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Time, Not Eternity
By Laura BF

Disclaimer:  If you think they're mine, you're sadly mistaken.  I borrowed them, hugged them, squeezed them, and called them George and then gave them back like a good girl. Seriously, Harm, Mac, and the TV series JAG belong to Donald P. Bellisario, Belisaurius Productions, Paramount Pictures, and Columbia Broadcasting Service Entertainment.

Author’s Note: Okay, so maybe I’m crazy.  But the law in North Carolina really does exist, and I wanted to throw a monkey wrench in the context of Season Ten at Harm and Mac.  So far, this takes into account all episodes up to season ten’s One Big Boat, but may or may not contain spoilers except for the facts that Mattie isn’t living with Harm anymore and General Cresswell is the new CO. Also takes into account spoilers about Cresswell, since we really don't know him well.  Bonus points to whoever can spot where the title of Chapter 1 came from. This story is meant to fit in the season ten timeline between One Big Boat and Camp Delta. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chapter 1:
What Bwings Us Togewer
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be."
-Douglas Adams

~*~*~*~  

Three years ago…

0235 ZULU
18 DECEMBER 2001
COURTYARD BY MARRIOTT
RALIEGH, NORTH CAROLINA

Harm and Mac came in the door with a blur of snow flurries.  They’d left Washington earlier that day to investigate charges of misconduct at Camp Lejeune, but had been stopped by a freak snowstorm.  So far, it looked like they’d be trapped overnight.

Harm hit the bell on the counter, which brought out the night clerk.  “Two rooms, please?”  He requested with a smile.

“I’d like to do that, sir, but we’ve only got one room left,” the clerk said, checking the register.

Mac shivered.  “We’ll take it,” she said, handing over her credit card.  Harm looked at her, surprised.  “Harm, all the other hotels and motels in town are filled up; we shared in Russia, and we can share here.”

“Didn’t they think that we were a couple in Russia?” Harm asked, giving her a taste of his flyboy grin.

Mac nodded, smiling.  “Guess we can’t completely start over...” She grabbed the register and signed them in.

“We’ve got a lot of history,” Harm agreed.

“You’re my best friend, Harm; sharing quarters with you isn’t really a hardship.”  Mac turned towards him and smiled softly.

Harm reached out and caught her hand.  “I’ll always be your friend, Mac.”  He clasped it loosely, enjoying the way her small fingers felt in his.  “After all this time, I’m not sure what I’d do without you.”

Mac gave him one of her blinding smiles.  “Ditto, sailor.”

The night clerk interrupted them.  “Room 501,” he said, handing Harm the key.  

Harm accepted it and turned to walk towards the stairs, tugging Mac with him.  “I guess we’re stuck here for the night.  I’ll call the Admiral as soon as we get upstairs; I think that the regular phones are more likely to work than my cell is right now.”

“Harm?” Mac asked.

“Hmm?”

“Did we just have a Hallmark moment?”

“As close as we ever get,” Harm said with a laugh.

“I thought so.”  Mac stopped for a minute, and then pulled him down to place a soft kiss on his cheek.  They started going again and headed for their room, hoping that the snowstorm would clear up in the morning.

~*~*~*~

The night clerk turned the register around, fingered the wad of cash in his pocket and smiled. He was being paid well to do this by an old friend.  It only took a few minutes to make the changes, and who did it hurt, anyway?  They looked like a good couple, they looked like they were in love, and they were sharing a room, after all.    

~*~*~*~

Present Day…

1415 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

General Cresswell slit open the envelope that had been delivered by courier a few minutes earlier and pulled out the papers.  It only took a few moments to scan them and find out what they were about.  He picked up the envelope, intending to slide them back inside before he sent his yeomen after the offending officers, but it was still heavy, and something was sliding around inside.  He upended it and photographs of his chief of staff slid out.  One eyebrow rose as he looked over the pictures.  He hit the intercom button.  "Petty Officer Coates, please tell Lt. Colonel Mackenzie and Commander Rabb to come and see me."

"Yes, sir!" was the response.

Minutes later, there was a knock on his door.  "Come in," he called, trying to remain calm.  

The two senior attorneys came to attention in front of his desk.  "Commander Rabb and Lt. Colonel Mackenzie reporting as ordered, sir," Rabb said.

"Stand at ease," Cresswell said in a deceptively calm voice.  He held out the paperwork he'd pulled out first, which included a North Carolina Marriage Certificate, dated almost three years back. "Explain this, please. Permission to speak freely."

Mac reached out and took the paperwork.  Her eyes widened when she saw the names on it.  "Sir, I-I-I don't know how this happened…"

Harm took the paperwork and looked it over.  "General Cresswell, I don't know what kind of prank this is, but I am not now, nor have I ever been married to Colonel Mackenzie; I've never found a woman who'd put up with me long enough to marry me." Rabb sounded slightly bitter.

Briefly, Cresswell wondered what had happened to put that tone in the Commander's voice.  It sounded as if the man had gotten his heart broken one too many times.  He dismissed it; unless it was specifically against the UCMJ, as this case was, the Commander's personal relationships weren't really his business.  "So both of you are denying it?" he asked.

"Yes, we are!" Mac exclaimed.  "There's no way I ever married *him*, nor would I!  I think I'd remember it if I did!"

Rabb winced, and Cresswell felt a brief flash of sympathy for him.  "Sir, three years ago we were just getting to be friends again," he said softly.  "Friends is all I've ever been with the Colonel, and our friendship has been rocky for the majority of the last three years."

"I see.  What about these?" Cresswell asked, producing the pictures.

Mac looked at them and swallowed visibly.  "That's Clayton Webb… he was my last relationship.  We broke it off a month or so ago."

Rabb placed the paperwork down on the desk.  Cresswell looked at it for a few minutes, weighing his options.  Perhaps he should talk to their previous commanding officer and find out if the paperwork was real before he took action.  "You do realize that if this is legal, you might both be facing disciplinary action?  And Colonel Mackenzie, you also might be facing a court martial for adultery?"

Both officers paled at his words.  "Yes, SIR," they answered in unison.  

"I'll assign someone to find out if the paperwork is real or an elaborate fake.  Dismissed."

"Aye, aye, sir," they said, then turned and walked out the door.  Cresswell stared at his latest challenge and briefly wondered why he'd accepted the position of JAG.

~*~*~*~

1500 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Mac grabbed Harm's arm, yanked him into her office, and shut the door.  "You have done a lot of underhanded things in you life, Harmon Rabb, but this takes the cake!"

"Me?" Harm looked surprised.  "I didn't do anything!  I'm just as shocked as you are!"

"You are the lowest life form ever to crawl the earth.  Slime is higher on the evolutionary scale than you are!  If you think that faking a marriage between us is going to fix the wreck you made of our relationship, then you've got another thing coming!"  Mac walked behind her desk, leaned forward on it, and glared at him.  

Harm looked at her, his face blank.  "This isn't my fault, Mac," he said quietly.

"And I'm supposed to believe that the great Harmon Rabb doesn't go to great lengths to get what he wants?  Do I look like I fell off the turnip truck yesterday?"  Mac crossed her arms over her chest.  "You, Harmon, are the slimiest, smarmiest, most pathetic creature I've ever seen.  I *will* find out how you did this and why, and then I will cut your body into tiny pieces just so I can feed it to the sharks the next time the General sends me TAD to a ship!"

Harm opened the door and gave her a sad look.  "When you're ready to be rational about this, Marine, you know where to find me."  He strode across the bullpen to his new office and shut the door behind him.  He sighed as he flipped the lock closed, walked to his desk and slumped down in his chair.  He supposed he should be grateful that Sturgis had given him his office back, but it had been easier to hide in the tiny one, because it was so far away from the bullpen.

Harm allowed himself a few minutes to sit and think about the new development before reaching for the nearest case file and opening it.  He didn't remember what they'd been doing on December 18, 2001, which was the date listed on the Marriage Certificate, but he'd look it up soon.  In the meantime, he had a case to prepare for--that is, if the General let him continue with his duty.  

Harm's jaw tightened imperceptibly.  Mattie was gone and there was no way in hell he'd let some sort of bureaucratic error take away what was left of his career, too.   He'd just have to investigate and find out what had happened.  He'd always seen himself married to Mac, just not without his consent.  He wanted to actually *ask* her, dammit!  He'd be the first to admit that he had problems expressing his feelings in words, but Mattie had helped him with it, and he'd been considering asking Mac out in the near future.  Not anymore.  Mac had, once again, proven to him exactly how she felt, and it wasn't a pretty picture.  

At best, he was an acquaintance to be tolerated.  At worst, an enemy to be annihilated.   Maybe it was time he gave up.  Maybe it was time for him to make a change and request a transfer.  Mac's current behavior was a far cry from what she had said the previous week.  Perhaps he should just give her what she claimed not to want and separate himself from her.  At least then he wouldn't be subject to the constant assault that left his heart more bruised and sore after each confrontation.

Harm shook off his reverie and forced himself to concentrate on the case in front of him.  There would be time to figure it out later.  Besides, he couldn't leave.  He had promised Mac that he'd always be there for her, and he couldn't break that promise.  He didn't have much left in his life; Mattie was gone, his career would be completely over in a few years, and his time flying fighter jets was even more limited than that.  The way he saw it, the only things he had left were his honor and his good name.  To break his promise now would destroy them, and would take his self-respect as well.

Six months, he promised himself.  He'd give her six months to get straightened out; then he'd request a transfer to the San Diego office.  He'd like to spend some time with his mom and stepdad before it was too late; both of them were getting older and wouldn't be around forever.  If there was one thing that Mattie had taught him, it was to seize every moment you could with the people you loved because they wouldn't always be there.

~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chapter 2:
    The Third Man
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I have said nothing because there is nothing I can say that would describe how I feel as perfectly as you deserve it."
-Kyle Schmidt  

~*~*~*~

1528 ZULU
RET'D ADM. CHEGWIDDEN'S HOUSE
MACLEAN, VIRGINIA

AJ scratched behind Dammit's ears.  "You miss her too, don't you, girl?" he asked. Dammit licked his hand.  "Maybe we should move to Italy to be closer to her," he mused.  It had only been a couple of weeks since Francesca had gone back to her life in Italy, and he missed her terribly.  The summer had been wonderful, but the World Series was over with, so he was at loose ends.

He'd never been good at liberty--maybe he should try going into civilian practice for something to do.  Then again, the thought of defending guilty people for money gave him a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.  "We need something to do, you and I, don't we, girl?" he asked with a little smile.

Dammit didn't answer--the phone rang instead. Grateful for the distraction, AJ gave her a final scratch behind the ears before getting up and going into the house to answer it.  "Chegwidden residence," he said gruffly.

"Admiral, this is General Cresswell," the voice on the other end of the line said.

"My replacement.  How can I help you, sir?" AJ asked.  "I'm sure that you'll like that billet--despite the headaches, they're a fine group of officers."

"Rabb and Mackenzie," the General said.

"What have they done *now*?" AJ asked his voice broadcasting his annoyance.

"Apparently this wasn't recent," Cresswell said dryly.  "I've just received documentation that they secretly got married three years ago December eighteenth.  Would you happen to know anything about that?"

AJ stiffened.  Sure, he'd grown apart from his JAG family since Bud's accident, but he knew his former officers well enough to know that they'd never flagrantly flout fraternization regulations like that.  They were too good of officers, and both of them had too highly developed senses of honor to do it.  "General," he began, "Rabb and Mackenzie would never do that.  Ever.  I don't know where your information came from, but someone obviously has their wires crossed somewhere."

"I'm having the legalities of the documents checked, but everything looks right.  They were married in Raleigh, North Carolina three years ago next month," the General said in a calm voice.

AJ's eyes widened as he remembered who Mac had been blatantly seeing for the past year.  "Hell.  If they're legal, she was dating Clayton Webb last year--he works for the Company.  Fraternization will be the least of Colonel Mackenzie's worries if the documents are legal."

"Admiral, you wouldn't happen to remember what they were doing around that time--why they were in North Carolina alone together?" Cresswell asked.

AJ bit his lip and thought hard.  "Letssee... that would've been right after the JAGathon, so it was probably the misconduct and harassment case down at Camp Lejeune.  I sent them to investigate the accusations and, as I recall, they got caught in a freak snowstorm and got snowed in.  Those two make a mighty fine team when they're working together."

"That's what I'm afraid of," AJ heard Cresswell mutter.

"General, I assure you that this is some kind of mistake; people have been trying to get the two of them together for years and never managed it.  Rabb and Mackenzie are about as married as I am."

"I've been reading their files, Admiral," Cresswell said dryly.  "I'm well aware of what they did while under your command.  Hopefully, Mackenzie can be salvaged from all that time spent with Naval officers; she's a damn fine Marine and it's time she remembered that."

"Now hold on a cotton pickin' minute here.  Rabb may be a loose cannon, but he's the best man to have at your back.  General, both of them are innocent and it's up to you to prove it!  Good *day*!" AJ slammed down the phone, took a deep breath to calm himself, picked up the phone and started to dial a number he hadn't used in a long time.

"Harm?  This is AJ Chegwidden.  I just got a call from your new CO, and it looks like you're up the creek without a paddle again, son.   Now there was a time when I was a damn good investigator, and last time I checked I was still a lawyer.  I need something to do and it sounds like you need help--even a retired old Admiral like me still likes some action now and then.  Call me and I'll help.  Son, you've got yourself a lawyer."  AJ hung up the phone, walked over, and petted Dammit absently.  Somebody had to stand up for Harm and the Navy; this time he guessed it'd have to be him.

Maybe this would help heal the breach that had developed in the past few years without the boundaries that had existed when he was still the man's CO.  There was a time that Rabb was the son he'd never had and never wanted… part of him missed that.

~*~*~*~

1200 ZULU
LEAVENWORTH PRISON
FORT LEAVENWORTH, KANSAS

Clark Palmer smiled as he checked the balance on his Swiss Bank Account.  He'd been amassing funds under Harmon Rabb's name for years; after he finally got his revenge, he could buy his own island and retire in style--at least until he got bored enough to steal a few more secrets.

The money was untraceable, and with the boy scout's name on the account, there was no way for anyone to think it was his.  First, there was revenge.  He had to discredit both Harmon Rabb and that Marine Colonel partner of his.  It was easy; he'd set the plan in motion almost three years ago--all without leaving his cell.

It had the added bonus of ruining both of their careers.  If he were lucky, they'd even been sent to Leavenworth so that he could show Harmon Rabb *exactly* what he thought of him!  They stole his very profitable business from him, so it was only fair that he take from them everything that was important to them!

No more patriotic crap for Harmon Rabb and Sarah Mackenzie.  No more flag waving, no more heroism; they'd be branded just as they really were--lawbreakers just like himself.  Too bad he couldn't get them on treason charges so that they'd be put to death.  They hadn't done anything serious enough to merit that.  Palmer smirked and laced his fingers behind is head.  

It had only taken minor meddling to take advantage of an outdated North Carolina marriage law.  He'd even saved them the trouble of filing the paperwork!  The way they acted together was sickening anyway.  And since the changing of their CO, it was the perfect time for him to act.  That was why he'd sent out the proof.

His sources said that they weren't even the least bit grateful.  Oh, the ingratitude!  They ought to be thankful to him for what he'd done.  Sure, their careers and lives were over, but he'd managed to marry them when they'd never even managed to date!

All it had taken was to pay off the night clerk and buy up the other hotel rooms in Raleigh during that snowstorm; his sources had told him when they had been ordered to make the trip.  The snowstorm had been lucky; if it hadn't started snowing, he had someone else who would've arranged an accident to hold them overnight...

Palmer sighed and contemplated ways to dig them deeper into the mire than they were already.  One could never be too careful when plotting revenge.  After all, wasn't the best revenge to not only live well, but to strip your enemy of everything they loved?  It would only be a matter of time before he managed it...

~*~*~*~    

2317 ZULU
MATTIE'S HOUSE
BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA

Mattie set down her math textbook and sighed.  It had only been a few days, but she missed Harm.  Not for the first time, she wondered if she'd done the right thing.  She thought back to the conversation she'd had with Colonel Mackenzie and sighed.  Mac was wrong.  She knew it.  It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that he'd loved Colonel Mackenzie unconditionally for a long time.

What she'd really taught him was that it was okay to tell somebody how he felt about them; it had taken a long time for him to tell her, after all.  Her dad would let her visit him on the weekends, but what if it wasn't enough? What if Mac didn't live up to her promise?

Who would take care of Harm then?  Whether he admitted it or not, Harm needed somebody to take care of him.  He got into trouble too much to not have somebody there for him.  Now that she was in Blacksburg, who would do it?  Mattie glanced at the clock, then picked up the phone.  She needed to make sure he was okay.  No matter who she was living with, Harm was her dad, too.

Mattie dialed the familiar number and waited for him to pick up.  "Harm?" she said quietly.

"Mats?" he asked.  "What's the matter, sweetheart?"    

Mattie didn't like the way he sounded.  From his voice alone, it was if somebody had ripped his heart out and stomped on it.  "I just... missed you.  And I wanted to know how you are."

"I'm fine, kiddo," he answered.  "There's just some stuff going on that I have to deal with; grown-up stuff that you don't need to worry about."

She liked the sound of that even less.  "Harm, you know I'm just gonna worry anyway, so why don't you tell me what's wrong."

"Mattie, you need time to get settled in; you've just moved back to your old home and your old school.  I don't want you worrying about me when you've got much more important stuff to do."

Mattie bit her lip.  Stubborn.  He was more stubborn than anyone she knew--including herself.  Telling her not to worry made her worry more.  "Harm, there's not much stuff in my life more important that you are," she said quietly.  "I'll worry anyway because I love you."

"I know, sweetheart, but you don't have to worry. Promise me you'll behave and do your best in school?  You can always call me for help with your homework if you need it."  Harm's voice still sounded strained to her.

"I promise," she said, crossing her fingers behind her back.  "Harm, I've got some homework--can I call you later, around bedtime?"

"Sure you can!" he said.  "Love you, sweetheart."

"Love you, too, Harm," she answered, then hung up the phone.  Harm was in trouble; she knew it.  He wouldn't sound so messed up if he wasn't.  And since she was all he had, it was up to her to find out what was wrong and be there for him.

She scooted off the bed and hurried downstairs to the living room.  "Dad!" she called.

"What is it, Mattie?" Tom asked, looking up from the TV show he was watching.

"I need to go to Falls Church tomorrow," she said, putting her hands on her hips.

"Mathilda Grace Johnson," Tom began, "you are *not* going to the JAG offices to see Harmon Rabb.  You're supposed to be living with me now, which means that you're not his concern anymore!"

Mattie's eyes flashed fire and she balled her hands into fists.  "Harm was there for me when nobody else was," she said through gritted teeth.  "He's my dad just as much as you are and he *needs* me.  If it weren't for him, I would've ended up as a statistic! I'm going to JAG Headquarters tomorrow whether you like it or not!"

Mattie stormed out of the living room and up the stairs to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.  She loved Harm.  She trusted him, and she was willing to bet that she knew him better than anyone.  Pert of her still felt guilty for sneaking looks into his journal lately, but she *had* to know how he felt.  

Mattie flung herself on her bed, picked up a picture of herself and Harm from the bedside table, and ran her finger over his face.  "I'm coming, Harm," she said, steel still in her voice.  "And whoever danced the Flamenco on your heart is gonna answer to me!" she murmured fiercely.  

~*~*~*~

2435 ZULU
MAC'S APARTMENT
GEORGETOWN

Mac stared disgustedly at the case file in front of her, then pushed it away.  She was still angry about what Harm had done.  Sure it tanked his career again, but after leaving for a six-month stint playing spy, it was pretty much over anyway.  One more black mark wouldn't make much of a difference to him; he'd never get a promotion to Captain, anyway.

No, it was *her* career that he'd ruined.  He was just being petty and vindictive because he knew how much Cresswell scared her!  He'd sure bided his time for revenge, but he'd finally gotten it.  Once again, she had to clean up his mess and rebuild her life.

A niggling little voice in the back of her head told her that she was being unfair, but she dismissed it quickly.  She'd find out how and *exactly* why he'd done it and then he'd be sorry.  The voice whispered again how he'd been behaving towards her--how he'd been trying to take care of her since she told him about her illness, but she wasn't listening.  As usual, Harmon Rabb had somehow managed to do something to screw up her life.  

But he'd never meant to screw up her life before.  He'd never pushed her for anything and she was almost ashamed to admit that he never really even asked her for help when he needed it.  The request last Christmas had been unusual to say the least.  Usually, it was Harm helping her and catching her when she fell.

And if she looked at the gradual decline in their relationship, it wasn't *all* his fault.  She had contributed as well.  Mac took a deep breath and started tracing patterns on her afghan.  She'd said every nasty, snarky thing that came to mind last year in an attempt to provoke a reaction, any reaction, from him.  She'd been wrong too.  And Harm had tried to apologize.  She hadn't.  She didn't even remember the last time she'd apologized to him.

Maybe it was time she turned over a new leaf.  Harm had been her rock and she really wasn't sure what she'd do without him.  The last thing she wanted was to be separated from him--and their best chance for finding out what happened was to work together.  They'd always been a better team than adversaries.

She'd convicted him without evidence.  There wasn't any to say that Harm *had* done it, and she didn't think she should place complete blame for their predicament without finding proof.  Together, they might be able to investigate--if the General let them, that is.  Two sets of TAD paperwork had come across her desk that day--Meg Austin and Kate Pike.

Mac bit her lip.  If she didn't want to lose him completely, she needed to apologize.  She hated to do it, but she had a feeling that it was past time she did.  Mac stood up, grabbed her keys and coat, shoved her feet into slippers and left before she lost her nerve.  Apologizing went against the grain; it's why she hadn't done it in years.  But she couldn't keep hurting him and expect him to remain her best friend.

Mac hurried downstairs, jumped in her car, and headed to Harm's apartment.  He'd already been hurting because of Mattie leaving, and she'd kicked him where it hurt.  Her eyes started to fill with tears as she remembered the hurt look on his face when she'd attacked.  She just hoped that it wasn't beyond repair.

Luckily, she hit all the traffic lights just right, and managed to make it there in record time.  She parked the car and hurried upstairs.  Mac knocked on his door and waited impatiently for him to open it, still trying not to cry.

The door swung open, revealing Harm standing there, wearing old blue jeans and a faded Annapolis t-shirt.  "Mac?" he said quietly.  "Are you okay?"

Mac swallowed, hard, before she answered.  "Harm, I'm... sorry for what I said yesterday.  It is too late?" She looked up at him through large, tear-filled brown eyes.  "Are we still friends?"

Harm reached out and pulled her gently inside, then opened his arms.  "C'mere," he murmured.  

Mac went into them and laid her ear against his chest, comforted by the sound of his heartbeat.  She rubbed her cheek against the soft cotton of his shirt, amazed at how it felt.  It was as if a missing piece of herself was back into place.  "I'm sorry, Harm," she muttered.

"Even when I'm mad as hell at you, I'm still your friend, Ninja Girl." Harm said, hugging her a bit tighter.  "That's never gonna change."

Mac looked up at him, surprised by the use of that old nickname.  She didn't remember the last time he'd used it.  They days of 'Ninja Girl' and 'Flyboy' seemed so far away.  She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him back.  Maybe they weren't so far away after all.  The two of them stood in silence, each lending support to the other and becoming stronger in the process.

~*~*~*~


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Chapter 3:
  Broken Places
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"The world breaks all of us... but if we are lucky, some of us become stronger at the broken places."
--Madeline L'Engle

~*~*~*~

1259 ZULU
JAG HEAQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA    

Harm hurried into the room, laid his briefcase on the table, and slid into his seat.  He was on time... barely.  There'd been scuttlebutt running around HQ that two new lawyers were coming to investigate his and Mac's situation.  It wouldn't do for him to be late and make a bad impression; he couldn't afford any more black marks on his record if he wanted to stay past his twenty.

He looked around the table, and then started in recognition when he noticed two of his ex-partners sitting on the other side.  A huge grin spread over his face.  Meg and Kate were the new lawyers?  It seemed like forever since he'd last seen either of them; maybe after the investigation, they could spend some time hanging out and catching up.  

He should probably call the Admiral and answer him sometime soon, as well.  He just hadn’t been able to figure out why his old CO was offering to help.  It wasn’t as if they had a good relationship anymore.  Hell, it was all they’d been able to do in the last year to achieve an uneasy truce.

He wasn’t sure what to say to the man.  How could he trust him not to scuttle whatever was left of his career?  AJ *had* told him to go wrestle alligators and to stop being Peter Pan the year before.  It wasn’t really about forgiveness—-it was about trusting someone again who’d done some things to him that were untrustworthy.  He just wasn’t sure he could risk that.

Harm tried to catch Meg’s eye, but she avoided his gaze.  He sincerely hoped that they’d get to the bottom of what had happened so that he could get on with what was left of his life.  Mattie hadn’t been gone long, but he missed her horribly.  She still lived in a corner of his heart, and he knew that she’d always be his little girl there.  

While the baby deal was now forever cancelled, he was thankful that Mac would at least let him be friends; he didn’t think that he could survive without her at least there for him somehow.  She’d twitted him about the missed phone calls in the past year, but what she didn’t know was how many times he’d replayed them—and how he didn’t answer for fear she’d tell him that she and Webb were getting married or something equally as bad.

Harm pulled some files and a legal pad out of his briefcase and arranged them on the table in front of him and waited for the General to come in.  Briefly, he wished for how it had been a few years ago; he missed the joking, the laughter, and the camaraderie that used to characterize the JAG office.  He opened a case file and started looking through it.  His reports were ready, the case should be settled soon, and he’d be able to handle any other cases the General threw his way.

So immersed was he in the file, that he barely noticed when Mac, Sturgis, and Bud, respectively, came in and took their seats.  He did, however, pay attention enough to immediately stand up and come to attention when the General entered the room.  

"At ease," General Cresswell said, then took his seat.

Without preamble, he launched into introductions.  "Lieutenant Commander Austin and Commander Pike are here to investigate the current situation involving Colonel Mackenzie's and Commander Rabb's alleged marriage.  I expect all of you to extend them every courtesy and to cooperate with them."

It was only because he was standing next to the General that Harm heard his next remark.  "If any Marines were free, I would've given the case to them."  Cresswell muttered before rapidly assigning the rest of the cases.

Harm stoically accepted his share of the work, and bit the inside of his cheek to keep from saying something he'd regret if he managed to keep his job.  The reason why the Admiral had contacted him was beginning to seem abundantly clear.  It wasn't that AJ particularly wanted to defend him--he wanted to defend the Navy.  He supposed he should be grateful; if it went to court martial, he'd need a lawyer, but he wasn't really in the mood to be grateful about anything.

As soon as Cresswell dismissed them, Harm grabbed his files and hurried towards the refuge of his office.  He entered, not really noticing the man standing in the corner, dumped his pile of folders on his desk, then slumped down in his desk chair.

"Son, I hear you've somehow landed in a mess not of your own making," his former CO's soft voice filled the room.

Nine years of habit took over as Harm immediately stood and came to attention.  "Sir," he said.

"I'm not your CO anymore, Harm," AJ said.  He slid into one of the chairs in front of Harm's desk.  "I am, however, an old friend who is in the position to help get you out of the situation you find yourself in."  

Harm sat down and eyed AJ warily.  "I swear, sir, I don't know how this happened," he said.

"I know, Son," AJ said.  "You've got too much honor and integrity to blatantly flout regulations like that without a life-or-death situation; your new CO is just too blind to see it.  However, I'm *not* and I'm going to defend you and prove that you and Mac never got married."

Harm looked down at his desk, unsure what to think of this new development.  A show of faith from the Admiral was the last thing he'd expected after the past few years and he didn't know how to react.  "Thank you, sir," he said finally.

"AJ.  Call me AJ."  The Admiral got up, walked closer, and clapped Harm on the shoulder.  "I'm going to talk to a few people and see what's going on with the investigation.  Hang tight, Son.  We'll get you out of this."

Harm looked up and silently watched AJ leave his office.  There wasn't a way he could refuse.  He didn't really have the money to hire his own counsel even if he wanted to without talking to Frank, and that was something he didn't want to do.  He slumped back in his chair before picking up a different case file.  With his two ex-partners questioning him, it looked like it'd be a long day.

~*~*~*~

1335 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Meg knocked on the door frame to Colonel Mackenzie's office.  "Colonel?" she called.

"Come in," was the response.

Kate entered first.  "Colonel," she began without preamble.  "The last time I was here, you and Harm were just good friends.  Is that still true?"  

Meg settled herself in a chair and waited expectantly for an answer.  She and Kate had been teamed up for three months and were used to running interrogations together.  With her girl-next-door looks and southern charm, she was a natural for the good cop role, while Kate's more abrasive personality did well as the aggressor.

"Yes, it's true.  Though I can't say we've exactly been friends as of late."  The Colonel clasped her hands together in front of her on her desk.  "I guess you could say that our friendship has been on the rocks lately."

"Why is that, Ma'am?" Meg asked softly.

Colonel Mackenzie drew in a deep breath.  "Since Lieutenant Commander Roberts lost his leg two years ago, this office has kind of been in upheaval."  She looked down at the desk.  "Between Harm's imprisonment, trial, resigning, coming back, becoming the guardian for a teenager, and the Admiral retiring, we're just getting our friendship back."  She looked Kate straight in the eye.  "Things have changed since you were temporarily assigned here, Commander Pike."

"Did you and Harm have a... marital spat?" Kate asked.  She put both hands on the desk and leaned forward.

"We've never had that kind of relationship." Mac answered.  "Harm is the best friend I've ever had and the one person I can count on to always be there for me when I need him."

"Does that include *all* your... needs, Colonel?" Kate asked.

Meg bit the inside of her lip to keep from laughing.  She'd seen Kate try that ploy quite a bit.  It was usually effective, but obviously worked more against men to get them to spill their guts.  

Of course, Meg noticed that it wasn't really having the same effect on Colonel Mackenzie.  Mac simply leaned back in her chair and arched an eyebrow.  “If you're asking if Harm and I have ever had a sexual relationship, the answer is no,” she said evenly.

“Ma'am, can you please tell us where you were on December 18, 2001?” Meg asked before Kate could antagonize the Colonel further.

“I've been expecting that question since I found out about the marriage that Harm and I are supposedly in,” Mac murmured.  “Harm and I were on our way to Camp Lejeune when a snowstorm stranded us in Raleigh.”

“So you were in Raleigh and decided that what the hell, you might as well marry Commander Rabb,” Kate said dryly.

“No,” the Colonel said.  “All the hotels except for one were full, and we got the last room there.” She paused for a few minutes, then looked Meg in the eye.  “They only had one room left, so we took it, but I swear nothing happened.  It was a suite, so Harm slept on the couch and I got the bed.”

“If that's true, *Colonel,* then how do you explain *this*?” Kate tossed a marriage certificate down on the desk, then crossed her arms over her chest.

Meg wasn't entirely convinced that they hadn't flouted regulations and gotten married, but she had to admit that it was out of character for the man she'd been partnered with a decade before to do such a thing.  He'd disobey orders if he had to, but he was always up front about it.  Subterfuge just didn't suit him.

“I can't,” Mac said flatly.  She picked up the certificate and examined it.  “Harm and I went on the Camp Lejeune the next day for the investigation and headed home afterwards.”  She paused and looked more closely at the certificate.  “I can, however, tell you one thing--these aren't our signatures on the marriage certificate.”

“How would you know it's not the Commander's signature?” Meg asked.

Mac dropped the document as if it were dirty and surreptitiously wiped her hands on her skirt.  Meg took careful note of it and listened intently to what the Colonel said next.  “I've been his best friend and sometime partner for nine years, Commander Austin,” she said.  “I've seen his signature hundreds of times, and this isn't it.”

“Are you *sure*?” Kate asked.

“Positive,” was Mac's reply.

“Thank you, Ma'am,” Meg said.  “We'll be conducting interviews with the rest of the staff if you remember anything else.”

Meg stood up and all but pushed Kate out the door.  “What'd you do *that* for?” Kate demanded.

“Kate, do you think that *Harm* would ever secretly flout regulations like that?   It takes *two* people to get married.”

“I don't know,” Kate admitted.  “I guess we'll just have to find out.”

“That's what we're here for,” Meg replied.  She hurried across the bullpen to Bud Roberts's office.  They'd get to the bottom of what happened; Harm didn't deserve to have his name dragged through the mud.  And if he was innocent, then so was the Colonel, and she didn't deserve it either.

~*~*~*~

1335 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Mattie waved at the guard, signed in, and pushed the button to call for the elevator.  Her father hadn't been hadn't been at all happy that she was going to see Harm.  In fact, he'd forbidden her to go, so she'd been forced to sneak out to come to JAG Headquarters.  Nobody would stop her from her surrogate father when he obviously needed her help.

As far as she was concerned, he needed her now just as much as he'd needed her after he'd temporarily lost his hearing. Mattie tapped her foot impatiently and rushed out of the elevator when the doors opened.  She brushed past Admiral Chegwidden, accidentally knocking him to the floor, and muttered a hasty apology as she pushed open the door and headed into Harm's office.

He had his back turned towards the door, so she snuck up behind him and gave him a hug.  "Harm," she said softly.  

Harm turned around, surprise on his face.  "Mattie!  What are you doing here?" he asked.  "Shouldn't you be in school?"   

"You need me," she said bluntly.  "Something is wrong, and I'm not leaving until you let me help."  Harm's actions belied his words as he returned the hug, pulling her close to him.  He dropped a kiss into her hair and she smiled.  "I made Mac promise to take care of you," she muttered.  "Not even a week and she's already forgotten."

"Circumstances are... extraordinary, Kiddo," Harm said as he gave her a final squeeze.

"Harm, from what I've seen, that's the biggest lie you've ever told me.  Now spill.  What's going on that has you so miserable?"  Mattie pulled back and glared at him.  

Harm sighed.  "The long and short of it is that everybody thinks that I've been married to Mac for three years without telling anybody."

After almost a year of living with Harm, Mattie knew at least a little about military law.  "And that's illegal, isn't it?  Since you and Mac are in the same chain of command?  But you're *not* married to Mac!  She wouldn't even talk to us for months after she helped you get me."  Mattie gave him another hug.  "What a mess."

Harm closed his eyes and returned the hug.  "Yeah, Mats," he said softly.  "It sure is."

Mattie and Harm both looked towards the door as they heard someone clear their throat.  Cresswell looked at the pair.  "Commander Rabb, is this something I should be worried about?" he asked mildly.

"You must be the new boss," Mattie said, stepping out of Harm's embrace.  "Commander Rabb is my..." she hesitated for a second.  "Dad," she finished.

"Mattie," Harm said warningly.

"It's true," she insisted, cutting him off.  Mattie turned back towards him and gave him a smile.  "I may be living with my father now, but you're still the man who was my dad when I needed one."

"Mattie was my ward last year, sir," Harm supplied.  

"Was, Commander?" Cresswell questioned.

"I decided to give my father another chance," Mattie explained.  "So far, Harm is a whole lot better at being a dad than my original one." She shrugged.  "Anybody can be a father, but to find a dad like Harm..."

Cresswell favored her with a sharp glance.  "Young lady, next time you need to see the Commander, please refrain from doing it during business hours."

Mattie smiled inwardly as she figured out *exactly* what to say to him.  She gave Cresswell her most innocent look.  "But sir, the Commander is helping me get an appointment to the Academy so that I can be a Marine pilot someday."

"I see, so you want to be a Marine pilot, young lady?" Cresswell asked.

"Yes, sir!" she said with a big smile.  "Harm has been teaching me to fly, and he says I'm a natural."  Mattie glanced back and noticed that Harm was trying not to choke at her words.  Sure it was a lie… but not by much.  She wanted to be a *Navy* pilot, but Harm's boss didn't need to know that.  She clasped her hands behind her back to hide the fact that the fingers of her left hand were crossed.

Cresswell raised an eyebrow.  "Not in government equipment, I trust, Commander?"

"No, sir," was the answer.  "I own an antique biplane."

"Carry on," Cresswell said with a sharp nod, then left the office.

Harm strode across the room and shut the door behind the General.  "Mattie!  I can't believe you just did that!"

Mattie grinned and flopped into one of his chairs.  It felt good to have him scolding her again.  "Yes, you can," she said impudently.  "It worked, didn't it?"

"Mats, we talked about lying before..."

"Yes, we did.  That wasn't lying, that was sucking up," Mattie said brightly.  "And for the record, I wanna fly Navy or I'm not going military. Besides, it didn't count because I had my fingers crossed."

Harm simply shook his head and sighed.  "Mattie does your father know where you are?"

"I told him.  I stopped by your place on the way over and dropped off my stuff.  I'm staying until this gets fixed, because I'm *not* leaving you alone."  Mattie crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a stubborn look.

"What about school?" Harm asked.

Mattie shrugged.  "I've been gone for less than a week, and my new school doesn't have my records yet. I can go back to school here with Susan."

Harm rubbed his temples as if he had a headache coming on.  "I guess I'd better start house hunting again," he muttered.  "Mats, you've always got a home with me, you know that, right?"

Mattie stood up, walked over, and gave Harm a kiss on the cheek.  "I know.  That's why you're my dad."  She smiled at his as his arms came up around her again to give her a hug.  Now that she was back, Harm wouldn't have to face the current mess alone.

~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      Chapter 4:
  In Darkest Night
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."
--Charles de Lint

~*~*~*~

1345 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

"Sir!"  Jen stopped as she noticed AJ on the floor.  "Are you okay, sir?  Can I help you get up?"

"Coates," AJ acknowledged.  "I think I can manage on my own." He started to get up, but changed his mind as his hip gave him a bad twinge.  "Maybe you *can* help me after all, Petty Officer," he said with a wince.

Coates set the pile of folders she'd been carrying on a nearby desk and helped him up.  "What happened, sir?' she asked.

"It's AJ now, remember?" he asked.  "An overeager teenager accidentally knocked me down on her way to the Commander's office," he said wryly.  "I doubt she's forgiven me yet for being, 'that mean old man who fired Harm.'"  AJ dusted off his pants.  "I'll hand it to the Commander, he seems to collect the feisty ones."

Jen gave him a confused look.  "But sir," she began.  "Mattie went to live with her biological father.  She moved out almost a week ago!"

"I suggest you take it up with her, Coates--it looks like she's come back."  He finished dusting himself off and gave Jen a half-smile.  "If you'll excuse me, Jennifer, I need to go have a word with the Colonel."

"Yes, sir," Jen said, picking up her stack of files.  

AJ watched as she headed towards Commander Rabb's office, then he turned and walked briskly across the bullpen and knocked on Mac's door.  "Come in," was the immediate response.

"Colonel Mackenzie," he said as he walked into the office and shut the door.

Mac turned around.  AJ could see surprise written all over her face.  "Admiral! What are you doing here?" she asked.

AJ sat down in one of her chairs and crossed his arms.  "I got a call from your new CO claiming that you and Commander Rabb snuck off on an investigation on my watch and got married."  He allowed a small smile to cross his face.   "Since I know that neither one of you would do that and Cresswell seems intent on blaming the Commander for it, I decided to see if the two of you could use an old, retired Navy lawyer to defend both of you."

Mac had a guarded look on her face.  "Sir, I appreciate the offer, but... given our past history of going against the regs, how can you be sure?"

AJ's smile got bigger.  "I was your CO for eight years, Mac.  The two of you have put everything on the line before for each other, but you've never hidden it when you've disobeyed orders or regs for various reasons.  I don't think the two of you could actually conceal it if you got married."

"Sir, you wouldn't have done anything like this last year," she murmured.  "Last year, you hung both of us out to dry."

AJ sighed and rubbed his hand over his face.  "No, I wouldn't have," he admitted. "And I did. Not only was I still your CO, but I was also burned out from playing politics and being forced to betray my principles for the sake of my job.  I did a lot of things I'm not proud of, Colonel, but I'm attempting to fix some of that now."  He looked up at her and let his hands come to rest on his thighs.  "Sometimes a man just has to mend fences that he's torn down, and I guess it's my turn."

Mac looked down at her desk.  "Thank you, sir," she said finally.  "I'll accept if you take both of us together.  You're right--we didn't do it.  Our only crime is being stranded in a snowstorm in North Carolina."  She gave him a brief smile.  "I don't know where this trumped-up marriage came from."

"You're welcome, Colonel," he said as he stood up.  "I'd better go find the investigators before they come looking for me; I know they will sooner or later, and I'd rather it be here than at home."  He shook Mac's hand and turned towards the door.  "You know where to reach me."

He barely heard Mac's acknowledgement as he left her office and crossed the bullpen to where Kate Pike and Meg Austin were standing.  He doubted that they'd been assigned there in the short time he'd been gone, so that only left one option open--they were the ones sent to investigate the case.

~*~*~*~

1400 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Cresswell grimaced as he looked at the file.  He'd need to send senior officers to investigate, and the only ones free were Rabb and Mackenzie.  With their relationship being scrutinized, it was probably a good thing that the vessel the two officers involved in the incident were stationed on was currently in Norfolk, but he wasn't sure if he really wanted them out of his sight until everything was settled.

He hated to see a fine Marine's career ruined over something like a fraternization and an adultery charge, but unless the investigation turned up something, he'd have no choice but to charge both of them.  He reached for the intercom and pressed the button.  "Petty Officer Coates, please ask Commander Rabb and Colonel Mackenzie to report to my office--and tell Commander Rabb's daughter that I'll be happy to talk to her about the Marines after we finish."

"Yes, sir," came the muffled response.

It seemed like hours, but was in reality only a few minutes until the Commander and the Colonel knocked on his door.  "Enter," he called.

Without a word, the officers came to attention in front of his desk.  "At ease." Cresswell folded his hands in front of him before continuing.  "I've got a short investigation for the two of you--I need to know if you can handle this professionally or not?"

"We can, sir," Mac answered immediately.  The commander nodded his agreement.

"Normally, this investigation would go to junior officers.  Lieutenant Meecham is accused of striking a superior officer."  Cresswell handed Rabb and Mackenzie copies of the file.  "He doesn't deny it, but he claims that it was self-defense and religious persecution." He leaned forward, his hands flat on the desk.  "I don't need to tell you how sensitive a case of this nature is--I need you to go down to Norfolk and find out *exactly* what happened."

Rabb and Mackenzie came to attention again.  "Yes, *Sir*," they answered.

"Dismissed."  Cresswell watched as the left, then settled into his own thoughts.  From the Lieutenant's file, it was entirely possible that his claims of religious persecution were true.  

From his own experience, Cresswell knew that military life could sometimes be a... cultural experience for everyone, but especially the LDS servicemen.  They tended to stand out more than most and almost always drew fire for their religion.  Even without reading the file, he would have suspected that Meecham was a Mormon.  His time at Brigham Young University had made it so that he recognized the names of some of the families that went back to pioneer days, and 'Meecham' was one of them.

Heaven knew that he'd put up with a lot of razzing about it in the early days.  Most people in the Church were used to it, though.  He suspected that there had to be a lot more to it than a few snide comments about polygamists to make the Lieutenant lose his temper.  After all, Russia wasn't exactly the easiest mission to serve in and that was where Lieutenant Meecham had gone.  When all was said and done, there *was* such a thing as righteous anger...

He didn't know Rabb and Mackenzie well--but he was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  It was entirely possible that their 'marriage' was a mistake, anyway.  For both cases, it was a matter of letting the investigations run their course.

~*~*~*~

1350 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Meg studied her notes, then glanced over at Kate.  "We're gonna have to go to Raleigh to get any further on this."

Kate shifted in her chair and nodded.  "I know.  Everyone here thinks that they didn't do it, and I really don't think that Harm could.  A casual fling, yes, but not a secret marriage."

Meg smiled.  "He doesn't have it in him to keep up a lie for that long."  She took a deep breath.  "I was his partner for a year and I've never known him to lie.  He avoids the subject, yes, but he doesn't lie."

"I think I cured him of casual flings, anyway," Kate muttered.  "I don't know Colonel Mackenzie well, but from what I've heard, she might be able to do it."

"Oh?" Meg tilted her head quizzically.

"The Colonel kept the fact that she was married a secret for the first few years she was at JAG," Kate said dryly.  "I've seen her service record--she even had an affair with her immediate commanding officer while she was still married to a--," she consulted her notes.  "Chris Ragle."

"But if Harm is innocent--" Meg began.

"Then so is Colonel Mackenzie," Kate said.  "It *still* wouldn't surprise me if she was somehow behind it."

"I only know her by reputation, but I think she would have *told* him if she did something like that," Meg argued.  "I kept in touch with Harm after I transferred out, and she used to be all he talked about.  For the past few years, though, he hasn't mentioned her much at all."  She grimaced.  "Did you notice the way she was looking at him during staff call?"

Kate nodded.  "Whether or not the charges are true, Mackenzie is in love with Harm; she was looking at him like he was the only man on earth.  Think Harm knows?"

Meg shook her head.  "Harm's oblivious, I think.  I had a big crush on him for the first few months of our partnership--he always treated me like I was his kid sister."

Kate favored Meg with a wolfish grin.  "He never treated *me* like that.  The way that man looks in dress whites should be outlawed."

Meg fiddled with her wedding ring and smiled.  "I know what you mean."

Kate stood up and absently brushed invisible wrinkles out of her uniform absently.  "We'd better get down to the motor pool and requisition a car if we want to get to Raleigh before dark."

Meg nodded and stood up.  "Think that any of the same staff will be there after three years?"

"I hope so," Kate said.  "We can at least get the hotel records before we go to Lejeune to find out more about the case they were on."

The two women left the small office they'd been using and headed downstairs, determined to clear their friend if they could.

~*~*~*~

1430 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Mattie looked up from her Math homework as she watched Harm enter the room.  He had a file tucked under his arm and a sheepish expression on his face.  "Mats, I've got an investigation in Norfolk, so would you be okay if I asked Jen to stay with you while I'm gone?"

Mattie dropped her pencil, stood up, hurried around the desk, and hugged him.  "I understand better now than I used to," she said, then kissed him on the cheek.  "I'm not saying that moving back here is permanent, but I do know that I want to be just like you when I grow up."

Harm hugged her back, and Mattie could see that he was holding back tears.  "Mats, without you here, my life is pretty empty.  Do me a favor and be *better* than me when you're my age?" He kissed her on the forehead.  "Find somebody to love who loves you back and start your own family."

Mattie hugged him again before releasing him reluctantly.  "I'm guessing that you have to get ready to go," she said.  "And I've got somebody to see before you take me home, so I'll be right back."

Harm set the casefile on his desk.  "All right, but you're *going* to go to school tomorrow, and for as long as you're home."

Mattie shot him an impish grin.  "Aye, aye *sir*," she said.

"And if you need help with your homework--"

"Call you like I do *every* night, because my father was never good with that kind of thing," Mattie supplied.

"Are you happy back in Blacksburg, kiddo?" Harm asked.

Mattie bit her lip.  "Most of the time, but I miss you.  I love you, Harm.  You know that, don't you?"

"Yeah, I do."  Harm pulled her into another hug.

Mattie hugged him back, relishing the safe feeling she got in her dad's arms.  "Harm, have you thought about transferring out and leaving here or something?" she asked quietly.  It had been on her mind ever since she'd left.  For the past year, it seemed to her that he was only hanging around Washington because she was there.

Harm was quiet for a few minutes before answering.  "Sometimes," he admitted.  "But I won't abandon you, Mathilda.  I don't abandon the people I love."

"Good, because I still need you," she looked at him seriously.  "Dad."

Harm gave her a bone crunching hug, his eyes bright with unshed tears.  She'd never seriously given him that title before, but it seemed right.  In all the ways that mattered, he *was* her dad.  He released her and she gave him a bright smile.  "I'd better hurry so that I'm ready to leave when you are," she said, turning towards the door.

Just as she was about to leave the room, Jen hurried up.  "Mattie, General Cresswell would like to talk to you about the academy before Harm and Colonel Mackenzie leave."

"Jen, would you please tell him that I'll be right there?" Mattie asked, her eyes pleading.

"Sure," Jen answered with a smile.  "But don't keep him waiting for too long--he's a little harder to read than the Admiral was, and I'm still never sure what he's going to do next."

Mattie nodded.  "Okay.  I just need to have a quick word with somebody, and I'll be there."

"Mathilda--" Harm said warningly.

"I know--behave."

"Jen, I'm not sure if I'll have to stay in Norfolk overnight..." Harm began.

"And you'd like to ask me if Mattie can stay in my spare room for the night.  Commander, she can stay here for the day, and I'll take her home with me so that you and Mac can leave straight from here."  Jen flashed him a smile.  "I'll also make sure she gets to school."

"Thanks, Jen," Harm said.  It was the last thing Mattie heard as she left the room and made a beeline for Colonel Mackenzie's office.  She bit the inside of her lip and a slow anger roiled in her stomach.  She'd asked the Colonel to take care of Harm, and right after she left, *this* happened.  She needed to have *words* with the Colonel before going to talk to Harm's new boss.

She knocked on the door and entered without bothering to wait for a reply.  "You promised to look out for him," she said with a glare at Colonel Mackenzie.

"Mattie, I--"

"I know what happened when the two of you got accused.  I know that neither of you had anything to do with it, and I know you started yelling at him." Mattie crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Mac.

"Mattie--" Mac tried to talk again, but Mattie interrupted.

"Harm thinks that he's gonna spend the rest of his life alone except for me, did you know that?  He won't leave here.  He says it's because of me but I know better; it's more than that.  It's you. He lov--" She cut herself off abruptly.  "Forget I said that.  Harm'd be pissed if he knew I said anything."  Mattie put her hands on her hips.  "Harm's a good guy.  He doesn't deserve to spend the rest of his life alone.  And it's up to you if that happens."  

She flounced out of the room and headed towards the General's office.  She knew she shouldn't have spilled the beans, but it felt good.  Harm needed somebody to speak for him because she didn't think he'd do it for himself, so she'd do it for him right now.  He was, after all, her dad.

Mattie went into Jen's office and started to knock on the General's door.  "Mattie," Jen said, making her turn around.  

"Yeah, Jen?" she asked.

"I'm taking you home, okay?  That way Harm and the Colonel can leave for Norfolk quickly so that you can talk to General Cresswell."

Mattie bit her lip and nodded.  Sometimes she really hated the fact that his job took him away from her, but it wasn't like she could really complain at this point because she'd abandoned him in favor of her father.  She took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

"Enter," was the response.

Mattie pushed the door open and went inside.  She was here for him at the moment, and that was what mattered.

~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      Chapter 5:
       Open Hearts
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“The human heart at whatever age, opens only to the heart that opens in return.”
--Maria Edgeworth

~*~*~*~

1702 ZULU
NAVY CAR
ENROUTE TO NORFOLK

Harm glanced over at Mac, concerned by her behavior.  They'd been driving for almost three hours, and she had yet to say anything to him past 'Hello, Harm.'  He drew in a deep breath, let out and decided to try talking to her.  "Mac?" he ventured.  "Are you okay?"

He was met with a few more minutes of silence before she said anything.  "I guess," she said.  Mac picked invisible lint off her skirt.  "Harm?" she said finally.  "Why are you still around?"

Harm glanced at her and frowned.  "What do you mean?  I promised I'd be here for you, and I don't break my word."

Mac glanced at him then looked away so quickly that he thought he'd imagined it.  She stared at her uniform skirt and continued to pick off invisible lint. “I've been pushing you away since before the whole Singer mess,” she began softly.  “I've done my best to undermine you, been mean about every case we've tried, flaunted my relationship with Clay because I knew it would hurt you... Why are you still here, Harm?”

Harm looked at her, a terrible hope filled him, but he still couldn't quite bring himself to say the words.  “Do you have to ask?” he murmured.

“Yes,” she said.  “I've known you for nine years, Harmon, and I still don't know how you feel about me.  Am I your buddy, your best friend, your sister, or something more? Tell me, Harm!”

Harm drove on for a few minutes, trying to force himself to say it.  Somehow it had been much easier to admit how he felt about Mac to Mattie.  “I love you, okay?” he said finally.  “I've loved you for so damn long that I don't remember what it's like not to love you!”

“I love you, too,” Mac whispered.

Harm barely heard her, so he wasn't sure what to think.  Now that he'd finally said it, he wanted to shout it from the rooftops.  Hell, he'd take out Sarah and sky write “Harmon Rabb Loves Sarah Mackenzie” over Washington if he thought it'd help his cause.  It wasn't exactly a secret, anyway.  Sometimes he felt that it was tattooed on his forehead for everybody to see.

“What did you say, Sarah?” he asked gently.

“I love you... but I'm not ready,” she said slowly.  “It's just too soon.”

His heart ached at her words as he wondered if there would ever be a time when both of them were ready at the same time. Still, she'd just admitted that she loved him, and it went a long way towards soothing his bruised and battered heart.  “Can we be friends again?” he asked wistfully.  “It's been a long time since we were best friends and I've missed you.”

Harm grimaced as he noticed that she was still picking at imaginary lint.  He reached out to still her restless hand, but before he could return his hand to the wheel, Mac grabbed it and laced her fingers through his.  “We could rebuild what we had.”  She suggested, her voice husky with unshed tears.  “And maybe work towards something more along the way?”

“I'd like that,” he answered.  Part of his mind was already planning how to slowly and gently win her over to his side.  He wanted to marry her; since he'd met her, he just couldn't see his future without a brown-haired, brown-eyed wife named Sarah Mackenzie.  He knew that they were somehow technically married, but a man wanted to ask the lady himself and marry her for real, not because some piece of paper in a bureaucrat's office said it was so.

Mac kissed the back of his hand, and then wrapped her free one around their joined hands.  “Good,” she said.  “I meant what I said, Harm.  I never want us to be separated again.”

He shot her a flyboy grin.  “I'm glad, because you and I being together for the rest of our lives just happens to be something I want to discuss at some later date... when you're ready.”

“Whatever happened to friendship first?” Mac asked, a smile hovering around the corners of her mouth.

“Just stating my intentions, Colonel,” he said with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.  “I thought you'd like to know that I don't ever intend to let you walk out of my life again... when you're ready to accept my offer.”

“Does that mean I can tell Alicia and any other blonde who comes on to you to back off?” Mac asked, her grin widening.

Harm shot her a mock-shocked look.  “And we're only friends?”

“Well, we did say that we're working on something more,” Mac reasoned.  “And that means that you're taken!”

“As long as you're taken, too, that's fine with me,” Harm answered quietly.  “And at some future date, I want to go on an exploratory mission to find a certain beautiful Marine's tattoo...”

“Only if you're very, very good.” Mac said with a wicked grin.

“What if I'm very, very bad?” Harm asked, leering playfully at her.

“That could work, too,” she answered.  “But if we start acting differently during the investigation--”

“They'll think we're hiding that we actually did get married three years ago,” he finished.

“Part of me wishes that we did,” Mac admitted.  “It would have saved us a lot of heartache.”

“You never would have gone to Paraguay or dated Webb,” he said quietly.  

“And how would you know that?” she asked.

Harm shot her a dazzling smile.  “Because that wouldn't have been a pregnancy suit you were wearing.  Even Webb isn't foolhardy enough to take a woman in that condition on an op.”  His smile got wider.  “And as soon as we found out about the endometriosis, not only would I have been there, but we could've tried for another baby to help...”

Mac groaned, freed one hand, and smacked him lightly on the shoulder.  “What is this, a plan to keep me barefoot and pregnant?”

Harm gave her another playful leer. “Sure, why not?”

He could see Mac hesitating for a few minutes.  “Harm—there's something I haven't told you,” she said slowly.  

Harm gave her hand a squeeze.  “What is it, Sarah?” he asked.  “I'm not going anywhere.”

She looked down at their joined hands.  “The doctors say that there's a less than five percent chance that I'll be able to have a baby,” she admitted.

“Then we still have a four percent chance,” he said.  “We can go the fertility clinic route and try all their options, too.  If, at some future date, we decide that we want children and can't have them the natural way, we can always adopt.”  

“And if that doesn't work?” Mac asked softly.

“Then we have each other... and a teenager that I picked up along the way.  We'll--storm that beach when we get to it.”

“Thank you, Butch,” was Mac's murmured reply.

“Anytime, Sundance.” Harm smiled at her, then turned his attention back to the road.  They were almost to Norfolk, and he knew that they needed to refocus their attention on the coming investigation.  He glanced over at his partner, and watched as she leaned back against the seat.  “Butch and Sundance ride again,” he whispered.

“Always and forever, Harm,” Mac said.

He carefully moved into the correct lane, and got off the freeway.  The sooner they got the investigation finished, the sooner they could get back to regaining what they had lost and working out their tangled relationship.

~*~*~*~

1730 ZULU
COURTYARD BY MARRIOTT
RALIEGH, NORTH CAROLINA

Meg and Kate pulled into the parking lot in their Navy-issued car.  Kate parked it carefully and looked at her partner.  "Ready?" she asked dryly.

"Sure anyone here will remember?" Meg asked, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear.

Kate raised a delicate eyebrow.  "Oh they'll remember," she purred.  "I'll make sure of that."

Meg rolled her eyes.  "Kate, you don't have to pull that act with me."

Kate gave Meg her most innocent look, which, being who she was, wasn't very.  "Me?  Try and pull some sort of act?"

Meg just looked at her, and the two women started to laugh.  "Okay, okay, I'll behave--unless there's someone in there whose mind I can mess with." Kate grinned and reached for her purse and briefcase.

Meg and Kate got out of the car, pausing as Meg grabbed her own baggage, and hurried up to the door.  "Let me handle the questioning, okay?" Meg whispered.

"Unless it's someone that we can use my… talents on, I'm fine with it." Kate answered.

Meg suppressed a smile as they approached the front desk.  "Excuse me," she said with a winning smile.  

"Yes?" The man behind the desk looked the two of them up and down.  "How can I help y'all?"

"I'm Commander Pike, and this is my partner, Lt. Commander Austin, and we're here on a JAG investigation," Kate explained.

"What does JAG want with us?" the young man asked.

"We need to see both your paper and computer records from December 2001," Meg said.  "Do you think it would be possible to do that?"

He gulped.  "Um, I'll need to ask my manager."  He picked up the phone and spoke into it for several minutes.  

An older woman came toward the desk a few minutes after that.  "Jason said that you needed to ask about some records?" she asked.  "I'm the manager, Debbie Carson."

"We're trying to retrace the steps of a couple of our officers on December 18, 2001," Meg explained.  "They said that they stopped here, and we just need to confirm that.  Would it be possible to see both your paper records and your computer records from that day?"

"Normally, that would require a subpoena," Debbie said slowly.  "Do the officers involved know you're here?"

"Yes, ma'am," Meg answered with a smile.  "We don't think that they did what they're accused of and now we have to prove it."

"Might I know what they're being investigate for?" Debbie asked.

"Ms. Carson, we can't discuss an ongoing investigation--I'm sure you understand," Kate said.

Debbie nodded, moved behind the desk, and pulled up the file.  "December 18, 2001?  And who are you looking for?"

"Yes, ma'am.  Harmon Rabb and Sarah Mackenzie," Meg supplied.

"Here it is," Debbie turned the screen around to show them.  "They got the last suite.  In fact it was the last room in the hotel.  It says here that they requested extra bedding to make up the couch as well."

"Can we get a copy of that?" Kate asked.

"Sure, honey, no problem."  Debbie hit the print button and handed her a copy a few seconds later.

"We also need to see any paper records that you have, and the clerk who checked them in wouldn't still happen to be here, would they, ma'am?" Meg asked.

"With the job market being what it has been after 9/11, yes, he is," Debbie said.  "He doesn't come in until four, though, so y'all will have to wait.  His name is Jim."  She gave the two Navy lawyers a nervous smile.  "If you'll just follow me, I'll take you to the records storage."

They followed her down the lushly carpeted hallway and into a door marked "For Employees Only."  She pulled a set of keys out of her pocket, unlocked a nondescript door, and hustled them inside.  "The year is written on the boxes and the months are separated," she said.  "Now if y'all don't need anything else?"

"This is fine, thanks," Meg said with another smile.  Debbie excused herself quietly as Meg and Kate eyed the pile of boxes with dismay.  

"Let's hope they're not as dusty as they look," Kate grumbled.

Meg walked over and started examining the boxes.  "At least whoever puts these things away is organized," she pointed out.  "These two boxes seem to be about 2001."  

Kate sighed and helped Meg move the boxes on top of the desired ones until they got to them.  After a few minutes of poking around inside, she pulled out a register.  "Here's the register they should be in," she said with a sneeze.

Meg took the dusty register as Kate started digging around in her purse for a tissue.  "I *hate* dust*," she muttered.

Meg flipped through the register.  "Here it is."  She frowned and looked closer.  "Kate, do you see what I see?"

Kate peered over Meg's shoulder.  "Aside from the fact that it says 'Mr. and Mrs. Harmon Rabb,' it's been altered." She said dryly.

Meg's frown deepened.  "It doesn't look like they knew what they were doing, either," she said.  "And I don't know *why* they'd alter a hotel register to say that Harm and the Colonel are married, either."

"Why don't we find out if we can borrow it and get out of this dust?" Kate suggested.  "We'll find out why later."

Meg nodded.  "Sure," she said.  

Quickly, they put the files back where they'd been and hurried back to the front desk.  It didn't take long to convince Debbie to let them keep the register.  They still had a while to wait, so they settled down in the lobby, hoping that their quarry would come to work early.

~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Chapter 6:
 Damned if you do...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an intelligible stone: and that is where we start."
--T. S. Eliot, from "Four Quartets: Little Gidding"

~*~*~*~

1435 ZULU
GENERAL CRESSWELL'S OFFICE
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Mattie knocked timidly on the General's door.  She didn't know Harm's new boss at all, but if he were like the Admiral, she wasn't sure that she wanted to.  "Come," she heard Cresswell's voice say.

Mattie pushed open the door, walked in, and stood quietly beside the chairs, waiting for him to notice her.  She wasn't in the military, but she knew better than to just sit down without being invited.  She'd learned enough from living with Harm and Jen for that.

Cresswell looked up from the file he'd been reading and smiled.  "Mathilda, right?"

"I go by Mattie, sir," she said nervously.

"Please, sit," he said, motioning to a chair.  "You look to be around my daughter, Katie's age."

Mattie sat down and bit her lip.  She'd come to support Harm, and without him there, she wasn't sure how exactly to proceed.  She felt braver with him with her. "I'm fifteen, sir."

"So is she," he said meditatively.  "Perhaps I should arrange for the two of you to meet."

"I-I think I'd like that, sir," she said.  "It might be nice to have somebody to talk to besides Susan who understands what it's like for your Dad to be gone all the time."  Mattie hesitated for a few minutes.  "Especially when he's almost all I've got."

Cresswell's eyebrow lifted at the last remark, but he didn't say anything about it.  "So how did you end up in his care, Mattie?"

Mattie looked down at the carpet for a few minutes before answering.  She'd barely told Harm how she'd ended up alone--maybe telling his boss how he'd rescued her might make it easier for him.  "My father abandoned me after my mom was killed in an accident," she began softly.  "He left me with relatives who wanted a free babysitter.  When I refused, they dumped me on my aunt and uncle--Uncle Greg kept looking at me like I was a Big Mac and he was starving, so I ran away."  She stopped for a few minutes, fighting not to cry.  

"I went back home and started running my Mom's business--Grace Aviation. Harm found me there when he came down to fly his plane, and it didn't take him long to figure out that I was alone."  Mattie looked at him for a minute before continuing.  "He offered to become my guardian and took me in--he's been a better dad than my biological father."

Cresswell regarded the teenager for a few minutes.  "And you're now living with your biological father?" he asked gently.

Mattie bristled. She felt as if she were being cross-examined.  "I thought he needed me more, but that was before this mess came up.  The Colonel was barely speaking to him the entire time I was living with Harm, and I *know* he needs me." She shot the General a fierce look.  "*I* love him, and anybody who hurts him is gonna have to answer to *me.* I want to be just like him when I grow up--he's my hero."

Cresswell's mouth quirked into a slight smile.  "I thought you wanted to be a *Marine* aviator?"

"I want to go to the Academy, sir," Mattie said slowly.  "I can decide which branch of service later.  Most people would've turned me in to Social Services.  Harm didn't.  He saved me, sir.  And I know where I stand with him; that's more than I can say with my real father."  

"So will you be staying with the Commander?" Cresswell asked.

"I'm not sure," Mattie admitted.  "I haven't given my father much of a chance.  He didn't want me to come here, but I *had* to.  Harm taught me that you don't leave people behind.  That's how he ended up at Grace Aviation in the first place; he refused to abandon Colonel Mackenzie and her boyfriend and let them die.  I thought my father needed me, but now I'm not so sure I made the right choice."

Mattie bit her lip.  "How do you choose between two dads?  Both of them love me, but my father abandoned me.  I chose, but I don't know if I did the right thing."

"Well, young lady," he said with a ghost of a smile.  "I wish I could tell you what to do, but I try not to meddle in the lives of my people.  I will, however, tell you what I'd tell my Katie--spend some time thinking about it and do what your heart tells you to do."

Mattie looked at him and smiled.  Harm's new boss was better than that mean old Admiral.  "Thank you, sir," she said quietly.

"Now, if you'd like to know anything about military life, and having a career in the Marines, I'll be happy to help.  Why do you want to go to the Academy, Mattie?" Cresswell asked.

"Because, sir, all I've ever wanted to do was to fly," Mattie said, lighting up.  "And I want to be one of the best pilots there are, and everybody knows that those are Navy and Marine pilots.  Harm says that he wants me to have a better life than he does," she said.  "He wants me to have a family of my own by the time I'm his age."  She smiled mischievously.  "I want to be CAG on a carrier by then."

Cresswell smiled.  "Good to know that you know what you want.  I'll talk to the Commander about letting you and Katie meet.  I have a feeling that the meeting will be--profitable--for the both of you.  And when you need a recommendation for the Academy, I'll be happy to give you one."

Mattie grinned.  "Thank you, sir," she said.

"Now, don't you have people waiting for you?" he asked gently.

"Yes, sir, I do."  Mattie stood up and held out her hand for him to shake.  "Thank you, sir."  Solemnly, she shook his hand, then turned and left his office.  It hadn't been as bad as she'd feared.  Harm's new boss was a softy under the gruff exterior.  She was certain that with her there to support her dad, everything would work out okay.

~*~*~*~

1822 ZULU
NS NORFOLK BRIG
INTERVIEW ROOM
NORFOLK, VIRGINIA

Harm looked at Lieutenant Meecham and grimaced.  Something about this whole situation didn't sit right; the Lieutenant didn't have anything in his record that indicated that he might do something like that.  In fact, from what he could see, Meecham was a stand-up guy, much like Benjamin Neeley, his roommate during his first semester at the Academy, had been.  

Harm jerked his attention back to Mac.  "Lieutenant, did you strike Commander Saunders?" she asked.

"Yes, Ma'am," Lieutenant Meecham answered.  "I shouldn't have hit him, Colonel, Commander, but in my own defense, he deserved it."

Harm raised an eyebrow at that.  "Can you tell us what happened, Lieutenant?" he asked.

"Sir, Ma'am, I don't make a habit of hitting people that annoy me, but Commander Saunders went too far," Meecham began.

"Could have fooled me," Mac remarked softly.

"Ma'am, I'm used to a certain amount of ribbing because of my religion," he explained, leaning forward.  "It comes with the territory--I mean, I don't drink or smoke or cuss, and that kind of makes a guy stand out.  I learned to laugh at it a long time ago." He twisted his CTR ring around a finger and gave them a slight smile.  "I even collect Mormon jokes.  Commander Saunders started with the usual stuff, like: 'How many wives you have back on shore?' but he didn't stop with that."  Meecham shot Harm and Mac a pleading look.  

"I *couldn't* let it go by when he said he was gonna reenact the Haun's Mill Massacre at my house with my wife and daughter!"  

"Haun's Mill Massacre?" Mac questioned.

Before Meecham could say anything, Harm answered.  "In 1838, a group of Missouri Militia attacked the small Mormon community of Haun's Mill--they killed sixteen men, a ten-year-old boy, and injured thirteen women and children."

"Not many people know that, Sir," Meecham said.

Harm smiled slightly.  "My roommate plebe year at the Academy was LDS and he was studying church history in Institute."

"So after he said that, you hit him?" Mac asked.

"No, Ma'am," Meecham said slowly.  "I wanted to.  I told him to stop, or I'd have to report that he was handing out death threats."

"So *when*, exactly, did you deck him, Lieutenant?" Harm asked.

"After he said that instead of just killing them, he'd reenact the actions of the Militia after the Extermination Order was issued," Meecham said softly.  "My ancestors were there--driven out of Missouri by the government while the Militia raped and killed the women and children who were unlucky enough to get in the way."  He gave them a pleading look.  "What else could I do, Sir, Ma'am?  My little girl is only two years old!"

"Extermination Order?"

Harm could tell that Mac was getting frustrated by this whole thing, so he took pity on her and answered.  "In 1838, the governor of Missouri--I forget what his name was--issued an Extermination Order.  Basically, it made it legal to kill a Mormon," he said.

Meecham nodded.  "It remained on the books until 1976," he added.  

"So *that's* when you struck him?" Mac asked.

"Yes, Ma'am." Meecham looked a bit distressed.  "I know there are better ways to deal with something like that, but, Sir, when he threatened to rape and kill my family, I just lost it."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Harm said quietly.

"Ma'am," he began, giving Mac a pleading look.  "Is there a chance that I could get out of here?  I haven't seen my wife and daughter in six months."

Mac exchanged a glance with Harm.  "We'll see, Lieutenant," she said.

They stood up, and Harm offered his hand to Meecham.  "We'll do our best, Lieutenant," he promised.

"Thank you, Sir, Ma'am," the Lieutenant said with a respectful nod.

Harm and Mac made their way out of the interrogation room.  "Do you think he's telling the truth?" Mac asked.

Harm took a deep breath.  "Probably.  Most LDS guys I've known are real straight arrows."  

"You never told me that one of your Academy roommates was LDS," Mac remarked quietly.

Harm shrugged.  "There's a lot of stuff that you don't know about me; it's never come up.  Ben was a nice guy."  He paused for a few minutes, trying to choose his words carefully.  "He and his friends taught me how to have fun again; remember, I hadn't been back from Vietnam for very long…" he trailed off.

Mac reached over, grabbed his hand, and gave it a short, comforting squeeze.  "I'm glad he was there for you, then," she said softly, releasing his hand.  "What happened to him?"

Harm gave her a half smile.  "Last I heard, he was married with three kids and serving on a carrier somewhere."

Mac consulted her notes.  "I guess we should go talk to Commander Saunders."

"Yeah," Harm agreed.  "If Meecham was telling the truth, I think we can recommend that he get a reprimand--and Saunders should be facing disciplinary action."

"The last thing we need is for a story like this to get out," Mac said.  "It'd be a huge black eye for the Navy."

"Definitely.  There's no room for that kind of behavior," he said.

They waited patiently until the Marine guard unlocked the door and let them out of the brig, then walked outside.  "According to the file, Saunders should still be aboard the Patrick Henry."

"Let's get going," Harm said.

Together, the two of them climbed into the waiting car and drove down to the docks in silence.  They parked, got out, and walked up the gangplank.  "Permission to come aboard?" Mac asked.

"Granted," was the response.  A young man wearing Lt. Commander's stripes appeared.  "How can I help JAG today?" he asked.

"I'm Commander Rabb, and this is my partner, Colonel Mackenzie," Harm began.

"We're here to interview Commander Saunders," Mac said.  "You wouldn't happen to know where we could find him, would you?"

The Lt. Commander checked a list.  "He's confined to quarters, Ma'am," he answered.  "I know him, so if you'll give me a few minutes, I'll take you to him."

Harm regarded as he turned over the watch, and exchanged a look with Mac before turning to follow him.  Hopefully, the interview wouldn't take long, so that they could make their recommendations and go home.  While it was nice that he and Mac had worked out some of their problems, Mattie was waiting for him at home, and he didn't want to leave her alone.

After a few minutes of walking and stepping over kneeknockers, they stopped in front of a hatch.  "Here we are, Sir, Ma'am."

"Thank you, Commander," Harm said with a nod.

Mac knocked on the door.  "Commander Saunders?" she called. When nobody answered, she tried again.  "Commander *Saunders*?" she said, more forcefully this time.

"Just a minute," came an answer in a sleepy voice.

Harm and Mac exchanged a look and settled down to wait.

~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      Chapter 7:
     Losing
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future."
--Winston Churchill

~*~*~*~

1830 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Mattie squinched up her face as she contemplated her English homework.  She'd promised Harm that she'd go to school while she was there, so she figured that starting on the homework she'd been given the week before was a good start.  She supposed she was lucky that she hadn't been gone long enough for her school records to be transferred, but it didn't feel that way.  She would much rather stay with Harm without having to actually do nasty things like homework.

Mattie knew better than to think she could get away with that.  Harm was much better about checking up on her about schoolwork than Tom had ever been.  Harm was better at a lot of things, she reflected wryly.  She sighed and looked at her book again.  Shakespeare.  She grimaced.  She needed Harm to explain it.  


Mattie looked up when she heard a knock on the door.  "Um, hi," she said when she saw the Admiral poke his head into the office.

"Mathilda," he said with a nod.  "It occurred to me that we didn't get off on the right foot.  Since we're both here and concerned for Commander Rabb's welfare, it seems to me that we ought to rectify that situation."

Mattie looked at him suspiciously from the safety of being behind Harm's desk. "And how do I know you have his best interests in mind?" she demanded.  "Last time I really saw you, you were pretty mean to him.  Harm deserves better!"

AJ was silent for a few minutes and he walked into Harm's office, closed the door, and sat down in one of the chairs in front of the desk.  "Perhaps he does, Mathilda, but in my defense, I had no choice."  He drew in a deep breath.  "I'm not his CO anymore--I have a choice now.  I won't let him be sandbagged because I know he and the Colonel didn't get married."

Mattie examined him through narrowed eyes.  Harm had told her that the Admiral was usually a fair man, an honorable man, and didn't lie about things.  Harm had never lied to her, so she decided that it must be true.  "Fair enough," she said slowly.  "As long as you're trying to make sure that he doesn't get blamed, I'll call a truce."


AJ glanced over the desk.  "What are you reading, young lady?"

Mattie grimaced.  "Shakespeare. Harm usually explains this stuff to me, because I don't get it--the language is too weird."

AJ stood up and walked over.  "Let me see," he ordered absently, pulling his reading glasses out and examining the book.  "Ah, Julius Caesar.  'Friends, Romans, Countrymen.  Lend me your ear.  I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him...'  Perhaps I can help until the Commander gets back."

Mattie smiled for the first time at him.  "Thank you, Sir," she said.  "I hope he gets home soon..."  She looked at the literature book again.

"He will." AJ said simply, then got a chair to pull up next to her.  He sat down and looked at the book.  "Now, what exactly is your assignment?" he asked.

"I'm supposed to have ten pages read by tomorrow," she said.  "But I just don't understand it!"

AJ pulled the book to him and began to read it out loud and explain what it meant.  As Mattie listened, she decided that Harm's cranky old boss wasn't so bad after all.  Especially if you had to understand what Shakespeare was talking about.

~*~*~*~

1930 ZULU
OUTSIDE COMMANDER SAUNDERS'S QUARTERS
PATRICK HENRY
NORFOLK PIER

Mac sighed and resumed pacing back and forth.  "What's taking him so long?" she asked, obviously frustrated.

Harm crossed his arms over his chest.  "Power down, Marine," he said.  "The Commander will find out soon that it's not particularly smart to keep the JAGs who are investigating your case waiting."
     
The hatch opened slowly, revealing a slightly rumpled man.  He was balding, and if Harm had been pressed to describe him, he would've had to say that he was average.  He was the kind of man who was so ordinary looking that he could blend in anywhere.  In other words, by virtue of his ordinariness, he was the CIA's dream agent.

Witnesses would never be able to describe him, because of his looks.  He had no distinguishing features at all.  The man gaped at them for a few seconds.  "JAG?  Why is JAG investigating?  It's a simple assault case! He attacked me, not the other way around."

"Come with us, Commander," Mac ordered.  She stressed his rank as if to say that if he didn't cooperate, he wouldn't be keeping it, or other vital bodily organs, much longer.

Obediently, the commander fell in behind them as they walked to the Officer's Wardroom.  It was empty at this time of day--perfect for conducting an interview with a suspect.  Silently, Harm and Mac exchanged a look that said everything about how they would handle Commander Saunders.  Years of working together had made them experts in knowing which strategy would be effective when dealing with an officer like him.  

"Have a seat." Harm said, gesturing towards one of the chairs with his cover before he dropped it on the table.

Commander Saunders sat down and frowned as he stared at the table top.  Harm dropped into a seat, folding his long legs under the table.  Mac locked her arms behind her back and slowly walked back and forth in front of their suspect.  Nervously, Saunders fidgeted as if he were trying to find a comfortable spot on the chair before he subsided.

"Commander," Harm said quietly.  "Would you please tell us what happened around the time of the alleged assault?"  He suppressed a smile as he noticed the way the commander was chewing on his bottom lip.  He flicked a quick glance over to Mac--she was eyeing the officer's disheveled appearance.

"I, um, was, um," Saunders stuttered.  "M-m-minding m-m-my own business when Lieutenant Meecham attacked me out of nowhere," he finished.  Saunders looked up at Mac pleadingly, as if he expected her to take pity on him.

"Are you sure, Commander?" Mac asked, using the same tone as she had before.

"Lieutenant Meecham told us that you threatened his family, Commander," Harm said.  He was doing his best to seem as if he were the calm, cool one who might believe the Commander's story.  In reality, the thought of any Naval officer behaving in such a way made him want to deck said officer.  He wouldn't do it, of course.  He didn't want to end up in the brig.  But that wouldn't stop him from wanting to.

Commander Saunders straightened.  "He's a Mormon," he said with a scowl.  "People like that don't belong here.  And I didn't say anything that any decent, sane person wouldn't say to a damn cultist!"

Harm glanced in the personnel file he was holding.  "From this, I see that you're from Missouri," he said, his voice getting softer.

Saunders crossed his arms over his chest. "That's right," he said with a grin.  "Born and bred."

"My guess is," Mac began, "that you know about the history you used to threaten him because of where you're from."

Saunder's face creased into another scowl and he didn't talk.

"Tell us what happened that night, Commander," Harm said softly.

Saunders shrugged.  "Nothing much.  I admit that I was razzing the Lieutenant, but it wasn't too bad.  Next thing I knew, he was swinging at me."

"Are there any witnesses, Commander?" Mac asked, coming to a stop in front of the man and staring down at him.

"Ensign Craig and Lieutenant Kelly were there," he answered.  "So were Petty Officers Thomas and Brown."

"Do you always choose public places to dress down people in your command?" Harm asked with an uplifted eyebrow.  He personally had never reamed out a junior officer where there was an audience.  Looking at Commander Saunders, however, he could see that the man wasn't exactly the brightest crayon in the box.

"No, sir, I don't," Saunders admitted.  "But I don't want people like him in my command.

Harm and Mac exchanged a glance.  It was a miracle that Commander Idiot had managed to even become a Commander.  "Thank you, Commander," Mac said.  "We'll be in touch."

Commander Saunders gave the two of them an uncertain look.  "You're *dismissed*, Commander," Harm said.
 
Saunders got up and walked out the hatch.  As it swung shut behind him, Mac gave Harm a mischievous look.  "Naval officers like that make me glad I'm a Marine," she said as she wrinkled her nose at him.

Harm shot her a half smile.  "And some Marine officers we've investigated or prosecuted make me glad I'm in the Navy."

"Squid!" she said slapping him lightly on the arm.

"Jarhead!" he retorted reaching over to grab her hand.  He gave it a short squeeze before dropping it and giving her a full-fledged happy flyboy smile.  "I've missed this," he said.

"What?" Mac asked.

"Teasing you," Harm said.  "We haven't been this easy with each other in years."

Mac was silent for a few minutes.  "I think somewhere along the line," she began, "we just stopped listening to each other and lost sight of our friendship."

"I'm glad we found it again," Harm said.

"So am I--promise me that no matter what happens we'll always be friends?" Mac asked.

Harm turned and began to walk slowly down the corridor.  "We always have been--I promise."

"Thank you," was Mac's quiet response.

"Commander Saunders is guilty," Harm said.

"I know." Mac lengthened her stride to keep pace with Harm.  "I think that Lieutenant Meecham was telling the truth."

Harm nodded and tucked his cover under his arm.  "I know.  We just have to prove it." Together, they walked down the corridor to the enlisted mess.  They needed to find their witnesses to verify the Lieutenant's story.  If it were true, Harm knew that he'd be recommending that the Commander receive the harsher punishment of the two officers.  There simply wasn't room for that kind of prejudice in the Navy.

~*~*~*~

2035 ZULU
COURTYARD BY MARRIOTT
RALIEGH, NORTH CAROLINA

Kate sighed and tapped her fingertips against her thigh. They'd been waiting for what seemed to be forever. She sighed softly, noticed what her fingers were doing, and ruthlessly stopped the motion.  She'd learned to stand at attention for hours on end--it wasn't like she couldn't *handle* waiting for a potential witness to show up.  

Irritably, she wished she'd brought something to read; she needed a distraction.  They still had another twenty-five minutes to wait until he was supposed to show--and that was only if he was on time.  In her experience, peons like their quarry weren't always the most dependable people.  Especially after they'd been at a place for a while; the tendency was for people to become complacent and slack off.

Her father had done that kind of thing--and then been a little disdainful when she had joined the Navy.  Sure, it had started as a way to pay her way through school and law school, but it had become her career.  She'd had the opportunity to get out years ago, but she had discovered that she kind of liked the life.  

She suppressed another sigh, and looked around the hotel lobby for something to do.  Nothing.  She supposed she could go into their overpriced gift shop, but the idea didn't appeal to her.  She glanced over at Meg to discover that her erstwhile partner had her nose buried in a copy of the Navy Times.

Meg glanced at her from behind the paper.  "Bored?" she asked.

"Yes!" she said, her gray eyes snapping with irritation.

Meg grinned.  "You wouldn't happen to like to see my other copy of the Times, would you?" She reached into her briefcase and pulled it out.

Unmindful of how it would look, Kate snatched the newspaper from her partner's hand and opened it up.  Ignoring Meg's soft giggle, she started reading.  It didn't seem long before their witness arrived and Meg nudged her lightly in the side.  "What?" she asked crossly.

"He's here," Meg nodded at the counter.

Kate folded her paper and stood up.  "Fine.  Let's go find out what he knows."  She walked toward the counter, putting a little more sway in her hips than was strictly necessary to make sure that he was looking at her.  She'd long since learned that her sexuality could be used as a weapon, and she was determined to use it.

"Hello, Jim," she said, deliberately making her voice huskier as she looked at his nametag.  

"Um, uh, hi," he said.

Kate watched as he started to sweat.  "My name is Commander Kate Pike, and this is my partner--"

"Lieutenant Commander Meg Austin," Meg interrupted and held out her hand.

She watched as he gulped again.  "We're from the Judge Advocate General's office and we need to ask you some questions."

Jim ran his hand nervously over his balding head and bit his lip.  "About what?" he asked.  "I didn't do nothin' illegal to make the Navy mad at me, did I?"

"Well, Jim, why would you think you'd done anything wrong?" Meg asked sweetly.

"Because I was a seaman in your Navy when I was young," he clasped his hands together and started twisting his fingers.  "Ev'rybody knows that you JAGs only show up when somebody's in trouble."

Kate leaned forward on the counter and gave him a shark-like smile.  "You're not in trouble," the pitch of her voice dropped another level.  "But you have information that might help us get some fine officers out of trouble."

"Oh, *officers*," he said with disgust.  "Never did like officers.  Full of themselves, mostly.  Haven't seen any 'round here in ages."

"This was during that big blizzard a few years back--December 18, 2001 to be exact," Meg said.

Jim creased his forehead and frowned.  "I think so.  A Marine lady and a Navy guy?"

Kate nodded.  "Yes.  Tell us what you know, *Jim*."

Jim settled back on his stool.  "I was watchin' for 'em," he admitted.  "Guy I know asked me to.  'Sides, it's not usual to see Navy and Marines travelin' together."

"Why were you supposed to watch of them?" Meg asked.

"Paid me real good to change the register to make it look like they were married," he admitted.  "Seemed harmless enough, so I did it." He gave them a broad smile.  "'Sides, they looked real happy together."

Kate and Meg exchanged a glance.  "Anything else you can tell us?" Kate asked.

Jim shook his head.  "Nuthin' else," he said.

"Thank you," Meg said, pulling a card out of her purse.  "If you remember anything else, would you please give us a call?"  She scribbled the number for JAG Headquarters on the back of the card and handed it over.

"Thank you, ma'am," he said with a smile.  "I'll do that."

The two officers turned and walked out of the lobby towards the Navy car they'd requisitioned from the motor pool.  "Why would anyone pay to have a hotel register changed?" Meg asked Kate quietly.

"I don't know," Kate admitted.  "But we find out who did it, and we should be able to find out how Harm and Mac ended up married."

~*~*~*~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Chapter 8:
       Roads
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"When all's said and done, all roads lead to the same end.
So it's not so much which road you take, as how you take it."
--Charles de Lint

~*~*~*~

0130 ZULU
HARM'S APARTMENT
NORTH OF UNION STATION
WASHINGTON, DC

Mattie curled comfortably into the corner of the couch, journal in hand, waiting for Harm to get home.  Jen had offered to let her stay at her place, but she hadn't wanted to do that.  She needed to be there for Harm when he got home.  It was the whole reason she'd borrowed the truck to get her to Falls Church. Too bad that it had decided not to start after she'd parked it at the loft that morning.

Mattie leaned forward and snagged her journal and a pen from the coffee table.  She thought that she'd finally solved her problem when she'd chosen to go back to her father, but the current situation just made her wonder if she'd made the right choice.

"Dear Diary," she wrote.  "That still sounds weird to me.  Maybe I should just start writing instead.  I'm back at Harm's place because, after talking to him, I knew he needed me.  I thought I'd figured things out.  My dad needed me.  He deserted me, and I couldn't desert him after he straightened himself out.

"I don't know how long Harm will need me here.  I'm also not sure that I ever want to leave.  I mean, I've only been back here for less than a day, but I know that Harm is much more reliable than my dad is.  Even when he was called out of town on a case, I could always get in contact with him.

"This isn't fair!  I chose, but part of me is whispering that I chose the wrong dad!  I know life isn't fair, but this just sucks.  Harm would never run away if things got tough.  I don't know if I can say that about Tom.  Harm would fight for me.  Again, I'm not sure if dad would, or if he'd just ignore the situation and hope it went away.

"A lot of people would tell me that I'm incredibly lucky to have two dads that love me.  I guess they're right.  And I guess this is sorta what kids with divorced parents go through. Part of me wishes that Mom had never died, but another piece of me is, well, not exactly happy, but I wouldn't have Harm if she were still here.

"Sure, my relationship with him isn't exactly the traditional father/daughter one--for one thing biologically, I'm not his kid--but I know he loves me.  He's told me more than once that he sees me as his little girl.  I wish it were true.  If it were, I wouldn't be feeling so torn right now between both my dads.  Harm's a lot stronger than Tom is.  I've heard stories about some of the stuff he's done that would make your hair curl.

"My dad would've gone on a drinking binge after most of 'em.  But Harm's still sober.  He refuses to do much of any drinking in front of me, too.  When dad was still drunk, he didn't have that problem.  And I almost feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop; I'm waiting for him to start drinking again.

"I know I hurt Harm when I requested to live with my dad again.  But he still loves me and wants me with him.  I guess he really wasn't trying to get rid of me last spring.  I was happy here, but I feel like I need to give Tom a chance to be my dad again.  Is it possible to be dad-sick for a man you've known for only a year?  Because I've been missing Harm a lot the past few days."

Before Mattie could write anything more, she heard the rattling jingle of keys being inserted into the lock.  She closed her journal and put it on the coffee table.  The door swung open, and Harm walked in.  "Harm!" Mattie said, jumping up from her place on the couch.  She gave him a bear hug, surreptitiously checking him for damage.  He'd spent the day with *Mac,* after all, and the marine wasn't on her list of favorite people at the moment.

"Hey, Mattie." Harm said with an easy smile as he returned the hug.

Mattie released him, grabbed his hand and pulled him over to the couch.  "Hungry?" she asked.  "I ordered pizza for both of us."  She gave him a sideways look.  "Good thing you didn't change where you put the emergency pizza fund."

Harm tugged one of her curls playfully.  "You haven't been gone that long, kiddo.  And I was flying quals and trying to keep busy because you weren't here.  Hadn't gotten around to doing anything with it yet."

Mattie plopped down on the couch and watched as Harm shrugged out of his overcoat and hung it and his cover up.  "Harm," she began hesitantly, "are you okay?" She had just about decided to talk to him about her confusion, but she needed to know if he was all right before she dumped her problems on him.

Harm sat down beside her and gave her a one-armed hug.  "Yeah," he smiled.  "Mac and I are gonna be friends again." He was silent for a few moments.  "I've missed that."

Mattie snuggled into his side.  "So what about the investigation?" she asked.

"Mats, we don't know anything yet--Meg and Kate are still looking into it," he explained.

"I'm staying until it's over," she informed him.  "I won't leave you alone."

Harm kissed the top of Mattie's head.  "As long as you go to school and we get permission from Tom, it's okay with me," he said as he gave her a squeeze.

Mattie looked up at him and bit her lip.  "Harm?"

"Yeah, Mattie?" he answered.

"Maybe I made a mistake going with my dad.  Maybe I should've stayed with you."  She took a deep breath and tried to quell the butterflies that were fluttering in her stomach.

Harm released her and turned so that he could see her.  "What's the matter?' he asked softly.  "Is something wrong at your house?"

Mattie started playing with the sleeve of her blue sweatshirt.  "No-o-o-o-o-o, not exactly," she admitted.  "I just don't know!  I mean, he's my dad, but I don't know if I can really depend on him, and you're my dad too, and you need me and he needs me, and I don't know what to do!"  She paused to take a deep breath.  "If I stay with him, I'm betraying you, and if I stay with you, I'm betraying him."  She bit her lip and fell silent.

"You're not betraying me by wanting to live with your dad, Mattie," Harm said.  "I knew when I finally got you that you might go back to live with him." He offered her a small smile.  "I will always be here for you when you need me.  It doesn't matter if I get transferred to Outer Mongolia; I'll always have a place for you to run to because you *are* my daughter."

A single tear escaped and rolled down her cheek.  "Really?" she said.

"Yes," Harm answered.  He smiled at her, then wiped the tear away with gentle fingers.  "My only regret is that you weren't mine from the beginning of your life."

Mattie threw her arms around him and hugged him, hard.  "You've been here when I needed you," she said.  "That's enough.  I love you, Dad."

"Good," was his simple answer.  He hugged her back and laid his cheek on her hair. 

"So if Tom leaves again, or I decide that I'm better off with you, I can come back?" she asked.

"Always," was his answer.  "And I'll pay for your flying lessons, if you still want them, and take you up in Sarah every weekend that we've got good weather and I don't have duty."

Mattie buried her face in his jacket and let loose a slightly watery sigh.  She had two homes and one would always be wherever Harm was.  He was her dad just as much as Tom was, and she never wanted to let go.

~*~*~*~

1501 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Kate frowned as she studied the folder in front of her.  "Did you call and get the name of the guy who hired Jim to change the book?" she asked.

Meg sighed and barely refrained from rolling her eyes; Kate had been sitting with her when she called.  "Yeah.  He said that the guy's name is Caleb Parker."

Kate raised an eyebrow.  "Why do I get the feeling that 'Caleb Parker' isn't this guy's real name?"

"I don't know," Meg said with a shrug.  "Maybe because what's-his-name didn't have *any* other information about him?"

Kate scowled.  "Yes he did, remember?  He gave us a description."

Meg snorted.  "Some description.  A tall, thin, white man with dark hair and blue eyes.  That fits what?  About a million people?"

"We don't have much to go on, that's for sure," Kate said, her scowl deepening.

Meg took a step back and bumped into a solid, warm body.  She turned around and knocked the stack of papers the person was carrying to the ground.  "Excuse me," she looked up and smiled.  "Sorry about that Commander Roberts, I didn't mean to knock into you." 

Bud leaned over and started to pick up the scattered papers.  "My fault, Commander," he said with a grin.  "I should have been watching where I was going."

Meg crouched down and started to help retrieve the files.  She stopped when she picked up an internet print out.  "What's this?" she asked.

Bud glanced over and started to blush.  "It's from a site about dumb laws," he said, his face turning a deeper red.

"Dumb laws, huh?" Kate walked over and looked at the paper Meg was holding.  "Wait a minute--what's that about North Carolina marriage laws?"

Meg read the sheet of paper again.  "It says here that if a couple signs into a hotel as a married couple, then they're married."

Kate and Meg exchanged a glance.  "They were set up," Kate said.

Meg nodded and stood up.  "That's obvious; what isn't is why."

Bud grabbed the last sheet of paper, straightened up, put the stack on the desk, and dusted his hands off. "What do you know about who was responsible?" he asked curiously.

Kate scowled again.  "He was going by, 'Caleb Parker,' he's tall, and thin with dark hair and blue eyes."

"Have you checked out Clark Palmer yet? He fits the description and he's had it in for Commander Rabb for years." Bud neatened up the stack of paper and settled it in the crook of his arm.  "It's not much of a stretch to think that he'd go after Colonel Mackenzie--she's been the Commander's partner for a long time."

"Who's Clark Palmer?" Meg asked.

Bud shrugged.  "He's an ex-DSD agent that the Commander put in Leavenworth.  He's tried to kill Commander Rabb more than once." He looked at his watch.  "If you two will excuse me, I've got a meeting with a client."  He flashed them a smile and headed towards his office.

"It makes sense," Meg said slowly.  "If this Clark Palmer hates Harm enough--"

"He could have arranged this a long time ago and was just waiting for the right time," Kate finished. 

"Too bad we can't prove it," Meg said with a grimace.  "The contents of the envelope were clean; the only prints they found on them belong to the General."

"What about the envelope?" Kate asked.  "I haven't had a chance to look over the report yet."

Meg shook her head.  "It was postmarked in Phoenix," she said.  "There are too many different prints, and almost all of them are smudged."

Kate pulled a sheet of paper out of a nearby folder.  "The stamp was self-adhesive, and there wasn't any DNA on the flap, either."

"I hate it when we can't prove who did something," Meg grumbled. 

"So do I," Kate admitted.  "But we can prove that Harm and Colonel Mackenzie aren't responsible."

"I'll finish writing up the report," Meg said.  "Then we can go tell the General and go home."

Kate raised an eyebrow and smirked slightly.  "What? Missing Steve already?"

Meg crossed her arms over her chest.  "I've gotten used to the big hot water bottle," she said, wrinkling her nose.  "It's hard to sleep without him."

"I bet it's," Kate paused.  "Hard to do other things without him either."

"Kate!" Meg protested as she felt heat rise to her face.

Kate shrugged and grinned.  "My fiancé is waiting for me, too," she reminded her.  "And he was out of town when I left, too."

"Let's go get this done so we can clear Harm," Meg said.  She grabbed the case file and headed towards the conference room where their laptops had been set up.  While they couldn't prove who did it, at least they'd cleared their old partner.  Half a loaf was much better than none.  And once they saw the General, the majority of the mess would be cleaned up without ruining two people's lives.

~*~*~*~
1833 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Mac hit the print button and waited impatiently as the printer started up.  She was glad that they'd gotten back and that the paperwork was done, but she wanted the upcoming meeting with the General to be over.  She glanced across her desk to see Harm rubbing his eyes.

"Are you okay?" she asked, knowing that he'd taken Mattie back to her father the night before.

Harm looked up at her, a tiny smile on his face.  "I guess," he said.  "I knew that her coming back wasn't permanent."

Mac gave him a crooked smile.  "She loves you, you know--the chewing out she gave me last week was almost worthy of the Admiral."

Harm simply nodded.  Mac pulled the sheets out of the printer tray and neatened them up.  "Let's ask Coates if the General can fit us in," he suggested. 

Mac nodded.  "Yeah." She frowned slightly.  "I'm going to miss working together; we don't get the chance to do that very often anymore.

Harm shot her a big grin.  "That's what comes with rank and seniority.  Maybe we should... work together tonight."

"Red light, Commander."

Harm pretended to be hurt.  "Seriously, dinner tonight at my place?" he asked.

"It all depends," Mac began.  "On if we're cleared; you know as well as I that spending time together outside of work is off-limits unless the fraternization charges get dismissed."

Harm grimaced.  "I know. Let's go see General Cresswell and find out if he's got any new information for us." He stood up and turned towards the door.  Together, the two of them walked out of her office, across the bullpen, and into Jen's office.

"Is the General free?" Mac asked.

"Sir, Ma'am," Jen said with a smile.  She pressed down on the intercom.  "Sir, Colonel Mackenzie and Commander Rabb are here to see you."

"Send them in," the General's voice said.

"He's waiting," she said, gesturing towards the door.

Harm walked to the door, opened it, and held it open for Mac.  They entered the office and came to attention in front of General Cresswell's desk.

Cresswell looked up from the report he'd been reading.  "At ease.  Report."

Mac stepped forward and handed him a file containing the paperwork from their investigation.  "Sir, while Lieutenant Meecham did hit Commander Saunders, Commander Saunders provoked him into it."

"We're recommending non-judicial punishment for Lieutenant Meecham and that Commander Saunders at least face a Captain's Mast." Harm said.

"We have witnesses that will testify that he continually provoked the Lieutenant, even offering death threats against his family because of their religion." Mac explained.

Cresswell perused the file for a few minutes, then closed it and put it on his desk.  He gave the duo a sharp nod.  "Good.  Now, there's the matter of the fraternization charges that the two of you will *not* be facing.  Commander Pike and Commander Austin have proved sufficiently that the two of you were set up."

"Thank you, sir," Harm said.

"Don't thank me yet, Commander.  I'll make sure that the false marriage is taken care of and *then* you can thank me.  Dismissed."

Harm and Mac came to attention then left the General's office.  Harm closed the door behind him and smiled at Mac.  "So... dinner at my place tonight?"

Mac's smile answered his.  "Sure. 2130?"

"Sounds good to me," Harm responded.  "I've got to go talk to Sturgis about a plea bargain in the Peterson case." He turned and started walking towards Sturgis's office.

"See you later," Mac said.  Perhaps it was time for another talk, she thought. Perhaps they could talk out a few things at dinner that night.

~*~*~*~

0130 ZULU
HARM'S APARTMENT
NORTH OF UNION STATION
WASHINGTON, DC

Harm finished the conversation with AJ and hung up the phone.  He'd fixed the truck and, with Jen's help, taken Mattie home the night before, giving her reassurances that he would always need her in his life.  It was still sort of weird to him that, despite wanting to live with her father, she still loved him and thought of him as her dad.

He'd never really believed that he'd get to keep Mattie forever; in a way, however, he supposed that he did.  No matter who she lived with, he was still her dad.  Harm walked into the kitchen, pulled on his lobster hot mitts, and stirred the sauce that was simmering on the stove.  Mac was coming over and could show up at any time.

"It's open," he called when he heard a knock on the door.  He heard the door open, then close, and the soft chuff of a bag hitting the ground.

Without turning around, he listened to her footsteps as she crossed the apartment and stopped behind him.  His eyes started to close as her soft hand crept up to his shoulder.  He'd told her once that he always knew where she was; that was still true.  "Mac," he said quietly.

Her hand squeezed his shoulder briefly.  "Harm, um, can we wait for dinner?"

Harm put the lid on the spaghetti sauce, turned the heat off, and turned around.  "Sure," he said.  "Mac, what's the matter?" he asked.

Mac's hand slid down his arm and grasped his lobster-covered hand.  "Nuthin', I just, kind of want to talk," she said softly.

"Okay," he said.  Harm followed her lead as she gently tugged his hand as she started towards the couch.  They'd done a lot of talking in the past week, and were well on their way to reacquiring the friendship they'd once shared.

Mac sat down on the couch and patted the seat next to her.  Harm pulled off the lobster mitts, dropped them on the coffee table, and sat down next to her.  "Are you okay, Mac?" he asked.  "I've never known you to not want to eat."

"I'm *fine*," she said, giving him a small frown.  "I've just been thinking... I mean, now that our sham marriage has been taken care of, well, I was thinking that it wouldn't be so bad to be married to you."

Harm grabbed her hand and gently tugged her close to him.  He put an arm around her and was gratified when she leaned into the half-embrace.  "No, it wouldn't be bad to be married to you," he said, as he laid his cheek against her hair.  "I think it'd be amazing, in fact."

Mac leaned into him more, curling up on the couch next to him.  "I haven't been sleeping again lately," she said softly.  "I've been thinking of going back to see the shrink that the Admiral sent me to."

"If you'll think it'll help, Mac, then I think you should--"

"I'm going to ask her for something to help me sleep," Mac interrupted.

Harm tightened his hold on her.  "I'll support you, Marine, whatever you decide to do."

"I know," she said.

Harm kissed the top of her head, enjoying the way she felt in his arms.  He didn't know what would happen next, but with Mac in his life, he knew that he could face it; they could face it--together.

End.



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