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Chapter 2


North of Union Station
May 22, 2004
1030 Zulu

 

Slamming his door behind him, Harm paused to say a silent thanks to the fact that Mattie and Jen were out of the apartment. With a sigh he walked over to the fridge to grab a bottle of water. After Meg left last night he couldn’t get to sleep, and then when he finally did he couldn’t stay asleep. So two hours ago he’d given up and went out for his morning run earlier than normal. He’d actually looked forward to it as a way to get his head cleared so he could think about what was said last night. If he was forced to be completely honest with himself he was still a little in shock at Meg’s little revelation.


Pulling the cap off his water Harm put a hand on the countertop and then tipped his head back to drink the contents of the bottle in one go. Tossing the bottle into a recycle bin Harm moved to sit down at the table, unconsciously taking the seat Meg had sat in last night. All through his run he’d tried to get his head around what Meg had said last night, but the whole time he’d been dwelling on it a certain chocolate haired Marine had kept intruding. He couldn’t even stop thinking about her, even when he was trying to make sense of another woman’s feelings. With a wry snort he shook his head. If he was going to be completely honest with himself, it really wasn’t any different with Jordan, or with Renee, or even with Bobbi. Hell, it really hadn’t been any different with any woman he’d met since Mac had walked into his life; ever since that day in the rose garden she’d become his standard by which he measured any other woman. At first it was because of her uncanny resemblance to Diane…but it didn’t take long before Diane faded to the background to be replaced by Mac alone.

He thought back to the very first kiss they had shared that night on the Norfolk pier. She’d said she knew he was kissing Diane; if only she knew that that may have been how it started out…but it definitely wasn’t how it ended. He had been very much aware that he was kissing then Marine Major Sarah MacKenzie, and not a ghost from his past. God how he wished he could tell her how much that kiss meant to him, how much he’d wanted to repeat it. Naturally his thoughts then turned to the kiss they’d shared that chilly spring night on the Admiral’s porch. How a simple “may I kiss the bride?” had turned into so much more. But all that didn’t seem to mean much to Mac anymore, if it had meant anything to begin with.

Harm’s reverie was broken by the ringing of his phone. Running a hand through his still damp hair he was reminded of his morning run and how much he was in need of a shower. He had pushed himself a little harder than normal this morning. Reaching out Harm grabbed the handset and answered the phone.

“Rabb.”

“Harm, it’s Mattie. I didn’t wake you did I?” came Mattie’s voice over the line.

“Hey Mattie…no I just got back from my run. Is everything all right?” Harm asked, concerned that his ward would be calling so early. Glancing at the clock he saw that it was just before six.

“No everything’s fine. Jen and I just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate you lending us your car for the weekend, it’s making things so much easier. And we wanted to let you know that we’re ok and everything is going good.”

“Thank you Mattie…that’s very considerate of you. And thank Jen for me.”

“Why do you want me to thank Jen?” Mattie asked in her best ‘I’m innocent of all charges, sir’ voice.

“For ‘reminding’ you to make this phone call. Although I have to admit I’m surprised both of you are up at the crack of dawn. I didn’t think even the bears out there would be able to drag you both out of your bags before noon.”

There was a slight pause before Mattie answered. “A raccoon peed on our tent.” She said disgustedly.

Doing his best not to laugh Harm bit his tongue. “It happens sweetie. Anyway, I really need to get into the shower…thanks for calling and letting me know you guys are ok.”
“Yeah…you really stink Harm, I can smell it all the way out here.” Mattie said with a laugh. “Oh and Harm…”

“Yeah?”

“The boys really like your car too. Bye” Mattie said with a laugh and then hung up.

Hanging the phone up Harm shook his head. If there was one thing he could trust, it would be that even head over heels over some guy, Mattie would keep him on his toes; especially with Jen there to look out for her. Good, he’d needed that call to take his mind off things. Just as Harm started walking towards the shower a knock at the door stopped him. Man, who could it be at this time of the morning? No…not her. Anyone but her.

Walking over to the door he opened it up to reveal Sturgis in his running gear.

“Hey buddy, glad I got here in time. You looking for some company on your run this morning?”

“Come on in Sturg. Actually I just got back a little while ago.”

“You’ve been running already?” Sturgis asked as he closed the door behind him.

“Yeah…I couldn’t sleep and needed to sort a few things out.”

“One blonde and the other one brunette?” Sturgis asked with a wink.

“Now is not the time buddy.” Harm warned with a frown.

Holding up his hands Sturgis smiled at Harm. “Look buddy, you know I’m not going to put my nose where it doesn’t belong. I’m just saying scuttlebutt at the office has you spending a lot of time with a certain blonde Lieutenant Commander. The same scuttlebutt has a certain brunette Lieutenant Colonel slamming her door a lot more than usual. Not to mention a few headless Petty Officers and Lieutenants who made the mistake of crossing her path. And one very sorry Marine guard.”

Dropping down on his couch Harm gestured Sturgis to grab a seat as well. “I guess I am spending a lot of time with Meg, but damn Sturg, it's been eight years since we’ve seen each other.”

“Do you love her?” Sturgis asked.

Raising an eyebrow Harm looked Sturgis in shock. “That’s a little fast, even for me isn’t it? Sturg…I haven’t seen Meg in eight years.”

“I wasn’t talking about Meg Harm. Look buddy, ever since your trip down to South America things have been bad between you and Mac; a lot stranger than normal. I’m worried about you two, and I’m not the only one.” Sturgis said seriously.

“The Admiral said pretty much the same thing the other day.” Harm said.

“What are you going to do about it?” Sturgis asked.

“What am I going to do about it?” Harm repeated. “I don’t know if there’s anything else I can do about it buddy. I threw away my career for her…I risked everything because I knew she needed me. And what does she do? She tells me it’s never going to work between us that way and then runs to Webb’s arms. Hell, just last week she was pumping that MI 6 agent…Simon? Yeah Simon…anyway she was trying to get a better insight into how Webb’s mind worked so she could have a better relationship with him.”

“You haven’t answered my question Harm…do you love her? I know you care for her…anyone can see that. But do you love her?”

Getting up Harm started pacing his living room, not looking at Sturgis as he spoke. “You know Sturg…it’s funny. I went for a run to clear my head this morning and if anything I confused myself even more. Whenever I tried to think about Meg Mac kept popping into my mind. And just now I was thinking about the times that Mac and I have…” Harm broke off and cleared his throat. “Well the times that I’ve kissed her. Not that there’s been a lot of them…anyway. To answer your question counselor, I thought it would be clear how I felt about Mac. Apparently however, my throwing everything away for her hasn’t registered on too many people. Everyone asks me if I love her, but I would have thought my little trip to ‘paradise’ spoke volumes about my feelings. I guess I’m the only one who gets it.”

“Whoa there partner.” Sturgis said, standing up and putting a hand on Harm’s shoulder. “Slow down. I know how you feel about Mac…we all do. The fact that you were actually willing to give up everything to save her spoke more than loud enough for us. But brother…I gotta tell you something. And I’m not an expert by any means…but Mac may not be watching your actions any more; she may be listening to hear how you feel. You’ve acted pretty damn heroically in the past…when she was and wasn’t involved. I hate to say it brother, mostly because it will probably swell your ego, but you’re something of a legend…and death defying acts of heroism are turning out to be your stock in trade. Maybe she’s chalking this up to another cruise missile. Or maybe she just sees herself as that girl Harriet and Bud told me about, DarLin…someone you save because they need saving. Like I said brother, I’m no expert, but maybe that’s what’s got Mac all angry and hurt. She’s a tough woman Harm…and a proud one. I can imagine that she just doesn’t like feeling like she needed to be rescued, even by you. She doesn’t want to be another DarLin or…and don’t get mad when I say this Harm because I know she means the world to you…another Mattie to you.”

“Speaking of Bud, how are you guys now that he’s got you off that idiotic racial bias charge?” Harm asked, wanting desperately to change the subject.

“Don’t be trying to put me off brother…it won’t work. Bud and I are working things out, and I’m grateful for the way he handled that. But we’re not talking about me and Bud here. Sit down Harm.” Sturgis walked back to the couch and sat down.

“She’s not just someone I saved because they were in trouble Sturg. She knows that. And she’s not just one of my ‘obsessions’ as she calls them. Damn it Sturg, I do love, I’ve always loved her. It’s just not going to work out…you can’t love someone who doesn’t love you back. And I think it’s time I got that through my thick skull.” Harm said bitterly.

Reaching out Sturgis put a hand on Harm’s shoulder. “Look buddy…have you told her how you feel? I know you think you have with your actions…but have you actually told her you love her?”

“We’ve…talked.” Harm said simply.

“Yeah…and knowing you two, nothing was actually said. Listen bro…you’ve got to tell the lady how you feel.”

“What about her and Webb?” Harm asked.

“Don’t worry about Webb…I have a feeling he knows how much you feel for Mac…as much as any of us at work. I’ve got the impression the Admiral doesn’t like Webb much…and if he gives you any problem you can always let the Admiral handle Webb.”


Thoughtfully Harm stared off into space for a minute. Should he tell Sturgis what Meg had said last night? It didn’t invalidate Sturgis’ advice about him and Mac, but it did complicate things. “What about Meg?” he finally asked.

“What about her? I thought you guys were just friends.” Sturgis said with a raised eyebrow.

“Well we are…but you never know how things will turn out. And we do have…I wouldn’t call it a past together, but we do have a history.”

“Let’s just say no matter how tempting it may be to be in your shoes right now considering the women you’re struggling over, I wouldn’t take the chance. You’re between the devil and the deep blue sea brother if you feel you have something to decide when it comes to the two of them.”

Chuckling Harm nodded his head. “Listen Sturg…and don’t think I’m trying to change the subject…when do you and Bud leave on this latest trip?”

Laughing Sturgis said “Tomorrow morning. We’re supposed to report to the base commander Monday afternoon.”

“Think Bud’ll be up to a guys only afternoon? I don’t know about you, but I sure could use one.”

“Sounds like a plan. Why don’t you set something up with Bud and call me at the office. I’ve gotta get some paperwork off my desk before we leave so I’ll be there for most of the morning. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a run…alone.” Sturgis said with a laugh as he stood up and moved to the door.

“Sorry man…you should have been up with the real men at three. And Sturg?”

“Yeah buddy?”

“Thanks for the ear.”

“Anytime, brother. I know I haven’t exactly been myself of late…but I’m working on it. And you know you can always come to me if you need someone to talk to.”

“I know man. Thanks though; I really needed to talk to someone about things. I really need to get my head clear about this.”

“We’ve all been there brother. Anyway…I’ll see you this afternoon.”

“Later Sturg.”

Harm closed his door behind his friend’s departing back and then finally made it to the shower.

 

McMurphy’s Tavern
Same Day
2012 Zulu

 

Harm, Sturgis and Bud entered the dark tavern laughing.  All three were dressed in shorts and t-shirts and were sweaty and tired, but they all felt great. A long afternoon of basketball was just what the doctor ordered. Taking a seat in the corner they all ordered beers from Tony at the bar. They sat there laughing and chatting until the waitress brought the beers over and then each took a long pull from their drinks.

“God I needed that.” Harm said with a sigh. “Or at least something cold. I can’t believe you got me on that three point jumper Bud.”

“Well sir, the Commander and I have been playing a lot of ball lately. And he’s shown me a lot.” Bud said with a laugh.

Harm would never tell him because it would just embarrass him, but to Harm Bud was the definition of the word hero. To have taken such a blow and then bounce back to become not only the man he was, but in a lot of ways an even better one if possible was nothing short of amazing. Harm knew a lot of the credit lay not only with Bud but with Harriet and the love they shared that allowed Bud to come back from losing his leg. Not to mention the boys. Harm knew a lot of people viewed his salvaging of his career after his ramp strike as a miracle, but he also knew that what he did was nothing compared to what Bud had done. The fact that Bud could still laugh, could still smile at the little things continually amazed him.

“Great, now I don’t only have to worry about Turner passing me on the court, I gotta worry about you too. Thanks Bud.” Harm said smiling.

“Anytime sir.” Bud said with a smile before he took another drink of his beer. “So…how’s the Colonel sir?”

“I don’t know Bud. Ask Webb.” Harm said as his smile faded.

“I’m sorry sir…I didn’t mean to upset you…I just wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s ok Bud…really. And for the last time, we’re not in uniform…call me Harm.”

Nodding slowly Bud took another drink from his beer. “It’s just that you’ve both got us worried sir...and to honest I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep Harriet calmed down. Sir, can I speak freely?”

“Bud we’re not in uniform…say what’s on your mind.”

“Sir…Harm…we all know you and the Colonel don’t exactly have an…orthodoxed relationship. Half the time we don’t know if you hate each other or…well you know. But you guys have always been able to talk to each other. What’s been going on just isn’t normal sir.”

“Well Bud, nothing Mac and I have ever done could be considered normal.” Harm said wryly.

“You can sure as hell say that again.” A deep, familiar voice said from behind Harm.

Looking over his shoulder he saw Admiral Chegwidden dressed in jeans and a long sleeved cotton shirt.

“Sir.” Harm said starting to stand, only to be stopped by the Admiral’s hand on his shoulder.

“Keep your seat Harm…we’re not in the office.”

“Aye sir. Sir, if you don’t mind me asking…”

”What am I doing here? Don’t mind at all son. I happened to be driving by and saw Mr. Roberts’ van outside. Naturally I was curious what one of my officers was doing here in the middle of the afternoon, and when I come in I find not one, but three of my officers. Does Harriet know you’ve kidnapped her husband to get him drunk in the middle of the afternoon?” AJ asked in a mock serious tone.

“Aye sir. Well she knows Sturgis and I ‘kidnapped’ him…as for the getting drunk in the middle of the afternoon, no such luck sir. Just a quick beer after a game of hoops.” Harm said with a laugh. “Have a seat Admiral?”

“Don’t mind if I do. Thanks.” The Admiral said as he sat down on a stool next to Harm. “I’ll have one of what they’re having.” He said to the passing waitress.

“Harm…I couldn’t help but hear what Bud was saying when I came in. You’d be wise to listen to him.”

“I have to agree Harm, but you know that.” Sturgis tossed in.

Nodding Harm frowned thoughtfully.

“Harm, I need to ask you something. If you’d rather we can do it privately.” The Admiral said after taking a sip of his just arrived beer.

“I think I know what it’s about sir, and I don’t mind if Sturgis and Bud are here.”

“Is there something between you and Lieutenant Commander Austin?”

Shocked Harm rocked back on his chair. That wasn’t what he was expecting. “Sir?” he asked.

“I don’t mean to pry son, and technically she’s not in my direct chain of command so it’s none of my business if you and her are involved, but I can’t help but notice that you’ve been a bit more cheerful since Lieutenant Commander Austin arrived earlier this week. Don’t get me wrong Harm, you know I always liked the Lieutenant Commander…you know I’d kill any man who hurt her or any of my officers.”

Nodding Harm couldn’t help but think back to the Admiral’s “Screw 'em. Steal their thunder.” speech of eight years ago when Meg was laying in a coma induced by getting shot in the head. “Actually sir, she was under the impression you never thought much of her.”

“Well she’s just wrong, that’s all. Now answer the question son. Is there something between the two of you?”

“Not that I’m aware of sir.” Harm answered somewhat truthfully.

“Good. I wouldn’t want there to be any tension between the Colonel and the Commander.”

“Sir?” Harm asked, not sure where the Admiral was going with this. Sturgis and Bud had just sat there silently sipping their beers as the Admiral and Harm talked.

“I’ve decided to change the assignments for this coming week. It’s a good thing I found you two.” The Admiral said looking at Bud and Sturgis. “Your assignments have been changed; you’re both to remain in the office this week. Lieutenant Commander Austin and Mac are going to be going in your places. That way the office is only short two senior staff members.”

Confused Bud looked at Sturgis before speaking. “Two sir? I don’t understand, if the commander and I are out of the office, then we’d only be short two…”

“You’re forgetting Commander Rabb, Lieutenant.”

”Sir?” both Bud and Harm said in confusion.

“Commander, I received a phone call last night, at my home. The SecNav and I are both aware of you having qualified on a number of additional aircraft recently, but your annual Tomcat quals will need to be renewed.”

“Aye sir, but that won’t need to be done for a few months at least.” Harm said with some confusion still.

“Not exactly true Commander. The SecNav feels, and I am forced to agree, that with escalating tensions in the Middle East it would be best to get you checked out at the earliest opportunity. The Patrick Henry is docking in Norfolk tomorrow night and you will report on board Monday morning. You will be TAD to the Captain for the duration of your stay on board. Unfortunately they will not be stateside very long as they are refitting and then heading back to the Gulf within 62 hours of docking. You will obviously not have completed your quals by then so you will remain on board until they are completed. Once you are finished we’ll find you a ride back to Pax. Normally I wouldn’t feel the need to say this Harm, but with you I just feel I have to. Don’t do anything stupid while you’re there. I’ll have the orders cut and bring them by your place tonight.”

Finishing his beer the Admiral stood up at the end of his speech. “Gentlemen, have a good weekend. Commander, Lieutenant I will see you Monday morning. Commander, I will be by later tonight with your orders.”

“Afternoon sir.” All three said as the Admiral turned to go.

Harm sat there in a bit of a confused fog as he thought about what the Admiral had said. Why would the SecNav want him to check out four months earlier than necessary? And why was he doing it on a ship that was on fast track turn around? Not that he minded checking out on the Henry…he’d developed a close relationship with a lot of the pilots and officers onboard, but if she was steaming to the Gulf three days after he got on board he wouldn’t be back stateside in under two weeks.

“Well sir I’m sure you’re going to be happy to be flying again so soon. Sometimes I envy you.” Bud said with a smile.

“Thanks Bud.” Harm said.

“I hate to say it, but the Admiral did have a point, sirs. If I don’t get home soon Harriet’s going to have my ears, and that doesn’t even matter if I’ve been drinking or not.”

Smiling Sturgis shook hands with the younger man. “Say hi for us Bud. And give AJ a hug for Harm.”

“I will sirs. Thanks for the afternoon.”

“You’re welcome Bud…and tell Harriet and AJ that I’ll be by tomorrow to spend some time with my godsons before I head to sea.” Harm said absently.

“They’d like that sir, and so would we. We’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Bye Bud.”

After Bud left Harm looked down into the last of his beer thoughtfully.

“Penny for your thoughts buddy.” Sturgis said.

“What? Oh…just thinking. And no it’s not about Mac and Meg. Why would the SecNav want me to do my quals early? And on the Henry, which is fast tracking back to the Gulf?”

“Neither you nor I know buddy, but there’s no point worrying about it. You’ll be back stateside long before they get to the Gulf.”

“You’re probably right Sturg. Thanks for the games.” Harm said before he finished off his beer and then stood up.

“No problem buddy. You gonna let Mac know before you go?”

Stopping Harm thought for a minute. “The Admiral will tell her if he hasn’t already.” He said without turning around.
“You sure that’s the best way for her to find out? And what about Meg?”

Shrugging his shoulders Harm looked over his shoulder at his friend. “What else can I do Sturg? She’s probably with Webb right now. They were supposed to be going to some fund raiser tonight.”

“Your choice buddy. Try not to annoy Captain Ingles too much when you’re out there?”

Laughing, Harm waved once and then left to make his way home to pack his sea bag.

 

Roberts’ Residence
Sunday May 23, 2004
1615 Zulu

 

Harm turned off the engine and then sat looking down at the two envelopes the Admiral had dropped off the night before. One was addressed to him and contained his orders for traveling to Norfolk to board the Patrick Henry and begin qual testing. The second was addressed to himself and the Captain of the Patrick Henry, Captain Ingles. This one could not be opened without both officers present and had to wait until the next day when he boarded the Patrick Henry. Harm couldn’t help but be puzzled by the need for a second, sealed set of orders. He had a feeling that this was more than a simple early qual cruise. This had something to do with the CIA, he would bet his life on it. And that meant Webb was involved, Harm could just smell him all over the sealed orders and the rapid turn around timeframe.

Sighing, Harm slid the two envelopes inside his jacket pocket. From the time the Admiral dropped off the orders last night to the time Harm boarded the Patrick Henry he was accountable for the documents and could not let them out of his sight. Stepping out of his car he noticed for the first time Mac’s corvette parked on the street. He wasn’t expecting her to be here…it would complicate things at best.

Walking up to the front door Harm put on a relaxed smile as he knocked on the door. Might as well try to put a good face on things he thought.

“I’ll get it honey.” Bud’s voice sounded from behind the door.

As soon as Bud opened the door Harm knew something was up, he could just tell by the look on Bud’s face. In the courtroom Bud could surprise anyone, but outside the courtroom he was an open book.

“Commander. It's so nice of you to come by.” Bud said, a little louder than was needed. Dropping his voice to a whisper he added “I’m so sorry sir.”

“Bud. Something wrong?” Harm asked warily.

“I didn’t know the Colonel was going to be coming by this morning sir, Harriet asked her to come by. And well…I might have let it slip that you were going to sea for awhile.”

Great. Mac knew he was going out for quals, and she always got that way when he flew. Ditch a couple jets and people start to get nervous about you driving a tomcat. Patting Bud on the shoulder as he entered Harm said “It’s ok Bud. I’ll talk to her.”

“Commander!” Harriet said cheerfully as she came out from the kitchen.

Smiling Harm wrapped Harriet in a great big hug. “How’s my godson doing?” he asked.

“Oh he’s doing fine Commander, he’s out back playing right now. Bud, do you think the Commander would like an ice tea?”

“I’m sure he would honey, I’ll go get it.” Bud said right away and followed his words up by going to the kitchen.

Turning back to Harm Harriet’s smile slipped into a cute little frown. “Harmon Rabb Jr. I can’t believe you didn’t tell the Colonel you were going to sea for your quals.” She said tapping her foot.

“I thought the Admiral might mention it when he talked to Mac about her change in orders.” Harm said lamely. Even to him it sounded lame, now. It hadn’t sounded so bad when he was telling himself it would be ok last night.

“That’s not the same thing Harm. You know she worries about you when you fly. You’ve given her enough frights, don’t you think?”

“Yes mom.” Harm said with his best Flyboy grin.

“Don’t take that tone with me Harmon. She's out back with little AJ, and I think the two of you need to sit down and have a talk.”

“I will Harriet. I promise.” Harm said as Bud came back from the kitchen.

“Here you go sir.” he said with a smile, completely unaware of the scolding that Harriet had just given Harm.

“Thanks Bud. Harriet tells me my godson is out back? I’ll go say hi.”

“Uhh…sir…Colonel MacKenzie’s out there with him.” Bud said cautiously.

“I know Bud. I guess I need to say hi to her too.” Harm said as he set his shoulders and walked out to the back yard through the kitchen.

“UNCLE HARM!” little AJ’s voice squealed as soon as he caught sight of Harm.

Catching the blond cannonball that rushed into him Harm lifted him up into the air laughing.

“How’s my favorite godson doing?” Harm asked.

“Good uncle Harm. Mommy said you’re going away again.” AJ said going from happy to sad.

“I am buddy. But it's only for a couple weeks, and then I’ll be back.”

“Are you going to bring me something?” AJ asked hopefully.

“AJ!” Harriet said in shock as she walked outside to hear AJ’s last question.

Sitting down on a bench on the patio Harm set AJ on his lap. “I sure will buddy. How would you like a hat?”

“Ummm. OK.” AJ said doubtfully. Suddenly he started squirming. “I’m having a birthday party.”

“I know buddy. And I’m gonna try real hard to be here for it.” Harm said earnestly.

“Aunt Mac’s here. She’s over there.” AJ said, pointing out to a bench that Harriet had put out in the garden. When he looked over there Harm saw the back of Mac’s head as she looked out over the garden.

“What do you think buddy…should I go say hi to her?”

“Uh-huh” AJ nodded.

“All right AJ. I will. But you need to help your mommy if she needs it, ok?” Harm asked.

“OK!” AJ said enthusiastically.

Putting AJ down again Harm smiled at Harriet and then walked across the lawn to the garden.

“Hey Mac.” he said softly.

“Harm.” was all she said in reply.

“Mind if I join you?”

Silently she shrugged her shoulders.

Sitting down beside her he looked out at the garden. Harriet had done a wonderful job laying it out and things were really starting to bloom. In a way it sort of reminded him of the rose garden he had met Mac in.

“I always seem to find you in gardens.” He said with a smile, attempting to lighten up the mood. Glancing over when she didn’t say anything he saw a hint of a smile play across her lips. God, how he loved those lips. “So, I guess you’ve heard.”

With a sigh Mac looked at Harm with sad eyes. “At first I was mad Harm; why wouldn’t you tell me something like this? You know I worry when you’re flying at sea. But you know what? I’m tired of being mad at you Harm; it just doesn’t seem to serve any point any more.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“This…you, me, the bickering and fighting. I’m too tired to go on Harm.”

“You know Mac; I’ve been thinking the same thing. It's just not as fun as it was when we were younger.” He said with a smile. Right away he could tell it was the wrong thing to say, even before he finished closing his mouth, by the tightening around her eyes and the way her frown deepened. Great! Open mouth, insert leg.

“Well I’m sorry I don’t amuse you the way I did when we were younger Commander.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know that Sarah.” He said. At his use of her given name he saw her look at him quickly. He supposed it was odd for him to use her Christian name instead of calling her Mac. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d called her Sarah.

“So how long are you going to be gone?” she asked after a lengthy silence broken only by the squeals of laughter that AJ let out as he played with Bud.

“The Admiral didn’t say, but because the carrier is steaming back out to the Gulf on a tight turn around, I figure two weeks to get the quals done and transit back.”

Nodding silently Mac continued to look at the garden and not at Harm.

He had to ask her, maybe she knew something about it. “Mac…I know you’re probably going to take this the wrong way, but where’s Webb?”

“He said he was going to Germany, why?” she said, finally looking at Harm.

Pausing Harm thought for a minute about what he was about to say. If he wasn’t careful it would send Mac off again. “It’s just that there’s a second, sealed set of orders that I’m supposed to hand deliver to Captain Ingles and then open when I’m on board, and I don’t like the feel of them.”

“So automatically you assume Clay has something to do with them?” Mac said with an edge to her voice. “Damn it Harm, why can’t you trust him?”

“I didn’t say that Mac..”

“But you were thinking it. I know you Harm, and you were thinking it.” Mac voice said rising.

“All right, maybe I was, but so what? You know as well as I do that Webb has a habit of using you and me like we’re his own personal agents. I mean look at what happened…”

“Don’t say it Harm.” Mac said standing up suddenly and crossing her arms.

“Sir…ma’am…would you like more iced tea?” Harriet asked from across the yard.

“No thank you Harriet.” Mac said with a smile in her friend’s direction. Turning back to Harm her smile instantly melted into a frown. “Listen Harm…we’re not going to fight today…not here. For the sake of Harriet and Bud and AJ.” She said sternly.

Sighing Harm nodded in agreement. “That’s probably the best. Look, Mac. Mattie is coming home this afternoon from camping and I need to talk to her about my being away. Why don’t you and I try having lunch again and we can talk about this.”

Shaking her head Mac couldn’t stop looking at Bud and Harriet and their smiling son. “I promised Harriet I would spend the afternoon helping her around the house…I just needed to be around people who love each other. Besides I don’t think we have anything else to say to each other.”

“Are you sure? I’m sorry I didn’t tell you last night when the Admiral dropped off the orders…really I am Mac. I wanted to…but you were out with Webb and I just didn’t want to worry you.”

“Don’t make excuses Harm, it's not very becoming of you.”

‘God she’s beautiful, no matter her mood’ he thought. Suddenly he found himself trying to pull her into a hug. For a moment she struggled, trying to pull back but then she gave in and let Harm pull her close.

“I’ll be ok Mac…it’s just a simple cruise to get my quals done early.” Harm said holding her close.

”You’re not due for four months Harm. Why are you doing it early?” Mac asked quietly.

“I don’t know Mac. The Admiral and the SecNav felt it was something that would be best to be done early…that Admiral said something about the escalating tensions in the Middle East.”

“Are you changing your designator again?” Mac asked softly.

Shaking his head Harm couldn’t help but become overwhelmed at the smell of her hair. Vanilla and roses. Sighing Harm squeezed her a little tighter. “No…I’m back at JAG to stay Sarah. I’ve been down that road, and I’ve been other places, and JAG is the only place that feels right.” He didn’t add that the only reason any place felt right was because she was there.

Breathing a big sigh of relief Mac pushed herself out of Harm’s embrace to stand silently beside him. Somehow both Harm and Mac missed the sight of Harriet hugging her son tightly as she smiled broadly at the two people she loved most next to her husband and son.

Harm spent another couple hours with Bud, Harriet and Mac playing with AJ. Finally he shook Bud’s hand and gave Harriet and Mac hugs and then with one final ruffle of AJ’s blond mop Harm went back out to his car. Looking once more at Bud and Harriet standing in front of their door holding each other and AJ, Harm’s eye were drawn to the lonely figure of Mac standing off to the side a little bit. Biting his lip Harm started his car and with a wave backed out of the driveway. Why couldn’t they have what Bud and Harriet had? Why couldn’t he give her that?

 

North of Union Station
2130 Zulu

 

Harm set the last plate on the table when the knock sounded at his door. Turning around he saw Mattie walking in.

“Hey Harm!” she said with a tired smile. “You expecting someone?”

“I am actually.” he said with a smile. “I have a date tonight.”

“Really?” Mattie asked. Pausing her eyes narrowed as she looked at Harm. “Mac or Meg?”

“Neither actually. Although, I did ask Meg to come by later so that we could talk about something.”

“Harm! You’re a bad, bad man. Having a date and asking another woman over later. What kind of example is that to set for me?”

“Well…I don’t know…I suppose that’s up to my date. How do you feel about it?”

“Wait…me?” Mattie asked in surprise.

“If you don’t already have plans I would be honored to be joined by the beautiful Ms. Grace for dinner. We need to talk about something.”

With a small frown Mattie looked around the apartment, taking in the early dinner and then when her gaze traveled over the living room she saw Harm’s packed sea bag. “You’re going away again.” She stated sadly.

Sighing Harm sat down at the table and beckoned Mattie to come and sit beside him. “I am sweetie, but it's only to do my quals. I don’t think I’ll be gone longer than a couple weeks. I’ll leave my credit card with you and that way if you and Jen need anything you can use it.”

“Really?” Mattie’s eyes lit up as she sat beside him.

“Within reason Mattie. Within reason.”

“Does Mac know?” she asked looking at Harm closely.

Nodding Harm thought about the aborted and strained discussion him and Mac had that afternoon. “I talked to her about it earlier.”

“How does she feel about it?”

“Well hon, that’s between me and Mac. What I want to know Mattie, is how do you feel about it? I know we’ve talked about my going away in the past, but you know I don’t like leaving you.”

“Even to go flying?” Mattie asked in a little girl voice.

“Even to go flying. You’re a part of my life now Mattie, and that’s important to me. I’ve had to take a good look at my life the last few months; look at what I have, and what I don’t have. It’s forced me to evaluate what I want for myself, and you’re a part of that.”

“Gee Harm, that’s touching…I think I’m going to cry.” Mattie joked, but Harm could see the glistening of moisture at the corners of her eyes.

Smiling he ruffled her hair he gave her a hug. “So are we ok?”

“Yeah, we’re ok. Can Jen and I have a party while you’re gone?”

“No.” Harm said firmly.

“Can’t blame a girl for asking.” Mattie said with a smirk.

 

North of Union Station
0010 Zulu

 

Harm opened the door with a smile to see Meg standing out in the hallway wearing a pair of faded boot cut jeans and an old navy sweatshirt. “Hey Meg, thanks for coming by.”

“Do you think I would miss a chance to spend time with my favorite JAG lawyer?” Meg asked with a smile. Stopping beside Harm she gave him a little hug and a peck on the cheek.

Closing the door Harm followed Meg into the apartment. “Can I get you some wine?” he asked when they were at the kitchen.

“Sure.” She said then watched silently while he poured a single glass of white. “You’re not having any?”

Handing her the glass Harm smiled at her. “Can’t. They frown on going from the bottle to the throttle.”

“You flying?” Meg asked with her confusion showing.

“Yeah. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. The Admiral dropped off some new orders for me. I’m heading out to the Patrick Henry to do my quals…tomorrow.”

“When are you going to be back?” Meg asked after taking a sip of her wine.

“It shouldn’t be more than a couple weeks. The Henry docked today and after they take on provisions and run a maintenance check they’ll be turning around and heading back to the Gulf. Gives me the wave time I need to get all my traps in and then I’ll be coming back…probably by COD.”

Meg frowned into her wine glass before she looked back up at Harm. “Well that stinks. I just got here and you’re going to be gone for two weeks.” She pouted.

“Aren’t you going to Lejeune with Mac?”

“Yeah, but that shouldn’t take more than a couple days. I was hoping we could do some stuff this week.”

“You’ll still be here when I get back right? Don’t worry Meg…I want so spend a lot more time with you before you go back to Pearl.” Harm said with a smile. “We’ve got eight years to make up…and only a couple weeks to do it in now.”

Setting down her wineglass on the countertop, Meg moved to stand behind Harm and began to massage his shoulders.

“Whoa there Meg…” he said in shock.

“What, you don’t like it?” she asked.

“Well, it’s not that I don’t like…I just wasn’t expecting it is all.”

“So do you want me to stop?” she asked following up her words by holding her hands up.

“Meg Austin…you’ve definitely changed.” Harm said with a low chuckle. Standing up he turned to face her with his big smile. Reaching out he pulled her into a close embrace and looked down into her blue eyes. Somewhere in the back of his mind he couldn’t help but notice they weren’t the deep brown eyes he always saw in his dreams. Lowering his head he brought his lips to hers in a deep kiss.

At the sound of a knock at the door Harm and Meg sprang apart just as Mattie walked in. “Hey Harm…” she said. “Oh…hi Meg. Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”

“It’s OK Mattie. Meg and I were just talking about my quals.” Harm said with a smile.

“Hi Mattie.” Meg said looking everywhere but at Harm.

“Yeah…right.” Mattie said doubtfully, looking at them closely. “Anyway…I forgot to give these to you earlier and I guess you’ll need them to get to Norfolk tomorrow.” And with that she tossed Harm the keys to his Lexus.

Deftly catching the keys Harm smiled at his ward. “Thanks hon. What are you and Jen up to tonight?”

“I think we’re just going to pop in a movie and veg out. We’re both pretty beat after the camping. Speaking of which I should get back or she’ll put on one of those mushy movies she likes.” Mattie said wrinkling her nose. Waving she closed the door behind her.

“Don’t let her fool you.” Harm said with a smile. “She watches those movies just as often as Jen.”

“I don’t think we fooled her.” Meg said.

“She’s a sharp one; I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t.” Harm said with a chuckle. Glancing around nervously he made a show of looking at the clock on the wall. “I should probably get to bed soon, I need to be up early to get my run in and then drive out to Norfolk.”

“Yeah…I should probably go too. Lieutenant Colonel MacKenzie and I are flying out tomorrow morning.” Meg said nervously running her hand through her hair.

“Let me walk you down to your car.” Harm said.

“It's ok…really. I’ll be fine Harm.” Meg said as they walked up to the door.

“You sure?” Harm asked.

Nodding Meg smiled at him. “Uh-huh. Listen…stay in touch when you’re out there ok? Send me emails or something. Let me know how things are going.”

“I will, I promise. Good night Meg.” Harm said holding the door open for her.

“Good night Harm.” Meg said. Rising up on her tiptoes she placed a small kiss on his cheek. “Be good out there.”

“Always.” Harm said with a grin. As she walked down the hallway he closed the door and brought his forehead down to the door’s surface. “What are you doing Rabb?” he asked himself thinking not of Meg but of a certain Marine who kept popping into his head. Even when he was kissing Meg he couldn’t stop thinking of her…and she didn’t even want to be with him.

Shaking his head he went to clean the wineglass and then sat down on his couch to read a little before going to bed.

 

North of Union Station
Monday May 24, 2004
1027 Zulu

 

Harm jogged up the steps leading to his loft. He’d had a good run to start the day, but his knees were starting to complain more and more after every run. He couldn’t wait to hit a nice cold shower to wash the sweat from the run off. As he hit the landing of his floor he slid to a stop. Standing in front of the door to his apartment was Mac. Holding a finger to his lips he nodded to the door of Mattie and Jen’s apartment then went and unlocked his own, letting Mac enter first.

“What are you doing here?” he asked quietly.

“Nice to see you too.” She said. “I thought I’d give you a ride to Norfolk and that way you wouldn’t have to leave your Lexus out there while you’re deployed.”

“It’s a two week hitch Mac, not the six month spread. Regardless though, I appreciate the gesture. Thank you.” He said tossing the towel he wore around his neck over the back of a chair. “You could have let yourself in you know, I wouldn’t have minded. Want some breakfast?”

“You shower, I’ll make you some toast. We need to be on the road in twenty minutes if I’m going to make it back in time for my flight to Lejeune.” She replied apparently ignoring his statement about her letting herself in.

Nodding Harm walked off to his bathroom to get that shower he was thinking about. It was just too bad he was taking it alone. With a grin he looked over his shoulder at Mac. “Sure you don’t want to join me?” he asked.

“Ah gee. And I’ve already got my uniform on. Can it Flyboy, you’re running out of time. Eighteen minutes and forty seconds.” Mac said as she slid a couple slices of toast into the toaster.

Chuckling Harm finished the short walk to his bathroom. When he came out five minutes later wearing nothing but a pair of loose cotton pants Mac had two slices of toast and a glass of orange juice sitting on the counter waiting for him.

Sitting down on a stool he smiled at Mac. “Thanks Marine. I meant it you know…I really appreciate that you want to see me off.”

“Don’t let it go to your head.” Mac said with mock sarcasm.

“You know…” he said between bites of toast and then he paused. He was about to tell her about the weird dream he had had the night before but he stopped. He wasn’t sure if she’d want to hear about a dream where he was some medieval knight on a quest to rescue her as a princess who’d been captured by an evil sorcerer.

“You know what?” Mac asked.

“Umm. Nothing…don’t worry about it.” He said evasively. “Hey…do you want to take the Lexus? Your ‘Vette isn’t exactly luggage friendly.”

“Do you have anything more than your sea bag?” Mac asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No…but I was just thinking you’ve probably got your bags for your trip to Lejeune…”

“Just an overnight bag and my suit bag. It’ll be fine. Besides, just think what everyone will say when you’re dropped off at the ship by a Marine in a red Corvette.”

Harm could just imagine what people would say…him getting dropped off at the pier by the most beautiful woman in the world in a red sports car. And he probably wouldn’t say anything to dissuade their speculations. He was just glad they weren’t fighting this morning. Smiling he polished off the rest of his juice and then went to his room to put on his uniform.

“So what’s in Lejeune for you and Meg?” he called out to Mac.

“Nothing much…a couple UA marines. One of them is claiming that his absence was authorized and the Admiral felt it should be investigated. Why he’s saddled me with Austin I don’t know.”

“Look at it as a chance to get to know her better.” Harm said as he tied his shoes and then grabbed his cover and walked out to the living room. “Seriously Mac…you both mean a lot to me, and I’d like for you two to get along.”

“We’ll see. You ready to go?” Mac said from the door.

“Yeah. Just let me slip this under Jen and Mattie’s door.” Harm said as he picked up his sea bag and grabbed an envelope off the desk. “Can you do me a favor while I’m gone Mac?”

“You want me to look in on her?” Mac asked as Harm locked up his apartment.

“If you wouldn’t mind, it would mean a lot to me.” Harm said as he walked down the hall to the door to Mattie and Jen’s apartment where he slipped the envelope under the door.

“No problem. What’s in the envelope?”

“A quick note and one of my credit cards.” Harm shrugged. “Make sure she doesn’t empty my bank account before I get back?”

Laughing Mac nodded and then led the way down the stairs.

 

Pier 7
Norfolk Naval Yard
1310 Zulu

 

Harm grabbed his sea bag from the back of Mac’s corvette and stepped back from the car. “Thanks for the ride Mac.” He said with a smile.

“Just be careful out there Harm. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“You know, the Admiral said the same thing. I’ll be fine. It’s just some routine flights and some more notches on the greenie board.” Harm said with a grin.

“Well, just try not to ditch any aircraft this time.”

“I’ll be careful Mac. Hey…do you think you should give me a kiss for luck?” Harm asked with a grin, fully aware that the duty officer at the top of the gangplank and his non-comm where watching.

“In your dreams Flyboy. In your dreams.” Mac said with a laugh. “Come back safe.”

“Yes ma’am. See you in a couple weeks.” Harm said and then he turned to walk up the long gangplank to the ship. Saluting the flag he turned to the Ensign on duty.

“Permission to come aboard?” he asked formally.

Saluting the commander before him the ensign checked his clipboard of all arriving personnel. Only one pilot was listed. “Commander Rabb? Welcome aboard sir. The Captain would like to see you on the bridge.”

“Thank you Ensign. I know the way.”

“Aye, aye sir.”

With that Harm walked back into the world that could make his whole body hum. Shortly he found himself walking into the command centre of one of the most powerful seagoing vessels on the planet.

“JAG on deck!” rang out as soon as Harm passed through the hatchway.

“Commander! Good to see you again.” Captain Ingles said as he turned to the newly arrived officer.

Saluting Harm stood to attention. “Thank you sir, it’s good to be back.” Holding out his orders Harm waited until the Captain had taken them and then stood at ease. It wasn’t until then that Harm noticed Clayton Webb standing over by the chart table. What the hell was he doing there? Hadn’t Mac said that he’d be in Germany?

“Commander, join me in my state room. Mr. Webb, join us.” Captain Ingles said as he looked at Harm’s orders.

“Aye, aye sir.” Harm said as he came to attention once more. He then followed the Captain down three decks to his wardroom. As the hatch closed behind Webb, Harm came to attention again.

“At ease Commander. Harm, as you know you’re to fly your quals after we set to sea in a day and a half. But I’m sure you can guess by now that you’re here for more than your quals.”

“Yes sir. My annual quals aren’t for four more months, and the sealed orders sir.”

“Well, why don’t we just open those now?” the Captain asked and then broke open the sealed envelope. After a quick glance he handed them to Harm.

Looking down Harm read the orders quickly. His designator was being changed to return him to active flight status. He was to be attached to the Patrick Henry’s flight group for a period of not less than three months. Looking back up at the Captain he said “Sir, permission to speak freely?”

“Granted.”

“Sir, I don’t understand. Why is my designator being changed? Why am I being returned to active flight status? I have duties at JAG, and I was under the impression this was a two week hitch to bring my quals up to date.”

“Not my idea Commander.” The Captain said with a look at Clayton Webb.

“It was my idea Harm.” Webb said with a smirk.

Gritting his teeth Harm continued looking at the Captain.

“Harm…there’s something else. My CAG had mechanical problems two days out. He had to punch it and had a bad landing. His leg is fractured in six places and he’s being sent to Bethesda. His XO doesn’t have your flight hours or your time in the thick. We need someone with your experience running the show. While you’re here you’ll be acting CAG.” The Captain said with another glance at Webb.

“That was also my idea Harm. This does not leave this room, but we need a CAG we can trust to replace the old CAG.”

“Why was he one of ‘yours’?” Harm asked sarcastically.

“Actually he was. Sort of. He was one of the few naval personnel we feel we can use when the situation requires it, much like yourself.”

“Who was it? Keeter?” Harm asked flippantly thinking of the time Keeter flew the Stealth for the CIA. There was no way it would be Keeter.

“Actually it was.” Webb answered with yet another smirk.

“What the hell are you playing at Webb? And why the hell aren’t you in Germany?”

“I’m not ‘playing’ at anything Rabb. What we’re doing here is deadly serious, and you would do well to remember that. Did Sarah tell you I was in Germany? As far as she’s concerned I am, and if you must know I told her that so that she wouldn’t worry about me. Now if you’ll excuse me Captain? I have a helo to catch. Rabb, I’ll be in touch.” Webb said and then without waiting for the Captain’s dismissal turned and opened the hatch and left.

Sitting down the Captain gestured for Harm to do the same. “I don’t like him any better than you appear to CAG. He makes me very nervous for some reason.”

“He gets good people into problems they shouldn’t be in sir, and they usually end up dead. I don’t like it sir, but you know I’ll follow orders. Does the Admiral know?”

“I’ll be speaking with him later today. He doesn’t know what was in the sealed orders…those came from the SecNav. It appears that Mr. Webb’s boss and our boss are very good golfing buddies. Son, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the SecNav letting the CIA have our pilots whenever they ask.”

“You’ll get no argument out of me sir.”

“Well Commander, I’ll let you get settled into your stateroom. Report to me on the bridge in half an hour.”

“Aye, aye sir.” Harm said coming out of his chair and standing to attention again. Taking two steps back he turned around and was in the process of opening the hatch when the captain spoke again.

“And I trust you won’t be landing anything bigger than a tomcat on my deck CAG.”

“No sir.” Harm said with a smile.

Twenty minutes later Harm was hanging his flight suit in the locker in his stateroom. His helmet followed the flight suit into the locker, the front facing out so that ‘Hammer’ was visible to all. He still couldn’t get over the gift that the Raptors had given him last time he was with them. Taking a last look in his sea bag he decided everything he would need in the next little while was put away and the rest could wait. Tossing the sea bag into the bottom of the locker he closed the door and looked around the stateroom. Nothing else to do here, he might as well head up to the bridge. It was a shame he had stay in uniform; he would much rather be wearing the flight suit but seeing as flight operations were suspended while in port there wasn’t much point in it. Soon enough. Soon enough.

While he made his way to the bridge of the carrier Harm began to wonder about things that were going to surely come his way. If he were to be on the carrier for at least three months he would be doing more than his quals; he would be flying combat missions, and in all probability writing letters home to unknowing families. Growing more and more pensive Harm was cursing Webb for once again reaching out and plucking him from JAG when he came to a sudden stop in the passageway nearly causing an accident as numerous sailors desperately tried to avoid running over this tall, broad shouldered Commander who had suddenly stopped in the their way. Harm however had no time to notice the looks he was getting from those going around him. What if this was simply a ploy by Webb to get Harm away from Mac? Could Webb pull enough strings to get Harm sent into action for half a standard cruise? He couldn’t, could he? As he pondered these thoughts Harm felt his anger rising. If he found out that Webb was simply trying to separate him and Mac then the spook would find he had waken the tiger.

It was a slightly confused and brooding Harm that stepped onto the bridge for the second time that day. “Ah CAG…all squared away?” Captain Ingles asked.

“Aye sir, reporting as ordered.”

“Good, good. Seeing as we’re not engaged in flight ops while in port, you should have ample opportunity to go over any of the personnel records of anyone unfamiliar to you. You’ll find them in your office, along with copies of previous flight rotations and maintenance schedules. By the time we get underway in two days I want you to have the next month’s rotation done up. I’ve kept your crews on board for the time being…if you feel the need to let them off ship before we get underway feel free to give them passes. As long as they’re on deck and sober when we leave port everything will be fine. Any questions?”

“No sir. I’ll get on that right away with your permission?”

“Carry on Commander.”

An hour later Harm leaned back in his chair pinching the bridge of his nose. Spread out on the desk in front of him were the numerous personnel files of young pilots he had no pervious contact with. He had noticed that Skates and Tuna were still flying with the Raptors, along with a number of other pilots and RIOs he’d flown with in the past. He liked the look of his squadron; lots of them had stick time in the thick.

Looking up at a knock on his hatch Harm smiled to see Lieutenant Elizabeth “Skates” Hawkes standing there smiling.

“Skates…come in. I thought you were trying to fly dry?” he asked, referring to her plans to transfer to a land bound duty station to be closer to her fiancé.

“Well you know sir…I have salt in the blood and jet fumes in the lungs. If the landing strip is too big and doesn’t pitch there’s just no fun in it. Besides, none of those drivers know how to fly.” Skates said with a smile. “So we’re stuck with the Hammer again are we?”

“Good to see you again Liz.” Harm said with genuine feeling. This woman had helped bring him back from death’s door three years ago. “So who’s your driver?”

“Well sir, it seems I don’t have one right now. I broke the last one, and they told me I’d have to wait for the new CAG to decide what to do with me.” Skates said with mock seriousness.

“You broke your last one? Wait…you were riding backseat for Keeter?” Harm asked. That reminded him, he wanted to get down to sickbay and see if Keeter had been sent to Bethesda yet. Damn...he probably had been.

“Damn right she was.” A familiar voice called from the hallway, followed by an odd thumping noise. A few moments later the sight of Keeter thumping his way over a knee knocker on crutches hove into view. “Damn it Hammer, give me a hand will you?”

Laughing Harm stood up from behind his desk and squeezed past Skates to help Keeter over the knee knocker. “I thought they were strapping you to a bed in Bethesda?” he asked once Keeter was fully into the office.

“Oh they will…just wanted to come by and make sure you don’t screw up my squadron first. And her…” he said nodding at Skates. “All she can talk about is Hammer this and Hammer that. You’d think she saw you walk on water buddy. I tried telling her about that time we snuck off campus to see those twins, but even that didn’t tarnish her Hammer worship.”

Laughing Harm helped Keeter into a seat and then sat on the edge of his desk. “Well I’m not sure what she saw…I was pretty much out of it with hypothermia the last time I was in the water with Skates.”

“Well sir, I’m just sorry you missed that wedding.” Skates said with sincerity.

“What wedding?” Keeter asked curiously.

“Mac’s…but it never happened.” Harm said evasively.

“You still haven’t married that Marine? What’s wrong with you buddy? You slowing down in your old age?”

“It’s not that easy buddy. Anyway…rest assured I won’t mess up my squadron while you’re out of commission. And who am I to mess with the way of things, I guess I’ll take Skates as my RIO.” Harm said with a smile for Skates. “One of the best I’ve ever chauffeured.”

“Skates…now that you know he’s going to keep you in his backseat, can I speak to the Commander in private?”

“Aye, aye sir.” Skates said coming to attention. “Sirs.”

As she left Skates made sure to dog the hatch shut so that Harm and Keeter had the privacy they needed.

“She’s going up before the next Lieutenant Commander board. It’s just too bad I won’t be here to see her get it.” Keeter said with a sigh. “She is a hell of a RIO…damn glad she came back where she belonged. Harm, listen….about this whole thing. I’m sorry…I was involved in bringing you in.”

“What do you mean?” Harm asked looking at his friend.

“Well I’ve been helping out the Company with in country jobs while we were in the Gulf…and if that damned roll SAS hadn’t gone out on me on the last patrol you’d still be comfy in your JAG office. But it did, and I got this.” Keeter said thumping his cast. “So the Company needed someone they could trust. That’s when we all thought of you.”

“I’m through with the Company Keeter.” Harm said stubbornly.

“You’re never through with the Company buddy, you know that. They may have given you a pat on the head and sent you back to JAG, but they didn’t cut all the strings. They’ll still make you dance when they need you. And this is one of those times. Hell, Webb asked for you for this.”

“I’ll just bet.” Harm said bitterly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He’s probably just looking for a way to get me away from Mac for awhile. Finished what he started after Paraguay.”

“What do you mean buddy?”

“Him and Mac are dating.” Harm said simply.

With a low whistle Keeter shook his head. “Well I didn’t know about that, but I do know if they can’t have me here, they might as well have the second best.”

“Second best my ass. I’ve never let Martin Baker beat me up that bad.” Harm said with a laugh looking at Keeter’s cast. For a moment Keeter had managed to get his mind off of Webb and Mac.

“Look buddy…here’s how it’s going to work. Webb will come back on board once in awhile to task you with a new mission. Sometimes they’re hops that you can give to someone from the squad, sometimes they’re dark.”

Harm knew that when Keeter said dark he meant black ops, stuff only he could handle. “How dirty?”

“Some of them get pretty bad brother. I’d suggest going to see the Chaplin for confession once in awhile to get some of it off your soul.” Keeter said somberly.

Sighing Harm cursed the day he met Webb all those years ago. Ever since then he just couldn’t seem to get away from the CIA. A knock at his hatch brought him out of his reverie.

“Enter!” he called.

Slowly the hatch was undogged and then swung upon. A young ensign poked her head in. “Sirs? The Captain was wondering why Commander Keeter was ‘loafing around his ship’. Your ride to Bethesda has been dockside for half an hour sir. And CAG, the Captain said if you need to let anyone know of the change in plans you are cleared to use the comm centre.”

“Thank you Ensign….” Harm said, waiting for the young lady to provide her name.

“Tollari sir. I’m the PRO here on the Henry.” She said with a smile.

With a smile and chuckle Harm said “I’ll take the Captain up on that and make sure that Commander Keeter catches his cab. Remind me some time to tell you about another young Public Relations Officer I knew on the Seahawk.”

“Aye sir. Excuse me sir?” Ensign Tollari said respectfully.

“Carry on Tollari.” Keeter said as he struggled to stand up from the chair. “Well I guess that’s my cue.”

“Let me walk you down to your ride.” Harm said.

After numerous struggles and some near fatal misses Harm finally got Keeter off the ship and down the gangplank to the dock where an ambulance was waiting.

“I don’t need any stinking ambulance.” Keeter grumbled when they were finally at the vehicle.

“I know buddy. Humor the Captain.” Harm said. Giving Keeter a quick hug he followed up with a gentle shove in the direction of the ambulance. “Get better soon buddy…I’ve got a job to do that isn’t yours.”

“Three months buddy. That’s what their saying it’ll take me to heal up and rehab. Look for me on a COD in three months.”

As the ambulance drove down the dockside and disappeared around a corner Harm turned back to the carrier that would be his home for the next three months. There was just something about this cruise that Harm didn’t like…something felt wrong. With a sigh he started up the gangplank once more. Now for the hardest part of the whole mission…he needed to phone Mattie and tell her that he wouldn’t be home in two weeks. The Admiral would take care of letting everyone else know, but Mattie needed to hear it from him.

 

Somewhere over the Arabian Sea
Saturday June 5, 2004
1910 Zulu

 

"Raptor 1 this is Henry Control. We have you on approach. Handing off to LSO."

"Roger Henry Control, handing off. Henry LSO this is Raptor 1." Harm said into his helmet mic.

"Raptor 1 this is Henry LSO, call the ball."

Looking at his HUD Harm lined up for a landing. "Well Skates…this will get the paperwork out of the way." Harm said, referring to the fact that this was the last trap he needed to complete his quals.

"You going to make another perfect touchdown Hammer? You know, with you that sort of thing gets a little boring and predictable." Skates said from the backseat.

With a quick glance in his mirror Harm flashed his RIO a smile. "You prefer to go swimming?"

"Water's a little cold. Maybe next time we have shore leave."

"Right." Harm said then keyed his connection to the LSO. "Henry LSO, Raptor 1. Ball."

"Roger Raptor 1, we have you in the glide path. Bring her on home."

Watching the tiny dot of the aircraft carrier get larger by the second Harm couldn't help but pause and think about how much he loved this. Skates was right…flying off of anything other than a carrier was a bit boring.

"Tail hook down." He called to Skates.

"Roger, tail hook down." She called back hitting the switch to lower the tail hook.

"Raptor 1, Henry LSO. You're a little low, give her some power."

"Relax guys. I know what I'm doing." Harm said to himself eliciting a laugh out of Skates.

Minutes later Harm caught the number 3 wire and slowed his Tomcat to taxi over to the staging area clear of the runway. Cutting the engine he released the canopy and pulled off his helmet.

"Well that was another one for the Greenie Board Hammer." Skates said as she took off her own flight helmet. "You gonna give any of the rookies a chance to catch up?"

"Nah. They'll have their chance when I'm gone."

"Riiiight. Let me buy you a coffee in celebration of finishing your quals CAG?" Skates asked as they dropped to the deck from the ladders at the side of the F-14.

"Sure, but we have a debriefing first." Harm said as the young PRO came to attention beside him. "Ensign." He greeted her.

"The Captain would like to see you immediately CAG." The Ensign said looking at Harm with a touch of awe in her gaze.

"Thank you Ensign. Looks like that coffee will have to wait Skates. Tell the boys I'll be down in a couple minutes."

Grabbing his plane captain as he walked to the hatch in the side of the tower Harm looked back at his Tomcat. "Check the hydraulics in the starboard ailerons Chief. She seemed a little sluggish coming in."

"You bet sir." The Chief Petty Officer said. "Do you ever miss the gold wire sir?"

"A couple times…but you don't want to be around when I do Chief…it’s not pretty." Harm said referring to his ramp strike nine years before.

Nodding the plane captain ran out to look after his Tomcat while Harm made his way to the bridge.

"CAG on deck!" rang out as Harm stepped through the hatchway to the bridge.

"Over here CAG." The Captain called from the chart table where he was standing beside Clayton Webb.

Frowning at Webb Harm moved over to stand next to the Captain. "How was the patrol CAG?" the Captain asked when Harm was next to him.

"It was quiet sir; nothing to report."

"Another notch on the greenie board for you though. And now you're done your quals?"

"Aye sir." Harm simply.

"Good, good. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, we can get down to business. Mr. Webb?"

"Indeed Captain. I've got a job for you Rabb." Webb said as he called up an image of the Yemen coastline. "I need you to provide air cover for an extraction operation that will be taking place here." He said pointing to a specific point on the coast.

"Who's being extracted?" Harm asked.

"It’s need to know Rabb."

"If you want me to do my job, I need to know. How are they being extracted?"

"Helo." Webb answered tersely.

"Night time extraction I'm guessing?"

"Correct."

"Why do you need us?"

"Iraqi dissidents have been reported flying over Yemen out into the Gulf. We need that helo to return safely, it is imperative to our effort here in Iraq."

"When?"

"Tonight…you leave in three hours. And you'll be alone…we're only tasking you and your RIO for this. You'll have a refuel point here." Webb said pointing to another spot on the chart out to sea. "And if needed you will be refueling there on the return leg."

"What kind of resistance can we expect?" Harm asked seriously.

"We expect no to light resistance."

"Which is why you need me to fly shotgun on this op?" Harm asked sarcastically.

"Look Rabb, just fly your plane and do your job. Leave the rest up to me." Webb said angrily.

"That's what I'm afraid of." Harm said with a frown. "Now, if you'll excuse me Captain, I need to debrief the boys from the last patrol."

"Dismissed CAG." The Captain said with a knowing nod.

"Rabb." Webb said before Harm made it to the hatch.

"Yeah?" Harm said looking over his shoulder.

"I'll be here to debrief you on your return then I'll be heading out again. I might have another mission for you to fly while I'm away."

"Oh goodie." Harm said as he turned back to the hatch and made his way down to the ready room.

Walking into the ready room Harm noticed right away everyone from the Raptors was present, not just the crews that had returned from patrols. Narrowing his eyes he looked around the room. "What's going on here?" he asked in his best command tone.

"Well CAG, we have a little something for you." Skates said as she stepped out of the press of bodies with her hands behind her back. As she got close to Harm she brought her hands out from behind her showing a silly plastic toy crown. Reaching up she placed it on Harm's head and then stepped back. "All hail the King of the Greenie Board!" she called out.

"Hail to the King!" everyone else yelled out.

Pulling the crown off his head Harm looked around at his squad trying not to laugh. "Great. Just great guys…now you're making me King? Anyone want this?" Harm asked holding out the crown.

"Sure sir." Lieutenant Dan 'John-boy' Hillers said with a smile. One of the newer pilots Hillers was still getting used to his new CAG.

Pulling the crown back from Hillers' reach Harm gave him a wicked smile. "Then show me what you've got up there son." He said as he pointed to the Greenie Board showing everyone who'd made a number 3 trap. John-boy was up there, but with only two notches to his name; the boy had a habit of catching the number 2. Harm meant to drive him harder now that his own quals were out of the way; him and everyone else in the squad.

"All right...enough of that." Harm said stepping behind the podium. "Anyone have anything to report about their last patrols?"

"Nothing CAG." Tuna said looking around at the two other pilots that had just returned with him and the CAG. They both shook their heads in the negative as well.

"Well, don't think this means we can get soft. The next patrol goes in one hour, and the next one after that half an hour after their return. Skates and I will be going out with the second patrol."

"We will sir?" Skates asked with confusion. She and the CAG weren't up in the rotation for another sixteen hours.

"I asked the Chief to look at the ailerons on my bird and I want to check them out. They didn't feel right coming in just now and I don't want to find out there's a problem in the thick." Harm explained, hating having to lie to his squad. Well, it wasn't exactly a lie, but it was a convenient excuse. Damn Webb, he was even starting to think like a spy.
"Those going up in the next mission report to the flight deck. Those others going up tonight, report to the flight deck in two hours. Dismissed people."

Coming to attention the pilots all began filing out of the ready room to either get some rest or report to the flight deck. Picking up his helmet Harm started walking back to his stateroom but thought of something else. It was only two in the afternoon in DC, and while he had time maybe he should call Mattie and see how she was doing. Turning around Harm made his way to the nearest public phone. Slipping his calling card into the slot Harm dialed Mattie and Jen's number.

After a couple rings the phone was picked up. "Hello?" Jennifer said on the other end.

"Jen, it’s me." Harm said with a smile. "How are my girls doing?"

"Commander!" Jen said excitedly. "We're good sir. How are you?"

"Just did my last trap to bring my quals up to date." Harm said. In the background he could hear a commotion of some sort. "What's that noise?"

"That's your ward attempting to murder me to get the phone sir. It was good hearing from you Commander…I'll put Mattie on now."

"Thanks Jen…oh and Jen?"

"Yes sir?"

"How's…everyone back at JAG?"

"They're doing good sir. We're all missing you, but we know you'll be coming back to us when this is all done." Jen said and then paused. Plunging on she continued "Colonel MacKenzie misses you sir…she hasn't said anything, but we can all tell. I'll tell her that you called and that you're safe."

"Thanks Jen." Harm said and then waited for Mattie to grab the phone.

"Harm!" Mattie screamed in excitement.

"Hey there kiddo. How you doing?"

"School sucks Harm. Why are you making me go?"

"Because you need to sweetie. Now what's so bad about school?"

"It just sucks. So when are you coming back, do you know?"

"I still don't know sweetie, but it won't be for two and a half months at least, you know that. Are you being good for Jen?"

"Yeah Harm…and for Mac."

"She's looking in on you?"

"You know she is…she comes by almost every day to spend time with us. She really misses you Harm."

"Nah…it’s probably Webb she misses."

"How did you know he was gone Harm?" Mattie asked suspiciously.

Cursing himself Harm thought fast to cover his slip. "She said he was going to Germany before I left…I just assumed he was still gone."

"Oh….yeah he is. She's been getting all these stupid German toys from him while he's been there…it’s really gross how mushy it is."

"Really? Hmm…."

"Hang on Harm…someone's at the door. You getting that Jen?" Mattie called to her roommate. "Hey Mac….Harm's on the phone…you want to talk to him?" Harm heard her call to someone in the room. "Gotta go Harm…here's Mac."

"All right Mattie…thanks. I miss you hon."

"Ah that's sweet Flyboy." Mac's voice said over the phone. "I didn't know you felt that way."

"Very funny Marine. How's it going? I hear you've been watching out for my girls for me."

"Things have been fine Harm, I've been keeping them on the straight and narrow. How's being CAG treating you?"

"It’s good…" Harm said as he realized this was the first time he'd talked to Mac since he deployed. "Things are good Mac."

"Damn it Harm, you told me you weren't going to change your designator." Mac said quietly. "You promised me."

Biting his lip Harm cursed the fact that he couldn't tell Mac everything about why he was on the Henry. "I didn't request it Mac…the SecNav did it without consulting me. If I had my way I'd be on a COD back to a Saudi airbase right now so I could hitch a ride home."

"You finished your quals?" Mac asked.

"Half an hour ago. And no I didn't ditch any birds this time before you say something about that."

"Well that's good." Mac said with obvious relief.

"How's Meg?" Harm asked without thinking. He could almost count the seconds of quiet before Mac answered.

"She's fine I guess. We haven't seen much of her lately because she's been too busy at the Pentagon." Mac said in a tone that could have frozen water.

"RABB!" someone down the passageway call to him. Turning to look over his shoulder he almost swallowed his tongue when he saw Webb coming towards him. As much as he'd love to hear Webb explain to Mac why he was on a carrier in the Arabian Sea instead of in Germany, Harm's better judgment told him that wouldn't be good.

"Listen Mac…someone's calling me so I gotta go. Give Mattie a hug for me…and tell her I miss you guys." He said without noticing his own slip.

"Was that Clayton?" Mac asked obviously having heard Webb's shouted call.

"Uhh…no. It was my plane captain…I asked him to check out some stuff for me when I trapped last."

"It sounded like Clay…and since when does a plane captain address the CAG by his last name?" Mac asked shrewdly.

"Uhh…he does a damn good job…I've been going easy on him lately, but you have a point Mac. I'll have to speak to him about his discipline. Anyway…I gotta go. Bye Sarah." Harm said as Webb walked up with his mouth open to say something. Upon hearing the name of his girlfriend he closed it quickly.

Hanging up the phone Harm turned to Webb with a smirk on his own face. "I really would have enjoyed listening to you explain to her why you're out here with me and not in Germany like you told her."

"I would of thought of something." Webb said absently. "What were you doing calling her anyway?"

Shrugging Harm started walking down the passageway to his office expecting Webb to follow. "She's a good friend Webb, you know that."

"Doesn't explain why you were calling her." Webb said following closely behind Harm.


"If you must know I was calling Mattie, and Mac happened to come by. I'd asked her to check in on the girls for me from time to time. Now, what can I do for you Webb?"

"I'm going to have to leave earlier than I thought so I won't be here to debrief you on your return…someone else should be here. Here's the details of the other mission I told you about." Webb said shoving an envelope against Harm's chest. "Open that when you get back tonight."

Shrugging Harm tucked the envelope into one of the pockets of his flight suit. "I'll get it done Webb, you know that."

"Well, I'm so relieved. I'll see you in four days Rabb."

"I look forward to it Webb…really I do." Harm said sarcastically as Webb turned off to head up to the flight deck to catch his helo.

 

 

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