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Classification Angst, Drama, Romance (H/M)
 
Length Approximately 41,000 words; 100 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Spoilers None
Rating AO - language; sexual situations.
 
WARNING THIS STORY DEALS WITH THE TOPIC OF RAPE. There will be no explicit scenes or descriptions of the act, but it is the story of dealing with the consequences of a violent act.
 

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

 

 

Friday
1946 Local

 

The chaos swirled around her. Flashing police lights cut across her vision every few seconds, and the detective was barking questions at her. The rain misted down gently in the parking lot of the convenience store. The lights that had been flashing Joe’s Quick Stop were out, but the lights from the police cruisers cast an eerie other-world feel to the rather isolated convenience store.

Through it all, she sat quietly in the back seat of the police cruiser, holding little AJ tightly in her lap. At the moment, he was her sole focus, and she whispered soothing words to him constantly. Occasionally she shifted her attention to the young girl huddled next to her, giving comfort as best she could.

Little AJ clung to her just as tightly, his blonde head resting against her shoulder, his thumb in his mouth. Every few minutes he would give a little hiccup, the leftovers of crying. But he was calming down and feeling safer by the minute. The young girl was quiet as well.

A minivan pulled into the convenience store parking lot and stopped with a screech of brakes. Bud and Harriet emerged, looking frantically around. Mac looked up at the sound of Harriet’s voice calling for her son.

“AJ! There he is, Bud!” Harriet’s voice was almost hysterical as she tried to push past the policeman blocking her way. Bud followed her, his artificial leg slowing him down.

“Ma’am, sir, I’m afraid no one can go in there right now.” The uniformed policeman was kind, but firm. The entire building was cordoned off with yellow police tape. The one entry was guarded.

Mac stood and walked the few steps to them, still holding AJ. “It’s okay, Officer, they’re his parents.”

As if on cue, AJ held out his arms to his parents and started crying again. This time, the Officer didn’t attempt to stop Harriet from getting to her son. “AJ, honey, it’s okay. Mommy and Daddy are here, honey.” Harriet took Little AJ from Mac and cuddled her sobbing son close, then walked off towards the minivan.

Mac didn’t say anything, just stood there looking after them.

“Colonel, are you all right?” Bud’s concerned voice startled her for some reason, and she shifted her gaze over to him. She looked disheveled and was sporting a bruise on her cheek. There was an emptiness in her expression that troubled him, and there was a large spot of blood on the front of her white shirt that troubled him more.

“I’m fine, Bud. And I think AJ will be, too.” She shivered even though the night was warm and she had on a light jacket thrown over her shoulders to protect her from the rain. She was afraid she wouldn’t ever feel warm again. She tried for a smile, but gave up the attempt after a moment.

“Miss Mackenzie, I really need to get your statement now.” Detective Bigalow tried to convey patience, but his was wearing thin. A large balding man in his late fifties dressed in the requisite old suit with scuffed shoes, he displayed a lack of sensitivity that also bothered Bud. It was obvious this man’s vocabulary did not include the word “empathy”.

Noting the Colonel’s blank stare, Bud felt a strong urge to protect her wash over him. He didn’t know what was wrong with her, but he was damn sure not going to let this detective bully her when she couldn’t defend herself. “I don’t think so, Detective…Bigalow?” He squinted at the ID tag on the man’s suit jacket, then looked over at Mac again, once again taking in her pale features and drawn countenance. “This can wait till morning. I’ll bring her down to the station myself.”

Bigalow’s eyes narrowed as he answered Bud nastily. “Look buddy, I don’t know who you are, but there has been a shooting here, and two men are dead. I can’t just let her go.” Turning back to Mac, he gestured roughly for her to precede him back to the cruiser.

Bud borrowed a page from his mentor, Rabb, and stiffened his spine. Giving the detective what he hoped was a hard look, he replied, “I’m an attorney with JAG, and so is Colonel Mackenzie.” He emphasized the Colonel for good measure. “We’re both well aware of her rights and I’m telling you-”

“It’s all right, Bud.” Mac’s voice interrupted his tirade. “Go ahead and take Harriet and AJ home. They need you. Wrapping her arms around herself, she continued. “I’ll give him his statement and see you in the morning.” Her second attempt at a smile failed utterly. “I’ll be okay, don’t worry.”

It was true Harriet and AJ needed him, but they would be okay without him for a little while. He thought back to the day of his injury, when his friends risked a DDO charge to support him. There was no way he would abandon her, not with that look in her eyes.

“Ma’am, either I stay, or I call Commander Turner or the Admiral for you.” Commander Rabb was conducting an investigation on a carrier halfway around the world.

“NO!” His jump at her sharp tone made her take a deep breath and start over. “No, thank you Bud, but I can handle it. There’s no sense in ruining their night as well. Go, your family needs you.”

This time when he met her eyes there was a spark of fear in hers, only hardening his resolve. He didn’t understand what was going on in her head, but that didn’t matter. Turning to Bigalow, he continued, “I’m her attorney, no questions until I’m present.”

Bigalow merely rolled his eyes. “Fine.”

Mac interjected with a protest. “Bud, you don’t have to-”

This time it was his turn to cut her off. “Yes I do, ma’am. I don’t abandon friends anymore than you do.” And with that he made his way across the parking lot to confer with Harriet and send her home with Little AJ.

Bigalow didn’t say a word as they waited for his return, his irritation palpable. Mac was quiet as well.

The minivan pulled out and Bud walked back over to them. “Okay, Detective. Ma’am, do you want to do this here, or down at the station?”

Mac shot him a tired glance. “Here, Bud. Let’s just get this over with.” Turning from the two men, she went back to the police cruiser and leaned inside. “Casey, come on, honey. You stay with me until your parents get here, okay?”

To Bud’s surprise, a young brunette girl in jeans and a T-shirt about 16 years old climbed out of the back of the cruiser and stood next to Mac. “This is Casey, Bud. She was in the store with us. She’s having a difficult time reaching her parents.”

The girl was obviously shaken, and was looking to Mac for protection, but she managed to say a few words. “They’re coming. They’ll be here in a few minutes.” Mac put a steadying arm around the girl’s shoulders.

Casey had barely finished the sentence when an expensive looking SUV roared into the parking lot with a harried looking couple inside.

Mac looked over to Bigelow, her first real emotion showing. “Look, she’s underage and scared. Can’t you question her tomorrow? I can give you everything you need to know.” She watched as Casey ran to her parents, the tears starting to flow again. The woman gave her a comforting hug as the man continued in their direction.

One look at the obviously wealthy man coming his way caused Bigelow to cave. “OK.” Grumpily he walked over and met Casey’s father to make the arrangements.

“Ma’am? Do we need to talk alone before you tell them what happened?” Bud asked gently as he still didn’t know what happened in the store. Mac’s call to him had been brief and to the point. They had stumbled on an attempted robbery, but Little AJ was fine, they needed to come and get him. But he was banking on Mac’s legal knowledge to let him protect her if she needed it.

Mac shook her head wearily. “No Bud, it’s okay. I really just want to get this over with.” There was a tired slump in her shoulders that normally wasn’t there.

“OK then, let’s get you comfortable.” Hesitantly he put an arm around her to guide her to the cruiser, but she pulled away sharply.

At his surprised look she shot him an apologetic look. “Sorry Bud, I’m just jumpy. I had to…I…” To her horror she felt tears welling up and desperately choked them down. Taking a deep breath, she continued in an almost desperate tone. “I had to kill them both. I had no choice.”

Shocked, Bud could only stare at her.

Finally he voiced the question. “What happened exactly?” He was aware that Bigelow had returned and was standing next to him, but the detective didn’t interrupt. Bud had asked the question Bigelow would have asked anyway.

Mac directed her answer to both of them, but looked away across the neighboring field as she answered. “I stopped to pick up some coffee, that’s all. I was running Little AJ home, and just stopped for a minute for some coffee.” Pausing for a moment, she drew a shaky breath before continuing.

“When I went in, Casey was there. She was filling cokes in the cooler. She told me she’d be right out, so I went to find the coffee and then waited for her at the counter.”

“Two men came in then.” Meeting Bigelow’s gaze was difficult, but she forced herself. “I didn’t like the look of them…I had a bad feeling. They looked around the store, then came up to me. One, the younger one, pulled a gun and told me to keep quiet.”

It was then she looked at Bud apologetically. “I didn’t put up a fight. I did as he asked for Little AJ’s sake, Bud. I wouldn’t have endangered him for anything.” She seemed to be almost pleading with him to believe her.

He nodded, shaken at her story. “I know, ma’am.”

Another ragged breath was drawn. “Anyway, the other one went to the door where Casey would come out. As soon as she did, he grabbed her and pushed a gun to her side. He forced her back up to the counter and demanded the keys. She did everything right, gave him the keys without a fight.”

The pause this time was longer, as if she was gathering strength. “Go on, Colonel.” Bigelow’s voice was still impatient, and Bud shot him an angry look. Bigelow had the grace to look slightly ashamed of himself. Mac took no notice of the exchange.

“They locked the doors then, and shut off the lights outside to make it look like the store was closed, I guess.” Staring at the ground now, she visibly braced herself to continue. “They told us to get in the back…in the store room. One of them, I think his name was Tom, emptied the cash register as we went to the back.”

Suddenly she looked up. “Please, I’ve got to sit down.” Her hands were trembling, and Bud could see the toll this was taking on her and was infinitely glad he had stayed.

Bigelow finally acted like a human being and pointed to the cruiser. “Why don’t you sit there, Colonel? We’ll try to finish this quickly.”

She clutched her hands together to hide the tremor after she sat down and faced out towards them as both of the men stayed near the open door. “When we got there…to the store room…they…the 2 men…decided they wanted something more.”

‘Oh God’, thought Bud, ‘Please don’t let this have happened.’

“I convinced them to let Casey alone. She was too young…I…I…” This time she couldn’t choke back the sob. Both her hands were over her face, but she gathered herself together and continued the story. “They wanted to do it right there, but I begged them not to. Not in front of AJ and Casey. I promised I wouldn’t fight.”

A bleak stillness came over her. It was chilling. “Tom and I went into the manager’s office. He closed the door, but didn’t lock it. He came over to me and pushed me against the desk.” She stopped and looked at Bigelow. “I had promised not to fight, but when he started to grope me, something just snapped, and I…I…pushed him away. He got mad then, and punched me.” One slender hand touched the bruise on her cheek in remembrance. “I just lost it then, and we grappled for the gun. While we were struggling, it went off.”

She stopped, seemingly lost in memories. Bud asked this time, as gently as he could. “And then?”

“He died.” This was said flatly, in a monotone. Shaking her head as if to wake herself up, she continued.

“And then the other one, I never heard his name, burst in through the door. I still had the gun in my hand, so I shot him too. It was a reflex, really. I didn’t stop to think.”

She stopped again, then added as an afterthought. “Casey and AJ were naturally upset, but I managed to calm them down and call 911. We waited for the police to show up.”

“Did either one of them…” Bud hesitated to ask, but wanted make sure, “hurt you?”

Once again she touched the bruise on her cheek, but didn’t meet his eyes. “Except for this, I’m fine.”

Bud couldn’t help feeling there was more, but he didn’t want to push her, especially in front of Bigelow. He turned to the detective. “Anything else you need?” He hoped not. It was obvious Mac had been through enough for the evening.

“Just a couple of questions. Have you ever seen either of those two men before?”

Mutely, Mac shook her head.

“Do you know why…” He checked his notes briefly. “Casey was in the store by herself?”

“She said her manager had an emergency…a sick kid. He was supposed to be back in a little while.”

Bigelow thumbed through his notebook, and then sighed. “Okay, that’s it for now. As long as the kid backs up your story, we shouldn’t have a problem. And the security tapes.”

Mac’s head jerked around in alarm. “Security tapes?”

Suspiciously Bigelow eyed her and nodded. “Yeah, security monitors the entire merchandise area. No sound, just video. Why?”

Bud broke in before it went any further. “If there’s nothing else, I’ll just see the Colonel home.”

There was a short silence as Bigelow considered this. Mac looked visibly shaken, but that could have been the result of the whole night, not the last question.

Finally, Bigelow acquiesced. “All right. But don’t leave town, we might have questions.”

 

JAG Headquarters
Thursday
1032 Local

 

Admiral AJ Chegwidden exited his office to get some coffee. He was in an expansive mood this morning. The SecNav was on vacation for 2 weeks, he had finished up the budget request early, and Meredith wasn’t cooking dinner tonight. All in all, the day was looking good.

His good cheer and his trek to the break room was interrupted by a loud “God damn it!” from Colonel Mackenzie’s office. This was followed almost immediately by the sound of a muffled crash. All activity in the bullpen ceased as personnel looked apprehensively at Mac’s office.

AJ noted the apparent reluctance of anyone to approach as he made his way to her door. He had not spoken with Mac alone since Monday morning when she had briefed him on the events of Friday night. At the time, he was aware that her demeanor was strained, but her obvious disinclination to discuss Friday’s incident, much less take any time off, had made him draw back. He respected her, and didn’t want to push. She’d handle it in her own way. She always did.

Still, he’d been worried about her. As he neared her office, he wondered if he’d made the right decision. He always had a finger on the pulse of his office, and he was well aware that Mac had been short-tempered all week, alternating between a cool professional attitude and an uncharacteristic crankiness.

He stopped at her door, shocked at the sight before him. Mac was sitting at her desk, her hands over her face, struggling not to cry.

“Colonel?”

The sound of his voice brought her to her feet instantly. “Yes sir?” A quick swipe at her eyes was her only concession to tears now. That cool professional attitude was snapped into place.

The stapler was on the floor where it had bounced off the wall. Looking at it to give himself a chance to think, he asked, “Is there a problem here?”

She flushed and looked embarrassed for a moment. “Uh, sorry sir. I guess I lost my temper.”

Returning his gaze to her, he noted the circles under her eyes and ashen face. “Mac, are you all right?” The soft tone seemed to stiffen her spine even more.

“I’m fine sir.” That, of course, was the answer he expected.

He sighed inwardly. Obviously, she wasn’t willing to open up, but he was going to try anyway. Rabb would back tomorrow, but he didn’t want to wait that long. If he couldn’t help her, surely Rabb would be able to.

“Have a seat, Mac.” He waited until she seated herself at her desk before sitting down himself. He would have preferred his office for its home court advantage, but maybe the security of being in her own office would help.

Gathering his thoughts, he decided to cut right to the heart of the matter. He’d never been one for pussyfooting around. “I’ve been where you are, Mac. It’s never easy, no matter why you had to do it.”

Wide-eyed, she stared at him. “Sir?”

He caught the tremble in her hands, but she quickly put them together to still them. Patiently he answered her. “I’ve had to kill people.” Even now, after so many years, there were occasional nightmares about Vietnam.

For one moment she seemed to slump, and he thought he’d broken through. But in the next second her shoulders straightened and she recovered.

“I know, sir. I’ve been having…problems, but I’ll get past it. I can deal with it.”

He appraised her stoic demeanor and silently admitted defeat. There was no sign of a crack in the armor. He couldn’t force her to talk, no matter how much he wanted to. At best, he could order her to counseling, but it could have ramifications on her career. Hopefully Rabb will have better luck. With a sigh, he gave up, with one last caveat.

“Okay, Mac, but take the rest of the day off.” He cut off her immediate protest. “That’s an order, Colonel. Get some rest; you look like you could use it.”

Resigned, she gave in to that. “Yes sir, thank you.”

He got up to leave, but paused at the door. “Mac, if you need anything…” He let the sentence trail away, almost embarrassed.

She surprised him by giving him a genuine smile. It was a small one, but it was a start. “Thank you, sir, for everything.”

He nodded and closed the door as he left. That smile had given him hope, but he wasn’t fooled into thinking she was all right. Maybe Meredith would have some insight that would help.

With the close of the door Mac dropped her head into her hands, propping her elbows on the desk. If she could just hold out for a few more minutes, she could get home and collapse. The tears welled, but she choked them back. “I can get through this, I’m a marine.”

Ever since she had joined up, that mantra had gotten her through some tough times. Boot camp, OCS, law school, Bosnia…the list went on and on. It had worked (sort of) through Dalton’s murder and her subsequent stalking, and through the whole Ragle mess.

Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be working now. She took a deep breath and repeated it again, fortifying herself for…whatever was to come.

 

Sarah Mackenzie’s Apartment
Georgetown
2330 Local

 

Once she left JAG, the day had loomed before her, frightening in its emptiness. She needed to be busy, to keep herself occupied. Having nothing to do only left room for thoughts best kept at bay. It had not been easy, but she’d managed to keep busy all day.

First she went for a 15 mile run. Usually a run meant time for introspection, a time for planning. But she discovered if she pushed herself - running harder and faster - that the struggle to keep up the pace and physical discomfort kept her from thinking.

A workout was next on the agenda. A stop at the gym was therapeutic. The hypnotic rhythm of heaving weights around as long as her strength held out was mesmerizing, requiring no thought whatsoever. And the boxing, even if it was sparring with a bag, released pent up emotion better than any “talk” could. It was cathartic.

By the time she got home it was early evening, and she was exhausted. Cleaning out her refrigerator occupied another hour. A scrub down of the bathrooms and kitchen, a quick vacuum and dust around the rest of the apartment and she could barely move.

She didn’t eat. In fact, she hadn’t eaten much since Friday. It was not that she was nauseous; it was that food just didn’t appeal to her. She had no appetite (an irony she was sure Harm would enjoy in other circumstances) and subsisted on coffee and an occasional nibble on crackers, or other readily available snacks.

For the first time since the weekend, she had hope that she might actually get several hours of uninterrupted sleep. A long hot shower relaxed her aching muscles and with the added comfort of some flannel pajamas, she poured herself into bed, worn out.

An hour later she was awake. Another nightmare brought her to her knees, sweating and trembling. “Shit,” she said aloud. Her plan for a good night’s sleep was shot. That last nightmare had been a doozie, and sleep was now an impossibility.

The night now stretched out agonizingly in front of her. Not for the first time in her life, she cursed her sense of time. Usually she considered it a great asset, but when things were bad, it was a slow sort of torture feeling each minute tick by.

The ring of the phone startled her, making her jump. Putting a hand to her heart to still its frantic beating, she picked it up. “Hello.”

Harm’s cheery voice greeted her. “Hey Mac. I haven’t gotten a chance to call you since last week, and I just wanted to see how you’re doing.” Uh huh, and there was no ice in Iceland. Someone had told him about Friday.

“I’m fine, Harm. How’s life on the carrier? Case about wrapped up?” Two could play at this game.

“Yeah, I should be home tomorrow. How about dinner? I’ll cook.” Oh yes, he definitely had been told. In all their years as friends, he had never called and asked her to dinner before he got home.

Unexpectedly she felt her heart twist painfully. They’d been growing closer, almost dating, and prior to the weekend she’d been sure they were getting ready to move toward a more intimate relationship. Well that was sure screwed up now.

“Mac? Are you still there?” Harm’s almost frantic voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Yes, sorry. Umm…can I have a rain check?” She didn’t want to lie to him, but she wasn’t ready to face him yet.

There was a short pause and she thought for a moment she’d won. There was no privacy on a carrier, and he couldn’t really argue with her, much less get into a discussion of what happened.

Then his voice came achingly soft and sweet through the receiver of the phone. “Please, Mac. Bud emailed me. I need to see you.”

Without warning, tears welled up and she choked back a sob. Damn him, he always knew how to get to her.

“Okay.” Even as she said it, she knew she wouldn’t tell him the truth. She couldn’t.

He gave an audible sigh of relief. “I’ll pick you up. I should be there around 1800.”

She gave a nod, then realized he couldn’t see her. “Okay.”

He seemed to understand she couldn’t say more than that, and was satisfied for the moment. At least he would see her in less than 24 hours.

“I’ll see you tomorrow. Take care of yourself, Ninja-girl.” The nickname touched her, bringing back memories of a simpler time.

Slowly she hung the phone up. Tears streamed silently down her face, and then she broke down completely. Collapsing on the bed, she sobbed as her heart broke. She cried for Harm, for all the lost opportunities. She cried for herself, and all the pain she was struggling with. And finally she cried for the loss of a dream…the dream of a future with Harm. It was gone, even if he didn’t know it yet.

 

JAG Headquarters
Friday
0720 Local

 

The office was quiet, only a few people were in. Mac poured herself a cup of coffee and then stared reflectively into it. Its murky black liquid seemed to mirror her state of mind.

Last night after Harm hung up she had cried herself to sleep. Then mind-numbing exhaustion must have kicked in, because she actually slept until 0400. Unfortunately, she didn’t feel any more rested than she had the previous evening. The depression was still there, broken only by occasional flashes of rage. Crying hadn’t helped anything, at least not that she could see. In fact, it only seemed to have made her wearier.

She managed to drag herself out of bed, shower and get dressed for work. No energy for a run this morning, and the thought of food had actually made her nauseous. Thank god for coffee.

This was her fourth cup this morning, and the caffeine was finally kicking in. She finally had enough energy to tackle some of the paperwork stacked up on her desk. Whenever she let her attention slide away from it for a day, it quickly grew. Longer than a day and it was a landslide she had to scramble to keep up with. She was just barely keeping her head above the flood level.

“How are you this morning, Colonel?” The Admiral’s voice broke into her reverie.

She jumped, fumbling with the coffee, but was unable to catch the mug as it fell. She smothered a “damn it” as the mug hit the edge of the counter, shattering, and spilling coffee everywhere. By some miracle, it missed her uniform for the most part, but did soak her shoes.

“Fine, sir,” she replied with a sigh as she ruefully surveyed the mess.

AJ shot her an apologetic smile as he handed her the paper towels. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s my own fault, sir. I should have been paying more attention.” Carefully, she picked up the bigger pieces of broken mug and tossed them into the garbage. She spread paper towels around to sop up the worst of the coffee and then wiped her shoes and stockings down.

AJ watched as she cleaned up the mess, noting her wan features and tired demeanor. She sure as hell didn’t look ‘fine’. And had she lost weight? He considered making another attempt to get her to open up, but rejected it. Rabb would be back today, and hopefully he’d talk to her. In fact, he’d just make sure they had a reason to talk.

“Commander Rabb should be here this afternoon, and I have a new case for the two of you. Stop by my office this morning and pick up the file. You can brief him.”

“Yes sir.” She noted his scrutiny, but ignored it.

“And Colonel?” Something in him wouldn’t let him just drop it. She just looked so….stressed.

“Yes sir?”

“If you need some time, I can assign this case to someone else.” He knew she wouldn’t take him up on the offer, but he needed to give her the option.

“Thank you, sir, but I’m fine.” It was nothing less than he expected, but he was still disappointed.

“Carry on then, Colonel. I’ll expect you in my office later.”

“Aye sir.”
 


0936 Local
Mac’s Office

 

“Colonel?”

With a gasp she swung around from staring out the window trancelike to face a hesitant Bud. For a moment she stared at him as if she had no idea who he was.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, ma’am. If you’d like me to come back later…” Bud’s voice trailed away in the face of her startled reaction.

“No, that’s okay, Bud. What can I do for you?” She forced a smile.

“Well, nothing really, ma’am. I was just wondering how you’re doing.” He paused, obviously fumbling for the right words. “I mean, this has been a tough week for you, and I…well…” Again he faded away, not wanting to irritate her, but wanting her to know he cared.

“I’m fine, Bud, really. I appreciate everything you did for me, but I’m fine.” Again she compelled herself to smile convincingly. “Honestly.”

He looked at her doubtfully, but didn’t push it. “I’m glad, ma’am. But both Harriet and I want you to know if you need anything, we’re here for you.”

For some reason Bud’s honest concern annoyed her, but she stifled that feeling quickly. Bud was a good friend. She couldn’t take her ill temper out on him. Besides, it would feel like she was kicking a puppy if she yelled at him. “Thank you, Bud. If I need anything, you and Harriet will be the first people I call.”

The smile on his face at her acknowledgement made her effort worthwhile. “Thank you ma’am. I’ll get out of your hair now.” And with a last smile, he left.

She dropped her head into her hands, wishing that the earth would swallow her up. First the Admiral, then Jen had dropped by to see if she ‘needed anything’; Harriet had been hovering all week in spite of the fact that Mac had been downright mean upon occasion, and now Bud. Who was next?

The answer to that came quickly with a knock on her door. “Mac?”

Sturgis stood in the doorway, his calm gaze quietly appraising.

Even as she began the ritual smile, she cursed herself for asking that question. “Hey Sturgis.”

“How are things?”

“Things are fine. Did you need something?” ‘Please God, let him just say no and go away.’

“Not really. I was just concerned about you.”

She stifled the urge to scream. “Thanks, Sturgis, but I’m fine.” ‘If I have to say that again I’m going to kick someone’s six.’

There was a short pause as she waited for his next question.

His dark eyes flicked over her, but still he said nothing.

She finally caved a little under his silent scrutiny. “OK, so I’m tired and grouchy. But I really am all right.”

Clearly wanting to respect her boundaries, Sturgis gave a small smile at her honesty. “Just so you know, Mac, people around here care about you.”

The irritation that had been building within her vanished. Sturgis was right. She gave him a shame-faced look and nodded. “I know, it’s just…everyone is walking on eggshells around me and asking me how I am. It’s driving me crazy. I don’t mean to be snappy…”

“Well, maybe if you really were ‘fine’, people wouldn’t ask you so much. You look tired and stressed, and no one has seen you eat anything.”

“Hold up, doc.” She cut him off. “I really am all right. It’s been stressful, but I’ll get through it. I promise.” Mentally she crossed her fingers, wincing internally at the lie. She’d actually been lying to her friends for a while, but this was the first time it had hit home so hard.

His gaze told her he recognized the lie, but would bow to her wishes. “All right then. But if you need anything…” He started backing out of her office.

“I know who to call.” She tossed him a casual salute as he left, closing the door behind him.

Once more she dropped her head onto her hands, feeling torn.

Sturgis was right, people cared about her. Her friends here had gotten her through some tough times, and she loved them for it. They were family, the only real family she had ever known. It wasn’t fair. Correction. She wasn’t being fair. If she wasn’t honest with her friends, she damn sure better be honest with herself.

But she couldn’t tell them everything. There was no way. Maybe if she’d said something when it happened…maybe if everything that she was wasn’t tied up in presenting a tough ‘Marine’ image to the world…maybe if it had never happened to her before…maybe if life would just once give her some kind of break…

Tears welled up, but she choked them down. Crying didn’t help and she despised self pity. There was only one thing to do. Suck it up. She’d gotten through bad times before, and she’d get through this. All it took was time, and being tough.

Unbidden, a thought came into her mind. There was one way to forget, even if it was only for a while. There was one thing that could make her forget, or at least not care.

A drink.

Firmly she clamped down on that thought before it was even finished. Don’t even go there. She had climbed out of that hole once before, and had no desire to fall back into it. The hole she was in was already deep enough.

Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and picked up the file the Admiral had given her earlier. She’d have to brief Harm on it, and it would be a good thing to talk about tonight. She could use it to stave off any personal questions on his agenda.

She bent her head to the task.
 


1545 Local

 

She’d managed to keep it together the rest of the day by firmly keeping her mind on her work. No thinking about anything, not even Harm or the evening with him, looming on the horizon. It must have worked well, because her friends seemed to have laid off. There were no more “Are you all right?” and “How are you?” questions, thank god. And the Admiral had gotten called over to the SecNav’s office, so he wasn’t making any inquiries either.

The phone rang, breaking her concentration. “Mackenzie.”

“Hey Mac. It’s me.” Harm’s normally cheerful voice sounded a little forlorn.

“Hi.” For once, Mac didn’t know what to say to him. She’d been subliminally dreading going to dinner with him all day, and now she was tongue-tied.

“Ummm…listen…about tonight…” His voice drew it out, it sounded like he was going to cancel. Her heart gave a lurch; she just wasn’t sure if it was disappointment or relief that caused it.

“Yes?”

“Well, I got tied up here and won’t be back till Sunday. Can I have a rain-check till then?” He sounded so apologetic that she almost smiled.

“Of course, Harm. Case giving you problems?” Actually, she was relieved. Two extra days to get it together before she faced him.

“Yeah. I need to interview 3 more people, so I’ll miss my ride out tomorrow. I’m really sorry, Mac.” And the hell of it was, he did sound sorry. “I really wanted to see you.”

“It’s okay, really. Just call when you can, the Admiral wants me to brief you on a new case.” She kept her tone brisk, but professionally friendly. He might as well get used to the change from now on. She had to put some distance between them, no matter how hard it was.

“Uh…well…can we still do dinner on Sunday?” He was obviously puzzled by her tone, and she didn’t blame him. Of late, they’d been very close. It was unlike her to be so ‘official’ when this was just a personal call.

“Why don’t you wait and see when you get back? Just call, and we’ll work it out.” Despite her intentions, she couldn’t just cut him off without any kind of explanation. This was going to be hard.

Satisfied for the moment, he agreed. “OK, I’ll call you Sunday.” She could hear the hesitation in his next question. “How are you, Mac?”

She managed a laugh. “I’m okay. Don’t worry about me. Take care, okay? See you on Sunday.”

As she hung up the phone the relief that she had felt dropped away. In its place came despair. Yes, she had 2 more days to get herself together before facing Harm, but what was she going to do with them?

The weekend stretched out before her interminably.

 

JAG Headquarters
1635 Local

 

There was a knock at her door. She looked up to see Tiner standing there, looking apprehensive and holding a large manila envelope in his hands. “Ma’am? Sorry to interrupt you, but this just arrived for you from the DC police.”

“Thank you, Tiner.” She reached out to take the proffered envelope, carefully remembering to smile.

“You’re welcome, ma’am.” He paused for a moment as if wanting to ask how she was, but thought better of it. Instead, he substituted, “Did you need anything else, ma’am?”

“No thank you, Tiner. Dismissed.” She deliberately kept her tone pleasant although her insides were shaking.

He gave a nod and turned to leave.

“And Tiner? Shut the door, please?” By some miracle, her voice didn’t waver.

“Aye ma’am.” He did as he was bid.

With trembling hands she opened the envelope and slid out the autopsy reports. She’d been waiting for the autopsy results for what seemed like forever. Closing her eyes, she said a quick prayer for strength and then opened the first one - the one that referred to Thomas C. Clark as the deceased. At least it didn’t say “victim”.

It was the standard report, one she had seen many times. She skipped over the photos and the main body of the report to the blood work. This time when her eyes closed, it was relief, not fear. He was not HIV positive, and had no sexually transmitted diseases.

She let out the breath she had been unconsciously holding. Thank you, God. Thank you for this one small favor. She let out a short bitter laugh. It felt almost stupid to thank God given the recent events of her life, but she did. It could have been so much worse. He could have had any number of diseases that she could have contracted.

Since she began her life of sobriety, one thing she prided herself on was facing facts. Even if she hadn’t been able to relate what happened to her to other people, she was much too familiar with rape victims and the possible physical ramifications that arose from the crime. It was this knowledge that had forced her to take a difficult and humiliating precaution.

She’d gone to a medical clinic in Baltimore the Saturday after it had happened. Using a false name and paying cash, she’d claimed that an acquaintance had forced her to have sex, and that she needed the “morning after” pill, or pregnancy prevention pill. The doctor in charge, a man, had asked her several questions about what had happened, seeming to doubt the veracity of her story.

From the man’s attitude, he thought she was some kind of prostitute. He’d insisted on a physical examination, which he carried out with a gruff thoroughness. Those kinds of exams were never fun, but this one had been a whole new kind of torture. The doctor’s disdain for her was apparent in his every gesture, and he did nothing to make the experience painless or comfortable.

The doctor had also wanted to run blood tests, but Mac had refused. She didn’t want any type of traceable evidence showing up later. Paranoid? Yes, but she was so afraid it would all come out; she couldn’t take any kind of chance.

Finally, the doctor had given her the prescription, along with a long lecture about safe sex. He had then handed her a bag filled with condoms. It took every bit of strength she had in her not to throw the bag at him and scream, but somehow she managed to force herself out the door without making a scene.

She’d taken several hot showers Saturday and Sunday, unable to feel clean. She knew it was an illogical reaction to her traumatic experience, but knowing that didn’t help. She still bathed as often as she could.

A morbid curiosity seized her. She flipped back through the report to the pictures and scanned through them quickly. They were stark, dehumanizing. In death, the man’s face was slack, no personality showing. She almost wouldn’t have recognized him from these pictures.

Except for that big hole in his chest. She stifled another laugh at the thought, aware that hysteria could break her down. Try as she might, she could summon no guilt at shooting the bastard. She’d shoot him again if she could. A rage came over her, so strong it shocked her. More than anything she wanted that bastard to pay and pay and pay…

“Mac?” It was Sturgis. “I knocked, but you didn’t answer.”

Quickly she flipped the report closed and shoved them both back into the envelope, struggling to control her unexpected anger. “Sorry, I was just looking at some reports. I didn’t hear you.”

“I’m just going to stop at Benzinger’s after work for dinner. Would you like to join me?” His eyes were guileless.

Repressing the urge to roll her eyes, she nevertheless shot him a knowing look. “Thanks Sturgis, but I’m going to work out, then just head home.”

“Come on, Mac. It will do you good to get out. And you look like you could use a good feeding. Where’s that legendary appetite Harm’s always talking about?”

The fury she’d been suppressing suddenly erupted. “I said no, Sturgis.” Her tone was sharp, biting, and totally unlike her. “What part of that didn’t you understand?” God, she was tired of everyone trying to “help” her. She just wanted to be left alone.

Instead of withdrawing in offense, his serene gaze never wavered. “I understood, Mac, I just want to make sure you eat something. You look like you’re about to blow away.”

Shame at her unfair attack engulfed her, drowning out the anger. “I’m sorry. I…” To her horror, her voice broke. She was on the verge of tears. Furiously she tried to choke them back.

“It’s okay, I understand. You’ve been under a lot of strain lately.” The words and tone were gentle.

She paused a moment, trying to gather herself. Mercifully, he let her.

“Thank you, Sturgis. But I really am tired. I appreciate it though.” This time she managed an apologetic smile.

“Mac…” His voice trailed away, recognizing he couldn’t force her, but wanting to help. “Just promise you’ll eat something, okay?”

“I promise.”

After he left, she rested her forehead in her hands, feeling torn apart. There were too many emotions running around inside her. Shame, anger, fear, disgust. The turmoil was just too much to bear, and she hoped that “Thomas Clark” rotted in hell for eternity.

 

Sarah Mackenzie’s Apartment
Georgetown
Saturday 0330 Local

 

In spite of her promise to Sturgis, Mac had found herself unable to stomach solid food. She settled for coffee. Lots of it. Of course this had not helped her insomnia, or rather it had helped it tremendously. Once again it was a sleepless night.

This time she gave up trying to sleep and sat watching television until the wee hours of the morning, the “Alien” series of movies with Sigorney Weaver. Now there was a heroine worth emulating. Nothing and no one, human or alien, got in her way. No matter what tried to hurt her, she mowed them down with a ferocity that was amazing.

The endless violence was oddly soothing, mesmerizing her. It was so easy to get lost in a world where there were bad aliens that needed to be killed in spectacular showy ways. The destruction of the “pods” where the alien larva grew until it latched onto a human host was equally fascinating. She thought about how great it would be if the “good guys” really could go around blasting the “bad guys” away like that.

It was in the middle of Alien Resurrection that her thoughts took a different turn. When Winona Ryder (the robot) asks Ripley (the clone), “How do you live, knowing what you are?”

The question haunted her, and the rest of the movie faded away for Mac as she contemplated that question. What was she, really? A woman who had never had a successful relationship in her entire life? Not even with her parents? Harm’s comment from a year ago had hurt, but only because it was true. Look, anyone who's ever been involved with Mac is either dead or feels like they are.

Ripley’s answer, “I don’t have a choice,” was not an answer she could accept. There was always a choice. The trouble was, sometimes choices came back and bit you in the ass.

Her choices in men always did. Eddie, John, Chris, Dalton. Even Mic. Choices she had made that had cost some of them their life, some their career. All of them had suffered in one way or another. Because of her.

Sometimes, it wasn’t your choice at all. Like Friday night had not been her choice. Well, in a way it had been; of the available options, she had chosen of the lesser of two evils. How could she let that monster violate a young innocent like Casey? Or allow Little AJ to be threatened?

She laughed aloud bitterly. Harm was the lucky one. For seven years he’d managed to avoid becoming entangled in her life, except as a friend. And even that had cost him a plane crash and several frigid hours in the Atlantic. If they had ever managed to become involved romantically he’d probably be dead too.

The movie ended, Sigorney and Winona looking serenely over the blue earth, looking forward to the future. She shut the television off, disgusted with such a sappy end to the series. The entire series had been about death and destruction, and now all was sweetness and light. The future looked bright. What bullshit.

Wearily she headed off to bed, hoping that somehow she’d manage to rest.

 

 

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