Sturgis was waiting for them when they entered the bullpen that morning. He seemed unable to meet Mac's gaze until she smiled at him. "It's okay, Sturgis. I understand why you couldn't say anything."
"I would have, Mac, but -" He stopped, glancing toward Jen Coates' office. "We've all been ordered to report to the SecNav in the Admiral's office ASAP," he informed them.
"You know what's going on?" Mac questioned as Bud joined them.
"No idea," Bud said. "The SecNav was here when *I* arrived this morning, and Coates isn't talking."
Harm dropped his cover in Mac's office before following them. "Go on in," Jen said, giving them an uncertain smile.
Edwin Sheffield was standing at the windows when they entered, going immediately to attention. "Good morning, Colonel, Commanders. Please. Make yourselves comfortable," he insisted, indicating the chairs before the desk. "I trust that you all had a restful weekend and are ready to get back to work?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Secretary," Mac answered for them.
"Allow me to congratulate you on your promotion, Lt. Cmdr. Roberts."
"Thank you, sir," Bud said, barely restraining the smile that appeared on his face.
"Now. Let's get down to why we're here. I considered my options for some time when it came to appointing someone to stand-in as temporary JAG until the new JAG is confirmed, but I decided that instead of a stoNC-17ap, it might be a better idea to allow everyone here to get used to the person who will most likely become the new Judge Advocate General. Everyone except for you, Commander Rabb," he said.
"Yes. I believe that you once worked with the person I've nominated for the position."
Harm's mind was instantly alert as he began going over names and ranks of people he had worked with over the years. "I have?"
"Admiral Allison Krennick. She was Admiral Chegwidden's adjutant when he first took over, if I'm not mistaken."
Harm wasn't sure how he managed to cover his surprise at the name. "She was a Commander at that time, sir," he confirmed. "I knew that she was promoted to Captain when she left Falls Church, but I hadn't heard that she was given her first star."
"Almost three years ago. Her record is quite impressive. I'm hoping that her nomination will be confirmed within the next few weeks, and during that time she will serve as interim JAG. I'm sure that she'll be able to count on all of your assistance should she have need of it."
"Yes, sir," all three of them confirmed.
"Admiral Krennick should be arriving shortly. Her flight from Guam was delayed by weather. I believe that will be all. Dismissed."
All four officers came to attention before leaving the office. "What's she like?" Mac questioned as they moved into the bullpen.
"Bud met her," Harm said. "While we were investigating Diane's murder. Remember, Bud?"
"Yes, sir," Bud nodded. "She left DC just before I was transferred her, though. She seemed fair -"
"That's the scuttlebutt I heard while I was at Pearl before coming here," Sturgis agreed. "That she's fair and an excellent administrator who tends to allow her people to do their jobs without too much interference."
"Sounds like the Admiral," Bud noted, and realizing that the statement could be confusing, added, "Admiral Chegwidden, I mean."
"Believe me, Allison Krennick is no Admiral Chegwidden," Harm noted before he realized what he'd said. "Excuse me," he said quickly, backing toward his office. "I have a - uh - call to make before court this afternoon." Turning on his heel, he made a hasty retreat, escaping to the relative safety of his office.
Once there, he found himself staring out of the window - not that he could see much, considering where the room was located. A knock on his door caused him to turn around as Mac appeared, carrying his cover.
"You left this in my office," she told him.
"Thanks," he said, taking the cover and placing it atop a file cabinet.
"What's wrong, Harm?" she asked. "I'd think you would be happy to know that the new JAG is someone you know and served with. From the way you're acting, you'd think Teddy Lindsey was taking over."
Harm glanced at the door. "Close the hatch," he said, and waited for her to do as he asked. "Do you think people can change, Mac?"
"Sometimes. If it's important enough. Why? Who are we talking about?"
"Al Krennick. When she was last here, she, well, she - God, this sounds so stupid."
"Harm, what is it?"
Taking a moment, Harm changed his tactic, deciding to go at the problem from another angle. "When I first came to JAG, Krennick and Lindsey were both brand-new Commanders, damn good lawyers in the bargain. On my first case, I was assigned to an investigation with Krennick. During the investigation, we discovered a smuggling ring and I 'used my initiative' to prove that the petty officer we were investigating was involved."
"Sounds as if you got off to a good start and continued along the same path," Mac pointed out.
"Got me noticed by Admiral Brovo, anyway - and Krennick. She said she was 'impressed' by my work. When Brovo joked about having to be on his toes to keep me from taking his chair, she suddenly saw me as a rival instead of a partner. By that time, Admiral Brovo had already named Lindsey as his adjutant. I think Brovo was - intimidated by Krennick, truth be told. She was TAD in Italy for a few months, and came back about the time that Admiral Chegwidden took over and Lindsey left."
"I'm still not hearing anything that would explain the way you're reacting to her becoming the new JAG, Harm."
"She still saw me as a rival, Mac. Krennick's plan was to become the first female JAG, and she wasn't about to let an up and coming Lieutenant get in her way. So she - tried to intimidate me by - flirting and - making comments."
"She *harassed* you?"
"And you never reported it?"
"It never really bothered me that much. Except for that time that she tried to set up a 'weekend retreat' for the two of us. And, to be honest, I guess I was a little - flattered by the attention."
"Oh, Harm," Mac sighed, shaking her head in disbelief.
"It was more of nuisance than anything else. I handled it. Without hurting her career."
"Did you have witnesses to what she was doing?"
"Meg Austin was aware of it - but I don't think anyone else was."
"Were you tempted to give her what she wanted?"
"She could have helped your career as much as she could have hurt it, Harm," Mac pointed out. "It would have been only natural for you to wonder how far sleeping with her could get you."
"Okay, yeah. I thought about it. But I couldn't do it. I wasn't attracted to her in that way. I *did* flirt back on occasion," he admitted, and saw her roll her eyes again. "I know. Stupid move on my part. But how the hell was I supposed to know that she might wind up here one day as JAG? I never thought she'd make higher than Captain considering the way she was acting."
"Well apparently she did," Mac pointed out. "Maybe she's changed."
"I guess we'll find out, won't we?" he asked, almost jumping as the intercom buzzed. "Yes?"
"Admiral Krennick is asking that the senior staff assemble in the conference room immediately, Commander."
"Just arrived, sir," was Coates' response. "Is Colonel Mackenzie with you?"
"Yes. We're on our way, Coates." He released the button, looking at Mac.
Harm followed Mac into the conference room, mentally preparing himself to face Krennick. Sturgis and Bud were already seated at the table, as was the Admiral. Coming to attention, Harm said, "Commander Rabb and Lt. Col. Mackenzie reporting, Admiral."
"At ease, Commander. Colonel," Krennick said, her voice just as smoky and rough as he remembered it being. "Nice of you to join us."
"The Commander and I were discussing a case, ma'am," Mac said.
This wasn't the Allison Krennick of Harm's 'fantasy' during the dinner to celebrate Coates' promotion, he realized. Her blonde hair was cut short to frame her thin face. "Nice to know that you were working, anyway. Hello, Harm," she said, smiling at him. "Please sit down."
Where once Harm would have taken the chair closest to the end of the table, he allowed Mac to sit there this time, putting her between himself and Krennick. "Admiral."
"Commander Turner and Lt. Commander Roberts were just filling me in on their current caseload, Colonel. I believe it's your turn."
Mac and Harm spent the next few minutes telling her about the cases they were handling, bringing her up to speed on what was going on in the office.
Allison dismissed the meeting, only to ask Harm to remain behind for a moment. "We have a lot of time to catch up on."
Harm went to attention again, ignoring the look that Mac sent in his direction as she lingered after Sturgis and Bud departed.
"Yes, Colonel?" Krennick questioned.
"Cmdr. Rabb and I have a meeting with a client at -"
"I seem to recall your both mentioning that you weren't due in court until after noon?"
"Admiral," Harm said, "may I ask the reason for your request that I remain behind? Colonel Mackenzie is Chief of Staff -"
The blonde looked from Harm to Mac. "Then I'd like to see you in my office, Colonel in fifteen minutes to go over personnel files. Dismissed."
Mac came to attention and left the room after giving Harm another glance. Allison rose from her chair and came around to the side of the conference table, resting her hip on the edge. "It's been a long time, Harm."
"Yes, ma'am. It has."
"Oh, come now, Commander. You didn't 'ma'am' me when I was Commander."
"You weren't an Admiral, ma'am."
"As you were, Commander. The reason I asked you to stay behind is that I wanted to make some things clear - I was afraid that you might react this way to my being here, you know."
"You *could* go to the SecNav, tell him that I shouldn't be the JAG," she told him.
"Yes, I could."
"But you won't."
Harm finally met her eyes. "You sound certain of that. Ma'am."
"I know you. You're an honorable man, Harm. Too honorable to condemn even me without a trial." Harm stood there as she watched him. "I made a mistake the last time I was at JAG, Harm. If I tell you that I haven't repeated that mistake since leaving, would you believe me?"
"I don't have much choice in the matter, do I, ma'am?"
"As I said, you could file a claim of harassment against me. That would bring the confirmation to a grinding halt."
"After all these years? No."
"Why didn't you do it then?"
"It's a simple question. There could be any number of answers. Maybe you didn't want to look weak and unable to handle the advances of a woman. Or you were flattered by the attention. Or was it because you were trying to protect my career?"
"Is 'all of the above' one of my choices, ma'am?"
That surprised her. "You were really concerned about *my* career, Commander?"
"And mine, ma'am. If I had filed a complaint, your career would have suffered no matter what the outcome and mine would have suffered because I hadn't been able to handle the situation without filing a complaint."
"You know, it wasn't all about power," she confessed. "You're an attractive man. Oh, I admit that it was mostly because I saw you as a threat to my goals. But now that I've achieved that goal, you're no longer a threat. And I hope that we can begin again. Make a fresh start." Allison smiled. "Can we start over, Commander? Wipe the slate clean?"
Harm considered her offer, knowing that he really had no other choice but to agree. "I believe so, ma'am."
"Good. Dismissed, Commander."
Harm made his way back to his office, already wondering if he'd made a mistake. He hoped Krennick hadn't been lying to him about having changed. Because if she hadn't - well, he hadn't filed a complaint nine years ago, but he would now - no matter what the fallout might do to his career.
Mac entered the Admiral's office, carrying the personnel roster and came to attention before Allison Krennick's desk. "Lt. Col. Mackenzie reporting as ordered, Admiral."
"At ease, Colonel," Allison said. "And sit down, please." She finished reading through the paper that she was looking at before rising and moving to sit in one of the other chairs. "I've heard very good things about you, Colonel. I'm aware that I'm an unknown quantity, but all I ask is that you give me a chance to prove myself. I'm not the same person I was nine years ago, Colonel."
"Few of us are, Admiral." For a moment, Mac wondered exactly what Allison Krennick and Harm had talked about.
Allison smiled, relaxing slightly. "True. It would be sad if we were, I think. I've made more than a few mistakes in my life, and hopefully I've learned from them and it's made me stronger."
"And wiser, ma'am?" Mac questioned.
"Well, we can't have everything, can we - Mac? That is what you prefer, isn't it, instead of 'Sarah'?"
Allison smiled again. "Now. About the personnel. What can you tell me about the people under my command? And I don't mean just what's in their folders. I mean about the people themselves?"
"Do you think she was telling the truth?" Mac asked Harm after he told her about his meeting with Allison. "Has she changed?"
"Let's just say that I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt," Harm replied, giving the Beltway Burger in her hand a look of disapproval. "You're really going to eat that?"
"I'm starving. And it's been ages since I had one of these - call it a craving."
"I'm cooking tonight," he told her. "And there *won't* be dead animal."
"No tofu," Mac replied. "How about a compromise? Chicken."
Harm pretended to consider her idea before nodding. "Okay. Deal. At least it's healthier for you than that," he teased. "How did your meeting with her go?"
"Better than I expected. She seems genuinely interested in the people in her command."
"Krennick was always interested. Just more in some than in others."
"You mean more in you."
"Yeah. Did you get a chance to call Dr. Takashi?"
"Oh. I did. The appointment is for this afternoon after work. She agreed to stay late to see us. Is that a problem with Mattie? I know you usually pick her up after school if you can -"
"No. It's not a problem. She has volleyball practice this afternoon, so I'm sure Coates will be able to pick her up instead."
After lunch, Harm and Mac faced off in court over a Petty Officer who was accused of dereliction of duty and failure to carry out an order which had resulted in injuries to four seamen when a cable had snapped while off-loading equipment. The young man insisted that he had followed the order, but had neglected to get a sign off on the cable inspection which showed a possibility of imminent failure.
Harm was convinced that the Petty Officer Carson's CO, a Master Chief with almost twenty years in the Navy, had singled Carson out for blame because he had failed to check the cable himself and was failing to take responsibility for that fact.
Trouble was, he had no proof that his theory was correct, only PO Carson's insistence that Master Chief Greer had been in the area where the cable failed only moments before he went in to examine it himself. Carson recalled that he had gone to the Master Chief and reported a problem, and that Greer had said it would be repaired, but Master Chief Greer denied ever having that conversation.
After Mac finished questioning Greer, Harm rose from his chair, glancing at the notes he had made. "Have you ever been witness to an accident similar to the one involved in this case, Master Chief?" he asked.
Harm glanced toward Mac, who was frowning as she rose. "Objection, your honor. Relevance?"
"If you'll give me a moment, your honor?"
"A moment, Commander," Judge Helfman agreed. "Overruled. Answer the question, Master Chief."
"A few years ago," Greer acknowledged.
Harm picked up a paper. "Five years ago, wasn't it?"
"Yes, sir. I believe that's correct."
"What happened on that occasion, Master Chief?"
"A cable snapped while we were loading supplies onto the Coral Sea."
"Any injuries, Master Chief?"
"One of those died of his injuries, I believe, isn't that right?"
"What was the result of the investigation into that accident, Master Chief?"
"I don't recall, Commander," Greer said.
"Why don't I refresh your memory, Master Chief?" Harm suggested, reading from the paper in his hand. "Petty Officer Connor Niles was charged with dereliction of duty and failure to carry out an order based on your recommendation. Niles was convicted of negligent homicide, given a punitive discharge and is currently serving the last year of his five year sentence in prison. During the trial, Petty Officer Niles testified that you sent him to check on the cable that ultimately snapped and that when he reported back to you that the cable needed immediate replacement you ignored his warning and continued operations until the accident occurred. Just like it did this time. Lightening striking twice in the same place."
"Counsel for the defense is testifying, your honor," Mac objected.
"No further questions," Harm said before Judge Helfman could respond, returning to his seat. Looking at the face of the members, Harm knew that he'd planted a seed of doubt in their minds - which is what he'd intended to do.
Mac rose from her chair. "Master Chief Greer, did Petty Officer Carson come to you at any time before the accident and warn you that one of the cables was in need or repair or replacement?"
"No, ma'am," was Greer's firm response. "He did not."
"The prosecution rests, your honor," Mac announced.
"You may step down, Master Chief," Helfman told Greer. "Are you ready to present the case for the defense, Commander Rabb?"
"We are, your honor." Harm rose, and called one of Carson's friends as a character witness, questioning him as to the young man's honesty and reliability.
Mac was unable to shake the witness' testimony, and gave up quickly. Judge Helfman called a recess due to her need to hear motions in another case, calling for court to resume the next morning at 1000 hours.
"You really think the members will buy your little diversionary tactic, Harm?" Mac asked as they moved toward the elevator.
"It wasn't a diversionary tactic, counselor. It was the truth. Master Chief Greer has a pattern of 'accidents' in his command. Most of them aren't serious enough to warrant a court martial. Check the record. You might be surprised. And when you do, I'll be more than willing to accept full dismissal of charges against my client."
"In your dreams, Commander."
Recalling a similar comment from her many years ago, Harm grinned and leaned close to her as the doors opened. "You're already in my dreams, Mac." He knew the moment he said it that he probably shouldn't have, and that knowledge was confirmed by the look in Mac's eyes as *she* looked at whoever was inside the elevator. Harm straightened, coming face to face with Allison Krennick. "Admiral."
The woman's eyes flickered from Harm, to Mac, and back to Harm before she spoke, her gaze speculative. "As you were, Commander. Colonel," she said, moving between them as she left the car.
"I have a meeting with Admiral Morris, but I'd like to see both of you in my office in an hour."
"Yes, ma'am," Mac answered, stepping onto the elevator as the Admiral turned and moved toward Admiral Morris' office. The doors started to close, and Mac placed a hand on them. "Harm?"
He joined her, leaning back against the wall. "Damn. I'm never taking the elevator again."
"Something about them *does* appear to cause your mouth to engage before your brain," Mac agreed.
"What do you think she'll do?" he wondered.
"No telling. She wasn't surprised when I told her that Harriet had been here TAD from the Inspector General's office for the last six years before she opted to go inactive, so I tend to think she's not totally against interoffice relationships."
"Is that what we have?" he questioned. "An - 'interoffice relationship'?"
Mac lifted her shoulders. "And as for your dreams, we'll discuss those later, Commander," she promised as the doors opened and she left him standing there.
An hour later found them both standing at attention before Admiral Krennick's desk, waiting for her to finish making notes from a folder that lay open on her desk. "As you were," she finally said. "Sit down. I'm sure that the Commander has told you that I take sexual harassment very seriously, Colonel." Harm lifted an eyebrow upon hearing the statement. "Is there a problem that I should be aware of?"
"No, Admiral," Mac said. "Commander Rabb and I were - just making conversation. Believe me, Admiral, the Commander isn't harassing me. Sexually or in any other way."
"You're certain of that, Mac?" Allison asked, crossing her arms across her chest as she sat back in her chair. Hearing her use Mac's nickname surprised Harm momentarily.
"Quite certain, ma'am."
"Very well. Just so you both know, I have nothing against personal relationships in the office - as long as they don't affect your work or impact this office. Is that clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," Harm responded, unable to believe that she had all but accused him of harassment.
"That will be all. Dismissed."
"That woman -" Harm began as soon as entered Mac's office behind her. "I can't believe that she practically accused *me* of -"
"Calm down, Harm," Mac said quietly, glancing through the blinds into the bullpen. "There's nothing she can do. I seriously doubt she can find anyone that will say that you harass female officers. Unless she talks to Kate Pike, anyway."
Harm stopped, narrowing his eyes. "And what was that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," Mac said, turning toward her desk. "I have some research to do before court tomorrow -"
"Mac, what did Kate tell you?"
Mac took a deep breath. "That you and she spent a weekend together while you were partners, and that you decided that you couldn't handle working with someone you're involved with."
"She was right. At the time, it wasn't something that I was comfortable with. Maybe it was me."
"And maybe it was the partner," Mac suggested.
Harm grinned. "Possibly. I'll let you go take care of the research. You know where to find me when you're ready to make an offer."
"We'll see," she called after him, and Harm laughed
as he crossed the bullpen heading toward his office.
"You might have a point about Master Chief Greer," Mac said as they drove toward Bethesda. "If taken separately, all of the incidents don't seem to form a pattern. But together -"
"You ready to deal?"
"Maybe. Let me sleep on it. I'll let you know tomorrow morning."
"Fair enough," he agreed, noticing that her hands were clenched in her lap. "Nervous?" he asked.
"A little," she confessed.
"Hey," he said, getting her attention so that she would look at him. "I'll be there, every step of the way. Remember that."
"I know you will. Have you told Mattie about what we're talking about doing?"
"Not yet. I figured we should talk to the doctor first and then the two of us could discuss it with Mattie. That way if she does stay, she'll know what to expect."
"Maybe we can talk to her about it tonight, then," Mac suggested. "Depending on what Dr. Takashi has to say."
"Mac, even if she says that it's not an option in your case, that won't change anything."
He wasn't pleased that she didn't respond verbally to his statement, but didn't call her on it. She was nervous and worried, and the last thing she needed right now was him prattling on about things.
Dr. Takashi was obviously surprised to see him with Mac, and that petite doctor eyed him with some confusion when she heard the reason for their visit. "Col. Mackenzie, didn't you tell me that the man you'd been involved with recently died?"
"Yes. But Commander Rabb - Harm and I have talked for years about having a child together. We're friends, Doctor. Neither one of us is attached to anyone else."
"I see. Believe it or not, Colonel, I've heard the story before. People in the military - if they're not already married when they join the service - tend to put off having a family of their own until they suddenly realize that it's almost too late. By then, the pool of available partners is rather limited. So it's not unusual for two people who are friends and want to share the responsibility of a child to consider this option."
She spent the next hour telling them about the pros and cons of the procedure, and at the end of the appointment, Harm and Mac had an appointment with a fertility specialist that Dr. Takashi recommended to them.
"I do need to tell you, Sarah, that while you might notice a reduction of symptoms once you conceive, after the pregnancy, the symptoms will most likely recur - and we'll need to set up an appointment as soon as we can after that."
"I understand. Thank you."
"You're welcome. And good luck to you both."
Harm dropped Mac off at JAG to retrieve her car, and reminded her that they were having dinner at his place before going to pick Mattie up from volleyball practice. On the way home, he told Mattie that Mac was having dinner with them.
"Again? That's three nights in a row now," Mattie pointed out. "Have you told her how you feel?"
"No, and I'm not going to, Mattie. Not yet. She's still getting over Clay's death. But she and I are going to spending some time together. Learning to be friends again. Right now, that'll be enough."
"Anyone ever tell you that you're a pretty special guy, Harm?" Mattie questioned, giving him a hug.
"Once or twice," he said, returning the hug. "Now go get started on your homework," he said.
"Don't have any. It's the last week of school, remember? Just a lot of studying for finals."
"So study. Or come and help me with dinner. Your choice."
"Be there in ten," she told him, carrying her book bag toward the apartment that she shared with Jennifer Coates.
Harm opened his apartment door and entered, leaving the door open as he usually did. He had his blouse unbuttoned before he was halfway to the bedroom, and quickly changed out of his uniform into jeans and a pullover shirt.
Just as he pulled a package of leftover chicken and ingredients for a stir-fry out of the refrigerator, he heard Mac and Mattie's voices in the hallway.
"Hi, Mac!" Mattie said.
"Hi, Mattie. How was volleyball practice?"
"Not too bad - once they figured out that I have a killer spike. Tonight was really just more of an end of school thing," she told Mac as they entered the apartment.
Harm lifted an eyebrow in Mac's direction. "How many traffic laws did you break getting over here?"
"Not a one," she assured him, sitting on one of the stools across from him. "Anything I can do to help?"
After dinner, Mattie offered to clean up the kitchen while Harm and Mac had coffee in the living room. "You doing okay?" Harm asked after watching Mac for several minutes.
"Yeah," Mac nodded. "Each day it's a little easier." She looked into her cup, holding it with both hands. "How was it for you after - after Diane died?" she wanted to know.
"It was rough for a while," he recalled. "Didn't help that I didn't have closure. I felt guilty for not having kept in closer touch with her, wondered if things would have been different if I had. But little by little I found myself not thinking about her all the time. Actually smiling and laughing again. I took a few weeks leave - bought this place and started working on fixing it up. It gets easier."
She nodded. "Yeah. I know."
"I can still find out what happened if you want, Mac," he offered.
"No," she said, shaking her head slowly as Mattie joined them.
"Finished," she declared, hovering nearby. "I think I'm going to go do some studying for my history test tomorrow -"
"Why don't you sit down for a minute, Mattie?" Harm suggested, glancing at Mac. "Mac and I need to talk to you about something."
Mattie sat down slowly. "What did I do?"
"You didn't do anything, Mattie," Mac assured the girl with a smile. "It's just - Harm and I have made a decision, and since you're Harm's ward, it involves you."
"You're getting married?" Mattie questioned hopefully.
"N-no," Mac said, looking to Harm for some assistance.
"Not right now," Harm said, ignoring Mac's surprised expression. "Five years ago, when Bud and Harriet's little boy AJ was born, she and I made a - deal."
"A deal?" Mattie repeated. "What kind of deal?"
"That in five years, if neither of us was in a relationship, she and I would have a baby together."
"You two? Go halves on a kid?" Mattie questioned in disbelief, causing Mac and Harm to exchange an amused look.
"Yeah. The five years is up, and well -"
"You're going to have a baby?"
"Not yet," Mac said quickly. "But we're planning on it."
"But - you're not - involved." She stopped. "Are you?"
"No," Harm confirmed. "Not physically."
"So - uhm, uh, how are you gonna -" Mattie wondered, stumbling over the question.
"Artificial insemination," Mac answered.
"Wouldn't it be best to do it the - regular way?" Mattie asked. "I mean, why the rush?"
"I can't wait, Mattie," Mac said, and proceeded to explain about her medical problems. Harm reached over and placed his hand over hers, something that wasn't lost on Mattie. "So if I want to have a child, I have to do it now."
"Oh. When are you going to - uh - do it, I mean, this, since you're not actually going to do 'it', I mean -?"
Harm chuckled. "We have an appointment with a specialist on Wednesday afternoon. We'll know more then. We just wanted you to be aware of what's going on."
"Okay. You're really going to have a baby together?" she questioned.
"That's the plan," Mac confirmed.
Mattie sat there for several minutes, and Harm could tell that she was thinking about what she'd been told. "I just want you to know, Mattie, whatever happens, it's not going to make any difference between you and I," he told her.
"I know that," she said, rolling her eyes. "What time Wednesday? Your appointment?"
"Oh. Sixteen thirty," Harm answered.
"Then it works out. Because my dad asked me to have dinner with him on Wednesday after he picks me up from my Alateen meeting."
Mac's fingers tightened slightly on his as Harm nodded. "Okay. Just make sure he gets you home early. You still have two days of school after that."
"No prob," Mattie assured him.
"You're spending a lot of time with your father," Mac noted. "I guess you two are getting along better."
"Yeah. We are. He's not so bad now that he's not drinking all the time." She took a deep breath. "Well, I need to go study." Standing up, she gave Harm a hug. "Night."
She hesitated for a moment before giving Mac a hug as well. "Night, Mac. I'm glad you're feeling better."
"Having you and Harm around has helped," Mac told the girl. "Goodnight." After Mattie was gone, Mac commented, "Well, that went well, don't you think?"
"Yeah," Harm agreed, looking at the now-closed door.
"You don't want her to go back to her father, do you?"
"I'm torn, Mac. I know it's probably best for her to be with her dad, but I don't want to lose her in my life, either. And we both know that once she's with him, she won't stay in touch. Look at Chloe. When was the last time you spoke to her?" The moment he said it, Harm knew he shouldn't have, and he sank back onto the sofa with a loud groan. "Damn. I'm sorry, Mac. I shouldn't have -"
"No. You're right. Chloe's got her life with her grandparents and her dad now. She doesn't need me anymore. But she does write - I got a letter from her a few weeks ago. She wanted to know why I haven't been calling or writing her back. I just - I wasn't sure how long I could talk to her without something slipping out about everything that's gone on this year -"
Harm put an arm around her and pulled her close. "I still shouldn't have mentioned it. Sometimes my mouth just engages before my brain and I say stupid things. Forgive me?"
"Of course. You're worried about losing Mattie. It's understandable that you'd be a little rattled. I'm not angry, Harm."
"Wouldn't blame you. It's not the first time I've said something stupid where you're concerned."
"I've been guilty of that myself," Mac admitted. "Thing is, you've been right most of the time," she sighed.
"No. I haven't been," he said, knowing that she was referring to his thoughtless comment about her ex-boyfriends. "You know, you could make the same comment about me."
"Actually, I kinda did down in Paraguay," she reminded him. "That crack about every woman who's ever known you running away?"
"Because I didn't want to hold on to most of them," he told her. "I was waiting for someone else to be ready."
Mac looked up at him. "And what if she was never ready?"
Harm shrugged. "I'd have managed. But I would still be there for her as a friend if that was all I could be."
"We're going to have to work on that noble streak, Harm," Mac said, shaking her head. But he saw her smile as she stood up. "I need to get home."
Harm resisted the impulse to remind her that it was still early, to try and convince her to stay for a little longer. Giving her space was turning out to be more difficult than he'd thought it would be. Every other man in her life hadn't really done that. They'd moved in with a vengeance, pushing through the walls without any real understanding for the reasons they were there - only to have those walls return.
As much as Harm wanted to do the same thing, he wanted to know that those walls were gone - forever.
"I'll walk you down," he told her.
"You don't have to."
He grinned. "I know. I want to." Opening the door for her, he placed a hand on the small of her back as they went downstairs and out into the late spring evening.
"Thanks for dinner," she told him, unlocking her Vette and opening the door. "And the evening. I had a good time."
"Wasn't much," he said. "But I'm glad."
He thought for a moment that she hesitated before getting into the car. Closing the door, he leaned down as she lowered the window. "Call me and let me know you got home okay?"
"Harm, I'm a big girl. And a Marine. But I'll call."
"Thank you." Instead of leaning closer to give her a kiss as he wanted to do, Harm lifted a hand to her cheek. "I'll be waiting," he told her before stepping back from the car as she started the engine.
He remained there on the street as she drove away, watching until she turned the corner and disappeared from sight before going back into the building.
Mac's eyes kept going to her rearview mirror until she could no longer see Harm standing there. She'd always known that Harmon Rabb was a special man, and these last few days had reinforced that belief.
As much as she wanted him to hold her and make all of the pain go away, Mac knew that rushing headlong into a relationship would be a disaster. She needed time. Time to put everything she'd gone through over the last year behind her, time to become comfortable with herself. Time to mourn Clay and what might have been had things been different.
She knew - and so did Harm, probably, that if he made a move now, she wouldn't refuse it. She'd tumble right into his bed and end up regretting it the next morning - and eventually being angry at him, even though she wouldn't have any right to be.
She was lucky to have him in her life - and just hoped that she was worthy of him.
0830 Hours Local
Falls Church, VA
Mac came in early to make some final inquiries into Master Chief Greer's record, hoping that she had overlooked something that would make her able to refuse Harm's suggestion that she dismiss charges against his client.
She looked up to see Jen Coates standing in the doorway. "Yes, Coates?"
"The Admiral has asked for you."
Mac sighed as she rose from her desk. "How are things going, Coates?" she asked as they moved across the bullpen.
"Not bad, ma'am. She said to go right in."
Mac stepped into the Admiral's office. "Lt. Col. Mackenzie reporting as ordered, Admiral."
"As you were, Mac," Allison said. "Sit down. You're here early."
"I had some research to take care of, ma'am," Mac explained, sitting in one of the chairs.
"From what I understand, you're usually here early and leave late most days."
"It *has* been, yes, Admiral," Mac confirmed, wondering what the other woman was getting at.
"You're very dedicated to your career and to the Corps, aren't you?"
"I like to think so, ma'am."
Allison picked up a paper from the desk. "There's an opening in the JAG office in Okinawa. They could use someone with your skills there, I believe."
"You've served there, haven't you?"
"Yes. Before I went to law school. And Commander Rabb and I worked on a case there a few years ago."
"Is there any reason why you wouldn't be able to transfer out of DC, Mac?"
Mac knew full well that Allison Krennick was aware of the long-term relationship-that-wasn't-a-relationship between herself and Harm. "I would really prefer *not* to leave the DC area at the moment, Admiral," she told Allison.
"It would be a step up for you, Mac," Allison insisted. "You'd be in charge of an office there - with personnel working under you. Why don't we consider it a TAD assignment for say - a month and you can make up your mind -"
"Admiral, why me?"
"You have an excellent record, Mac. In a few years, you could be in line to become the first Marine Judge Advocate General."
"The *first* JAG was a Marine, Admiral," Mac pointed out.
"Not officially," Allison countered easily. She rose from her chair. "I'll be honest, Mac. I've heard that you were in a relationship that - ended tragically. I'd hate to see you make a mistake and run into someone else's arms too quickly."
"Especially if that 'someone' is Harm," Mac guessed, deciding to take the gloves off.
"I consider the Commander a friend, and I'd hate to see him hurt because you went to him on the rebound."
"I can't leave DC right now, Admiral," Mac stated, standing up and going to attention. "I respectfully request that you find someone else to take the assignment."
"Can't or won't?" Allison questioned. "The paperwork will be complete by the end of the week, Colonel. You're going to Okinawa." She sat down again. "Dismissed."
Mac left the office so angry that she could have broken something. Slamming the door into her office was only partially gratifying, and she began to pace the office, taking deep breaths, ignoring the pain in her back. There was no doubt in Mac's mind that this transfer was designed to get rid of the competition on two fronts: her job, and Harm.
Well, it wasn't going to work, Mac decided. She'd resign her commission before she let the woman get away with it. The knock on her door never registered. It wasn't until she heard Harm's voice directly behind her that she realized she was no longer alone.
"Mac?" When she jumped, he placed his hands on her shoulders to steady her, looking down at her with a concerned frown. "Hey. Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. What's wrong?"
"The Admiral has 'offered' me a position in Okinawa," she told him.
"What?!" Harm released her and turned away for a moment, and Mac could tell that he was trying to remain calm. "That - You know why she's doing this, don't you, Mac?"
"She *told* me the reason, Harm."
He looked at her. "She did?"
"She sees me as competition."
"She *said* that?"
"Not in those words, but that's what she meant. And no, there were no witnesses."
"Did you agree to the transfer?"
"Is that what you want me to do?"
"No! Of course not. The last thing I want is for you to be halfway around the world."
"She's not giving me any choice, Harm. Either I go or she'll probably file charges against me." She shook her head. "Unless I resign -"
"No. You're not going to resign - and you're not going to Okinawa," Harm declared, opening the door.
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to have a little chat with Al Krennick."
"Harm, don't do anything foolish."
"Me?" he questioned, giving her his best flyboy grin as he left the room.
Deciding that whatever happened, he would need a witness, Mac followed him across the bullpen and into Jen's office. "I need to see the Admiral, Coates," Harm said.
"Yes, sir," Jen said, rising and knocking on the connecting door.
Harm and Mac stood in the doorway, watching as Coates moved inside. "Admiral, Commander Rabb would like to speak with you."
"Tell them -" Allison began as she lifted her head and saw Harm and Mac standing just behind the petty officer. "Very well. I believe I can spare a few minutes, Coates. Dismissed." She rose from her chair as Coates closed the door behind her. "I suppose this is about the transfer that Mac requested?"
"Transfer that I -" Mac began, already shaking her head, glancing at Harm. "I never requested a transfer, Harm."
"Lt. Colonel Mackenzie, are you denying that you requested a meeting with me this morning and proceeded to tell me that you need to get out of DC for awhile for personal reasons?"
"Yes, I deny it. I was sitting in my office working when Petty Officer Coates told me that you wanted to see me."
"There was a note from you on my desk when I arrived this morning, asking me to see you as soon as I could this morning," Allison stated.
"Where is this - note, Admiral?" Harm questioned.
"I threw it away. I wasn't aware that I was going to need anything to prove that I was telling the truth, *Commander*."
"Petty Officer Coates only said that you wanted to see me," Mac declared. "Nothing about a note."
"She never saw it. The note stated that it was a personal matter, so I thought it best to allow Coates to believe that *I* was requesting the meeting to protect your privacy."
"She's not going anywhere, Krennick," Harm stated firmly.
"I think that should be the Colonel's decision, don't you? Mac, if he's intimated you into reconsidering your decision -"
"Harm has never intimidated me, Admiral," Mac said. "I don't want to leave DC for Okinawa or anywhere else. I told you that earlier."
"I'm sorry, but the arrangements are made," Allison declared, moving back around her desk as if to sit down. "You're expected in Okinawa on Monday morning -"
"Then *unmake* them," Harm said, leaning across the desk.
"Be careful, Commander," Krennick warned, giving him a glare that he knew only too well.
"Admiral, if you don't reconsider this course of action, you will leave me no choice but to go to the SecNav and make a formal complaint."
She sat back in her chair, seeming perfectly at ease in spite of the tension in the room. "A complaint? About what?"
"About your actions nine years ago."
"I don't think you want to do that, Commander," she said. "The impact on your career -"
"I don't give a - I don't care about my career. I'll do whatever I have to do to stop you from targeting Mac and screwing up her career. Even if it means scuttling mine."
"You really mean that, don't you?"
"I gave it all up for her once," Harm said, hearing Mac's soft gasp as he continued, "I'd do it again."
"It's your word against mine, Commander. Now, who do you think they'll believe?"
"But it's not. You're forgetting I *do* have a witness, Krennick." The blonde's face went still. "Meg Austin. She was a witness and was aware of what was going on at the time. And since she's no longer in the Navy, she won't be *intimidated* by your rank." Meg had left the Navy four years ago and joined NCIS, working out of their California offices. Harm stood there, his eyes locked with Allison Krennick's, refusing to back down or give any quarter.
"I believe you mean it."
Allison slowly opened a folder before her and removed some papers, tearing them neatly in half. "Very well. The transfer is rescinded. You can stay here, Colonel." When Harm extended his hand to take the papers from her, she reluctantly handed them over. "Dismissed."
As Harm's hand grasped the doorknob, she spoke again. "Commander Rabb, I wouldn't recommend using this form of negotiations in the future."
"No, Admiral. I won't," Harm promised, opening the door and following Mac through.
They stopped by the document shredded, feeding the papers into the blades before continuing back to Mac's office. "We're not going to be able to work with her, Harm," Mac said. "Especially not now."
"We won't have to if she's not confirmed as JAG," he pointed out.
"Beyond making good on your threat, Harm, I don't see how that's going happen. The SecNav's pushing for her to be confirmed for the position -"
"What if someone found out that she had - harassed a junior officer and leaked it to the press?"
"Too bad Loren Singer's not still lurking around here," Mac sighed.
"There are other ways," Harm noted.
"And what if it backfires and takes you with it?"
"I'll take my chances."
"Did you mean what you said in there?"
He looked at her. "About giving up my career for you? You know that's why I resigned last spring."
"You never came right out and *said* it before," she told him.
"There are a lot of things that I've never come right out and said before," he told her. "Maybe it's time I started."
He saw the flicker of uncertainty that lingered in her dark eyes. "Have you made a decision about Petty Officer Carson?" he asked, putting them back on a professional footing, pushing the personal business aside temporarily.
"Even if he *did* inform Master Chief Greer about the problem with the cable, he should have followed up. He's at least partially culpable."
"Reduction in rank and forfeiture of one month's pay?" Harm suggested.
"And a letter of reprimand in his file," Mac added.
"It's a good thing that the petty officer doesn't intend
to make a career out of the Navy," Harm sighed. "Deal,"
he said, holding out his hand to shake hers.
To Part 3