~~~ Part Twenty-three – Ominous
Four days later
BEARLODGE MOUNTAIN RANCH
Kat helped Dean out of her truck and guided him up the main house
stairs. He was on the road to recovery, but it would be another few days
until he got back to normal, except for the two-month course of
antibiotics he had to take. He was surprised to see how only a few days
of illness had drained him. He'd offered only token resistance when Kat
had insisted he stay with her during his convalescence.
A few minutes later, he was settled in Kat's guest room. He leaned back
against the headboard and closed his eyes tiredly. The pain medication
was making him incredibly drowsy, but somehow, he doubted things would
be very different without it.
"Anything I can get you?" Kat asked from the door.
"No, thanks. I think I'll just sleep for a while."
"Okay. I'll be in the kitchen if you need anything.”
"Hmm..." he mumbled sleepily.
Kat watched him slowly surrender to drug-induced slumber and retreated
to the kitchen, leaving Lea to stand guard.
She busied herself preparing some lasagna, her mind working a mile a
minute. A million different thoughts swirled in her brain, colliding
with each other. Part of her was trying to figure out how to save the
ranch from bankruptcy, and another part tried to ignore the names that
had come up as she searched for the individuals responsible for the vile
rumors spread about the farm and her. Marty Robson... And then, there
was Dean. She could see the pain in his eyes, but every time she
broached the subject of his trip to Washington, he would shut her out...
She was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't hear the front door
open, or the steps in the living room. Only when a strong pair of arms
grabbed her from behind, choking her, did she know there was an intruder
in the house.
She tried to scream but the hand clamped around her throat, silencing
her. The intruder's other arm snaked around her chest, pinning her arms
to her sides. She twisted in his grasp, desperately trying to free
herself, but her assailant was a lot taller and a lot stronger than she.
"Stop struggling or you're dead," he whispered in her ear. She complied
and the hold on her throat slackened somewhat.
Kat inhaled sharply, panic and rage mixing in her veins. And then, she
knew: the sharp tang of his Hugo Boss Cologne, the rough texture of his
skin, the sweet, minty smell of his breath. Marty.
"How—" she asked, breathlessly.
"The nice L. A. parole board let me go. A month ago. I told you I'd find
you," he hissed. "And now, bitch, you'll pay..."
Kat frantically tried to think her way out. "If you kill me, they'll
know it was you! Just let me go! I won't tell anyone you were here!
Please!" she begged.
Marty snickered, a cruel smile on his lips. "Nah... This is just the way
I like you... At my mercy. And don't worry. A nice little fire in your
precious barn is all it takes," he hissed, his right hand grasping her
A tight knot of fear twisted her gut but Kat pushed it back. 'Don't let
the fear control you. Fear takes away your ability to think, and you
need to think to survive', she told herself. She took a deep breath and
met his light brown eyes.
"I'm not afraid of you! You won't get away with this!" she spat to his
"Oh, but you should be, kitten," he whispered into her ear. "I'll kill
you for what you did to me. And there's nothing you can do about it,"
Kat struggled fiercely, trying to escape his grasp, but his hands held
on to her like vices. She stomped her foot on to his, using the heel of
her boot, as hard as she could.
Marty howled in pain and released her neck and chin.
"Help!" she squealed, as loudly as she could, hopefully waking Dean, or
at least Lea. Kat regretted briefly having left Spirit out in the barn.
Marty straightened and swung back his arm, bringing his hand up in a
sweeping arc. The heel of his palm connected solidly with the base of
her neck, sending Kat into a dark pit of oblivion.
Lea's head snapped up from the bed where she had been happily sleeping,
contented by her master's return. She cocked her head and listened
intently. A low growl rumbled in her throat, as she heard a muffled
The growling grew louder as scuffling steps and bumped furniture
rattled. Sensing the hostility and fear in the other room, Lea gave a
strong bark and pawed at Dean's hand. She received a sleepy slap for her
efforts. Undeterred, she clawed at his hand again, insistently.
"Wha???" came a drowsy, annoyed mutter.
Lea growled and barked. Half awake, Dean rose to his elbows and listened
intently. Lea never barked for nothing. But the house was quiet. He gave
Lea an irate glance.
"Let me sleep, will you?" he grumbled, dropping his head back into the
pillow. Moments later, he sank back into drug-assisted slumber, ignoring
Lea's insistent whimpering.
Part Twenty-four – Terror ~~~
The sharp stench of diesel fuel roused Kat from the dark reaches of
unconsciousness. She tried to get up but soon noticed the ropes that
restrained her arms and legs. She cursed and tugged at the hemp rope
bonds to no avail. She looked around her and recognized the hayloft. She
was blessedly alone. But her relief didn't last. She sniffed the air
carefully. Smoke. The barn was on fire.
"HELP!" she screamed at the top of her lungs.
"Yell all you want, kitten. There's no one to hear you."
Marty's calm, chilly voice sent shivers down her spine, as she head the
barn door slam shut.
Panic rose sharply in Kat's gut as she heard the crackle of flames just
under her, in the rafters. The old, hay and straw filled barn would burn
quickly. She had to find a way out, and fast. A thick, acrid smoke had
already began to fill the air, making her eyes water and her lungs burn.
Again and again, she yelled for help, until her throat, filled with
smoke and ash, refused to work. Coughing, she furiously worked her
wrists to loosen the rope, but she only managed to rub her skin raw. The
hayloft was now almost completely filled with smoke, and she could see a
deep orange glow edging closer and closer. The panic she had been so
desperately trying to keep at bay slowly gripped her heart, as she
coughed and gagged from the smoke, here eyes too irritated to see.
"No!" she screamed, completely terrified, as the approaching flames
neared the post her feet were tied to. As her world faded to a dark
tunnel of grey as she slipped into unconsciousness, her last conscious
thought was of her certain, impending death. And fear. Complete, utter,
abject, choking terror.
Lea jumped off the bed and pawed at the door, but it was securely shut.
Giving an annoyed bark, she jumped back on the bed and froze, sniffing
the air. She rose her muzzle high and sniffed again, towards the window.
She whimpered and barked, again and again, and licked Dean's hands with
a passion. She received yet another sleepy slap.
She jumped off the bed and pawed at the door, barking and howling.
"Stop it, Lea. I'm awake," Dean grumbled. He slowly sat up and took a
deep breath, as Lea kept up her furious clawing.
"Lea, stop- Damn!" Dean snapped, as he caught the smell of smoke. He
stumbled out of bed and pulled the curtains open.
"Shit! KAT! THE BARN'S ON FIRE!" he yelled as loudly as he could,
pulling on his jeans. "Good girl, Lea," he said, as he gave her a quick
pat. He jerked the now well-scratched bedroom door open, his boots in
one hand, and stopped cold. The living room furniture was askew, and he
could see broken dishes on the kitchen floor.
"Kat?" he shouted, a brand new fear blossoming in his heart. "Lea, find
Wasting no time, the dog bolted out of the partially open door, and to
Dean's horror, straight into the burning barn.
"Shit!" he growled, as he followed Lea. He paused by the entrance only
long enough to pull his t-shit over his mouth and nose, walking straight
into the raging inferno. He crouched low and followed Lea's whimpers all
the way to the hayloft ladder.
"Out, girl. Go!" he said, half-choked by smoke and pushed Lea towards
the door. He took a second to study his surroundings, but all he could
see were clouds of billowing smoke, and angry, red and orange flames
licking and cracking everywhere. He took a final breath before grabbing
onto the ladder and hoisting himself into the hayloft.
Dark clouds of smoke, from ceiling to floor, greeted him. The flimsy
material of his undershirt did nothing to filter out the bitter, acrid
air, and he started coughing uncontrollably. On his hands and knees, he
searched blindly for Kat. Stars began to dance in front of his eyes as
his hand encountered a hard object. A boot.
He tugged onto it but it wouldn't budge. He tugged again, moving closer
to Kat's limp form. His hands encountered a rough bond around her legs.
A rope. He followed it to a nearby post. His lungs burning from the
smoke and effort, he gave the knot a hard tug, fighting, praying for a
little more time. If he passed out, they 'd both die here. As the
thought formed in his head, the floor shuddered, and the roof gave a
sickening crack. The old tinder building wasn't going to hold up for
Dean gave a knot another sharp tug and inwardly cheered as he felt the
rope slip. Within seconds, he had dragged Kat to the hayloft ladder. He
slipped her limp form over his shoulders and slid down the ladder, and
out of the heaving and creaking building. He felt something heavy land
on his left shoulder but he just kept on walking, till he reached sweet,
fresh air. He walked a few more steps before collapsing to the ground.
He gently set Kat on the dirt, as his abused lungs convulsed. Some
moments later -- he wasn't sure how long -- his vision cleared somewhat,
and he was able to draw something close to a breath without his throat
wanting to turn inside out.
He crawled to Kat and turned her on her back, pressing his ear to her
chest. Nothing. He tilted her head back, pinched her nose and covered
her mouth with his, and blew a soft breath, watching her chest rise. He
repeated the gesture and pressed two fingers to her carotid. He allowed
himself a small whisper of hope as he found a weak, but steady beat.
"Come on, Kat. Breathe!" he admonished, as he tilted her head back and
breathed into her once, twice, three times more.
He felt her entire body twitch and she suddenly rolled away from him,
coughing and gagging. He kneeled next to her and rubbed a comforting
hand on her back as she cleared the smoke from her lungs and throat.
In the distance, he heard voices shouting and he felt a strong pair of
hands on his own shoulders, forcing him to let go of Kat. Something was
pressed against his face and he became vaguely aware of an intense
burning sensation on his shoulder. The sensation grew until his entire
body began to tremble. And then, nothing.
Part Twenty-five – Angels in Disguise ~~~
Dean jerked awake, sitting straight up and instantly regretting it as a
sharp jolt of pain seared his left shoulder and back.
"Easy, boy, easy," Mo said, as he helped Dean lay back on the hospital
"Mo, Kat ok?" he asked, his voice roughened anew. He grimaced as his
shoulder brushed the bed.
"She's resting. Smoke inhalation, a few minor burns, but she'll be fine.
Thanks to you. You saved my little kiddie, boy. I'll never thank you
enough for that," Mo whispered, his throat tight with emotion.
"Kat's my granddaughter. Her mom was my daughter."
"Oh," Dean replied simply. "You should thank Lea. She woke me and
pointed me in the right direction."
"I owe that dog a t-bone, but you pulled her out and you breathed the
life back into her."
"I did what I had to. Damn, this hurts!" Dean groaned.
"Second degree burn on your shoulder and back. You were lucky it was
only smoldering when the beam hit you. If it had been flaming, you
wouldn’t be here to complain about it."
"How do you know it was a beam?"
"Jackson saw the smoke. Came running as you got out, saw it falling. He
called the cavalry while you were taking care of Kat."
Dean didn't reply as he was gripped by yet another coughing fit. Once he
could breathe normally again, he turned back to the old man.
"Tell Kat I'll see her soon, okay?"
"Will do. And thanks again. Kat owes you her life."
"No. I owe her," Dean said firmly, locking gazes with the old man.
Mo smiled and rose off the chair. "I'll be back in the morning to pick
you two up."
Dean nodded. Once the door was shut, he closed his eyes and let himself
drift off, his exhausted mind putting off the questions tumbling around
it. Questions like how Kat had come to be tied up in the hayloft, and
who had put her there.
CROOK COUNTY HOSPITAL
He woke up more slowly this time, feeling watched.
"Hey, Kat," he said, without opening his eyes.
"How did you know?" she replied, her usually musical voice gravelly and
"I smelled smoke."
Dean opened his eyes and slowly stretched, mindful of his shoulder. He
looked at Kat, smiling softly. "How come you look better than I do? You
spent a whole lot more time in there than I did," he asked, a teasing
smile on his lips.
"I started out healthy. How do you feel?"
Dean snorted. "Well done. Shoulder hurts a bit, but what they gave me
took the edge off. What about you?"
"I won't sing for a few days, that's for sure," she kidded, but her
smile looked forced.
Dean pushed himself off the bed and sat up, facing Kat. "What happened?"
Her gaze instantly turned watery, starting him. This was not usual for
Kat, the fiery tempered optimist who desperately refused to let life get
"Hey! C'mere," he said, drawing her to him as tears spilled over her
cheeks. That's when he noticed the large, purple and black mark at the
base of her neck and the bandages on her wrists.
"Who did this to you?" he asked softly, stroking her back as she wept
onto his shoulder. A few sniffles later, she pulled back and wiped her
"Martin Michael Robson," Kat replied blankly.
Dean's worried expression turned to puzzlement. "Wasn't he in jail for
Kat chuckled humourlessly. "Paroled a month ago. Decided I needed to pay
for what I did... and now my ranch is just a pile of ash," she
whispered, as new tears slipped down her cheeks.
"We can rebuild it. Insurance'll pay for that."
Kat nodded tearfully. "I know. I'm sorry. This isn't usually how I deal
"Don't worry. Stress needs to relieve itself somehow," he said, his
expression dark. "Listen, Kat, we need to make sure you're safe. He
probably knows where-"
"No need," Kat said haltingly, a wan smile on her lips. "Marty isn't
stupid. He didn't stick around. But he's always had the worst luck. He
was pulled over early this morning for a broken taillight. He's back in
custody in Gillette." She smiled softly. "I'm safe, big brother. Thanks
Dean let out a sigh of relief as Mo walked into the room, a newspaper in
"Mornin' you two. You made the Sundance Chronicle front page," he
smirked, slapping the paper down on the bedside table. Dean reached over
and picked it up. He gave a dry chuckle and showed Kat the page.
Local four-pawed hero sounds alarm again!
Below the title was a picture of Lea, her liver and white coat smeared
with soot and grime, pink tongue sticking out to the side, sitting next
to a prone Dean, an oxygen mask on his face. In the background, she
could make out her own form, lying on a stretcher, two firefighters by
Kat smiled. "I knew springers were angels in dog costumes."
Part Twenty-six – Lost and Found ~~~
Clayton Webb chuckled as he looked at the very same picture, resting on
his desk. "Playing hero again, Rabb. And with a sidekick too... The more
things change, the more they stay the same, I imagine," he reflected out
loud. He shook his head and cursed the fates.
He threw the copy of the newsprint on his desk and lifted the receiver,
dialing a DC number.
"Frank? Clay. I got the info you sent. Thanks. Yeah, it's him. Good
pickup. How did that manage to land on your desk? What! How? I see...
Beef cattle... Good. I'll owe you one or two. All right. Take care."
He hung up the phone as a brusque knock rattled his office door.
"Come in," he invited neutrally, fully aware of who waited behind the
closed door. He turned the papers on his desk over and schooled his
features to a mask of complete neutrality, devoid of any flicker of
"Mr. Director," he greeted, as Harrison Kershaw entered the broom-closet
sized office. Clay noted the thin folder in his right hand. Kershaw's
being exuded barely suppressed rage, held in only by a very thin sense
of decorum. He threw the folder on the desk and rested his hands on his
hips, his eyes cold.
"This is what you wanted."
Clay reached a hand to the folder, but before he could open it,
Kershaw's hand slammed onto the desk, pinning the papers down.
"The Gentle Dove folder first."
"What kind of fool do you take me for, Harrison?"
"The kind that gave a level two top-secret videotape to a JAG officer
with only a level one clearance, Clay," Kershaw replied, his upper lip
"Once I give you the folder, I have no way to assure that you’ll hold up
your end of the bargain, so I think I'll pass." Clay paused and let the
man in front of him reflect on his words. "You tried to screw me,
Kershaw. I know you tried to scuttle me with the DCI, after our little
chat... See, you forgot he was a good friend of my father. Saved each
other's lives in the field, some years back. He wasn't really happy to
learn about your involvement in the 'Paraguay Incident'. He never
authorized the use of Navy assets on that mission, and the SECNAV didn't
take too kindly to being played by one of his underlings... especially
in light of his predecessor's fate. So keep the info, Harrison. The
Kershaw shook with rage, speechless. He was beaten.
"Be glad you still have a job, *agent* Kershaw. And stay out of my way,
or I will take you down."
"You'll pay for this, Webb! I swear, you'll pay."
"Empty threats, Kershaw," Webb growled. "And if you're ever tempted,
remember, I still have the Gentle Dove file. And I won't give it to the
DCI. I know a few nasty Russian arms dealers who would have a field day
if they ever got their hands on you."
Kershaw took a deep breath, withdrew his hand from the folder and turned
on his heel. He paused by the door and turned back to Clay, a shadowed
smile on his lips. He was back to the calm, collected, yet menacing
Harrison Kershaw he'd always known.
"I was wrong. You are better than Neville was. And I can recognize when
I'm beaten. But know this: my commitment to this country equals yours.
In that, we'll always be on the same side. But if ever out paths cross
once our work's done, I will make you pay." He closed the office door
softly, leaving Clay to ponder his words.
Clay pursed his lips and leaned back in his chair. "Makes me wish I
really knew what was in that folder..."
He knew he'd just made the situation worse with Kershaw but he didn't
really care. Like many survivors, Clay didn't fear death or retribution.
To him, only living mattered now, and if he could make Sarah Mackenzie
happy, he would.
He picked up the two folders on his desk and headed out to the parking
The first thing he noticed when he pulled into the JAG HQ parking lot
was the absence of Mac's Corvette. Not a good sign.
He usually called her office and met her outside. He was used to the
cold stares and hateful words whispered behind his back. But he wasn't a
masochist. If he could avoid riding the gauntlet, he would. But this
time, he'd have to face the music. Although the Robertses had included
him in their 'family' gatherings when he was dating Mac, he knew Bud
still blamed him for his mentor's disappearance.
He strode up to the guard and showed his CIA id, and walked in.
The elevator came to a slow halt and the doors opened to reveal the
well-known Ops bullpen. He pushed the door open and walked straight to
the admiral's outer office.
Jen glanced at the spook and returned her attention to the computer
screen on her desk. "Colonel Mackenzie is on TAD to Naples, Mr. Webb,"
she informed him.
"I'm here to see the admiral."
Coates gave him an icy glare before picking up her phone. "Admiral? Mr
Webb is here to see you." She listened for a few seconds before giving
the admiral a polite "Aye, sir."
"The admiral will see you, now."
"Thank you, Coates," Clay replied politely, as he walked into the
AJ looked up from the file on his desk, and studied the spook intently.
It was the first time he'd come into his office since Paraguay.
"Mr Webb," he greeted carefully as he removed his reading glasses,
throwing them to the blotter with the usual distraction.
AJ motioned for Webb to sit, and waited. He knew of his and Mackenzie's
falling out. So he could only wonder why he dared to show his face here.
He very well knew that he wasn't welcome, and AJ had made it clear to
the SECNAV that he would no longer risk losing officers to the CIA's
ill-prepared missions. Surprisingly, Sheffield had agreed. Apparently,
he'd been quite fond of Commander Rabb, and his departure had left a
bitter taste not only in the admiral's mouth, but in the SECNAV's as
Webb opened his briefcase and pulled out a manila folder and handed it
to the admiral. "I found him," he stated simply.
AJ's brow furrowed. "Him?"
AJ ripped the folder from Webb's hand and snapped it open. He quickly
scanned the first page and turned it, revealing the Sundance Chronicle
picture. He looked at the date in the corner.
"Yesterday... So he's still there." His eyes narrowed and fixed Webb
pointedly. "Why now?"
Clay sighed deeply and leaned back in his chair, absently rubbing the
scar on the side of his jaw. "Because she asked me to. I love her as
much as he does, and I wasn't afraid to tell her. But she loves him, not
me. I want to make her happy."
"You knew what she wanted from the start. Why did you..." the admiral
left the question unfinished, not sure how to phrase it.
"Have a relationship with Sarah?" Clay looked straight into the
admiral's eyes, honesty shining through. "I was selfish, I guess. I
hoped it would be enough. I could live without her love. But not without
"Doesn't make what you did right, "AJ replied sternly.
"I've lost more sleep over this than many other things, Admiral. I took
advantage of the situation. I'm not proud of that, but I promised her
I'd find him, and I did. But bear in mind, she came to me willingly."
AJ pursed his lips in an irritated scowl. "Doesn't matter now. It's
already done. I'll make sure she get this as soon as she's back."
"When is she due back?"
"Thank you, Mr. Webb. Have a good day," AJ said with finality.
Reluctantly, Clay rose to his feet and left the admiral's office,
leaving AJ to his thoughts.
Once the door closed, AJ re-read the thin file on Rabb. He contemplated
finding him for himself, but quickly dismissed the idea. Instead, he
punched a button on his intercom.
"Coates, get me the SECNAV, please," he asked, a plan already forming in
his mind. He could only hope Sheffield still missed JAG's star...
Part twenty-seven – Longings
ONE WEEK LATER
BEARLODGE MOUNTAIN RANCH
Kat stood in front of the huge pile of charred debris that had been her
barn. The insurance adjuster by her side walked slowly, scribbling on a
pad with a scowl on his face.
"I'm not sure we can cover this, Miss Miller," he said.
Kat drew in a sharp breath and opened her mouth to speak, but the biting
remark died on her tongue as another voice rose from behind her.
"Oh, but you will. It's arson, and the perpetrator confessed," Dean said
firmly, walking up behind Kat.
"And you are?" the man in the cheap suit asked.
"Dean Harmon. I'm foreman here, and I'm also Miss Miller's attorney."
"I see... Well... I guess..."
Dean put his hands on his hips and blew out an irritated breath. "You
guess? Listen, Mr..."
"Arzu. Theodore Arzu," the adjuster replied.
"Mr. Arzu, the building policy covers damages caused by criminal acts,
up to and including the total rebuilding costs, plus 50% of the
building's value in equipment, as stated in the contract under section
23, paragraph 12," Harm repeated from memory, his icy blue eyes pinning
the shorter man in place.
"I, um, I'll have to verify that..."
Dean handed him a copy of the policy and a copy of the arrest report on
Marty Robson. "Use my office. In the hall, second door to the right.
I'll be waiting," Dean said, as he pointed to the house. Arzy
fruitlessly worked his mouth for a few seconds and stalked off towards
the main house.
When the screen door slammed shut, Kat burst out laughing. "Oh, man! You
scared him good!" She squeezed Dean's elbow in thanks, her eyes dancing.
Dean smiled mischievously. "Well, I was a half decent lawyer in another
lifetime," he said, humour shining through.
"Oh, I bet you were better than decent," Kat replied. Her smile faded a
bit and she took a step towards the house. "But speaking of other
lifetimes, have you made a decision yet?"
"Kat--" Dean halted, leaning his head back and staring at the deep blue,
cloudless sky. Perfect for flying, he mused. Perfect to get away from
this upcoming conversation.
"Are you done playing ostrich?" Kat asked pointedly. She crossed her
arms, put her weight on one leg and cocked her head, studying him though
her lashes. Her eyes held that fiery, determined look Dean now knew so
well. There was no way she'd let this drop.
His drew his lips in a thin smile and shook his head slowly, looking at
his feet. He put both his hands on the small of his back and winced as
the burned skin on his shoulder stretched. He took a few steps towards
the ruins of the barn and toed a charred beam with his boot.
"I need some time to think about this, Kat," he murmured, his eyes lost
over the distance.
"What is there to think about, Dean? You love her, and you can't move on
until you face that, and her. So, what are you waiting for?"
"It's not that simple, Kat," he said, his tone slightly condescending.
"And why not? And don't you dare tell me I'm too young to understand.
You know better than anyone I've lived through more than my share of
shit and heartache, so spare me the patronizing attitude," she snapped
He blew out a long breath and bit his lower lip before lowering his eyes
to meet Kat's. "I'm sorry. It's just... I don't think I'm ready to
accept I've truly lost her."
Kat walked to his side and put a hand on his uninjured shoulder. "You
don't know that you have for sure. And would you really want to live the
rest of your life wondering?"
"No, I don't. But I don't think I can take the additional pain, if I'm
"If, Dean. If. You're a lawyer. You know what suppositions and
speculations are worth in court."
"Circumstantial evidence is enough, in some cases," he replied bitterly.
Kat's features scrunched. She'd hit yet another nerve. Dean Harmon was
turning out to be a great friend, but as the saying went, he was a
puzzle wrapped in an enigma. The bitterness in his tone was usually
reserved for moments of regret over Sarah Mackenzie. However, she knew
almost nothing of his previous life outside of the mystery woman whom
she'd seen only in a small picture he kept in his wallet. There were
pictures of his godchildren, his mother, father and brother, but none of
"Please elaborate, counselor," Kat said solemnly.
Dean turned sharply and squared off in front of her. "Don't try to play
this with me, Kat. I've been on both sides of the bench, both sides of
the courtroom, both sides of the witness box, and on both sides of the
law. So just don't," he snapped.
Kat walked up to him, standing toe to toe with him. She tilted her head
back and looked him straight in the eye. "I don't play, Harmon Rabb. I
ask what I want to know. I was foolish enough to think you trusted me,
and I realise I was wrong." Her lips pressed into a thin, angry line,
she turned away from him and strode towards the house, her boot heels
digging deep holes in the loose dirt.
"You promised you wouldn't ask," Dean called after her.
Kat stopped cold and stiffened.
"I do trust you, Kat, but when you don't keep your word, it tends to
piss me off. And that particular event is part of the reason why I'm
Kat pursed her lips as she toyed with a loose strand of her hair,
curling it around her finger and untangling it with her nails. She
remained quiet for a spell, digesting his words. The toe of her boot
traced a line in the sand, the damp soil a dark contrast against the
dust resting on top. Like shadow and light; like the two sides of Dean
"I did make that promise. I'm sorry for making you think I was breaking
it. But a simple 'no, I don't' would have been sufficient," Kat said
quietly, still staring at the marks in the sand. "You're just like the
soil of these fields, Dean. All we see is the surface as it looks, dried
by the sun. But a little rain or a little dig, and what you find looks
nothing like what you've seen. You never know what's hidden beneath the
surface. And you never know how deep you can dig until or unless you
try. The true colour of soil is the one you find underneath, not what
you can see. I'll be in the house." Kat walked off, her steps more even
Dean watched her disappear, her words lingering in his mind. The cynical
part of his mind told him he should be offended at being compared to
dirt, but he shoved the thought aside.
A much younger woman had just served him another lesson, and that stung
a bit. Strangely, it didn't bother him as much as it should have. He
headed for the stable, luckily spared by the fire. In the tack room, he
picked up a well-worn saddle and bridle and quickly walked to one of the
boxes. He placed the equipment on a nearby hook and led a huge, almost
black gelding into the alley. After a quick brushing, he saddled the
horse and led him out to the newly growing pasture. He swung himself up
on the saddle and kicked the horse into an easy canter. He had some
thinking to do.
He guided his mount to the top of Sundance Mountain, and dropped to the
ground, he let the reins fall to the ground and walked to the edge of
the copse of ancient pines. The Devil's Tower stood in the distance, a
tall, naked pillar of stone, whipped by wind.
The chickadees chirped in the branches, males fluffing their tiny chests
in seduction. Dean let the serenity of his surroundings calm his
"I have no idea what to do about this, Mac. My eyes tell me you've been
involved with Clay since I left, but... Kat has a point. What if I'm
He blew out a disheartened sigh and ran a hand over his face. He heard a
soft whimper and felt a slight shove on his back.
He chuckled and slipped a hand in his jeans pocket, taking out a small
bag of jellybeans. His other arm curled around the neck of the dark
gelding, scratching his cheek.
He offered the horse two of the sweets, in the palm of his hand. "Don't
ever tell Kat I give you jellybeans, Sarge. She'd have my hide." He
stroked the velvet nose of the horse Kat had named Sergeant Pepper. The
horse raised his head and blew a breath across his face and suddenly
turned his head, ears peaked.
A few seconds later, Lea emerged from the trail, tail wagging faster
"You too?" Dean scoffed, as Lea pawed at his pocket. He shook his head,
smiling. He tossed the dog a jellybean. He popped a couple into his
mouth and smiled. He liked his life, here. Flying -- albeit not a
Tomcat, but flying still -- the great spaces, the freedom.
But he loved the military life too. He pursed his lips and ran a hand
through his longish hair. He loved most aspects of it, anyway. He
thrived on the strict principles, the discipline, the respect.
He took a deep, slow breath, filling his senses with the scent of pine
trees and rotting wood. He took a blanket from the saddle, spread it on
the carpet of pine needlese tossed He
and sat, his long legs crossed at the ankles, his arms braced behind
Lea wasted no time taking her spot across his lap, sighing contentedly.
Dean fingered the long featherings on her ears, and scratched the top of
her head. As good as life was here, he missed his friends. He missed
Bud's enthusiasm, Harriet's spirit, his godson's wonder at the world...
Sadness crept into his heart when he realised he'd never even held his
He missed the Friday night basketball games with Sturgis, the after-work
drinks with the crew... Hell, he even missed the admiral's stern
guidance. He missed the courtroom, the endless quest for the truth that
made him feel useful, like he had a purpose in life.
Here, life was simpler, ruled by the seasons, not by men. But it wasn't
him. Deep down, he'd always known he couldn't run forever. He was
ashamed to admit he'd gotten a rush out of finding that obscure
paragraph in Kat's insurance policy. How pathetic! He really needed to
sink his teeth in a good case... He didn't let himself think too much
about the thrill of a catapult launch.
As the sun began to dip below the horizon, he picked up the blanket,
brushed off the pine needles and stuffed it back into its saddlebag. He
pushed himself up onto the Sergeant's back and headed for home, Lea a
few yards ahead.
Just before he lead his mount on the downward path, she turned and took
in the view. Watching him, Lea cocked her head and gave a short bark.
"I'll have to find you some city bats to chase around, I guess. Come on,
let's get home."
A couple of hours later, he was rubbing down his horse in the dimly lit
"I thought you didn't ride," Kat asked, leaning against the tackroom
"Dean Harmon doesn't. Harmon Rabb does."
Kat pushed herself off the door and walked up to Sarge's nose, stroking
it softly. "Do you really see yourself as two distinct people?"
Dean sighed and rolled his shoulders. "Sometimes. I guess I'm trying to
be someone I'm not," he replied quietly.
Kat could hear the slight note of regret in his voice. She wasn't sure
why, though. "Are you saying you regret not being Harmon Rabb anymore?"
He dropped the soft brush he was holding into the plastic pail by his
side and sat on a bale of hay, blowing out a long breath. "I had things
all figured out, out there," he said, his hand gesturing vaguely towards
the mountains. "Now I'm not so sure."
Kat leaned against the horse's shoulder and crossed her arms. "Why not?"
Dean ran a frustrated hand through his hair and threw his head back. "I
miss a lot of my old life. I mean, I love it here. I love flying and I
don't get to do it as often as I want to back in DC, but... I left a lot
behind: friends, family, the Navy... I never even contemplated doing
anything else since I was a little kid. I lost my wings a while back,
and I had to find a new way to serve. I ended up at JAG. Wasn't my
choice, but I was good at it, and I enjoy it still. I went back to
flying but I gave it up so I could have the career I wanted. And then, I
threw it all away for her. I saved her life. Makes it worthwhile, but
somehow, it cost me my soul. You asked if I still loved her, and I do.
But I'm afraid I'll resent her for what she cost me."
Kat listened intently to his confessions, not understanding everything
he was talking about, but getting the gist of it. He missed his old
life, but the new one had its good points.
"You said you had it figured out. What was your plan?"
"Going back to DC after the hunting season, and trying to get back in
the Navy. Maybe even JAG."
"What about Sarah?" she asked carefully.
"That's where it all went to hell. I don't want to spend my life
wondering, Kat. But I have no idea what to do about Mac. If she is
involved with Webb, I don't know how I'll react. Some part of me doesn't
want that to cost me the rest of my life over there, like the friends
and family I mentioned, and not the job. But... Damn, I deserve some
happiness in my life, Kat."
Kat pushed off the horse and flopped on the bale next to Dean. She laid
her head on his shoulder and snaked her arm around his waist. "And you
deserve it. But you have to be honest with yourself, Dean. I said it
before; I'll say it again. You need to make peace with her, even if it
hurts you. Then, you can heal. Either way."
Dean remained quiet for a while. Suddenly, he chuckled.
"What's so funny?" Kat asked.
"You know you're the only person I can open up to this easily? People
usually have to figure out how I feel from at least fifty yards away."
"Must be my charm," Kat replied smartly, a perfect smart-ass grin on her
Dean rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to speak, but stayed silent,
unsure if he should be annoyed or amused by her remark. He chose a cross
between both. "You're insufferable, you know that? Every time I pay you
a compliment, you just get snarky."
He expected another biting comment, but instead, when she replied, her
voice was low and filled with pain.
"It's a lasting effect of the abuse. I tend not to believe it when
people pay me a compliment. Like I'm not worthy of it."
"That's not true, Kat. "
"I know. But... sometimes, I still hate myself. I still see myself as
the weak woman who couldn't protect herself, who couldn't get out of the
mess she let herself fall into." Kat let her head fall forward and ran
her hand through her tangled hair over and over again, until Dean caught
her wrist and gently put her hand in her lap.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Kat mumbled, tears falling from her luminous
Dean drew her to him, pressing her head on his good shoulder. "Shh. It's
ok. I understand."
Kat sniffled into his chest for a few minutes before pulling back. "I'm
sorry. Just a lot of... bad memories."
"You sure you're all right?"
"I'm sure." Kat wiped her eyes and smiled softly. "Thanks for being
"Thanks for listening."
"You are too. Now let's go. I'm starving."
"Mr. Rabbit food is starving? Since when?" Kat asked mischievously.
"That's it. Enough with you." Dean said in mock exasperation. He shoved
to his feet and grabbed both Kat's wrists, dragging her to her feet.
Before she had a chance to protest, he leaned forward and threw her over
"Dean Harmon, put me down this instant!" Kat squealed, her clear laugh
sparkling like a cascade, over his shoulder.
"No. You said next time you badmouthed my cooking, to smack you upside
the head. I'll remind you that I promised to throw you in the hayloft.
So, I'm keeping my promise."
"One problem, Dean," Kat pointed out, hanging upside down. "Hayloft's
"Then, where -- NO!!!"
A loud splash followed Kat's yelp of surprise, as Dean dumped her in the
tub used to water the cattle.
Smiling, Dean calmly backed towards his cabin while Kat extricated
herself from the water.
"I'll get you, Dean. I swear to god I'll get you!"
He stopped walking and put both hands on his hips, a cocky grin on his
lips. "Dinner in half an hour. My place. And bring dry clothes."
A second later, he was sprinting towards the cabin, a sopping wet,
chestnut-haired tornado on his heels.
Late that night, Dean and Kat shared a glass of Bourbon on his porch,
staring at the stars.
Kat pointed to the sky and squinted. "That Draco?"
"Huh, Where are you looking?"
"Right next to the top of the old elm."
"Hmm. No. That's Hercules. Draco is farther north. View's better in
"I bet you don't see many stars in DC."
"Not many. And no bats for Lea."
"Are you leaving?" Kat asked, trying to keep the fear and disappointment
from her voice.
Dean sighed deeply and drained his glass. "Maybe. I don't know for sure
yet. But I won't leave you till I know you're on your feet."
Kat smiled warmly. "I'll be okay on my own. Have bee for a long time.
But I'll miss you."
Dean smiled back softly, his eyes looking east. "I'm not gone yet, Kat."
But he knew where his heart was. He just wasn't sure he was ready to go
~~~ Chapter Twenty-eight –
BEARLODGE MOUNTAIN RANCH
Dawn found Dean still in his chair on the porch, his shirt damp with the
morning dew. He shivered as he watched the sun rise slowly over the
lake. Despite his intentions of yesterday, he knew that going back to
his old life was impossible. Dreams and wishes didn't come true, at
least not in his life. He knew that going back to the Navy and JAG was
probably impossible, and that life had gone on for his family and
friends, without him. He'd felt the awkwardness once, and this time, he
knew they weren't likely to forgive him.
He'd spent too much time stuck in the past, he reasoned. He'd left DC
behind, and all his past, or so he thought. It was now time for him to
live with his decision. His place was here, now. Kat needed him, despite
her assurances that she'd be okay. He closed his eyes. No, she didn't
need him; he needed her, her friendship and counsel. The irony of a
career naval officer and fearless pilot needing a little sister wasn't
lost on him. But he was willing to accept it nonetheless.
He took a deep breath and rose from his chair, stretching his stiff
muscles. He tucked away his memories of Sarah Mackenzie into the small
remaining corner of his heart and squared his shoulders. One day, he'd
be happy again. Without her.
He heard the door of the main house creak open and smiled as Kat emerged
in the growing dawn, her hair wild and tangled, her small form engulfed
by her old raspberry red robe.
"Morning," he called.
She turned to him, surprised. "Hey! You're up early!" she replied as she
strode towards him.
"Never went to bed. Coffee?"
Kat put her hands on her hips and her jaw dropped in dismay. "You spent
the night out here? Are you nuts? You're still on antibiotics!"
"I'm fine," he said, as he held the door open for her. "And you're a
fine one to talk, miss Barefoot."
Kat snorted and wiped the sand off her bare feet on the doormat. "Saves
on shoes. What were you doing up all night?"
"Too much of that'll fry your brain," Kat kidded as she filled Dean's
kettle and put in on the burner. When he didn't reply, she turned to him
and eyed him carefully, her head cocked to the side. He was slowly
unbuttoning his flannel shirt, staring into nothing.
"Why that look, Dean?"
"Made up my mind." The reply was toneless and delivered with a
"I'm not going back. I closed that chapter of my life a year ago. The
choice is already made."
Kat pursed her lips and ran a hand through her tangled locks. She walked
to the table and sat, covering his hand with hers.
"So why do you look so defeated? Sounds like you're already regretting
"I don't have any regrets that weren't there before, Kat. I just...
Sometimes, I just wish I could say what I feel to the rest of the world
like I do with you. But that just isn't me. I know I can be impulsive
and that I let my emotions guide my actions, but I can't speak my heart
when it matters. That's a paradox I have to live with. What I said
yesterday about DC and the Navy's just an unattainable dream, Kat.
Besides, I've left and come back before, and it only made things worse."
"But do you have to give up your identity, your friends, your family, to
get over one woman?"
"It isn't just about Mac. There's so much you don't know about, Kat.
There's a lot of things Harmon Rabb did that I'm not proud of. I need to
"I'm not asking you to tell me something I promised I wouldn't ask, but
I don't understand... I thought you were happy, before that thing in
South America you said you can't talk about..."
"I haven't been happy for a long, long time. The last year before I came
here..." Dean's eyes clouded and darkened, as he remembered his trial,
the isolation. "In the last eight years, I've been accused of murder
three times, put on trial twice, and killed more men than I can even
remember. I've started to make a life here. I have to hang on to that."
Kat sighed as she saw yesterday's hopefulness turned to resignation.
"I'll be happy to have you, but..."
"It's my choice, Kat. Thank you for being my conscience, but I want to
"Okay. I respect that. You're my friend, and that's the least I can do.
I just don't want you to look back in a couple of years and regret it
Dean locked his sea-colored eyes on her. "If I do, I'll have only myself
"But you can't live just with Mo's flights... You'll always have a place
to stay here, but times are gonna be tough for the next year."
Dean nodded. "I know. I'll check, but there has to be a state bar exam
in the fall. I'll take it and get my bar license, open a small law
office, either here or in Gillette. "
The kettle whistled, putting an end to the conversation. As Dean poured
the boiling water over the grounds, he felt another page of his life