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Classification Angst, romance (H/M)
Length Approx 7,800 words, 21 pages (8 x 11)
Spoilers Any JAG episode may be referenced
Rating GS
Summary Written for Virtual Season 2001

 



 

Prologue—-

JAG HQ Monday Morning
13 Aug 01
08:00 AM EST

 

"Hot enough for you Colonel?" Harm asked as he stuck his head in Mac's office. DC like the rest of the country was in the midst of a sweltering heat wave. A week solid of 90 plus temperatures was taking its toll on everyone.

"Yes" Mac groaned. "The air conditioning in my apartment went out last night. Do you have any idea how impossible it is to sleep when it's this hot? I opened the window and spent the night listening to the people across the street argue all night."

"Did you call the building super?" Harm asked as he sat down in the chair in front of her desk.

"Yes and they said they'd try and get someone in to fix it today," Mac sighed. "But I'm not holding my breath. I was never so happy to come to work. At least it's cool here."

"Should have called me. My place is nice and cool. Nice sofa you could have slept on."

"Well if they haven't fixed it when I get home I may take you up on that offer," Mac smiled.

"Excuse me sir, ma'am," Tiner said as he walked into Mac's office. "The Admiral would like to see both of you ASAP."

"On our way Tiner," Harm said as he stood up. "So what did you do now to get us in trouble?"

"Me? Had to be you," Mac grinned.

A few seconds later they both stood at attention in front of the Admiral's desk.

"At ease. I've got a new case for you two to handle. Lt. Brian Thorne has been charged with assault. Mrs. Thorne was found in the couple's base housing at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Mrs. Thorne claims her husband assaulted her after an argument. He says they had an argument, but claims he left and never touched Mrs. Thorne. You'll be representing Lt. Thorne."

"Pensacola," Mac sighed as they headed back to their office after securing their travel arrangements from Tiner. "I thought I was baking here."

"Well you won't bake for too long down there," Harm replied. "I think there's a tropical storm in the Gulf. Should cool things off."

"Tropical storm as in it could turn into a Hurricane?" Mac groaned.

"You worry too much," Harm smiled. "I'm sure that won't be the case."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Hours later they landed in Pensacola; Mac cringing at the heat as they stepped off the plane. "And I thought DC was bad," she sighed.

They secured a rental car and headed to the Naval Air Station.

"You want to talk to our client first?" Harm asked. "Or do you want to grab some lunch first?"

"Let's talk to Lt. Thorne first," Mac replied. "I want to see what he has to say for himself. And it's too hot to eat anyway."

"I get the feeling you think our client is guilty already," Harm said quietly. "I hope you plan on keeping an open mind."

"I am," Mac sighed. "I'm just hot and tired."

"And cranky," Harm finished with his flyboy grin. She gave him a long glare before his smile won her over.

"And cranky and bitchy," she smiled. "Sorry. I'll try and keep my personal feelings out of this."

"Boy I got an admittance of cranky and bitchy both," he grinned.

The July sun seemed extremely strong even for Florida as they parked in front of the brig facility. "I'm dying," she decided. "Just leave me here and I'll be a puddle of goo when you come back."

"You'll make it, and I promise a nice air conditioned O club for food," he encouraged and then pointed out to the south where a low ridge of clouds was warning of the approaching storm. "Our relief is on the way, but we may not like it after it gets here."

"I'll take anything that takes away this sun," she declared.

Harm and Mac regarded their client closely when he was brought to them. Tall and thin, he had that arrogant pilot air about him. Mac, despite her efforts to remain impassive, could not help a shake of her head as he sat down.

"I'm innocent," Brian spoke up at once. "Katie and I argued but I didn't touch her."

"You have in the past," Mac said, looking up from the file. "You've been investigated before and she's declined to press charges. Now you're going to tell me that someone other than yourself has access to your apartment? Oh, and let's not forget the big one here . . ," She leaned over so that she was crowding his space. "Your wife says it was you. Now you tell me how we're supposed to go into court and refute that."

Brian shrank away from the Marine officer. "Ma'am I. . . I don't know. I don't know why Katie would . . . no that's not true. I do. She's having an affair."

"Don't lie to us Lieutenant," Mac warned, not moving.

Harm lay a calming hand on his partner's back. "Lieutenant, excuse the Colonel here. She's feeling a little overzealous today."

Mac shot him a look that would have dropped a maggot. "I am searching for the truth here Commander."

"You're supposed to be on my side," Brian yelped.

"Son we have to know the truth so we know the best defense tactics," Harm said quietly, his hand still on Mac's back.

Harm and Mac spent the next two hours with the young lieutenant, questioning him closely about anything that the prosecution might use in their case.

"Guilty as sin," Mac groaned when they finally walked back to their car.

Harm stopped in his tracks in surprise. "Mac you're not serious? Guilty you got from him? I don't think so."

"Just because he's one of you," she snapped.

"One of. . . pilot you mean? Surely not. That had nothing to do with it. He's saddled with an unhappy marriage Colonel. You of all people should be able to identify with that."

"Of course," she replied, still in that peeved tone, "and look what happened. I killed the bastard. Well maybe that's what Thorne was thinking of too and got interrupted. Mrs. Thorne says all she can recall is the hands around her throat and then she blacked out. I probably would have too. She must have been terrified he was going to kill her."

"May I remind you we're the defense counsel," Harm snapped back, the heat and the oppressive humidity making his temper short as well. "And maybe if you can't see your way clear to represent the lieutenant, you should withdraw and go back to D.C. I can handle it on my own thank you."

"Maybe I will," Mac retorted. "Seeing as how you're not the least interested in finding out the truth here. All you're worried about is protecting your flyboy buddy."

"You know what, I think we'd better split up for the rest of the day," Harm said irritably. "You can go talk to Mrs. Thorne since you're so sympathetic to her. I'll go see if the neighbors heard or saw anything. You can drop me off and go visit her. The file says she's staying with her sister off base."

"Fine, I'll be more than happy to drop you off somewhere," Mac muttered as she climbed into the hot car.

They were silent as Mac drove to the base housing and Harm barely waited for her to stop the car before opening the door.

"Don't bother picking me up," Harm said as climbed out. "I'll find my own way back to the BOQ."

"How? Not by walking I hope?"

"Why not?" Harm countered. "It's not that far Colonel. I think I can handle it thank you."

"Whatever Commander," Mac retorted. "I'll see you later. We can discuss what we've found out over dinner."

"Fine," Harm said as he walked away.

He headed to the apartment next to the Thorne's and knocked on the door.

"I'm Commander Rabb from JAG," Harm said when the young man answered the door. "I'm here to ask some questions about Lt. Thorne and his wife."

"Yeah sure come in" the man offered. "Brian's a good friend. I can't believe she's getting away with this."

"Your name?" Harm asked as he sat down and pulled out his legal pad.

"Oh yeah sorry, Lt. Chad Michaels," the man said as he sat down. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"No thanks, I'm fine. So you know Brian and Katie pretty well then?"

The young man nodded. "Well enough to know that Katie is way off with these allegations."

"Were you here the night in question?" Harm asked.

"No sir. But I can assure you that Brian isn't the one who hurt Katie. Katie did a good job of covering things up but I know she was seeing someone on the side."

"You know who? Was it someone on base?"

"No, I don't think so," Chad replied. "He was a rough looking guy. Definitely not military."

"You saw him here?" Harm asked.

"Yep. Couple of times actually. I never said anything to Brian about it because I figured it wasn't any of my business. Everyone knew him and Katie were having problems and that it was just a matter of time before they split up."

"And you're sure this guy wasn't just some friend?"

"Friends don't do what they were doing," Chad smiled. "The walls of these places are paper thin Commander. You can hear everything."

"Any idea who this guy is?" Harm asked.

"No but I know who might be able to tell you," Chad replied. "Jim and Jeannie Collins live on the other side of Brian and Katie. I'm pretty sure she knew who this guy was. Her and Katie worked together for a while at the commissary before Katie quit. She didn't like the idea of having to work."

"Might she be home now you think?"

"No but you'll probably find her at the commissary. She works days over there."

"Thank you Lt.," Harm said as he stood up. "You've been very helpful. One last question. Did you ever hear or see Lt. Thorne abuse his Mrs. Thorne?"

"I heard them arguing a lot," Chad admitted. "Like I said before, you can hear everything through these walls. But I never heard or saw him hit her."

"Thank you," Harm said again.

"Glad to help sir," the young man said as he showed Harm to the door.

Once outside Harm groaned as he realized that he would have to walk to the commissary if he wanted to talk to Jeannie Collins. Deciding that he wanted to find out more about Katie Thorne's affair, he started off towards the commissary. By the time he reached the building, he was sweating profusely, the late afternoon sun beating down on him.

"I'm looking for Jeannie Collins," he said to the first cashier he came to.

"You just missed her," the young girl replied. "She left early today. Is there something I can help you with?"

"Did you know Katie Thorne?" Harm asked, hoping the long walk hadn't been for nothing. He didn't even want to think about the walk back to the BOQ.

"Sorry, I just started a few days ago."

"Of course," Harm said with a long sigh. "Is Jeannie in tomorrow?"

"She'll be here at 7:00 AM," the girl replied. "You okay sir? You're looking a little bit pale. You know you have to be careful in this heat."

"Yeah I'm fine. Thank you for your help," Harm said before turning and heading back out. As he stepped out into the hot sun again, he wished he hadn't told Mac he'd find his own way back to the BOQ. Of course he'd simply wanted a break, not wanting to fight with her anymore. He hated when they fought like that, and he knew that she was only acting this way because of what had happened in her past. With a sigh he started back to the BOQ, hoping that this investigation wasn't going to split them apart again.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Mac drove up and down the streets of the older neighborhood, some houses still well maintained with manicured lawns and others obviously had been allowed to deteriorate, in bad need of paint and repairs, their yards full of bare patches of hardscrabble dirt.

Katie Thorne was staying with her sister the file told her, and she finally found the house, one of the most decrepit on the block. A gaggle of kids ran in the yard and the noise level was unreal. For her to flee her quiet quarters with her husband for this, she must have been desperate Mac decided.

An enormously pregnant woman answered Mac's knock as the kids swarmed around her. "Hello," Mac said as pleasantly as possible while suffering from heat and grabbing fingers. "Sarah Mackenzie, JAG Corps. I'm looking for Kathryn— Katie—Thorne. Would that be your sister?"

"Out back on the porch," the woman pointed down a long hall. "Go right out, but be careful where you step. We got a dog what don't know what the outdoors is for."

"Wonderful, thank you," she sighed.

"Katie, someone to see you," the woman shrieked after her.

"Mrs. Thorne, I'm Sarah Mackenzie," Mac called softly. "We're down here investigating and representing your husband in the assault case. And I'd like to get your side."

Kathryn Thorne rose to her feet, her features obscured by a few bruises. The ones on her throat stood out in spectacular hues of purple and black.

"If you're representing that bastard I got nothin' to say," she declared. "He hurt me and I want him punished."

"Why don't you tell me about it," Mac invited, smiling pleasantly. "We're the defense, but that doesn't negate our obligation to the truth."

Katie's sister brought them some lemonade and for the next forty minutes Mac took notes as Katie detailed a life of emotional and occasional physical abuse, culminating in the attack from behind. They had argued badly and Brian had stormed out. Thinking he was gone, Katie had turned on the shower and thus did not hear his approach. He had his hands around her neck before she could react, choking off her air and when she blacked out, apparently had pushed her forward into the tub wall.

"How can you defend a man like that," she wailed, wiping at her eyes.

"Not easily, but it is our job," Mac sighed. "Not always a happy one. Thank you. Get some rest and take it easy."

It was her own upbringing and marriage that Mac thought about on the drive back to the base.

When she pulled into a parking space for the BOQ, she was surprised to find a small knot of people around the side steps and on further staring, could see they were helping someone inside. Some guy who started on happy hour a little early she decided as she parked and got closer. Probably his friends were trying to get him in and up to bed before he faced a D&D . . . . Harm? Harm was drunk?

"Harm?" she called his name sharply and swiftly closed the distance between them. Two Ensigns had hold of him, one on each side, while his legs wobbled beneath him.

"What the hell is going on here?" she demanded. "Harm have you been drinking?"

"No ma'am he hasn't been," one of them spoke up at once. "Me and Lane here found him a few minutes ago sitting on these steps. "We think the heat got him. It's not uncommon here. He walked here from somewhere. We saw him out on the road about ten minutes before we spotted him again. I think he was trying to get inside and couldn't make it."

Suddenly the memory of how they parted washed over her. She had left him to the mercy of the Florida sun. "Harm, are you OK?" she demanded, keeping her tone soft as she put a light palm against his cheek, alarmed to find out how hot his skin was. "He needs the infirmary," she gasped.

"Ma'am I'm a paramedic in my off duty time and if I can suggest that he really needs a cool bath and some aspirin and some fluid first. And then in a couple hours if he's not better you should call for the ambulance. But frankly with him no worse off than he is right now, he can be treated upstairs. Are you his. . . .?"

"We work together," she snapped.

"Temporarily," Harm groaned in an attempt to be funny.

Mac ignored that. "Would you help him up to his room please and then I'll take over."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Flyboy you have done a number on yourself this time," Mac sighed as she helped him off with his sweat soaked uniform. "And I'm stopping at the boxers. You're on your own after that. And don't put that water bottle down. You need every drop."

"Would it be too much to ask you to just kill me," he moaned.

"That's Plan B," she retorted. "Listen idiot, when you said you were going to walk, I didn't think you were serious for God's sake. You're an officer, all you had to do was commandeer a ride."

"Mac my head is pounding and I'm seeing spots. Do you mind if we hold the scolding," he snapped, and then tried one of his quick grins on her. "Share the shower?"

"Don't push it," she retorted. "That I'm standing here holding your smelly sweaty uniform is in about as deep as I want to get." Nevertheless she took his arm and guided him to the bathroom, still alarmed at how warm he was, and that his exposed skin was turning a definite crimson.

She turned the water in the shower on, making sure it was cool. "All right. I'll be right outside. If you start feeling dizzy, yell," she said as she headed out. She partially closed the door, enough to give him privacy but open enough that she could still hear him. With a sigh she sat down on the bed, a twinge of guilt going through her for leaving him. She hadn't really thought he would be crazy enough to walk around the base in this heat.

"Harm you okay?" she called a short time later as she walked back to the bathroom door. "Harm?"

"Yeah "came the faint reply. Seconds later the water shut off and he emerged, clad only in a towel. She quickly put an arm out to assist him and he gratefully accepted her help to the bed.

"You don't look okay," Mac fretted as he sank down on the bed. "I think maybe I should take you to the infirmary."

"No, I'm all right, just tired," Harm sighed as he closed his eyes. "I'll be fine after I get some sleep."

"First you need to put something on besides that towel," Mac replied. She'd been trying to keep her gaze on his face, trying to avoid looking at his bare chest.

"You mean you're not enjoying the view?" Harm teased as he opened his eyes to look at her again. She blushed at his words and quickly turned away.

"I'll go get your bag from the car," Mac said quickly. "And then I'll see if I have some lotion we can put on that sunburn."

She turned to leave and he grabbed her arm. "Mac, thanks," he said quietly. "I'm sorry about earlier. I don't like fighting with you."

"Neither do I," she said softly. "And I know we've been at odds before on a case. And we've always been able to work through it."

"Yes we have," he agreed. His hand remained on hers and for a moment their eyes locked.

"I'd better get our stuff," Mac said finally.

She returned several minutes later with both their bags and once he was dressed again she quickly ushered him into bed. He didn't fight her, still too zapped from the hours in the sun to want to do anything besides lie down. Deciding he wasn't up to going out again, she headed to the O club to get them dinner. Over the dinner she brought back they shared the information that had each learned during the day.

"Harm, I don't believe this other guy's story," Mac said when Harm finished. "I think Lt. Thorne and his friends are just trying to cover up for what he did."

"Mac, it's worth checking into," Harm countered. "Aren't you the one who said you were interested in finding out the truth here?"

"Yes," Mac sighed. "Fine, we'll go talk to this Jeannie person in the morning and see if this other guy really exists and what his name is. And now I think you should get some rest or you're not going to be up to going anywhere tomorrow."

"Thanks for getting dinner and taking care of me," Harm said with a small smile. "Sorry to be a pain in the six."

"I'm used to it," she teased. "I'm just glad you're okay."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Harm, you awake?" Mac called the next morning as she knocked on his door.

"Awake, and ready to go I think," he groaned as he opened the door. He was dressed but looked anything but ready to go. His skin looked bright red against his summer whites and Mac knew it had to be painful.

"You sure you're up to this?" Mac asked as they headed to the car.

"Yeah I'm fine," he assured her but allowed her to drive.

A few minutes later they received an earful from Jeannie Collins.

"Brian didn't hurt her," Jeannie said firmly. "He's not like that. I don't care what she says. They may have argued but he never would do anything like that."

"Do you know anything about another man?" Harm asked.

"Russ Jessup," Jeannie said quietly. "He used to come in here when Katie was working. I guess they met at some bar off the base. A real loser. I have no idea why she was fooling around with him when she was married to someone like Brian."

"So what do you think now?" Harm asked as he and Mac headed to the car.

"Let's go talk to this Russ Jessup," Mac said as she pulled out her cell phone. A quick call to information yielded the address and Mac headed the car in that direction.

"I think that storm is finally coming in," Harm commented as he looked at the darkening clouds to the south.

"Good, maybe it will finally cool off," Mac sighed.

The address they'd gotten from information led them to a dilapidated rural area; small houses mixed in with trailers. They finally found the dirt road and a few minutes later pulled up into a long driveway. Old cars and various other junk lined the driveway as they made their way up to the small house.

"You sure about the address Colonel?" Harm asked as he looked around.

"This was the only Russ Jessup in the directory," Mac sighed as she turned off the car.

"Maybe he's unlisted," Harm sighed as the first thunder rolled and lightning crackled in the southern horizon.

"No I'm sure this is the place," Mac murmured, following him up the debris-strewn walk. "This is so familiar."

"You and Mr. Jessup acquaintances?" he teased lightly.

"I meant from my growing up years," she answered quietly. "I hated bringing people from school, hated anyone knowing I lived like this, and if I tried to clean it up I just got punished."

"I'm sorry Mac."

She shook her head and resumed her walking.

Harm reached the sagging porch first and knocked. There was no answer even on his third pounding of the door. "At work maybe."

"More likely interviewing replacements for Katie," she retorted from her place at the bottom of the porch steps. Leaving Harm looking in the window, she wandered slowly around toward the back of the house, stepping through a half open gate to see a back yard more debris filled than the front.

"Hey who are you? What the hell are you doing on my property? Who the hell invited you here?" Harsh words. Harsh words coming from an older man walking out from behind a dilapidated wooden shed. "Who are you I said. You one of them social workers or one of them health people about why I have so much junk?" His words all ran together as he ranted and Mac was about to take out her ID when from the tall grass there was a low growl and she looked to see a black and tan German Shepherd dog crouching several feet away.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Her eyes darted from the man to the dog and back again. "Mr. Jessup? Mr. Russell Jessup?"

He curled his lips back in a half smile. "No but how'd you like to meet Prince?" The man gave a quick hand single and a second later seventy pounds of dog was hurtling through the air, landing squarely on Mac's chest, knocking her backwards. She managed to give out a short sharp cry of surprise and anger before the side of her head impacted sharply with the rock hard earth.

Harm had just stepped from the porch when he heard her and when he rounded the old structure what he saw turned his blood to ice. Mac was curled into a tight ball on the ground, the dog standing over her, growling menacingly, while an old man watched in apparent enjoyment.

"Ma-aaac. What the hell is going on here?" he screamed and looked around frantically for anything he could use to fend off the dog. Spotting a discarded metal rod he swung it in front of him as he approached the snarling animal, hating the thought of hurting a dog but ready to defend his partner at any cost, including having the dog turn his attack on him.

"No don't hurt him," the man shouted frantically, "Prince out." Immediately Prince stopped and backed away, still growling. Harm flung himself at her side, pushing her hair back from her face to see if she had been bitten there and feeling the growing lump where her head had hit.

Mac's eyes flew open and she looked up at him, fear across her face, too terrorized to speak.

"You're OK, he's not going to bother you any more," Harm soothed, reading her fright. "Tell me where you're hurt. Did he bite you?" As he was speaking he was trying to check her over for bite marks.

"Oh for God's sake I didn't tell him to bite her," the man spat out. "If I'd wanted her really hurt, she'd be bleeding like a stuffed pig right now."

"And it's a damn good thing for you she's not," Harm growled. "Not that you're not already in trouble. Stay right where you are and keep that dog away from her and me." Harm shot him a deadly glare and kept the metal rod in reach as he bent over Mac once again. "You're OK? You can stand?"

"Just winded and I think I banged my head," she nodded.

Carefully Harm lifted her to her feet, keeping a close arm around her, and was amazed to find her trembling. "You are not all right."

"I uh. . . .have a problem with big dogs," she admitted. "Well, not Jingo," she added hastily. "But Shepherds. I still have the scar on my backside where I was bit when I was a kid. And no you can't see it," she added with an impish grin.

He laughed lightly at that, feeling a wash of relief—if she could keep him in line, she could not be suffering too greatly. "OK, just stand easy, I've got you," he whispered, keeping his arm across her back and turning to the man with a dark scowl. "I want some answers mister and I want them now. Before I have the sheriff out here, and file assault charges. You're Russell Jessup?"

"Senior," he answered, obviously impressed by Harm's threat. "I bet you're looking for my son."

"Junior, that explains a lot," Harm nodded, having wondered what Katie Thorne might have seen in this fifty-ish man. "Where would we find him? He live here?"

"He's working on the Delaney place, about thirty miles east of here," Jessup gestured vaguely. "If you want him that's where you're gonna have to go. Take 98 to Foley, across the line into 'Bama. Once you get there ask for Fred Delaney's spread. They'll tell 'ya."

Harm looked to the now darkened sky. The rain was starting to come down heavier with no sign of a let up. The storm had obviously arrived. "Mac you feel up to that kind of a drive or should I take you back?"

"No I'm OK," she answered, hoping she sounded more sure than she felt as her head and her ribs, along with her back, all ached. "Let's get it done."

"I'll drive, you relax" he ordered as he helped her back to the car. "You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, nothing a hot bath tonight won't fix," she assured him as she climbed into the car, glad he didn't notice her grimace in pain.

It was a slow drive back to the freeway, the rain coming down in hard sheets. The wind had picked up as well, and Harm cautiously entered the highway.

"Okay, my favorite weather," Harm sighed as he struggled to see in the diminishing visibility. Fortunately there weren't many cars on the road and he was able to stay in the right lane at a cautious speed.

"You okay with driving?" Mac asked, sensing his discomfort with the storm. "Or do you want to pull over and let me try?"

"No, I'm okay," Harm said as he took a deep breath. "I just keep thinking how both my crashes were in storms and how I really wish you weren't in the car with me right now."

"Hey, I've got complete faith in you. You've never let me down before."

"And let's hope I don't start now," Harm sighed.

"You're doing fine," Mac assured him. "We'll be fine."

He nodded but never took his eyes from the road. The storm seemed to intensify, the winds growing stronger as the rain continued to pound down. Mac didn't say anything, knowing Harm was concentrating on keeping the car on the road.

"Mac, I'm not sure this is such a good idea," Harm said after they'd driven for a few miles. "This is just getting worse. Unfortunately I'm not sure heading back is going to be any better. I think we should try and find a place to ride this out in."

She was about to reply when a large semi flew past them, the spray from the truck making it nearly impossible to see. At the same time a gust of wind pushed the car and Mac screamed as the car started off the road. Harm fought to control the vehicle, somehow managing to keep them from driving off into the deep ditch that lined the freeway. The car came to a rest on the side of the road, and for a moment neither said a word.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Are you okay?" Harm asked as he glanced over at her.

"Besides the pounding heart I'm fine," Mac said with a small smile. "Nice save there flyboy."

"I had to," he whispered. "If we'd gone off, you could have been killed."

"But we didn't and we're both fine," she said softly, her hand resting gently on his arm.

"I think we should find a place to ride this out. This is only getting worse and I'm not going to risk getting you killed just to talk to this guy today. Is that okay with you?"

"Yeah I think I've had enough for today," Mac sighed.

"You're hurting aren't you?" he demanded. "Mac, be honest and tell me what's hurting."

"Okay, maybe a little," she admitted. "But I'm sure it's no worse than you must be hurting from that sunburn. You can't tell me that isn't painful."

"Well I didn't get mauled by a dog," Harm countered and Mac rolled her eyes.

"Harm, he just knocked me down. And I've just got a bit of a headache and yes my ribs are hurting a little."

"Okay, we're finding a place to stop and once this is over I'm getting you back to the base for a visit to the infirmary."

He carefully maneuvered the car back onto the highway and exited at the next town. Through the rain he was able to see the sign pointing to lodging and he headed in that direction. Minutes later he pulled up into the parking lot of the run down building advertising rooms by the hour. The parking lot was full of semis and for a moment Harm considered going elsewhere.

"Well it's not the Ritz Carlton, but it'll do," Mac said as she sensed his uneasiness.

"I wish there was somewhere else," Harm sighed. "But there doesn't seem to be too much else around here. And this storm is only getting worse."

"It's good enough for us for a few hours until this is over," Mac replied. "Come on."

They were drenched by the time they reached the door and were greeted with a blast of cool air as they walked in from the air conditioning that was working overtime. Harm looked leerily around the place, the guy behind the desk staring at Mac as they walked up. Another guy stood to the side of the counter and he turned to admire Mac as well.

"Can I help you folks out?" he drawled.

"We'd like a room," Harm replied. "Just for a couple hours."

"When you're done with him sugar, I'll be happy to take you for a few hours" the man at the counter grinned. "When was the last time you saw something this pretty Marvin."

"Not since Fred brought that little thing down from Dothan," Marvin answered. "How about it darlin'? I'll make it worth your while."

"You had to tell them a couple hours?" she hissed. "Do you realize what they're thinking."

"They're thinking I have good taste in women." Harm could not resist the tease and she kicked his ankle bone in retaliation.

"Owwwww," he yelped and both Roger and Marvin laughed.

"Not bad mister," Roger hooted. "I like them feisty myself. Our beds have tall bedposts. . . .if you get my drift."

"Unfortunately I do," Harm sighed, not daring to look at Mac as he placed a twenty-dollar bill on the counter. "I cannot wait to put this on our expense record. An afternoon at a No-Tell Motel."

 

ONE HOUR LATER
ROOM 10

 

The storm was unending. Lightning and thunder filled the sky and the trees were bent double. A quick check of the weather on the TV provided that it was not going to end any time soon. In order to pass the time, Mac pulled out all of the case notes, spreading them out on the lone bed. An action which prompted Harm to start a litany of facts that established in his mind, their client's innocence.

He paced the room as he spoke, as if he was in front of a jury or court martial members, warming to his subject as he went.

"Would you listen to yourself," she finally erupted. "You're talking like Thorne pulled off some kind of harmless joke on his wife. He could have killed her. I think he would have but something stopped him."

"Me, what about you? Mac this man is our client. Now you may find him reprehensible, and that's your prerogative, but he is still entitled to the best defense we can provide. He does have rights."

"And so does his wife," she seethed.

"And the People will have an attorney looking out for those rights," he retorted. "Now as I was saying. . . what was I saying? Oh yeah, besides we haven't even talked to this Jessup guy. . . where are you going?"

"To the bathroom where I hope running water and the storm will make me forget I'm in this crappy motel room listening to drivel being spouted by a pilot who's so hell bent on protecting one of the boys he can't see that we should be going for the truth and not the win." She rolled off the bed, forgetting her sore ribs and back until both sent reminders shooting through her body and she bit her lip.

"Excuse me."

Harm had not missed the look of pain and while she was gone began to gather up the papers, just finishing when she opened the door. "I wasn't done," she protested at once.

"Yes you were," he said firmly, pulling back the bed covers and taking a quick look, thankful to notice the sheets were obviously fresh from the laundry. "Mac we're getting nowhere with this case, and you're in pain and that's just making it harder for you to listen to reason."

Her mouth dropped open and her eyes flashed. "Commander don't you dare patronize me. I've had enough of that from Mic and I. . .OK never mind. You're right. I'm not feeling my best and I'm not liking the weather report saying things are going to get worse along the coast and I'm not liking that I'm stuck here with you in this place that's creaking and sounds like could fall down around us and I wish that I was back in D.C. with Jingo under the covers like I always am when it storms because I hate them. . . .and yes I'm through now. I'll go wait in the car thank you."

A small smile played corners of his mouth as he guided her to the bed. "I want you to get in there and rest for a little while. We'll turn the music channel on the TV and maybe it will drown out the storm. You know this will be over in a few hours and we can head out to find Jessup."

"You're just loving this aren't you?" she snapped.

"No," he replied quietly. "I'm not loving that we're at such polar ends over this case but it's not the first time. And especially I'm not loving that you were hurt this afternoon, and then almost again when I was driving. But I can't say as I mind being stuck here with you for the moment. I've just come off two years of distance between us, physical and emotional both. So to have you in my proximity, even when it's forced captivity—well I'm not going to complain. Now get over here and lay down before I make it an order."

"You can't order me," she reminded him quietly, "but I am tired and hurting so I wouldn't mind a break." Meekly she let him guide her down onto the mattress and pull the covers over her as an especially loud clap of thunder rattled the pictures on the walls.

He sat down on the edge of the bed for a moment. "You know what, now every time it storms, I imagine myself in the cockpit. You know how a certain noise or smell will take you someplace. . . well that's where a thunderstorm takes me."

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I've been spouting off here and I wasn't even thinking about how this might be bothering you. You want to talk about it?"

"No," he said shaking his head just as the lights in the room dimmed before going out. The sound of the storm was now louder than ever without the noise of the TV to drown it out and Mac shuddered as the roof of the old hotel creaked even more. Without a word he slid down next to her, wrapping his arms around her. She didn't resist, at the moment glad to have the comfort of his arms around her.

"It's going to be okay," he whispered as he pulled her closer.

The storm continued and Mac buried her head further into his shoulder as the wind gathered strength. The thunder and lightning was louder and more vivid and even Harm jumped when a particularly close strike shook the room.

"Okay that was too close for comfort," Harm said when the room stopped shaking.

"Way too close," Mac agreed as she lifted her head from his shoulder to look up at him. She'd felt him tremble slightly at the last lightening strike and she studied him closely. "You okay?"

"Yeah just a second of déjà vu there," he sighed. "Felt like I was back in the tomcat. That's what it was like that night with the lightning."

She was about to reply when suddenly a particularly violent gust of wind shook the place again, the large window in the room shaking in its frame.

"Harm," Mac said anxiously as she looked at the window.

Without a word he scooped her into his arms, placing her on the floor beside the bed just as another gust shattered the window, sending bit of glass flying everywhere. Mac's scream was muffled as Harm did his best to shield her from the flying debris, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her tightly against him.

They remained that way for the next half-hour until the wind and lightening finally subsided. He finally relinquished his hold on her, gently pulling back to look at her.

"You okay?" he asked.

"I think so," she said shakily as she looked up at him. "Thanks to you. Are you okay? Did you get hit by any of the glass?"

"Maybe a few cuts" he said vaguely.

At once her eyes traveled over him and seconds later she let out a small gasp as she looked at his back. There were several small cuts, none deep enough to warrant stitches but enough to know he was probably hurting.

"Okay, sailor, to the bathroom," Mac ordered. "We need to clean those up at least. And you're lucky your traveling with a Marine that's always prepared." She looked around for her purse, glad she'd remembered to restock her small supply of bandages she kept in her purse just in case. They helped each other to their feet and Mac guided him to the bathroom and setting him down on the toilet seat.

"Shirt off," she ordered and he unbuttoned his shirt, sliding it off seconds later.

"Nothing too deep," she said as she inspected the cuts. "You're lucky."

"I'm just glad you didn't get hurt," he said quietly as she gently cleaned the blood away.

"How could I when I've got you protecting me," she said with a small smile. "You were pretty quick on your feet there sailor."

"I was envisioning the worst happening," he admitted. "And I'd never let anything happen to you if I could help it. I care way too much about you."

For a moment she didn't say anything as she let his words sink in. That he would do anything to protect her she didn't doubt for one second. That he cared deeply for her...she hadn't let herself think about that. She wished, hoped.

"And I care very much about you too," Mac said softly as she moved so that they were facing each other again. "I'm sorry I've been such a bitch..." Whatever else she was about to say was lost as his arms reached out and brought her closer as his lips descended upon hers. It was a gentle kiss and seconds later he pulled back away.

"I can take what ever you dish out Marine," he smiled. "We've been partners too long to let a case get between us."

"Yes we have," she agreed with a long sigh. "Thank you for understanding. Now let me finish cleaning these cuts up and then we'll get out of this dive before Marvin wants his turn."

"Over my dead body," Harm said a deadly serious voice.

"Easy there sailor, I was just joking," Mac said quickly.

"Not funny. I'm sorry I had to bring you in here as it was."

"First time you've taken someone to a hotel room and paid by the hour huh?" Mac smiled.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Harm teased.

He was quiet for a moment and then added, "Besides normally women are throwing themselves at me. Everyone but you. Even from the beginning."

"Well you don't honestly think I was going to feed the already oversize Rabb ego do you," she chortled. "Nor was I going to become a notch on the Rabb bedpost."

"You know that's not what I want with you," he said seriously. "I told you that in Sydney. 'Only with you'. And yes you should be flattered. Then and now." He dropped his hand down to rest on hers. "Like the song says, when I fall in love, it will be forever."

 

EPILOGUE

 

Russell Jessup Jr. confessed to the attack on Kathryn Thorne and charges against Lt. Brian Thorne were dismissed. It came out that Mr. Jessup was not the only man with whom Mrs. Thorne was entertaining when Lt. Thorne was away.

With the case neatly wrapped up Harm and Mac returned to D.C. They were standing by the luggage carousel, as all bags but theirs circled hypnotically before them. Suddenly he drew himself up to full height and lay a soft hand on her shoulder. "What do you say we go home and clean up and then I pick you up? Share a platter of soft shell crabs at Phillips?"

Her eyes grew large as she digested his words. "Commander Rabb, are you actually asking me out?" she demanded, her look daring him to back down.

To her surprise he met her look with one of his own. "Yes I am. That's exactly what I'm doing."

 

The End

 
 
   

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