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Chapter 3

Hanging Rock Diner
1930 Local

 

After the call to Harm, Mac had shut her cell phone off and put it away in her purse. Then she just sat, staring at the cup of coffee in front of her. Despite her assurances to Harm, she was far from ‘over it’. All she could see were the girl’s tormented eyes as she was relating her story. And all she could remember was how it felt to be…to be…Damn it! She couldn’t even think the word, much less say it.

The aimless driving had been a kind of torture, where scenes of her own experience flashed over and over in her head, only interrupted by the girl’s tearful face, the sound of her voice as she described the scene.

With a start she realized how late it was. She’d been sitting there for almost 2 hours. It was time to head for home, hopefully to actually sleep. She got up, paid the bill, and headed for the parking lot.

Back in her car, she eased the corvette gently onto the interstate, the road stretching out before her, dark and inviting. There was little traffic on the road, and she unleashed the corvette, enjoying the feeling of power under her hands. If Harm ever found out that she loved the speed, the teasing would be merciless. As well as the accompanying lecture on safety and the wonder at her queasiness on tomcats.

‘The difference’, she thought to herself, ‘is I’m in control here; it’s my hands on the steering wheel, my foot on the accelerator. I’m not relying on someone else’s reflexes and knowledge. I know what I’m doing and where I am. Here the control is mine.’

She shifted into fifth gear, feeling the powerful engine rev and take off in a burst of speed. The dotted white line was mesmerizing as it flew by, an endless path before her, fading into the darkness behind her. A path to follow, to a known destination. The speedometer swung over to 110 mph, the danger pumping up her adrenaline. The car hugged the curves, dark scenery flashing by in an unseen blur.

Despite the velocity of the car, her mind drifted to Harm…damn him. She knew he was going to pull his ‘big brother’ routine, insisting that she talk to him. Somehow, someway, she was going to have to get it together and handle this case like the professional she was. Just because it was a…a…she forced herself to at least think the word…rape case, didn’t mean she couldn’t handle it. She’d handled them in the past, and she’d handle this one. Yes, her feelings had gotten away from her, but she’d make sure it didn’t happen again.

A sharp turn came up, demanding she pay attention to her driving. The corvette skidded a little, fishtailing, but held true. Once around the curve, she pushed the accelerator back to the floor.

Maybe she should tell him. Everything. Just get it over with. Intellectually she knew there was no shame in being a victim, but that’s not how she felt. Inside, she was ashamed, disgusted, humiliated, and even blaming herself on some level. How could she tell him? She couldn’t even think about it herself, much less talk to him…or anyone… about it.

It was something best kept locked in her soul; down as deep as she could bury it.

There was a rumble as the corvette veered onto the shoulder. Desperately she wrestled with the steering wheel, stepping on the brakes to slow it down. There was the sound of screeching tires and the sensation of spinning…and the car finally came to a stop.

Shaken, she unclamped her fingers from the steering wheel, not surprised to find them trembling. She was turned around the wrong way, and off the shoulder in the grass. The engine was still purring, and she managed to shut it off. Getting out of the car, she stood on unsteady legs, leaning on the door and drawing deep breaths. That had been a close one.

The crisp autumnal air should have been bracing, a relief to the fever of her scare, but a shiver ran through her. For once there was no sound of traffic, only the rustle of trees in the wind. She glanced up at the full moon, its bright illumination partly obscured by clouds. It looked like a storm was brewing.

For a moment all she wanted to do was cry, and she actually felt the tears well in her eyes, but she choked them back. Once again it was rage that washed over her. She thanked God for it; it helped make her strong.

For a long time, anger was the driving force in her life. Anger at her parents…at Eddie, for dying…at herself…and at life itself. With Harm’s help, and the rest of JAG which she had come to regard as family, she had been able to let go of that anger and reach for a happier life. One based on the idea that good things could happen, that she didn’t have to protect herself from everything and everyone.

It had only taken one incident to realize she’d been mistaken. Nothing in life is safe; the reality was she couldn’t let down her guard for an instant. The anger was back, stronger than ever. It was once again the anger of the helpless, doomed by whatever fate threw at them.

She drew some comfort from the fact that she had protected the helpless in this case. But the price…the price had been so high.

Again she wanted to cry, but she resolutely stomped on the tears. There was nothing to be gained by them. She closed her trembling hands into fists and took a deep breath, willing control back into her body. She would be strong. And she would be silent. No one would know the price she’d paid.

She got back into her car, turned the car around and headed for home. She kept the speed under 80 this time.

 

Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station
2045 Local

 

The events of the day had overwhelmed him. He sat, exhausted, on his couch with a full beer in his hand. At this very moment, he was numb.

After his discovery of the time difference on the tape, he had contacted Casey, the young girl that had been caught up in the robbery with Mac. He’d need some kind of corroboration if he was going to confront Mac with his suspicions. In fact, he’d need solid evidence. Casey was the only one who could give him that.

Initially reluctant, she’d finally agreed to see him after school tomorrow. He’d explained who he was and that this was not an official inquiry, but that Mac was his friend. He was to meet her at the park next to her school at 3:15.

After that, he’d alternated between bouts of rage and bouts of guilt. The feeling of nausea had never left him; hence the full beer in his hand.

Rage. A four letter word. A small word. It didn’t begin to encompass the feeling. Wrath…ire…fury. None of them described it. There really wasn’t a word that could begin to express exactly what he was feeling.

God knows she’d been through enough in her life. Alcoholic father, abandonment by her mother. Her own alcoholism, Dalton, Coster, Brumby. The list went on and on. Shamefacedly he added his own name to the list.

Son of a bitch. It was lucky that lousy fucking asshole was already dead, or he’d kill him with his bare hands. It took all his strength to put the beer down on the coffee table and not heave it across the room at the wall.

That stinking bastard had dared to touch Mac. His Mac. And she was HIS Mac, even if they hadn’t actually acknowledged it. God damn it…he wanted the satisfaction of slowly strangling the motherfucker to death, only after he’d beaten him to an inch of his life. And cut off his balls with a dull rusty knife.

He stood up and paced around the apartment, restless with anxiety and rage. What could he do about it now? There was no one to kill, or maim.

And where the hell was Mac now? She should have been home by now. She should have called him. He desperately wanted to know she was all right. At least, that she was home safe. She wouldn’t be all right, would she?

Abruptly, guilt kicked in. He should have been there. Somehow, someway, he should have prevented this; he just fucking well should have been there. Yes, he’d been away on a case. But he damn well should have been there for Mac.

And he hadn’t been. There was no denying it. He hadn’t been there for her. Just like he hadn’t been there for her after Bugme left, or when Chris Ragle showed up. He’d been busy, just like always.

Sitting back down on the couch, he rested his head in his hands. How was he going to face her? Knowing that it was his fault. He was never there when she needed him.

And God damn it, there was no way to “fix” this. It had already happened. Nothing he could say or do would make it all better, would soothe her wounds, remove her scars. Nothing.

And he’d waited too long to make his move. He’d been stalling, telling himself they needed time to be friends again, before they moved into a real relationship. Sure, they’d been taking baby-steps, dinners together, movies, etc. But he hadn’t told her how he felt about her. He hadn’t even kissed her.

She hadn’t even told him about it. She’d kept all the hurt…the pain…all to herself. Not sharing it with him…or anyone.

And now. He drew a shaky breath, rubbing his eyes. Now, he was going to have to be the bad guy. He was going to have to confront her. Make her deal with it.

Hopefully, she’d be able to put it behind her, lead a normal life, even after the rape.

And she would probably hate him for the rest of his life.

His heart ached. It more than ached, it was torn in half by his knowledge. He choked back a sob. “Mac,” he said aloud, “Mac, I’m so sorry, so terribly, terribly sorry.”

The phone rang. Wiping his eyes, he reached for it, trying to compose himself.

“Harm? I just wanted to let you know I’m home.” It was Mac. Thank you God.

“Are you all right?” He knew she wasn’t, but he had to ask.

“I’m fine. But you sound…strange. Are YOU all right?” God, she was asking him? Pure love washed through him for this woman. Whether she knew it or not, or whether he acknowledged it or not, she was everything to him.

“I’m fine, Mac. I’m just glad you’re home.”

There was an awkward silence as the conversation lapsed, each one keeping their secrets.

Finally he broke the stalemate. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Get some sleep.”

“I will. And you too. You don’t sound good, Flyboy.”

His heart tore a little more at her concern.

“Mac?” He tried to catch her before she hung up.

“Yes?”

“I…I…” He wanted to tell her he loved her, that he’d figured out what happened, that he needed her to be happy. But he couldn’t. It wasn’t the right time or place for any of that. “Just take care of yourself.”

“Harm, is everything all right? You’re worrying me.”

He laughed at the irony of all this. “Yeah. I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

Memorial Park
1500 Local

 

Harm stuck his hands in his pockets, wishing he’d thought to bring his gloves. As usual, D.C.’s weather had changed on a whim. Was it only yesterday that it had been 75 degrees and sunny? Today it was cold, overcast, and gloomy, matching his mood. He almost laughed at the ironic metaphor.

This morning he’d lied to Mac. True, he’d only done it because he had too, he couldn’t tell her about this meeting with Casey. He’d come up with some cock and bull story about interviewing a witness about the Macpherson case he was working on. He cringed mentally as he remembered looking into those trusting brown eyes and lying. He reminded himself he had no choice.

He felt awful. Not getting a wink of sleep all night long had not had a particularly good effect on him. He’d spent the night wrestling with his anger. Realizing that walking around in a brooding rage was counterproductive to rational thinking, he’d finally managed to get some control of it. Truthfully, it had more to do with the fact that he knew he needed to be there for Mac than for anything else. He was not going to be much use to her if he couldn’t manage his own anger.

The guilt was another matter entirely. He couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow he’d let her down. He should have been able to protect her. He should have been able to do something. On one level, he knew that it was irrational to think that way. On another, it didn’t matter. He felt how he felt. Even if he hadn’t said the words, she was his to protect.

And of course, there was Mac. A good portion of the night had been spent trying to decide how to handle this. Should he confront her? Should he try to get her to talk to him? How would she react when she realized he knew? He had a feeling it would not go down easily with her.

Should he tell anyone? The Admiral? In point of fact, he was duty bound to tell the Admiral. If what he suspected was true, Mac had no business being on this particular case. But Mac had never betrayed him like that. Even when she knew he was going after Diane’s killer, she had protected his career at great risk to her own. She’s never told the Admiral anything.

Maybe he should consult a professional. Maybe he should get Mac to consult a professional. Hell, maybe he should have his head examined for trying to handle this on his own.

The only thing he’d decided on was that he had to talk to Casey before he did anything. Hopefully, she’d be able to give him irrefutable evidence as to the truth. Until then, anything he had was basically supposition and intuition. If he confronted Mac, he’d need something solid. If he knew one thing about her, it was that she was stubborn. She’d never admit to anything unless cornered.

And even more hopefully, once he had the facts, the path to follow would become clear.

So he’d showered, shaved, and dressed for work, steeling himself to behave normally around Mac and not to show any undue concern around her. Not an easy task.

She’d been in her office when he’d arrived. As usual. Dumping his briefcase and cover in his office, he’d looked through the glass, trying to see if there was anything in her demeanor to give him a clue as to what she was feeling.

At first glance she’d looked as she usually did, calm, collected, in control. The very image of everything a marine could aspire to be.

A closer look revealed that she appeared wan and tired, with circles under her eyes that even expert make-up couldn’t hide. She’d never been fat, but she’d lost some weight. And there was an overall fragility that had never been there before. In fact, fragile was a word he’d never associated with Mac before now.

It had taken all his strength not to stride into her office and just take her in his arms. Not in passion, as he’d thought of many times, but to give comfort. If there was anything in the world he wanted, it was to take that wounded look away from her…to give her back what was taken from her.

But he couldn’t.

Instead, he treated her as if it was just another day, glossing over the previous day’s incident. She’d obviously been surprised by his apparent lack of righteous indignation about her lapse, but just as obviously, she’d been relieved.

He’d briefed her on the rest of the meeting with Gloria Masters, wrapping it up as quickly as possible, not going into many details. Then he’d pled a busy morning coping with the Macpherson case, including an afternoon interview, and they’d agreed to have dinner at his place to discuss strategy.

So here he was, sitting at a picnic table, waiting to question a teenager about Mac. He was investigating his…his….what? Best friend? She was that, of course, but she was so much more. He rubbed a weary hand over his eyes. Damn it, why hadn’t he told her before now?

“Commander Rabb?” A soft voice interrupted his tortured thoughts.

He rose automatically. “Casey?”

At her nod, he gestured for her to sit down as he resumed his seat. “Thanks for coming.”

She was a young pretty brunette, conservatively dressed for a teenager. He hoped she was exactly what she looked like-a nice girl that didn’t lie easily. He noticed her shiver.
“Are you cold? We can go over to the McDonald’s, if you want. It would get us out of the cold.”

“No, that’s all right. I’m not sure what I can tell you anyway. I told the police everything I know.” Her eyes shifted away from his as she spoke.

The band around his heart tightened another notch. Despite everything, he’d held out a desperate hope that he was wrong and that Casey would allay his fears. It didn’t look like that was going to happen.

“I appreciate you talking to me, Casey. I wanted to talk to you about the Colonel.” He shot his best smile at her, hoping to gain her confidence.

She didn’t smile back. “The Colonel? You mean Mac?” Her concern was immediate.

At his nod, she asked, “Is she okay?”

He zeroed in on the opening. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. The inexperienced girl wouldn’t have a chance with him questioning her. “Why do you ask? Is there some reason she wouldn’t be?”

Casey looked down and flushed. “Of course not. I just…I mean…she was very nice to me and I…um…just want her to be okay.”

Harm hesitated deliberately, prolonging the moment. “Well, Casey, that’s why I wanted to talk to her. I don’t think she’s okay.”

Casey’s head came up with a snap. “What’s wrong?”

Again Harm paused, increasing the young girl’s anxiety. “Well, I don’t want to say too much, but she’s just not acting like herself. She’s not sleeping, and she’s not feeling well.”

“Well, it’s no wonder. Look what she went through!” Her voice rose indignantly, but she caught herself quickly. “I mean…she protected me and the little boy. And then she had to shoot those men. It’s no wonder she’s having a hard time dealing with it.”

He softened his tone, hoping to draw her out. The girl was never going to be a good prevaricator. “She’s a marine, Casey. She’s had to shoot people before. And it’s her job to protect people, she’s trained for it for years.”

“Not for that! No one is trained for that!” She practically yelled, and then fell silent.

“For what, Casey?” He kept his tone gentle, coaxing.

He could see her trying to back peddle, stammering. “For…for…well…that situation. She wasn’t prepared for it, that’s all.”

He waited until she calmed a little, and then looked her in the eyes. “Casey, the only way to help a person is to tell the truth. Even when the truth is painful.”

“I know…but…I…” She started to cry then. “I can’t. She asked me not to. I promised her.”

Reaching out, he laid a soothing hand on her shoulder. “If you want to help Mac, tell me the truth, Casey. I can’t help her unless I know the truth. And I want to help her so badly.”

She drew a shaky breath and then looked up at him. “I just want her to be okay. She did so much for me that night. More than anyone ever did for me.”

Her sincerity touched him, and he answered in kind. “I know. She’s done more for me than anyone has ever done, too. That’s why I need to help her.”

“Okay.” Another shaky breath, then she started. “That night, those men broke in. Do you know what happened?”

He gave a short nod as he answered. “Only what was in the police reports.”

“Well, I…we…left some things out. When we got to the back, the men wanted to…to…” She broke off.

He helped her out. “To force themselves on you?” Why, he wondered to himself, is the word so hard to say?

She nodded and continued in a choked voice. “They kept saying things, awful things, about what they wanted. And one of them, the older one, started touching Mac. The young one laughed a lot, but he held the gun on us. The other one, the one touching Mac, he was groping her all over. But the little boy, he started crying. Then he came towards me, but she stopped him. She told him…she said that he shouldn’t bother with a young girl like me. That what he really wanted was a more experienced woman.”

The girl sobbed, breaking down, but got herself under control. It was obvious now, that this had eaten at her as well as Mac.

Harm was getting nauseous again, but he forced himself to listen, to project calm. It was if he had stepped outside himself and was observing the scene from a distance.

“Then she said, if they would leave me alone, she’d do whatever they wanted. The guy, he went over and slapped her. I don’t know why, maybe it was a test or something. The little boy started screaming then. The guy told her to shut the brat up. Somehow, she got the little boy to stop crying and handed him to me. Then she asked the guy to not do anything in front of the little boy.

He just laughed and said he didn’t need an audience to get off. Then he took her into the office and shut the door. They were there for a long time. The young one, with the gun, he just kept grinning at me, but he kept his distance. He was like…listening at the door…but there was no sound.

Until the gunshot. When that happened, he opened the door and ran in. There was another gunshot. Then nothing.

I didn’t know what to do, so I…I…just held on to the little boy and stayed in the corner. I should have run away…or at least to check…but I was so scared. I was just frozen.”
Harm nodded understandingly.

“Then finally, I don’t know how long it was, Mac came out. She…her hands were shaking, but she seemed so calm. She said it would be easier not to tell everything that happened, easier for her and easier for me. The little boy, he grabbed on to her and wouldn’t let go.”

“I just said okay. I couldn’t argue, not after what she did. She saved me. I mean, I’ve never…you know…been with anyone. And she did that…just so…well…to protect me and the little boy. I just wanted her to be okay, I wanted to help anyway I could. If not telling helped, I promised I wouldn’t.”

She broke down completely then, sobbing her heart out.

Harm shook himself out of his stupor and reached across the table to take her hand. “It will be okay, Casey. I promise. I’m going to help her.”

The only problem was he didn’t know how he was going to help. For once, knowing the truth hadn’t made the path any clearer.

 

Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station
1920 Local

 

Despite his initial awkwardness with Mac, the dinner was going smoothly. He wasn’t sure how he had accomplished it, but she didn’t seem to suspect anything was wrong. Thank God. Because if she asked him, he didn’t know what he’d say.

The afternoon meeting with Casey over, he’d gone straight back to his apartment. The last thing he remembered was comforting Casey, and then he was sitting in his apartment. He didn’t remember the drive at all, a mixture of emotions-anger, guilt, and anxiety-had overwhelmed him. Then he’d just sat there, trying to figure out what to do.

And he hadn’t come up with anything.

It wasn’t until Mac knocked on the door that he realized he hadn’t done a thing about preparing dinner. No grocery shopping, much less planning a menu. Shit. Oh well, that was what delivery was for. Mac liked Chinese, fortunately.

She’d laughed off his lack of preparation with aplomb, and actually seemed more like herself, if a little distant. When she’d complained of the cold, he’d grabbed the afghan off his couch and covered her shoulders. Immediately he could feel her tense under his fingers, and he backed off without saying anything, understanding the reaction now.

During the dinner she hadn’t said much, but had nodded agreeably as he talked. He didn’t even know what he was saying; he was too busy studying her. He noted again the shadows in her eyes, the way they never smiled the way they used to. He noted the loss of weight, and the sadness that never quite left her.

And each time he saw these changes in her, another piece of his heart broke. Someone had hurt her. The one person in the world who never seemed to catch a break, and who never deserved to be hurt at all. He squelched the flash of rage that inevitably followed that line of thought.

“Harm?”

Startled out of his reverie, he realized he’d been staring at her. God knows for how long. “Yeah?”

“Why are you staring at me like that? What’s wrong? You seem so…I don’t know…preoccupied.” It was the warm concern in her dark glance that did him in. Here was the opening he’d been looking for, but he couldn’t do it. He just didn’t know how to start.

“Nothing’s wrong, I’m just tired.” He sounded insincere, even to himself.

“Are you sure?” There was doubt in her voice this time.

At his nod, she continued, “If you’re tired, we can discuss the case tomorrow morning at work. It’s not that pressing.”

Somehow he couldn’t let her leave. He was going to have to get through this, and just talk to her. Tell her he knew. And somehow…somehow…get her to let him help. “No, it’s okay. I actually want to get to it. Let’s start, okay?”

Together they rose from the table. He made quick work of clearing off the cartons of food while she pulled out the files she had brought with her. It was a scene that had taken place many times in his apartment, and somehow it calmed him. She was here, and somehow, he would talk to her.

Settling on the couch near her, he opened his mouth to ask a question about the case when her cell phone rang.

Shooting him an apologetic glance, she answered her phone. “Hello.”

A surprised look crossed her face and she shot a wary glance at him as she continued her conversation. “Hey, this is a surprise. How are you doing?” Her voice was just a little too bright, a little too happy.

She paused, listening. “No, I’m fine. No problems.”

It was then he knew. He didn’t know how, but he knew. It was Casey. His stomach clenched.

There was another pause, longer this time, as she listened. Her entire body visibly tensed, and she turned away from him. “I see.”

Her fingers whitened against the cell phone as she listened. “No, it’s okay, Casey. Don’t worry about it. You did the right thing.” There was a flatness to her voice as she reassured her. “No, I haven’t talked to him yet, but I will. Thanks, Casey. I’ll talk to you soon.”

Slowly she flipped the phone closed and put it in her purse. She still didn’t look at him.

He didn’t know what to say. “Mac…”

She stood up abruptly. “I’ve got to go.” She ran towards the door, her purse still clutched in her hand.

She was almost to the door when he caught her, grabbing her arm to stop her. “Mac, listen to me…”

“NO! I can’t!” She wrenched her arm away and tried to open the door, but he put a hand on it.

“Mac, let’s just talk about it.” Damn it, he should have talked to her earlier.

She pulled ineffectually at the blocked door. “No! If I wanted to talk about it, I would have! Just let me go!” The agony in her voice tore at his heart, but he knew he couldn’t let her leave. Not like this.

“Mac, just calm down for a minute. Please, let’s talk.” He stood behind her, leaning on the door as he pled his case. “I want to help. That’s all.”

She turned suddenly to face him, furious. “If I wanted your help, I’d have asked for it! Just let me go!” And she pushed him with all her strength.

Despite the fact he had at least 80 pounds on her, she might have accomplished her goal of freedom if he hadn’t been braced to hold the door. She was damn strong. As it was, she rocked him back a little, but not enough to get through the door.

Instead of blocking the door again, he grabbed her arms, intending only to stop her and force her to calm down. He was completely unprepared when she screamed “NO! Don’t touch me!” and punched him in the stomach.

He managed to fall against the door as he doubled over, bracing himself against it and gasping for air. He’d forgotten she could box.

She ran, desperate to get away. She pressed herself into the corner of the living room.

For a few moments, there was no sound except for Harm’s gasps as he tried to regain his breath. He struggled to his feet, looking for her. When he saw her, huddled in the corner, her face against her knees, he almost cried.

“Mac.” He approached her cautiously, not wanting her to bolt again. “Mac, honey…” The endearment slipped out unconsciously.

It was then the sobbing started. Great anguished sobs. “Why, Harm?” He could barely make out what she was saying. “Why did you do this? I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t want anyone to know.”

More than anything he wanted to hold her, but he knew he couldn’t. “I could see something was wrong, Mac. You wouldn’t say anything, but I could see.”

The sobs lessened marginally. “Did it never occur to you to respect my privacy? To let me handle things my own way?”

“Frankly, no. Not this. And you weren’t handling it, you were ignoring it. And it’s eating you up inside.” He held out a hand, praying this time she would take it. “Come on, Mac. Come sit down on the couch.”

She didn’t move. “Please Harm. Just let me go. I don’t want to talk about it. I can’t even look at you right now.”

Careful not to touch her, he crouched down next to her. “Mac, you don’t have to tell me what happened. Just come with me. Please.”

Something in his voice must have gotten to her, because she pushed herself up and stood leaning against the wall. But she still wouldn’t look at him.

“I promise, I won’t touch you without your permission. And I won’t make you talk about it. It just has to be acknowledged for now. We’ll deal with everything else later.”

She nodded and wiped her eyes. Still not meeting his steady gaze, she walked around him and curled up on the couch, clutching a pillow to her. “I’m sorry I hit you.”

He managed a laugh, trying to lighten the mood a little. “You pack quite a wollop, Marine.” Sitting down on the other end of the couch, he tried to meet her eyes, but she wouldn’t look at him.

She didn’t smile or laugh back. The sobs started again. “It’s just…when you grabbed me…I…I…”

“Shhhh…it’s okay. I know, I shouldn’t have grabbed you. I understand.” Waiting while she continued to cry was killing him, but he didn’t know what else to do. Finally, inspiration struck. “Mac, just try to calm down, okay? I’ll be back in a minute; I’m just going to make some tea.”

She nodded, but shot a quick glance at the door as if still contemplating escape.

“Don’t, Mac. Please, don’t run. Just rest here for a minute…catch your breath. Please?”

She nodded again and covered her face with her hands, trying to stifle the tears. Knowing he couldn’t touch her or comfort her was killing him. He left to make the tea, needing a moment to gather himself together.

He watched her as he made the tea, both to make sure she didn’t run and just because he had to for his own sanity.

When he returned, he set the tea on the table beside her, careful to give her space, and then settled in the other end of the couch. “Mac, why didn’t you say anything?”

She flinched when he spoke, then picked up the tea. Sipping it, then blowing on it to cool it in an obvious effort to stall. “I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to talk about it; I didn’t want anyone to know.” Her hands started to shake, spilling the tea, and she quickly set it back down. “It was bad enough that it happened. I couldn’t…I didn’t…I just didn’t want anyone to know.” More tears welled up, but at least she didn’t break down this time.

“It’s nothing you have to hide, honey.” The endearment slipped out again, but if she noticed it she didn’t react. “You did nothing wrong or to be ashamed of.”

“It’s so damn easy for you to say that, isn’t it?” The anger was back, but this time he was a little relieved to see it. Anything was better than that horrible despair. “But you don’t know, you have no idea…It’s my choice, not yours. You had no right to go behind my back on this, Harm. No right at all.”

“Yes, I did.” His calm reply infuriated her more, and she finally met his gaze with her angry one.

“You did not! It’s my life and my choice. There was no need for anyone to know. The guy is dead, he can’t hurt anyone else.”

“You’re forgetting one thing.”

“And what’s that?” Her glare was not back to its former intensity, but it was close.

“My right as someone who cares about you, worries about you. There was something wrong, and I had to know what it was to help.”

That stopped her cold. Her eyes dropped from his, but he continued anyway. “You would do the same, Mac. You know you would.” Desperately he wanted to say the words-I love you-but this was the wrong time. But he could at least hint. “You know what you mean to me.”

There was no reply. She just looked down.

“Regardless of anything else, Mac, we’re best friends. And I want, no, need to be there for you. The same as you would for me.” He let that sink in for a minute, then reached out a hand to her again. “Let me be there for you, honey. Trust me.”

She looked at his hand, wanting so badly to take it, but she couldn’t. “I…I can’t.”

Stubbornly he kept his hand out. “Yes, you can. You’re strong, and you can trust me. You know it.”

Hesitating, shaking, her own hand slowly went to grasp his. She hesitated, and he saw the fear in her eyes.

He didn’t back down. “It’s all right to be scared. But you can still do it, Sarah.”

Finally…still shaking…her hand took his. Smiling gently at her, he said, “See? That wasn’t bad, was it?” Silently he prayed for the knowledge he needed to help her.

Smiling back with the tears still in her eyes, she shook her head.

“Then come the rest of the way, honey. Let me just hold you. It’ll be all right, honestly.” Pulling gently at her hand, he coaxed her across the couch so that she came to him.

She tensed when he put his arms around her, but he was stubborn, holding her unyielding body gently.

It was then she realized she had reached a safe haven. It was Harm, someone she could trust. Turning abruptly to him, she wrapped her arms around his neck and held on tightly.

She felt so small and fragile in his arms, but the surge of emotion left him speechless. Finally, she’d trusted him. He hugged her just as tightly, thanking God for small miracles such as this.

Her face was buried in his neck, he could feel the warm tears falling, breaking his already broken heart into little pieces. “Oh Harm,” she whispered brokenly, “What am I going to do?”

Stroking her hair, he rocked her gently, just grateful for the opportunity to hold her. “For right now, just this, honey. We’ll make it through this together, I promise.”

 

North of Union Station
Harm’s Apartment
2345 Local

 

He was holding her. They hadn’t spoken much after the initial breakthrough, just occasional whispers of reassurance from him while she cried. Now she was finally asleep. She lay against his chest, his cheek resting on her hair. There was a little catch in her breathing every once in a while, as if she was still crying.

He alternated between thanking God that she’d finally told him, and being angry at God for letting something so awful happen to her. Somehow, someway, he was going to get her through it. This time, he was going to be there for her. His heart literally hurt. His beautiful, feisty marine had been brutalized. His own tears welled up, but he choked them back, not wanting to wake her.

Carefully, gently, he slid an arm under her legs and stood up with her, carrying her. He wasn’t going to let her leave tonight, so there was no point in waking her. He carried her to the bed and laid her down, then spread a blanket over her after taking off her shoes.

Toeing off his own shoes, he lay down next to her, fully clothed. Then he just looked at her.

Her tear-stained face was pale, but achingly beautiful to him. One more time he’d cursed himself for never telling her how he felt…for allowing duty, friendship, and yes-fear-to interfere with what was the best relationship of his life. And now, he couldn’t tell her. Now was definitely not the time to rock the boat with declarations of love.

She’d finally talked to him, thank God, but what now? Tenderly he brushed the hair out of her face as he considered it.

First things first. She had to resign from their rape case. She was a great attorney, but he had to make her see that she was compromising their client. There was no way she could remain objective. And even if she could, the appearance of impropriety would be too great.

That is, of course, if she told the Admiral. Deep in his heart, he knew he could never betray her confidence, no matter what the cost to his career. But surely he could make her see that the Admiral needed to know, if only to keep her off similar type cases while she received counseling.

And that opened up a whole new can of worms. In order for her to receive counseling, she would have to put the rape on record. She would never agree to that. Well, she could receive counseling “off the record”, but she’d still have to tell the Admiral.

His mind still churning, he finally fell into an exhausted sleep himself.

 

0620 Local

 

He woke to find her gazing at him, her soft brown eyes conveying an odd combination of wistfulness and apprehension that she hid immediately by looking away from him.

They were close together, facing each other, but not touching. Except for her hand, which he held in his. He was pleased to note that she didn’t pull away immediately, even if she did have a difficult time meeting his eyes.

“Good morning.” He kept his voice low, not wanting to break the intimate mood.

“Morning.” Stubbornly, she still didn’t look at him as she mumbled her response, obviously nervous.

“How about some coffee?” Keep things light, he told himself. Let her breathe.

She nodded silently, but he noted the easing of tension in her shoulders.

“Ok then, let me use the facilities. Then I’ve got an extra toothbrush you can use, help yourself to anything in the bathroom you need- shower, etc. I’ll be making breakfast.”

She started to speak then, “Harm…”

He cut the apology he knew was coming, laying a finger on her lips. “I’ve got a policy. No apologies or any serious discussions before coffee. Okay?” He breathed a sigh of relief as she smiled at him.

He took care of business in the bathroom, then washed up and brushed his teeth, laying out a new toothbrush for her to use. Then he went back to the bedroom, grabbed 2 fresh shirts, one for him, and one for her which he laid on the bed next to her. “Try this if you want a clean shirt, and the bathroom’s all yours.” Then he headed for the kitchen without waiting for an answer.

As he set up the coffeemaker to brew, he called the office and left a message that they had a witness to interview and would be in later, then set about making a couple of omelets.

He was pouring the coffee when she came out, wearing his T-shirt and her jeans from the previous night. In spite of her hesitation, she looked better, more rested. Handing her a cup, he gestured to the table where breakfast waited. “Have a seat.”

She looked as if she wanted to argue, then acquiesced, sitting at the table. But she didn’t eat. Instead she sipped the coffee.

He didn’t eat either. “We need to talk, Mac, decide what we’re going to do.”

“What do you mean?” There was something in her tone that worried him, but he ignored it. He had a lot of things to discuss with her.

“I called the office and told them we’d be late, we were interviewing a client.”

“You did?” Her voice was decidedly stiffer now, but he pushed on, wanting to make his point.

“Yeah, I did. I wanted to talk before we went in.”

Her silence made him nervous, but he decided to continue anyway. “I want to talk to you about this case, I think you should ask the Admiral to take you off it. It’s too hard for you, Mac. You know it.”

“And what would I tell the Admiral?” The glint in her eye suggested he was treading in dangerous territory, but he couldn’t stop now. He had to make her see, to get things fixed. He took a deep breath and plunged in.

“The truth.” Before she could object, he rushed on, “Mac, he’s got to know. He can arrange for you to have a little time off, to get some counseling, and take the easy way for a while. You need to give yourself some time, and get some help.”

He broke off, suddenly aware that she was blazingly angry.

“I see.” The fury vibrated in her low voice. “And if I don’t want to do this? Will you tell the Admiral?”

Unsure of his footing, he didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t prepared for her anger, it struck him as coming out of left field.

She raised her voice. “So, you’ve got it all figured out, right? How to help poor Mac? You’re going to fix it, make everything okay? I just do what you say…be a good girl…and it will be all right?”

Pushing away from the table, she stood up. “This is why I didn’t tell you in the first place! You can’t fix it! And look, you’re already treating me like I don’t have a brain. Like I can’t make a decision on my own! Damn it, Harm, if I couldn’t face you knowing, how can I face the Admiral? And everybody else? How am I going to maintain any type of command when all people will see is what you see? Poor Mac, she couldn’t protect herself!”

Angrily she paced back and forth in front of him. “Oh yes, the poor little victim! Or even worse, I had it coming! I can’t do that, Harm! I can’t surrender my life to this … this … rape! I’m a Lieutenant Colonel in the marines; I can’t have people looking at me like that! You know as well as I do that appearances…image is important.”

“Mac, please, I was only trying…”

Still furious, she cut him off. “I know, only trying to help! That’s the point! You didn’t even consider what I might want! YOU just decided what YOU think is best! You didn’t even consider that I might have an opinion, or discuss it with me. Well, I’ve got to do what I think is best, even if you don’t agree!”

It hit him then, what she was angry about. Control. She needed control. The rape was out of her control, and now she needed to maintain it desperately. And he had stepped all over that need. With the best of intentions, but still, he’d stepped on it. “I’m sorry.” For once in his life, he knew what to say to her to diffuse her anger.

She dropped back into her chair in shock, staring at him. “What?”

He smiled gently at her incredulous stare. “You’re right. I should have talked to you about it. I should have asked you what you wanted to do. I’m sorry.”

He’d taken the wind right out of her sails. Harm never apologized. “You…I…”

He answered her stutter. “Mac, you need to make the decisions about what happens from here. I understand that. Can we just discuss it? Without you assuming I’m making decisions for you? I promise to listen, if you will.”

“Okay, but I’m not telling anyone about this.” She was adamant on that point. “And I’m not dropping out of this case.” Crossing her arms, she glowered fiercely at him, not willing to bend on these points.

In spite of the fact her anger was directed at him, he was relieved to see it. Anything was better than that broken despair. “Just hear me out, please?” He wasn’t above pleading if it worked.

She gave a short nod, looking unconvinced.

“Whatever you decide, I’m with you.” He took a deep breath, desperate to convince her of his sincerity. “You’ve got to know that, up front. I lo-care about you,”-He looked her right in the eye, hoping she didn’t catch his slip- "and I’m not about to turn around and walk away. Got that?”

She softened then, and looked apologetic. “I know. And as hard as it was, I’m glad you know what happened.” Uncrossing her arms, she looked down as she continued. “I haven’t slept like that since it happened.”

He smiled at her, feeling like he was making another breakthrough. At least he’d helped a little. “Look Mac, try to see this as if it had happened to someone else…a client. Wouldn’t you advise them to get help?”

“But-”

“Wouldn’t you?” He was unyielding.

Looking mutinous, she nodded.

“And you’d be right.” He smiled to take the sting out of his words. “Because it is a traumatic experience, one that causes long-lasting pain. And I don’t want that for you, Mac. I want…need you to be happy and healthy. I’m looking for the future.”

Warily, she gazed at him, knowing instinctively what he meant even if she wasn’t willing to acknowledge it. “Harm…I can’t…I mean…”

One more time he cut her off, determined to get it out. “I know you can’t. But you will, in the future, if you get help.” He hesitated, then decided the hell with it. She needed to know how he felt. “We were moving towards something…something great. You know it, even if we didn’t say it. I don’t want to lose that, or you. Please Mac, get some counseling.”

He reached out and took her hand. “Do it for you first, Sarah, do it for me…us. Just do it.” The care in his blue eyes made tears come, but she blinked them back.

She looked down at his hand holding hers, and gripped back tightly. “Okay,” she whispered. “But I don’t know what will happen.” Fear compelled the next statement. “I’m not sure…I mean…I’m screwed up, Harm. I’m not good for anybody.”

His fierce response made her flinch a little. “Don’t say that. You’re too good for anybody, that’s all.” Seeing her flinch, he softened his tone, but not the intensity of his message.
“That attitude is part of the reason you need to talk to someone, Mac. Just know I’m waiting, Sarah, as long as it takes.” Her gaze came up to meet his, her eyes wet with unshed tears.

Reluctant to break the tender moment, he nevertheless pushed through with his advantage. “Let me tell the Admiral. You don’t have to discuss it with him.”

She pulled her hand away abruptly. “No.” It was a single, uncompromising syllable.

“I can tell him off the record. I have a plan. No one else has to know.” Somehow, he had to convince her.

“No.”

“Mac, he cares about you. He respects you, and he’ll help. You know it.” Surely she must be aware of that.

“He’ll think I can’t do my job.”

“He’s never thought that before, Mac, and he won’t think it now. He’ll understand that you’re under tremendous stress and give you a break, but he would never think less of you for it.”

“He’ll take me off this case! He’ll give me paperwork! Damn it, I can still do my job!” Adamant, she wasn’t backing down.

Hating himself for doing it, he was nonetheless forthright with her. “Can you honestly say that, Mac? What if we found out today that our client was guilty? Could you still defend him with everything you have in you?”

For a moment he though she was going to continue to argue, but her shoulders slumped in defeat. But she didn’t answer.

Once more he pressed his advantage, but softened it some. “Sweetheart, give yourself a break. You have nothing to prove, to me or to the Admiral. You’ve already proved it a hundred times over.”

Shuddering, she choked back a sob. “I’m scared, Harm.” God, he hated it when she cried. “I’m scared if I let go of things, I won’t get them back. I won’t be me anymore.”

Abruptly he stood up and pulled her into his arms. “It’s okay to be scared, like I said last night. But when you are, just hold on to me. I won’t let you fall.”

 

JAG Headquarters
Thursday
1120 Local

 

Harm was standing nervously outside the Admiral’s door, hoping his plan would work.

He was pretty sure it would, but if it backfired, it would hurt Mac. When the expected “Enter” sounded, he took a deep breath and strode in to stand at attention in front of the Admiral’s desk after closing the door.

“Have a seat, Commander.” AJ looked over his glasses at him. “What did you need?”

Harm sat down, taking another deep breath to fortify himself. “Thank you, sir.”

There was a short pause as Harm tried to think of the best way to start, but AJ beat him to the punch. “Is everything all right?” Given Harm’s unusual hesitation, he figured this was about Mac.

No, Harm wanted to shout. Everything is definitely not all right. In fact it’s screwed all to hell. Of course, he didn’t say that. “Not exactly, air.”

“What’s the problem?” AJ didn’t like the way this was starting out. It didn’t bode well.

Instead of answering the question directly, Harm sidestepped. “Actually, sir, I need your advice on a personal matter.”

“Go ahead.” AJ noted the evasion, more convinced than ever that this was regarding Mac.

“Uh…well Sir…I have a friend and she’s had some trouble recently. A lot of trouble, actually, and I’m not sure how to help. I wondered if you could make a suggestion or two.” Harm watched his CO’s face carefully to see if he picked up on his doubletalk.

“That sounds serious, Commander. What kind of trouble?” Thank you God, the Admiral got it.

“Well, sir, she was in a convenience store that was robbed, but there was more to it than she led the police to believe.” Harm paused, finding it difficult to continue. He could only imagine how hard it would have been for Mac.

AJ looked concerned. “Go on.”

“She…well, Sir…it seems that she was…well…there was a rape.” His stomach still twisted at the thought.

Sick comprehension dawned on AJ’s face. This explained so much of Mac’s behavior. “Rape?” Despite his attempt to remain calm, the horror in his tone was unmistakable. “She was raped?”

Harm nodded and gave him more details. “It seems that the men were threatening both my friend and a young girl. There was also a toddler present. My friend convinced the men to leave the girl and the toddler alone by promising not to fight them. She…” His voice broke, but he forced himself to continue. “She didn’t want anyone to know, but she’s having a difficult time dealing with it.”

AJ took off his glasses, throwing them on the desk. “I would imagine she is.” Rubbing his eyes, he sounded strained. “Damn it.” It figured Mac would sacrifice herself to protect others. He gave Harm a meaningful glare. “The SOB responsible is dead already, isn’t he?”

Harm knew exactly how he felt. “Yes sir. I only wish I could get my hands on him. Death is too easy for him.” The two men stared at each other, both in protective mode. And, quite frankly, wanting revenge. Finally AJ looked away, taking a deep breath to get himself under control.

Harm gave the admiral a chance to compose himself before continuing, but AJ beat him to the punch. “So why didn’t…your friend report this to the police? Or to…anyone?” What he meant was, why didn’t she come to me?

“She doesn’t want anyone to know. Somehow, she sees this as a humiliation…she’s afraid she’ll be viewed as weak, or worse. And she feels she’d lose respect in the workplace.”

Incredulous, AJ stared at him. “What? Doesn’t she know that I…uh…I mean…most people…her boss would just understand? I’m sure he wouldn’t think less of her! She should have known she could have come to me…him. He would have understood.” Damn it, this doubletalk was stupid. Stupid, but necessary, if he was not to know officially about the incident. “I’m sure he would have supported her, made sure she was helped.”

“I know, sir. I told her that”. Knowing the Admiral as well as he did, Harm had figured he’d be upset that Mac hadn’t come to him. “But she’s defensive. And angry. She’s not thinking too clearly about all this, if you know what I mean.” He paused again, and then let the Admiral know it wasn’t just him that Mac wanted left out. “She didn’t even want to tell me, but I did some investigating and found out. She wasn’t happy with me for that.”

Now there was a longer pause as AJ considered everything Harm had told him. Grimly he pressed for more information.

“Is she going to get help? I mean, counseling?” The deep concern in AJ’s voice touched Harm, although it didn’t surprise him.

“She’s agreed to it, but it took some convincing. We just have to find someone now, someone she can trust.” In fact, Harm thought this would be difficult. It was not easy to find a counselor, not one you could feel comfortable with.

AJ flipped through his rolodex and withdrew a card. Handing it to Harm, he said, “Try this one. I’ve known her for several years, and she’s reliable and discreet.”

Grateful, Harm took the card. “How do you know her, sir?” He spoke before he thought, not realizing he might be asking for information he wasn’t entitled to.

AJ hesitated, then answered truthfully. “She helped me through some rough spots when I came back from Vietnam. You can tell that to your friend, if it helps. We all need help sometimes.”

Harm decided not to comment, it wasn’t his business. “Thank you, sir.” One more thing had to be covered. He was sure the admiral would think of it after everything had sunk in, but he might as well bring it up now. “Sir? One more thing about my friend…”

“Yes?” AJ sounded like he wanted to yell, but was forcibly maintaining his composure.

“Well, sir, she’s been working too hard to try to escape from everything. In fact, although she won’t say so, she’s actually working on something now that’s difficult for her.” He waited for the Admiral to realize what he meant.

AJ shut his eyes as the light dawned. The rape case. “I understand. Tell her to take care of herself, first. Work comes second to her health and peace of mind.” Damn it, he couldn’t believe this, didn’t want to believe it. “Anything else?”

“No sir.” Harm rose to leave, but the Admiral stopped him.

“Is the Colonel coming in today?” AJ was all business again.

“Yes Sir. She should be in shortly.”

“Have her report to me when she gets in. Dismissed”.

“Aye, sir.”

As Harm left the Admiral’s office, he heard a muttered “God DAMN it.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Back in his office, Harm breathed a sigh of relief. He had never doubted the Admiral’s concern for Mac, but he had not been sure the Admiral would keep everything “unofficial”. Mac would be relieved when she came in.

He’d tried to convince her to take a day off, to rest, but she’d insisted on coming in. Of course, that was par for the course. Having won on the big issues, he felt he had to give in on this one. She’d basically agreed to everything he wanted, but it hadn’t been easy for her.

Damn it, he thought, if he could just get his hands on that lousy SOB. He’d still like to take him apart. The pig’s death had been too quick. It should have been long and slow and painful.

He was so focused on thoughts of torture that he didn’t hear the soft knock at his door. Instead, it was Mac’s soft, tentative voice that caught his attention. “Harm?”

“Mac!” Leaping up from his desk, he went around and took her hand. “I didn’t think you’d be in so soon.”

Gently she pulled her hand away, with a small smile to show she wasn’t angry. “Harm, I appreciate everything you’re doing, but you can’t do this at work.”

Embarrassed, he gave her a quick grin, and tried to cover the faux pas with humor. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”

She blushed and looked down, obviously unsure as to how to answer his flirtation. There was a time when she would have answered in kind, but it was too much, too soon, he thought, and tried to back out of the awkward situation. “I was just thinking about you, that’s all. I kinda worry about you, you know?”

“I know.” She lifted her eyes to his, but her face was still flushed. “But you can’t do that all the time. I’ll be okay.”

There was a pause as they looked at each other, trying to convey what couldn’t be said. He tried to project all the support he could, and she tried to express appreciation. Finally he broke the silence. “The Admiral wants to see you.”

She paled. “Did…did you tell him?”

He hastened to reassure her. “Hey, it’s okay.” Leading her to a chair to sit down before she fell down, he continued, “It went just as we discussed. He knows about my ‘friend’ and wanted me to tell her that work comes second, her health and peace of mind come first. And he was quick to point out that he was sure anyone who knows my ‘friend’ will never lose respect for her.”

She didn’t look reassured. She looked terrified.

“Mac, I promise, it’s okay. Look, he even knows a counselor. He gave me her card.” Digging in his pocket, he handed it to her. “He said he’d seen her before, about some rough times in Vietnam. And he said to tell my friend that everyone needs help sometimes.”

She gave him a wan smile, then straightened her shoulders and stood up. “I guess I’d better go see him.”

Harm watched her go. He’d always known that Mac was strong…that she had guts. But now, he saw that he hadn’t known how strong she really was. She was amazing.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Colonel Mackenzie reporting as ordered, sir.” Taking refuge in military protocol, she stood at attention in front of him, not meeting his gaze.

“Have a seat, Mac.” He watched with compassionate eyes as she sat down.

“I have a problem, Colonel. One I’m hoping you will be able to assist me with.” It wasn’t easy, but he kept his tone professional.

“Yes sir.” She did manage to meet his eyes briefly as she said this, but looked down almost immediately.

“The JAG Law Revue, Article 51, subsection C needs to be updated. (AN: I made that up-LOL). The particular section in question deals with international weapons accountability, something you have some familiarity with.” Her posture never wavered, but her disappointment was clear.

“Yes sir.” Damn it, she should realize he’s doing this to help her, not to undermine her.

“It would mean a lot of work for you; you’d have to give up your current caseload.” Maybe she will see what he’s trying to do.

“I understand, sir.” She was perfectly composed; she just never looked directly at him. But even without Harm’s explanation of her fears regarding her work, he would have never missed the defeat in her demeanor.

He was trying to decide how to handle the situation when she attempted to draw the meeting to a close. “Will that be all, Sir?”

He made a snap decision then. He couldn’t let her think he didn’t trust her, that he didn’t believe in her or her capabilities. “No, it’s not.”

Rising, he came around and leaned against his desk, facing her. “Mac, look at me.”

Slowly she complied, unable to refuse a direct order. The hurt in her eyes nearly knocked him over. He couldn’t let this go. “I know you might view this as a setback, Mac, or come to the conclusion that I don’t have faith in your abilities.” He paused, giving her the chance to deny it, but she stayed silent. “In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth.”

She still didn’t say anything, but the disbelief showed clearly. Had the situation not been so serious, he would have smiled. She used silence like a weapon. “You are one of the finest officers under my command. Nothing has happened that has changed that opinion. I seriously doubt that anything actually could change that opinion.”

She blinked back sudden tears at his praise, and he smiled gently. “I would be remiss in my duties if I allowed one of my officers to be hurt, physically or mentally, without attempting to get them help, wouldn’t you agree?”

Afraid she would cry, she just nodded.

“And of course, once he or she was healed and ready for full duty, I would certainly be glad to take advantage of that fact. It only makes sense, don’t you think?”

This time she managed to choke out, “Yes sir”.

He stiffened as a disturbing thought occurred to him. “Colonel, when was the last time you had a physical?” Please let her have gone to a doctor.

“Just recently, sir.” She had to look away as she answered.

Suspiciously, he questioned her further. “Your record does not indicate this.”

“It was a private doctor, sir. But I assure you, I’m physically fit for duty. There’s nothing wrong with me.” Her face reddened as she kept her gaze averted.

He watched her closely, then decided she was telling the truth. “Good.” He handed her a stack of files. “Then you can get started on this.”

She took the files and stood. “Yes sir.”

As she started to leave, he stopped her. “And Mac, you are not only a great asset to this office and the Marines, you are a friend.” He reached out and touched her arm, just for a moment. “And as a friend, I’d like you to know that if you need anything, anything at all, my door is always open.”

She did look at him then, and he could see the gratitude in her eyes. “I know, sir. Sometimes, when things are…difficult…it’s easy to lose sight of that. But I won’t, ever again.”

Feeling slightly better, he let her go. “Dismissed, Colonel.”

She snapped to attention. “Aye sir.”

She left, thinking maybe…just maybe…she would get through this after all.

 

 

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