"Nice place," Mattie commented as she and Harm entered the apartment. "Wait a minute. How'd you get her key?"
"We traded keys a few years ago for -various reasons," he answered. "Mac's probably got some water in the fridge. You want some?"
"Sure." She picked up a framed photograph. "You've got one just like this."
Harm glanced at the picture of him and Mac in Afghanistan. Happier times. Before Bud lost his leg and everyone else lost their footing. "Yeah. That was some trip."
"You both look happy."
"I think we were then."
"So what happened?"
"Lots of things. Life. Two stubborn people not willing to admit their feelings to each other." He sat down beside her on the sofa. "You sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. Just mad as - heck that I was stupid enough to fall for her lies. I should have called someone when she said you'd been hurt - instead of just taking off with her."
"It's over. Or it will be soon. Agent Holland's friends should be at the apartment by now."
"The woman's got to be crazy. Hey, I wonder if we made the news?" she said, picking up the remote control to turn on the TV.
Film of the fire being put out at the Navy Yard was the first thing they saw as Stuart Dunston's voice spoke over the footage. "Agent Holland with NCIS told us that the three people in the building escaped unharmed, but refused to make any further statement when questioned if this fire had anything to do with the earlier statement made by Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr."
Agent Holland was shown saying, "I can't comment on an ongoing investigation."
Dunston's face appeared on the screen again. "Although I am aware that some of the other news organizations are doing so, ZNN will not be playing the audio portion of Commander Rabb's statement. I know for a fact that the person who contacted me was not Commander Rabb, and that source has since confirmed that Commander Rabb did not harass Allison Krennick or anyone else."
"Then why did the Commander make that statement, Stuart?" the in-studio anchor questioned as the footage of Harm talking to the press was aired without audio.
"That's an answer we'd all like to have, Sharon. But the Commander has disappeared."
"You owe that man an exclusive," Mattie suggested.
"Just a moment, Stuart. We're getting a report about a possible armed standoff in DC." The camera cut to choppy footage of all too familiar part of town. Several police cars surrounded a red-brick building.
"Harm, isn't that -"
"Yeah," he confirmed in a concerned tone. "It's the apartment building." Mac had been right. Krennick *had* gone to the apartment. But what worried him wasn't that she was inside that building. It was the pickup truck that was parked on the curb which Harm recognized.
"I meant the truck, Harm. That's my dad's truck."
Harm placed an arm around her shoulders as they listened. "According to DC police, there appears to be a woman holed up in the third floor apartment of this converted warehouse. It's unknown at this time if she has anyone with her."
"Has she made any demands, Greg?" Sharon asked the on-scene reporter.
"Not to our knowledge, but - Suddenly there was a loud noise that shook the camera and everything around it, causing the reporter to duck for cover.
"What's happening, Greg?"
"It blew up!" he said, turning to his cameraman, who was already pointing the camera toward the building - or what was left of the building. "Apparently whoever was inside set off a bomb. There's not much left of the top floor of the building -"
"Oh, shit!" Mattie yelled. "That bitch blew up our apartments!"
"Hey," he said, pushing his own anger aside to try and keep Mattie calm. "It'll be okay. We'll be okay."
"But - everything was in there. And you worked so hard on your place. "
"It's just a place, Mattie," he told her, pulling her close. "Just a place." The front door of the apartment opened and Mac appeared, tears in her eyes as she looked at them.
"I guess you heard."
Harm nodded and held out an arm, inviting her to join the two of them in a hug. Harm's cell phone started to ring, forcing him to release Mac to answer. "Rabb."
"Commander, I have good news and bad news."
"I saw it."
"I was afraid of that. She refused to come out. We decided to send tear gas in, but she obviously had the bomb ready to go. I'm sorry."
"Agent Holland, Mattie's father's pick up is parked on the street -" he saw the horror in Mac's eyes as she realized what he was asking. "Thanks. Yeah. You can reach me on my cell." He hung up and shook his head. "They haven't found any sign of him. He might have parked the truck there and then walked down the street to get a cup of coffee while he waited for you to come home."
"What was he doing there?"
"Probably wanted to see you," Mac suggested.
"He mentioned something about stopping by if he finished work early -," Mattie said, looking shell-shocked. "He's gone. He was there and -"
"Don't borrow trouble, Mattie," Harm insisted in a quiet voice, pulling her close. "Agent Holland said that she would let us know as soon as they know something."
Mattie nodded and moved away to the window, her arms wrapped tightly around her waist. They were replaying a tape of the blast, and Mac jumped when she saw it, looking up at Harm. "All your things -"
"Like I was trying to tell Mattie, the most important things in my life are right here, Mac."
"It looks like the fire's under control, anyway. And the end of the building where your apartment was got the worst of it. Maybe Mattie and Jen's apartment isn't that bad."
"They're still not going to be able to live in it." He turned the TV off, not wanting to see anymore of the devastation. Looks like I'm going to be forced to find that house sooner instead of later."
"You're both welcome to stay here if you have to - As for Jen -"
"We'll go to a hotel," Harm said as his cell phone rang again. Mattie turned from the window to look at him until she realized it wasn't Agent Holland with news. "Rabb . . . Mr. Secretary . . . Yes. It was . . . We're not sure what's . . . I see . . . I understand, sir . . . Thank you. I appreciate it . . . Yes, sir. Goodbye."
"The SecNav told me to take tomorrow off. That leaves you in charge at JAG."
"Probably a good idea anyway. I doubt you have another uniform. And that one-" she glanced down at the dirt and grass stains on the summer whites. "That's the reason why *I* keep one in the trunk of my car with a seabag," she pointed out. "And the two of you are staying here."
"Don't argue, Harm. Just go with it." She lowered her voice. "It'll be better for Mattie to be here instead of a hotel."
"Have you always been this right about things, Mac?"
"I've tried to tell you," she pointed out. "You wouldn't listen."
"Next time, give me a sharp kick in the shin -"
"I'll remember that."
His phone rang again, and he glanced at Mattie, who had tensed at the sound before looking in their direction. "Rabb." His eyes slid from Mattie as he listened. "I see . . . I'll let her know . . . What about the building? What kind of damage -?" He winced. "Okay . . . Tomorrow morning . . . We'll see you then." He hung up the phone, looking at Mattie.
"He was there, wasn't he?" she asked.
Crossing the room, Harm stood before her. "I'm afraid so. His body was in the hallway - beyond the door - he was shot once, through the heart. NCIS theorizes that he surprised Krennick and she shot him. I'm sorry, Mattie. If I could change it - I know that you and he were getting close again -"
"And that's what you wanted, isn't it?" she asked in an accusing tone. "So that I'd go back to him and you wouldn't have to be responsible for me anymore. Now you're stuck with me."
"No," Harm denied, pulling her into his arms. "Oh, God, no, Mattie. The idea of my losing you to him was tearing me up inside. But I wanted what I thought was best for you."
"And did you ever think to ask what *I* thought was best for me?"
"No," he had to admit. "I guess I was afraid you'd say you wanted to go back to your dad, and I wouldn't have you around anymore." He lifted her tear streaked face so that he could look at her. "Are you saying that you weren't planning on going back to him? Or that he wasn't going to press for custody?"
"He talked about it, but - he also said that he knew he wasn't ready to take on a teenage daughter full time. I don't know if that was because he knew how I felt or -" Suddenly she started to sob and buried her face against Harm's chest.
All Harm could do was stand there, holding her, resting his chin against her head, whispering and murmuring words of comfort and sympathy.
Watching them, Mac realized that she was crying as well - and had no idea why. Turning, she escaped into the bedroom, gathering blankets and pillows to make up the sofa for someone to sleep on. With a stack of linens and blankets and pillows, Mac turned toward the living room again, only to hear Harm's voice.
"Here. Let me help with that."
"Thanks," Mac said, putting a hand to her back when he relieved her of the weight.
"Have you taken something for that today?" he questioned, giving her a concerned look.
"I will in a minute. How's Mattie?"
"Tired. You have something she can sleep in?"
"I think so." Mac went to a dresser drawer and pulled out an oversize tee-shirt and a pair of shorts with US Marines written across the hem of one leg.
"You're trying to corrupt her."
"Not necessarily. She can be a Marine and still fly," Mac pointed out with a knowing grin. Her grin faded as she asked, "What's the word on the apartment?"
"Mine and the one beneath it took most of the brunt of the blast and ensuing fire. Luckily they managed to turn the gas off before there was an explosion. I think Mattie and Jen's place is intact, but we'll know more tomorrow when we get in there."
"You need to call Jen, let her know."
"Mattie's doing that." He stopped and looked at her. "Thank you for being here, Mac. For standing with me through this. I'm not sure I'd have been able to get through it if you weren't." After saying that, he turned and went into the living room, leaving Mac standing there, blinking, trying to decide if she'd really heard what she *thought* she heard.
Had Harmon Rabb finally admitted to *needing* someone else? That man was one of the most self-sufficient people she'd ever met, never seeming to really *need* anyone.
The sound of Mattie's hesitant voice brought Mac out of her reverie, and she smiled. "Yes?"
"Harm said you had something that I can change into?"
"Yeah." She handed over the shorts and tee shirt before reaching out to touch the girl's cheek. "At least you had a little time with him and you made up before it happened. Remember that. Some of us don't get that lucky." She pointed toward the bathroom. "You can change in there. Take a shower, if you want. Make yourself at home."
Harm looked up from spreading a blanket on the sofa when Mac came out of the bedroom. "Where's -"
"She's - taking a shower and changing for bed." Mac took the other side of the blanket and tucked it in.
"Have you figured out the sleeping arrangements?" he asked. "I can take the sofa, you and Mattie can sleep in the bedroom -"
"Harm, this sofa's not nearly long enough for you," Mac pointed out. "Mattie can sleep out here and you can take the bed."
"And where are you going to sleep?"
"I probably won't."
He frowned, the concern back again. "You're still having trouble sleeping?"
"A little. Can't get to sleep, and if I do, I have nightmares."
"You slept last weekend."
"Because you were around," she reminded him. "And not all night. I'd been up for awhile when I woke you up."
He gave her a thoughtful look. "The two of us could - share the bed," he said slowly. "I mean, it's not as if we haven't shared a bed before."
"What would Mattie think?"
"Don't worry about me," the girl said from the bedroom doorway. "All I want to do is crash somewhere for the night."
"You want something to eat?" Harm asked, moving to sit beside her on the makeshift bed. "We can order out. Maybe even Beltway Burgers," he said.
"I'm not really hungry, Harm."
"I have some soup," Mac told the girl. "Maybe you'd like some of that?"
"Thanks, Mac," Mattie said with a sigh. "I guess I could try some."
Harm wondered for a moment how Mac had managed to get through when he hadn't. Maybe he was trying *too* hard. "I do have some good news. Agent Holland thinks that your and Jen's apartment is more or less intact. Might be a little smoke damage, but at least you haven't lost everything."
She smiled up at him, squeezing his hand. "No. I haven't. I still have you." He saw uncertainty in her eyes. "Don't I?"
Harm pulled her close. "Always, honey. For as long as you need me."
Mac heated soup for all of them, and they sat at the table, she and Harm discussing the next day's schedule at JAG, and what Harm thought his schedule for the day would be. Mattie told him that since it was the last day of school, she wouldn't have a problem with being excused for the day.
"My last final was today. There's nothing going on tomorrow anyway."
"I'll call and clear it tomorrow morning, then," Harm agreed. "We'll stop by and talk to Agent Holland and then go to the apartment, see what we can salvage."
After dinner, Mattie gave them each a hug before going to lay down on the sofa, while Harm and Mac quietly cleaned up the meager remains of their meal. By the time they finished, Mattie was sleeping, and Harm moved to pull the covers over her as Mac watched him.
He stood watching her sleep for a moment, and then moved toward the bedroom, grabbing Mac's hand and pulling her along with him when she showed signs of refusing to go with him on her own. Quietly closing the door behind them, he turned to her. "You need to get some sleep."
"I'll toss and turn all night," she warned.
"I'll take my chances." Looking around, he asked, "I don't suppose you have anything around here that *I* could change into if I took a quick shower?"
"I'll see what I can do," she promised. "Go take your shower."
Once he closed the door behind him, Mac quickly stripped out of her uniform and into a pair of summer pajamas with short bottoms. Digging through a little used drawer, she found an old pair of running shorts of Mic's that she thought would fit Harm and a sleeveless t-shirt. Except for height, the two men had been similar in build.
When the water in the shower cut off, Mac tapped on the door, opening it just enough to slip her hand through with the clothing. "Here."
Harm took the items. "Who -"
"Mic's. I've had them tucked in the back of a drawer."
He resisted making the comment that came to mind about keeping them as souvenirs and instead said, "Thanks."
The t-shirt was a little snug, but Harm figured he could manage as he dropped the damp towel into the hamper and opened the door. "I don't have a toothbrush -"
"Are you asking if you can use mine?" she wanted to know.
"Thought I'd ask first," he responded, reminding her of another conversation with Webb in Paraguay.
"Go ahead," she told him, "I don't mind."
When he came out of the bathroom, he was carrying his uniform and other clothing - I need to hang this up. My seabag's in the Lexus - I'll need to wear this until I find something else tomorrow."
"Sounds like your first stop's going to be to a store."
"Yeah," he nodded as she closed the bathroom door behind her. Alone in the bedroom, Harm suddenly realized that he wasn't sure about this. Webb had been here - without a doubt had slept in this bed with Mac. If he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, he could still smell the lingering scent of other man's after-shave. Crossing to the window, Harm opened it for a moment, taking another breath to clear his lungs - and his mind.
Maybe it was too soon. He wasn't planning on anything happening - it was still too soon. And the two of them had been sharing a bed in Paraguay - the same one that she and Webb had shared.
But she and Webb hadn't made love in that bed. This one -
"Harm? Is everything okay?" she asked, and he jumped, surprised. He hadn't even heard the come out of the bathroom.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to -"
"It's just been a long day," he told her, feeling her hand on his back. "I needed a little air."
"Harm, it's okay."
She moved around to look up at him. "I know you're uncomfortable - because of Clay."
"No, I -" he stopped, sighing. "A little, I guess. Knowing he was here -"
"You're here now," she told him. "And you need to rest as much as Mattie does." Taking her hand in his, she drew him over to the bed. "Come on. As you said, it's been a long day." A gentle push on his chest sent him onto the bed.
"Are you always this pushy?" he asked.
"I'm not pushy," she denied, pulling the covers over him. "I'm taking charge." Walking around the bed, Mac slid under the covers. "Now go to sleep."
"Is that an order?"
She turned on her side, looking at him. "Do I have to make it one?"
He turned over as well, his eyes glittering in the dim light. "I'd probably end up being charged with refusal to obey a direct order."
"That's what I thought," she said, smiling.
"We need to talk, Mac."
"We don't do talking well, remember?"
"I'll take the chance if you will. Besides, we had to stay quiet - Mattie's asleep in the other room and I don't want to disturb her."
"You really are good with her, Harm."
"You weren't bad with her yourself this evening. She reminds me of you in a lot of ways."
"Yeah. On the outside she looks like a strong, independent young woman who's been through hell and come out on the other side, but there's this part of her that needs someone to *be* there for her so much that she's afraid to let people in for fear of their leaving her alone again."
"That does sound like me," Mac admitted.
"You realize that with Tom Johnson dead, things have changed."
"They don't have to, Harm."
"I'm just saying that I'd understand if you'd rather not take on a package deal -"
"I was just thinking that you don't really need me to give you a child now. You've got Mattie -"
Harm lifted a hand to her cheek. "Mac, that's not the reason that I need you." She turned her face into his touch. "I can't tell you how much your being here means. For both of us." He took a deep breath and turned over onto his back. "Giving you space isn't easy, Mac. But I'm not going to pressure you. I don't want us to rush into something too soon."
She smiled. "Thank you. And for the record - I don't mind package deals. Now. Are you ready to go to sleep?"
"Yes, ma'am," he agreed.
She turned over onto her side, facing away from him. "Night, Harm."
He woke during the night to hear Mac muttering something, her breathing shallow. Her back was toward him, but he could tell that she was still asleep and having a bad dream. Moving over, he placed a hand on her shoulder. "Mac? Mac, honey, wake up."
She whimpered, shaking her head, still caught up in whatever demons haunted her.
Harm smoothed the hair from her face, whispering. "I've got you, Mac. You're safe. They'll have to get past me to get to you. Go back to sleep, honey. I'm here. I'll always be here."
As he spoke, her breathing changed, and she stopped muttering, seeming to leave the nightmare behind. Harm put his arm around her waist as she spooned against him before settling into sleep once more.
For a moment, Harm wondered if Webb had calmed her nightmares this way - if she even knew that it was him there with her instead of Webb. Could he live with being second best, never being sure if she would be here with him if Webb were still alive? Maybe that's why he was still having problems believing that the other man was dead. He wanted Clayton Webb to be alive - not for Mac, but so that he'd know once and for all that Mac was here now because she *wanted* to be, not because she had nowhere else to go.
Harm's fingers touched bare skin where her tee shirt had ridden up, and he felt his body's response to the feel of her soft skin. Whatever her reasons for being with him, Harm knew he wouldn't question it. He'd take whatever he could get until she was ready - because Sarah Mackenzie was worth waiting for.
Mac woke to find herself alone in the bed - and the smell of freshly brewed coffee and frying bacon wafting through the air. Drawn by the smell, Mac paid a quick visit to the bathroom before entering the living room. Mattie wasn't on the sofa - in fact, the blankets were neatly folded and stacked on one end.
Noises from the kitchen drew her to the doorway, where she stood watching as Harm and the girl managed to avoid each other in the small room as they worked on preparing breakfast. It was a very domestic scene, giving Mac a glimpse of something that she wanted desperately to be a part of.
"Hey, Mac!" Mattie said, glancing up to find her there.
Harm glanced up from the stove, where he was concentrating on the contents of a skillet. "Good morning," he said.
"Morning. Is that bacon that I smell?" she asked, slipping into the room to pour a cup of coffee.
He gave her a quick grin. "Mattie found it and asked me to fix it. Hope you don't mind."
"Not at all."
"Since you're out of bed, I'm going to the bathroom," Mattie decided. "Back in a minute."
Mac stood with her back to the counter, watching Harm as he stood at the stove. "Thank you."
He was frowning when he turned to look at her. "You're welcome - for what?"
"Last night. When I was having a nightmare."
He turned back to the stove. "I wasn't sure you knew it was me."
"I knew," she assured him, putting her cup down on the counter next to the stove. "You really meant that you'd always be here, didn't you?"
"If you'll let me," he answered, putting the bacon onto a plate. When Mac reached for a piece, he slapped at her hand. "Uh uh."
"Mattie seems better this morning."
"It's a front. Trying to pretend to be strong because she's worried about me."
"That makes two of us."
"I'm fine," he insisted. "I've been through worse. Nothing I can't replace in some way. I do need to find somewhere else for Mattie and me to stay. As grateful as I am for you letting us stay here last night, there's just not enough room for all of us."
"I don't know. I thought we did all right last night. And I slept better than I have in a long time."
He smiled, reaching around her to open the fridge. "I'm glad." When she didn't move, he said, "I need the eggs."
"Oh." She turned and retrieved the carton, holding it out to him. "Here. I'd like mine scrambled, please," she told him, slipping under his arm and heading toward the door, retrieving her cup.
He lifted an eyebrow. "And where are you going?"
"I have to get ready for work. It's already zero seven-fifteen."
Mattie returned a moment later, wearing a pair of shorts and blouse that he'd never seen before. "Where did you get those?"
"Mac let me borrow them since my other stuff was - you're not going to have anything to wear," she realized.
"I'll wear my uniform until I can get to a store to buy something else," he told her. "It's a good thing she had something you could wear."
"Can I ask you something?"
"Anything," he said, using a wire whisk on the eggs he'd broken into a bowl.
"How does she tell time without looking at a clock?"
"That, Mattie, is one of life's greatest mysteries."
0830 Local Hours
Falls Church, VA
"How are Mattie and the Commander this morning, ma'am?" Jen Coates asked the moment she saw Mac.
"I think they're both still in shock. But they'll be okay. They're going to come by at lunch if they can get enough done by then. It's likely that you won't be able to go back to that apartment and stay, Jen -"
"I'd already figured that, ma'am. Does the Commander have a place that he and Mattie can go?"
"They'll be staying with me for as long as they want to, but he was talking about either a hotel or finding a rental house until he can find a place to buy."
"I know he's tried to find a house for the two of them, but things just never seemed to work out. The last one even had a garage apartment that he was going to rent out to me -"
"Do you have a place to stay for awhile?"
"Lt. Commander Roberts and Harriet said that I can stay with them for as long as I need to, but I'd really rather be on my own. At least it sounds as if I'll have something to take *with* me when I find a place. I was worried that nothing was going to be salvageable."
"There might not be anything left for the Commander to salvage," Mac sighed, and sank into the chair behind the large desk as she realized something. "Oh no."
"What's wrong, ma'am?" Coates asked, concerned.
"The tapes of Harm's father -"
Coates winced. "From what I could see, they probably didn't survive, ma'am."
"I just hope his mother still has the originals "
After a quick stop at a local clothing store, Harm tossed the stained uniform, feeling slightly better in jeans and a pull over shirt as he joined Mattie in the Vette. Using his cell phone, he called Agent Holland, arranging for her to meet them at the apartment building instead of their going into NCIS. While Harm understood that Agent Gibbs had just been doing his job in the matter of Loren Singer's murder, Harm had no desire to accidentally run into the former Marine Gunnery Sergeant turned top NCIS investigator.
Tom Johnson's pickup truck was still sitting in front of the building, dust and debris from the explosion littering the hood and bed. Mattie paused, her hand on the driver's side door. "He was really trying, you know?" she told Harm. "I know he wanted me to think about going back to him, but even though I knew he was better, I think I was still afraid to trust it. He'd quit before and started again -"
"We'll just pretend that this time he stuck with it," Harm suggested, putting an arm across her shoulders. "I'll have it taken somewhere and stored until we figure out what to do with it. You might want to fix it up, drive it yourself once you get your license," he suggested.
She looked up at him. "Could I?"
"We'll see. Depends on how much work it needs. Might be cheaper to buy a new one."
He had promised Agent Holland to wait until she arrived to go inside the building, but a walk around the perimeter was enough to confirm what he knew to be true: there probably wasn't much left to retrieve from his place. The windows were broken and blackened, bricks were missing. The fire escape ladder hung at a precarious angle. Thank goodness no one had been home when the bomb had gone off.
"Looks bad, doesn't it?" Mattie said.
"At least the other end of the building didn't seem to be seriously damaged. This end took the main force of the blast. I'm still trying to figure out where Krennick got the idea she knew anything about explosives. The woman was a lawyer, not an explosives expert."
"I asked her about that while she was setting the bomb that went off when you and Mac rescued me. She said she'd dated a former SEAL for awhile and he'd taught her a few things."
Harm nodded and moved back around the building, noticing that the lock was still in place on the garage door. Taking his key from his pocket, he opened it and pulled the wooden door open to reveal the Lexus. It was dust covered and bore the imprint of a few bricks and concrete, but it didn't look too bad, he decided, thinking about going farther inside to inspect the rest of the vehicle, only to stop as he heard a car approaching.
A government issued car pulled up to the curb behind the Vette as Harm fastened the lock on the door. "Commander."
"Agent Holland." Mattie stood there, looking at Harm, and he suddenly realized that he hadn't taken the time to introduce her the previous day. "I'm sorry. Mattie, this is Agent Holland with NCIS. Mattie Grace, my ward."
"Of course. It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Grace. I'm sorry it wasn't under better circumstances. And I'm sorry about your father."
"Thank you, ma'am," Mattie said.
"Why don't we go inside first and then you can each tell me what you remember about yesterday," Holland suggested.
She led them under and past the yellow tape that blocked the entrance. "You're lucky that the stairwell and stairs are metal - if they weren't, there wouldn't be any way to get upstairs. They shut the electricity off right after the blast," she explained, guiding them up the metal stairway.
The upper landings were both heavily damaged, forcing them to stay as close to the outer railing as possible. As they came up into the hallway of the third floor, Harm saw the white outline on the floor and placed a hand on Mattie's arm. "Mattie?"
She took a deep breath and looked up at him before asking Agent Holland, "Is that where they found my - my dad?"
"Yes. The coroner said that he'd been shot once through the heart - and he was dead before the blast occurred. Since he was in the hallway, we believe that he must have heard something in the Commander's apartment and opened the door, surprising the Admiral while she was setting up the bomb, so she killed him. The blast closed the door into the hallway, blocking most of it and the other side of the building from massive damage."
Harm nodded. "It's a firewall. Part of the original building."
"Precisely." She looked at Mattie again. "I'm really sorry, Miss Grace. I know that doesn't mean much, but -"
"It's okay. Thank you."
It was Harm's turn to take a deep breath before he opened the door into the apartment that he'd occupied for most of the last nine years, preparing himself for the worst.
No amount of preparation could have prepared him for what he found on the other side of that door, however. The only part of the loft that was even partially untouched by the blast was the bathroom - and even the glass blocks were cracked and broken. It looked like a war zone, he thought, feeling a hand slide into his as he stood there in the middle of the destruction.
Looking down, he saw Mattie looking up at him. "I'm sorry, Harm."
"It wasn't your fault, Mattie," he assured her. "This was the work of a madwoman." He accepted the hug she gave him. "Why don't you and Agent Holland go on over to your and Jen's apartment? Pack a couple of cases for each of you. We'll come back later to get the rest."
"What are you going to do?"
"I need a couple of minutes."
"Be careful, Commander," Holland cautioned.
He nodded, watching as they left the apartment. He was lucky that he kept his important papers in his safe at work instead of here. His guitar hadn't been spared - and all he could find of it was a portion of the bridge.
Picking through the rubble and debris of his past, he found the framed photo of himself and his Dad on the Tico. The glass was gone, and the picture was damp from the fireman's hoses, but it was salvageable. As was the photo of himself and Mac in Afghanistan - complete with frame intact, the glass only cracked. What remained of his desk sat drunkenly half suspended over the apartment below. The wood had splintered, the drawers scattering their contents.
When he found the first tape, he knew it was hopeless. They were ruined, unusable. He could always ask his mom to make new ones, but he knew them all by heart anyway. Maybe this was where he needed to finally let it go, to say a final goodbye to his father and move forward, without the baggage of his father's ghost looking over his shoulder.
His gaze fell on the photos. One was his past. The other - his future.
"Bye, Dad," he whispered softly, dropping the one of him sitting in the cockpit of his dad's F-4, while his father looked on with a proud smile. "Bye, Dad."
He turned his attention to the one of himself and Mac, and smiled, turning back toward the door. He caught sight of another photo - this one of him and Mattie, arm in arm in front of Sarah. Another part of his future. He picked it up and left the apartment. There was nothing else there that he needed.
In the hallway, Harm took out his cell phone and dialed, waiting for Jen Coates to answer. "Coates, its Commander Rabb."
"Good morning, Commander. How's Mattie?"
"She's good. She's packing some clothes right now. If you'll let me talk to Colonel Mackenzie, I'll put Mattie on after and you let her know what you need that she might not think of."
"The apartment's not in bad shape, then?"
He looked through the open doorway into the second apartment. "No. Yours and Mattie's isn't anyway. Mine's a total loss, I'm afraid."
"I'm sorry, sir. Let me see if the Colonel's busy."
He could hear Mattie in her bedroom, telling Agent Holland about the events of the previous day while she packed. "Harm? Is everything okay?"
"No," he answered honestly. "I wish you were here."
"The tapes," she said, and he wondered when she'd learned to read his mind.
"Everything. There's nothing left. Talk about starting over with a clean slate -"
"I'm so sorry, Harm. I'm sure your mom will make you some more -"
"She would if I asked. I'm not going to."
"No. I don't need them anymore, Mac. I have everything I need." He could picture the smile on her face, and thought he heard a suspicious sniffle. "Are you crying?"
"Of course not. I'm a Marine. Marines don't -" she spoiled it with another sniffle. "Damn. How much longer are you going to be?"
"We're not far from being finished here. Could you put Coates back on so that she can make sure Mattie gets what she needs from the apartment? I'd rather neither of them come back over here until the insurance people have a chance to look at things."
"Sure. We're still on for lunch?"
"We'll be there."
"Let me get Jen."
Harm moved into the apartment, hearing Mattie telling Agent Holland about the last time she and Harm had gone flying. When Coates came on, he said, "Just a minute," and held out the phone to Mattie. "It's Jen."
She took the phone and headed toward Jen's room. "Hi, Jen . . . No, really, it's not that bad. Except for everything smells like smoke . . . Yeah. That's what Agent Holland said . . ."
Harm opened one of the two suitcases that Mattie had packed and placed the photos inside before locking it again. Then he picked up the two suitcases.
"She's a very brave young lady, Commander," Holland told him. "You should be proud of her."
"Believe me, I am, Agent Holland."
He carried the cases into the living room. "Let me tell Mattie we're taking these downstairs. We can talk then." He moved to Jen's room, tapping on the door, causing her to look up from the suitcase she was packing. "Agent Holland and I are taking your cases downstairs. We'll be back to get those. Don't try to bring them downstairs yourself, okay?"
"Okay, Harm." She paused. "You okay?"
He gave her a bright smile. "Perfect." When she turned back to the phone, Harm rejoined Agent Holland and picked up the cases again. "Where do you want me to start?"
"Well, you could tell me why the Admiral would want to do something like this to begin with."
"She thought I made the anonymous call to ZNN about her having sexually harassed a junior officer nine years ago."
"No. But since I was aware of it, she thought I did."
"You knew she had harassed a junior officer and didn't report it?"
"Because the officer in question didn't feel that the harassment rose to that level. It was more of a - nuisance than anything else."
"I see," Holland said, opening the outer door for him to go through, lifting the yellow tape for him as well. "And is this officer still working at JAG, Commander?"
He put the cases onto the sidewalk before turning to look at her. "He is."
"And does he still believe it was only a - nuisance?"
"No. If he had a chance to do things differently, he would have filed a complaint nine years ago. Maybe then I'd still have a place to live and Mattie would still have a father."
"When did you first discover something was wrong yesterday, Commander?"
Harm went over the sequence of events from the time Mac called to report that Mattie wasn't at school until the end in a toneless voice that he used for recounting evidence for a trial. Cool, dispassionate. It made it easier to distance himself from the events, put them into perspective. As though they had happened to someone else.
When he finished, Holland asked a couple of clarifying questions before putting her notepad away. "I think that will do it, Commander. Thank you. I'm sorry this happened."
"So am I. Could you wait here with the suitcases while I go up and get Mattie and the other two?"
"You're never going to get four suitcases into that Vette," she pointed out.
"I know. I'll probably swap it for the Lexus in the garage and come back for the Vette later. And I'll have to find something to do with the truck."
"Oh, that reminds me. I have Mr. Johnson's personal effects in my car. I intended to return them to his daughter -"
"You can give them to her when we get back down," he suggested.
He found Mattie standing at the door to his apartment, staring at the white tape outline on the floor. "Hey."
She looked up at him. "Hey. You think he - suffered?"
"I doubt it," he answered. "It was probably quick. Let's get those suitcases and get out of here, okay? We have to meet Mac at JAG before going house hunting. And I need to stop by and order some new uniforms."
"You couldn't salvage anything?" she asked, following him back to the other apartment.
"Just a couple of pictures. I can replace the rest."
"What about the tapes?"
"Mom has the originals if I decide that I want copies," he said. "Close the door and make sure it's locked behind us." He waited as she did so, and then followed her back down the stairs and onto the sidewalk.
Agent Holland was waiting with a plastic bag. "If I have anymore questions -"
"You know where to find me, Agent Holland."
She held out the bag to Mattie. "These are your father's personal effects, Ms. Grace. The coroner will be in touch about the arrangements."
Mattie stared at the bag for a moment before taking it. "Thank you."
"I hope you realize you're a very lucky young woman to have someone like Commander Rabb in your corner."
"Believe me, I know, Agent Holland. I say a prayer of thanks about that every day."
"I'll be seeing you, Commander. Ms. Grace."
Harm took out his keys as Mattie surveyed the suitcases and the Vette. "I have a plan," he told her, going to the garage door and unlocking it again. After a walk around to make sure that the SUV hadn't suffered any damage, and doing a cursory inspection of the garage's stability, he decided that it would be safe to leave the Vette here for the night at least.
Pulling the Lexus out, he unlocked the back so that Mattie could load the suitcases while he drove the Vette into the garage and locked secured it. Going to the truck, he made sure it was locked as well. After a final look at the warehouse, Harm got into the SUV with Mattie. "You ready to roll?"
1130 Hours Local
Falls Church VA
He retrieved his papers from the wall safe and called the insurance company upon his and Mattie's arrival at JAG. Bud and Sturgis were both in court, so Mattie spent a few minutes with Mac while he took care of business - including calling the insurance company and the NCIS morgue to talk to them about Tom Johnson's body. He and Mattie had discussed the subject during the drive over, and she had told him where she wanted him to be buried: beside her mother in Blacksburg.
"Admiral Chegwidden called this morning," Mac told Harm while Mattie was sitting in Jen's office talking to her and accepting the condolences of most of the staff. "He and Francesca are in San Francisco. He saw what happened on the news. Speaking of California - have you talked to your mother? Let her know that you're okay?"
"She and Frank are on a cruise. I doubt she knows about any of it yet."
"What did the Admiral have to say?"
"Well, he started out with 'What the hell is Rabb up to now?'," Mac said, and Harm gave her a tight smile. "And in the same breath asked if you and Mattie were okay. I told him everything, Harm."
Harm lifted his eyes to the ceiling above him. "Damn."
"He said he'd suspected that something like that was going on all those years ago, but since he never saw anything and you never *said* anything, his hands were tied. And that if he'd known that Krennick was a serious contender for this chair, he would have warned you ahead of time."
"I knew that, anyway. How's he doing?"
Mac laughed. "He sounded as if he's enjoying spending time with Francesca, watching baseball. He said that he might be coaching a high school team next year here in the area."
"That would be nice," Harm said honestly. He'd wished during all of that mess with Krennick that the older man was here for him to talk to about the problem. Not that he would have gone to see him without thinking long and hard about it first, of course.
"And SecNav called. He needs to talk to you about a statement regarding this mess - he said they would issue a brief one today, but the media will want more -"
"I'm planning on taking care of that. I do need to talk to him about it, first, though."
Mac stood up from the desk, several folders in her hands. "Why don't you do it now? I have to take care of these and then the three of us can go to lunch."
"Sounds good," he nodded, putting a hand on her arm as she started to pass him. "Mac -"
"We'll talk later," she told him, shifting the folders so that she could put a hand to his cheek.
Harm turned his face to press a kiss into her palm before she pulled her hand away, closing her fingers as if to retain the imprint. Picking up the phone, he placed a call to the Secretary's office, finding himself connected almost immediately after telling the young woman on the other end of the line who was calling. He outlined his plan to the SecNav, and was surprised that the idea was approved.
"I have every confidence in you, Commander," Sheffield informed him in a somber tone. "While I wish this matter could have been settled in another way, your actions of the last few days have been impressive."
Once that was done, Harm dialed another number, this time for ZNN, asking to speak to Stuart Dunston. He wasn't surprised when he was told that Stuart was busy and so he left his name and cell phone number. When the woman on the other end of the line asked what this was regards to, Harm smiled. "Just tell him we need to talk. He'll know what it's about."
Stuart called back while they were at lunch, discussing Tom's funeral - which they planned for Sunday afternoon. Harm glanced at his cell phone when it rang. "Dunston," he told Mac before opening it.
"Commander, it's Stuart Dunston. How are you doing today?"
"I'm alive," Harm said. "Even if I am currently homeless."
"That was a real mess yesterday. Krennick was out for blood."
"Yeah. Mine. Unfortunately, someone else got caught in the crossfire."
"I was sorry to hear about that. He was your - ward's father, right?"
"You already know that, Stuart. Listen, the reason I called is that I need someone that I can trust to tell what really happened."
"And you called me? I'm touched, Rabb."
"If you don't want the story, Stuart -" Harm began, giving Mac and Mattie a grin and wink as he heard Stuart's quick reply.
"Don't you dare hang up, Rabb. Where and when?"
Mattie returned to JAG with Mac so that Harm could meet with the reporter. Whatever happened, Harm wanted to keep Mattie out of the spotlight as much as possible. He wasn't going to let Dunston or anyone else use the girl to get ratings.
Having agreed on more or less neutral territory, Harm met Stuart at Rock Creek park. When the other man and his assistant showed up, Stuart apologized. "We got caught at another location." Looking around, he frowned. "You're alone?"
"Yeah. I don't want Mattie anymore involved in this than can be helped, Stuart. She's a good kid who's lost both of her parents within the course of two years."
"Fair enough, Rabb."
"How do you want to do this?"
"Why don't we start the camera and I'll just start asking questions?"
Stuart glanced at the young man holding the camera. "Keep it rolling, Stan. We'll edit when we finish."
"Sure thing, Stuart."
"What happened yesterday, Commander?"
"After Admiral Krennick was relieved of duty after the allegations against her came to light, she decided for some reason that I was the one who called you."
"Why would she think that?"
"We'd known each other for years - I hadn't seen her or spoken to her since she left JAG nine years ago, though."
"Did the two of you get along back then?"
"We were both JAG lawyers. She was a senior officer, Admiral Chegwidden's adjutant and Chief of Staff during her time serving at headquarters after he took command. We didn't socialize, if that's what you're asking."
"But she assumed that you were responsible for her losing a post that she had been working for all of her adult life," Stuart clarified. "And kidnapped your ward - Mattie - in retaliation."
"Yes. I wasn't able to get away to pick Mattie up from school, so a friend offered to go in my place. Admiral Krennick called me and told me that she had Mattie and would release her if I would sign a written confession to having sexually harassed *her* nine years ago."
"She wanted to ruin your career the same way that she believed you had ruined hers."
"I think she wanted more than that. After I made the statement that she required for Mattie's release, she directed me to the Navy Yard, where I found Mattie - and was almost killed by a bomb that went off moments after we escaped."
"And what happened then?"
"We went to a friend's. Until the authorities found Admiral Krennick, I was worried that Mattie would remain in danger."
"But she was at your apartment, wasn't she?"
"Yes. Apparently she believed that we would return there instead and she would be there, waiting for us."
"With the intent to kill herself as well as you and Mattie?"
"I don't pretend to understand what she might have been thinking, Stuart. Admiral Krennick was obviously a very - disturbed individual."
"And yet she was being considered as the Navy's next Judge Advocate General."
Harm smiled. "I don't make those decisions, Stuart."
"No. Do you think some of her anger could have been a result of your being placed in charge as temporary JAG after her departure?"
"It's always possible. As I said, I'm not even going to try to figure out her thought processes."
"While waiting for you and your ward to return to the apartment, the authorities speculate that Admiral Krennick shot someone who might have walked in on her while she was setting up the bomb which ultimately killed her."
Harm nodded. "Tom Johnson. Mattie's father. The two of them had been estranged since her mother's death nearly two years ago and were just starting to spend time together again. Best we can figure is that he came by to visit Mattie after school and found a stranger in my apartment. When he confronted her, she shot him, killing him immediately."
"How is Mattie doing? Any residual effects from the kidnapping and her father's death?"
Harm frowned. "She's a strong girl. But she knows that I'm there for her if she needs me."
"Lucky girl," Stuart commented. "Commander, did Admiral Krennick sexually harass a junior officer while at JAG nine years ago?"
"Does it really matter, Stuart?" Harm countered. "Dredging up the past now would only create more problems. She's dead, and I think it would be best to let her rest in peace, to put this behind us and move forward."
"You're a very generous man, Commander Rabb."
"That's a vicious rumor that someone started, Stuart," Harm said, smiling. "I wouldn't believe it if I were you. I do have a reputation as a lawyer to maintain, remember? And It think we've all had an object lesson as to where chasing after rumors can lead."
"Thank you, Commander." Stuart turned to Stan. "Cut." Handing the microphone back to the other man, Stuart shook his head. "You're good. No one would ever know that you were that junior officer."
"I did some checking, Rabb. My source for that 'rumor' was your partner for a while during the time that Krennick was at JAG Headquarters."
"Meg Austin. She's with NCIS now out of Los Angeles."
"I guess she saw something that I didn't."
"I doubt much gets by you, Rabb. But I'll let it go. I still say there's more of a story here, though."
Harm rose from the bench where they'd been sitting. "You never know, Stuart. If you'll excuse me, I need to look for a new place to live. Mine's out of commission, and I don't want Mattie to have to stay in a hotel for long."
"You looking for a house or apartment?"
"I'd prefer a house. Out of town, maybe in Falls Church or out toward McLean -"
Stuart pulled a business card out of his pocket and scribbled something down on the back. "Call this number. I've got a friend who has some properties that you might be interested in. He likes dealing with the military."
"Unlike you, Stuart?"
"I don't know. They're not all bad," Stuart replied with a smile. "See you around, Rabb. And give Mattie my sympathies. It's not easy to lose a parent - at any age."
"No. It's not," Harm agreed.
"The back yard is *huge*, Harm!" Mattie declared, calling out from the back door to where he and the owner of the house, Leonard Cramer, were standing in the living room.
"The property includes two acres," Cramer told Harm. "There's almost an acre fenced in back, and the property itself is fenced. The last owners had a couple of dogs and an above ground pool."
Harm surveyed the woodwork, wondering what it would look like stripped of the white paint that covered it. The floor needed sanding and refinishing - but it *looked* sound. "How many bedrooms did you say it has?"
"Five. Four upstairs, one down. The downstairs room can also be used as a study or home office. Full living room/dining room, full basement that can be converted into a family room. Two bathrooms upstairs, one and a half down," he continued, leading Harm into the kitchen with its glass fronted cupboards. "The kitchen was just remodeled - the dishwasher is new - as are the range and oven. There's a walk in pantry."
Harm opened the door into the pantry, inspecting it. "You mentioned a garage apartment?" he asked as Mattie joined them again.
"Yes. It has a separate entrance at the back of the garage."
"That would be perfect for Jen," Mattie told Harm. "Then whenever you and Mac are away, she'd still be on the premises."
"It's a lot of house and land," Harm noted. "Probably wanting a lot for it."
"Why don't you tell me what you'd be willing to pay, Commander, and I'll see if we can't work something out?"
"I really need to discuss it with - someone else -"
"We're just talking, Commander."
Harm gave him a figure. "I know it's -"
"It's in the ballpark," Cramer said. "To be honest, Commander, not a lot of people are looking for a place this big these days for various reasons. Smaller families, they don't like the idea of the upkeep a place this size and age entails - It's not going to be easy to sell. Look, do whatever inspections you need to, the house is sound, but the core is nearly a hundred years old. I usually do lease/purchase, makes it easier on the people buying."
"Would it be possible for us to come back tomorrow?" Harm asked. "With the rest of the family?" he asked, giving Mattie a quick wink as she grinned at him.
"Sure. Just give me a call and I'll be here." His cell phone began to ring. "Excuse me." Stepping away, he opened the phone.
"You going to buy it?" Mattie asked.
"I think Mac needs to look at it first, don't you?" He slipped an arm around her shoulders. "Since I hope she's going to be living here with us." Looking down into her smiling face, he said, "I seem to recall your saying that you didn't want to live in the country again."
"I was wrong. I've lived in the city - the loft was nice, but, well, too many people, too many cars. And we could get a dog. And maybe put in a pool -"
"Whoa. Slow down. I need to look around a little more before I even decide to bring Mac out tomorrow."
Cramer returned. "I'm sorry. I have to go. My wife's car broke down."
"Would you mind if we stayed and looked around a little more, Mr. Cramer?" Harm asked.
"Not at all. Just make sure you lock the front door when you leave. And I'll be looking forward to seeing you both again tomorrow. Ms. Grace."
Harm shook the man's hand, thanking him again. "What are we going to at look at first?" Mattie asked.
Chuckling, Harm turned her toward the door down into the basement. "We'll start at the bottom and work our way up, and then take a look around the perimeter before we leave."
To Part 5