"How long will you be gone?" Mac asked, watching him pack the suitcase before taking over and re-packing everything.
"The conference is scheduled for a week. SecNav wants me to put in an appearance for at least three days."
"He should have gone himself if he was so concerned about 'appearances'," she muttered.
"He's tied up in confirmation hearings," Harm pointed out.
"Mac's right," Mattie decided. "You're not the JAG -"
"No, but I *am* temporary JAG - which means that if I'm ordered to attend a conference on the UCMJ and how it pertains to the treatment of prisoners of war, I have to go."
"In Baghdad?" Mattie said.
"That's where things are happening," Harm pointed out.
"Yeah. Tell me about it. Things happen there every day. People *die* there every day."
"Mattie," Harm said, pulling her into an embrace. "It's my job. I'll be okay."
She looked up at him, her eyes filled with tears. "I've already lost one father, Harm, I don't want to lose another one. Please don't go. Tell the SecNav that you can't -"
"I'm sorry, Mattie," he began, but before he could continue, she pulled away, wiping at her tears.
"Then you don't really care about me. About us," she accused, pushing away from and running from the room.
The doorbell began to ring as Mac closed the suitcase. "It's your car," she told Harm, looking out of the window at the street. Seeing him look in the direction that Mattie had gone, she said, "I'll talk to her, try to make her understand."
Something in her voice caused him to look at her. "*You* understand that I have to go, don't you?"
"Yes, I understand. But I don't have to like it."
"Mac, I'll be okay."
"But I won't be there to watch your back. And that worries me."
"It worries me, too. But if you were going, and I said that, you'd accuse me of thinking you couldn't take care of yourself," he pointed out, smiling as he said the words.
"I know," she agreed, going downstairs with him as the doorbell rang again.
Harm opened the door and handed his suitcase to the driver. "I'll be right there," he told the young petty officer that the SecNav had sent to drive him to the airport. Turning to Mac, he gave her a hug. "I'm going to miss you."
"Same here. I love you, Harm. And you'd better come back to me."
"I will. And I love you," he added, giving her a long kiss. "I'll call or email when I can."
She nodded, watching him move toward the dark blue car. She waved and laughed when he blew her a kiss before the car pulled away. Once it was gone, Mac went in search of Mattie, finding her sitting in the gazebo, sniffling.
"He'll be back, Mattie," Mac said, forcing herself to believe the words as well. "Harm's indestructible."
"No, he's not. I don't know how you could just - let him go that way."
"Because I wouldn't expect him to hold *me* back if I were going," Mac said. "Its part of being in the Navy, going where you're ordered to go, even if it's somewhere that you don't *want* to go." When Mattie continued to cry, Mac pulled the young woman into her arms. "Come here. All we can do, Mattie, is pray that he stays safe and comes home quickly. And be here for each other."
"You're worried, too, aren't you?"
"Of course not. Like I said, Harm's practically indestructible." She tightened her hold on Mattie's shoulders. "He'll come back to us. I know he will. Besides, he promised."
"And Harm doesn't break his promises," Mattie agreed.
"He hasn't so far."
Harm hated this. Rubbing shoulders with Generals was one thing - being accepted was another. For the last three days, he'd been treated like the little brother that everyone was tolerating but wasn't really paying attention to. Never mind the fact that he'd been the one who had probably seen more actual examples in recent times of the things they were discussing. He was still just a 'kid', a Commander swimming in the deep end of the pool with the big boys, where they believed he shouldn't be.
He was so frustrated with all of it that he was about ready to contact the SecNav and tell him that he was on his way back to DC whether the Secretary approved or not. It wasn't doing anyone any good for him to be here, since they weren't willing to listen to what he had to say about anything.
Sitting in his quarters inside of one of Saddam's palaces before starting the day, he opened his laptop and got online to send a message to Mac. While composing the message, he noticed that she and Mattie had both sent him a couple of replies to earlier ones, so he minimized his own message to read them first.
Mattie's was the first she'd sent since he had left, and he was glad to see it. She apologized for having gotten so upset, but reiterated that she was afraid something would happen to him like what had happened to her friend's brother. She closed with assurances that she was keeping an eye on Mac, and that they both missed him terribly and hoped he hurried home.
Smiling, Harm opened Mac's message as the Instant Message icon alerted him that she was online. He was about to request a chat when the window popped up.
*NinjaGirl: Hey, Flyboy.*
*Flyboy: Hey yourself. Just catching up on emails. Tell Mattie I miss her, too.*
*NinjaGirl: I will. She's at a movie with Jen. Can you call? I need to talk to you.*
*Flyboy: Give me ten. Love you.*
*NinjaGirl* Love you, too.*
Harm signed off and shut down the connection before going in search of the com officer for the conference. While most of the brass weren't too friendly, everyone else had seemed determined to make up for it. So Lt. Davis agreed to connect Harm with his home number.
"You only have the line for a few minutes, sir," he said apologetically.
"That'll be fine," Harm assured him, waiting for the connection to be made. When Mac picked up the line, Harm gave Davis a 'thumbs up' and a grin as the young officer left him alone for a moment. "Hey. What's up?" he asked.
"Can't I just have wanted to hear your voice?" she replied. "You sound tired."
"I don't sleep well when I'm not with you," he told her.
"Same here. Any idea when you'll be coming home?"
"Soon, I hope. I'm going to contact the SecNav this morning and talk to him about it. I'm not contributing anything here, that's for certain."
"Big boys still don't want you playing in their game?"
"No. They're still treating me like I'm a wet-behind-the-ears plebe. Figure I might as well go home where *someone* might give me a little respect," he told her with a grin.
"Well, the sooner the better. Every day you're out there I worry. After that car bomb last night -"
"It was across town, Mac," he assured her. "Security's so tight here you have to ask permission to walk most of the time. You really want me to come home?"
"We all do. Mattie and me, and -"
"I wasn't going to tell you till you got home, but - I cancelled that appointment with Dr. Macon."
"We're not going to need it," she said, running her hand over her stomach. "I'm pregnant, Harm."
"Mac, that's -"
Mac heard what sounded like an explosion and suddenly the line went dead. Mac felt a jolt of terror run through her body. "Harm?" she said into the phone. "Harm?"
Grabbing the TV remote, she turned on ZNN, hoping that they would have an instant report if something had happened at the conference. She knew that Stuart Dunston and other reporters were there, covering the meeting of Navy, Army and Air Force JAGs.
The newsreader was talking about forest fires out west, and Mac was about start flipping channels when the logo for an alert came up. "We're getting reports that one of Saddam's palaces in Baghdad has come under mortar fire. The palace is currently being used by coalition forces for training and housing, as well as a conference center for high-level meetings." Snowy pictures appeared, showing a section of the palace that had been heavily damaged in the attack, still smoking from a fire within.
"We have Stuart Dunston, who is in Baghdad covering a joint meeting of the Navy, Army and Air Force Judge Advocate Generals, live on the scene. Stuart, what can you tell us?"
"About ten minutes ago, Jean, the palace was hit by three mortar rounds. Sections of the building have collapsed and rescues operations are already underway."
"Do we know how many were killed or injured?"
"Not yet. It's still early here, just after 5 am local time, and the rounds hit in the residential area of the compound, so there were quite a few people still either in bed or just getting ready to start their day."
"What about the JAGs?" Jean asked.
"That's all the information I have at this time, Jean. As soon as I have more, I'll be in touch."
Mac muted the TV on her third attempt. Her hand was shaking so badly that she nearly dropped the remote. When the phone rang, Mac froze, terrified. It had happened again. She'd told him she loved him and now he was gone. Just like all the others.
Slowly she lifted the receiver. "Hello?"
"Mac. Are you okay?"
Hearing Bud's voice, Mac finally took a breath. "Bud. I'm - I'm not sure."
"You heard, didn't' you? About what's happened?"
"The shelling in Baghdad? Yes. I was on the phone with Harm when - the line went dead -"
"Do you want us to come over and stay with you? What about Mattie?"
"She and Jen are at the movies. They should be home soon -"
*Suck it up Marine* she heard Harm saying. *Keep it together.*
"Ma'am? Mac?" Bud was saying. "Are you there?"
"Yes, Bud. I'm here," she said in a more collected tone. "If I hear anything, I'll let you know."
"Okay. You don't want us to -"
"No, thank you anyway." She heard Jen's car pull into the driveway. "Jen and Mattie are home, Bud. I have to go."
"I'm sure Harm's okay, Mac. I mean, he's Harm."
"Yeah. He is."
"If you need anything -"
"Thank you." She hung up just as she heard the back door open.
"Mac?" Mattie called out.
"In here," Mac said from the study, not looking forward to what she was about to do.
"You missed a good movie," Mattie said, pausing in the doorway when she saw Mac's face. "Something's happened, hasn't it?"
"She went up to her apartment - Mac, what's wrong?" she demanded. "It's Harm, isn't it?"
Mac took the young woman's hands in hers. "The palace where Harm and the others are staying was hit by mortar fire."
"Oh my God," Mattie gasped, her face going pale. "Harm. What -?"
"That's all I know," Mac said, nodding toward the muted TV as Stuart Dunston reappeared. Grabbing the control, Mac hit the button.
"We still don't have much in the way of information, Jean," he was saying. "All we know for sure is that the palace was hit by at least three rounds just after 5 am. So far, we have no reports of fatalities, but they haven't really begun to explore the debris behind me."
"And what about Maj. Gen. Harker and Maj. Gen. Mansfield, Judge Advocate Generals for the Army and Air Force, and Commander Rabb, who is the acting JAG for the Navy?" Jean asked, as file footage of the three men arriving at the conference was shown.
"It's a madhouse here at the moment, Jean, but we're trying to get information about the three men."
Mattie sank onto a chair. "He's dead. I knew it. I knew he shouldn't have gone over there."
Mac knelt beside her, taking her shoulders. "He's *not* dead, Mattie," Mac insisted. "I'd *know* if he was dead. He's not. We have to keep believing that, Mattie. We *have* to."
Harm cradled his injured left arm as made his way through the controlled chaos in the aftermath of the attack. A part of him wanted to contact Mac and let her know he was all right, but another part knew that he was needed here - even injured, to do whatever was necessary. He found Lt. Davis slumped against a wall, blood pouring from a cut on his head. "What happened?" he asked. "Corpsman! We need a corpsman over here!"
"I don't know, sir. Best I can tell, we were hit with mortar rounds. From the direction of the blast, looks like the living quarters took a direct hit."
"Maj. Gen. Harker and Maj. Gen. Mansfield?"
"I haven't heard, sir." A harried looking young Army medic appeared to inspect Davis' head, glancing at Harm's left arm as he did so.
"What's wrong with your arm, Commander?"
"I think it's broken. I fell on it - I'll be okay if you have something I can use as a sling -"
The medic pulled a packet out of his kit and opened it. "Here you go, sir. You need to have that set."
"I will. I need to find Harker and Mansfield first." He looked at Davis. "Is he going to be all right, Sergeant?"
"Yes, sir, I think so. He'll have a headache for a while, though."
"Go on, sir," Davis told him. "You need to find your people."
Harm nodded and set off down the hallway, passing several people with severe injuries who were being transported to the undamaged section of the building for treatment. "Commander! Thank goodness you're okay," the yeoman declared.
"Michaels, where is everyone else?" Harm asked the young Petty Officer that the SecNav had assigned to this detail.
"Lt. Norman is on her way to the makeshift infirmary, sir. She was injured pretty badly."
"Where did they hit?"
"Living quarters. One floor above where the VIP rooms are. There's not much left of your quarters, Commander. That's why I was afraid that -"
"Maj. Gen. Harker and Maj. Gen. Mansfield - what about them?"
"No one can find them, sir. They're searching the rubble in that area -" he eyed Harm. "You look as if you should be in the infirmary too, sir."
"I'm fine, Petty Officer. Let's go see if we can lend a hand."
"You two need to get to bed," Mac told Mattie and Jen. "It's late. I doubt we'll hear anything more tonight -"
Jen shook her head. "I wouldn't sleep anyway, ma'am. Worrying about the Commander - He's - like a big brother and -"
Mac nodded, understanding. "Mattie?"
Mattie's eyes were glued to the TV screen, watching the images from the aftermath of the attack. "I'm fine, Mac. You're the one who should get to sleep."
"I wouldn't sleep either," Mac sighed. "I'm going to get something to drink. Either of you want something?"
"I'm fine, ma'am," Jen assured her.
Mac wandered into the kitchen, taking a bottle of water from the fridge and resting against the counter with her eyes closed, trying to regroup. Suddenly a shriek from the study echoed through the house.
"Mac! He's alive!"
Mac rushed back into the room while Mattie jumped up and down, pointing to the screen. "Where?"
"He was there! In the background, helping in the search for survivors," Mattie insisted. "He looked tired, and dirty, and he's got a - a sling on his left arm, but he was there!"
"You're sure it was him?" she questioned, looking toward Jen for confirmation.
"It was him, ma'am," Jen said, finally smiling for the first time since she had come downstairs upon getting a call from Bud about what had happened, asking her to go downstairs and wait with Mac and Mattie until there was news.
"He's alive, Mac!" Mattie said again, throwing her arms around Mac. "He's *alive*!"
Harm helped Petty Officer Michaels lift away another slab of marble from the area where Harkins' room had once been. The area was unstable and prone to shift dangerously, but with everyone working, he thought they were making headway.
"If he was here, sir," Michaels began, but Harm shook his head. "I refuse to accept that, Petty Officer," he declared. "Now either help me or find me someone who will."
Michaels grabbed another slab and tossed it aside. "I don't know why you're so concerned anyway, sir," he mumbled. "It's not as if they were willing to treat you seriously -" he flinched as Harm turned to look at him. "Begging the Commander's pardon, sir."
"You *should* beg my pardon for that remark, Petty Officer," Harm said, getting into the young man's face. "You had no right to make such an observation aloud. Maj. Generals Harker and Mansfield are superior officers and deserve your respect whether you agree with them or not. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Michaels?"
Michaels swallowed heavily, his eyes focused past Harm. "Yes, sir, Commander."
"Good. Now get back to work."
"Rabb? Is that you?"
Harm turned around at the sound of a familiar voice. "Stuart."
"I'm surprised to see you standing on your feet. From what I understood, your room -"
"Yeah. I was in the com center when the attack took place. Maj. Gen. Harker and Maj. Gen. Mansfield are both missing, though -"
"They found Mansfield," Stuart informed them, his eyes telling the story.
"Damn." He turned to Micheals. "Dig. The longer we delay, the more likely Harker will have the same fate."
Stuart turned to his cameraman, who was still shooting footage. "Put that thing down, Stan," he ordered, moving to help the others, earning a smile of approval from Harm for his actions.
With all of the ambient noise, Harm wasn't sure at first that he heard anything. "Everyone stop!" he called out, "Listen!"
Everyone in the area went still upon hearing his voice, doing as he ordered. When it came, the sound was soft, barely audible, but Harm tracked it to a nearby spot. "Here!"
A few minutes later, they had found a seriously injured Maj. Gen. Harker buried under the rubble and called a medic over to prepare him for transport to the evac area. As they soldiers picked him up, he grabbed for Harm's sleeve. "Rabb."
"Yes, sir?" Harm asked, bending close to hear him.
"I was wrong about you. Next time - we'll listen. Thank you. For not. Giving up."
"Let's go, people," the medic said. "This man needs a doctor ASAP." He turned to Harm. "Your arm, Commander -"
"I'll get it taken care of," Harm promised, taking a deep breath as he noticed Stuart and his cameraman nearby.
"And the hero of the hour is - or should be - Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr."
"See?" Mattie said, pointing to the figure standing behind Stuart Dunston talking to a man on a stretcher before the man was carried away. "I *told* you!"
"Shh," Mac said, wanting to listen as well a look at Harm, to see for herself that he was indeed okay. Jen, knowing that she would be expected at work the next morning, had excused herself after they had seen Harm on TV, confirming that he was at least walking around.
"Commander Rabb, who was at this meeting as the Navy's temporary JAG, refused to give up or to let anyone else give up, until he found US Army JAG Maj. Gen. Niles Harker. Thanks to the Commander, Maj. Gen. Harker is now on his way to be evacuated for surgery and further medical care. Commander Rabb, perhaps you could share with us what happened here today?"
Mac smiled at her Flyboy's image on the screen. His face as streaked with dirt, his hair had a coating of dust and his uniform was a disaster, but he was alive. "Not much to tell, Stuart. I was in the com center when I heard the blast. It knocked the phones out and the electricity. I was unconscious for a few minutes and when I woke up, I made my way out of the room and discovered that people were missing. Apparently we were lucky in that more people weren't killed in the attack."
"Is there anyway this could have been avoided?" Stuart asked. "Bringing in more security to protect two of the US military's top officers, perhaps?"
"No, that wouldn't have worked, Stuart. What might have worked would be for those at the top to have trusted their people in the field to know their jobs and what's going on over here better than they do and to take their recommendations. And for the press to allow them that freedom without second guessing them."
Stuart shook his head at the indictment of both the upper echelon of the military and the press. "Thank you, Commander. You look as if you need a medic yourself at the moment. I wonder if they give medals to Navy officers for saving the life of Army Generals?"
"I didn't save his life, Stuart. It was a group effort. And didn't do it for a medal," Harm explained. "I do what I do because it needs to be done. That's the bottom line. Now, if you'll excuse me -" Harm moved away, and Mac closed her eyes, knowing that Harm had probably scuttled his career with his comment about those at the top, but she wasn't sure she cared anymore than he did. His career had never been a factor in Harm's saying what he thought or doing what was right.
"Could they do that?" Mattie asked. "Give him a medal for saving that General?"
"Major General," Mac corrected her.
"Major General. Could they?"
"I suppose so."
"I wonder when he'll be home?"
"We should find out tomorrow," Mac said, turning off the TV. "Bed. Now."
"Okay. You going?"
"In a minute. I just need to - power down," she said, using Harm's terminology.
Mattie gave her a hug. "Okay. He's okay. Isn't it great?! Night."
"Night." Mac returned the hug with equal fervor, smiling at the girl as she left the room. Once she was alone, Mac sank down into the chair behind her, curling her legs under her and let go, crying silently as the tension began to dissipate.
Finally she wiped her cheeks dry of the tears and went upstairs to the king size bed she and Harm had bought just before he left for Iraq. She had barely sat down on the edge when the telephone rang. Mac grabbed it, hoping that Mattie was already asleep and it wouldn't disturb her. Thinking it was Bud, confirming that Harm was okay, she answered, "I know, Bud."
"Bud? Is that who you talk to when I'm not around?" Harm asked in an amused tone.
"Harm? Oh, thank God. I thought you were Bud. He called earlier. I saw you on TV - are you okay?"
"Busted wing," he told her. "And a concussion. But with my hard head that's not a problem. I'm okay, Mac. Lots of people here aren't. Including Maj. General Mansfield."
"How are you calling?"
"Thank Stuart Dunston. He offered me his sat phone so I could call and let you know that I'm okay."
She looked up as Mattie came into the room, asking, "Is that him?"
"Just a minute, Harm."
She held the phone out to Mattie, who took it. "Harm? . . . Are you okay? . . . Yeah. We saw you on TV . . . Mac kept saying you were okay. . . I am now. But I was so scared . . . Okay . . . When? . . . All right. I love you." She smiled and handed the phone back to Mac.
"Is she really okay?" Harm asked.
"Now that she's heard your voice," Mac assured him. "But so am I. And I'll be better once you're home."
"I should leave tomorrow. I've - requested permission to accompany Maj. Gen. Mansfield's body back to Dover."
"What's Maj. Gen. Harker' condition?"
"He's still in surgery, last I heard. I can't stay on this thing much longer, Mac," he told her. "Mac, before the phone dead when the attack began - Did I hear you say what I think you said?"
"What did you hear?" she wanted to know."
"That you cancelled the appointment with Dr. Macon because you're pregnant."
"You heard right."
"Are you okay? All of this stress -"
"Dr. Holland says I'm perfectly okay. Right now, you, me and Mattie are the only ones who know about it."
"I love you, Sarah."
"Betcha not as much as I love you."
"We'll save this til I get home," he said. "I'll let you know for sure what time that will be. Could you call Mom, let her know that I -"
"I will. Take care, Flyboy."
"You too, NinjaGirl."
Mac hung up the phone and sat there for a moment before calling Trish in California. The two of them had spoken earlier, right after the news story had broken. She was sure that Harm's mother was already aware that he was alive and well, but she wanted to make sure and to deliver Harm's message.
Harm handed the telephone back to Stuart. "Thanks."
"No problem. Least I could do. Everything okay back there?"
"Everything's great," Harm told the other man. "Couldn't be better."
"Must have been good news," Stuart decided. "I haven't seen a smile like that in a long time."
"Best news in the world, Stuart," Harm said. "I need to go clean up, see if I can find something to change into, since all of my things were in my room when the attack occurred."
"All of your people are okay?"
"Petty Officer Michaels has a few cuts and scrapes and Lt. Norman is being taken care of. She'll be fine in a few days."
"Good. Seems like the Navy came out luckier than anyone else."
"Less of us here," Harm said with a grin. "See you later, Stuart. And, uh- thanks again. I owe you."
"Oh, I'm sure you will." But even the knowledge that he now owed the reporter wasn't enough to cloud Harm's day. Mac's news had wiped all of the horrors of the morning aside. A baby. He and Mac were going to have a baby.
Reality came crashing down again, though as he turned a corner and saw the devastation and the body bags laid out in the central room of the palace. Fifteen in all - that had been found, anyway.
Moving past the morgue crew, he went to the infirmary, where Petty Officer Michaels was pacing the hallway. "How's it going, Petty Officer?"
"Lt. Norman's just out of surgery, sir. She's in recovery. The doctor said they would let us know when we could see her."
"Any idea where I could find a doctor?" Harm asked, holding his arm which was starting to throb again.
"Through there, sir," he said, pointing toward a doorway.
He hadn't actually told Mac that he'd seen a doctor - but he knew a broken arm when he felt one, and as for the concussion - he had experience with those, as well. One of these days, all of the knocks on the noggin would probably catch up with him. He'd lost count as to how many times he'd gotten knocked unconscious over the years.
The doctor examined his arm, confirming a minor fracture which hadn't broken the skin and didn't require a full cast. When he checked Harm's vision and pupils when told about the unconsciousness, Harm knew the drill pretty well. So well, that the doctor gave him a long look. "Aren't you a lawyer, Commander?" he asked.
"Very hands on," Harm explained.
"I see. Well, Maj. General Harker certainly owes you a debt. If you hadn't insisted they continue the search, he would most likely be dead instead of in surgery."
"Is he going to be all right?" Harm asked.
"I think so," he said, splinting Harm's forearm. "His leg was fractured in several places and he had some broken ribs that deflated his lung. There. That should hold you until you get back to DC and the doctors at Bethesda can get you a molded plastic cast. You were lucky, Commander."
"I've been told that before, Doctor."
Maj. General Mansfield's body arrived at Dover the next evening. Mac and Mattie watched from the hangar as the coffin was met by an honor guard and taken to a waiting hearse. Harm stood at attention, saluting the fallen officer until the hearse pulled away and then turned toward the hangar.
Mattie met him halfway across the tarmac, throwing herself into his arms and hugging him as tightly as she could. He returned the hug as he watched Mac move toward him at a slower pace, giving Mattie a moment before claiming hers.
Once Mattie moved aside, Harm stood looking at Mac. "I told you I'd be back," he said to her. "I'm like a bad penny. Can't seem to get rid of me no matter how hard you -"
Whatever else he might have said was lost as her lips closed over his. When the kiss ended, Harm found himself staring into her dark eyes, seeing all of the fear she'd felt during those hours when she hadn't known if he was dead or alive. But suddenly the Marine took control again, and she stepped back from him, remembering that they were on a military base, and the service tended to frown on such public displays of affection.
Slipping her arm though his good one, she said, "Let's go home, sailor."
"Are you sure you're all right?" Harm asked Mac for what seemed like the hundredth time in the four hours since he'd gotten home.
She smiled as they lay in bed, Harm's injured arm over her waist. "I'm fine, Harm. Really. But if you don't stop asking me that and hovering, I'm going to be forced to hurt you."
"I can't help it," he said, placing his hand on her stomach. "Just knowing that our baby is in there -"
Mac's fingers covered his. "I was so frightened, Harm," she said quietly. "When I saw that report -"
Harm's hand moved to pull her closer to his body. "I know. And I'm sorry it happened. But I came home, Mac. Nothing happened. I'm fine -except for a slightly dented wing," he modified, holding up his arm. He reached up and gently turned her face toward his. "I said I'd always be here, Mac, and I meant it."
Mac turned into his arms and held him tightly.
Mac had hastily arranged a 'Welcome Home' party for Harm the next afternoon, after his appointment at Bethesda to be fitted for a cast for his left arm. It was a surprise, though, so Mattie stayed behind, claiming not to like hospitals, so that she and Jen could hang the banner Mattie had made across the front porch, get things ready and greet their guests.
So when she and Harm returned from the visit to the doctor, the first thing Harm noticed when they pulled into the driveway was the Roberts' minivan and Sturgis' car parked at the curb in front of the house. It was only when he got out of the Lexus that he saw the banner.
"Welcome Home, Harm?" he questioned, looking at Mac.
"Everyone's glad you're back," she pointed out. "Bud was going to come over the other night if I needed him to. Sturgis was out of town on an investigation, but he got back this morning."
Harm frowned as he noticed a third vehicle as well, a limo, with darkly tinted windows in the back. "Who does that belong to?"
"I've no idea. Possibly someone visiting a neighbor," she suggested, leading him up the steps and into the house, where everyone greeted him at once - including Edward Sheffield.
"Mr. Secretary," Harm said, surprised to find the man here. "This is a surprise -"
"I was going to wait until Monday morning to do this, Commander, but when I called the Colonel yesterday to find out when you would be returning, she mentioned that she was having a get together to celebrate your return. I decided that here and now, surrounded by your friends and family would be as good a place as any. Colonel?"
"Attention to orders," Mac called out, sending Jen, Sturgis and Bud to attention.
"Thank you," Sheffield said. "Commander Rabb, I doubt you're aware of this - but I've been working since before Admiral Chegwidden left to get this done. The final paperwork was completed earlier this week. Raise your right hand, and repeat after me."
Harm raised his hand and recited the oath, more than a little surprised. Even when Sheffield brought out the eagles to signify his change in rank, Harm wasn't sure whether or not to believe it was happening. "Congratulations, Captain Rabb."
Mac and Mattie each gave him a kiss on the cheek afterward, as Harm shook Sheffield's hand. "Mr. Secretary, I don't know what to say. I didn't think I was even on the list -"
"To be honest, you weren't, Captain," he said. "But I thought you should have been - and my influence, along with a glowing recommendation from Admiral Chegwidden, turned the tide." Mattie and Jen appeared with glasses of ginger ale. Lifting his, Sheffield said, "To Captain Rabb."
"Captain Rabb," the others repeated.
"Now, I'll leave you and your friends to your celebration," Sheffield announced.
"You're more than welcome to stay, sir," Harm told him.
"No. Thank you, but, I have other plans for the afternoon. I'll be in touch next week, Captain. I want to hear all about your - adventure in Baghdad. Colonel. Ms. Grace."
Harm looked down at the box in his hand and the folder that Mac was holding. "Did this just happen or am I dreaming?" he asked.
"You're not dreaming, *Captain*," she told him. "I hope this doesn't mean I have to salute you now."
"Well -" Harm said, giving her a teasing grin. She playfully swatted at his arm. "Let's go join our friends, shall we?" he suggested.
Monday morning, Harm and Mac arrived at JAG together, although in separate vehicles. Almost everyone Harm passed congratulated him on his promotion, and by the time they arrived at the proper floor, Harm was grinning ear to ear. While he'd never expected to become a Captain, he couldn't help but be relieved that he had.
Jen saw him the moment he and Mac entered JAG Ops. "Captain on deck!" she called, sending everyone in the room to attention.
"As you were, people," Harm said, continuing toward his office.
Jen brought him a cup of tea and his messages before he was even sitting down. "Here you go, sir," she said in a bright tone. "SecNav is on his way over, Captain," she informed him, and Harm suddenly figured out what he'd been waiting for all morning: the other shoe to drop.
"Did he say why?"
"No, sir. Just that he needed to speak to you."
Harm sighed, glancing at his schedule. "We need to clear the morning schedule, then -"
"Already done, sir," she informed him, pointing to a block of time on the schedule. "I moved your 0900 down to 1400, your 1930 will be here tomorrow morning instead, and staff call has been rescheduled to 1000 hours. The staff has already been informed by memo."
Harm smiled at her. "Sometimes I'm amazed by your efficiency, Coates."
"I do my best, sir," she replied. "If there's nothing else that you need, sir, I'll return to my desk."
"I think I'm fine for the moment," he replied. "Dismissed."
Harm studied the schedule and put it to the side, wondering what the SecNav wanted to talk about that couldn't wait until their regular bi-weekly meeting tomorrow afternoon. Maybe it was that he'd found someone else to become the new JAG and that Harm's days in this chair were numbered. That would be fine with him. He'd never liked paperwork. Kate, Meg, Bud, even Mac seemed to thrive when they were filling out requests and forms. But all Harm ever seemed to get out of that part of the job was paper cuts - he winced as thought became reality and brought is thumb to his mouth for a moment.
Thank God for Jen Coates and her ability to keep things straight. Harm was beginning to understand why AJ had slowly become a growling old salt over the years - this job would make anyone crazy. "Even make you start talking to yourself," he muttered, opening a file on a new case that had just come in that morning and needed to be assigned during staff call. Might as well get some work done before gabbing with the SecNav for an hour, he decided.
Edward Sheffield arrived on time as usual, giving Jen a polite smile and accepting her offer to get him a cup of coffee before she left the room. Harm indicated one of the chairs before the desk, and took the one that Sheffield left empty.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Secretary?" Harm asked, suddenly hearing AJ's voice instead of his own. He *really* needed to get out of this job somehow, he decided.
"Actually, Harm, I'm here because of what *I* can do for you," the man told him. "First things first - how are you feeling?"
"Much better. Except for the wrist, I'm as good as new."
"Glad to hear that you're suffering no lingering effects as a result of your adventure. I've recommended you for a commendation for saving Maj. General Harker's life."
"I didn't do anything special, sir," Harm insisted. "According to the reports I received, you ordered everyone in the area to keep searching for the Maj. General even when the others were ready to give up. Stuart Dunston has the footage."
Harm smiled tightly, not saying anything.
"Now, on to other business," Sheffield said, as if sensing that Harm was uncomfortable discussing the topic. "Your promotion to Captain creates a minor problem, I'm afraid."
"A problem, sir?"
"You won't be able to remain at JAG full time once we finish the confirmation process for someone to take over here. The opening on my staff is still on the table- with a slight modification - if you'd like to take it."
"A slight modification, Mr. Secretary?"
"Instead of taking Commander Lindsey's place, I have a need for someone to be my eyes and ears here. To - make sure things aren't going to blow up in my face as well as to keep me informed on the - finer points of military law."
"In other words, you're looking for someone to be your spy," Harm noted.
"I don't like that word, Captain. But, essentially, you're correct."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Secretary, but I'm not a politician. I don't play that game very well. I never have. I tend to say what's on my mind -"
"And more often than not end up in trouble for it. Such as your comments to Stuart Dunston about how what happened over there could have been avoided."
Harm smiled. "Yes, sir."
"I had an idea that you would feel that way," Sheffield told him. "There is another option. Legal Liaison between this office and the Joint Chiefs."
"The - Joint Chiefs?"
"They requested that I speak to you about the posting. I believe your comments to the media might have actually opened some eyes. You'd have an office at the Pentagon with a staff and one here - and if you think Washington politics is a tangled maze, Captain, military politics are ten times worse."
"I'm aware of that, sir. But I'm a little more - comfortable in that sphere than in the private sector."
"This position would also allow you to handle some of the more - high profile cases that come through this office. Keep you in the courtroom occasionally so that you don't lose that - razor sharp edge."
"It sounds tempting, Mr. Secretary. Do I have to make a decision immediately?"
"Within the next few days. Discuss it with Colonel Mackenzie, and after that, let me know what you'd like to do."
"I will, sir. Thank you."
"Don't thank me, Captain," Sheffield said, rising from his chair to signal the end of the meeting. Harm rose as well. "Oh, I forgot to mention, I believe we've finally found someone to take your place here."
"Yes. Admiral Brent."
"Admiral *Harrison* Brent?" Harm asked.
"Yes. Do you know him?"
"I - met him years ago. He was the lead investigator after my ramp strike. He's one of the reasons why I decided to go to law school."
"He's a good man. I'm sure he'll make a fine JAG. So far, there are no skeletons in his closet -" He gave Harm a questioning look. "Unless there's something you haven't told me?"
"No, sir," Harm assured him. "I didn't know him that well, only as a JAG lawyer doing an investigation."
"I'll be in touch, Captain."
"I'll look forward to it, Mr. Secretary."
Harm followed him out as far as Jen's office, and stood there watching the man leave Ops, considering what he'd just been told.
"Is everything all right, sir?" Jen asked.
"Uh, what? Oh, yes. Is Col. Mackenzie in her office?"
"I believe so, sir."
He glanced at his watch. There was still half an hour before staff call, so he decided to talk to Mac for a moment. "I'll be in her office, then."
As Harm approached Mac's office, a young corporal came out, snapping to attention when he saw Harm. "Captain."
"As you were, Corporal."
Mac smiled at the young man. "I'll be in touch, Corp. Gaines," she promised. "Don't worry."
"I'll try, ma'am," was his response. He nodded at Harm before leaving. "Captain. Colonel."
"So that's Corporal Gaines," Harm noted. "He doesn't look like someone who would attempt to steal a helicopter."
"I don't think he did," Mac said.
"He doesn't look much older than Mattie," Harm sighed.
"He's twenty three," Mac said. "What's the matter, Harm? Feeling old?" she asked with a teasing grin as she turned back to her office with Harm right behind her.
"A little," he admitted. "They just keep getting younger and younger."
"I think it's that *you're* getting older and older," was her reply.
"Very funny," he said.
Mac's dark eyes grew serious. "I hope I can prove that Corp. Gaines is innocent. The Corps needs young men like him. She looked up at him. "I guess the SecNav's been here and gone?"
"Yeah," Harm said, smiling. "I had a couple of free minutes, thought I'd see if you wanted a glass of milk or fruit juice or anything?"
"Don't start," she threatened.
"Just making sure you take care of yourself," he said. Seeing the cup of coffee on her desk, he picked it up and lifted an eyebrow in her direction.
"It's decaf," she told him. "Now. What did the SecNav have to say?"
"Well, he informed me that General Hobson had put my name in for a medal for saving Major General Harkins' life."
"That's good news."
"Except that I didn't do anything to deserve it," he sighed. "And he offered me a job as his spy here at JAG."
Mac's jaw dropped. "He didn't."
"Not in those words, but that was the general idea. I turned him down."
"Good for you. How did he take it?"
"Well enough that he offered me a better position - this out as Legal Liaison between JAG and the Joint Chiefs."
"Offices at the Pentagon and here, as well as the chance to work on high profile cases if I'd like to. It would mean you could stay here at JAG, Mac," he said.
"Until I get another promotion, anyway."
"Which should be soon."
"I'll probably transfer over to Adm. Morris' staff anyway," Mac said. "As much as I love arguing a case, I think it will be easier taking care of a baby if I'm on a more set schedule."
"You think I should take the billet at the Pentagon?"
"It's a huge step up," Mac told him. "You think you can handle being up there in the ether? Air's pretty thin up there."
"Rarified atmosphere," Harm nodded. "I know. And you're right. It's a big step up. Rubbing elbows with Generals and Admirals on a regular basis."
"When does he need an answer?"
"As soon as possible. They're working on getting a new JAG confirmed right now."
"They found someone?"
Mac frowned. "The name's familiar."
"You've probably seen it in the Navy Times on occasion. He's been stationed in Okinawa for the last few years, I think. Fair, knows his job and the law."
"Sounds like you know him."
"I met him a few years ago," Harm said. "He - conducted the JAG man investigation into my ramp strike."
"Oh. I see. That's why you're suddenly so willing to leave JAG," Mac teased. "You're afraid he'll remember you."
"I hope he does. He was partially responsible for my deciding to go to law school and switch to JAG instead of leaving the Navy."
"Then I'll have to remember to thank him, won't I?"
"If he hadn't influenced you, we might never have met."
"Oh, we would have met. Somehow."
"Don't tell me you're starting to believe in fate, Harm."
"When it comes to us, yeah."
Mac shook her head. "Staff call is in five minutes, Harm."
He stood up. "I'll see you there, then. Oh, and - no more coffee today, okay?"
"Ohh, you -" She picked up a pen and threatened to throw it at his smiling face as he ducked out of the office.
Harm entered the SecNav's outer office, his cover under his arm as he smiled at the young female Marine sitting behind the desk. "Hello, Captain," she said, returning the smile. "The Secretary's expecting you." She rose and led him to the door, knocking once before opening it. "Captain Rabb, Mr. Secretary."
"Thank you, Sergeant," Sheffield said, rising from the chair in which he'd been sitting while talking to another man across from him, his back to Harm. "Come in, Captain. I'm glad you're here early. There's someone I think you should meet. Or - meet again, as the case may be."
The other man rose, revealing that he was an Admiral. He was a few inches shorter than Harm, his close-cropped blonde hair sprinkled with gray, and a mustache that was more gray than blonde. But his blue eyes twinkled. "Captain Rabb," he said, extending a hand. "I've been looking forward to this."
"Admiral Brent," Harm said, taking the man's hand and shaking it.
"It's been awhile. Last time I saw you, you were in the hospital." He turned to Sheffield. "He was in pretty bad shape. Broken leg and arm - his chest looked like he'd gone ten rounds in the ring. Glad to see there wasn't any permanent damage."
"Thank you, Admiral."
"Please, Captain. Sit down," Sheffield invited, indicating one of the other chairs.
Harm sat down. "I've looked over your record, Captain," Brent said. "It's impressive. And a bit of a - checkerboard as well."
Harm gave him a self-conscious grin. "Thank you, sir. I think."
"Too bad you're not going to be there to ease the transition for me as the new JAG for more than a few days. I could use a familiar face."
Harm looked at Sheffield, who nodded. "He was confirmed this morning. The Admiral will take over at JAG tomorrow afternoon."
"I see. Congratulations, sir," Harm said.
"Thank you." Brent rose to his feet, as did Harm. "Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I'm supposed to meet my wife for lunch and then we're going looking for a new house."
"Your wife, Admiral?"
"Yes. Elizabeth. We've been married for fifteen years. I'll see you tomorrow, Captain."
"Yes, sir. I'm looking forward to it."
"Mr. Secretary. Tomorrow as well."
Once he was gone, Sheffield looked at Harm. "I think he'll do a fine job as Judge Advocate General."
"Yes, sir," Harm agreed.
"Now, I am correct that you're here to give me your answer in regards to the offer I made the other day, Captain?"
"Yes, sir. I've discussed it with my family, and I'd like to take the posting with the Joint Chiefs if it's still available."
"It is. And it's yours. You'll remain at JAG for the rest of the week, assisting Admiral Brent with the transition and then report to Admiral Carlton on Monday morning."
Harm returned to the office and called the staff together, informing them that the new JAG, Admiral Brent, would be taking over the next afternoon, and that he would be transferring to the Pentagon on Monday, but would also have an office there at JAG.
"Hopefully more than a closet," Bud noted, and everyone laughed.
"That will be up to the Admiral, Bud," Harm answered. "There might not be time tomorrow morning for me to say this, so I'm going to say it now. Thank you all for being here over the last few weeks, and for doing your jobs as you have. And before I start to sound like a politician, I'll just say 'back to work'." There was a ripple of amused laughter through the room before everyone returned to their duty stations, leaving Harm, Mac, Bud, and Sturgis near the Admiral's office door.
"So what's the new JAG like, Harm?" Bud asked.
"I think you'll get along with him, Bud," Harm said, indicating that they should follow him into the office.
That night, Harm and Mac lay together in bed, holding each other. "Are you going to be happy at the Pentagon, Harm?" she asked.
"I think so. At least I'll be able to spend a little time at JAG. So it won't be as though we'll never see each other. And it's a good career move. Lots of face time with the brass."
Mac grinned. "You've got Admiral in your sights."
"No. Believe me, I'm happy with what I have right now. You. Mattie. The new baby," he added, placing his hand over her abdomen. "If you'd asked me a year ago if I thought my life would work out like this, I'd have said you were crazy. I really am the luckiest man in the world," he told her, pulling her close for a kiss.