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Murphy's Law

By LauraBF

Disclaimer: Not mine, not mine, not mine! They can have all of my Oreos(tm) and my sticker collection for them!

Author's Note: My thanks go to my super-secret beta reader and to Ann, both of whom got me hooked on JAG and pulled me with them from Lois and Clark. This is for you two--and I still say that it's your fault. After all, one must assign blame where it is due. ;)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

0800 Zulu
21 February 2004
Mac's Apartment

Mac sat straight up in bed, covered her face with her hands, and desperately tried to quell her tears. Another night, another nightmare. Another night waiting for him to come home. She drew in a deep breath and stared at the ring on her finger, his last words to her echoing in her ears. 'I love you, Sarah Mackenzie, and I'll come back, I swear it.' Mac bit her lip and swallowed against the lump in her throat. He had promised, and despite what the Navy thought, he wasn't dead. She'd know if he were.

She closed her eyes and smiled faintly as she remembered the laughter lurking in his eyes as he'd proposed to her. It just didn't seem possible that her sailor was MIA and presumed dead. Mac pulled her blanket up, shivered and buried her nose in the pillow that she'd claimed from his place the day he had shipped out. They hadn't been dating long when he'd proposed, so they'd decided to take the physical side of their relationship slowly. They hadn't gone beyond a little making out when his orders had come through. It was only since she'd received word of the crash that she'd regretted their decision.

If he didn't come back, at least she could've had the possibility of carrying his child. Sometimes she envied Trish--when her husband had gone MIA, she'd at least had Harm. Mac knew that he was still alive, but with where his plane had gone down, that status could change rather quickly. A sob caught in her throat, and silent tears began to trickle down her face. For a month, she had lived with the hope that he would find a way to contact her to let her know that he was all right. He could be hurt, or sick, or... It was the not knowing was the worst.

Mac shut her eyes tightly and forced herself to remember a time before everything had gone merrily to hell.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1830 Zulu
15 December 2003
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

"Rabb, Mackenzie, in my office, *now*!" The Admiral's voice rang out over the bullpen. Mac and Harm exchanged a glance before hurrying towards their CO's office. AJ grimaced as the pair snapped to attention in front of him. He didn't want to give them this particular bit of news--not when they'd finally begun to work things out between them.

"At ease," he said. "Commander, I've been on the phone with the SECNAV, trying to get the orders I received for you rescinded, because as much as you're a pain in the ass, we're too short handed around here to lose you."

"Orders, sir?" Harm asked.

AJ picked up a packet and handed it to him. "You both know that hostilities have escalated lately, and they're now calling all the pilots out for carrier duty. Colonel, I'm gong to need you to take over the bulk of the Commander's case load, since yours is light right now."

"Aye, sir," she said quietly.

Harm opened the packet slowly and grimaced as he saw his new orders. "Back to the Patrick Henry," he said, sounding resigned.

"Commander, I'm making this an order--get your six back here as soon as they'll let you, because I can't afford to be short a lawyer for that long."

"Aye, aye, Sir," he answered, snapping back to attention.

"Colonel," AJ began, looking at her.

"Yes, sir?" she asked.

"I need you to get Lieutenant Roberts in here for me."

"Aye, sir."

"Dismissed." He watched as they snapped to attention before they headed back out into the bullpen. He knew he'd screwed up royally when he hadn't held on to the Commander's resignation, but he'd just gotten so mad that he hadn't been thinking straight. The same had gone for chewing him out in front of Mac. He knew he shouldn't have done it, but at the time, he couldn't help himself. He sighed and ran his hand over his face.

Rabb had that effect on him. The Commander had a gift for making him mad faster than any other officer who he'd had under his command--and make him prouder than any other officer at the same time. AJ slumped back in his chair and absently began to shuffle through the papers on his desk. It simply wouldn't be the same with Rabb back on a carrier; the office would be a hell of a lot quieter without him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

2330 Zulu
15 December 2003
Harm's Apartment

North of Union Station

Mac leaned against Harm's shoulder and slipped her fingers through his. "When do you have to report," she asked softly.

"Thursday," he answered, absently playing with her fingers. "Sarah," he whispered. "I'm not sure I can do this."

Mac smiled mischievously. "What? Fly a plane?" She patted him on the chest. "Never thought I'd see the day where you weren't happy about the idea of flying a tomcat, flyboy." She kissed him on the cheek. "Who are you and what did you do with my best friend?" She laughed quietly and settled her head back on his shoulder.

"It's not flying, ninja-girl." He freed his hand and cupped her cheek in his palm. "Sarah, it's leaving you." Harm leaned down and kissed her upturned lips gently. "I know I've only said it once or twice, but I love you," he whispered.

Mac sat up a little straighter, reluctantly relinquishing her place on his shoulder. "I love you, too," she said before she kissed him. She threaded her fingers through his short, dark hair, pulling him closer as she devoured his mouth. She swept her tongue across his lips, requesting entrance. His mouth opened under hers, and they began to explore, losing themselves in each other. Slowly, their lips separated, and she gasped for air as Harm began to pepper kisses all over her face, breathing heavily.

Harm wrapped his arms around her, drawing her closer, before he worked his way back to her mouth and kissed her slowly, lingeringly. He brought his hands up to tangle in her silky dark hair, pulling her as close to him as the restraints of clothing would allow. Their mouths clasped and unclasped wetly, tongues tangling, and passions flared. He broke off the kiss and rested his forehead against hers, panting. "I still don't think I can leave you, Sarah."

Harm grinned and pulled back to look at her. "Want to stowaway?" he offered. "You can sleep in my bunk with me."

Mac chuckled and kissed him again. "That'd go over *real* well," she said dryly. "JAG Marine Colonel goes UA to hotbunk with her JAG Navy pilot boyfriend--are you looking to get *both* of us court-martialed, mister?" She slapped him lightly on the chest and leaned back against his chest.

"Boyfriend? Is that it?" he asked, teasingly.

Mac reached for his hand and threaded her fingers through his again. "Last I checked," she said quietly. "You're my best friend, squid--and my boyfriend."

"I'd like to change that status, Marine," he said, reaching into his pocket for something.

Mac bit the inside of her lip, hoping that he meant something more, but at the same time, a cold trickle of fear ran through her at the thought that, despite what he'd said a few moments earlier, that he wanted to go back to just being friends.

Harm pulled an old, black velvet box out of his pocket and opened it. "I don't want to leave you, Sarah," he whispered. "Now, or ever. I got Gram to send this to me when we started dating; and this whole mess just made me speed up my timeline."

Mac looked at the box, and then at Harm's face. "Is this what I think it is?" she asked hoarsely.

Harm nodded, and pulled a diamond and sapphire ring out of the box. "Sarah Catherine Mackenzie, will you marry me?" he asked, offering her the ring.

Mac took the ring and slid it on her finger. "Yes," she whispered, then kissed him again.

One kiss turned into many and they began to escalate before Harm pulled back. "Not yet," he said, his voice husky with desire. "I don't want our first time to be tainted with goodbyes."

Mac sighed and cuddled closer. "I'm not sure I like it, but I understand," she said. She fiddled with the ring on her finger. "I wish that guys got one of these, too," she muttered.

Harm looked at her, surprised by the sudden change of subject." "Why?" he asked.

"Because," she said as she gave him a soft kiss on the cheek. "Then I could declare you off limits to all of the blonde bimbos out there."

"Ma-a-c," he groaned.

She looked at him and grinned. "Hey, we could always get 'Property of a US Marine' tattooed on your forehead."

Harm simply groaned again and shook his head. "I'll make you a deal--no tattoos on visible parts of my body, and I'll wear a Marine t-shirt if you get me one."

"You got it, flyboy," she said, snuggling into him. They sat together on the couch, exchanging an occasional kiss, happy to be together for as long as they could before the fast-approaching separation.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1040 Zulu
20 January 2004
Somewhere over Iraq

Harm flew low over the target and locked on. "Target sighted, deploying missiles," he said, pushing the correct button.

Just as the missiles left for their intended target, one came seemingly out of nowhere, headed straight for the portside engine. "Hammer, we've got a bogey coming right for us."

"I see it, Skates," he said, trying to avoid it. "Engaging in evasive maneuvers." Harm veered away from the projectile, but was unable to avoid it as it lodged in his wing and blew up the engine and wing.

"Mayday, mayday we can't make it back to feet wet," he said, "Skates, punch out!"

"Punching out, sir. And--I'll see you dirtside."

The canopy blew and he could see Skates's parachute deploy. He hit the switch for his own ejection seat, but it was jammed. "I can't punch out--it's stuck." As the tomcat went down, he yanked frantically at the handle until it came off in his hand. He hit the emergency override and was finally rewarded with the damn device working just before he became a recently smashed bug.

Harm landed a few feet from the destroyed plane and struggled out of harness. He stood, dragging his equipment with him. Before he could do much of anything, the plane exploded, sending shrapnel flying in every direction. He gasped as fiery pain tore into him from his right leg and his abdomen.

The force of the blast threw him to the sandy ground. After a few minutes, he drew in a deep breath and stood, gritting his teeth against the pain. Harm released his tattered parachute before he slowly dragged himself away from the plane and began to walk through the desert. Someone would be there soon to investigate the crash, and he didn't want to end up as a POW. He was sure that the longer he evaded capture, the better off he would be.

Harm walked, his thoughts consumed with what would happen when Mac heard what had happened to him. He had to manage to get home. No matter what, he couldn't let her think that he was dead. He pressed his hand against the wound in his abdomen, trying to stop the bleeding. Soon, however, blood loss overtook him and he collapsed, falling face down on to the ground.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Part 2
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2030 Zulu
23 January 2004
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

Admiral Chegwidden stared at the paper in his hand, resisting the urge to crumple it into a ball. He had known that sending Rabb into a warzone could have this kind of outcome, but he didn't have to like the results. "Coates," he called.

"Yes, sir?" Coates came into his office and came to attention.

"Coates, I need you to go find Colonel Mackenzie for me. I need to talk to her, but be quiet about it."

"Aye, sir," she said, then turned and left.

AJ examined the note once more and frowned. Rabb's family had already been notified. As just his fiancée, Mac wouldn't have received this kind of news, so the job fell to him to tell her what had happened. It was, perhaps, the hardest thing he'd ever had to do. He looked up as Mac walked into his office and snapped to attention. "Close the hatch," he ordered. Light caught the diamond and sapphire ring on her left hand and made the stones glitter as she turned to shut the hatch behind her. He winced internally, knowing what he'd have to say next.

"You sent for me, sir?" she asked, coming to attention again.

"At ease, Colonel," he said. "Have a seat."

He watched as Mac settled herself in the chair in front of his desk. "Mac," he said softly, "I received this today, and I--thought you'd like to... see it." He handed her the notice, and watched as she read through it.

She finished, placed the notice on his desk, and shut her eyes tightly for a few minutes before looking at him. "He's *not* dead, Admiral," she insisted.

AJ sighed, and picked up the paper. "Mac, I know that this must hurt like hell, but you *have* to accept facts. Commander Rabb's plane blew up, and there is no sign that he was able to punch out."

"He's *not* dead," she repeated stubbornly, not meeting his gaze.

"There was barely enough of the plane to identify it," he said gently. "Officially, he's MIA, but the fuel reserves and a small fire from the missile that brought him down caused the plane to blow up. Mac, there's no way he could have survived the explosion."

Mac looked up at him, and he could see the anguish in her eyes. "He *can't* be dead," she whispered hoarsely. "I'd know it if he were."

AJ got up, walked around the desk, and put his hand on her shoulder comfortingly. "I'm sorry, Mac," he said softly. "I'm calling Mrs. Burnett this afternoon, and I'll take care of the memorial service arrangements. He's to have a stone erected at Arlington." He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her. "Take all the time you need--I'm granting you some leave time. I'm sorry, Colonel. I have to go inform the rest of the staff."

The Admiral walked out of his office into the middle of the bullpen. "Admiral on deck." The entire staff came to attention.

He nodded to them, and unfolded the paper. "Attention, people. I have just received an official notice about one of our own. At 1058 on 20 January, Commander Rabb's tomcat went down in the desert in Iraq--radio contact reports that his ejection seat was jammed, and it exploded soon after impact. He is now MIA and presumed dead." AJ fell silent and looked over his staff. Shock was written over many of their faces, and noticed that tears were rolling down Harriet's face.

"Sir, what about funeral arrangements?" Bud asked with a catch in his voice.

"There was nothing left to bury," he said quietly. "However, a memorial service is in the works." Unable to face them anymore, he turned and hurried towards his office. What the hell was he going to do now?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1730 Local
22 January 2004
Burnett's house
San Diego, California

Trish folded another shirt and laid it on top of the pile. While it was true that they could afford to have the laundry sent out, she sometimes found folding clothes to be somehow soothing. She picked up the last shirt, folded it, and laid it on top. She sighed and leaned back in her chair. A new artist was currently setting up in her gallery, so she didn't have to go back until Monday, which was the day before the opening.

The doorbell rang, so Trish stood up and walked over to answer it. She opened the door to find two men in class A uniforms. "Mrs. Burnett?" one of them asked.

Her eyes widened, and she took a step back. Bile rose in her throat, and she stepped back. "No," she whispered hoarsely.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am," he said, holding out an envelope.

Trish took it with a shaking hand and watched as the men tipped their hats and left. "Who was it, honey?" Frank walked up to the door as she opened the envelope.

She held it out to him and he scanned it quickly before pulling her into a tight embrace. Trish buried her face in her husband's chest. It was her worst nightmare--losing her son in the same way she'd lost her first husband. She felt Frank's hand stroke her hair as a lump settled in her throat. "It's not fair," she choked out as tears began to roll down her face.

"Shhh," Frank murmured as he held her close and tried not to cry himself. Her arms came up around him, and they stayed like that for a long time, giving each other the comfort and support they needed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

2130 Zulu
23 January 2004
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

The Admiral stared at Rabb's contact information and picked up the telephone for the fifth time. He started to dial, but couldn't get through the entire nine-digit number before hanging up yet again. He slumped into his leather chair, groaned, and rubbed his eyes. He knew Commander Rabb's history--how was he supposed to talk to Harm's mother about funeral arrangements?

He looked up at the knock on his door and grimaced. "Enter," he said.

Mac walked in and snapped to attention in front of his desk. "At ease, Colonel," he said with a sigh.

"Admiral, I need permission to go to Iraq to see the crash site," she said, her voice strained from unshed tears.

"Denied," he snapped.

"Admiral--"

"Stand down, Colonel," he ordered.

"But Admiral--"

"I said *stand down*," he ordered more forcefully. "And if you try a harebrained scheme like Rabb did and resign your commission to go looking for him, I swear I'll lock you in the brig or hang your six from the nearest yardarm, whichever's handiest."

Mac flinched, studied the tiled floor, then looked at him. "He's only MIA," she whispered. "He's *alive*, Admiral. I *know* it. Just because his plane blew up and his ejection seat wasn't working doesn't mean that he's dead."

AJ softened and came around the desk. "Mac, I'm sorry, but Harm is *dead*. There's only a one in a million chance that he could have survived the crash, and I've only ever heard of *one* pilot that managed to survive bailing from a jet without an ejection seat, and that was just damnfool luck."

A single tear escaped from Mac's eye and rolled down her cheek. AJ pulled a tissue out and gently wiped it away. It just seemed so *wrong* to see Sarah Mackenzie cry, but he really couldn't blame her. "I granted you leave," he said softly. "You're dismissed, and I don't want to see you around here for a few days, is that clear?" He paused for a few minutes. "Doesn't Mattie need to know what happened, too?"

She nodded wordlessly, got up, and left his office. AJ picked up the phone again and, gritting his teeth, dialed the number. "Mrs. Burnett? Good. This is Admiral Chegwidden. My condolences, ma'am." He listened for a few minutes before continuing. "Ma'am, I'll be happy to make the arrangements here--I'll pull in every favor I can to get a memorial at Arlington. Yes, ma'am, I know that they usually don't allow empty coffin burials, but I'll arrange it, anyway."

He listened again. "Thank you, ma'am. And... I wanted you to know that your son was one of the finest officers I've ever had the pleasure to command. Thank you," he finished in a hoarse voice, then gently replaced the phone in its cradle. He ran a hand over his bald pate. He'd pull whatever strings it took to get one of his own the honors that officer deserved.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

2316 Zulu
23 January 2004
Harm's Apartment
North of Union Station

Mac unlocked the door with her key and stumbled inside. She wanted to burst into tears, to scream, to curse fate for taking him away... She wanted to go to Iraq and blow away the SOBs who'd shot down his plane in the first place. Something in her refused to accept that he was dead--it was the same part that had somehow located him after his icy dip into the drink a few years back.

She hurried inside, shut the door behind her, and locked it before heading straight to Harm's bedroom. Mac snatched a pillow off his bed, sat down before her knees collapsed, and buried her nose in it. It still smelled of him, and it was easier to believe, if just for few a minutes, that he would be walking in the door wearing the smile that he reserved just for her. A lump rose in her throat as she valiantly strove to hold back her tears.

He was *alive*, damnit! She didn't care what the government thought--her sailor *would* be coming home to her. He had promised, and Harm *always* kept his promises. The prospect of not having him next to her ever again came at her out of nowhere. It could still happen. He could still die out in the Iraqi desert without ever seeing her again. Her world suddenly began to look like a much lonelier, emptier place without him in it. Finally, she succumbed to her tears and began to sob.

"Harm," she whispered mournfully. She almost hated herself for being so needy, but Harm was the only person that she'd really been able to rely on for any length of time. He was the one who made her laugh when she needed it, and who had been there through the tough times in the past eight years. Their relationship was complex. It had evolved over the years from simple friendship to something deeper, more intimate. He was her best friend, yes, but he was also the man she loved intensely.

With him missing, it was if part of her had been ripped away. Part of her was lost, and it would stay that way until he came back to her, where he belonged.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

2243 Zulu
23 January 2004
Roberts's Residence

Four-year-old AJ Roberts flew his toy jet plane around the room, making 'whooshing' noises. He glanced at his parents and frowned. Something wasn't right, because Mommy and Daddy were sad. AJ stopped flying for a few minutes and examined the plane that Uncle Harm had sent him for Christmas. He knew that Uncle Harm had gone Away, like Daddy did sometimes, and he guessed that his beloved godfather could've gotten hurt like Daddy.

Yes, he decided, his parents *would* be sad if Uncle Harm got a big owie like Daddy's. But it wouldn't happen, because *nobody* could hurt Uncle Harm. He was better than Superman and AJ wanted to be just like him when he got big! Maybe he'd even go fly into space and discover aliems to bring home as pets. After all, Mommy *surely* couldn't object to an aliem as a pet. With that thought in mind, he resumed flying his plane, pretending that it was Uncle Harm.

"AJ, sweetie, come here, please."

AJ turned and obediently walked over to his mommy. "Yeah, Mommy?" he asked.

"C'mere, kiddo," his daddy said, and pulled him onto the couch. Daddy shifted him over so that he was sitting in between his parents.

"Sweetie, we got some bad news today," Mommy said softly.

"Bad news?"

"Remember how Uncle Harm had to go fly planes in the war?" Daddy asked.

"Uh huh," AJ said.

"Uncle Harm's plane blew up, sweetheart," his mommy said gently.

"Blew up? Is Uncle Harm ok?" AJ knew that explosions could hurt people, because that was how Daddy got a fake leg like a pirate. He didn't want Uncle Harm to be hurt.

"He didn't make it, honey," Daddy said. "They think that he... died."

"What's died, Mommy?" he asked, wrinkling his forehead.

"Baby, died is when God takes someone back to Heaven. Uncle Harm's Daddy is there, and now he is, too," she answered.

"Ok." AJ thought for a little while, then looked at his Mommy, confused. "When's he coming back to play? A'cause Aunt Mac promised that I could be the ring bear at their wedding. I practiceded my roar and everything."

Mommy picked him up and hugged him tightly. "Sweetheart, when God calls somebody home, it's forever. Uncle Harm isn't coming back. I'm sorry, baby."

AJ's face crumpled and he began to cry. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" he began to scream. "Uncle HARM, come BACK." He started struggling in his mommy's arms until she let him down. AJ ran to the front door and started pounding on it with his little fists. "NONONONONONONO!" he wailed.

He felt Daddy's big, warm hand on his back as he kept crying. "It'll be all right, sweetie," his daddy's voice rumbled huskily. AJ continued to scream and cry. His hero was gone forever, and nothing would ever be right again.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Part 3
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2349 Zulu
23 January 2004
Mac's Apartment
Georgetown

Mac unlocked the door and slipped inside her apartment. Music issued at full blast from Mattie's room. Of everyone who was close to Harm, in the fuss she had forgotten one person in particular. "Mattie?" she called softly. Harm's adopted daughter had been living with her since he'd shipped out, and after some personality conflicts, they'd settled into an easy relationship. A business manager was taking care of Grace Aviation, and at their insistence, Mattie was back in school.

Mac knocked on Mattie's door and then entered the room. "Mattie?" she said again.

Mattie looked up from her English book and smiled. "Hey, Mac," she said. "You're home early."

Mac took a deep breath, walked over and sat on the edge of the bed next to her. "Mattie, I just got some bad news."

The teenager straightened and bit her lip. "What happened?" she whispered hoarsely.

Mac reached out and put her arms around the girl. "Sweetie, I don't know how to say this--especially without losing it myself," she grimaced before continuing. "Mattie, Harm's plane..." Mac hugged the child gently. "It went down over Iraq. Harm is missing in action, and presumed dead."

Mattie went rigid at the news. "No," she choked out. "He *can't* be, Mac. He *promised* that he'd come back and we could all be a family. He *promised* that he'd never leave me alone." Mattie's face turned red, and Mac could see tears swimming in her eyes.

Mac willed herself not to cry, and hugged Mattie tightly. "He didn't leave you alone, sweetie--he left you with me." She stroked the teenager's hair. "Mattie, he's *not* dead," she said with conviction.

Mattie looked at Mac, her face stony. "H-h-h-how do you know?" she stuttered.

Mac smiled sadly. "Because I'd know if he died. A few years ago, Harm crashed a plane into the Atlantic... and I found him. I still don't know how I did it, but I knew that he wasn't dead then, either. Harm is *alive*, Mattie, and I don't give a damn what the government has to say about it."

"So what do we do now?" Mattie asked, looking miserable.

"We wait, honey. That's all we can do. The Admiral won't let me go TAD to Iraq to look for Harm, and I promised him that I'd take care of you." Mac pressed a kiss into Mattie's hair. "He'll be back, kiddo. He promised, and come hell or high water, Harm keeps his promises."

Mattie nodded. "It's hard," she whispered.

"I know it is, Mattie, but we'll be waiting when he comes home." Mac said reassuringly.

Mattie sighed, broke the embrace, and picked up her English book. "Mac, I've got an English test tomorrow. Can I get back to studying?"

Mac nodded, stood up and left the room, closing the door behind her. She recognized the tactic; she'd used it enough herself when she'd been recovering at her Uncle Matt's place years before. She'd even seen Harm use it a time or two. Mattie needed time to think and work out how she'd deal with Harm's disappearance on her own.

Mac wandered over to the couch and collapsed on it. She let go of the iron-clad control that had sustained her during her conversation with Mattie and let herself start to cry again. Now if she could only find her own way to cope with the reality that, to everyone else at JAG, her sailor had crossed the bar.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

2400 Zulu
23 January 2004
Sturgis's House

Sturgis threw his basketball at the hoop and caught it as it bounced back. Suddenly angry, he threw it at the garage door as hard as he could and glared at the ball as it bounced away and rolled down the driveway.

"Sturgis?"

He turned and faced Beth, his girlfriend of six months, as she walked toward him. "What?" he asked stiffly. He didn't know how to deal with his old friend's death--he had tried working himself into a state of exhaustion, but he had run out of work. Exercise wasn't working, either.

Beth came over and laid her hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay?" she asked quietly. "I heard about what happened through the grapevine, and I know that you were his friend."

Sturgis shrugged her hand off and went to retrieve his ball. "How do you *think* I am?" he asked. "Harm has been one of my best friends since we were in the Academy; that's about twenty-two *years*. I've seen him walk away from crashes and dire situations without a scratch. Why him? Why couldn't it have been another pilot?" He threw the ball back at the hoop.

"He's supposed to be *Superman*, damn it! He's survived so much, and now he's gone for no damn reason. I used to think that he was just so lucky that he could fall into the head and come up with a handful of silver. I've lost people before, but I've never lost anyone that I've known for as long as I've known Harm."

Beth walked up behind him and put her arms around him. "Even Superman had a weakness, honey. Harm just met up with his Kryptonite." She laid her cheek against his back. "He was a nice guy," she said softly. "Have you told your father, yet?" she asked.

"No," he said hoarsely. "I'm putting it off--I don't know how to do it." He turned around to face her and buried his face in her hair. He hugged her desperately trying to find solace in her embrace. Finally, he let himself relax and remember the friend who he would never again see while his girlfriend began to cry softly for that special person who had touched so many lives.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1643 Zulu
21 January 2003
Iraqi Desert
Iraq

The little boy ran alongside the camels, happy to be on the way to the next oasis. Soon it would be his turn to ride again, but he had too much energy to sit on a camel's back right now. He frowned as he spotted something lying nearby. Curious, he went over to investigate. It was a man wearing funny clothes. "Papa," he called, "I've found somebody!"

The boy's father came over and checked the man. "He's alive," he said. He grabbed the man's shoulders and dragged him to the nearest unburdened camel. "Come, Ahmed. We must take him with us." Several other members of the tribe came over and helped tie the man to the camel, and he groaned faintly.

"When will we reach the oasis, Papa?" Ahmed asked.

"Soon. Then we can better tend to the stranger's wounds," his father answered.

"Where did the man come from?" he asked.

"I don't know, son, but he looks like a westerner."

"What will we do with him?" he asked innocently.

"He must have his people looking for him," the man said thoughtfully. "If he wishes, we will help him go home... if he recovers."

The boy nodded and settled into his favorite walking pace. It made a lot of sense. Sometimes people got better after they got hurt, and sometimes they didn't. If the stranger got better, they could send him on his way. It wasn't as if they could've just left him there--leaving a hurt person in the desert without water was the same as killing them, even he knew that.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

0127 Zulu
23 January 2003
Admiral Chegwiddin's home
MacLean, Virginia

AJ collapsed into his favorite armchair and slumped into its comforting embrace. Between himself and Coates, he'd managed to make all of the funeral arrangements. It hadn't even taken much to get an empty-coffin burial at Arlington. The F-14 squadron was all set, and the funeral was planned for the next week. He sighed and swiped a hand across his eyes. He never thought that he'd see the day that he'd have to bury one of his JAG officers--especially not Harmon Rabb Jr.

Meredith walked in and sat on his lap. "What's the matter, sweetheart?" she asked.

AJ reached up to stroke her hair, trying not to let his feelings show. After a few minutes, he cleared his throat and managed to speak. "I just had to make funeral arrangements for one of my officers," he said hoarsely. "He was damn near a son to me--the closest I've ever had to one, anyway."

Meredith kissed him gently. "I heard that you were pretty hard on him when he wanted to come back to JAG," she murmured.

"The SECNAV'd backed me into a corner, so I couldn't let him go... or let him back. And his resignation pissed me off--then I just couldn't let up when I offered to reinstate him," AJ sighed heavily. "I'd give anything to have not said that, or to apologize, now."

Meredith reached for his hand and clasped it tightly. "I'm sorry, AJ," she said, smiling sadly.

"So am I," he said, his voice rough with suppressed emotion. "On top of everything, Mac is in denial--she swears that he's not dead."

"I don't blame her," she said with a wry chuckle. "If you went MIA, even if they *did* think you were dead, I wouldn't give up on you very fast."

AJ looked down at their intertwined hands and started playing with her fingers. "I didn't even get a chance to tell them that I'd figured out how to keep them both at JAG after they got married," he muttered.

Meredith stroked his cheek with the back of her hand. "If Harm somehow managed to survive, then you still can," she promised.

AJ sighed. "I wish he had, Meredith, but there's no chance of that." He shook his head. "I guess I'll just have to deal with a Chief of Staff who's in denial about her fiancé's death."

Meredith kissed him on the cheek. "She'll survive--she *is* a Marine, AJ."

"Yes, but will she still be Mac?" he asked. "I've seen the two of them go through *anything* for each other. Mac went to Russia with him to search for his father. Harm went to Paraguay to rescue her. And I've seen what happened when Rabb was at death's door. Right now, if he's really gone, the only thing that Mac has left is that little girl that Harm got guardianship of."

"Then she'll survive for Mattie, and the other people who love her." Meredith said softly. "We're all going to miss him, sweetheart."

"Some of us more than others," AJ said with a grimace. "His mother's flying in from California in a few days, and I offered to let her and her husband stay here." He leaned forward, and rested his elbows on his knees. "They might just go on to Harm's place so that they can pack up his stuff--and Mrs. Burnett said something about taking Mattie home with them."

"And if Mattie goes--"

"I'm afraid of what might happen to Mac," he said quietly.

The couple sat in silence for a little while, trying to figure out what they could do for their bereft friend. AJ knew that the staff would help her--after so many years of working together, they'd become something of a family. He just hoped it would be enough. The fact that Mac was still in denial wouldn't really help, either. He slipped his arm around Mercedes, hugged her tightly, and stared, unseeing, into the fire. "Son, wherever you are, safe journey," he murmured before again falling silent.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1900 Local
23 January 2004
Mac's Apartment

Mattie shoved her books off her bed with a clatter and reached for a picture of herself and Harm. She traced his face with her finger, then clutched it to her chest. "How *could* you, Harm?" she choked out, tears finally rolling down her cheeks.

"You *promised* me that you'd come home. You *said* that you wouldn't take any chances--and now I'm alone again." She threw the picture down on the bed and glared at it. "I *hate* you. You were the only grown-up that I could depend on, and now you're *gone*. Mac says that you're not dead, but even if that's true, you still *left* me."

Mattie picked up the picture, held it to her chest and began to sob. "It's not fair. Am I such a bad person that everybody leaves me?" She sat down heavily on the bed, then curled up into a ball, and cried herself to sleep.

A few hours later, Mac came in and covered the teenager with a blanket. She sat down on the side of the bed and stroked Mattie's hair. "It'll be okay, honey," she murmured. "Harm left you with me, and it's not likely that a JAG chief of staff will be ordered into a war zone."

Mac kissed Mattie on the cheek, then went back to her lonely bed. She stared out the window at the stars, and wondered exactly where Harm was--and if he was okay.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Part 4
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

0943 Zulu
22 January 2003
Oasis in Iraqi Desert
Iraq

Ahmed snuck quietly out of his blanket and walked over to the fire where the stranger lay. Even after all this time, he was still unconscious, and the boy knew that it wasn't a good sign. He picked up the still-damp cloth from where his mother had laid it and put it on the stranger's head.

The man stirred. "Sarah," he murmured.

"Papa," Ahmed called softly.

"Go back to bed, son," his father's groggy voice answered. "Your mother and aunt will take care of the stranger."

"But Papa, he said something," the boy protested.

"Bed, Ahmed, now."

Ahmed sighed, then patted the stranger's chest. He frowned as he felt some paper in the pocket of the man's clothes. Curious, he unzipped the pocket and pulled out a picture. It was a picture of the stranger with a woman and a young girl. "Papa, there's a picture of the stranger and some people in his pocket," he said.

Ahmed heard cloth rustling as his father pushed back his blankets and walked over. "It is probably his family, son."

"The girl?"

"My guess is that she is his daughter, and the woman is his wife. Bed, *now*, Ahmed."

Ahmed laid the picture next to the stranger and patted it gently before he stood to go back to his pallet. It was good to know that the stranger had people waiting for him at home. And it was possible that the man could recover; then they could return him to the people he loved. He pulled the blankets up around his chin, shut his eyes, and began to weave stories about the stranger and his family for himself until he drifted off to sleep.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

2215 Zulu
29 January 2004
Dulles International Airport
Washington DC

Coates glanced at the picture of the Commander's parents one more time, then looked back at the stream of people coming out of the gates. Admiral Chegwidden had ordered her to pick up Harm's parents at the airport. Coates grimaced; she would have done it even if he hadn't told her to. She owed Harm. If it weren't for him, she would probably still be the screwed up kid she'd been a few years ago.

Coates swallowed against the lump in her throat, trying to force down the tears that pricked her eyes when she thought of the man who'd been her friend. She'd been so happy for him when he and the Colonel had finally admitted their feelings; Mac had even asked her to be one of the bridesmaids at their wedding.

She mustered a smile when the Commander's parents walked out of the gate, then walked over and held out her hand. "Mr. and Mrs. Burnett, I'm Petty Officer Coates; the Admiral sent me to pick you two up."

Mr. Burnett took her proffered hand and shook it. "Thank you, Petty Officer," he said quietly.

"Follow me, please," she requested as she started towards the baggage claim. It wasn't long before they'd collected the Burnetts' luggage and loaded it into the car. Mrs. Burnett had yet to say much; her husband was leading her around as if he were afraid that she would bolt ant any given moment. Coates opened the back door of the sedan and helped them inside.

"It's okay, sweetheart," she heard Mr. Burnett murmur.

"No, it's not," the low, angry reply followed. "My baby is dead, just like his father; and it's the damned Navy's fault. They *could* have let him stay safe with JAG instead of sending him out on the same *damn* kind of mission that killed Harmon."

Coates started the car, pulled out of the parking lot, and handed the attendant the ticket and money to cover parking. She deliberately ignored the murmured voices behind her; she couldn't deal with it and drive at the same time. Perhaps later she could offer comfort, but she was having a hard time dealing with Harm's death, too. The funeral was scheduled for the next day, and Tiner had volunteered to help by picking up Harm's grandmother, Mrs. Rabb, from her home in Beallsville to attend.

Tears pricked her eyes yet again and she swallowed hard to try and avoid the tears. It had fallen to her to put the announcement in the paper, and the memorial service had been scheduled for 0800 local the next day with the graveside service scheduled for directly afterward.

Commander Rabb had touched so many lives; the response to the news had been overwhelming, and it looked like the little chapel where the memorial service would be held would be standing room only. Coates eased into the traffic on the freeway and sighed. It wasn't fair that he was gone, but it was a risk they all took--especially career officers like Commander Rabb.

She would be forever grateful to him for helping her straighten out her life. The best memorial to him that she could think of was to keep going, and to try and make a difference the way he had. It was all any of them could really do, as a living testament to what he had done for them. She'd had a little crush on him at the beginning, but that had soon turned to friendship. Her world was a lonelier, darker place with the loss of the man that she'd called friend.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1005 Local
29 January 2004
Rabb Farm
Beallsville, Pennsylvania

Sarah Rabb stood by the window and stared at the driveway, waiting for the young man who had volunteered to get her arrive. She hadn't quite believed it when she'd gotten the news. She hadn't *wanted* to believe it. In her seventy-eight years, she lost both her husband and her son, but she wasn't prepared to lose her grandson, too.

She was tired of losing people. Sarah glanced at the star in the window and grimaced. There were no more Rabbs to inherit the farm when she died; Harm was gone, and Sergei was firmly ensconced in Russia. She glanced around the familiar room, then looked out the window again only to see the front porch and an empty driveway with snow piled along its sides. A lump rose in her throat as she thought about the young man that they were burying the next day. In her mind's eye, she could see the baby, the little boy, the teenager, and the pain and guilt-ridden young man that he had become after his ramp strike.

Sarah had been so happy when he'd asked for the ring for *his* Sarah. She had hoped that it meant that she would soon have great-grandchildren, but that was not to be so. She sighed again, wishing that she could erase what had happened. 'Foolishness, Sarah. You're getting foolish in your old age,' she scolded herself. 'You can't change history.'

Sarah closed her eyes and laid her face against the cool glass of the window. Her husband, her son, and now her grandson, all gone because they had devoted their lives to protecting freedom. She, of all people, knew the price of it; freedom wasn't free. She opened her eyes and stared unseeingly at the sere winter landscape. The trees in her front yard rose bare and dead-looking in the cold air. A sad smile twitched her mouth as a dark sedan bearing the JAG logo pulled into her driveway, came to a stop, and a young man climbed out.

Sarah reached for her coat and put it on before she grabbed her purse and headed for the door. She opened it at the Petty Officer's knock. "You must be Tiner," she said quietly.

"Ma'am," he answered, reaching for the suitcase that was sitting just inside the door. "If you'll just follow me," he turned and headed towards the car.

Wordlessly, Sarah followed, a sad smile on her face. She'd seen the pain in the young man's eyes, and she knew that he must be hurting over her grandson's death, too. She remembered Harm's description of him, he'd described him as sort of a kid brother. Briefly, she wondered how Sergei was taking the news as she climbed into the car and allowed the Petty Officer to shut the door behind her.

Silently, he walked around to the other side, climbed in, fastened his seatbelt, and started the car. He turned the vehicle around quickly and headed down the gravel driveway. The interior of the car was silent; the only thing to be heard was the crunch of the gravel beneath the tires and the sound of small rocks ricocheting from the wheels as they drove away. Sarah studied the young man closely. "How well did you know my grandson?" she asked as she clasped her hands together in her lap.

She caught Tiner's sidelong glance as he prepared to answer. "Not well, ma'am," he admitted. "I didn't see much of him out of the office. He was a good guy."

Sarah lapsed into silence again and stared out the window. The scenery flashed past in a blur of farmland interspersed with patches of still wooded areas. It was a long trip to Falls Church, and it looked like it would also be a quiet one.

Tiner looked at her again. "We'll be going to the Roberts' place first; there's to be a gathering of all the people who knew him best later on tonight, ma'am."

Sarah nodded in acknowledgement, and continued to stare out the window. The lump again rose in her throat, and her gut twisted at the thought of facing so many people before the memorial service. She'd rather just spend the time with his Sarah and the child he'd taken custody of. Before she could stop them, slow tears began to trickle down her face, catching themselves in her wrinkles and making their progress down to drip off her cheeks. She didn't bother to wipe them away; sometimes all a body could do was to let the tears come, because tears could bring healing. Her grandson was missed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1822 Zulu
29 January 2004
Somewhere over the Atlantic
Commercial airplane

Sergei squirmed uncomfortably in his coach-class seat. He'd been cooped up in airplanes for almost eighteen hours, and he was more than ready to stretch his legs. Bad enough that his brother had been killed, Galina had left him because of it. Apparently, the fact that he had to come back to America for his brother's funeral was the final insult. He grimaced; perhaps their break up was for the best. It was true that they'd been having problems, but he didn't understand why she got upset over the fact that he had to go back to the States for a while!

Stoically, he repressed the tears that welled up when he thought about the brother that he'd barely had a chance to know. It he hadn't gotten restless and gone back to Mother Russia, things might have been different. If only. Those were the words that swam through his head. If only he hadn't been selfish. If only his brother hadn't been so overprotective. If only his brother's mother had let them have the ??????????????* DNA sample.

Perhaps if they'd been able to get him citizenship, he would have stayed longer than a few months. Perhaps he could have joined the Marines and flown helos again. Perhaps he could have stayed with his brother and gone to school. Now they'd never know, and he'd never have a real relationship with his brother. Growing up, he'd always dreamed of the older brother that his mother said he had. He'd dreamed of his father's family. Then, a year after he had gone back to the country that birthed him, his grandmother had called with the news that his big brother had died.

It wasn't fair! Now he'd never have nieces and nephews to spoil, and he'd never be able to be at Harm's and the beautiful Colonel's wedding. Sergei sighed and attempted to focus on the magazine in front of him. He wished he'd been there; perhaps he could have done something to stop it. Perhaps he could have saved his family. His mother wasn't in the best of health, and with Harm's death, and Galina's desertion, he felt very much alone in the world.

Sergei shook his head silently when the stewardess asked him if he wanted anything. Tears pricked at his eyes as he thought about the brother who had tried so hard to protect him. He'd almost flown back after he'd found out from the Colonel that Harm had been thrown in the brig, but Galina had stopped him. He grimaced and repressed his grief. He *would* have come immediately if it weren't for his now ex-fiancée.

Nothing would stop him from coming now. Harm was MIA, just like their father, but unlike Harmon Rabb, Sr., he was presumed dead. Perhaps his brother's mother might be willing to see him, perhaps he could learn more from her about the brother who was almost a stranger. His lips tweaked in a sad smile. It was ironic that he could now be granted the life-long dream of knowing his older sibling now that he was gone.

Sergei turned and stared out the window, watching the ocean pass by underneath him. There was something soothing about the passage of the waves; it was as if it were crying for him, so that he didn't have to. He sighed and tried to stretch out his legs. The plane was scheduled to arrive in Washington in two hours, and then he could take a taxi directly to JAG Headquarters. He was sure that he could find out more about his brother's funeral once he got there than Grandma Sarah had been able to say through her tears. He shifted in his seat and thumbed through the magazine. He wanted, no he needed, to say good bye, but he couldn't until he got there; and the next few hours stretched before him like an eternity.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

2400 Zulu
29 January 2004
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, VA

AJ flipped through the papers on his desk, searching for a specific file. He *needed* that file, dammit. It contained the last of the information that he needed for the funeral arrangements. He frowned and lifted another folder before he found it. Everything was in place; the pilots for the missing man formation had volunteered from both Pax River and his old squadron, Chaplain Turner had volunteered to conduct the services, and men whose lives the Commander had touched had volunteered to be his pallbearers. Most of the Recon Marines that Harm had trained as "Gunny Post" had contacted him as soon as the obituaries had hit the papers. The rest of the pallbearers had been volunteers from SEAL Team Six.

AJ looked up with a puzzled frown as he heard a commotion coming from outside his office. An irate woman pushed past Coates and stormed into his office. "Admiral Chedwiggin?" she asked harshly.

"Chegwidden, Ma'am," he answered, as he stood to walk around the desk. AJ held his hand out to her, hoping that he could defuse the situation. "Ma'am, if you would like to have a seat, you can tell me how I can help you."

The woman glared at him and folded her arms across her chest. "I don't think so," she snapped. "I just wanted to meet the man who caused my *son* to die." She dropped her arms and stepped closer. "My name is Patricia Rabb Burnett; and I'm holding you personally responsible for Harmon Junior's death."

AJ took a step back, not wanting to really confront her. "Ma'am," he began gently. "I'm sorry for your loss--I miss him, too."

Before he could say anything more, Trish closed the distance between them. "You have *no* right," she snarled. The last thing he saw before darkness overtook him was her fist heading towards his face. Say what you would about Harm's mother, he thought before he blacked out entirely; she had a great right hook.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

*damned

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Part 5
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2330 Zulu
29 January 2004
The Roberts's Residence
Falls Church, VA

Mac sat in the corner of the couch, refusing to talk to any of the other people around her. Almost everyone had been to express their condolences, but she *knew* that her sailor was still alive... somewhere. She could neither accept nor believe that Harm had died when his F-14 had exploded. It was fast becoming an obsession for her. She wanted him back where she could at least watch his six. She toyed absently with her engagement ring, twisting it 'round and 'round her finger.

"Aunt Mac?"

Mac turned and smiled at little AJ sadly. "Hey kiddo," she said.

"Aunt Mac, if Uncle Harm is in Heaven, are you two still getting married?" he asked.

Mac pulled AJ into her lap, and he cuddled in close. "Sweetie, if Uncle Harm is really in Heaven, then we can't," she said gently.

"Then I don't get to be ring bear?" he stuck his lip out into a pout.

"I'm sorry, AJ," Mac said, fighting back tears.

AJ looked up at her. "Don't be sad, Aunt Mac. If Uncle Harm can't marry you, *I'll* marry you." He grinned. "I love you, an' I miss Uncle Harm, too." He kissed her on the cheek. "I can take real good care of you like Daddy and Mommy take care of each other."

Mac hugged AJ tightly. "Thanks, sweetie, but I'm going to wait for Uncle Harm," she said softly.

AJ was quiet for a few minutes. "But Mommy and Daddy said that when God takes somebody to Heaven, they don't come back. Do you think that Uncle Harm's gonna come back, Aunt Mac?"

Mac kissed the top of AJ's head. "I don't know, baby," she admitted. "My heart says that he's still alive, and if he can make it back to us, he will."

AJ laughed. "Then Uncle Harm is gonna come home, an' I'll get to be ring bear, an' roar like I practiceded, an' get cousins to play with other than Mattie."

Mac sighed and kissed him on the cheek. "I hope so, AJ."

AJ slid off Mac lap and turned to her with a smile. "Uncle Harm loves you like Daddy loves Mommy, Aunt Mac. He'll come home; then we can go flying in his plane."

Mac watched as AJ ran off, then turned back to her thoughts. After that one short conversation, the hope that her sailor was alive burned brighter in her heart. Harm would come back; he had to.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Little AJ stuck his hands in his pockets and walked around the room. Everybody was just so sad. Briefly, he wondered why they couldn't just believe Aunt Mac that Uncle Harm was still alive. After all, *he* believed her. He'd heard people talking about his hero, sharing memories as if he'd *really* been called to Heaven. He'd even seen a strange lady apologizing to his Uncle AJ, and he guessed that it was for the big bruise on his uncle's face.

AJ frowned, then began searching for the strange lady, because she had looked the saddest of all. Maybe if he told her what Aunt Mac said, she wouldn't be sad no more. He brightened as she saw the lady standing near two men, one of which was Uncle Harm's brother, Sergei, and an older lady. He walked over and tugged on her skirt. "Ma'am," he began politely. "Are you Uncle Harm's Mommy?"

The lady looked at him, then began to tremble. She leaned against the man and buried her face in his chest. The older woman leaned down, and grasped AJ's hand. "You must be AJ," she said. "Yes, that's Harm's Mommy… I'm his grandma, his daddy's mommy."

"Grandma Rabb," AJ said, studying her face anxiously. "Why is Uncle Harm's mommy so sad?"

Sarah leaned down closer to him. "Now how did you know my name?" she asked, her eyes twinkling slightly.

"A'cause if you're Uncle Harm's Grandma, then you must be Grandma Rabb, a'cause he's *my* uncle," AJ explained somewhat confusedly. "Why's Uncle Harm's mommy so sad?" he asked again.

Sarah glanced at Trish, then led the child to a nearby armchair. She sat down before helping the boy clamber into her lap. "Baby, she's sad because God called her baby home to live in heaven with Him," she explained.

"Grandma Rabb, that's what *my* mommy says, but Aunt Mac says that it's not true. She says that he's gonna come home, and that he didn't go to Heaven yet." AJ studied her intently. "Are you sad, too?"

Sarah sighed and nodded. "It's an *inside* kind of sadness," she explained. "He's been *my* baby, too, for a very long time, and I *miss* him."

"If he wasn't dead, would you be mad?" AJ asked in a small voice.

"I'd be happy, honey," Sarah answered. "But things don't happen like that." She was silent for a moment, her eyes filled with memories of years before. "Harm's daddy, my baby boy… well, the same thing happened to him, and he never made it home."

AJ's eyes filled with tears. "But I don't *want* Uncle Harm to be in Heaven," he said with a sniffle.

"Neither do I, baby," Sarah whispered hoarsely.

Tears once again began to well up in her eyes as AJ started sobbing. "I don' want Uncle Harm to be gone," he cried between wrenching sobs. His eyes stung with the force of his tears and his nose started to stuff up. He'd spent a lot of time over the past few days asking after his beloved uncle, only to receive the same response. It wasn't *fair*. In the stories that his mommy and daddy read him, and in the movies, nothing real bad ever happened to the good guy. Uncle Harm was definitely one of the good guys.

AJ's tears worsened as he felt Grandma Rabb start to rock with him. It wasn't right. His hero was gone, and all was in ashes around him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1530 Zulu
30 January 2004
Old Post Chapel, Fort Myer
Arlington, Virginia

The chapel was silent as people began filing in and taking seats where the flag-draped coffin would be. The rustles of clothing, footfalls, and the soft murmurs of people finding places to sit echoed in the high-ceilinged room. From somewhere in the crowd, a young child began to cry, the thin, high-pitched wail expressed the feelings of many who had gathered together to bid farewell to a man who had touched so many lives. Chaplain Matthew Turner watched from the door as people from all walks of life came in and sat down.

He saw many people that he'd only heard of and some that he recognized from tough periods in Harm's life. It seemed as if everyone who Harm had come in contact with had come to pay homage to his memory. He watched as Renee Kemper nee Peterson comforted the small infant in her arms, and Annie Pendry led a teenage Josh up the aisle to sit near the front. He could see Bobbi Latham sitting near the back, her head bent, and her hands busy with something that was out of sight. Uniforms from every branch of the service were scattered throughout the small room, and he could see every manner of insignia on coat fronts and lapels.

He glanced at the Admiral, who was standing next to him. "Is that everyone, sir?" he asked quietly. Admiral Chegwidden simply nodded, his eyes bright with emotion. They came to attention and saluted as they watched the men remove the coffin from the hearse. The two of them entered the chapel with the pallbearers marching in behind them. They waited by the door as the pallbearers executed a formal five step turn, set the casket on the trolley, and fell in behind it. His cover under his arm, he led the procession to the front of the chapel, with the empty coffin behind him. He watched as the pallbearers filed into the first two rows and the Admiral came to parade rest next to the door.

Chaplain Turner took a deep breath before stepping up to the pulpit. "My friends," he began. "Today we are gathered together to give honor and to say goodbye to a man who used his life, not only to serve his country, but to make a difference. After this short service, the family has requested that only close friends and relatives be at the graveside service in Arlington." He paused for a moment and scanned the crowd. "First, let us pray. Almighty Father…" he began, his mind wandering off to his son's old friend as he said the prayer.

"The eulogy will be delivered by Admiral Thomas Boone, after I make a few remarks. I first met Harmon when my son brought him home from the academy." He smiled sadly, remembering the young man Harm had been. "In all the years I have known him, he always strove to do the right thing, the honorable thing. Harmon David Rabb Junior was a hero in the truest sense of the word, and he will be missed. He exhibited one of the kindest hearts I have ever seen, and possessed an ability to truly love others. I think I can be safe in saying that, despite his flaws, he is now safe in the Father's arms." He nodded to Admiral Boone and stepped back from the podium.

Part of him was listening to the eulogy as the Admiral spoke, but a bigger part was caught up in thinking about the young man who had passed on. The world had been a much better place with him in it, and it was worse off now that he had left. He had no doubts about where his son's friend had gone--the old hymn "Safe in the arms of Jesus" came to mind when he thought about it.

He always hated this part of his job; funerals were the worst. Weddings and christenings were better, because they were a beginning. Chaplain Turner sighed and looked at his book one more time to make sure that he had the funeral service straight in his head. Harm deserved the best, and he'd be damned if he messed this one up because of carelessness.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1700 Zulu
30 January 2004
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia

Little AJ watched solemnly as the uniformed men hoisted the casket up off of the horse-drawn caisson and conveyed it to the gravesite. He watched through his tears as they positioned the coffin over the grave. Ignoring Uncle Sturgis's daddy, AJ rubbed his arm over his face as other men fired their guns, and planes flew overhead. AJ looked up as one of the planes took off straight up from the others, and tears began to fall faster as a single bugler played Taps.

As the planes flew away, he looked back at the casket, then saw the men pick up the flag, hold it taut over the coffin, then start to fold it. With a hard wrench, he wiggled away from the person holding him and saluted as they finished folding the flag. One of the men handed Uncle AJ the flag, and he walked over and bent to talk to Uncle Harm's mommy.

"On behalf of the President of the United States," he began before Uncle Harm's mommy shook her head and motioned for Uncle AJ to give the folded flag to Aunt Mac. Without showing surprise, his uncle simply stepped over and repeated his words, this time finishing the speech. Aunt Mac took the flag gently, then saluted Uncle AJ, and he saluted back.

Slowly, people began to disperse, and little AJ watched as a weathered-looking man with gunnery sergeant's stripes marched up to the and laid his hand on it. "You should have let me turn you into a sniper, boy," the man whispered gruffly. "You might still be here if you did."

He wasn't sure what a sniper was, but if it meant that Uncle Harm wouldn't be in Heaven, he wished that the man had taught his hero to be that, too. AJ walked over to Mac and hugged her as well as he could. "I'm sorry, Aunt Mac," he said through his tears.

Mac squatted down and brushed his hair back from his face. "It's okay, baby," she murmured, pulling a handkerchief out and wiping his eyes. She held it up to his now runny nose. "Blow," she ordered softly.

AJ obeyed, then looked over at Mattie. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and she had tear streaks on her face. "Are you okay, Mattie?" he asked.

She gulped visibly, then nodded. "I will be, AJ," she replied in a strained voice.

"Will you hold Uncle Harm's flag?" Mac asked softly. AJ nodded, so she handed it over, then pulled Mattie in an embrace. The girl clung tightly to Mac, then separated from her. Mac reached for Mattie's and AJ's hands and walked slowly out to the waiting cars.

AJ sighed as his mommy handed Jimmy over to his daddy and came over. "Ma'am, thanks for watching him; I hope he wasn't too much trouble."

"Not a problem, Harriet," Mac murmured as little AJ handed her the flag back and she released his hand.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am," Harriet said. "We all wish that the Commander…"

"We buried an empty casket today, Harriet," Mac said, increasing her pace towards her car. "I *still* don't believe that he died; Harm is *alive*, and I don't know why this went so far." She handed the flag to Mattie, who clutched it to her chest, then climbed in Mac's corvette. "I'll see you in the office tomorrow," she said before she headed around the car, climbed in, and drove away.

"Mommy?" AJ said slowly, "do you think Aunt Mac is right?"

"I don't know, sweetie, but if there's one thing I've learned about those two, it's never to underestimate them," Harriet answered before she picked him up and made her way back to the car. AJ dropped his head on his mommy's shoulder and sighed. He hoped that Aunt Mac was right, and he was going to ask God to make sure that she was and to bring Uncle Harm home.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Part 6
~~~~~~~~~~~~

1543 Zulu
3 February 2004
Oasis in Iraqi Desert
Iraq

Harm opened his eyes groggily and turned his head. "Sarah?" he whispered hoarsely. He'd been dreaming of her, and part of him hoped that he was really at home. The last thing he remembered was staggering away from his downed F-14, and if it weren't for the unfamiliar smells around him, he would have thought that he was in the Patrick Henry's sickbay. Weakly, he lifted his hands to rub his eyes.

"Sarah?" Harm called again, his voice raspy from disuse. A small boy hurried over and put a hand on his chest to prevent him from attempting to get up. The boy chattered to him in an unfamiliar language before calling someone over. A woman leaned over him and began feeling his face and forehead. She said something, then pressed a cool cloth to his forehead, and covered him with another blanket.

Harm shivered, allowing himself to feel for the first time how cold he was. "Sarah," he whispered again, as the woman held a cup against his lips and helped him drink. It was water, cold and clear; it felt wonderful running down his parched throat. He drank until the cup was removed, then shivered again. He closed his eyes against the sensation as a soft hand stroked his brow and began to sing softly. Lulled by the melody, Harm drifted off to sleep.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

30 January 2004
0430 Zulu, 2330 Local
Mac's Apartment
Georgetown

Mac tiptoed into Mattie's room, and pulled the blankets up, tucking them in around the girl securely. She stroked the child's hair before kissing her gently on her tearstained cheek. "It'll be okay, Mattie," she whispered. "I'm not going to let the courts give you to Harm's parents."

Mattie stirred, turned over in her sleep and knocked the blankets loose. Mac walked back into the living room, shutting the door gently behind her. She walked to the couch and slumped down on it before reaching for the phone. Quickly, she dialed the Admiral's phone number, and waited while it rang.

"Sorry to disturb you at home, Admiral, especially so late," she said.

"Mac, it's okay… Meredith and I are still up. Is there anything I can help with?"

Mac bit her lip. It was obvious from her CO's voice that he was trying to be kind because of Harm's alleged death, but right now she didn't need sympathy. "Sir, I received word today that Harm's parents are suing for custody of Mattie," she blurted out, trying to give the news as fast as possible before she lost her nerve.

"Colonel Mackenzie, you'll need somebody to act as your lawyer, and I'd be happy to do it. Did Harm make any arrangements concerning Mattie in case something happened to him?"

"Yes, sir. Harm made me her guardian in case something happened to her, and gave me the right to act in her behalf while he was gone. Sir, there wasn't much time, but he *did* ask Sturgis to be her guardian ad litem just in case her father came back before he got home."

"Mac, I'll tell Coates to work you in first thing Monday, and we'll fix this. Mattie is going to stay with you if I have anything to say about it."

"Thank you, sir," Mac's throat began to close with tears as she and the admiral said their goodbyes, and she set the phone back in its cradle. She had no doubts that Harm was alive, but she still had the irrational fear that this time he wouldn't manage to make it home to her. If she lost Mattie, it would be one of her last tangible links to him being ripped away.

Mac reached for the blanket on the back of the couch and wrapped it around herself, needing the physical comfort it provided. She rubbed her face against it, feeling very much like the neglected little girl she had once been, before she stood and made her way to the window. "Come home, Harm," she whispered. "We need you."

Mac closed her eyes and made a wish on the first star she saw through the window. The stars twinkled through their concealing blanked of smog, reminding her that somewhere in Iraq, her sailor was under the same sky, hopefully trying to come home to her. She turned from the window, and picked up a stack of paperwork before heading for her bedroom. Sleep would not come easily; it never did for her, but at least she could get some work done before going back the next day to face another day without her flyboy.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
31 January 2004
1450 Zulu
Harm's Apartment
North of Union Station

Trish added another book to the half-full box in front of her, and glanced around her son's last home. There was a pile of bedding at the end of the couch that she hadn't packed away yet, probably from Mattie's stay in the loft. She'd also come across a file filled with house ads, as if he had been searching for a place before he had received his orders. She paused as her eyes lit on a picture of her son with his ward.

"Frank?" she called.

Frank walked out of the bedroom, and dusted off his hands. "What is it, honey?" he asked.

Trish held up the picture, her eyes filling with tears yet again. "Do you think we're doing the right thing?" she asked, her throat tight. "Mattie is the last thing we have left of him."

Frank sat down next to her and pulled her into his arms. "Honey, Mattie needs a stable home, and we have that to provide. We can give her things that Mac can't." He paused and stared at the picture. "I miss him too," he choked out. "I loved him as if he were my son."

"I know you did, darling," Trish said, reaching up to caress his cheek. "Harmon is gone, but we can raise our granddaughter, and keep his memory alive."

Frank leaned forward and kissed her gently. "Honey, we'll do our best, and Mac would never deny us the chance to spend time with her, anyway."

Trish leaned back against him, taking strength from his presence. "I want Harm back," she whispered, fighting back tears. "It's not *right* that he's gone."

Frank was silent, and simply stroked his wife's hair. "What would you do," he asked finally, "if Harm came walking through that door right now?"

Trish laughed sadly. "Probably what I did when he came back from Laos--hug him tightly, then tear into him for scaring me half to death." Her voice lowered. "If he came back, I'm not sure I'd ever want to let him out of my sight again."

Frank dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "I feel the same way," he murmured. The couple fell silent; each lost to their own grief and inner turmoil. They drew strength from each other, for neither could survive the loss of their only child without the other.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

5 February 2004
2256 Zulu
Iraqi Desert
Iraq
Fatima checked the stranger's wounds, and smiled, satisfied that they were healing.

"Mama?"

Fatima turned around to find her son standing behind her. "What is it, Ahmed?" she asked.

"How is the stranger? Is he better? Papa says that we cannot delay much longer; we have to get our salt to the market," Ahmed said.

Fatima took the child's hand and pressed it to the stranger's forehead. "He is less hot than he was, and we can take him with us. The stranger is healing; we should be able to return him to his own people soon."

Ahmed grinned, and patted the stranger's cheek. "Did he say anything about 'Sarah'?"

Fatima shot him a reproachful look. "Ahmed! Even if he did, he doesn't speak our language, and we shouldn't pry into things that are not our business. He is recovering, and that is enough."

Ahmed had the grace to look chastened. "Yes, Mama," he said, "I must go tell Papa about the stranger." He hurried out of the tent, leaving her alone with her patient. Fatima pulled the blankets up around him and smoothed his hair back from his face. He had made it far enough that she was sure that he would recover; their biggest problem would be finding a way to get him home to the wife and daughter in his picture. When they did, he would finally be back with the 'Sarah' he called out for in his sleep.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

2 February 2004
1303 Zulu
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

Mac knocked on the Admiral's door and entered when she heard him give permission. She came to attention before his desk. "Reporting as ordered, sir," she said.

"At ease, Colonel," he answered. "I'm not your CO right now, Mac; I'm your lawyer. Have a seat."

"Yes, sir," Mac murmured, sinking into one of the large leather chairs in front of the Admiral's desk.

"Do you have the paperwork?" he asked gently.

Without a word, Mac handed over a thick packet of papers, and began to examine her lap as if it were the most important thing in the world. "Sir," she said abruptly, "what are the chances of the family court letting me keep Mattie?" She twisted her engagement ring around her finger. "I mean, I have to travel for investigations, and I know that they don't like to give custody to people in the armed services."

AJ looked up from the paperwork and smiled. "That *is* usually the case, Colonel, but Commander Rabb *did* leave you as Mattie's legal guardian in case anything happened." He turned another page. "Mac, I'll make sure that you get to keep her, I promise."

"Don't make promises you can't keep," Mac whispered, fighting back a strange sense of deja vu.

"I always endeavor not to," he answered. "Mac, the court date isn't for three weeks, the family court dockets are always crowded, so we have time. We'll work with the fact that you have legal custody, and see what happens from there. Mattie is also old enough to say who she wants to live with, so she can speak in your behalf."

"Sir? Should we use the fact that Mattie's life is stable for the first time in a year?" Mac asked. "She's better off not being uprooted and moved all the way to California."

"I'll see what I can do." AJ stood, and walked around the desk. "Mac, this *will* work out."

"Yes, sir." Mac stood up and looked at her CO. "May I be dismissed, sir?"

"Yes--dismissed."

Mac came to attention. "Yes, sir." She turned, left the room, and headed towards her office. She walked in, shut the door behind her, picked up a picture of Harm, and sank down into her chair. "Hurry home, flyboy," she murmured.

Mac kissed the tips of her fingers and pressed them to the image. "I know you're not dead, Harm; you need prove them wrong." With a heavy sigh, she set the picture back down, grabbed the nearest file, and started looking through it. Her sailor had beat the odds more than once, and there was no reason why he couldn't do it again.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

3 February 2004
2350 Zulu
Roberts's Residence
Mattie finished feeding Jimmy his bottle, then burped him carefully on her diaper-covered shoulder. Baby-sitting wasn't her favorite occupation, but the money would come in handy for the new computer flight-simulator that she wanted. Even though flying had taken her guardian's life, it was all she had ever wanted to do, and she couldn't help but think that becoming a fighter pilot like Harm would be a fitting tribute to his memory.

Mattie rocked the baby gently until his eyes fluttered shut, then got up, and placed him in the bassinet. She went downstairs and sat down beside little AJ. "Hey, kiddo," she said.

"Hi Mattie," AJ stared at the model plane in his hand. "Are you gonna play with me, and not the stupid baby?"

Mattie lifted the child into her lap. "AJ, why do you think that Jimmy is stupid?"

AJ leaned back into her. "A'cause nobody pays any attention to me anymore," he said with a sigh. "They only worry about the *baby*, and he's no fun, a'cause all he does is cry. Uncle Harm used ta play with me, but he's gone to Heaven, and nobody 'cept for me an' Aunt Mac cares."

Mattie hugged the little boy tightly. "I care," she murmured. "Other people care, too, they're just trying to make things be normal again."

AJ went on, not really paying attention. "Aunt Mac used ta play with me too, but she's too sad now." Tears welled up in his eyes. "I miss Uncle Harm." He looked up at Mattie. "Do you miss him, too?"

"All the time," came Mattie's hoarse reply. "He didn't have to volunteer to be my dad, but he did; he and Mac are the first grownups that really cared about me in a long time."

AJ turned and hugged her, nestling down in her arms. The two children sat and held each other, and silent tears ran down their faces. Mattie kissed the top of AJ's head. Finally, they had someone they could talk to that not only understood, but who would simply lend their presence. They made an odd pair to give comfort to one another, but somehow it fit. The teenager had found a younger brother, and the child had found an older sister whom which to share the grief of their hero's death.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Part 7
~~~~~~~~~~~~

1049 Zulu
16 February 2004
Outskirts of a small town
Iraq

Harm leaned wearily against the side of the building, and waited for his keeper to show up. The man spoke a minimal amount of English, but it was better than nothing. He swore to himself that he'd get Mac to teach him how to speak Farsi as soon as he made it back to the states. He was sure that he could have learned much more about his situation if he spoke even *one* of the languages from the region. His caretakers had been kind to him, but he still tired easily. He hated the feeling of being helpless, but he had to face the fact that he wasn't twenty anymore; he just didn't heal as fast as he used to.

Harm looked up as a shadow fell over him. "Hi."

The man nodded in response, then squatted down beside him. "We go," he offered. "American soldiers."

"You're going to take me to the Americans?" Harm asked, a large smile spreading over his face.

The man nodded again, then held up seven fingers. "Will take this many." He paused, and seemed to struggle for the words.

"Seven days?" Harm asked eagerly.

The man nodded, patted him on the knee, then rose. "Rest, get better."

Harm nodded and closed his eyes. Home. Just the thought of the word made him want to jump up and get going. The sooner he could get home, the sooner he could go back to Mac. He knew that she *had* to be worried about him. He didn't even know how much time had passed; between the blood loss, concussion, and fever, he'd been pretty out of it. From the way his leg throbbed and the cut on his chest felt, it wouldn't surprise him if there was still some lingering infection. After all, his caretakers hadn't done much more than bandage them, and the leg wound, at least, was pretty deep.

Harm pulled out the picture of his marine that he had been carrying around since shipping out. He kissed his index finger and put it against her face. "I'll be home soon, Sarah, I promise." He put her picture back in his pocket, climbed carefully to his feet, and limped painfully towards his caretakers. They would be leaving soon, and since he couldn't walk fast yet, he's have to ride a camel again. A young boy ran towards him, chattering in their unfamiliar tongue. The boy motioned towards a camel, so Harm carefully pulled himself onto it, wincing as his sore leg bumped into the animal. Only a few short days, and he would be home.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1800 Zulu
23 February 2004
Outside a Marine Encampment
Somewhere in Iraq

Harm waved goodbye to his benefactors as they left. He had wanted to give them something for their help, but the older man had assured him in broken English that they had been happy to help, and required no reward. He turned around and limped closer to camp, heavily favoring his injured leg. He approached the sentry. "Sergeant, I'm Commander Harmon David Rabb, Jr, United States Navy," he said with a cough, "and I need to see your CO."

The sentry examined him for a few moments. "I need to see some identification, please," the man requested.

Harm pulled his dog tags out, and handed them over. "That's all I've got on me, Sergeant; the rest is back on my ship."

The sergeant examined the tags, then spoke into his radio. Within minutes, two officers came and escorted him to the command tent. One of them knocked on the frame. "Enter," came a voice from inside.

Harm coughed again, then went inside and came to attention in front of the Colonel. "Commander Harmon David Rabb, Jr. service number 508959334 reporting, sir!"

"Have a seat, Commander," the Colonel said, pointing towards a chair.

Harm sat down gratefully. "Thank you, sir."

"You're welcome. We received a report about you, since the crash site isn't that far from here by helo. Commander... do you realize that you've been missing for almost two months?"

Harm's eyes widened. "Two months? No, sir, I didn't know!"

"And how could you not know, Commander?"

Harm pulled up this tattered pant leg to show the Colonel his leg. "I was wounded, by flying shrapnel when my plane exploded, sir. I collapsed soon afterwards, and was picked up by nomads... I've been pretty out of it, sir."

The colonel looked at his leg and grimaced. "Corpsman!"

A corpsman hurried into the room and came to attention. "Reporting as ordered, sir!"

"Get the medic in here--the commander probably shouldn't be putting weight on that leg."

"Sir, yes sir." The corpsman executed a perfect snap turn, then hurried out of the room.

"What was your last duty station?" the colonel asked.

"The Patrick Henry, sir."

"I'll call them to let them know that you've been found--welcome home, sailor." The colonel picked up his phone and started to dial.

"Thank you, sir." Harm fell silent, then spoke again. "Colonel, after you notify Captain Ingles, would it be possible to call JAG Headquarters?"

The Colonel put his hand over the mouthpiece and looked at Harm, puzzled. "Aren't you a pilot, Commander?"

"Yes, sir, but I'm also a lawyer; before I got called back to active flight status, I was a JAG, and I'd like to think that after this is over, I'll be going back there. I'm sure that Admiral Chegwidden wants to know that I followed his orders; I'm still alive. My fiancée, my ward, and my mother are probably also worried sick."

"I'll take care of it, Commander--now let the medic attend to your leg." The colonel motioned to the medic and the corpsman behind him. "Corpsman, you can help the Commander to the infirmary tent."

"Sir, yes sir," the corpsman said, helping Harm up. The medic assisted and they walked towards the infirmary tent.

Finally the phone call went through. "Captain Ingles, this is Colonel Williams. We seem to have found an aviator that y'all mislaid..."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1400 Zulu
24 February 2004
Sickbay
USS Patrick Henry
Undisclosed Location

Harm flipped listlessly through a book that Skates had brought him, and resisted the urge to scratch his healing wounds. His friends were all on duty, and a guy could only sleep for so long before he got all slept out. They were sending him home on the COD the next morning, but until then, he was stuck in sickbay with antibiotics being pumped into him.

It was worse than his last hospital stay; as bad as daytime TV was, watching it was better than staring at blank walls. He threw the book down on the bed in disgust, and heaved a sigh.

"Bored, Commander?"

Harm looked up and started in surprise. "Admiral Chegwidden!" He started to attempt to struggle to his feet but was stopped with a motion from his CO.

"Stay where you are, son. I caught the first transport out as soon as I heard that you obeyed orders for once and stayed alive."

"You didn't have to do that, sir--" he began.

"The hell I didn't! I need you to sit there for a few minutes and let me talk, son. Reports of your death made me do a lot of thinking, and it made me realize how wrong I've been these past few months." AJ came closer and laid his hand on Harm's shoulder. "I realized that I need to apologize for some of the unfair things I've said; I'm sorry, Harm."

"I... forgave you a long time ago, Admiral," Harm said quietly, and tried to come to terms with the fact that his CO just admitted that he could be wrong. "Coming back to JAG helped a lot."

"So, I take it that you wouldn't be too upset if you were reassigned to JAG Headquarters?"

Harm grinned. "No, *sir*."

"Good. We're taking the morning COD out, and you're going straight to Bethesda when we get back. Until you're fit to return to active duty, I intend to have you behind a desk back at JAG where you belong."

"Sir? Does my family and everybody at JAG know that I'm alive?"

AJ smiled. "Not yet. I've ordered everyone from JAG to be there, and I strongly suggested to your parents that they show up. Mac got Mattie out of school, they're meeting us at Andrews Air Force Base, and the Robertses are even bringing the boys."

"Thank you, sir."

"You're welcome. Now get some rest," AJ turned and started to leave the room, "that's an order!" he called over his shoulder.

"Aye, aye sir." Harm said, then pulled the blankets up a bit. The thought of going home had never sounded so good. Soon, he'd be able to marry his marine and reach for the happily ever after he'd always heard about.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1637 Zulu
25 February 2004
Andrews AFB

Harm drummed his fingers against the armrest impatiently. He *hated* flying when he wasn't the pilot. It just didn't feel right not to be in control of the aircraft. He blew out a breath, frustrated.

"We're just about to land, Commander. You can relax; they'll all be glad to have you back."

"Aye, sir," he replied, then breathed a sigh of relief when they finally taxied down the runway and came to a stop.

Harm stood up, grabbed his cane, and limped towards the door. "Slow down, son. They've got a wheelchair waiting for you that they need to go get." AJ ordered.

"But Admiral--"

"No buts. We've just got you back, and I don't intend to lose you again; I need O-5s too much."

"Aye, aye sir," Harm said, resentful of his temporary limitations. He wanted to run down the stairs, onto the tarmac and find Mac, not be wheeled out in a stupid wheelchair. The door opened, and he carefully made his way down the steps and sat down obediently in the wheelchair. The admiral followed him, grabbed the handles of the chair, and started pushing him towards a rather large group of people. They stopped a few feet away, and Harm stood up.

"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," he said, flashing a big grin. "I always *wanted* to say that."

They stood there for a few moments, shocked, before Mac broke away, ran over, threw her arms around him, and started to cover as much as his face as she could manage with kisses. He dropped the cane in favor of holding her, and began to return fire. Finally, she zeroed in on his lips and kissed him until neither one of them could breathe. "I *knew* you weren't dead," she said, as she gasped for air.

It was then that the rest of the crew seemed to break free of their shock and came forward. Mattie threw herself at him and hugged him, hard. "You kept your promise," she said, tears running down her cheeks. "Mac was right!" She buried her face in his side.

Little AJ leaned forward from Bud's arms, and Harm barely managed to catch him amid much back-slapping and hugs from everyone else. "I *knowed* you'd come back, Uncle Harm. Mommy said that God called you back to Heaven, but I *knowed* that you weren't there yet." He pressed a sloppy, wet kiss to Harm's cheek, then wiggled to get down. Harm dropped a kiss on the crown of little AJ's head and complied.

"You picked the right time to come back from the dead, flyboy," Mac whispered in his ear. "Your parents were suing me for custody of Mattie, and the hearing was set for day after tomorrow; it got delayed when the family court docket got backed up."

"They *what*?" Harm said, finally noticing his mom and Frank standing to one side. He stepped forward, using Mac and Mattie rather than the cane that still lay on the asphalt. "Mom, Frank, how *could* you? Mattie's been through a lot, and I gave Mac custody for a *reason*."

Trish started to respond, but Harm cut her off. He was jetlagged, tired, and his not-yet healed wounds were really starting to *hurt*. "We'll talk about this *later*. I need to get that medical examination that the Admiral is insisting on, then I want to go home with my ward and my fiancée." Harm walked forward, tossing back an acknowledgment at Harriet's promise of a welcome home party for the next night. All he wanted was his own bed, preferably with Mac in it to keep him company. He knew that even if they hadn't decided to wait, he wasn't up to it yet, but he could still hold her. That way, he could convince himself that coming home wasn't another by product of the fever he'd had on and off for the last month.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Part 8
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1600 Zulu
25 February 2004
Bethesda Naval Hospital
Bethesda, Maryland

Harm sat on the bed, and waited impatiently for the doctor to get back to them so that he could go home. He glanced over at Mac, then squeezed her hand. "I hate hospitals," he muttered.

Mac reached up to stroke his hair. "I don't blame you," she said sympathetically. She glanced over at Mattie. "A few years back he got hypothermia after he was in a plane crash and had to spend a long time here."

"Oh." Mattie reached over and claimed his other hand. "I'm sure it won't be long, Harm." She reached over and hugged him with one arm. "I'm glad you're home."

Harm freed one hand and tugged Mattie over to kiss her on the forehead. "Thanks, kiddo. I missed everybody, but you and Mac the most; you're my two best girls." He flashed a brilliant smile. "Maybe we should start planning the wedding; I *did* promise that we'd be a family, didn't I?"

"You sure did, flyboy." Mac poked him playfully. "There's another promise of yours that we need to start on; remember our deal?"

His eyes glinted with mischief. "I believe the wording on that deal was, 'if neither of us is in a committed relationship', since both of us are, does that make the deal invalid?"

"Suck it up, stickboy, you promised, and I intend to collect." She grinned mischievously. "I'm throwing out all my birth control pills out *before* the wedding."

Harm laughed, then leaned over and kissed her. "Get a room, guys," Mattie said, then rolled her eyes. "You two are the closest thing to parents I've got, and I don't want to think about you guys doing *that*, it's *disgusting*."

"Suck it up, kiddo," Harm answered with a grin. "I love Mac, and I'm marrying her, so you'll just have to get used to a few PDAs."

Mattie groaned, then staggered away with her hand over her heart to collapse in a nearby chair. "You two are determined to kill me from embarrassment, aren't you?" She closed her eyes and pretended to be dead.

"Hm, I see our master plan to get some time alone has been discovered--is it working, Mattie? Ya dead yet?" Mac slipped her arm around Harm and grinned.

Mattie cracked an eye open. "Nope." She walked back over and sat near them.

"Cheer up, kiddo, nobody's ever died from embarrassment yet." Harm reached over and messed up Mattie's hair.

Mattie tried to straighten it. "Ha-ar-ar-ar-ar-rm! I'd get even for that, but I don't think it's fair to take advantage of walking wounded."

Just as she was about to say more, the doctor walked in, consulting a sheaf of papers. "Commander Rabb, did the corpsman on the Henry prescribe anything?"

Harm shook his head. "No, sir, he didn't."

"Then, there are some prescriptions that you need to get filled on the way home; there are still traces of infection in your blood, so you need a broad spectrum antibiotic, and I imagine that your leg and the cut on your stomach still hurt, so you're also getting some pain meds until they heal a little more." The doctor examined Harm closely.

"Do you remember *any* of what happened?" he asked.

"No, sir, I don't." Harm looked down at his and Mac's joined hands. "I remember a lot of really weird dreams, but not much else."

"It's probably for the best--I can tell you that the fact that the people who had you opened up your cuts again probably saved your life." He handed a couple of pieces of paper to Mac. "You'll need to come back next week for a follow up." He signed some papers, handed them to Harm, then left.

Mac stood, put on her coat, then tugged on Harm's hand. "C'mon, flyboy. Let's go home." She smiled and leaned in for a kiss. "I need to find something fattening to feed you; you're even more stick-like than you were when I gave you that nickname."

Harm groaned. "Just no Beltway Burgers, all right?"

Mac smirked. "No promises; I have it on good authority that the last time I left for an investigation, you went and ate one of my usual orders from that place."

"Hey, who told? I missed you, okay?"

"Don't worry, Harm; Mac's been eating vegetarian burgers since the day they told us that you were MIA." Mattie stuck her tongue out at Mac.

Mac crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Mattie. "So I missed having him nag about my diet... It's not a crime to eat that healthy junk every once in a while."

"Healthy *junk*? *I* like it; I think it tastes pretty good."

"Uh, huh. Dirty sweatsock soup would taste better." Mattie grabbed her coat and slipped into it. The three of them headed out the door, and left for home, enjoying each other's company for the first time in months.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

0400 Zulu, 2300 Local
25 February 2004
Mac's Apartment
Georgetown

Harm pulled Mac into an embrace and buried his face in her hair. It had been far too long since he'd been able to hold or touch her, and now he just couldn't get enough. "Can I stay tonight?" he asked. "I just wanna hold you; I keep thinking that I'm gonna wake up and this will've all been another fever-dream."

Mac snuggled further into his embrace. "Of course you can, squid. There are only a few things that I'd like better than for you to stay and hold me tonight."

"Hm... only a few? Just what is it that you'd like better, ninja-girl?"

"How about this?" Mac leaned in and kissed him, her tongue sliding effortlessly past his lips. She ran her hand through his hair, holding him close to her. "I love you, Harm," she said, breathless from lack of air. "I'd like you to make love to me, because then I'd know for sure that you're home, but we have a promise to keep; and our first time will be the last first time with *anybody*."

Harm chuckled. "I'd like to do that, too, but I'm not sure if I could right now, anyway."

Mac laced her fingers through his, stood, and tugged gently on his hand. "Come to bed, flyboy."

Harm stood and followed her. Together, they walked into the bedroom. It wasn't long before both were ready for bed. They slipped under the blankets, Mac snuggled up to Harm, and laid her head on the uninjured side of his chest. Harm hugged her tight to him, marveling how she fit perfectly in his arms. Chaplain Turner might not have said the words yet, but there was no doubt in his mind that his Sarah would be his forever. In his heart, at least, they were already married.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

0110 Zulu, 2010 Local
26 February 2004
Roberts's Residence
Falls Church , Virginia

Harm smiled and leaned back in his chair, letting the conversations wash over him. It felt so good to be home, and surrounded by both of his families. He looked up as Harriet's horrified yell assaulted his ears. "AJ Roberts! *What* are you doing with the *baby*?"

Little AJ looked at her, innocence radiating from him. "Mommy, Jimmy was *crying*, so I was just taking him to Uncle Harm, 'cause Uncle Harm always makes me feel better." AJ jiggled the baby a little. "See? He *likes* it."

Harm couldn't help but smile at the sight of little AJ holding the baby. To the uninformed, it might look as if he were strangling his baby brother, but AJ was just holding him in a secure fireman's grip. Little AJ walked over and grinned at him. "Wanna hold my brother, Uncle Harm? He's not too fun yet, 'cause all he does is eat and cry and make dirty diapers, but I'm gonna teach him how to play basketball and ride a bike when he gets bigger."

Harm took the baby from AJ and cuddled him close. "Kiddo, don't scare your Mom like that, okay?"

"Okay, Uncle Harm." Little AJ nodded seriously. "I missed you. I'm glad that God was listening when I asked Him to send you home." AJ hugged Harm, then skipped off to find his toy tomcat.

"Do you need me to take him off your hands, sir?" Harriet asked.

Harm shook his head. "Thanks, but if it's okay, I think I'd like to hold the littlest Roberts for a little while." He smiled at her before turning his attention back to baby Jimmy. "I need all the practice I can get." he muttered.

Harriet simply smiled and left. Harm half-closed his eyes and pretended that Jimmy was his and Mac's. If she held true to her thr... um, promise, it wouldn't be long before he'd get to watch her as she got large with their child. He smiled at the thought, then carefully stuck the pacifier back in Jimmy's mouth when he spit it out. When he looked up, his mom was standing next to him.

"Harm, darling?"

He stiffened. "What is it, Mother?"

"I just wanted to say that I'm sorry..." She would've continued, but Harm interrupted her.

"I hope so; will you do the same after Mac and I have kids if something happens to either one of us? We're in the *military*, Mom. Stuff can happen, even to JAG lawyers."

"Maybe you should find some other kind of work," Trish ventured. "I worry about you, Harmon."

"Sorry, Mom. That's not going to happen. Mac and I both tried other things, and we were both miserable. I *like* working at JAG, and so does she. I'm forty years old, Mother. I won't change now, and I'm sorry if it upsets you. Mac and I are getting married as soon as we can finish the arrangements; you and Frank will get an invitation." Harm turned his attention back to Jimmy, ignoring his mom's presence. He looked up as Mac's delicate hand covered his own, and reeled her in for a kiss.

Mac took Jimmy, then sat down on Harm's lap. "How's March thirteenth sound for the wedding?" she asked.

"Isn't that awful quick?" he asked. "From watching Bud and Harriet's wedding, I thought that these things took lots of time to plan, and well, I'm not completely healed yet."

"Wanna know a secret, flyboy? I've been planning the wedding for *months*. I've already got my dress, Chaplain Turner is on standby, and if I call in a favor, I can get us the chapel pretty quick. I've also got the bridesmaids' dresses all ready to go. All I've got to do is put in a few calls, and we're all set."

"But my leg..." Harm frowned. "Call me old fashioned, but I wanted to carry you over the threshold on our wedding night."

Mac leaned in for another kiss. "I talked to your doctor this morning," she said. "He says that as long as you do your physical therapy between now and then, you should be fine."

Harm's response was to kiss her, despite the whistles and catcalls of their coworkers. "Break it up, people," AJ's voice registered dimly in Harm's mind, because kissing Mac was more important. "Haven't you ever seen a guy kiss his fiancée before?"

Mac broke off the kiss with a breathless laugh. "So is the thirteenth okay?" she asked.

Harm leaned his forehead against hers. "Sure." He gave her a playful leer. "We can start on the baby deal a little early... that is, *before* Little AJ's birthday."

Mac smacked him on the arm, then turned her attention to baby Jimmy when he began to fuss. Harm put his arms around her and kissed the back of her neck. *This* was what he'd been searching for for *years*, and somehow it didn't surprise him that it'd been right in front of him all along.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
2330 Zulu
13 March 2004
Washington DC

Little AJ shifted his weight back and forth as he waited for the music to start that meant that he was supposed to walk down the aisle carrying the ring pillow and roaring. Finally, he spotted his Uncle Harm and grinned. "Uncle Harm, I just saw Aunt Mac, and she's booteful!" He wrinkled his nose. "Mommy says that I'm not allowed to roar like ring bears do until you kiss Aunt Mac, and I think kissing's *yucky*."

Uncle Harm laughed and crouched down next to AJ. "Kiddo, I guarantee that you won't think so in a few years."

"Ewwwww," was AJ's response. "Girls have *cooties*. It's a good thing that Aunt Mac isn't a girl, or you'd get 'em, too."

Uncle Harm laughed again, then stood and straightened his uniform. AJ watched as his hero headed down the aisle to stand next to the pulpit near his dad, and in front of Uncle Sturgis's daddy. He started bouncing as the music started, then followed Mattie and the other bridesmaids as they headed down the aisle. AJ stopped to roar every few feet, being careful not to drop the rings. He waved to Grandma Rabb as he reached the front, then went to stand next to Uncle Harm.

Little AJ grinned as he watched Admiral AJ escort Aunt Mac down the aisle. He looked down at his clothes, then up at Admiral AJ--they were twins again! He always liked it when he got to go to JAG with his mommy, because he got to wear clothes exactly like his mommy's boss. It wasn't long before the Admiral and Aunt Mac arrived, and he gave Aunt Mac's hand to Uncle Harm.

"Uncle Admiral AJ," AJ whispered. "I got mess dress just like yours."

"Yes, you do, sailor," Admiral AJ whispered back. "Now we need to pay attention, okay?"

"Yes, *sir*." Little AJ came to attention and watched as Uncle Sturgis's daddy started saying... stuff. It seemed like forever until he got to hand over the rings, and tuck the pillow underneath his arm. After Uncle Harm and Aunt Mac kissed, little AJ let loose a loud roar, then followed them out of the church. He watched with interest as they went under the arch of swords. He giggled as his Uncle Gunny smacked Uncle Harm's butt with the flat of a sword blade and welcomed him into the Corps. He laughed even harder when his daddy did the same thing to Aunt Mac, with a 'go Navy'. He skipped down the stairs, and reached up for a hug and a kiss from Aunt Mac.

"Aunt Mac," he said with a grin. "Uncle Admiral AJ says that you married into the Navy; does that make you a squid now?"

Aunt Mac laughed. "Only if your Uncle Harm can be a jarhead."

Uncle Harm leaned in for a kiss. "That's fine with me, because you're *my* jarhead."

"Ewwww," AJ said as the two started kissing *again*. It wasn't long before Uncle Harm and Aunt Mac started walking towards a long car. "Uncle Harm, Aunt Mac," AJ called. "Bring me back a cousin!" Laughter followed the couple as they got in the car and drove off towards the reception.

The End