it could be” He picked up his sea bag with one hand and circled his other arm around Jen’s waist as they started out to the parking lot.


2210
Same evening
Capital Beltway
Washington D.C.


Mike pushed the button on his speed dial and a familiar voice answered.

“Coleman.” It had been her cell phone number that he called so Faith assumed the call was work related.

“Is this Commander Faith Coleman?” He said with laughter in his voice

“Michael.” She recognized it right away.

He wondered why it was so endearing for Faith to say his given name, his proper name. He had always hated it when his mother had.

“Hey, just thought I’d let you know I was back. I didn’t wake you did I?”

“No, you didn’t. I know I don’t have much of a social life, but I do stay up past 2300. On rare occasions I even stay up till midnight,” she teased.

She had missed him and it was great to hear his voice.

“I don’t know Faith…you’re becoming a real woman of the world.”

“Hey, don’t let it get around. I have a reputation to maintain. How did it go with Vukovic? I was a bit concerned that he was accompanying you.”

“It went better than I expected. It’s a long story. Why don’t we talk about it over dinner tomorrow night? I’ll get you caught up on my week and you can get me up to speed with what’s going on at JAG.”

“You –are- going to buy me a steak…right?”

It had been awhile since they had had dinner together. She couldn’t call this one a pay back for a case won, or lost.

“McMurphy’s?”

“Sounds good.” McMurphy’s was fast becoming their place.

“I guess I have to resort to bribery to get you to tell me what’s going on. I’m coming up on my exit, so I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

He was giving her an out, so she wouldn’t see their dinner as a date. He just wanted to see her and spend some time with her, away from JAG. He wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression.

“Okay, bye”

Mike ended the call and headed off of the Beltway toward his apartment. It was really strange, now that he and Faith had become closer; he felt the need to connect with her in order to feel at home. He didn’t really know where their relationship was going. He just knew he was glad they had it, whatever it was.


1400
Friday
May 13th
St. Vincent Hospital
Blacksburg, Virginia


Mrs. Rabb observed the PT session from across the room. Mattie was sitting in her wheel chair on one end of the parallel bars, resting. Her therapist today was someone she had never seen before but so far she had not made a very good impression.

She seemed young, apparently fresh out of school. Mrs. Rabb had seen her type more times than she cared to remember. She appeared to be very much in love with her authority and the sound of her own voice. Mrs. Rabb caught Mattie’s eye and looking back she gave her a slightly bewildered look. This had been a tough session today. Mattie was having more pain because she was going from IV pain meds to oral medication. She had been nauseated and had trouble following the therapist’s directions.

The therapist for her part seemed to be doing what Mrs. Rabb termed ‘over instruction.’ Mattie had a mild head injury, multiple fractures and was having difficulty processing instructions. Mattie was becoming overwhelmed. An experienced therapist would have known that. She approached Mattie and spoke to her too loudly. It made her flinch and made everyone in the PT department look at her. Mattie told her that she wasn’t feeling well and that she wanted to return to her room. The therapist chided her, not taking her complaint seriously. She told her they would try one more time, again speaking very loudly, causing a look of near panic on Mattie’s face.

Mrs. Rabb stood and walked over to the parallel bars and placed her hand on Mattie’s arm to silently reassure her. She looked at the young therapist.

“I think we’d better get her back to her room. She doesn’t seem to be feeling very well.”

“Are you a family member ma’am?” The therapist spoke with condescension.

“My grandson is her guardian and I am assisting in with her care in his absence.” Mrs. Rabb stood a bit straighter, folding her arms across her chest.

“Well, if she doesn’t start making progress we’re going to have to transfer her to a nursing facility. Her insurance coverage is minimal as it is and if we don’t document more progress soon, she’ll have to be discharged.”

Mattie’s face went from white to red with embarrassment.

Mrs. Rabb had finally had enough.

“Young woman, I want to speak with your supervisor. If that person is not available, I will speak with your department head.”

“I’m sorry ma’am. You just don’t understand how these things work.” The young woman smiled smugly.

“I understand very well how these things work. I was a physical therapist for over 40 years. This session is over.”

Mrs. Rabb ducked down and came up inside the parallel bars. She situated Mattie’s legs carefully on the foot pedals and leg plates and then unlocked her chair. She slowly eased her back and turned her around and took her out of the PT department. As she went she read the name of the department head. She stopped at the reception area. She told the receptionist to tell Ms Porter that she expected to hear from her within the hour, and if she did not that she would take her problem to hospital administration.

Mrs. Rabb wheeled Mattie to the elevators and pushed the button for her floor. Mattie began to cry silently, her face was still burning with embarrassment and hot tears were running down her cheeks.

“Mrs. Rabb, they can’t put me in a nursing home can they? I don’t want to go there.”

The very thought terrified her. She thought that she had been making great progress. Her other therapists had seemed pleased with what she had been able to do so far. She certainly didn’t like the one she had today.

“No one is going to make you go anywhere. You have Harmon and Mac.” She leaned down and looked at Mattie more closely. “You have me too.”

Mattie smiled through her tears. “You’re pretty tough sometimes, aren’t you?”

“Yes, for an old lady, I have to admit, I am.”

She laughed and gave Mattie’s shoulder a slight squeeze. Mrs. Rabb was laughing but she was also very angry at the way she had just seen Mattie embarrassed. There was no excuse for it and she intended to see that something was done about it.


1930
Friday
May 13th
Harm and Mac’s apartment


Mac sat back in her rocking chair and closed her eyes. She wrapped her arms lightly around her growing belly and thought of rocking her baby in this chair. The chair had been delivered just half an hour before. Mac had hurried home to make sure she didn’t miss the delivery man. She and Harm had gone to work in separate cars today because he thought he might have to stay longer. Harm and Bud were working a case together and looked like it would be a late night. Harm would be going to Blacksburg in the morning. He had talked her into staying home; he had been worried that sitting all those hours at the hospital might not be good for her or the baby. She had already done enough of that as far as he was concerned.

The chair was larger than a regular rocking chair. It was the largest one she had ever seen, the perfect size for Harm to rock their baby in. She placed her hands on the arms of the chair and smiled. He could rock HER in this chair it was so big. It was made of a warm brown walnut wood and polished to a satin finish. She imagined handing it down for their daughter to rock her children in. If it was a Rabb rocking chair, it would have to be Rabb size; she thought as she laughed softly and caressed her stomach unaware of her actions. It certainly didn’t match anything in this room but she didn’t care, she knew Harm would love it.

Mac heard his keys in the lock and she turned to look at him as he opened the door. She hadn’t turned any lights on yet and the only light in the room had been from the setting sun.

“Hey, what are you doing sitting here in the dark?”

He flipped on the small lamp by the window. He stopped and took in the sight of her in her in the largest rocking chair he had ever seen.

“Hey sailor, what do you think?” She raised her eyebrows in question.

“What’s this?” He put his cover and briefcase on the dining room table.

“I bought myself a Mother’s Day present last weekend. They just delivered it an hour ago.” She grinned at him mischievously and began to rock it slightly.

“Now, that’s a rocking chair.” He had his hands on his hips and walked around it. His brow was furrowed but he was grinning from ear to ear.

“No Harm, this is a Rabb rocking chair.” She stood up. “Come sit down, I want to see if it fits.” She reached for his hand, gave it a tug and stood, allowing him to sit down.

Harm sat down and scooted back in the seat. It did fit him perfectly with room to spare. He could rest his head on the back of the chair and his forearms rested easily on the arms of the chair.

Mac stood back and gazed at him, she could almost see him in her mind’s eye, holding their baby in his arms and smiling down at her.

“What are you thinking about Mac?”

She walked toward him. “I’m thinking about what you’ll look like rocking our baby in this chair.”

He reached for her hand and pulled her into his lap. “Come here.”

“I was just thinking that you could rock me in this thing. So…do you like it?” She knew he did, she just wanted to hear him say it.

“I do.” He had a thought suddenly. “It’s the perfect chair to rock my little ‘hand grenade’ in.” He waggled his eyebrows and winked at her.

“Oh! Not funny!” she pinched his side. “I knew I never should have said that. I’ll never live that one down.”

Harm was laughing so much that he couldn’t answer her at first. “Come on Mac…I hardly ever get one over on you.”

“You are enjoying this entirely too much.” She turned in his arms and looked at him. He was still laughing, looking happier and more like himself than he had in a long time. Mattie’s accident had taken its toll on him but since she had regained consciousness he had begun to look and act his old self. She touched his cheek with the tips of her fingers and kissed him. She couldn’t resist that smile anymore, she didn’t want to.

“Mmmm if this is what I get for teasing you then I’m going to have to do it more often.”

He kissed her lightly and then put one arm under her knees and the other around her back. “Let’s move this conversation into the other room.” He lifted her in his arms as he stood to walk toward their bedroom.

“Harm, I’m too heavy.” She held onto him tightly around his neck but tried to bring her legs down.

“You’re fine, Mac”

He walked to the steps and then pretended to wobble slightly. “Gee Mac…I don’t know.”

“Hey!” She tapped him on the back with her fist.

Harm laughed and walked up the steps. “Hey, stop it, I might drop you. I wouldn’t want you to explode”

“You just wait Harmon Rabb. After I have this baby, you are in so much trouble.” She was laughing right along with him.

“Looking forward to it Mac.” He lay her down easily on the bed. “Now…where were we?” He said as he followed her down on the bed.


1035
Saturday
May 14th
St. Vincent’s Hospital
Blacksburg, Virginia



Harm made his way up the hallway toward Mattie’s room. He could see Mattie carefully standing with the help of a nurse and his grandmother. She was able to fully bear her weight on both feet but it was very painful. She had fractured 3 ribs and a fracture of her left femur that had required wiring and pinning. The fracture to her left wrist had made functioning as difficult as anything. She still needed some assistance with her balance as well. Harm slowed his pace allowing them to finish their task before his entrance to the room distracted them. Once they got her comfortably into bed, he continued into the room.

“Good morning, ladies.” Harm walked into the room focusing on Mattie.

“Hi” she said wearily. She had just finished her only PT session that day and she was tired and was in quite a bit of pain.

Mrs. Rabb spoke up. “We just got back from her therapy session.” She gave Mattie a reassuring look. “She did very well today. She is out of the parallel bars and she walked 30 feet today.” Mattie had to use a platform walker, since using her left arm on crutches was out of the question. Mrs. Rabb was sure she would only need a cane by the time she went home.

“Mattie, that’s great.” Harm looked at her trying to catch her eye, but she was looking at his grandmother rather sleepily. “Are you all right kiddo?”

“Just tired” She looked at him and tried to smile.

“She just had her pain medicine about 20 minutes ago. It can make her pretty drowsy.” The nurse straightened her blanket on the bed and placed her call light within her reach.

“Sorry Harm.” Mattie had been looking forward to seeing him all week and now she was too tired to talk to him.

“It’s okay kiddo. I’ll be here when you wake up.” He came closer to the side of her bed. He took her right hand and gave it a squeeze.

After Mattie fell asleep Harm and Mrs. Rabb walked down the hallway to the coffee shop.

“I got a phone call last night from a Ms. Porter. She is the head of the PT department here at the hospital. Do you know anything about that?” Harm gave her a sidelong glance.

“I might.” Mrs. Rabb set her jaw and looked at him. She had spoken with the department head later yesterday afternoon. Ms Porter had not defended the younger therapist’s behavior but she hadn’t really agreed with Mrs. Rabb’s interruption of Mattie’s therapy session either. They had agreed that that particular therapist would not be treating Mattie anymore.

They walked to a table and Harm pulled out a chair for his grandmother to be seated. “I think you ruffled a few feathers yesterday Grandma.”

“Good.” She said it smugly. She believed she was right and no one would convince her otherwise.

“What happened?” Harm tried not sound accusing; he just wanted to hear his grandmother’s side of this story.

Mrs. Rabb told him about what had happened the day before and about its effect on Mattie. She also told him about the difference in Mattie’s progress today with a more competent therapist compared to yesterday with the other therapist. She looked at him directly.

“This is something I know about Harmon. We are in a window of opportunity here. Mattie’s progress at this point is crucial and if she is discouraged she will not make progress as she should. She needs to heal on so many levels.”

“Speaking of progress, we may have a problem in another week or so.”

“Insurance?” Mrs. Rabb had known it would be a factor...

“Apparently with Grace Aviation just getting off the ground Tom was only able to afford minimal coverage for them to begin with. She only has another week of hospitalization left and then she will need to be released to my care and home therapy as soon as it can be arranged.” Harm had no idea how they were going to manage this.

“Let her come home with me Harm.” Mrs. Rabb knew she could take care of her. She also knew that Mattie would make a great deal of progress if she was allowed to. “I know I can get her back on her feet.”

This was a lot to ask and Harm wasn’t sure his grandmother was up to something this physical. Mattie was still a lot of work. “I don’t know Grandma.”

“I do. I won’t be on my own Harmon. Sam and Kathie O’Reilly will be there if I need any help. I think she will be fine. She will have to be supervised by a practicing therapist but she won’t need as many visits since she is with me. You know yourself that it is one of the best places to heal.” She smiled at him. She was winning and she knew it.

Harm was being convinced, he should have known better. “I’ll see what I can arrange.”

“Great, I’ll talk to Kathie and Sam .I still have some connections of my own. Let me see what I can do first. They are looking after a few things for me at the farm while I’m here; I know they’d love to help with Mattie.”


1645
Thursday
May 19th
National Naval Medical Center
Bethesda, Maryland



Mac lay back on the exam table, her body draped except for her abdomen. She and Harm were waiting for the ultrasound tech to come into the room. Harm sat on a stool next to the table

“I can’t wait to see her.” Harm’s face seemed to be lit with happiness. His expression was so sweet that Mac reached to touch his face. He took her hand and kissed it and placed it back on his cheek.

“Harm, remember, it may not be a girl. I know we’ve been saying ‘she’ all the time, but you never know.”

She didn’t want him to be disappointed. Imagine, Harm wanting a girl instead of another Rabb in his own image.

“It’s a girl Mac.” He said it with certainty.

The ultrasound tech came into the room, closely followed by Captain Fletcher and also Captain Morrison.

Harm stood “Sir” and turned toward the newly promoted Captain Fletcher “Ma’am.”

Captain Morrison wanted to be sure that Mac was making good progress and that there were no reoccurrences. He was still very concerned about the colonel. Harm was glad was he was there. Worry about Mac still nagged at him. He wanted as many reassurances that he could get that Mac was continuing to recover from her surgery and the disease that threatened to take her away from him.

“Shall we get started?” Capt Morrison said and the tech began.

Harm took Mac’s hand and leaned forward to get a better look at the monitor. The screen was dark at first and then slowly white grainy shadows came into view. Harm and Mac then saw a straight well developed backbone and then the baby turned.

“Do you want to know the baby’s sex?” Captain Fletcher asked.

“Yes, please.” They spoke at the same time.

“It’s a girl.”

Mac and Harm looked at each other and Harm could only chuckle softly under his breath. Then the baby seemed to look up and directly at them. Harm and Mac both drew in their breath sharply.

“Oh….hello” Mac automatically reached for the screen.

“There she is Mac. That’s our girl.” He kissed the back of her hand that he had been holding since this had begun. They could hear her heartbeat steady and strong. The joy rose up in him so quickly that he wanted to laugh out loud.

“Everything looks good so far.” Captain Fletcher stood closer to the ultrasound tech and took the sound head from her. “Let’s have a more thorough look.” The tech stepped back out of the way. She brought the ultrasound head down to the side of Mac’s abdomen where she had had her surgery last fall. She slowly moved the sound head so that she could inspect the area where her ovary had been removed. She moved to the other side looking thoroughly at the right side. Harm looked at Captain Morrison who was watching the ultrasound intently. He tried to discern what he was thinking, but the captain’s face gave away nothing.

“How does she look?” Harm couldn’t keep himself from asking.

Captain Morrison gave Captain Fletcher an acquiescing nod and she began.

“The baby looks very good. She is positioned well and appears to be gaining weight right on schedule. I would say you are easily into your 28th week.”

She smiled at both Mac and Harm and then looked at Captain Morrison.

He began. “As you know Colonel, your blood work has been good and outside of the episode you had with pain at your incision site a couple of months ago, you are doing well. I am however a bit concerned with the amount of scar tissue forming on your left side. Your adjustment of your workout routine seems to have gotten your pain under control. Have you had any other problems with pain?”

“I have it occasionally, not always with exercise. I just assumed it was because my stomach was getting larger.”

Harm looked quickly at Mac. She had never mentioned it.

The Captain gave her an assessing look. “Can you describe the pain?”

“It stings sometimes at my incision and then other times it begins there and seems to spread across my lower stomach.” Mac placed her hands low on her abdomen, suddenly a bit self conscious.

“Can you show me?”

Mac silently pointed out the area of her occasional discomfort. “I just thought it was normal.” Mac suddenly felt the need to defend herself.

“Scar tissue is normal after surgery Colonel; we just have to monitor yours closely because of your pregnancy, with the surgical site being so close to the baby.”

Harm’s radar was on full alert. He thought Captain Morrison was being guarded in what he said. He wanted to be sure he got the whole story. “Do you have any other concerns Captain?”

“None that I haven’t expressed before.” He looked at Harm directly.

Mac decided to ask a question, she was beginning to feel like she was being discussed like she wasn’t there. “Is Doctor Ahrens still of the opinion that my tumor was of a rare type. Not the type of cancer we feared initially?”

“Yes” His expression still gave away nothing.

Harm asked. “You don’t agree with him do you?” He wanted a direct answer.

“I will restate what I said before. I will monitor your wife as I would any patient I treated for ovarian cancer. I will follow her progress and the research along with Dr Ahrens. Either way your wife is assured the maximum amount of care we can give her.”

He was good; Harm had to give him that. He would not disagree with his colleague in the presence of a patient. Harm had a feeling though that he did disagree, he could not explain it, it was just a feeling he had.

“I’m doing well so far, isn’t that right Captain?” Mac could feel the fear rising up in Harm. She wanted him redirected immediately. She was fine, their baby was fine and that was that.

“Yes Colonel, you are progressing well, but you have to understand that the extreme hormonal shifts that happen in preparation for delivery and also the shifts thereafter, will need be closely monitored. We have to assure that the tumor doesn’t return during these times.”

“What about her pain?” Harm didn’t like the fact that Captain Morrison had shown concern about it and that Mac had never mentioned it.

“That is a concern. I think she may need to modify her exercise schedule again. She may do light floor exercises but any vigorous exercise is out of the question.”

Mac felt left out of the conversation again. “What about swimming?” She had to have some kind of cardio or she would be as big as a house.

Captain Fletcher answered her. “Within reason Colonel. I would also like to start seeing you every two weeks and if you have a prolonged reoccurrence of pain, I want to see you immediately”

“Understood.”

Harm stood as Captains Fletcher and Morrison started to leave the room. “Sir, Ma’am”

Harm considered Captain Fletcher’s promotion. Harm didn’t think that he wouldn’t even look into whether or not he had made captain, he didn’t expect it. With all that had happened in the last two years, he felt he was lucky to still have a career in the Navy at all.

Mac started to wipe the ultrasound gel from her stomach with a towel and Harm came over and took over the task. He touched lightly on her incision site. “Does this hurt?’ He looked worried and Mac thought, a little afraid for her.

“Honey, its fine.” She tried to give him a reassuring smile. It was. She hadn’t had pain like that in a week or so. She placed her hand over his. “Don’t worry.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” His brow furrowed with concern.

“Because I didn’t want you to overreact. You had enough on your mind with Mattie and trying to keep up at JAG. You heard Captain Morrison, they are going to watch me closely, and scar tissue is normal after surgery, Harm.”

Harm nodded and remained quiet. He was glad he had come with her, he needed this reality check. Mac was doing well, but they both needed to be reminded that the possibility of a reoccurrence was out there. Their lives had been so busy and full of so many things that it had been easy to put the worry of this on the back burner. Mac wouldn’t be out of the woods completely for a long time.

Mac dressed quickly and as she started to open the door the ultra sound tech came in carrying a manila envelope. “Excuse me ma’am, I didn’t think you would want to leave without this.”

Mac took the envelope. She opened it and pulled the picture out facing up. It was their daughter looking right at them and suddenly the fear they both felt fled and joy replaced it. They would be alright. They had to be.


1135
Sunday
May 22nd
Interstate 76 West
Somewhere in Pennsylvania



Harm and Mrs. Rabb drove toward the farm in companionable silence. Mattie had dropped off to sleep an hour before. Harm had tried to make the back seat as comfortable as he could for her. Her leg was propped with pillows as well as the rest of her body, trying to prevent any jarring of her ribs.

They had not spoken about much of anything besides Mattie since this whole ordeal had begun. There was something that Mrs. Rabb had been concerned about for some time. She had been aware of the strain on Harm and Sturgis’s friend ship as a result of the incident that had happened during his last deployment. She and Mac had discussed it in general terms, but they had both been so focused on Mattie that they hadn’t talked about it again.

“Harmon, do you mind if I ask you about something?” She looked straight ahead, seeming to be watching the road along with him.

“Sure Grandma, anything.” He took his eyes off of the road for just a moment.

“I haven’t even had time to ask about how things are for you at JAG since you returned from your last deployment.”

Harm knew where she was going with this. “It’s been all right.” He looked at her, knowing she meant to ask about how he and Sturgis were getting along.

“We’re fine with each other, Grandma.” They were being the professionals they were, but they did not act like friends, not anymore.

Mrs. Rabb studied her grandson, knowing the whole situation still troubled him a great deal. His expression was still guarded; he still didn’t want to talk about it.

She had always had a soft place in her heart for Sturgis. When she first met him he had impressed her right away. He was such a nice young man, even more serious than Harmon, if that was possible. She understood why Harm felt betrayed; she couldn’t say she fully understood why Sturgis hadn’t at least given Harm the benefit of the doubt. Now that Harm had been able to clear himself, she hated to see them end their friendship badly.

She remembered a conversation she’d had with Sturgis’s father when he and Sturgis had come to stay at her home for Harm and Mac’s wedding, Christmas Eve. He had shared his concern for his son with her; she understood that this past year had been a difficult one for Sturgis. Over the years she and Chaplain Turner had become friends and she had appreciated his confidences. Between the two of them they had been able to keep close tabs on both young men as they came up through the Academy and their careers.

“Grandma?” Harm noticed the faraway look in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Harmon, I just got lost in thought. I’m still thinking about you and Sturgis.” She reached over and patted his arm. “I think I understand how you feel, son, and I think it speaks well of both of you that you can put that terrible incident behind you and perform your duties as professionals. I just hope you can salvage something of your friendship. It would be a shame if you couldn’t, after all these years.”

“We’ll be fine.” He tried to reassure her and decided it was time to change the subject.

They talked about Mattie and her scheduled PT evaluation tomorrow. Mrs. Rabb had been able to help arrange home PT and OT for her. She knew Mattie had a long way to go before she was independent and that the first week would probably be the most difficult. She was excited, though, for Mattie’s sake; she had seen a lot of progress in the past week, all she needed now was the time to heal… and a good therapist.


0830
Monday
May 23rd
JAG headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia



Harm sat at the conference table with the rest of the staff, waiting for General Creswell.

The door of the conference room swung open.

“Attention on deck.” Harm brought them to attention.

“At ease and be seated.” The general did not sit down at his place at the head of the conference table. He appeared more excited and animated than he had ever been in their presence.

“We will table our regular order of business. The SecNav is standing up a new unit, the Joint Legal Services Center. It will be comprised of Navy and Marine lawyers in the field under one command.” He turned toward Sturgis.

“Commander Turner, you have been selected for command of that unit. Joint Legal Services Southwest.” He handed him his orders. “You will be headquartered in San Diego.”

Harm looked at him, genuinely glad for him but with the old feeling of being passed over still niggling in the back of his mind. He knew that topping out at commander was the best he could hope for given all that had happened in the past two years. He assumed he would finish up his career here at JAG HQ and that would be the end of it.

“Thank you, sir.” Sturgis was stunned. Harm thought it was kind of funny to see him speechless. I guess ‘by the book’ pays after all, he thought.

Sturgis and Harm looked at each other. There wasn’t a smile exchanged, but the look held no animosity. Their expressions were almost those of interested observers.

“Congratulations, Sturgis.” Harm gave a nod in his direction.

“Thank you.”

“Congratulations are also in order for you, Commander.”

“Sir?” ‘Now what?’ he thought.

“Your new duty station will be in London, Force Judge Advocate, Naval Forces Europe.” The general handed Harm the folder holding his transfer orders. “I hope you like Yorkshire pudding.”

“This is a captain’s billet, sir.” Harm looked at him with raised eyebrows.

“It is indeed, Commander. The O-6 board just reported out—frocking has been authorized. Congratulations, Captain Rabb.”

“Thank you, sir.” Harm’s mind was reeling; he’d never expected to be promoted. He had made no plans to ever leave the area. He had strongly considered retiring at 20 this summer and beginning a new life with Mac, Mattie and their new baby.

“That will be all.” The general dismissed the rest of the staff.

Bud looked at Harm and smiled at him warmly. “Congratulations, sir.”

“Thanks Bud.” Harm still couldn’t believe it.

The general looked at Harm and Sturgis. “You are authorized to choose your staff; no one is off limits.”

Both officers said, “Thank you, sir.”

The general left the room. Harm and Sturgis eyed each other for a moment and then Sturgis decided to break the ice.

“Congratulations, Captain.” He seemed sincere.

“Thanks, Sturgis – I almost believe you meant that.”

“I do, Harm. I wish you well, I really do.” Sturgis knew they were different people than the two young men who became friends at the Academy. Whatever happened in the future, he did not want to leave their friendship at a bitter end.

Harm extended his hand to shake his. As they shook hands, he said, “This is unbelievable; you were as qualified as I was.”

“Not according to the promotion board.” Sturgis grinned sheepishly.

“Your time will come,” Harm assured him.

“No doubt about that. Now I just have to figure out how I’m going to get married next month and assume that new command.”

This was the first real adjustment Varese would have to make as a military wife; hopefully she would understand and take it in her stride.

“That’s right, and I’ve got a few things to take care of as well.”

Mac, Mattie…What the hell was he going to do? Harm followed Sturgis out of the conference room to make a quick call to Mac, who was not due in court until 1000. How would she react to this? It seemed to him that ever since he had promised to always be there for her, he hadn’t been able to be there at all.

“Good luck to you, Harm.” Sturgis turned back to look at him, smiling.

“You too, Sturgis.” Harm turned into his office and closed the door behind him.


1145
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia



Harm sat on the stone bench out on the grounds of JAG headquarters, waiting for Mac to meet him for lunch. His mind was still reeling from what he had learned this morning. He knew he should be happier about this than he was, but all he could think of was how this would affect Mac and Mattie. He had nearly talked himself out of the new billet and promotion. Too much was happening and they needed him.

Mac walked toward Harm. She could see that even from this distance that he was very troubled by something. She approached him, and he was so deep in thought that her touch on his arm startled him.

“Harm, what is it?”

Harm stood and helped his wife sit down on the bench. Mac searched his face for some hint of what could be on his mind.

“I got some news today that I never expected.”

Mac waited for the rest of the story.

“It looks like I made captain after all.” He looked at her from beneath his cover.

“Harm, that’s wonderful.” She reached to squeeze his arm and quickly placed her hand back in her lap. They were in public and both in uniform.

“You might not think so when I tell you the rest. I have been assigned to Naval Forces Europe as Force Judge Advocate.”

Now it was Mac’s turn to be stunned. She looked at him, trying to take it all in “When do you have to report?”

“I have one week; that includes travel time.” He looked at her, trying to gauge her reaction. “Mac, if you think this is a bad idea or that it will be a problem for us, just tell me.”

“Are you kidding?” Mac was incredulous; yes, she was surprised, shocked even, but she hadn’t even considered that she wouldn’t want him to take it.

“What about you and what am I going to do about Mattie?”

“Wait a minute, I will be fine and don’t you mean what are *we* going to do about Mattie?” She leaned in a bit closer as she brought her voice down.

“I took on that responsibility, Mac.” He looked away from her, not wanting to see her reaction just now. This was going to be a problem. He was already beginning to feel that it wasn’t worth it to take the promotion and turn both their lives upside down.

“Excuse me? Don’t you think that since we are married that she is as much my responsibility now as she is yours?”

“You don’t have to take that on; you have enough to deal with.” He meant to make this as easy for her as he could. He wanted to see her happy – he wanted everything for her. “Mac, I’m not spending the next three years away from you and our baby.”

Mac was beginning to get irritated. “Now listen to me: the last time I checked my name was Sarah *Rabb* and that makes everything that is yours, mine, including all your responsibilities.”

“Mac, I just don’t want to put too much on you.” He still remembered the feelings Mac’s last doctor’s appointment brought to the surface. His fear of losing her was still strong.

“I think I can handle it.” She placed her hand over his for a moment. “I think it’s your turn to trust me.”

He looked at her, remembering their conversation last fall, when he had asked her if she trusted him and she had. It was the beginning of the road that had brought them together, the one that made them a committed couple. He looked at her, trying to push away the guilt he was already starting to feel.

Mac seemed to read his mind and began her argument. “Harm, we have three months ‘till the baby is due. I can manage myself and Mattie. I don’t think I could stand it if I thought you turned this down on my account. Your grandmother and I will get Mattie up to speed by the time the baby comes. Maybe you could get some leave time around the time she’s due. There has to be a way to work this out.”

“What about you, Mac? I don’t want to leave you again, not now.” He made small circles on the back of her hand with his thumb.

“You know as well as I do that our jobs don’t always allow us to do what is convenient. I’ve been thinking for a long time about what I want to do once the baby comes – this just brings the discussion and the decisions to the forefront.”

Harm gave her that soft look that belonged only to her. “You’re amazing.” In the midst of what seemed to be their lives turning upside down, she was calm and matter of fact. This was the Mac he knew and loved, the one who could come up with a dispassionate plan in an impossible situation.

A slow smile spread across her face as she decided to agree with him. “Yes…I am. Now, it looks like we have a lot to arrange. Let’s grab some lunch and then maybe by this evening we can formulate a plan that works for all of us.”

She smiled at him, releasing his hand and carefully coming up to her feet. Her stomach chose that particular moment to growl audibly.

“Hey, was that you?” Harm turned to look at her quickly.

“Yes, if you must know. Now move your ass, Sailor, I’m hungry.” She touched the top of her stomach lightly and laughed with him in spite of herself.


At that same moment...



Bud stood in his office, looking out the window watching his mentors and two of his oldest friends. Turning down the commander’s officer of a position with him at Naval Forces Europe had been one of the hardest decisions he had ever made. He would have loved to have gone to Europe, and he valued his friendship with both the commander and the colonel. He knew though, that this was not what was best for his family. He didn’t really think it would be best for him in the long run.

During the last couple of years he had begun to feel more confident in his own right as an attorney and officer. He would never forget what both Harm and Mac had done for him, and he didn’t intend to leave their friendship behind. He just knew that he was carving out his own niche here at JAG. He got on well with the general and felt he could advance his career very well from Headquarters JAG. He hoped the commander understood.

When he saw them both stand up and walk toward the building, they appeared to be laughing. They both seemed to be very happy, in spite of everything. They would be all right, and they could always count on him to be there for them if they needed him. A knock on his door pulled him from his reverie.

“Commander Roberts, you have a call on line four.” Petty Officer Coates stood in the doorway.

“Thank you, Petty Officer.” He smiled at her and reached for the phone. “That will be all.”

“Yes sir.” Jen turned and walked toward her desk.

“Commander Roberts,” Bud said in his most commanding voice.

“Bud?” Master Chief Bud Roberts was making his weekly call. He and Bud had begun to try in earnest to mend their relationship. They had agreed to speak once a week as their schedules allowed. The conversations weren’t always long and had been difficult in the beginning. But both men felt they had a vested interest in making this first step work, and so far it had.

“Dad?” Bud walked around his desk and closed the door to his office. “How are things in Georgia?” Big Bud had decided to go back into the Navy after all. It proved to be making him happier and was fulfilling more purpose in his life than he ever thought it would. Bud’s mother would have gotten a kick out of that.

“Oh well… you know how it is, son. Same shit, different day.” Bud had learned his father’s code for contentment. Counseling had gone a long way in helping him mend this relationship. Though his father could have used the counseling too, Bud decided they would take one step at a time. It seemed to be working so far.

“Oh, I’m sure you’ve got it under control, Dad,” Bud said laughingly, moving smoothly to the next subject, Big Bud’s grandchildren.


1530
Faith Coleman’s office
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia



Faith sat behind her desk, listening to her friend and colleague ask her opinion of his taking Captain Rabb’s offer to join him at Naval Forces Europe in London. She hadn’t even considered that when she heard the general’s announcement this morning that this would mean Michael’s transfer too. Her defenses went up immediately. He would be a fool not to take this opportunity, but she did not want to lose the closeness she had come to rely on with him. He had become her dearest friend and so much more to her than he knew.

“It’s an excellent opportunity, Michael.” She tried to keep any emotion at all from her voice, fearing that if she gave one inch in this that she would beg him not to take the position and make a fool of herself.

“I know it is, Faith, but I want to know how you feel about it.” He could literally see her shutting herself off from him.

“If I were offered the position, Michael, I would take it.” She looked down at the file she had opened on her desk, not reading it at all.

He looked up at her quickly, surprised by her answer. They weren’t officially a couple, but there was an unspoken understanding between them. It was something stronger than he had ever had with any woman. She could read him like no one else and he believed he knew her better than anyone as well. He sat back, watching her, considering her answer.

“Okay.” He continued to look at her, waiting for the real Faith to make her appearance. The one he knew was hiding behind that wall.

“Look, I’m sorry, but I have to get going with this case.” She picked up a file folder. “The SecNav wants to expedite an NCIS investigation of a recipient to the Silver Star. He is implicated in a murder that happened prior to his deployment. I want to speak with the lead investigator before the end of the day…so if you’ll excuse me.”

Her voice began to take on that detached and mechanical quality that she used when he first met her.

‘Go, Michael,’ she thought, ‘get out of here before I lose my composure completely.’

Michael felt as though he had the wind knocked out of him. She acted as if they were no more than acquaintances, just colleagues who shared cases. He stood and continued to study her face, and she remained guarded, revealing nothing. He turned and walked out of her office. Faith stood, picked up her briefcase and cover then quickly left the bullpen. She got into the elevator and turned. She was facing forward and refused to look toward JAG ops. She knew Michael was watching; she didn’t trust herself to look his way.

In less than three minutes she was in her car and backing out of her parking place. Tears were flowing down her face unchecked. She could keep a tight rein on her expression but the tears could not be held back any longer. At least she was alone, she thought. She did not know that Petty Officer Coates had seen her get into her car and was close enough to see her reaction to Michael’s possible transfer to London. She had hand carried some documents to the Pentagon for the general and was returning when she saw Commander Coleman leaving; she hadn’t even seen her as she passed her in the parking lot.


1730
Monday
May 23rd
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania



Mattie sat on the couch with her left leg propped with pillows, exhausted. This had been harder than she thought it was going to be. She figured that having PT at home would be easier, but it hadn’t been. Her physical therapist and Mrs. Rabb and thought up all kinds of little challenges for Mattie to work on during her PT treatment. Mattie shuddered to think about how her Occupational Therapy would go. Mrs. Rabb knew this therapist well too, so who knew what they had cooked up for her tomorrow.

It had been an adjustment just having to navigate in a home environment instead of the hospital. She had been feeling pretty good about how well she had been walking until she arrived here yesterday and tried to walk on uneven pavement or gravel, which was a joke. It was a far cry from the nice flat, shiny hallways in the hospital.

Mrs. Rabb called to her, pulling her from her thoughts.

“Are you okay, honey?” Mattie had been pretty quiet for the last couple of hours.

“Yeah, I’m just tired. I didn’t know you could be such a slave driver.” She gave Mrs. Rabb a mischievous grin.

“It will get easier, Mattie.” She came to stand beside her and pushed her hair back from her forehead. “Are you having a lot of pain?”

“No, it’s not too bad.”

Mattie couldn’t believe how many things had happened today. She’d had her evaluation that morning. Harm had called that afternoon and told her about his new orders to London. She and Mrs. Rabb had repeated her exercises for the afternoon. She still had trouble grasping how quickly things were moving. She didn’t really know how she felt about all this. One month ago she was with her Dad, taking flying lessons, very close to getting her pilot’s license – and now she was contemplating living half a world away from everyone she had ever known besides Harm. She knew she could trust Harm and she could count on both him and Mac to be there for her. It was just a lot to digest.

“Mattie?”

“I’m just thinking... things are happening so fast.” Mattie felt a rush of emotion from seemingly nowhere. Tears stung her nose and eyes.

“I know, honey, but remember, you have time and you have a lot of people who want to help you get through this. It’s going to be all right.”

She picked up a pillow from the end of the couch and elevated Mattie’s leg, helping settle her more comfortably on the couch.

“Just rest for a moment and I’ll see what I can scare up for supper.”


1814
Same day
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Harm placed a cardboard box of some of his personal effects from his office into the back seat of his Lexus. He turned to look up at the building that was Headquarters JAG. He had spent a decade of his life here. He could easily say that his experience here had changed his life, in more ways than one. It was painful to think that he would not be a part of this place in one week’s time, yet he had felt himself pulling away for sometime now. It was as though he could literally feel his life changing, taking a turn into the unknown. He knew it was time for him to move on – that was part of military life – but another part of him had this unreasoning desire to remain a part of what was so familiar to him.

Since he returned from his ‘tenure’ with the Company and especially since General Creswell had come aboard, JAG had felt less and less like home. The general was a good CO, but the camaraderie was not there. He and AJ had had their moments but they had connected on another level. He knew he could call on him at any time and he would be there for him or Mac. In fact, Harm was counting on being able to do just that where Mac was concerned. AJ knew how to check up on Mac without making her feel that she was being hovered over. The admiral had always managed her better than he ever could. He smiled at the thought.

“Penny for your thoughts, Sailor.” Mac walked toward him across the parking lot.

“I was just looking back for a moment.” He gave her a sheepish grin; there was no way he would share what he had just been thinking.

She smiled sympathetically and touched his arm lightly.

“Are you ready?”

“Yeah, let’s go home. We have a lot to talk about.” Harm opened the door on the passenger side of the vehicle and helped Mac ease into the seat. He helped her adjust the seat belt and leaned in a stole a quick kiss.


2000
Gunny’s apartment
Alexandria, Virginia


Gunny sat on his sofa, flipping the remote to his television. He wasn’t even paying any attention to what was on. His mind was a million miles away. He was remembering the conversation he had overheard earlier that day. He had heard Commander Turner ask Jen if she wanted to accompany him and Lieutenant Vukovic to San Diego.

He hadn’t been asked by Captain Rabb or Commander Turner. He was relieved, because though he admired both officers, he really did like being at Headquarters. He liked General Creswell’s command style; he understood it and felt comfortable with it. Jen hadn’t seen him pass by and he hadn’t heard her answer.

He wanted her to stay where he was, but what right did he have to ask her to stay, since he had made no commitment. He hadn’t been able to tell her he loved her. Now, if he told her, it would seem as if he was only saying it to keep her from doing what she wanted to do.

He got up from the couch and started to slowly pace the room, still deep in thought. He didn’t really know how she felt about anything. She hadn’t said those three little words to him either. He was making all kinds of assumptions that he didn’t have the right to make. Maybe it was better that he hadn’t told her how he felt; maybe he should just let her go now. That way she wouldn’t feel obligated to him. He still didn’t know what she saw in him. She’d probably be relieved if he just gave her an out. They could always be friends, get together when one or the other of them was in town. The more he thought about it the more the thought was physically painful to him. He was in love with her; this wasn’t a relationship of convenience.

They had made plans for a late dinner there tonight. Jen was needed at JAG Ops later than usual that night. There was a lot to arrange; it was as though JAG was being split in half. The doorbell pulled him from his reverie. He got up to answer it, and then checked his security lens, and it was Jen.

He opened the door, and the moment he saw her and she launched herself into his arms, he knew that there was no way he could break this off with her. If it happened, she would have to do it. He loved the very sight of her.

“Hello.” She leaned back and smiled at him. She gave him a smacking kiss and bounced out of his arms.

“What’s for dinner?” She began to look around the kitchen, seeing nothing on the stove or counter.

“Oh...I...forgot.”

He had been so preoccupied with what Jen might decide to do that he hadn’t even ordered anything. He straightened his back and dug his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. He looked away from her, trying to decide how to begin. ‘By the way, Jen, I was eavesdropping on your conversation with Commander Turner and…’ That would go over just great, he thought wryly.

She turned to look at him resting her hand on her hip. “What’s on your mind, Marine?”
She grinned at him, but she knew something was wrong – he had been acting peculiar since this afternoon. He had been avoiding her gaze and then he slipped out of the office without even saying goodbye.

Gunny turned away from her and went into his kitchen. “What do you want for dinner?”

“Pizza is okay – why don’t I order it? You still haven’t answered my question, Victor.”

She wasn’t going to let this go. She was learning that most of the time Victor needed a nudge to open up and talk to her. Something was really wrong and he was going to tell her what it was before the night was over.

“I know.” He walked out of the kitchen and stood in front of her. He folded his arms across his chest and kept his gaze on the floor. He didn’t want to look in her eyes, not yet. They were lethal as far as he was concerned. He had gotten through his 38 years without making a fool of himself over a woman and he wasn’t going to start now. He had to know, though. He had to know if she felt the way he did. It was only three little words, so what was the big deal? He was a Marine, after all. First he had to ask the question…and he would… in a minute.

“Pretty surprising this morning at staff call, wasn’t it?” He looked up, now assessing her reaction.

“Yes, it's unbelievable. I’m happy for the captain, though. I’ll miss him and the colonel, but they’ve been at JAG for a long time.”

“He and Commander Turner are choosing staff from JAG Ops.” Gunny’s gaze was still steady on her.

“Are you leaving, Victor?” She hadn’t even considered that he might go.

It gave him a secret thrill that she seemed genuinely concerned that he might leave.

“No, I’m glad that I didn’t have to decide. It would have been tough, and besides, I like it at Headquarters.”

This was about her, then, and she could not keep from smiling. She looked at him and saw for the first time the look in his eyes. He thought she was leaving. He couldn’t ask her, but that was exactly what it was. She reached over and rested her hand on his folded arms.

“I’m not going, Victor.” She kissed his cheek softly and looked into his eyes.

Gunny let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding and reached out to pull her into his arms. “Jen.” She could feel his heart hammering against his chest.

“Commander Turner asked me, but I don’t really want to leave. I like it at Headquarters too. I like being near the Roberts and my namesake.” She leaned back and looked at him. “And I love being near you.” She kissed him quickly. “I love you, Victor.”

Gunny barely let her finish the sentence before he took her mouth with a deep and soul-wrenching kiss. All he could think was ‘Thank God’ over and over again in his head. He broke the kiss and rested his forehead against hers. Here goes nothing. “I love you too, Jen.”


2230
Harm and Mac’s apartment
North of Union Station


Harm lay on his side, looking at his wife. She sat up on propped pillows behind her back. Her hair was gathered up from her neck in a clasp and she was wrapped in the cream colored sheet, the perfect accent to her skin tone. The color of the sheets made her eyes and hair more striking in contrast as well. She looked beautiful, like a portrait to him. The warm yellow light illuminated her features perfectly. Despite all the teasing he had done lately, Mac made a lovely picture resting her hand lightly on her rounded stomach. Harm wanted to freeze this moment in time and keep it forever. He wanted to preserve it so that when ever he missed her he could take out the memory and relive the contentment he felt lying here with her, talking about their future.

Mac for her part was feeling better than she had in a long time. She almost felt as though she had a new mission now. She was going to do her job, take care of herself and the baby and manage Mattie’s care with the help of Mrs. Rabb. She was going to be there for Harm and watch him step up into something she was so proud to see him achieve. She wanted as much for him as he did for her. Mac wanted to show a different strength, one she had learned over the course of the past year, and this was her opportunity to do it.

“What are you thinking about?” Mac looked down at Harm, questioning.

“I’m thinking about how beautiful you are and about how much I’m going to miss you.” Harm bent his elbow and rested his head on his hand.

“I’m going to miss you too.” She reached over and rested her hand on his bicep. “I need to talk to you about what I’m thinking, okay?”

“Okay, you talk, I’ll listen.” He winked at her. “As long as I get an opportunity for rebuttal.”

“I’ve been thinking for a long time about my options, what I want to do as far as my career was concerned once the baby arrives. I don’t want to give up my career, but I am seriously considering reserving my commission for a year after the baby comes. I love being a Marine, it’s as much a part of me as you are, but this baby is a gift neither of us ever expected. I want to be able to give it my full attention.”

In truth, she had listened carefully when Captain Morrison repeated his concerns. She was going to do everything within her power to get this baby into the world healthy and whole. She was also going to do everything she could to live to raise her.

“I really want to make this baby my priority now. After the baby comes and Mattie is on her feet, then I can divide my attention to include my career. Now… I just don’t think I want to.”

Harm couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He knew how much the baby meant to her, but as far as reserving her commission, he never in a million years thought she would do that. He reached for her hand where it rested on his arm and kissed it.

“It’s never going to be uncomplicated…is it?” He rested her palm on his cheek.

She smiled at him indulgently. “Probably not.”


Chapter 36


0630
Friday
May 27th
Rock Creek Park
Washington D.C.


Faith Coleman was finishing her run in very good time this morning when she noticed that someone was standing near her vehicle. She looked with more scrutiny and realized that it was Special Agent Gibbs from NCIS. Their communication this week had been strained at best. She understood and even admired his determination to leave no stone unturned where Petty Officer Dobbs was concerned, but right now he was doing a very good job of irritating her.

“Good morning.” He smiled; it was an expression she hadn’t seen on his face since she met him. There was also something more in his expression that she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

Faith didn’t like the idea that he knew she would be running this morning. She also wasn’t happy about the fact that he was sitting on the bumper of her vehicle. She walked toward him and gestured for him to move out of the way. When she opened the back hatch of her SUV, Gibbs looked at her organized trunk with towels, brushes and everything she would need to get organized when she finished her run. She was about to ask him what the hell he was doing there when he handed her a cup of coffee. She took it, and as she took a drink, she saw a familiar vehicle across the park.

It was Michael; he had known she would be running this morning. He had been trying to catch up with her since Monday and she had taken every opportunity to avoid him. This case, among others, had kept her busy. She would be glad when this was resolved once and for all. She didn’t like dealing with Gibbs and she certainly didn’t like dealing with the SecNav.

Mike recognized Gibbs right away, and before he even took the keys out of the ignition, he reconsidered trying to talk to her now. It would be too awkward. He knew that her case entailed working with Special Agent Gibbs, but he was surprised to see him with her after her run. Mike and Faith had met there and had run together a couple of weekend mornings. Right now he didn’t like the idea of this at all. What the hell was he doing there, anyway?

Faith seemed to recognize him just as he drove away. Good – somehow he was glad that she had seen him. He knew he had no right to say anything…but Gibbs? Surely she wasn’t going to go out with him. He and Gibbs had gotten along well in the past, but right now he couldn’t remember one thing about him that he liked... It was pretty damn presumptuous of him to show up like that anyway. As he turned he saw them both sit on the tailgate of her vehicle. It occurred to him then that there would be no more opportunities to be together like that for them in the everyday. No casual dinners or walks in Georgetown, no meeting to talk over a case. He was losing something that he never knew how much he valued: Faith’s time and her friendship.

As he drove back toward JAG, he began to think about some way to hang on to their friendship even if he had to go to London. There had to be a way. They weren’t ready for a commitment, but he didn’t want to lose her, either.


2010
Friday
May 27th
McMurphy’s Bar and Grille
Georgetown



Harm stood leaning against the bar with Mac securely tucked into his arms. In less than 24 hours he would be on his way to London. He still couldn’t believe this was it. Bud and Harriet had joined them. He was disappointed that Bud had decided to stay at Headquarters JAG but he understood.

“I hope you understand, sir.” Bud reached for Harriet’s hand and she gave him a reassuring smile.

“I do, Bud.” He looked across the bar as Mike McBurney walked toward him. “McBurney has decided to join me at Naval Forces Europe. You never know, Bud; we may be working together again someday.”

Mike stepped up to the group feeling slightly uncomfortable in this informal setting. “Think you’re up to the task, Mike?”

“Yes sir – I mean, Harm.” Mike really didn’t like using his first name. It just didn’t seem right.

Bud laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it; I still call him ‘sir’ too.”

Just as Mike was beginning to relax a bit, all heads turned when Faith walked into the bar. ‘Great,’ Mike thought; she’d picked tonight to wear something soft, flirty and feminine. She wore a sleeveless dress in a warm shade of brown that wrapped at her waist and came to rest just above her knees, drawing his eyes to her beautiful legs. The color accentuated her hair and eyes and made her skin look satiny and touchable. Mike swallowed hard and tried not to stare.

She looked directly at Mike and he fell silent. She stepped up to the group and they exchanged pleasantries. When Mike and Faith spoke, the air was thick with tension. Faith turned toward Bud to discuss setting up possible plea agreement for five petty officers caught in a fencing scam. She decided keeping the conversation about work might drop the tension level. Computer equipment valued in the tens of thousands of dollars had been stolen. The petty officers were minor players in the scam and they had cooperated with NCIS in providing information about the main players. The mention of NCIS ensured that her plan to drop the tension level didn’t work out quite as she thought.

Mike spoke up before he could stop himself. “You have a direct source now at NCIS?” He had said it more sharply than he had intended.

Faith looked quickly in his direction. “No, I don’t.”

Mike felt angry at her and at himself. Everyone there had to know his irritation had nothing to do with the case and everything to do with Faith.

“Excuse me.” He felt embarrassed and exposed.


Across the bar at that same moment…


AJ Chegwidden and Tom Boone were watching the younger attorneys from their side of the room. AJ shook his head slightly.

“Kinda makes you feel like a dinosaur, doesn’t it?”

Tom followed his gaze. “Nah, they can have it. Would you really want to go through all of the BS we went through in our thirties and forties?”

AJ gave it some thought and laughed. “Hell no.” He picked up his beer for a toast. “Here’s to us and those like us.”

Both men said as they toasted, “Damn few left.”

A booming voice coming from across the bar drew their attention. “Hey, I heard they were serving 25 cent beers tonight…is that true?” Jack Keeter walked into the bar toward his oldest friend, Harm.

“Keeter!” Harm greeted him.

Mac looked at both men with an amused grin. It seemed to her that a small part of each of them became 20 years old and full of themselves as soon as they saw each other. She could see the mischievous glint in both their eyes. They must have been a pair. She didn’t envy any of their professors, or commanding officers for that matter.

“Congratulations, man, I heard about your promotion.” Jack shook Harm’s hand and planted a kiss on Mac’s cheek just for good measure.

“Thank you and get your own girl.” Harm feigned jealousy and pulled Mac slightly away from Jack.

“London… what the hell are you going to do in London?” Jack seemed incredulous; he had only yet begun to goad.

“Force Judge Advocate.” Harm said it with not a little pride in his voice.

“Man… they must be getting hard up.” Jack threw his head back and laughed. Mac decided that it was time for Harm to go out on the small dance floor with her. Jack made his way over to where Tom and AJ sat. He walked up behind them and clapped a hand on each of their shoulders.

“Well...If it isn’t my fellow conspirators.”

He was proud of what they had been able to do. They had been able to follow the pursuit of the terrorist Aziz Nasiri, who was responsible for the bombing that had killed Harm’s mother. They had been able to do it without Harm knowing or involving himself in any way. Jack saw it as his good deed for the decade.

“Keeter,” they both said at once.

Tom gave Jack a sidelong glance and took a folded page of newspaper from his pocket.

“Speaking of fellow conspirators. Did either of you see this in the Washington Globe this morning?” Tom began to read from a small single paragraph article. ‘Former Secretary of the Navy Douglas Nelson has been appointed to assist the deputy secretary of state on European affairs…’

AJ took the paper from him. “Well, I’ll be damned. I knew something had to be going on.”

Tom spoke up. “Sheffield had better watch his back.” He looked at his friends, waiting for their reaction.

Jack looked at the article over AJ’s shoulder, not really reading it. He already knew about Nelson’s appointment. He had been in touch with the former SecNav a couple of times since the Trafalgar Square matter was resolved. He thought Nelson was well placed for the time being.

“Sheffield has enough to worry about without taking on Nelson. Hell…He’s got Rabb as Force Judge Advocate, Naval Forces Europe.”

Harm overheard him and walked over to them. “Hey…just for that you’re buying for the whole party.”

“Ooooh. Big bar tab. Hey… speaking of small bar tabs…where’s Sturgis?”

“He already shipped out Wednesday,” Harm answered.

“Shipped out?” Jack didn’t know anything about this.

“San Diego, Joint Legal Services Southwest.” Harm hadn’t said anything to anyone outside of close family, about the incident while he was completing his carrier quals. He was surprised that Jack didn’t already know.

“No kidding. Man, I need to come around more often.” Jack turned toward the bartender. “Joanna, my usual.” She returned with his bourbon, neat.

“Where the hell have you been, anyway?” Harm leaned back on the bar.

Mac walked up to join the group who were listening to Harm and Jack spar in amusement.

“There she is, the woman I should have married. Sarah my love, dance with me.” He gently but firmly guided her away from the group and pulled her into a loose embrace. He looked over Mac’s shoulder at Harm. “Watch out, Harm, or I’ll steal your girl.”

This drew a laugh from the group as he waggled his eyebrows and guided her further away from them.

Another pointed question avoided, Harm thought to himself. Jack was determined to remain a mystery to them all. It didn’t matter to Harm. He knew that if what he was doing was meant to be kept secret, it would be. Keeter was a man who honored his promises, his country and his friendships.

Mac laughed and rested her arm on Jack’s shoulder. “Oh yeah, Keeter, I’m a prize all right. Can you even get your arms around me?”

“I can manage.” He drew back and looked at her directly. “Harm is a lucky man, Mac.”

Mac blushed profusely. “Thank you, Jack.”

Faith excused herself from the other group, made up of Bud, Harriet, Gunny and Jen. She walked up to Mike, who sat on a barstool on the opposite side of the bar. Mike tossed back a drink and Faith touched his arm. He looked at her without speaking, waiting to hear what she had to say.

“I saw you this morning.” She was trying to read his closed expression.

“Yeah, I saw you too.” He looked forward again, not understanding why this was hurting him so much.

“Why didn’t you come over?”

“You seemed otherwise occupied.” He sounded like a jealous lover and he knew he had no right to feel that way.

“Michael, Gibbs just showed up this morning, and it was a bit unnerving, frankly. I didn’t invite him. He wants more time to investigate a case before we proceed with the accused burial.”

Mike waited, mulling the answer over in his mind. “I was hoping to talk to you. You’ve been avoiding me all week.”

“I know.”

“Why?” At least she would admit it, but it occurred to him that it didn’t help at all.

“I’ve been really busy with this Dobbs case with NCIS and with trying to hammer out some type of plea agreement with Commander Roberts. I just got caught up in both situations.” She had been avoiding him and she knew it. She just didn’t know how to explain it.

“You’ve been avoiding me, Faith.” He looked at her intently. “I know you, or at least I thought I did.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Faith hadn’t expected him to react so intensely to this situation. She knew he saw her as a friend, but this side of him was different, especially tonight.

“It means you’ve been treating me like an acquaintance all week. I thought we were at least friends, Faith. I’m shipping out for London tomorrow morning, for Christ’s sake.”

The two strong drinks he had had in a matter of minutes made it easier to speak his mind and made his voice one octave too loud. Faith hadn’t noticed, but Mike’s new boss across the bar had.

Faith felt her face burn with shame; she looked down at her hands. She hadn’t even considered that he would feel this way. She could only think of protecting herself, hiding what she felt from him, so that she could stand to let him go.

“I’m sorry.” She looked over at him, searching his eyes, trying to salvage their friendship, even if it had to be long distance.

He turned on the bar stool and faced her. “Dance with me.”

Faith complied silently, slipping from the bar stool and allowing him to take her hand. He pulled her into a loose embrace, but as the music played on he began to pull her closer. It was the song that had made Faith so uncomfortable so long ago. ‘Broken.’ He rested his cheek on her temple and closed his eyes. ‘I wanted you to know, I love the way you laugh, I want to hold you high and steal your pain away…’

He hadn’t held her close to him like this since the fiasco with Vukovic. She had stood by him through that terrible time without wavering. She felt so strong and feminine at the same time; her waist was slim but he could feel the well defined muscle where he rested his hand on her back.

When he had returned from Iraq, it had been clear that she was glad to see him and they’d had a great time together, but they’d kept their physical distance.

Now this felt so good, so right. She skimmed her hand up his back, slowly caressing him. For Faith’s part it had been an almost involuntary response. He brought that out in her, an ease and comfort no one else had. She couldn’t believe that he was actually leaving the country tomorrow.

Mike let his hand slip lower on her back and pulled her body even closer to his. He was getting lost in the feel of her body against his. He didn’t want this dance to end. He breathed her name into her ear without having realized he had done it. She pulled back and looked at him, locking her eyes with his. “I…I have to go. I’ll miss you, Michael.”

“Do you have to?” Mike had begun to look at her lips, remembering the kiss they had shared just outside this building, long ago, when they thought they had all the time in the world. Though right now, it seemed too long a time to him.

“I do, I really think I should.” She felt tears starting and she couldn’t humiliate herself like this. She turned away quickly.

Harm and Mac stood with Gunny and Jen. Faith made her way over to them. She spoke to Harm.

“Excuse me, sir. I just want to say it was a pleasure working with you.” She offered Harm her hand. “I’m going to make it an early night. Good luck, sir. Goodnight, everyone.”

“That’s Harm, and thank you, Faith.” Harm shook her hand. “Goodnight.”

She looked at the rest the group, addressing them with a nod. As she walked swiftly toward the door Mike began to follow her. This could not be all... this couldn’t be the last thing they said to each other.

“You’ll stay in touch, Faith?”

She stopped short and turned toward him. “Of course.”

Then she quickly slipped out of the door, leaving Mike standing just a few feet away, looking at the door, as though he expected her to come back in at any moment.

Mac was still listening to the song. It seemed so sad and yet, for some reason she could not name, seemed to fit this situation. “That is a beautiful song. What is the name of it?”

“Broken.” Gunny answered, proud of himself for remembering, He had heard it when he and the captain were in Iraq a few months ago.

Both Harm and Gunny named the group. “Seether”

Jen and Mac looked at them, puzzled. Jen decided to ask. “Where did you hear that?”

Harm feigned offense. “Hey…we’re not that old.” The protest got a laugh from the entire group.

Jen turned to look at the major, standing as if abandoned at the door of the tavern. It was time to interject a little information. She approached Mike.

“Excuse me, sir?”

Mike turned toward her. “Yes.” The look in his eyes was distracted, as though he were only half listening.

“I know this is none of my business, but well…sir, the day you decided to go to London ...well, I saw the Commander Coleman leaving JAG Ops. She was crying, sir – she was very upset. I know you and she are just friends, but she doesn’t really talk to anyone else here. I just thought – I don’t know, I just thought you might want to know about it before you left.”

Mike was beginning to take in what she had said. It had to have been when she left to follow up on the NCIS investigation. He had to talk to her; there had to be more to know about how she felt than she allowed him to see.

“Thank you, Coates.”

“You’re welcome, sir.”

Jen smiled sweetly and turned toward Gunny. He winked at her and shook his head. He couldn’t have stepped up to an officer and spoken to him about something that private if his life depended on it. She would never cease to amaze him.

Mike paid his bar tab and said goodnight to everyone. He decided it was time to have a talk with Faith. He and Harm had to catch their flight at 0900 in the morning. They had less than 12 hours.


0930
That same night
Faith Coleman’s apartment
Alexandria, Virginia


Faith had only been home a few moments when she heard a knock at her door. She knew it had to be Michael. She checked her security lens and saw him standing there. She leaned back on the door for a moment. She didn’t know if she could do this. It wasn’t the old fears; she had banished those a long time ago. Rather, she didn’t know if she could keep her emotions in check. How would she keep from telling him how much she hated to see him go? She steeled herself and answered the door.

“Michael?” He looked so handsome standing there. The sage green polo shirt he wore tucked into his jeans accentuated his eyes and fit his body in a way that revealed all the hard work he had put in in the weight room.

“Faith.” He walked in without being asked. “I couldn’t leave it like that. I don’t want to go to London without telling you…without your knowing…I…” What was he going to say? He didn’t know if they had a future, but she meant so much to him.

Faith’s eyes widened. What was he going to say? “I know… this is difficult.” She turned away from him and walked into her living room. “You’re the first real friend I’ve had in a long time.”

“We’re more than friends, aren’t we, Faith?” He didn’t know how to define their relationship either.

“Yes, but I’m not really girlfriend material, am I? I still have a lot to work out. You’re a great guy; you should be seeing someone …normal.”

“Don’t do that. If you don’t want more than friendship, say so, but don’t use your past to keep me away. Like you’re doing me some kind of favor.” She was pushing him away and it was making him almost angry. They didn’t have time for this.

“I don’t like feeling inadequate, Michael. Here you are, you’re this incredible guy, accomplished, honorable, with a wonderful sense of humor and of himself. What could you possibly see in me – I feel like an emotional cripple sometimes.”

“I never meant to make you feel that way.” He was at a loss. He had done everything he could to make her comfortable around him since their true friendship had begun.

“You didn’t do anything, it’s me.” She turned to look at him, her eyes pleading with him.

Mike studied her for a moment. It was as though she had thrown her whole life in reverse and she was nearly back where she started last Christmas.

“It’s just an excuse, Faith, and you know it. What are you afraid of? What have I ever done that would make you not trust me and shut me out of your life? I think I deserve better than that.”

“Yes, you do.” She folded her arms across her chest and looked at him directly.

Silence reigned for a few moments.

Faith started to speak, but when Mike began to walk toward her she stopped. He was looking at her in a way he hadn’t in a long time … not since last March in McMurphy’s parking lot. He came to stop just inches from her, looking down into her eyes. He wasn’t sure what should happen next. Mike didn’t know how deep his feelings were for her; he just knew he wanted to touch her. He reached up and traced her cheek bone out into her jaw line.

“Michael.” Faith breathed his name and he kissed her. Memories of his kisses had never left her. He seemed to be able to make her lose track of all thought. For a moment she lost everything but the feel of his lips on hers and the way he made her feel when he held her. She slipped her arms around his waist and pulled him closer to her, and Michael couldn’t keep a sound of pure pleasure from escaping as he deepened their kiss. He didn’t need to come up for air. He just wanted this kiss to go on forever.

They both began to respond to each other, the tension building until they were both lying on the couch. Neither Faith nor Mike would be able to say how they had gotten there. Faith was lying beneath him, feeling her control beginning to slip away. Mike could also feel himself losing his grip; this was not what he had planned tonight. He wanted to deepen their relationship, but this was moving so fast now, and he had to leave her in the morning. If he wanted her to believe in him then he wasn’t going to have a hasty fling and then leave her alone in the morning. Not after all she had been through and not after all she had come to mean to him.

He began to slow down and draw his kisses out more slowly. He lifted his head and looked intently into her eyes.

“We had better slow down, Faith.” He was still kissing her cheeks and her closed eyes. “I want to be with you, more than anything, but I can’t do that and just leave you in the morning.”

Faith didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Her body was screaming for him, but she knew she still had a lot to work out. She loved him, but she had no intention of telling him so just yet. She knew he was right; this was too soon for them. He was being so sweet and so kind that it made her love him all the more. She didn’t think there was anyone in the world like him. Up until she had gotten to know him, she didn’t think his type existed.

She looked at him, returning his light sweet kisses. “I know you’re right, but I’m going to miss you so much, Michael.”

She was killing him with her touch and her tone of voice. “I’m going to miss you too, but if I don’t get off of this couch, I’m going to lose all my resolve.”

She smiled shyly and they disentangled themselves from each other. Faith stood and walked into her kitchen. “Do you want some coffee?”

Mike thought the best thing would be to get out of there. She looked so beautiful in that dress and he could still feel her lips on his. “Why don’t we go out?”

“You know I’d really like that. Let’s go to Starbucks and take a walk on the Mall.” Now she had the look in her eyes that he hadn’t seen all week. This was the Faith he knew. Right now she was an open book to him, and he couldn’t believe how relieved he was to see her this way.

“It’s pretty late, Faith.”

“I know, but I have my own Marine escort. I’ll be fine.” She smiled at him, and it warmed him all the way to his heart.


2300
Friday
May 27th
Lincoln Memorial
Washington D.C.



Mike and Faith had walked around the Mall and ended up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Mike sat on one of the large stone railings that led up the building, and Faith sat down, securely wrapped into the circle of his arms and body. It was a very intimate position to be in, but somehow it was not too familiar for them just now.

Faith turned toward him. “It’s getting pretty late.”

“Yeah, I know. Are you tired?” He looked into her eyes, hoping she would want to stay a bit longer. He didn’t want to leave her until he had to.

“No, but you have to be out of here early tomorrow.” She reached up to touch his cheek.
He kissed her, pulling her deeper into his arms. In the distance he heard the sound of footsteps on pavement. He broke the kiss and looked in the direction from which the sound came. He saw two familiar figures step into the lighted pathway in front of the Vietnam Memorial.

Faith turned to look. “It’s Captain Rabb.”

“Yeah. I wonder why he’s here so late.”

“His father was MIA, remember?” They had both had access to his military record when he had been tried for the murder of Lieutenant Singer two years ago.

“I do remember now. I haven’t spoken to him about it. We get along all right, but we don’t discuss a lot of personal matters.”

Faith turned back to him and smiled. “If you don’t count the ribbing you took about me.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, if you don’t count that.”

They both turned back to look at the couple standing at a certain place on the Wall. They watched Harm reach up and touch what they knew had to be his father’s name. Mac reached for the arm he had at his side and he turned toward her. Faith and Mike looked back at each other, feeling that they were intruding on a private moment, one that they respected him too much to witness.

Faith pulled him into a warm embrace. It felt so good to hold him. “What am I going to do without you?”

“You won’t be without me completely. We have leave time and email and we can talk on the phone too.” He looked over Faith’s shoulder and watched the couple at the Wall walk away in the other direction. As Faith loosened her embrace, she looked in the direction he was and saw Harm and Mac walking away.

“I hope I have what they do someday.”

“I do too.”

“We’re not there yet, are we?” She returned her attention to him. She seemed to be studying the buttons at the collar of his shirt.

“No, not yet.” He kissed her cheek.

Faith looked down and nodded, suddenly feeling a loss.

Mike tipped her chin up and looked into her eyes. “But who is to say we won’t be?”


0630
Saturday
May 28th
Harm and Mac’s apartment


Harm sat down on the edge of the bed next to Mac. She had been lying there watching him gather the last of his things, missing him already.

“It’s about that time.”

“I still think I should drive you.”

“Now, we talked about this. I want to say goodbye here. When I think of you, I want to remember you here, all warm and tousled waiting for me in our bed.” He leaned down and kissed her. “You’re beautiful, baby.”

She pulled him down to her and kissed him again with as much passion as she could. She wanted him to remember her well.

Harm broke the kiss. “Hey, that’s not fair.” That kiss was an invitation if he had ever gotten one.

“I just want to make sure you remember me.” She smiled at him mischievously.

“No problem there.” He winked and got up from the bedside. He walked out to the door and looked back at her sitting up slightly wrapped in the sheet. She kissed the tips of her fingers and extended her hand toward him as he slipped out of the doorway.

1545
Friday
June 10th
NLSO BROFF
Central London

 


Harm walked down the hallway toward his office. He passed Major McBurney’s office on the way and stopped at his open door.

“Major.” He stood in the doorway 

“Sir.” Mike stood quickly.

“Stand easy. Great job with the Brown case.”

A petty officer aboard the USS Puget Sound had gotten into trouble with the local authorities in Naples. During an event cosponsored by the local soccer team, Petty Officer Brown had offended some of the team members by not taking the game seriously enough. A few wisecracks had been over heard by the team’s best player.

The result was an all-out brawl. The petty officer barely knew what hit him.  The sailor was arrested after breaking the nose of the police chief’s son during the scuffle. The passion for the sport in Europe made NFL football fans in the US pale in comparison.

McBurney had been able to get the petty officer back to his ship with fines and smooth the ruffled feathers of the locals with humble apologies all around. Another PR disaster averted; however, Petty Officer Brown would not be leaving the ship for the rest of his deployment.

“Thank you, sir.” He was slightly distracted; Faith was in the process of sending him a text message on the new picture phone he had recently bought to stay in touch with her.

Harm stepped into his office and noticed that Mike had left his cell phone open. Harm recognized the model and commented,

“Hey, is that one of the picture cell phones? I’m considering getting one myself.”

Harm walked further into Mike’s office and stood next to his desk. He saw the text message: ‘Where have you been, Michael?’ Mike noticed that his CO was looking pretty closely at the phone and picked it up. The screen indicated that he had a picture message. Harm just looked at Mike, waiting for him to answer it.

“Uh, I have a message, sir.” Having the captain look over his shoulder made him a bit uncomfortable.

Harm was curious. “Do you mind if I see how you retrieve the picture?”

Mike didn’t know what he was sweating about: how bad could it be? It was Faith, after all. He slipped the keypad down and retrieved the picture, which made him laugh out loud despite himself. It was Faith all right, but she had picked that moment to make a very unprofessional face at him that involved crossed eyes and her tongue out.

Mike closed the phone quickly and looked at Harm. “Sir – the commander was...”

“—Really angry at you for not calling her. I think you’d better get to it, Major.” Harm finished his sentence for him.

“Yes sir.” Faith would be mortified if she knew the captain had seen her like that.

Grinning from ear to ear, Harm turned to walk to Mike’s office door and left without a backward look.

Mike worried for a moment that the captain might have more to needle him and Faith about, but then he considered that it was highly unlikely that the captain would even see her. No need to worry.

Harm had been settling in well in his new command. He had been able to speak with Mac nearly every other day by phone or e mail. His predecessor had just gotten his first star and was transferring back to the States. He and Captain Glenn Butler had been able to work together well to make the transition almost seamless.

The rest of the staff that he had been able to bring over had blended well with staff already on board. Major McBurney had stepped into his own leadership role very well. He was proving to be an asset to him already. He had been involved in two major cases in as many weeks, both of them requiring flying out to Naples and Bahrain. Their satellite office in West Ruislip had faxed a list of new personnel coming aboard. The list included a familiar name. He would be reporting today.

‘Unbelievable.’ He had not seen Tiner since last fall at his mother’s funeral, and had only spoken to him briefly. Mac had told him that his orders might bring him back to JAG Headquarters, but Harm had not expected to see him here. He was definitely going to be one that the major would have to ‘take under his wing.’ He smiled when he thought of Tiner’s well-meaning but sometimes bungling ways. McBurney would have his hands full, all right.

“Captain Rabb?” Harm’s yeoman buzzed his office.

“Yes, Petty Officer?”

“I have Lieutenant Tiner to see you, sir.” That had a strange ring to it, almost as strange as Captain Rabb.

“Thank you, Petty Officer Wilson. Send him in.” Harm had given orders that the lieutenant report to him as soon as he arrived.

“At ease. Are you getting settled in, Lieutenant?” Harm still sat behind his desk.

“Yes sir.”  He stood before him in summer whites with jg shoulder boards, with all the spit and polish of a new recruit. No more ‘cracker jacks’ for Jason Tiner.

“The work may not seem very challenging in the beginning – power of attorney, wills and small claims – but the case work will get more interesting as you gain experience. You will be working under the supervision of Major McBurney, although my door is always open to you as well.”

“Thank you, sir.” The captain was putting him at ease and at the same time reminding him of his duty. He would be a good CO and Tiner was anxious to get started.

Harm stood and walked around his desk. He extended his hand, signaling the end of the meeting. Tiner smiled and shook it. “Good to have you aboard, Lieutenant.”

“It’s great to be here, sir – and … If I may, sir, I wanted to say, I still have your cover.”

Harm frowned and then he remembered: he had tossed him his cover and told him to keep it. ‘Hope it brings you more luck than it did me.’ That had been the day he’d thought he was out of the Navy forever and Tiner’s career seemed to be just beginning.

Tiner looked at him with the open and earnest look that always seemed to be on his face. “If you would like, I can give it back, sir.”

“That won’t be necessary. It seems that life is better now for both of us, so who knows, maybe it did bring you good luck.”

“Thank you, sir.” Tiner was relieved; he hadn’t really wanted to give it up. The then-Commander Rabb had been someone he wanted to emulate. The fact that he had given the cover to him had meant a great deal to him, even in that terrible time.

“That will be all, Lieutenant.”

“Yes sir.” Tiner came to attention and turned to leave the room.

Harm crossed his arms and leaned back on his desk as Tiner left the room. It seemed he would know now ‘up close and personal’ just how Tiner the officer would turn out. 

 

1345
Monday
June 13th
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania

 

Mattie sat resting on the front porch. She sat on the bench, leaning forward slightly and stretching her left leg out a bit. It was starting to hurt again, but she had done well today, so it was worth it. She had been able to walk the length of the porch with Mrs. Rabb standing by. She hadn’t lost her balance once.

“That was great, Mattie.”

“Thank you – it was great, wasn’t it?” Her smile was a welcome sight to Mrs. Rabb. She had had a difficult time the first few days after Harm left for London. She understood the reasoning behind their separation and looked forward to the day they would all be together, but the realities of the time in between began to sink in, leaving her feeling abandoned.

“Yes, dear, I think it was so good that you will just have to do it again after we do some stretching.” Mrs. Rabb couldn’t let that pass; besides Mattie needed to push herself now more than ever.

“I’ve been working for an hour, grandma.” Mattie had begun calling her this out of the blue, and though Mrs. Rabb noticed, she never called attention to it. She just answered her as if she had always been her grandmother. It just seemed the natural order of things.

“You’re young and on your first legs, Miss.” Mrs. Rabb walked over to her and sat down. They did some stretches and strengthening exercises on her knee and her arm, and then after a short rest she decided it was time for Mattie to get on her feet again.

“Grandma? Do you think everything will be all right over there – in London, I mean.”

“Of course, Mattie – why wouldn’t it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anyone over there. I’ll feel out of place.”

“There are a lot of children whose parents are stationed in London who felt the same way when they first arrived. You’ll be attending the American school, with other military dependents and children of foreign service people.”

“Do you think people in London will hate me because I’m a military kid?”

“Oh, honey, no – what makes you think that? You’re watching too much television.”
Mattie shrugged, feeling a little embarrassed.

“People in London won’t hate you – I tend to think that Brits see Americans as this wild cousin of theirs. They have a great affection for us, but they hope we don’t show up when they have company.” Mattie laughed with Mrs Rabb.

“Stop borrowing trouble, Miss Mattie. It’s time to get to work. Let’s see how much progress we can make before Mac comes this weekend.” She winked at her and guided her up into a standing position.

Oscar, Mrs. Rabb’s Labrador retriever, lay at the side of the bench, keeping his watch over Mattie. He raised his head and thumped his tail as he did every time Mattie walked across the room. He had become her constant companion and protector. No one had been able to come near her but Mrs. Rabb. He had even been a bit wary of Mac when she visited.

Mac had come for a long weekend in the first weekend in June. It had been just what Mattie needed to feel a part of Harm and Mac’s future. Mac had helped her realize that they were all just getting ready to be together again after the baby came and Mattie got more physically able to travel.

“Okay, Mattie, remember: back straight, eyes forward, no watching your feet. That’s my job.” Mrs. Rabb chuckled and gently touched her back, signaling her to begin.


1830 
Thursday
June 16th
Trafalgar Square
London, England

 

Harm walked around the pillar on which a statue of Lord Nelson was erected. This was the place. The last place his mother ever had been in her life. The square was busy and full of people now. A number of red double-decker buses stood out in the busy traffic on the street. He had avoided coming here since he had arrived, but the longer he waited the more it weighed on his mind. It was time to put this to rest once and for all. Harm didn’t want anything to have that much power over him anymore.

As he walked around he passed the Landseer Lions of Trafalgar Square standing their sentinel watch at the base of the statue. He remembered a legend his mother had told him about the Landseer Lions and Big Ben: if Big Ben chimed a thirteenth time, the legend said that the fearsome Landseer Lions would come to life. He smiled as he remembered the times they had read together, the way she had brought out his natural curiosity in reading.

She had been a good mother, and he missed her; there was still so much he wished he had told her.

Harm looked around the square, trying to reach her somehow, and then it occurred to him. She wasn’t here; this place had nothing to do with what she was to him or his father. She was at home; to him she was at the place he felt closest to her now, at the farm in Pennsylvania. He believed too that she was with his father.

The person who had perpetrated the wrong that had been done here had met justice, and that was really all that mattered. It was over, and now he was going to do what he knew both his parents wanted him to: get on with his life and be happy. As hard as the last year had been, it had brought him more happiness than he’d ever thought he had a right to feel. His cell phone ring tone pulled him from his reverie.

“Rabb.”

“Hello, Rabb, this is Mrs. Rabb.”

“Hey.” He smiled at the source of most of his happiness this past year.

“I’ve been thinking about you all morning.” It always worried her when she got this way; not being able to get him off of her mind usually meant something was wrong.

“That’s good to hear.” It was great to hear her voice, especially now.

“What are you doing? You’re not still at work, are you?” He had a tendency to overwork when he was on his own. It had been great for his career, but not so great for him, Mac had decided.

“No, I’m taking a walk.”

“Where are you?” Mac wished so much that she were walking with him.

“Trafalgar Square.”

“Oh – are you okay, Harm?” When Harm had gotten orders to London, Mac had worried that being that close to Trafalgar Square would be difficult.

“Yeah, better than I thought I would be.” The thought occurred to him as he said it.

“Now –that’s- good to hear.” He sounded good. She could always tell when he was holding something back, even long distance. He wasn’t this time; the tone of his voice was even and clear. Their cell phone connection was so good that she felt as though he were in the next room.

Harm looked over his shoulder, taking one last look as he walked out of the square and onto Northumberland Street. He didn’t see any need to stay to exorcise any more demons, now that coming here held no power to hurt him.

“Now, tell me about your day.” He was ready to focus on her now. Harm was feeling as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

 

1435
Saturday 
June 25th
US Naval Academy Chapel
Annapolis, Maryland

 

Mac sat in the pew, about halfway back on the groom’s side. Varese and Sturgis stood facing Chaplain Turner. She was so happy for her friend and was sorry that Harm had not been able to see this. Harm and Sturgis seemed to have mended their friendship, and the plan had been for Harm to stand up for Sturgis as his best man, but both of their orders had prevented that. Maybe it was just as well, given the strain on their relationship in the past few months. Sturgis’s cousin, who had also graduated from the Academy four years before Sturgis, had taken his place.  

There were many faces here she did not recognize: Varese’s friends and family, some of Sturgis family. Then there were some that were very familiar to her. AJ and Marcella Chegwidden, Jennifer Coates and the Gunny had come. Mrs. Rabb and Mattie sat to her right. Mattie was walking with a cane now, though Mrs. Rabb stayed close by to make sure she managed without a loss of balance. The general and his family were present. The Robertses, with the exception of Big Bud, were in attendance. The only one missing was Harm. Mac closed her eyes and thought of him sitting next to her, wishing to feel his hand slipped discreetly into hers. She missed him so much; his presence was something tangible to her. He didn’t have to speak; she felt him when he walked into the room. The baby thumped an agreement and Mac opened her eyes.

The male members of the wedding party were filing out to arch swords while the guests filed out of the chapel from the side entrance. A few moments later, Sturgis and Varese came through the arched swords and Captain Clayton Turner announced, “Presenting for the first time in public, Commander and Mrs. Sturgis Clayton Turner.” The ceremony was completed by Varese’s ‘christening’ tap on the six and “Go Navy.”

 

One hour later…

 

Mac was being led out onto the dance floor by AJ Chegwidden at Sturgis and Varese’s wedding reception. She felt like an elephant, but he insisted she come out and start enjoying this occasion. She had been enjoying herself – she just felt as though part of her was missing because Harm was so far away.

“Are you sure you’re ready to deal with a very pregnant Sarah Mackenzie Rabb on the dance floor, sir?”

“I think I can handle it. I learned a lot from Marcella when she was expecting Francesca.”

He had the scars to prove it. Some of them had lasted longer than ones he had from combat in Vietnam. He remembered one scar in particular on his head, one that had required stitches. He looked across the room to see Marcella dancing with Jack Keeter. He had shown up for the reception and had toasted the groom and charmed nearly everyone one the room. Marcella looked at him over Jack’s shoulder and her gaze softened. He was so glad to have her back in his life, along with his daughter, whom he thought he would never have any real relationship with. Mac’s comment pulled him from his thoughts.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger, right, sir?”

“Something like that.” He gave her a wry grin.

Mac felt a sharp pain on her left side and she flinched slightly.

AJ, perceptive as ever, picked up on it right away. “What is it, Mac?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I have a bit of pain from my surgery last fall.” She laughed, trying to reassure him. “I’m getting bigger by the day. I’m bound to have some kind of pain occasionally.” She looked up at him.

He looked down at her, giving her his critical and assessing look.

“Hmpf. Mac… I don’t think you should be staying alone anymore. I know I’m overstepping here, but I think that given the events over the last year, you should be more cautious.”

He was waiting to feel her stiffen in his arms, excuse herself and walk away. He knew she hated being coddled but he felt a certain responsibility toward her. He knew that Harm had not wanted to leave her alone and that she had insisted he go and take his assignment in London. It had been an unspoken understanding that AJ would look in on her often to be sure she wasn’t taking on too much.

“I appreciate your concern and I’m considering taking medical leave before the baby comes.”

“Really?” AJ was shocked; he raised his eyebrows and looked at her directly. “It may be wise, Mac.”

“Harm and I talked about it before he left. I want to work as long as I can, but if I start having any real difficulty at all I will slow down. As for being alone, for the next couple of weeks Mattie and Mrs. Rabb are going to be here with me. Mattie is doing well enough and Sarah seems to feel that she needs to see some of the friends she made at school in Washington. Her friends in Blacksburg seem to be unable to handle her accident and her inability to keep up with them.”

“That’s a shame; I suppose she’s learning early that times like that tell you who your friends really are.”

Mac looked at him and smiled, understanding his double meaning. “That’s true… that’s very true.” The music came to a stop and AJ led Mac back to her chair to sit the next couple of dances out.

 

0930
Wednesday
July 6th
Courtroom # One
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

  
Mac sat at the bench listening to Commander Roberts finish his closing arguments. This case had been a very interesting one. A lieutenant commander stationed at NTC Dam Neck had been brought up on an Article 92 charge, failure to obey a lawful order. He had refused to require his students to recite the ‘Sailors Creed’ at the beginning of each class. A standing order had been handed down Navy-wide recently by the admiral in charge of the Navy’s Training Command. Commander Roberts was prosecuting the case.

“In summation I would like to quote the inscription on the tombstone of Admiral Arleigh Burke, three-time CNO, recipient of the Medal of Freedom, Navy Cross and many other distinguished commendations, located on the grounds of the United States Naval Academy. ‘Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Sailor, United States Navy…”

Bud walked across the courtroom and faced the members. “Admiral Mike Boorda, CNO at the time of his passing, stated, ‘Admiral Burke defined what it means to be a Naval Officer, relentless in combat, resourceful in command and revered by his crews. He was a Sailor’s Sailor.’”

“The order requiring all naval personnel to recite the ‘Sailors Creed’ was not meant to demean anyone. It was a lawful order, meant to unite officers and enlisted and instill pride in the naval service as a whole. Lieutenant Commander Waxman disobeyed that order by not requiring his class to recite the ‘Sailors Creed’ as other instructors have.”

Bud returned to his seat and Mac rapped the gavel. “This Court is in recess until the members’ findings are published.”

Commander Faith Coleman, who had been defending the case, looked up at Colonel Rabb. She noticed that the colonel grimaced in pain and then quickly recovered her unreadable and professional expression. Faith continued to watch her as she started to stand and then saw her place her hand on the left lower side of her abdomen. She sat back down again. Something was wrong. Faith looked across the courtroom at Bud. “Commander Roberts.” She said it sharply and a little louder than she intended.

Bud turned toward her quickly, frowning a bit at her tone of voice. “Yes?”

She walked quickly over to him. “Commander, something seems to be wrong.” She looked up toward Mac.

Bud looked at Mac and understood immediately. He looked at Faith and ordered, “Call an ambulance and notify the general now.”

He walked quietly but swiftly toward Mac. “Ma’am, are you all right?” He spoke in a low voice, not wanting to attract too much attention.

Mac looked up at him, trying to remain calm but having difficulty due to the pain she felt making its way from her lower left side and spreading to the right. This was different; the pain nearly took her breath away, making it difficult to speak. She looked at Bud and spoke in a low voice, “Something is wrong, Bud.”

Bud looked back at his second chair, Lieutenant Mayfield, who had followed him to the bench. “Get Admiral Morris. Tell him that the colonel is ill and is awaiting transport to Bethesda.” He spoke calmly and firmly.

Faith was already on her way to the bullpen.  

Petty Officer Coates saw Faith walk in and stood as she approached. There was no emotion apparent on her face, but something was up; Jen could feel it.

“Petty Officer, we need an ambulance at Courtroom One and I need to see the general now. We have an emergency involving Colonel Rabb.”

Jen immediately buzzed his office. “I have Commander Coleman for you. It is an emergency, sir.”

As she entered General Creswell’s office, Faith looked over her shoulder at Jen. “Contact Admiral Chegwidden.”

“Yes ma’am. I’ll contact Mrs. Rabb and Mattie as well.” Something must be terribly wrong if it were moving Commander Coleman to become this involved. The commander was still famous for keeping her distance from most of the staff at JAG.

Faith nodded and turned her attention to the general as she closed the door behind her. She came to attention.

“At ease.” The general’s brow knitted in curiosity.

“Sir, its Colonel Rabb. There appears to be a problem. Commander Roberts is with her, and he has instructed Lieutenant Mayfield to notify Admiral Morris that the colonel will be transported to Bethesda as soon as the ambulance arrives.”

“Were you able to finish the case?”

“Yes sir – we had just finished closing arguments. We had just adjourned; however, the members are still out.”

“Very well. You and Commander Roberts will need to be available when the members return.”

He buzzed Jen’s desk. “Clear my schedule this morning, Coates. I’ll be accompanying the colonel to Bethesda. Has the colonel’s family here been notified?”

“Yes sir, Mrs. Rabb and the Admiral Chegwidden are on their way to Bethesda as we speak. Sir, what about Captain Rabb?”

“I will take care of that matter from the hospital. We will not contact the captain until we have something to tell him.”

“Yes sir.”

Jen turned off the intercom and looked out the glass doors of the bullpen as she saw emergency medical personnel exit the elevator toward the courtrooms. Gunny looked in her direction and then out the doors as well. Their eyes locked and he knew. It was Colonel Rabb.

 

1010 
Same day
En route to National Naval Medical Center

 

Mac lay on the gurney, listening to the sound of the siren and the medical personnel giving her vitals to the emergency room at Bethesda. She looked at the general sitting to her right. It had been kind of him to accompany her, though a bit awkward. She hadn’t had the opportunity yet to know him as well as she had Admiral Chegwidden, but she had no doubt that he was a good man. The way he had handled her transition to the judiciary had been evidence of that.

The general looked at the corpsman attending Mac. “How many minutes out are we, Petty Officer?”

“About 10 minutes, sir.”

“Very well.” He looked down and noticed the colonel watching him.

“Hang in there, Colonel – we’re almost there.”

The pain Mac was having was still with her and she was fighting the panic she was beginning to feel rise up inside her. This baby just had to be all right. She knew in her heart there would not be another. This baby was their chance to be parents of a child that was their own.

Mac spoke in a low tone, as though volume would make it hurt more.

“I’m sorry about this, sir.”

“Not at all, Colonel.”

“This must be old news for you, sir.” She remembered that the general was a father too.

“Not really. I didn’t get to be with my wife when the children were born.” He had been deployed, but his wife had borne it well, with her own special grace.

“It happens.” Mac voice was still low and she tried to think of something else to say.

“Yes, it does, and you’re going to be all right, Colonel.”

General Creswell made the statement, making it sound as though it couldn’t be any other way. He had given an order, after all.

“Mrs Rabb and Admiral Chegwidden will be waiting when we arrive at the hospital.”

Mac nodded “Yes sir – thank you, sir.” She tried to take a calming breath, pressing her lips together in a thin line as she exhaled. She closed her eyes and willed the ambulance to move faster.

 
1130 
Labor deck
National Naval Medical Center
Bethesda, Maryland

Captains Morrison and Fletcher walked out of Mac’s exam room and into the hallway. They looked down the hallway at the small group of people waiting to hear about her condition. Mac’s scar tissue had become more of a problem than they expected. The tissue had spread across her abdomen, pressing against the growing baby, causing the radiating pain across Mac’s lower abdomen.

This was an OB case, but because Captain Morrison was her oncologist and he had performed surgery, he was also continuing to monitor her. Both doctors agreed that the best course of action would be a C-section as soon as possible. They walked toward the assembled group of Mac’s friends and family. 

The general walked to meet them just a few paces outside the group. “I am General Creswell, the colonel’s commanding officer. What is her status?”

“Is Captain Rabb not available, sir?”

“He is not; he is in London at present.” He stood blocking their way to the rest of the group. He had to arrange a way to get Captain Rabb here as soon as possible; he had to get as many details as he could.

“The colonel’s previous problem with her scar tissue has resurfaced and has worsened. We need to deliver this baby as soon as possible.”

“Is the colonel aware of your recommendations?”

“She is and she has agreed.”

“I will see that the captain is notified.”

“Thank you, sir.” The doctors started back toward Mac’s room.

The general looked at AJ. “You’ll keep me informed?”

“Certainly,” he assured him.

“Thank you.” He looked at Mrs Rabb and Mattie and nodded his goodbye.

AJ saw the doctors going into Mac’s room. “Excuse me.”

“Yes?” Captain Fletcher answered as both doctors turned toward him.

“May I speak with the colonel for a moment?”

“Are you a family member?”

“No.”

From behind the curtain they heard Mac say, “I’d like to speak with him for a moment, Captain, if it would be all right.”

The captain nodded her acquiescence, and AJ walked into the room and walked over to Mac’s bedside.
Mac looked at AJ and tried to smile. She had been able to keep up her brave front so far, but the facade was beginning to crack. She wanted her husband.

AJ seemed to see through her practiced tough exterior. “It’s going to be okay, Mac.”

Mac nodded, but as she did tears began to fall from her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, there is nothing wrong with wanting your husband with you at a time like this.”

“Were you there when Francesca was born?”

“Yes and I got called every kind of SOB. In Italian.” AJ smirked at the thought; Marcella’s labor had been a tough 17 hours.

Mac laughed through her tears and winced when she felt it tug at her left side. AJ took her hand, and she looked up at him and admitted what she never thought she would.

“I’m afraid…what if I lose her?”

AJ knew the gravity of what she had just said; she wouldn’t have said this if she didn’t feel this fear soul deep.

“Mac, that’s not going to happen.” AJ could not fathom it. Both Harm and Mac had lost so much in their lives. Whatever higher power there was could not allow them to lose any more.

Mac nodded, but the look in her eyes told him she didn’t quite believe him.

“Listen to me, Mac. You are here with doctors who know you and how to handle this situation. The best technology in the world is right here. You and your baby are going to be fine. Do you hear me, Marine?” He closed his other hand over hers. “You just relax and let these people do their jobs and help you bring this baby into the world.” 

Mac nodded, unable to speak just now.

AJ winked at her and released her hand. “I’ll see what I can do about getting your husband back to the States. All right?”

Though he was retired, he intended to have a conversation with General Creswell. Although he did not know him well, he knew that General Creswell was already working on getting the captain back here ASAP.

“Yeah,” she whispered. 

“Okay.” He backed away from her and turned and walked toward the doorway.  Mrs. Rabb stood just outside, peering in.

Mac looked at her. “Hi.”

“Hello, I understand you asked the doctors if I could accompany you to deliver the baby.”

“Is that all right?” She had not expected to need anyone, but then again, she had expected Harm to be with her.

“Of course, dear. I’d be honored.” She walked up to Mac’s bedside and pushed her hair back from her face. “It really is going to be all right, honey. I have this wonderful feeling that this is going to be one of the best days of our lives.”

She would be witnessing the birth of her and David’s great grandchild. She couldn’t imagine a greater gift.

Mac took a deep breath and nodded her agreement. Mrs. Rabb was about hope; it was one of the things she loved most about her.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but we need to prepare Colonel Rabb for surgery. Captain Fletcher has requested that you report to the delivery deck ASAP. You will need to scrub and dress in time to be present at the delivery.”

Mrs. Rabb looked at Mac and leaned down and kissed her cheek. “See you in a few moments.” With that Mrs. Rabb left the room.

 

15 minutes later…

 

The doors to the delivery suites opened with a bang as the corpsmen rolled Mac into the suite. To her left, Mrs. Rabb approached her, dressed in turquoise scrubs and her hair covered in a white paper cap.

“I’m right here, honey.”

Mac reached for her hand.

“Come on, Mac – let’s go have a baby.” Mrs Rabb’s eyes were sparkling with delight.


1730
July 6 2005
London Time
Bond Street 
Central London

 

Mike had almost reached the Bond Street entrance to the Tube when his cell phone rang.

“Michael?”

“Faith! Hey...it’s great to hear from you.” He hadn’t expected to hear from her until the coming weekend.

“Listen, have you seen Captain Rabb?”

“Yeah, he left a bit early today. He didn’t appear to be having a very good day...Why?”

“Everyone is trying to find him. Colonel Rabb is at Bethesda today. The general has been turning half of Naval Forces Europe upside down to try and locate him.”

“What’s going on? Where are you?”  Mike stopped and stepped nearer to a building so that others could pass and he could better understand her. So far nothing was making much sense.

Faith was at Bethesda; she and Bud had secured early, with the general’s permission. The members had returned quickly with a guilty verdict in Faith’s Article 92 case. Admiral Morris had stepped in to preside in Colonel Rabb’s place. Since she and Commander Roberts were the resourceful people they were, they had convinced the general they could help locate the captain. They also promised to double their efforts on their case work in the morning if allowed to go to Bethesda this afternoon.

“I’m at Bethesda – the colonel delivered their baby today, and Commander Roberts and I had an idea about how to help the captain get a look at his new baby right away.”

Mike caught on right away and liked the idea. “Our picture phones?”

“Very good, Mister Marine – now all we have to do is find him.”

“I’m on it, Lady Sailor. I’ll call you back as soon as I find him.” With that Mike ended the call, satisfied that he got the last word in… this time.


1955
London time
Wednesday
July 6th
NLSO BROFF
London, England


Harm walked up the steps to the office. He had been walking around central London for the last two hours. He hadn’t wanted to go back to his lonely apartment tonight. He felt on edge tonight for some reason. Everything had irritated him today; he thought it best to be on his own tonight.

He’d had a couple of pints with McBurney last night and that had helped pass the time. Giving Mike a little good natured needling about Faith Coleman had become one of his favorite things to do, but he was in no mood for that tonight. He looked at his watch. Mac would probably still be in court; there was no use in trying to reach her now.

He walked into his darkened office, flipping on the light over his desk and dropping into his chair.

Outside on North Audley…

Mike was beginning to think he was never going to find him. He had been to Harm’s apartment, around Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus… it seemed to him he had looked everywhere and he was beginning to get worried. He looked toward the office and noticed a light on; as he drew nearer to it he realized that it was Captain Rabb’s office. He pushed the button to dial Faith’s number and got through right away.

“I found him – he’s back at the NLSO. I’m going into the building now.”

“Okay, I’ve got a text message and then a few pictures. Can you manage that?”

“Yes, I think so…what kind of question is that?” he demanded, slightly irritated that she might think he didn’t know how to use his picture phone.

“Okay, Michael, I’m joking. Honestly!” She chuckled at him, surprised at his sensitivity.

“All right, all right… I’m on our floor. Let me make sure that it’s the captain.”

Faith might not be laughing if she knew Captain Rabb had seen the lovely picture she sent last month.

He knocked on Harm’s office door. “Captain Rabb? Sir? Are you there?”

Harm stood and answered. “Yes. McBurney? What are you doing here?”

“Sir?” Mike couldn’t keep the smile from his face. “I have a message for you from your wife.”

Harm frowned. Why hadn’t she called him herself – and why would she call McBurney? He reached into his pocket to check his cell phone. He had turned it off and forgotten to turn it back on when he left the office.

Mike handed the phone to him and Harm looked at the message. It read:

Jacqueline Patricia Rabb.
Four pounds Eight ounces.
Seventeen inches long.
Born at 1246, July 6 2005.
Mother and Baby are doing fine. 

Harm blinked. He couldn’t believe she was here – their baby was here. He looked at Mike, speechless. “How?”

“Commander Coleman is at Bethesda with her picture phone. We thought it might be nice if you saw your daughter right away.”

Harm looked back down at the picture phone, which was still showing the text.

Mike pointed to the place on the keypad to retrieve the pictures that had been sent. “Sir, if you will push this button.”

Harm pushed it, and was rewarded with a picture of a very tiny Jacqueline Rabb being lifted up slightly from her warming bed, so that her face could be seen in the picture.

Mike suddenly felt like an intruder and thought it might be time to step outside and give the captain some privacy. “Sir, there are more pictures; just push the button. I’ll be just outside.”

Harm nodded, but his eyes never left the picture on the small screen. He reached for the back of the chair nearest him and felt his way to the front of it to sit down. He pushed the button Mike had shown him, and saw a picture of Mac in her hospital bed and surrounded by their friends and family. AJ, Bud and Harriet, his grandmother and even Mattie. She looked great, standing at Mac’s bedside. He was so relieved Mac wasn’t all alone, but brokenhearted that he had not been there. He knew she must have needed him. He pushed the button again and it was a text message. It read:

Mister Marine
Tell the captain to call directly to the colonel’s room
812 555 1996
Room 427
Call me later
Lady Sailor

Harm closed the phone and placed the call from his office to the National Naval Medical Center and Mac’s room.

“Hello,” Mrs. Rabb answered.

“Grandma?”

“Harmon! That was quick. I’ll get Mac for you.”

“Harm?” Mac sounded groggy.

“Mac!” He wished with all his heart he was there with her. Their dream had come true; their baby had made it into the world healthy and whole.

“She’s here, Harm, and she’s perfect.”

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there.” He shook his head slightly, feeling that he had let her down again.

“Harm, you’ve been there and -are- there for me in all the ways that count.” Mac’s voice cracked with emotion. “General Creswell is going to try and get you back here for a couple of days. You’ll be with us soon.” It was so good to hear his voice.

“This has been a terrible day up until now. I can’t wait to get back to you.” Harm stood and carried the phone to the door of his office. “Just a minute, I have to let McBurney have his picture phone back. We’re going to have to have one now for sure.” Harm heard Mac laugh softly into the phone.

Harm smiled and handed the cell phone back to Mike. “Thank you, Mike.”

“You’re welcome, sir, and congratulations.” Mike turned to walk down the hallway. “Goodnight, sir.”

Harm nodded and smiled, turning back to his conversation with Mac. “Mac, I know you must be tired, but if you can, tell me everything. Is she really all right?”

“She’s tiny, Harm, and she is in the Neonatal Unit. She is requiring oxygen but the doctors say that it is pretty normal for a preemie. She’s beautiful, Harm. She’s tiny, but she’s just perfect.” Mac was repeating herself but she just couldn’t express it any better. “I feel like I’m looking at an angel.”

Harm sat back in his chair and heaved a satisfied sigh. The baby was here, and she was all right. Mac was all right and he was coming home.


0745
London time
Friday
July 7th
NLSO BROFF
London, England

Mike McBurney unlocked his office and stepped inside. He saw a note in the middle of his desk calendar. It read:

Mike
Thank you again for your help in connecting me with my family on such a momentous night.
I will be out of the office until Tuesday. The Judge Advocate General has seen fit to allow me a few days leave to meet my daughter.
I forgot to pass on a text message that you received last night.
Lady Sailor would like Mister Marine to call her.
All the Best
Harm.

Mike sat down the chair behind his desk with a thump. He would never live this down. He should call her right now, but she was probably in court. He hoped the captain did ask her about her picture, the one with the crossed eyes. It would serve her right. He grinned, shook his head and turned on his computer to begin his work day.


1800
Thursday
July 7th
National Naval Medical Center
Bethesda, Maryland


Harm walked as fast as he could without running into the entrance of the building. It had been a long trip, but he was not tired. He was running on pure adrenaline, he was feeling almost giddy. He had laughed at himself when he was shaving at a layover in New York. The baby wouldn’t be able to see if he had a five o’clock shadow or not; she wouldn’t be able to tell what he was wearing. He had changed into a clean uniform anyway; after all, he was meeting his daughter today. He couldn’t wait to see her and his legs couldn’t carry him fast enough.

Harm exited the elevators and followed the numbered signs to Mac’s room. Her room was empty. Harm looked at the nurse’s station just behind him; the corpsman answered his question before he asked it.

“She’s probably in the NICU, sir. She and her grandmother left not five minutes ago.”

“Where?” Harm walked toward the nurse’s station.

“It’s just down the hallway, through the double doors to your right, sir.”

He smiled and thanked her, and immediately made his way to the NICU.

He walked up to the unit enclosed in glass. A nurse’s station was at the entrance.

“I’m here to see my daughter.”

“Your name, sir?”

“Captain Harmon Rabb.”

“Yes sir, follow me.”

Harm followed the corpsman to a row of clear bassinets. There appeared to be about 7 of them, sitting on wheeled carts. Harm looked at each baby as he passed and then he stopped in front of the bassinet labeled ‘Baby Rabb.’ He looked at the corpsman.

“Here she is, sir.” The young man liked this part of his job. It wasn’t easy to see these patients struggle through the first weeks of their lives, but this was one of the perks: Introducing a parent to his or her child.

Harm looked at the tiny baby, wrapped in a pink blanket and wearing a small pink cap. She had a small tube that went inside her mouth, a monitor that read her heart rate and her oxygen level attached to her heel. As the corpsman explained, Harm’s eyes never left the baby.

“Would you like to hold her, sir?”

Harm looked at the corpsman quickly. He wasn’t ready; she had more lines and tubes than he had expected. She didn’t look real to him at that moment.

“I’ll wait for my wife.”

“Yes sir, she should be here any moment. Let us know if you need anything, sir.”

“Thank you, Petty Officer.” Harm glanced quickly toward him.

Harm looked down at the baby, trying to see her through everything that seemed to be attached to her. The baby, whose eyes had been closed, suddenly opened her eyes and appeared to look directly at Harm. He leaned forward and closely as he could, locking his hands behind his back, as though he didn’t want to touch the bassinet.

“Hello,” he said to his daughter.

Jacqueline blinked, and her eyes seemed to open wider as though she were trying to see him better. At that moment Harm finally saw the baby beneath all the wires and tape. They were looking at each other eye to eye and he was smitten. The baby drew her eyebrows down as if she were studying him. Harm bent down even closer, his big body nearly bent double at the waist. This was the picture that greeted Mac as Mrs. Rabb wheeled her into the unit.

Mac held up her hand and whispered to Mrs. Rabb, “Wait.” She didn’t want to interrupt the moment. “Look at that. I think the baby is already wrapping her father around her little finger.”

Mrs. Rabb smiled and nodded her agreement. She was so glad to see this day, so glad for Harm and Mac and, if she were honest, for herself too. Though this year had been hard in some ways, her life was so much richer because of these two. They had brought Mattie into her life, and now this new baby was the icing on the cake. She couldn’t ask for more.

Mac locked the brakes on her wheelchair and carefully stood up. She walked gingerly over to where Harm stood. He had sensed her presence as she walked toward him, and he straightened his back and held his arm open for her to walk into his embrace. She tucked herself carefully into his arms and Harm kissed her temple.

“Thank you.” He looked down at her and into her eyes.

“You’re welcome. I couldn’t have done it without you, Sailor.” She kissed his cheek.

“You were right, Mac – she is beautiful.” Harm turned to look at their baby.

“She’s getting stronger too, Harm. She doesn’t require any assistance with her oxygen levels now, though they are monitoring her closely. I know the tubing is a little frightening at first.”

“I know, but after you see her eyes and she looks at you, you just don’t see it anymore.”
Harm was amazed at how quickly all the lines attached to the baby became secondary to that intense little gaze.

Mac smiled at him. “That’s right.” She winced a bit; her incision was beginning topull. “I think I better sit down.”

Harm walked her to the rocker that sat near the bassinet and helped her ease into it. Mrs. Rabb brought another rocking chair and placed it next to Mac’s.

“You don’t have to do that, Grandma. You’ve already done so much for us. I don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t been here to help us.”

“It’s all right, sit down. I’ll go down and get a cup of coffee and let you two spend some time with your daughter.”

They would never know what they had meant to her.

“Thanks – where is Mattie, by the way? I wanted to tell her how great she looked in the picture last night. You’ve done such a great job with her.”

“Mattie has done most of the work. She is with Jennifer and Victor. Jen is getting a few of Mattie’s old friends and taking them all to the movies.”

Mac braced herself and chuckled. “Poor Gunny.”

Mrs. Rabb laughed along with her, and she left as the unit nurse came into the room. “Would you like to hold the baby for a while, Captain?”

“Yes, I would.” He wasn’t afraid to hold her now; as a matter of fact, he couldn’t wait to get his hands on her.

The nurse arranged the baby’s tubing and wrapped her in her blanket before placing her into Harm’s hands. He sat her slightly up and she nearly fit into the palm of one of his hands. She opened her eyes and gave him her serious and direct look.

“She’s unbelievable, Mac.”

Mac gave him an indulgent smile. “I know. She looks as though she knows all the secrets of the universe.” She reached over and stroked the side of his face and hair with the tips of her fingers.

He looked at Mac.  “There is something else, too.” He looked back at the baby. “It’s hard to explain, but I feel like I recognize her face, like I already know her.” Harm knew this didn’t make sense, but it was the way he felt, and the feeling was so profound that he had to tell her about it. 

“I know what you mean. It’s like she’s been waiting for us to get our heads out of our sixes and get together so that she could come into the world.” She had felt that way since the first time she looked into her eyes right after the baby had been born. 

Harm looked back into Jacqueline’s little face and remembered her mother’s question to him over a year ago.

“Yeah, Mac… it’s as though she’s always been there.”

 

Epilogue

Saturday
October 22, 2005
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania

Mrs. Rabb stood on her front porch holding her granddaughter. She was bundled in a jacket and cap that was a beautiful shade of ‘Marine green,’ much to her father’s consternation. It was a sunny but cool day. Jackie seemed to love the outdoors; she was such a happy baby. The wind picked up slightly and whirled a pile of leaves high in the air. The baby squealed with delight and locked her hands together. As young as she was, she seemed to be curious about every sound and interested in every face. Mrs. Rabb smiled and kissed her little cheek. They would need to go in in just a moment; the baby’s nose was getting pink.

She was expecting Jack Keeter this afternoon. She had offered him a couple of good home cooked meals and a nap or two in front of the fireplace in return for the loan of his cabin.   Mrs. Rabb kept the baby and Mattie would be staying with her while Harm and Mac took a quick weekend away before they moved to London. They were celebrating a year together, along with the news that Mac’s health was continuing to improve, once again with close monitoring.

Mattie would remain behind for at least the first semester. She had asked Harm if she could wait until early next year to come over. She had made new friends here; life was slower and easier for her now, and for the time being, it seemed to be what she needed.  She and Mrs. Rabb had become very close, and for the time being Mattie wanted to stay here in the States. Harm had been disappointed but he had understood.

Mattie had been able to return to walking without assistance and her balance had improved a great deal. She still had lapses at times when she was tired or not feeling well, though those times were getting fewer and farther between. School was proving to be a challenge for her, a greater challenge than anyone expected. She was beginning to make progress at school, but her first few weeks had been difficult at best. Her attention span had been affected by the accident and Mattie’s frustration level with her limitations was high. Special tutoring was helping her catch up with her classmates. Mrs. Rabb knew that all she needed was time. Mattie would be joining Harm and Mac, just a bit later than planned.

Mrs. Rabb and Mattie would both fly over to London over the holidays. She believed that would be all Mattie needed to feel that she could do well with Harm and Mac living overseas. She might just stay in London for a while herself; Mrs. Rabb decided that you were never too old to try new things. She smiled at the thought.

She bounced Jackie on her hip, and the baby smiled at her, then returned her attention to the red barn she had been studying for the last few minutes. She felt such a sense of immortality when she looked at this child. She had witnessed another generation of this family come into the world. She remembered Mary and Andrew Rabb and how they had always been there for her. She could see their faces still… she could still hear Mary’s voice, and though she was soft spoken, that voice had belied the strength within. Andrew Rabb’s unspoken respect for his wife and his love for his son and grandson had taught her what the word ‘family’ meant. His sense of honor and fair play was a lesson he taught by example.

She and David had believed they would have the same long and happy life that his parents had, that the war was merely a bump in the road. Time proved them wrong all too soon, but their love had given them Harmon and memories that time could not erase from her heart. She could see him in her mind’s eye, tall and handsome, his smile drawing her in and making her fall head over heels in love with him. Try as she might, she could not resist him, and after he had finally won her, she hadn’t wanted to. When she looked at the baby now she could swear her eyes were already turning the same shade of green as her great grandfather’s. Loving David had changed her life, and though she had lost him, their love was always there.

She looked down at the first granddaughter of her only son. The baby reached for her face, and Mrs. Rabb took her hand and kissed it. Harmon had loved being a father; he had loved being a husband. He had made it obvious. For reasons she couldn’t explain, she was so proud of him for that. He was an open book – if he loved you, you knew it. He was the type of man she had heard David’s parents call a ‘true’ man; there was no guile in him. He had his father’s sense of humor and confidence. She remembered a drive they had taken on a Sunday afternoon during Harmon’s last visit to the farm. They had been listening to the radio and Harmon had decided it was time to sing. He’d turned the radio up and began to sing… terribly. ‘I can hear her heart beat for a thousand miles…and the heavens open every time she smiles…” Trish had laughed and covered her ears, and little Harm covered his eyes, peeking at his father between his fingers. They had all been feeling pretty low because Harmon would soon be leaving, and he had made them all laugh. Mrs. Rabb and Trish had laughed until they cried.

She looked down the gravel drive and remembered Harm and Mac finding each other … here of all places. They’d worked together every day for over nine years, but when they came here, they could finally acknowledge the love that had always been there. She saw a vehicle slow down and then turn into the drive. Oscar barked his usual greeting and followed the vehicle up the drive. It was Jack, just in time for dinner.

Jack saw Mrs. Rabb standing on the porch, holding his namesake. Harm and Mac had nearly done him in when they told him they had named the baby Jacqueline Patricia. He had been joking about naming their first born after him. He had been honored and touched beyond words when he heard it.

Jack parked in front of the house and walked up the steps to Mrs. Rabb. He said hello to Jackie, and she gave him her best open mouthed smile. He followed Mrs. Rabb into the house and further into the kitchen. Mrs. Rabb handed the baby to him and turned to wash her hands at the kitchen sink. She turned and saw Jack awkwardly holding the baby slightly away from him. She chuckled and walked over to him. She helped him place his hands more securely on the baby’s back and bottom and put the baby on his shoulder. Jackie peered at her great grandmother over his shoulder and blinked her thank you.

“For Pete’s sake, Jack, it’s a baby, not a cord of wood.” 

Mattie walked into the kitchen after witnessing the baby-holding lesson. She joined her grandmother in a good laugh on Jack.

Jack grinned sheepishly. “Okay, okay, what does a guy have to do to get something to eat around here?”

“Coming up, you rascal.” Mrs. Rabb continued to laugh at her grandson’s best friend.


2100
Saturday
October 22nd
Tilghman Island


Mac lay sleeping with Harm tucked in closely behind her. They had arrived late yesterday morning. Harm was at the halfway point in his leave time. They had spent a wonderful few days at the farm with Harm getting reacquainted with his daughter and with Mattie. Now they wanted to take this time alone before they left for London, a time to reconnect as a couple, just her and Harm. It had been a long time since circumstances had allowed them to return to a place that only they knew. That place where they were just a man and a woman who loved and needed each other. Harm’s new assignment and Mac’s pregnancy and subsequent healing thereafter had put unintended distance between them. The last 24 hours had helped them put all of that far behind them.

They hadn’t done very much sight seeing so far, though they had hiked out to Black Walnut Point this morning after breakfast. They couldn’t have ordered a more beautiful day. It was just as it had been a year before: the sound and smell of the ocean mixed with the scent of fall in the air. This was where they had really begun their journey together. This cabin would always be special to them.

Mac shifted slightly in her sleep and awoke, feeling Harm tighten his hold on her and tuck her in closer to him. She turned her head toward him as he woke and kissed her cheek.

“Hey, sorry – go back to sleep.” She ran her hand along his forearm as it closed around her.

Harm hugged her to him. “I can sleep anytime.”

“You’ll probably be swamped when you get back to London after two weeks of leave.”

“Nah.” His voice was still gravelly with sleep. “General Creswell sent Commander Coleman TAD to help with case load while I’m in the States.”

“Oh?” Mac turned in his arms. “That was kind of him.” Mac had the feeling that Harm had requested Faith Coleman specifically.

“Yes, it was.” Harm said, agreeing with her.

“I’m sure Major McBurney appreciated it.”

Harm smiled. “I’m sure he did.” He owed him something, after all. He had joined him in London without a backward look and was doing an excellent job. He had also taken his good natured jibing about Faith without complaint. 

Harm was suddenly wide awake, though he had only been slept a couple of hours. “So…what to you want to do now?” He was making it clear that getting out of bed wasn’t what he had in mind.

“Oh, I think if we REALLY try we can think of something.” She laughed softly as Harm kissed her cheek, working his way down to the sensitive area just below her ear. What they had both been thinking of took them deep into the cool fall night together, making up for the many nights they had to spend apart.

Harm and Mac could not look down their lives and say there would never be a time when they wouldn’t always physically present for each other. Their love, however, was something that always would be.

The End

 

 

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