Consumed in each other’s embrace, neither gave any thought to anyone
else in the house. Harm had managed to shove Mac’s coat off her
shoulders, letting it fall to the ground. His hands were now frantically
caressing every square inch of her back, while his mouth savored the
soft flavor that was exquisitely Sarah Mackenzie. Sarah MacKenzie Rabb.
Mac’s fingers were busy weaving and scratching through his thick dark
hair. With her other arm wrapped around him, her hand rested along his
back, her fingers dipping and teasing along the edge of his belt. She’d
never imagined after all these years, being separated from Harm would be
so difficult. She could easily spend every minute of the rest of her
life kissing Harmon Rabb.
AJ and Sidney were perched near the kitchen door trying to discreetly
check on the reunited couple.
“I’m thinking skip dinner, pack up the kids, and take them home with us.
What do you think?” Sidney glanced sideways at her husband standing over
her right shoulder.
“Sounds like a plan to me. How long do you think we should hide out in
the kitchen?” He looked down at her.
“Till they remember we’re here?” Sidney smiled.
“That could be a while,” AJ chuckled.
“No kidding, Sherlock,” Sidney laughed a little louder than she meant
Somehow, the sound of Sidney’s laughter penetrated the isolated cocoon
Harm and Mac had momentarily managed to create. At the same moment Harm
remembered they had company, Mac remembered seeing familiar cars in
front of the house.
Pulling apart slightly, Harm kissed Mac on the forehead. “I’m glad
“Mm, maybe you can show me how glad later,” Mac sighed, her eyes still
closed, taking in the contentment that came from her husband’s embrace.
“You can count on it,” Harm smiled before stepping back completely and
taking a deep breath. “Somewhere in this house there should be a retired
admiral and his wife.”
“Looking for us?” Once they noticed the coast was clear, Sidney led AJ
into the room carrying drinks for everyone.
“Thanks.” Mac blushed taking a glass of cola from the admiral. “Are the
kids still sleeping? It’s almost four o’clock. If they don’t get up soon
there’s no way they’re going to sleep tonight.” Mac glanced towards the
“Well, I’m glad you mentioned that. Sidney and I were thinking it might
be fun to take the kids home with us for a sleepover.” AJ tried not to
grin too broadly.
“Nice try.” Mac smacked AJ on the arm, then sat on the sofa next to
Harm. “Seriously, if they’re not up in fifteen minutes, I’m going to go
get them up.”
“Okay, fifteen minutes,” Harm smiled, squeezing his wife’s hand tightly.
“Boy, you really must have missed me,” Mac smirked noticing their
wedding album and the two albums with the birth of Matt and Susie out on
the coffee table.
“Gave me something to do at night.” Harm raised a suggestive eyebrow.
Sidney reached over and picked up their wedding album. “This seems so
long ago,” she smiled, flipping pages. “You always were so handsome in
your dress mess.” She was staring intently at a photo of AJ walking Mac
down the aisle.
AJ rolled his eyes. He hated it when his wife embarrassed him in front
of company, even if they were the company.
Having moved over to the sofa next to Sidney, “Isn’t this a great shot
of Harm and AJ?” Mac pointed, as Sidney nodded in agreement, then
flipped another page.
“Is that Bud with, what is that on his shirt?” Harm asked.
“Hollandaise sauce, something about the asparagus. It was never very
clear, I think Mattoni’s wife dropped a meatball, then he bent over to
pick it up bumping into someone standing in line, who hit Harriet, who
knocked Bud onto the table, who landed on the asparagus in hollandaise
sauce,” Mac chuckled.
“Poor Bud, wasn’t it him someone spilled wine all over at our wedding?”
“Shortly after he realized little AJ had smeared peanut butter on his
tie, yes it was,” AJ chuckled loudly.
“Oh, that’s a nice photo of Danny. Who’s he with?” Harm asked.
“I’m surprised you could forget her,” Mac snapped.
Uh oh, what Pandora’s box did he just open? Harm silently panicked.
“I’ll never forget the look on your face when you opened the closet
door.” Mac shook her head at Harm, and ran a hand through her hair.
“How could any of us forget,” Sidney added.
Harm sat there slightly frozen, obviously he could forget, despite
having apparently been a major player in whatever event unfolded, he’d
never actually been there!
Laughing softly, “You know, Harm, you looked a lot like you do now. Is
something wrong?” Sidney tilted her head, concern beginning to replace
her previous amusement.
“Must be the memories,” Harm smiled.
“I thought for sure you’d caught them doing something indecent. It never
occurred to me you’d caught them doing something illegal.” Sidney took a
“Well, it all turned out for the best.” AJ patted his wife’s hand.
“I know, thanks to your suggestion he join the navy instead of serving
probation. I wasn’t so sure at first when the hotel management insisted
on calling in the police.” Sidney took hold of AJ’s hand. “It still
boggles my mind how he could look me in the face, reeking of marijuana,
a joint at his lips, and insist it wasn’t what I thought it was.” Sidney
shook her head again, obviously dismayed.
AH, Harm thought. So we caught him red handed, so to speak, at our
wedding. No wonder they’re still together. If Sidney couldn’t blame the
admiral for falsely accusing her son, there was nothing for them to
“The important thing is he’s a new man now,” AJ reminded his wife.
“Yes, did I tell you that he’s just been promoted to full Lieutenant?”
Sidney looked up at Mac.
“Oh, that’s great,” Mac exclaimed. “Is he still on the Henry?”
“Yes, giving Captain Ingalls a run for his money, I’m sure,” AJ smiled.
Barreling down the stairs, full speed ahead, Matt and David ran into the
room and jumped into Mac’s lap.
The sounds of, “Mommy, Mommy,” and “Aunt Sarah,” bounced off the walls.
“I’d better go get Susie before she realizes we’re having a party
without her.” Harm stood up chuckling at the scene before him. This life
really was perfect. Too bad Lauren had to be David’s mother.
“Well, if the gangs all waking up, I’d better go toss the lasagna into
the oven. They’ll probably be hungry soon.” Sidney ruffled Matt’s hair
on her way to the kitchen.
“I’ll be there in a second to help,” Mac called after her, still hugging
“Nonsense, you’ve got more important things to do.”
In less than an hour everyone was seated at the table, laughing over
dinner. The boys were the first ones finished and were allowed to play a
little while in the back yard.
Susie sat in her high chair with almost as much lasagna on her face as
had made its way into her tummy. Waving an empty paper plate in the air,
she looked at her father as intently as a fourteen month old could and
Mac stopped mid sentence, her jaw hanging open. “What did you say,
baby?” Standing up, she walked over to the high chair. “Do you want some
“Nya!” the little girl grinned widely.
“Oh my God, her first real word.” Mac’s hands flew to cover the gaping
hole created by her open mouth.
“I beg to differ with you, but she calls me Duh,” Harm announced.
“That doesn’t count. All babies say mama and dada first, but this is her
first REAL word.” Mac put a little more pasta on Susie’s plate and
retook her seat by her husband.
“Well, I’ll agree the kid has good taste. Sidney this is probably the
best spinach lasagna I’ve ever eaten.” Harm picked up his and AJ’s
plates and walked towards the sink.
“As long as Meredith’s not cooking, you can bring dinner anytime, AJ.”
Harm placed the dishes on the counter and turned, surprised to see the
shocked look on everyone’s faces.
“Meredith?” AJ whispered obviously confused.
Harm’s eyes opened wide. Oh brother, he didn’t say that out loud, did
“Who’s Meredith?” Sidney asked a bit more loudly.
Oh God, apparently he did. Okay, Rabb, think fast....
“Did I say Meredith?” Harm asked innocently.
“YES.” Three voices chimed in chorus.
“Must have been a Freudian slip,” Harm shrugged. “My mom used to have a
terrible cook named Meredith.” He tried covering with a cute smile.
From the looks on everyone’s faces, no one was buying it.
“Besides, the important thing is your lasagna was good enough to prompt
Susie’s first words.” Harm nodded in Sidney’s direction, if bullshit
didn’t work, try dropping chaff. Although it didn’t appear anyone
actually believed Harm’s flimsy excuse, the evening carried on
pleasantly none the less.
By the time AJ and Sidney had left, all they needed was for Sergei or
Lauren to pick up David, and get Susie and Matt ready for bed. Harm
could hardly wait to be alone with his wife.
Mac came walking around the corner, into the bathroom.
“That was Lauren, she wanted to know if it would be a problem if David
stayed tonight and we just dropped him off with Matt at preschool in the
“What did you tell her?” Harm asked, turning the water off in the tub.
“Same as always, no problem.” Mac leaned over and kissed Harm on the
cheek. “Who do you want first, Susie or the boys?”
“The boys.” Harm didn’t have the nerve to mention to Mac it hadn’t
occurred to him he was supposed to bathe all the children before bed
last night. He was just thankful he knew enough to read them a bedtime
Since Mac had been away so long, Matt announced he wanted mom as the
designated storyteller tonight. Harm sat in the same spot he had the
night before with Susie once again nestled in the crook of his arm. Mac
sat beside him holding her husband’s hand while she read.
Harm wasn’t really sure what she was reading. He knew it had to be the
same book he had read the night before, but his mind couldn’t stop
watching her. He was mesmerized by the way her lips moved with every
syllable. How her eyebrows would rise and fall in emphasis of certain
words. The way she would let go of his hand, wave it above the boys in
some grand gesture, and then capture his hand in hers again.
He’d always known she would be the perfect mother, the perfect wife. The
more his mind drifted off to thoughts of being alone for the first time
with his wife, the more a sense of unease was slowly building, until a
sudden panic rose from deep inside him. This was not their first time.
This was his first time with Mac. As far as she was concerned, she’d
spent the better part of the last five years sleeping with her husband.
The panic was now settling into large twisting knots in his stomach. He
realized he didn’t know anything about their normal bedtime routine. Who
used the bathroom first? What did her Harm sleep in? He didn’t even know
which side of the bed was hers? Would she realize he wasn’t her husband
if he made some fumbling mistake of a first time lover? He had
absolutely no idea what she liked or expected.
Harm could actually feel the sweat forming on his brow. He tried to
concentrate on the warmth of her hand. Surely the heat flowing between
them was evidence enough that nothing else mattered. As if reading his
thoughts and fears, Mac squeezed his hand tightly and paused to send a
reassuring smile in his direction.
His heart melted like butter in the sun. He loved her so much, he had
for so very long. These last two days waiting and hoping to share even a
fraction of what he felt with her were the two most energizing days he’d
ever spent in his entire life.
When he saw her close the book and lean over to kiss their sleeping son,
his heart rose to his throat. It was almost time.
“Want me to take her to bed?” Mac reached over to take Susie from him.
Yes, there is a God in heaven, he thought. “No, you go and relax, I’ll
put her to bed.” Maybe if he gave her enough time, at least he wouldn’t
have to worry about the trivial things, like who used the bathroom first
or which side of the bed was hers. All he had to think about was how to
show her how much he loved her.
Harm stood up first, then Mac stood and kissed Susie good night. “I
really did miss them,” she whispered, “and you.” Her eyes were dark as
Following her out of Matt’s room, Harm watched her walk down the hall
and into their room. Their room. The knots were twisting more tightly.
He wasn’t very sure how her husband of five years would react, but he
knew how he felt. Hoping she wouldn’t notice the delay, Harm quickly
tucked Susie in and took a detour downstairs to the kitchen. It took a
few minutes to remember which drawer they were in, but from the kitchen
he proceeded to the family room and rummaged through the stack of CD’s
By the time he made it back to their room, he was happy to see Mac was
still in the bathroom. Any fears he’d had of what he didn’t know had
faded away as he proceeded on his mission of making tonight a very
Placing the tea candles he’d found in the kitchen strategically around
the room, he hurried to light them. Within seconds the fresh scents of
vanilla and bayberry were filling the air. Next, he plugged in the
portable CD player he’d confiscated from Matt’s room, and inserted the
Best of Burt Bacharach. He wasn’t sure which one of them had become a
fan of his music over the years, but Burt’s style of orchestration was
exactly the mood Harm was looking for.
Lastly, he filled two champagne glasses with diet ginger ale, set them
down by the candles on the dresser, and took a quick look around the
room. His only regret was that it hadn’t occurred to him to pick up some
fresh flowers. He hoped it was enough.
Tossing the empty can of soda into the trash by the bed, Harm heard the
click of the doorknob. His breath literally caught in his throat when
Mac stepped into the room. If he wasn’t mistaken, she had on the same
nightgown she’d worn all those years ago in Russia. If she only knew how
many nights he’d dreamt of her walking towards him exactly the way she
“I hope it’s still your favorite. It took me a little while to find it.”
Mac glanced down at the nightgown before looking back up at Harm.
“Anything you wear is my favorite.” She was so beautiful, Harm was
surprised he managed to say anything at all. All the air had leaked from
his lungs and no matter how hard he tried, he simply couldn’t force
himself to breathe.
Mac could feel his eyes burning through to her very soul. Her heart was
racing as though she were a new bride. Everything felt as though it were
moving in slow motion. She could see his hand reach forward to take hold
of hers, as his other arm snaked around her waist. In one felt swoop she
was spinning around the room. What the World Needs Now is Love was
playing powerfully through the air. Harm’s lips were delicately
caressing her face, blazing a trail of soft, sweet adoration. Their
bodies were swaying slowly to the symphonic sounds, every movement
choreographed to perfection. They moved as one, the gentle friction of
man against woman tantalizing their senses.
Harm could feel his blood pumping through every vein. Sarah MacKenzie
was so soft, so tender. Everything about her set his senses on fire: the
smell of almonds in her hair, the feel of her soft curves against him,
the taste of her skin under his lips. Pulling her body tightly against
him, his lips slid along the base of her chin, seeking and searching the
lips he’d so briefly danced with earlier today.
His mouth was hovering, barely a breath above hers, “God, I love you.”
Harm managed to whisper forcefully before his lips finally came crashing
down against hers. As their mouths fused in a tangle of love and
passion, Harm fleetingly thanked God for allowing his dream to linger
one more night.
Mac was being swept away to a place all their own. With every kiss,
every touch, her body tingled in perfect pleasure. She hated sleeping
alone at night, not having Harm’s warm body to curl up against. He was
always so protective of her, even when they slept. It was almost
impossible for her to fall asleep without his strong arms wrapped around
her. She’d been counting the hours for two days until she would be home
again in his arms, and now she was finally home and reminded once again
of how much she loved this man.
Harm had dreamt and dreamt of having Mac in his arms like this, of
holding her tightly against him, of feeling her soft skin shiver under
his fingertips. This dream surpassed any he’d ever had before. Every
emotion he’d ever suppressed was gushing to the surface, clawing at his
delicate sense of restraint. He wanted this to be a slow and romantic
night, not the rushed release of a hormonal sailor.
The smoldering heat that had been sizzling within Mac since Harm had
first kissed her at the bottom of the stairs was now a blazing inferno.
Her legs were growing weak. Her blood was on fire. His gentle caress of
her lips with his own, the tangling of tongues, his fingers barely
rubbing her back and teasing the edge of her hips, were sending her
nerve endings into overload. She desperately wanted to feel his skin rub
against hers, his muscles ripple at her touch.
Harm couldn’t tear himself away from kissing Mac. He’d spent the last
few years surviving on the memory of the briefest moment of unhindered
passion. Now, with her body up against his, her fingers unbuttoning his
shirt and raking briefly through his chest hair before reaching for the
next button, he was quickly coming unglued. When she pushed his shirt
off his shoulders, shoving it forcefully to the ground, the sudden surge
in his groin made his trousers painfully tight.
Frantically, Mac began working the buckle on Harm's belt. Her fingers
casually brushed down the bulge in his pants as she slowly lowered the
zipper, her mouth still furiously fused to her husband's.
Harm didn't think it was possible to pull her any closer, but he did. He
was desperate to be one with her, to feel her warmth tightening around
him, to hear her scream his name. His hands slid up her arms, his
fingers hooking around the straps of her nightgown, dragging them off
her shoulders until the lingerie fell in a pool at her feet. Her naked
flesh fully exposed.
Mac grudgingly pulled her mouth away from Harm’s and stepped back,
placing herself in full view of her husband. She could feel his eyes
scanning her body, caressing it, loving it. Noticing the tenting in
Harm’s boxer grow even larger, she couldn’t help feeling beautiful. With
one hand, she reached out and grabbed hold of Harm’s hand, pulling them
back against the bed.
Harm stepped out of his pants and close to his wife. She was more
beautiful than he had imagined. He wanted, no – needed – to feel her
soft skin pressed against his. Before he could respond to her closeness,
Mac’s lips began trailing light kisses from his nipples to his abdomen
while her fingers slowly pulled his boxers to the floor.
Mac was startled when she felt Harm’s hands gripping her shoulder and
pulling her up hard.
“Don’t,” he whispered into her ear, his breath coming out in ragged
gulps. “Just let me...” Her earlobe so close to his lips was too much of
a temptation, his tongue slipped out from his lips, cutting off his
words, teasing the erogenous appendage.
“But, I thought you....” Harm was slowly inching closer to the one spot
that would surely bring her completely unglued. “…liked it when I...” Oh
God, that was it. His tongue swirled and licked the spot, alternately
easing and strengthening the pressure.
His heart soared at the quiet little gasps that escaped her lips as her
hips began rocking instinctively against his. The intimate friction of
their bodies in motion was chiseling away the last threads of his
determination to take this slow and easy.
“Oh, Harm.” Mac was dripping with anticipation. There was no way her
knees could hold her upright any longer; they had long ago turned to
rubber. Her entire body was putty in his hands.
Feeling Mac grow heavier in his arms, Harm carefully lifted her knees
and scooted her onto the bed. Crawling over her, he began a dedicated
assault on her senses. From what he now knew was an incredibly sensitive
spot behind her ear, Harm began a detailed search of every other part of
her body that would send her into sensual bliss, his own need hovering
on the brink of desperation.
When Harm’s lips closed around her nipple, Mac’s chest arched higher and
her hips came clear off the bed, instinctively seeking the one thing
that would alleviate her insatiable need to feel Harm buried deep inside
her. She wanted her husband, and she wanted him now. Groping blindly at
thin air, Mac endeavored to find the one thing that would satisfy her
“God, Mac.” Harm released her lips, gasping for air after every drop had
rushed from his lungs at the feel of Mac’s long fingers wrapped tenderly
around his arousal. “It’s too soon, it’s been too long...” Harm gave no
thought to the fact that Mac wouldn’t understand just how long it had
actually been for him.
“Please, I need to feel you inside me again...I’ve missed you...” She
was no longer able to stand the fierce passion that was surging
throughout every ounce of her body. “I love you so much.” Mac grabbed
his face and pulled him down to her, quietly breathing into his mouth,
“I love you.”
The feel of Mac’s breath against his lips was the most erotic thing he’d
ever experienced. The woman he adored, breathing life into his soul. “I
love you more,” he whispered from the bottom of his heart, his lips
descending on hers, his fingers gliding down her front and settling
anxiously between her legs. Finding her as ready for him as he was for
her, Harm brushed his tip against her curls, the feel of her warm heat
almost more than he could stand. Taking a deep breath, and pausing to
regain what little control of his body he had, Harm slid into his wife.
Mac didn’t know if it was the separation, or just how well tuned they
were after five years of marriage, but she was soaring on cloud nine.
The intensity of the exquisite sensations escalated with every thrust,
her body coiling tighter and tighter.
“I can’t hold it much longer,” Harm managed to mumble. “Let go, Sarah. I
want to feel you come all around me... I love you, baby.” He couldn’t
find enough words to tell her how much he loved her, how much being her
husband meant to him.
“Oh, Harm…” His words teased her senses with the same agility his
fingers had teased her body. The fireworks uncoiling inside her exploded
in sweet ecstasy. “I love you!” Mac screamed, her body quivering around
him, every feeling, every touch, magnified tenfold.
She was still quaking beneath him when she felt Harm go rigid inside
her, his body collapsing heavily on her before rolling to one side.
“I love you.” The two echoed simultaneously, then broke into
uncontrollable giggles. “I do,” they repeated in chorus, their laughter
growing stronger and louder.
Without any more words, Mac snuggled into the arms she had missed so
much the last two weeks, and closed her eyes. Tonight would be a sweet
Harm was holding onto Mac for dear life. He never wanted to let her go.
He wanted to hold her forever.
Pulling her more tightly against him, he heard a sleepy groan rumble
from deep in her throat. Instantly, his eyes flew open. It was her, Mac,
Sarah. Not the soft pillow he usually woke up with after a wonderful
night spent dreaming of making love to Mac. How could that be? This was
too much, too long, he’d never dreamt in so much detail without waking
up. Dear God, something wasn’t right, or maybe something finally was.
His mind was racing at speeds faster than the first morning he’d woken
up in this beautiful new world. Could the Twilight Zone possibly exist?
Was it possible to wish himself into an alternate life? Could dreams
last three days? Maybe that’s it. Maybe it wasn’t a dream. Maybe
something happened and now he was in a coma induced sleep until his body
was ready to wake up. No, that was too much, too crazy. What was he
thinking? How could being in a coma be anymore crazy than the Twilight
Zone and waking up one day in an alternate universe?
“You okay, sailor?” Mac could feel the tension pulsing through his body.
“Sorry, yeah, just a little tired. Someone I know didn’t let me get much
sleep last night.” Harm kissed the back of Mac’s neck.
“Better be someone I know,” Mac giggled.
That sound was so sweet to his ears. What ever was going on, he prayed
it would last forever.
The morning routine was a little different in the house with Mac home.
It didn’t help needing to be on a timetable to get everyone dressed, fed
and to school or work, or that Harm had no idea what part he was
supposed to play.
The only thing he’d gotten right all morning was when he bumped into Mac
dressing Susie. He assumed that meant he dressed the boys. Kissing Mac
quickly on the cheek, and whispering ‘I missed you’ to explain his
unneeded presence, seemed to appease the momentary look of bewilderment
she had when he first walked into Susie’s room. Fortunately, he was
correct about dressing the boys being his job.
Apparently, the routine called for Mac to make breakfast and Harm to
pack the lunches. Of course, he didn’t figure this out until Mac asked
him, rather incredulously, why he was drinking coffee at the table
instead of making lunch. He didn’t have a good answer for that, or for
why he needed to ask what he usually made.
When he feigned an early morning meeting and insisted Mac take all the
children to school or daycare rather than flounder through asking where
those locations were, Mac began checking his temperature.
“Maybe you should cancel that meeting and stay home. I’m not sure you’re
well enough to go to work today.” Mac was seriously concerned. Harm was
acting awfully strange.
“No, I told you, I’m just a little tired, that’s all.” Harm tried to
reassure her with his smile.
The entire drive to the office, Harm tried to control the butterflies in
his stomach. Work shouldn’t be too bad. At least he knew some of the
cases were the same and the General was still the JAG. If he ran into
too much trouble, he could always try and pry some information out of
A sense of calm rolled over him as he parked the ‘vette in the familiar
parking lot, and walked into the old brick building. Letting out a sigh
of relief, he stepped off the elevator and made it through the glass
doors. Hesitating, he realized he shouldn’t assume where his office
would be, and glanced discreetly around the room, spotting his name over
the same office as his world. He also noticed several unfamiliar faces.
This could prove to be more challenging than he expected.
Racing to his door in an attempt to unwind before facing the day, he ran
full speed ahead into a navy blue blur.
“Excuse me, Commander,” an undistinguished male voice apologized.
“No, my fault...Aldridge?” Harm made a last minute attempt to hide the
surprise in his voice at seeing the now not so young Lieutenant still
stationed at headquarters. A quick survey of his uniform also informed
Harm that Aldridge was now a Lt. Commander. He must have finally figured
out how to try a case, Harm mused to himself.
After an awkward, but brief, shuffle, Harm finally escaped into the
safety of his office.
According to his schedule, he at least didn’t have to be in court today,
this would buy him some time. One by one, Harm began reviewing his open
files. The first two he came across were exactly as they’d been in his
world, him against Bud, Sebring and Morris presiding. There were a
couple of cases either against Aldridge or with Aldridge as second
chair. So far, so good.
A light tapping on his door disrupted his thoughts.
“Excuse me, Commander.” Bud Roberts approached carefully. “I’m sorry to
disturb you but I was hoping for a second opinion.”
Tossing his pencil on the desk, Harm sat back in his chair. “Sure, Bud.
Have a seat.”
“The General asked me this morning to review some of Jason’s recent
cases and render an opinion on whether or not I feel he’s ready to sit
first chair on the Cunningham murder trial.” Bud paused to gauge Harm’s
“Well, sir. I’m not sure I’m as objective as I should be. Jason’s been
under my supervision, and I’m not so confidant I’ve prepared him as well
as you might have,” Bud sighed heavily, he had so hoped to pass on all
the things he had learned in his early years from Harm and Mac.
Harm paused. He had absolutely no idea what kind of a lawyer this Jason
was. He knew nothing about the Cunningham murder, but regardless of its
importance, murder trials were always serious business. Harm had no
choice but to go with his gut.
“Bud, you’re an excellent attorney. I’m sure anyone under your tutelage
is well prepared. If you’d like, why don’t you leave me some of those
case records and I’ll take a peek at them,” Harm smiled cautiously.
“If you’re not too overloaded, I’d appreciate your impression of the
situation,” Bud accepted, standing up from his seat.
At that moment an unfamiliar petty officer appeared in Harm’s doorway.
“Excuse me, sirs. The General would like to see you in his office
“We’ll be right there, Petty Officer.” Okay, obviously, Coates isn’t
here. Harm was starting to come to grips with the fact that he had a lot
more blanks to fill in than he realized.
An hour later Harm and Bud were coming out of the General’s office with
new orders to provide counsel for a marine captain in Afghanistan
accused of murdering five Afghanis. Harm almost let it slip that Mac
would be better for the job, being both a marine and fluent in farsi,
but somehow sanity prevailed. Or was it insanity?
A little annoyed he was going to have to leave his new found family
behind, Harm was startled out of his own thoughts by an oddly familiar
voice calling his name. Turning his head to catch a glimpse of the very
pregnant blonde in a bright orange dress, Harm almost tripped over his
“Harm, I’m glad I caught you. Harriet mentioned Mac is back from
California and I was thinking it would be wonderful to get a few of the
officers and their wives together for a little impromptu supper at our
house. Say, Friday at seven. See if Mac can make it.”
Before Harm could answer either way, the blonde was waddling off down
the hallway. His eyes followed her as she marched into a neighboring
office. Looking up at the nameplate, it took everything in him to keep
his eyes from falling out of his head. Lt. j.g. Jason Tiner. Oh lord, he
was going to have to talk to someone. Do something. This world was VERY
different from the one he’d come from. If he wasn’t in a coma or a
dream, he was going to need some serious reconnaissance, and fast.
Walking back to his office, Harm sat down heavily in his chair, his head
dropping in his hands. Obviously, the Jason Bud was referring to must be
Tiner. What was he doing being considered for first chair in a murder
trial? Harm wished he could just close the door and lock the world out.
Today was simply getting too crazy. At least he didn’t have to worry
about where Matt’s school or Susie’s daycare was. Well, not yet. He was
leaving for Afghanistan in the morning.
Rubbing his temples, he briefly caught a flash of that same, now not
very happy, woman storming past his office. Harm felt a little guilty,
but the only thing that ran through his mind was, thank God it wasn’t
him. Of all the odd twists this world took. How the hell did Tiner wind
up married to Renee?
Harm was doing his best to pack. It would have been much easier if he
didn’t have to search every drawer and cabinet for his things.
Mac walked into the room just in time to see Harm putting something odd
into his suitcase. Coming up behind him, she draped one arm across his
“What you got there?” she asked softly.
“I grabbed this from the TV room.” Harm picked up the photo of Mac with
the kids throwing leaves on her.
“How long do you expect to be gone?” she frowned.
“Just a few days, I hope.”
“Is there something you’re not telling me?” Mac slid around in front of
“No.” Harm tossed the photo into the bag.
“Harm, you’ve never taken photos of us on short stints before. What
aren’t you telling me?” The look of sheer panic in her eyes was breaking
“Mac, honey, I’ve never lied to you, I wouldn’t start now. You’ve been
gone for two weeks. I’ve barely gotten you back and now I have to leave.
I just can’t stand the thought of leaving you completely behind.” Harm
slid his hands up her arms and let them fall on her shoulders.
“If you’re sure?” Mac sort of understood, she hated being separated
again so soon herself, but somehow this felt different.
“I’m sure.” Harm kissed the top of her head. “Are the kids in bed?” he
whispered, his breath gently caressing her face.
“Yeah, I had to promise Matt you’d read two chapters for him when you
come home.” Mac’s eyes closed slowly as Harm’s lips left a trail of
barely there kisses down her cheek, along her chin, and back to her
“I could probably sleep later on the plane,” he hissed before his lips
fully captured hers.
“Sleeping is over rated,” she somehow managed to respond when his lips
moved from her mouth to that sweet spot behind her ear.
In minutes, they were tangled in each other’s arms. Garment by garment,
clothing was scattered across the room. Only last night, Harm had made
love to Mac for the first time, and yet tonight felt like the first time
all over again.
He was terrified that tomorrow he would wake up and all this would be a
lonely memory. His alternate world having vanished as mysteriously as it
had appeared, but for now, he savored every caress, every embrace. Even
in sleep, he refused to release his hold on her.
When morning finally came, Mac fought to convince herself Harm’s almost
desperate affections weren’t a sign of something more serious. He hugged
her and the children with such intensity it was as if he knew it were
the last time.
On the endlessly long plane ride to Afghanistan, Harm played the last
two nights with Mac in his mind over and over. He didn’t understand how
he kept waking up day after day in this wonderful new world, but with
each passing day, his fear of it coming to an end grew stronger and
stronger. The more entrenched he became in this new life, the more
horrific he found the idea of returning to his lonely old one.
Much to his dismay, things in Kabul hadn’t changed as much as he would
have liked since the last time he was here. The road to the small town
they needed to get to was bumpy and dusty, everything you’d expect from
an unpaved road to nowhere. The only improvement appeared to be the lack
of homemade tollbooths.
Harm and Bud dispensed quickly with military formalities upon their
arrival. Harm was anxious to meet with the Marine Captain and get the
initial interviews out of the way. He’d just arrived and already he
wanted to get home to his family.
“Who’s next on our list?” Harm asked, looking at his watch for the tenth
time in the last hour.
“Master Sergeant...”Bud trailed off, “It’s Gunny, sir.”
“Yes sir. He’s attached to the UN peacekeeping forces,” Bud shrugged.
When the door opened, Master Sergeant Victor Galindez stepped into the
“Good to see you, Gunny.” Harm nodded at the marine.
“Yes, sir. How’s the Colonel?”
“She’s well. Just spent two weeks in California.” Harm moved to sit down
at the table.
“If I’d have known we were going to see you, I would have checked with
Jen before coming?” Bud interjected.
“How’s she doing, sir?” Gunny’s eyes were dark with concern.
“She’s doing great. She and Harriet had lunch Saturday.” Bud took a seat
across from Harm.
“Yes, sir, that would be the monthly hang loose lunch,” Gunny chuckled.
Harm watched the conversation as though it were a spectator sport. He
wondered if Jen was Petty Officer Coates, and from the sound of it,
Gunny and she were involved in some way.
“When is she due?” Bud waved at the Gunny to take a seat.
“Next month. I’m supposed to have rotated home by now, but you know how
that works, sir.”
Okay, so they’re very involved. Harm concluded.
Personal issues aside, it didn’t take long to get the information they
needed from Gunny. With all the pieces of the puzzle, Harm and Bud would
spend the remainder of the day working on negotiations, or if necessary,
their defense strategy.
Despite his efforts to remain focused on the case, Harm’s mind kept
drifting home to Mac and the kids, or to Bud and Gunny’s conversation.
There was so much going on he knew nothing about.
“What do you say we call it a night? I think I could use a little fresh
air about now, and then some rack time,” Harm suggested casually, the
entire situation was weighing heavily on him.
“Yes, sir,” Bud nodded. “You go on ahead, it will only take me a minute
to clear off the desk.” If he were to admit it, jet lag was getting to
him too. These huge changes in time zones were always hard on him.
Still, he could tell something else was up with Harm, but he had no way
of knowing what it really was.
“You know the drill, sir. Don’t wander too far. Things aren’t as safe as
you’d like to think,” a familiar voice reminded Harm when he stepped
“Aye, aye,” Harm replied playfully. “They assign you to watch our six?”
“Yes, sir. Count on the Marines to save the Navy’s...six.” Gunny had to
remind himself he was speaking to a superior officer and not just a long
“It’s not easy anymore is it?” Harm was looking up at the stars.
“Easy, sir?” Gunny glanced at the sky and back at Harm. He wasn’t
following the question.
“Being out here when the people, the family, we love are back home.”
Harm took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“No, sir. Does it ever get easier, sir? I mean you and the Colonel have
been together a long time now.”
“No.” Harm had no right to answer, this was his first time away from his
wife and family, but somehow he knew this was the correct way to
respond. He knew the ache in his heart, the missing piece that was Mac,
was real. “Not if you really care.”
“Yes, sir.” Gunny cared. He’d never thought there would come a day when
he could find someone he cared about more than breathing itself, but he
Staring at the Commander for a few long seconds, Gunny couldn’t help but
think back to Christmas Eve 2002. The first time he saw her he was awe
struck by her smile. Then, he was struck how, for a squid, she was so
squared away. He saw a lot of the same fire in her he had always admired
in Colonel MacKenzie.
Gunny had been stationed in Afghanistan with the Marine 2nd Force Recon
for over a year when he was given leave to go home for the holidays.
Flights hadn’t cooperated much and he found himself in DC, fogged in on
December 24th. Thank God for friends and family. As though he’d never
left, he was welcomed into the Roberts home for the now annual JAG
family Christmas dinner.
As much as he had looked forward to being with his family in New Mexico,
this was still like coming home to him. Jennifer Coates had been helping
Harriet in the kitchen most of the night. When Gunny got his first
glimpse of her, he had to make a conscious effort not to let his jaw
“May I help with something, ma’am?” Gunny squared his shoulders and
flashed his best ‘God, I hope you’re not an officer’ smile.
“Yes, please. If you don’t mind carrying this,” Jen handed him a tray of
deviled eggs, “and it’s Jen, not ma’am.” Her smile lit up every dark,
hidden corner of his heart.
From there, the night progressed as though they’d been friends for
years. It wasn’t long before they were sitting side by side on the
hearth for hours telling each other their life story. Gunny couldn’t
help but shake his head when he heard hers. She’d have made a great
When Harm finally made it to the party, he couldn’t help but notice how
taken the two seemed with each other.
“This is a pleasant surprise.” Harm, slapped Gunny on the shoulder,
“Well, sir. All out bound flights were grounded. When I heard you were
flying in tonight, I had my doubts I’d get to see you at all, but I
should know better than to doubt you, sir,” Gunny chuckled.
“Ah, trying to get home?”
“Not anymore, sir.” Gunny’s eyes followed Jen’s conversation with Sidney
Chegwidden across the room. “Your wife said I was welcome to stay at
your place for the rest of my leave. I think it might be nice to get
reacquainted with the sites of DC.”
“Yeah, she is a site.” Sites of DC, right. Who did Gunny think he was
fooling? “She’s special, Gunny. You know she saved Bud’s life?”
“Yes, sir. She’s too young, though.” Gunny wasn’t sure if he was
pointing this out to the Commander or himself.
“For who?” Harm curled his brow. Gunny was a good man. He’d be good for
“Me, sir.” Gunny let out a small sigh.
“Gunny, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my lifetime, it’s when fate
sees fit to give you the perfect woman, don’t look for petty excuses to
refuse. Excuse me, I think I need to find my wife and some mistletoe.”
Smiling at Gunny, Harm slapped him on the shoulder again, and went off
in search of Mac.
Harm turned his eyes from the stars to the Master Sergeant standing
quietly by his side.
“Thinking of her?” It was a personal question, and even though Harm
wasn’t sure who her was, he felt he and the Gunny were friends in this
“Yes, sir. Remembering the advice you gave me that Christmas night,”
Damn. Harm wished he knew what he had told Gunny.
“You said, ‘when fate sees fit to give you the perfect woman, don’t look
for petty excuses to refuse’. Best damn advice anyone ever gave me. When
I rotated stateside the following June, I knew you were right, the fates
had seen fit to give me the perfect woman.”
“Yeah, well, I love it when I’m right,” Harm smiled impishly. No wonder
this Harm was so happy, he’d learned a lesson the Harm in his world was
too stubborn to accept.
“Do you know, sir, after that Christmas when I returned to this sandy
paradise, Jen sent me emails every day?” Gunny shook his head. “I wanted
to marry her the minute my feet hit US soil, but she deserved to be
“I bet the Admiral made a formidable Papa Bear,” Harm teased on a
fishing expedition of sorts.
“That he did, sir. That he did.” Gunny shivered at the memory of a very
serious Admiral AJ Chegwidden, standing toe to toe with him, ‘reminding’
Gunny if he in anyway, did anything, to bring any harm to his yeoman...
well, he never did have to finish the sentence. Gunny got the message.
Harm almost laughed out loud. How about that, Gunny and Jen. This new
world was just full of surprises.
“I’m glad you found each other,” Harm smiled. Although, this Gunny
didn’t know he risked his life to help him single handedly save Mac from
a fate worse than death, Harm knew it. He just hoped Jen knew what a
good man he was, but somehow, judging from the smile on Gunny’s face,
Harm was pretty sure she did, and then some.
“We were only married six months when I shipped out again.” Gunny
glanced around at their surroundings. Despite the casual conversation,
he was still on duty. “But, you know that.”
Now, he did. Maybe if Harm could get Gunny to keep talking he could find
out a few more details of this new life.
“Time has a way of flying by. How long have you been here now?” Harm
hoped he wasn’t expected to remember this information.
“Seven months, one week, two days. Would you like to know how many
hours?” One side of Gunny’s face twisted up in momentary amusement.
“I think I get the picture,” Harm chuckled.
“We didn’t even know she was pregnant when I left.” Gunny looked
absently into the distance.
“You know, we’re all keeping an eye on her.” Harm had no way of knowing
if this was true, other than a gut feeling.
“I know, sir. Thank you,” Gunny smiled, his eyes expressing how grateful
he was for old friends. “You’d better call it a night, sir. It’s not a
good idea to be wandering around after dark.” The marine was back in
“Good night, Gunny.” Harm had seen Bud walk passed them a while ago, it
was time he hit the rack too.
“Good night, Sir.”
The next few days passed quickly. More quickly than Harm had thought
they would, considering how badly he missed Mac. Every morning he woke
up more confused than he’d been the day before. He simply didn’t
understand what had happened. If it weren’t for the lack of memories, he
would almost believe his old life was nothing more than a horrible
nightmare he’d finally woken up from.
Things weren’t looking good for their client and Harm was starting to
suspect they were going to be here a lot longer than either he or Bud
wanted to be. He and Bud had been having lunch in what served as
officer’s territory, when Gunny came looking for them.
“I’ve been looking for you everywhere, sirs,” Gunny panted, slightly out
“What is it? Jen?” Harm presumed by the anxious look on Gunny’s face.
“No, sir. We’ve found a new witness. I was giving out chocolate bars to
some of the local kids. You know my Farsi isn’t that good, but I managed
to make out a few interesting things one little boy was telling me. I
followed him home and spoke with his aunt and uncle. They told me that
the five men killed had a quarrel with a local warlord. They’re willing
to testify they saw his men on the other side of the square, armed,
“Gunny, that’s great!” Harm stood up quickly. “Were you able to verify
it with anyone else?”
“Yes, sir. It seems the warlord was killed the other day in a small
firefight outside of town. Almost everyone in town is willing to
testify, now that the threat of reprisal is gone.”
“Let’s go see if we can’t get these charges dismissed,” Harm announced,
Bud and Gunny following behind him.
With everything wrapped up, and the Marine Captain back on duty, Harm
and Bud were once again airborne stateside.
“Bud?” Harm ventured tentatively.
“Yes, sir.” Bud was resting comfortably in the seat, his head back and
“What do you remember about the day Sarah was born?” Harm had managed to
make the connection with how his and Mac’s getting married had made a
difference with Sidney and the Admiral. Harm’s catching Danny red-handed
avoided the break up. He concluded that Mac’s inviting Gunny to stay in
their home, a home they didn’t have in his world, allowed Gunny and Jen
enough time for their love to bloom, so to speak. He wasn’t even going
to try and figure out how Renee and Tiner wound up together, but Harm
didn’t understand how his and Mac’s marriage could have saved Sarah’s
“Every detail. Why, sir?” Bud straightened up to look at Harm.
“No reason in particular. What do you remember most?” Harm squirmed in
“Honestly, I think it was the look of horror on your face when Lt.
Aldridge interrupted court to announce he’d just received a message that
an ambulance was leaving your house for Mercy Hospital,” Bud smiled.
“My house?” Why his house? He thought. “Oh, yeah.” He covered quickly.
He seemed to be doing a lot of that lately.
“I guess since Harriet was supposed to be watching the Colonel after the
car accident, we all just assumed something had gone wrong with the
Colonel. It never occurred to any of us that Harriet was having a repeat
of instant labor as she’d done with AJ.” Deciding there was nothing
serious in Harm’s inquiries, Bud relaxed back against the chair again.
“I probably remember more about little AJ since I was there for most of
it. No one could ever forget your getting stuck in the elevator,” Harm
“It’s a good thing the admiral showed up for little AJ. Colonel
MacKenzie was afraid she was going to have to deliver Sarah herself. The
ambulance driver was surprised they made it to the hospital. He told me
later, they were taking bets on whether or not the baby would be born in
the ambulance.” Bud shook his head.
“Harriet’s never had any problems with any of the kids has she?” Harm
“You and the Colonel thinking of having another?” Bud opened one eye in
Harm’s direction. “Didn’t the Colonel have a pretty easy time with both
kids? Well, I suppose as long as you don’t count those three days of bed
rest after that crazy old lady plowed into her. Thank God, nothing was
wrong. It was just a precaution to have Harriet keeping her off her
feet. Though, technically she was only off her feet for two days since
she had to go with Harriet to the hospital.”
“It was the thought that counted, Bud. Harriet tried,” Harm smiled. In
any world, Bud still had a gift for rambling.
“I guess that little moment with Sarah was the closest thing to trouble
we’ve ever had,” Bud continued.
“Yeah, I don’t even remember what it was, something with the cord I
think, or was it the placenta? Well, whatever, the doctor that attended
at Mercy was probably just as good as Harriet’s doctor at Bethesda. He
caught it right away and it wasn’t a problem,” Bud shrugged.
Without thinking, Harm let out a slight snort. ‘As good as Harriet’s’,
if Bud only realized what a blessing it was that the ambulance was
required to take Harriet to the closest hospital and not to that quack
“Something wrong, sir?” Bud wasn’t sure what to make of the odd sound
Harm made. He seemed, annoyed.
“No, just thinking about the things we take for granted.” Harm shrugged
in an attempt to set the junior officer at ease. “She’s a great kid.”
“Sarah.” Who else have we been talking about? Harm thought.
“Oh, yes, sir. Thank you.” Bud closed his eyes again. This was getting
too confusing to follow.
“Bud,” Harm needed to confide in someone. There was just too much he
didn’t know and it sure didn’t look like he was going to wake up in his
own world anytime soon.
“I…I think I have a little problem you might be able to help me with.”
Harm prayed he was about to do the right thing.