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Author's Notes: This story takes place around seven years after Luke Pendry's death, which would place it sometime within an early Season 9 time frame. Annie decided that Baltimore was too close to Harm after Josh tried to hitch a ride to DC to see him and moved back to California, near Sacramento. She went to work in another bank. After Josh tried to hitch a ride to DC, Annie decided that Baltimore was too close to Harm. She moved back to California and got a job in another bank.
Harm and Mac, back at JAG and recovered from events in Paraguay, are taking the first steps in establishing their "new" relationship. True to form, things aren't going as smoothly as they might hope. When Harm gets a telephone call from an old friend, old emotions cause a few "bumps in the road."
From Part 3:
"Have you seen Josh, Master Chief?" Harm questioned. "He ran away from home the other night -"
"I know. I found out when I got back here after stopping in to see my daughter. Josh stowed away in the camper of my truck. I agreed to let him stay a couple of days before taking him home."
"Where is he?" Harm wanted to know.
"In the office," Nick said. "I told him to go in there when I saw those punks drive up. Didn't want Josh to get hurt." Raising his voice, he called, "Josh? You can come out now!"
The door remained closed, and Nick frowned. "Josh?" he called again, this time heading toward the door and opening it. "Josh?"
The office was empty, but the window was open. Harm saw Josh climbing into the cab of Nick's pickup truck through the window, and ran to stop him.
Josh turned the key and grimaced as the engine refused to start. He slid down in the seat and pumped the gas as he'd seen Nick do. He gave a small shout of triumph as the engine roared to life. Before he could put the truck into gear, Harm reached through the open window and through the steering wheel to turn the engine off again, and pulled the keys out of the ignition.
"Hello, Josh," Harm said.
18 August 2003
1300 local time
South of Elk Grove, California
Josh launched himself across the seat and tried to escape through the passenger door.
Harm held him firmly by the back of his shirt and asked, "Is this any way to greet someone you haven't seen in four years?"
"I'm not going back, Harm," Josh declared.
"Your mom's worried about you, Josh," Harm said. Josh stopped struggling, but his expression didn't change.
"She doesn't care about me," he insisted. "She's got someone else in her life. I'm not important anymore. I'm not sure I ever was," the boy said. Harm heard the words echoing back through the years, as he struggled to come to terms with the "new man" in his mother's life.
"If that was true, Josh," Mac pointed out, "why would she care if you took flying lessons? Or that you'd run away at all? Doesn't it mean something that she broke down enough to call Harm to help find you?"
Josh looked uncertain for a moment as he considered Mac's words, then he shook his head. "She only called Harm because she thought I might have gone to him," he explained. His eyes found Harm. "She didn't call right away, did she?"
"No," Harm admitted, aware that he and Josh had never lied to each other - and this wasn't the time to start. "She looked everywhere else first. But she did call. And I took the first flight out." Josh relaxed enough to give Harm a hug.
"I missed you, Harm. Did you get my Christmas card?"
"I got it," Harm confirmed with a smile as he looked at Mac and Nick. "Could we have a few minutes?" he asked. "I think Josh and I need to have a little chat."
Nick dipped his head once. "Sure. C'mon, Colonel Mackenzie. Let's see if we can't rustle up something cold to drink." He glanced back at Harm. "We'll be upstairs," he explained, indicating the stairs leading up the side of the hangar to a doorway. "You two can use the hangar if you want to get out of the sun. It's a little cooler in there, anyway."
"Thanks," Harm said, his arm around Josh's shoulders. "Come on," he said.
As he walked with Harm, Josh insisted, "Nothing you say is going to change my mind, Harm.I'm not going back. Mom doesn't understand. She never will. You know what she'd do if she found out that I've been taking flying lessons from the Chief?"
"I have a pretty good idea," was Harm's comment. "Starting with having the Chief arrested for kidnapping."
Josh shook his head. "He didn't know I was in the truck," he insisted as they entered the hangar.
"Then he should have called her or taken you home the minute he found you."
Josh moved to the airplane. "The Chief understands how much flying means to me, Harm. I thought you would, too."
"Believe me, Josh, I do understand. Better than you think I do."
From the window above, Mac watched Harm and Josh as they talked. "Hope a soft drink's okay," Nick said, holding out a bottle toward her. "Stopped drinking a few years ago when I realized it was interfering with my flying."
"It's fine, thank you, Master Chief," Mac assured him, still watching below. "You know that you could end up in trouble over this?"
"I haven't done anything wrong, ma'am," Nick said. "Just what I'm trained to do: teach people how to fly. I wouldn't have let him solo without telling his mother, ma'am. I guess I hoped Josh would get the nerve to tell her himself."
"Is he any good?" she wanted to know.
"You know, ma'am, I've taught kids whose parents were pilots before - some of them I told to give it up before they hurt themselves and others. But Josh-" he looked at the hangar floor, "Josh is a natural. I don't think I've ever seen anyone take to it the way that boy did. I'd let him loose right now with the airplane if he were a couple of years older."
Mac moved away from the window to look around the small room. It was sparsely furnished, scattered here and there with photos and the bric-a-brac that people collect over a lifetime. One photo in particular drew her attention.
It was a crew photograph, taken in front of an F-4, and possibly on an aircraft carrier. Picking it up, she easily identified a familiar face. "Harm Sr., right?" she asked, indicating the figure. Beside that familiar figure was a much younger Tom Boone.
Nick leaned over her arm. "Yeah. That's Hammer. Scuttlebutt says that his son's just as good a pilot as his old man was. That true?"
Mac gave a short chuckle. "Depends on the circumstances. But yeah, I'd say he's probably as good a pilot as his father."
"Figures. You know, if anyone can handle that boy down there, I'd be willing to bet that it would be the Commander."
"You know, Josh, I was about your age when my mom remarried," Harm told the boy, who was pretending an intense interest in the airplane beside them. "Circumstances were a little different, - my dad was missing. There was no proof that he might not still be alive somewhere. When I found out that she had requested that he be declared dead so that she could marry Frank Bennett -"
"You didn't like him?"
"I didn't give myself a chance to like him," Harm corrected. "He wasn't my father. He wasn't a pilot. He wasn't in the Navy. He'd been around for several years, helping my mom out, but I always tried to make myself scarce when he was there. I didn't think she needed me around any more since she had him. I guess I thought I was just a painful reminder to her of my dad."
"Did she object to your learning to fly?" Josh wanted to know.
"She wasn't happy about it, but she never actively tried to stop me. And I think Frank helped her see that it was best to let me make my own choices instead of forcing me into a safer direction. "
"Wish Mr. Morgan would do the same for my mom," Josh sighed.
"Have you given him a chance to?" Harm questioned. "When I talked to Mr. Morgan he seemed pretty sympathetic to your cause," he continued. Josh looked thoughtful, and Harm decided to give him something else to think about. "Bet you didn't know that I ran away from home, once, too."
Josh's eyes widened in surprise. "You did?"
"I was sixteen," Harm recalled. "I heard about a retired Marine Colonel who was in Southeast Asia looking for American POWs and MIAs. So I took the money I'd saved from summer jobs and the allowance that Frank gave me, and used it to finance a trip over there with him."
"I guess you didn't find your dad, though."
"Was your mom really upset when you got back?"
Harm smiled at the memory of his mother's reaction when he'd gotten off of the airplane with Stryker. "I think that 'upset' is an understatement. She threatened to ground me for the next ten years." Until she had seen his face, felt his sense of failure, and sensed the depth of his guilt for the death of the young Vietnamese girl, Gem, who had insisted on accompanying them on their search. "But she finally understood that it was something I felt that I had to do."
Josh nodded. "I don't think my mom will ever understand," he sighed. "If she even knew about Finney and his family, she'd probably pack up and move again - probably to the middle of Montana this time."
"You shouldn't have lied to her, Josh," Harm said. When he saw Josh's features set, he added, "I understand why you did it, but it was wrong. When did you plan to tell her about the flying lessons? After you'd soloed? After you got your ticket?"
"I guess I hadn't thought that far ahead," Josh admitted slowly.
Harm tried to hide the his smile at the young man's words as he reached out to place a hand on Josh's shoulder. "Well, I can promise you one thing, Josh," he said, and waited for Josh to raise his head and look at him. "Whatever happens, I'm not going to let your mother cut me out of your life the way she did last time." He saw the look of relief on Josh's face before he continued. "*If* you promise me that you'll give James Morgan or whoever your mother chooses to be in her life a chance. A *real* chance, Josh," he finished, lifting an eyebrow as he waited for Josh's response.
"Okay. I'll try."
"That's all I can ask," Harm nodded, and then looked at the airplane. "How would you like to go up for a few minutes?" he asked.
"You mean it?" Josh asked in replyHe valued Harm's
opinion, and he really wanted to show Harm what he could do.
"Well, if you think Master Chief Harrison will agree to let me fly this thing-"
"I'm sure he would," Josh said. "I'll go ask."
Harm laughed softly. and shook his head as he began his preliminary inspection, just in case the Master Chief agreed with the request.
After Nick had taken Harm up on a "check-ride" in the Cessna 170, he and Mac stood on the tarmac watching the aircraft lift into the air. This time, Harm and Josh were at the controls.
Static crackled from Nick's handheld radio as Mac heard Harm
say,"Cessna 4502 departing the pattern to the southwest."
Mac stood there, watching and praying, as the airplane became a tiny speck in the blue sky. It was several moments before she realized that Nick was looking at her.
"You could have gone with them, Colonel," he told her. "Plane's got four seats."
Mac chuckled, shaking her head from side to side. "No, thank you, Nick," she said. "I've had my fill of small aircraft."
"One bad experience doesn't mean every one will be bad, ma'am," he pointed out.
"If it was only one, I'd agree with you," Mac responded, still looking at the spot in the sky into which Harm and Josh had vanished. "You mentioned something about dinner when they get back?" she reminded him, hoping to change the subject.
Though they hadn't wanted to put him to any trouble, Nick had
insisted they stay for dinner before they took Josh home.
"Fair enough, ma'am, let's see what we can find," Nick replied.
Walking beside him, she smiled again. "Call me Mac," she insisted. At the top of the stairs, Mac paused to look up at the sky again.
"They'll be fine, ma'- Mac," Nick assured her with a grin.
"Okay," Harm told Josh through the intercom system. "You've got the plane."
Josh glanced at Harm as he placed his hands on the yoke, then at the instrument panel. "Where do you want to go?"
Harm shrugged and said, "It's up to you. I'm just along for the ride. Show me what you've got.
Josh's mouth turned up at the corners. "Okay. You asked for it."
By the time the airplane touched down on terra firma again, two hours had passed. Josh brought the airplane to a stop beside the fuel pump and killed the engine while Mac came down the stairs to join them.
"Have fun?" she asked Harm, who was smiling from ear to ear while he watched Josh set up to put fuel into the wing tank.
"He's good," Harm told her, slipping his arm around her shoulders. "He could use a little practice on his landings," he teased, eyeing Josh, who grinned.
"Hey, I only bounced her once that last time," he said.
"And twice on the first," Harm replied.
"Nick has something ready for us to eat," Mac told them both; while Josh finished refueling the plane.
"I'll taxi the plane back into the hangar," Josh said. "Be right there." He got back into the cockpit while Harm and Mac moved toward the stairs.
Harm's arm remained over Mac's shoulders as he watched the airplane head toward the hangar. "Is he really good?" Mac asked.
"Better than I was at his age," Harm told her with a wry smile. "But don't tell him that. He's a little *too* sure of himself."
Mac laughed, looking up into his face. "Sounds like someone else I know," she commented.
Harm cocked an eyebrow. "You wouldn't be talking about me, would you?" he asked, turning her to face him, his arms now resting on her shoulders.
"Oh, of course not, flyboy," Mac replied. "You're one of the *least* self-assured people I've ever met."
"I'll show you self-assured," Harm said, bending towards her, his lips almost on hers. "Once we get Josh back to his mother and everything's settled, we'll go back to the motel and-"
"Dinner's ready!" Nick called, interrupting the near-kiss.
Harm's eyes reflected Mac's frustrated amusement as he saw Josh returning from the hangar after closing the large sliding doors. For a moment, Harm was worried about his reaction, but suddenly Josh's lips curved upward into a smile, and he gave Harm a "thumbs up" sign of approval.
Seeing Harm's smile Mac frowned and looked behind her. "What?" she asked.
"Nothing," Harm assured her quickly, nodding toward the stairway. "Let's not keep Nick waiting, shall we? Flying always gives me an appetite."
"Only flying?" Mac questioned with a teasing look before she turned and led the way toward the stairs. She knew that Harm was watching her walk away.
18 August 2003
1800 local time
South of Elk Grove, California
"Thanks for the dinner, Nick," Harm said as they sat finishing coffee in the living room over the hangar. "But we really need to get Josh back to his mother and try to explain what's been going on."
"Tell her that if she wants to discuss it with me, I'll be here."
"She'll probably threaten to call the cops," Josh muttered.
"Josh," Mac began, but he interrupted.
"You know what she's like. If she doesn't have the Chief arrested, she'll pack us up and move to who knows where to get me away from his influence."
"I said I'd talk to her, Josh," Harm reminded the boy as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed Annie's number. "I think I'll call and let her know that you're all right and that we're on our way home," he said. When the phone didn't connect, he frowned and looked at the display. "No signal."
Nick sighed. "It's a dead area out here," he explained. "They've talked about putting in a tower a few miles out, but so far, it's just been talk." He picked up the cordless telephone from the desk. "Here you go."
Harm gave Nick a grateful smile as he dialed and waited for someone to answer. "Hello?"
Harm sighed with relief as he recognized James Morgan's voice. "James, it's Harm."
"Harm. Annie was starting to think that you'd gotten lost too. Did you find him?"
"Yeah," Harm answered, winking at Josh. "We did. We'll be there in about an hour, I think."
He could hear James talking to Annie, and then she was on the telephone. "Harm? Is he okay?"
"He's fine, Annie," Harm assured her.
"Where was he? What was he doing?" she wanted to know.
"I think it would best to discuss that once he's home and you can see that he's okay, Annie," Harm told her. "Annie?" he said again, glancing at the telephone with a frown. He started to dial again, and then paused. "It's dead," he announced.
"Sometimes happens out here," Nick told them with a resigned air.
"At least she's expecting us," Mac told them. "We'd better get going."
Harm shook Nick's hand. "Don't be a stranger, Harm," Nick said.
Harm covered their hands with his left one. "I'll be in touch, Chief," he promised.
Nick ruffled Josh's dark blonde hair. "You tell your mom everything, Josh. And then we'll see what happens."
"I know what's gonna happen," Josh said, his tone dispirited. "Thanks for everything, Chief."
Mac took Nick's hand. "Thanks, Nick."
"Good luck, Mac," Nick told her in a quiet voice. "Be happy."
Harm opened the door, and then closed it quickly as the sound of a gunshot ricocheting off of the metal beside it echoed through the room. "Get down," he ordered, as he turned off the room's only lamp.
Mac had already grabbed Josh and pulled him behind the desk. "Didn't take you much time to duck," Harm told her as he joined them.
"I told you. Marines don't duck," Mac replied.
"They take cover," Nick said, causing Harm and Mac to look at him in the darkness.
"Made a few friends in the Corp over the years," he explained.
Mac heard Harm moving away. "Where are you going?" she asked.
"To take a look outside," he whispered, and Mac followed him to the windows that overlooked the front and side of the hangar area. Mac peered out over the darkness, squinting. "Did you see that?" he asked.
"See what?" Mac questioned, pausing as she noticed movement near Nick's truck.
"I saw something," she agreed, seconds before they both took cover below the window as the pickup truck exploded into flames.