0545 Hours Local
Moving out of the pilot's seat, Harm stepped back into the bay, hiding in the still shadowed interior, and waiting.
It wasn't long before Harm's patience was rewarded as the door slid back and a man's head, wrapped in cloth, appeared. Reaching around the man, Harm shut down his mind as he twisted, easily snapping the other man's neck. It was easier not to think during some of the things that his job entailed, to just react on instinct and training.
He dragged the body out of the helo, thinking that Webb would probably be angry that he had killed the intruder instead of keeping him alive for interrogation - but Harm knew from past experience that it wouldn't' have done any good. Grabbing the man's rifle, he found some brush to cover the body with before returning to the helo to await Victor's next check-in.
Harm forcefully turned his mind back to his life in DC, wondering what Mattie and Mac were doing at that moment. He had no doubts that Mac would be able to handle the home visit, and that she and Mattie would be okay. But he also knew that the longer he was here, the more chance there was that he wouldn't make it back for the custody hearing.
Maybe if that were the case, Mac would ask for a continuance on his behalf.
Returning to the helo, Harm sat down in one of the rear seats, watching through the front for anymore visitors. He seriously doubted that the one he'd killed would have been out alone . . .
0700 Local Hours
Harm was dozing when he heard something hit the outer skin of the Huey and became immediately alert, gripping the knife at his side, ready to attack whatever might come his way. Silently he lifted out of the seat and nearer the door opening, keeping behind it and in the shadows until someone appeared. Reaching out, Harm circled the man's neck with one arm and was about to twist the man's dark head with the other when a familiar voice choked out, "It's me, Harm."
Taking a deep breath, Harm released Victor. "Victor? What the - why dind't you call ahead to let me know you were coming back?"
"The radio's gone," Victor explained, reaching behind him to pull someone else into view. "We managed to get Kalil out, but it wasn't easy."
The small, frightened man who stood beside Victor looked ready to collapse. His swarthy skin was pallid and he was sweating profusely. Harm noted Kalil's bandaged right arm, and then looked around. "Where's Webb?"
"He was caught while trying to free me," Kalil explained, giving a grateful sigh as they helped him into one of the seats. Harm brought out two bottles of water from the supplies and handed one to each of them.
Harm looked at Victor. "Caught?"
"Last we saw of him," Victor answered, pausing to take a drink of water, "he was on the ground with several others standing around him."
"Was he alive?"
"Yes. He looked at me and I knew that he wanted me to get Kalil out of here. We had to take an indirect way to get here so that they wouldn't find the helo before we could take off."
Harm knew that Webb and Victor were right: to accomplish their mission successfully, they had to leave Webb behind and get Kalil back so that he could transfer the intel he had to the proper authorities. Harm knew, too, that if the situation were reversed, Webb wouldn't hesitate to leave him behind to accomplish his mission; sacrifice one to save millions.
But Harm wasn't Clayton Webb. Even knowing that Webb had used him on more than one occasion, had tried everything he could to drive a wedge between him and Mac, Harm couldn't just leave the man to his fate in the wilds of Afghanistan.
And he could see from the expression on Victor's face that Victor didn't like leaving someone behind either. "We have to go after him," Harm told Victor.
"I agree," was Victor's response, but Kalil's eyes widened in fear.
"You can't! He's probably already dead. We have to get out of here while there's still time to stop what they're planning!"
"Don't you think that they already know there's a possibility that it's not a secret anymore, considering the fact that someone came to rescue you?" Harm questioned. "What *are* they planning?" he asked, and wasn't surprised when Kalil shook his head in refusal.
"You're not cleared -"
Ignoring the man's injured arm, he moved close and jerked him from the seat. "Don't *you* think it's better if someone else knows what's going on in case you don't make it out? Or are you so stupid that you think you're too valuable to be killed?"
"They're going to unleash a biological holocaust on the United States," Kalil said in one breath.
"How?" Victor wanted to know after he and Harm exchanged a look.
"Trucks. There are already several of them there, getting things ready."
"It could work," Victor told Harm. "A diesel truck puts out a lot of stuff. Adding something else to that mix would spread a biopoison over a large area before anyone knew what was happening."
"That's the plan," Kalil nodded. "And they're going to steal the trucks. Once they're discovered or whatever, they'll ram the truck into something to destroy the evidence and martyr themselves for Allah."
"Do you have specifics? Names? A possible date of when this is going to take place?"
"Not a specific date, but we heard several names mentioned." He said a few names, which Harm and Victor both mentally filed away before Harm tossed Victor the rifle. "Here." Taking his knife from the scabbard, he handed it to Kalil. "You stay here, keep quiet. If anyone shows up, I think you know what to do."
"Yes," Kalil acknowledged, wincing as he gripped the knife in his right hand. "But you will never be able to get close to the camp wearing those clothes," he pointed out, glancing at Harm's jeans and tight black shirt.
Harm looked at Victor, knowing that Kalil was right. "You two switch clothes," he said, moving toward the door.
"What about you?" Victor asked.
"I'll find something. Meet you outside."
Harm went out to where he'd hidden the body of his earlier visitor and uncovered it, quickly stripping the outer garments from it and donning them, covering his face as much as he could. Covering the body again, he turned to find Victor, also in native garb, standing there. "What happened?" Victor asked, nodding toward the body.
"He snuck up to the helo just after dawn. You ready?"
"Let's go," Victor said.
1149 Hours Local
Falls Church, VA
Mac woke from her nightmare and lay still, trying to recall the details that had frightened her into wakefulness. Harm had been in danger. What kind of danger, she couldn't remember, however. The similarity between this time and last were strong. This time, Webb wasn't involved, she remembered that much. Deciding that she wasn't going to get back to sleep easily, Mac got out of bed and went downstairs to try and work on some case files and get her mind off of things.
She was sitting there, staring at a page she'd read for the fifth time, when she heard a noise in the hallway. "Mattie?" she called out, and wasn't surprised when the teenager appeared in the doorway, wearing the boxers and "US Navy" tee-shirt that she usually slept in.
"Hey," she said, moving over to the arm chair, into which she curled up to look at Mac.
"Hey yourself. What are you doing up?"
"Couldn't sleep," Mattie said, lifting her shoulders in a dismissive gesture. "You?"
"Same. Thought I could put myself back to sleep by working." She watched as Mattie's gaze moved to a photo of herself and Harm taken beside 'Sarah'. "He's okay."
"I know. But I still worry. Especially after last time."
Mac rose from behind the desk and moved around to sit on the arm of the chair, putting an arm around Mattie's shoulders and hugging her. "You've lost one parent, losing another isn't something you want to think about," she guessed.
"Yeah. Losing my mom was probably the hardest thing I've ever gone through. Just thinking about Harm not being there -"
"Harm will always be there, Mattie," Mac assured her. "For both of us."
"He's always been there for you?"
"Yeah," Mac confirmed, only fully making that realization herself. "For the most part, he has. When I've let him be. Sometimes he didn't know that I needed him there, but then, I didn't exactly let him know, either." Seeing Mattie's confusion, Mac laughed softly. "It's complicated."
"Is that why you and he haven't gotten together before now? Because of complications?"
"In part. We've never - communicated very well. But we're getting better."
"You love him, don't you?"
Her answer was quick and unwavering. "Yes."
"And he loves you. That's all that matters. Or *should* matter, isn't that right?"
Mac laughed again, looking down at Mattie's face. "When did you get to be so wise, young lady?"
"Just comes naturally, I suppose," was Mattie's reply.
"Well, you'd better get back to sleep. You have school tomorrow."
"And you have to work."
"I'm older," Mac pointed out.
"Which only means you need *more* rest than I do."
"Okay. Let me put things up down here and I'll go back to bed," Mac agreed. "If *you* will do the same," she finished, ruffling Mattie's hair.
"Deal," Mattie said, laughing. She gave Mac a hug. "Night."
"Night," Mac said, watching her go, wondering how her life might have been different if she and Harm had gotten together earlier. No, Mattie couldn't have been their daughter, but it was nice to pretend sometimes. The possibility of children of their own was something that she and Harm hadn't really touched on yet.
The anniversary of their five year deal was coming up in six months, and Mac wondered if Harm would be willing to bring the date up instead of waiting. Maybe when he got home, she'd discuss it with him.
1000 Hours Local
Al Queda Camp
Harm was surprised how easily he and Victor managed to slip into the camp while dressed as natives. Harm tried to slouch so not to draw attention to his height, and kept silent, letting Victor do all the talking to anyone who spoke to them.
On their way into the camp, they found the bodies of the other two operatives in the mission, left out in the elements, downwind from the camp. There hadn't been much left, but Victor had recognized a ring that one of them still had on.
"At least Webb's not here," Victor had whispered, and Harm had nodded before following him into the camp itself.
"So where do you think he is?" Harm murmured quietly.
Victor nodded toward a small building toward the far end of camp. "That's where they kept Kalil. It's probably where they're holding Webb."
The guards around the building seemed to confirm Victor's words - and a moment later they heard yelling from inside. Whoever was yelling sounded very angry and determined.
"Who are you!?" the voice demanded.
"I *told* you," came Webb's reply, colored by pain. "I'm a reporter! I came here looking for a story!"
"And helped a traitor to escape us," Webb's captor sneered.
"I didn't know he was a traitor. I thought I saw a story and just wanted to help him so I could talk to him."
"Who was the man who left with Kalil Durrani?"
"My photographer. I guess he got scared and ran away. I didn't think he left with -"
"Stop lying to me!" Webb's interrogator roared.
Realizing that they were attracting attention, Harm and Victor moved away to cower on the edges of the camp, keeping the building in view. "We're going to need a diversion," Harm told Victor. "Any ideas?"
"I do have an idea, but I don't think you'll like it."
"We go back to the helo, and bring it here."
"Are you -?" Harm caught himself before his voice rose. "Victor, that thing's not armed. The only defensive weapons are the ones we have now."
"There are some shoulder launched missiles and launchers over there -" Victor said, nodding toward another area of the camp. That would be our first target. Then we land here, get in and rescue Webb and take off."
"Do you realize what could go wrong with that plan? What if they have other shoulder launched missiles around? Just one would be enough to take out a Huey."
"I know. But I think it's the best option. I don't think you and I can get in there and get to him like we did in Paraguay."
"How do you know he'll be alive when we come back?"
"He lasted almost a week last time. It's your call, Harm. With Webb held prisoner, you're in charge."
"Okay. I just hope you're right about his chances. The last thing we need is to come back here to rescue a dead man."
"At least we'd know one way or the other in that case."
The weapons cache was easily accessed, mostly due to the attention of the camp being focused on the other end where Webb was being interrogated, and they left with a launcher and several missiles, which slowed them down to a degree. The ease at which they accomplished everything surprised Harm. Since they had recently incurred a security breach, he would have expected them to have things battened down and double security everywhere. Especially at a level high enough to prevent two strangers from simply walking into the camp and leaving without anyone challenging them.
They returned to the Huey by circling around it, making sure that they hadn't been followed, and tapped on the rear of the craft to alert Kalil of their presence so that he wouldn't try to take them out the way Harm had tried to take out Victor earlier.
The man frowned when he realized they were alone. "Where is Mr. Webb?" he asked.
"He's being held captive in the camp," Victor explained. "Buckle your seat belt."
Harm went to the pilot's seat and started checking the gauges. "We're going to leave him there?" Kalil asked.
"Not exactly," Harm answered as he started the CPU and waited for Victor to explain the plan to Kalil, giving him a hand gun to use as a weapon once they reached the camp. Victor remained in the bay, examining the launcher. "You sure you know how to use that thing, Gunny?" he asked over his shoulder, and grinned when he saw a flash of the old Marine.
"You just fly the helo, Harm. Let me handle this part. They won't know what hit them."
Harm lifted off from the clearing, turning the helicopter toward the camp, keeping it low and slow. He knew that the people on the ground would hear the beast and start firing, and hoped that the element of surprise would be on their side. From this direction, Victor would have a clear shot at the weapons cache, and then they would go directly to the building where Webb was being held.
It all *sounded* easy enough.
And it started out as if it would be. While Kalil kept the hand held weapons busy, Victor took out the cache with one missile - sending explosions rippling through the flimsy building and a plume of smoke and fire into the sky. Another two missiles struck before Harm landed the helo in front of the interrogation building, and left the CPU and blades running as he made a dash across the compound, hearing another missile explode to his left.
Using his rifle, he took out two guards, and then ducked aside when bullets tore through the wall near him. Counting, he kicked the door open and took a quick survey of the room's occupants. Firing the weapon, he took out both men standing over the bound Webb, and went over to untie him.
"What the hell are you doing, Rabb?" Webb demanded through swollen, bleeding lips, ducking as a bullet came through the building.
"Saving your sorry ass, Webb," Harm replied, "Again. We can discuss whether it was a good idea later. Let's get going," he added, pushing him toward the door. Once there, they paused to make sure it was safe, and then zigzagged back to the helo as another missile flew into the building that they'd just left.
Harm barely fastened his belts before lifting off and sending the Huey south at top speed. "Damn!" he muttered as Victor made sure Webb was okay while listening to the spook complain about their coming after him.
"What's wrong?" Victor asked, getting into the co-pilot's seat and looking over the controls.
"We're losing fuel. They must have hit a line."
"Can we make it back to the airfield?"
"I hope so."
"If we can't?"
"I hope everyone's wearing their walking shoes," Harm noted, thinking that he should have paid more attention to the red sky that morning . . .
0650 Hours Local
Falls Church, VA
"Are you almost ready?" Mac called up the stairs to Mattie as the doorbell rang.
"On my way down!" Mattie called back.
Mac shifted her briefcase into her left hand before opening the door, hoping whoever it was wouldn't keep them long or they would both be late. The man who stood there on the porch looked vaguely familiar to Mac, and she smiled. "Can I help you?"
"Yes, I'm looking for Mattie Johnson," the man said. He sounded nervous and uncertain. "Someone told me she was here -"
Mac heard Mattie on the stairs and turned to see the look of total shock on her face that slowly turned into anger. "What are *you* doing here?" she demanded.
"Mattie, who is he?"
"I'm Tom Johnson," the man said. "Her father."
"My *father*," Mattie spat, her lips curling into angry sneer. "You don't deserve to be *anyone's* father! I have to get to school, Mac," she said. "I'll wait in the car."
With those words, she pushed past Tom's thin body and left the house. "Mr. Johnson -" Mac began, intending to apologize for Mattie's actions, even though she remembered a very similar scene between her father and herself on various occasions.
"You don't have to apologize," he replied in a sad tone. "I was hoping she would be less angry. When I heard she was here -"
The horn on Mac's Vette blared, and Mac winced. "I do have to go, Mr. Johnson," she explained, pulling a business card out of her pocket and handing it to him. "But we need to talk. As one alcoholic to another." She saw the surprise on his face, which increased as he looked at the card she gave him. "Come by this address in about an hour and we'll do that."
"JAG Headquarters?" Tom questioned, frowning, "Lt. Col. Mackenzie?"
"I was told that Mattie was staying with Navy personnel. A Commander Rabb."
"This is his house. I'm staying here while he's out of town on a case." The horn honked again, and Mac grabbed her briefcase, practically pushing Tom Johnson away from the door. "Come and see me. It's important."
"We're going to be late, Mac!" Mattie called out, and Mac knew she was right.
"On my way!" Mac called back, leaving Tom Johnson standing on the porch as she moved away. "I'll see you later," she said in her best 'no-nonsense' tone. Reaching the car, she got inside and started the engine, noticing that Mattie kept her gaze averted from the house.
"He's going to mess things up," Mattie said at last, when they were almost to her school. "I know he is. He always does."
"How can he mess things up?"
"He could fight Harm for custody," Mattie insisted. "It would be like him to do something like that."
"I'll talk to him; see what he wants to do. He *is* your father, Mattie."
"He gave up the right to be my father when he killed my mother," Mattie insisted, barely waiting for the car to stop in front of the school before she got out and ran toward the front doors.
Mac sighed deeply, watching her until she was inside. The incident was reawakening all of her own doubts and fear and anger toward her father during her teenage years. She hadn't been much older than Mattie when her mother had abandoned her, leaving her in the care of a drunken Marine who had threatened to kill his wife.
There were times when Mac wondered how much of that had been Deanna O'Hara Mackenzie's way of living with that abandonment. While Mac knew for a fact that Joe Mackenzie had often hit Deanna, she had *never* heard him threaten to kill her. Deanna had been unstable as well, proved by her later abandonment of the dog, Ruggles without even realizing she'd done it.
She'd gotten over all of the anger toward *both* of her parents long ago, however. Joe's death had come too soon for Mac to be able to talk to him, to find out why he'd kept tabs on her all those years. She still had the faded, folded newspaper clippings that he'd carried with him. She hadn't heard from her mother once in the years since Joe's death. It worried Mac sometimes, made her fearful that if she had a child, she might end up just like her mother, unable to cope and walking away without a backward glance.
But instead of Joe Mackenzie, drunk and all around jerk, in her life, Mac had Harmon Rabb, Jr. Strong, capable, honorable. He'd hold her to the line, and not let her fall into the trap that her mother had fallen into. That was one thing of which Mac was certain.
Mac's cell phone began to ring, pulling her out of her reverie. Opening it, she saw the number for JAG HQ and winced as she answered. "Col. Mackenzie here. . . I'm on my way in, Jen," she said. "Give me five minutes . . . I'll explain to the Admiral when I get there."
Hanging up, she put the Vette into gear and pulled back into the street, heading toward the office.
1600 Hours Local
"Okay, let's stop for a minute and rest," Harm decided, glancing to where Kalil looked about ready to fall over. Webb wasn't in much better shape, but Harm let Victor take care of the spook. Once Kalil was seated on a fallen tree trunk, Harm dug a bottle of water out of his pack and held it out to the man.
"Nothing personal, Rabb, but I don't think I want to fly with you anymore."
"That's fine with me, Webb. Because I don't think I want to keep saving your six. How many times does this make now? Five? Six? Not that I'm counting or anything."
Webb had the graze to look a little chastened as he took a bottle of water from Victor. "Thanks, Gunny."
"No problem, Webb," Victor said, giving Harm a small smile.
"How much longer until we get to civilization?" Kalil asked, looking slightly better, but still nursing his right arm. Harm could see that it was bleeding again - probably from the rough landing they had endured.
"Another hour or two," was Harm's answer. "Kalil, do you think they'll still try to carry out their plan, knowing that you've escaped and can send the alarm?"
"I think they will. They might wait a little while, but it would be best for them to try as soon as possible, before the authorities have a chance to stop them."
"Which means we need to get somewhere yesterday so I can send in a report, Rabb," Webb said.
Harm stood up, assisting Kalil to his feet as well. "Then let's get going."
1300 Hours Local
Falls Church, VA
"There's someone here to see you, ma'am," Jen Coates informed Mac as Mac returned from court. "I put him in your office."
Mac peered through the open door to see Tom Johnson sitting in one of the chairs before her desk. She had just about given up on his coming to see her as she'd asked. "Thanks, Jen. Hold my calls - unless it's -"
"If the Commander calls, ma'am, I'll put him through."
Mac continued into her office, noticing that Tom seemed nervous as he saw her. "I'm glad you came, Mr. Johnson."
"I almost didn't," he admitted, and then waited for her to sit down at her desk. "Colonel, you said something about being an alcoholic?"
Nearly an hour later, Tom left, and a moment later, Harriet appeared in a doorway. "Excuse me, Colonel, but - that man who just left. He seemed familiar. I know I've seen him before -"
Mac nodded. "He's Mattie's father, Harriet."
Harriet's eyes grew huge. "Her *father*? The one she blames for her mother's death?"
"He doesn't look bad for someone who must've just been jail for something like that."
Mac frowned, realizing that something wasn't fitting together. "Jail?"
"Wouldn't he have gone to jail for awhile after causing his wife's death because he was driving drunk?"
"You'd think so, wouldn't you? Harriet, could you get me a copy of the accident report for that incident? The Blacksburg Sheriff should be able to help."
"Yes, ma'am." She looked uncertain. "Does Mattie know he's back?"
"Yes. He came to the house just as we were leaving this morning. She wasn't very receptive to him, I'm afraid."
"She wouldn't be. She blames him for her mother's death. I'm not sure I blame her. I don't suppose that the Commander knows?"
"I haven't heard from him since he left," Mac confirmed. "I don't *think* there's going to be a problem, but I don't have all the answers yet, Harriet. Some of them might come in that report I asked for."
"I'll go get started on that, ma'am," Harriet assured her, turning and leaving the office.
Mac picked up the phone and dialed a number she'd committed to memory, waiting for it to be answered on the other end. "Blaisdell."
"Mr. Blaisdell, its Col. Mackenzie. Have you heard anything from a certain flyboy?"
"No, Colonel, I haven't. They haven't checked in since arriving at their destination."
That caused Mac to frown with concern. It wasn't like Harm to miss a check in if everything was okay. Her nightmare from the previous night returned, twisting like a knife in her stomach. "I thought it was just routine?"
"Routine missions have a way of becoming a little more than that whenever he's involved, Col. Mackenzie," Blaisdell pointed out, but she could hear the small hint of amusement in his tone at the words. "I'll make sure you're contacted as soon as we hear anything. But I think he'll be calling you before we can do that."
"Thank you, Mr. Blaisdell."
"Might as well make it Allen, Colonel."
"And I'm Mac. I'll talk to you later."
"I'm sure of it." Mac hung up the phone and closed her eyes in an attempt to 'see' if Harm might be in trouble. She hadn't known he'd gone down in the Atlantic that day, or foreseen any trouble. But she'd been caught up in the plans for her wedding to Mic, after all.
In retrospect, she wondered sometimes if she *hadn't* had a premonition of some kind - some foreknowledge that things weren't going to be 'routine' during his quals, considering her reaction to his telling her about them. At the time, she'd thought it was just that she was upset about his possibly missing the wedding - but now, she had to wonder.
But there was nothing now. No sixth sense whispered words of danger to her psyche. She would take Blaisdell at his word and believe that things were okay, that they were just out of pocket and would make contact as soon as possible.
2200 Hours Local
"An hour, huh?" Webb sneered in Harm's direction as they finally entered the small American Embassy in Kabul.
"How was I to know we'd run into a couple of patrols looking for us?" Harm asked.
"They are afraid that we will report what they are planning to do and keep them from doing it," Kalil replied, sinking back into a chair.
"I have to find a secure line for my report," Webb told the young attaché who had greeted them.
"This way, please, Mr. Webb."
"Kalil, you're with me."
"Any chance of my finding a sat phone around here to make a call to the States?" Harm asked the attaché, and saw Webb's head shake in disbelief.
"You're not calling Mac, Rabb."
"Yes, I am," Harm replied, giving the little attaché a long, determined look.
"There is one in that room, Mr. Rabb."
"Thank you." Victor went with Harm, sitting down in a chair as Harm requested the connection to Falls Church, VA.
"How long until you think we'll be home?" Victor wondered as they waited.
"Another day at least. Webb will probably finish debriefing Kalil here. But I'm going to see if you and I can't go on ahead -" He stopped as the operator informed him that the line was ready and he heard Mac's voice come through the static. "Mac?"
"Harm. Thank God. I've been worried. You missed a couple check-ins --"
"I know. We're okay."
"When will you be home?"
"No way of telling. Before the hearing, I'm sure."
"Good." The static seemed to increase, and Harm found himself silently cursing sunspots. "You there?" he asked, waiting.
"I said that Mattie's father is ---" More static, and Harm frowned.
"Mattie's father? What about him?"
Through the static, he heard, "He's back. You need to ---"
The white noise increased further until Harm had to give up and ended the connection, telling the operator that he wanted to try the call again in a few hours.
"Something wrong?" Victor asked.
"Mac was trying to tell me something about Mattie's father coming back, but the static was too bad for her to get more than a few words through."
"That would be good, wouldn't it? I mean, he is her father -"
"She won't talk to him. She blames him for her mother's death. Apparently he was drinking and driving when she died, and took off not long after, leaving Mattie with relatives."
"If she was with relatives, why was she alone when you met her?" Victor wondered.
"She said that they were more interested in using her as a live in babysitter or maid than they were in taking care of her. So she left them and moved home."
"I understand. You think his coming back could complicate things?"
"It could. If he decides to counter file for custody, she is his daughter, and the courts tend to go with blood relatives as opposed to middle aged, unmarried males if they have a choice."
"Even if the blood relative's a known drunk and killed someone while intoxicated?" Victor countered.
"I just don't like the idea of Mac and Mattie having to deal with this without my being there," Harm sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Maybe Mac's right, Victor. Maybe I should give this up, go back to JAG. I could still fly for the Navy."
"But would you be happy, flying on their schedule, sir?" Victor wondered aloud. "With the Company, you're making a difference. It's so seldom that you fly with the Navy --"
"You have a point. And since they're retiring the Tomcats, I probably wouldn't be able to fly much longer, anyway. I don't see them being willing to transition someone my age into Hornets."
"But you can already fly those, Harm," Victor pointed out.
"But the Navy doesn't know that," Harm replied as the attaché appeared in the doorway. "Yes?"
"Mr. Webb and Mr. Durrani are being attended by physicians. Mr. Webb suggested that the two of you might like to clean up and get some rest before you return to the United States."
"Sounds like a good idea to me," Victor agreed.
"I'm expecting a call later," Harm told the young man.
"I'll come and get you when it comes though, sir."
1000 Local Hours
Falls Church, VA
"What if he doesn't get back?" Mattie wanted to know, watching as Mac finished putting on her uniform.
"Then I'll ask the judge for a continuance," Mac explained. "I'll tell her that Harm was detained due to work and that we will contact her as soon as he returns to set a new date."
"But she could send me to my dad!" Mattie insisted. "Or a foster home!"
"That won't happen," Harm said, dragging into the room only to find himself set upon by first Mattie and then Mac, who had hung back for a moment before seeing the invitation in Harm's blue-green eyes.
"Harm! You're home! Why didn't you call? Do you realize that *today* is Christmas Eve? The hearing's in three hours!"
"And I'm home in plenty of time, just like I promised I would be," Harm reminded her, returning her hug.
"You look tired," Mac told him. "Mattie, why don't you go get Harm a cup of coffee while he takes a shower?"
"I could use some coffee," Harm confirmed. "And a shower. It's been a rough few days."
"I'm just glad you're home and safe," Mattie said, giving him another hug before disappearing through the door.
Harm looked at Mac before pulling her into his arms and holding her close. "I missed you."
"Not as much as I missed you, I bet," Mac replied, lifting her head to give his stubbled cheek a quick kiss. "Ouch."
"Yeah. Not much time to shave."
"How much sleep have you had?"
"I caught a few on the flight from Spain. And that's all I'm going to say. What's this about Tom Johnson?"
"Resolved. In a way. Let's get your shower started and then we'll talk."
When she turned and would have moved away, Harm slipped an arm around her waist, letting it move up to just under her breasts and pulled her against him. "Care to join me?" he suggested, his breath tickling her ear.
"I might," she said, turning her head to look at him, and he gave her a kiss. "But Mattie's going to be back up here any minute with your coffee."
Harm sighed, and tightened his hold on her, one large hand covering her breast beneath the uniform blouse and moving his hips forward to let her know exactly how much he had missed her. "Okay. But tonight, after she's gone to bed, a certain Naval Aviator is going to land on the deck of the USS Sarah Mackenzie."
"Sounds interesting," Mac said, lifting a hand to his cheek before Mattie returned and they moved apart. "I'll go start the shower while you drink some coffee," she said quickly, needing to put some space between herself and her sailor.
"So, did you save the world again?" Mattie asked, watching Harm sip the hot liquid.
Knowing that he'd had a hand in doing just that, Harm grinned and winked. "Need to know, Mattie. But it was interesting."
"Are you ever going to be able to tell us about your missions?" she wondered.
"Maybe someday. If they're ever declassified. Could be awhile, though. *Especially this one,* he thought. *If anyone ever knew how close they had come to a major bio-attack --*
"Your shower's ready," Mac called out from the bathroom.
"I'll go downstairs and call Bud and Harriet," Mattie decided. "Let them know you're back. We're all supposed to meet at their place after court and before the service." She gave him another hug. "I am *so* glad you're home!" she declared, and then was gone again.
Harm chuckled and went into the bathroom, shaking his head and expecting to find Mac there. But the room appeared to be empty. The only sign that anyone else had been there was the steam filling the room - and Mac's uniform neatly hung on the back of the door. "Mac?" he called, and then saw movement behind the pebbled glass shower door before it was opened.
Smiling, Harm quickly stripped out of his jeans and shirt before opening the door and joining her. "I thought you said no," he told her, pulling her naked body against his.
"I thought you might need someone to wash your back," she replied, standing on tip toe to give him a kiss as her hands moved southward, across his broad, hair-covered chest, down his stomach, and then found what they were seeking, causing Harm to gasp at the contact.
"I need you, Mac," he murmured against her skin as the water cascaded over them.
"I need you, too."
Harm lifted her, letting her long legs circle his waist before he pushed her back against the cool tiles and entered her in one movement. It wasn't soft, or romantic, this was the need of two people to be reassured that they were still alive - and that they were still together. It was raw, animal passion that flared like a bright flame that burned hotly even as they swallowed each others cries of completion, all too aware that Mattie was downstairs on the telephone.
They stood there under the sluicing water, trying to catch their breath, wrapped in each other's arms. "I love you, Mac," Harm said quietly. "Let's get married."
"Now?" she questioned in a teasing tone, and Harm could tell it was only because she was surprised by his overt expression of love and his sudden suggestion. "I think we're a little underdressed, don't you?"
"You know what I mean," he said, lifting her head so that he could look into her dark eyes. "I love you and I want you to be a part of my life. We're not serving in the same command, so that's not a problem anymore." His thumbs moved across her cheeks as he continued. "We could give Mattie a family. A *real* family. And maybe a couple of brothers and sisters."
"I thought we had another year to go on our deal?"
"Six months," he corrected with a grin. "We can wait, if you really want to. As long as we're together, I don't care."
"Love you, too," she said. "And I don't want to wait." She slid her arms around his neck and pulled him into another kiss.
Once it ended, Harm asked, "So was that a yes to my proposal, Mac?"
"Yes," she said, and kissed him again.
1330 Hours Local
"After hearing all of the witnesses, I must say that you've set up an impressive support system for Mattie, Commander Rabb," the Judge said. "You've bought a house; you've found a group of people who are capable and willing to take care of her when you can't be there. And I've taken Mr. Johnson's statement that he believes that his daughter would be better off in your care while he's getting his life together into account as well."
Harm saw Mattie give her father a sideways glance at the Judge's words. From what Mac had told him, he knew that she hadn't been aware of that statement until now.
The Judge picked up the papers he had submitted from Mac, the Roberts, Jen Coates, and even Admiral Chegwidden in support of his plan.
"Ms. Lemoyne was very impressed with you. And Mr. Watley, while he was unable to meet with you, was most impressed by Col. Mackenzie's staunch support of you during their meeting."
Harm reached over and clasped Mac's fingers in his in silent thanks.
The Judge looked at them over the papers. "And you're now engaged to the Colonel?"
"Yes, ma'am," Harm confirmed.
"So, technically, the two of you will be taking care of Mattie on a day to day basis?"
"Yes, your Honor."
"Very well. This court is willing to assign temporary custody of the minor, Mattie Grace, to Harmon Rabb, Jr. We will revisit the case in six months to see where Mr. Johnson's recovery stands and deliver a final verdict at that time for permanent custody." She banged the gavel and wished everyone a nice evening before leaving the room.
"That's it?" Mattie asked Harm.
"That's it," he told her, laughing as she gave him a huge hug.
Harm saw Tom Johnson move toward the exit, and told Mattie that he'd meet her and Mac outside at the car. "Mr. Johnson," he called out as he caught up with the shorter man at the side of the pick up truck bearing the words "Grace Aviation" on the side. Tom turned around, waiting. "Thank you. What you did -"
"I did it for my daughter, Commander. I'm not in any shape to take care of her right now. You can thank Col. Mackenzie for making me realize that and finding help for me. I love my daughter, Commander. And I only consider this to be a temporary arrangement."
"Why haven't you told Mattie what happened that night?" harm wanted to know.
"She wouldn't believe it. And I was at fault. No, I wasn't drunk, but we were arguing about my drinking when the accident happened."
"She needs to know the truth, Mr. Johnson."
"Maybe some day. But not now. Take care of her, Commander."
"I will," Harm said, extending a hand. He was relieved when Tom took it and shook it before getting into his truck and driving away.
2400 Hours Local
Harm went to the spot without deviation. He'd been here too many times not to know exactly where the name was located. He could almost pick it out from across the Mall. Removing his glove, he reached out to touch the carved granite, running his fingers across the name. "Merry Christmas, Dad." Mac and Mattie had hung back to give him a moment alone with his dad, and he sensed their approach a moment later, and turned to put an arm around Mattie. Since he and Mac were in uniform, they refrained from more than a brief touch of their hands.
"He really went down on Christmas Eve?" Mattie questioned, her eyes on the black granite wall.
"Yeah. We got word on Christmas Day."
"That had to be a serious downer. Losing your dad on Christmas Eve. I'm surprised you don't hate Christmas."
"My mom made sure we kept celebrating it. Low key, but she tried. And I was in the Academy when this was built. I've come here just about every year since then. I've always felt close to him here."
Mattie's eyes moved along the wall that seemed to disappear into the darkness. "It's a lot of names."
"A lot of good people fought in that war," Mac agreed. "Some came home, and some didn't."
"Was your dad in Vietnam?" Mattie asked Mac.
"No. He was in the Marines, but he served stateside. My uncle was, though." She and Harm exchanged a smile as they recalled her uncle, Matt O'Hara, and that it was he who brought them together in a way.
"You two ready to go?" Harm asked.
"Whenever you are."
Harm nodded and stepped in front of the wall, his eyes locked on his father's name. Giving a sharp salute, he held it for a moment before turning away. Sliding an arm around Mattie's shoulders, he reached out and took Mac's hand in his as they headed back toward the car and a bright future for the three of them.