Over the course of the next month, plans for the wedding were made. Harriet made one small concession to her mother - it *would* be a military wedding, but on a much smaller scale than the one she and Bud had had. Of course, that hadn't much of a concession, since she had to admit that seeing Harm in his dress blues with the gold wings above his medals made her weak at the knees. Her dress was simpler than the one she'd worn the first time, however: silk ecru and knee length, with a short veil attached to a band of flowers. They would have two attendants each - Mac and Jen for Harriet; Sturgis and Tiner for Harm; with AJ being the ring bearer. Chaplin Turner had agreed to perform the ceremony at the small chapel in which they attended Christmas services. The only thing that disappointed Harm was that Sergei wasn't able to get away from his job to attend the wedding, although he promised to visit as soon as he could manage it.
By the time Christmas Eve arrived, everything was arranged and set in place - and Harriet still insisted on having everyone over before the services for a light buffet and eggnog. Harm was surprised when Big Bud agreed to come, considering the fact that he hadn't been in contact with anyone except Mike during the preceding four weeks.
Mike had told Harm privately that his father seemed to be accepting that he couldn't do anything to stop the wedding and had promised to behave himself both at Christmas and at the wedding itself.
Big Bud offered to stay with Little AJ while the others went to the service, saying that he wasn't much for churches anymore after losing his son. While Harm had reservations about leaving them, Harriet reminded him that Bud's father had been on his best behavior during the evening, even wishing them both good luck and happiness.
So they went to the chapel where in a week they would be married to hear Chaplin Turner's Christmas Eve sermon with the others. He spoke on loss and the duty that those left behind had to continue on with their lives, to make the loss mean something in the long run. During the sermon, Harriet slipped her hand into Harm's, and he covered it with his other one, knowing that she was thinking about Bud.
After the service, they were standing outside when Mac asked Harm, "I guess you'll be going to the Wall, Harm?"
He nodded, indicating Harriet standing close by with his cell. "Harriet's calling Big Bud now to check up on Little AJ, and then we're both going."
"You're both going?"
"Harriet asked to go. Then the three of us are going to visit Bud's grave tomorrow at Arlington."
Harriet turned to Harm, her expression concerned as she held out the phone. "There's no answer."
"No answer?" Harm repeated, hitting the speed dial to call the house, listening as the answering machine picked up. He waited for the message to end before saying, "Hello? Big Bud? AJ? Pick up the phone."
"They were supposed to watch a movie," Harriet reminded Harm, her eyes filled with concern and fear.
"Maybe he fell asleep?" Mac suggested as the others began to gather, having heard Harm talking into the phone.
"The phone would wake AJ up if not Big Bud," Harm told Mac, putting his arm around Harriet. "We'd better get back to the house and find out what's going on."
"But - the Wall," Harriet said. "Your father -"
"This is more important," Harm told her. "The Wall will be there tomorrow. I need to know that AJ's all right," he said, opening the passenger side door and helping her inside before going around to the driver's side door.
"I'll be right behind you," Mac said.
"We're *all* right behind you," AJ clarified, guiding Meredith toward his SUV.
There were lights on in the house, and the moment the front door was opened, Harm called, "AJ?"
The silence that answered was ominous. "I'll check upstairs," he told Harriet, glancing at the others as they arrived.
"Dad?" Mike called out, heading toward the living room with Jen and Jason Tiner.
Mac and Sturgis accompanied Harriet into the kitchen, only to find it empty.
They returned to the entry hall as Harm came down the stairs. "Some of AJ's things are gone -" he told her. "And so is his stuffed dinosaur." Hearing that the stuffed toy that AJ insisted on sleeping with every night was missing as well, Harriet began to sob, and Harm quickly put his arms around her, holding her while she cried.
"This was in the living room," Mike said, holding out a piece of paper toward Harm.
Harm took the paper and read it. "Damn."
"What is it?" Harriet asked between sobs.
"You've decided to start a new life, as though my son never existed. So I've taken my grandson where you'll never find him," Harm read. "Enjoy your new life together. Big Bud."
"Oh my God," Harriet cried.
"We'll find him, Harriet," Harm promised. "We'll find him."
She hit his chest with the side of her fist. "You can't promise me that, Harm," she insisted. "You don't know that."
Harm ignored her anger, understanding it as he looked into her face. "No. I don't. But I do know this: I'll do everything in my power to get him back. Whatever it takes." Her blue eyes met his before she collapsed against his chest again.
"I shouldn't have left him here with AJ," Harriet said. "It's my fault. If I hadn't -"
"No," Harm insisted, moving back enough to look at her. "This is *not* your fault."
"What are we going to do?" she asked. "Where would he have taken him?"
"Not back to Norfolk," Mike said. "He knows that would be the first place we'd look for him."
"Is there anyplace else that you know of where he might go, Mike?" AJ asked. "Anyplace that he's talked about going or wanting to go?"
"Not that I can remember, sir," Mike answered regretfully. "Sorry."
"That's okay. The police need to be brought in, Harm," AJ said.
"You don't think he would hurt my son, do you?" Harriet asked.
"No," Harm said. "That's the one thing I'm sure of. Whatever his other failings, Big Bud loves that boy. He'd never let anything happen to him. Right now, he just wants to hurt us."
"Maybe - maybe he'll come back if he thinks that we -"
"Is that what you want, Harriet?" Harm asked.
"No. Of course not."
"She might have a point, Harm," Mac said. "What if Big Bud *thought* that you and Harriet had called it off and broken up because of this? That's what his objective is - to stop Harriet from marrying again."
"How would he know?" Meredith asked, surprising everyone with her sudden clarity. "I would think he's probably not going to be concerned about anything right now but keeping a low profile. I doubt he would be checking the social news for information regarding the wedding being called off."
Harm retained Harriet's hand as he opened his cell phone and dialed 911. "I need to report a kidnapping."
Within an hour, photos of little AJ and Big Bud were already being circulated around the area. While the police were aware that they didn't believe that the boy was in any physical danger from his grandfather, the fact remained that Big Bud hadn't had permission from AJ's mother to take him anywhere, and the note he'd left showed is intent to illegally steal AJ away from Harriet.
"We'll do a check with the airlines," the investigating officer, Lt. Dave Evers, told them. "If they've gone to a hotel, someone who sees the photos should recognize them. What about friends of Mr. Roberts? Any of them that might know where he would go?"
Mike thought for a few minutes. "I'm not sure. My dad and I aren't very close."
Evers nodded thoughtfully. "If you hear from either of them, call my office or pager."
"We will," Harm assured the man.
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Harriet said.
"I should warn you that the media will probably be here soon," he told Harm as they moved to the front door. "This kind of thing makes good fodder for them. Christmas Eve, little boy apparently kidnapped by his grandfather. And the fact that Mrs. Roberts' husband died in Afghanistan -"
Harm agreed with his statement. "I think we can handle them -"
"It might be a good idea to talk to them, Commander. I have an idea that Mr. Roberts convinced the boy to go with him by saying that his mother knew and was okay with it. If the boy should happen to see his mother on TV upset, it might cause him to question that. And if he gets upset, it would draw attention to them."
"We'll consider it," Harm said, holding out his hand. "Thank you, Lieutenant."
"Don't thank me until we find him, Commander," Evers said, shaking Harm's hand before leaving.
Harm returned to sit beside Harriet. "He said that the TV cameras would probably be here shortly."
"Damn vultures," AJ muttered
"Actually, it might be a good idea if Harriet talks to them," Mac suggested.
"That's what Lt. Evers said," Harm explained. "That maybe if AJ happens to see her on TV, he'll want to come home."
"I don't know if I can -"
"That might also be a way to get the news to Dad that you two aren't getting married," Mike suggested. "Not that you're *not* getting married," he hastily amended when everyone turned to look at him. "Just to make him *think* that you're not. Then, once you have AJ back, you can go ahead with things."
"Big Bud's not stupid," Sturgis pointed out. "You really think he would believe either of them saying that they're not getting married at this point? He'd know it was a ruse and wouldn't believe it for a minute."
"Commander Turner has a point, sir," Jen agreed.
"You know, I just remembered something," Mike said. "Dad has an old friend who lives out near Patuxent. They served together years ago. He's got this big boat that Dad used to joke about borrowing to take a trip around the world -"
Harriet's eyes widened as she considered the idea of little AJ being on a boat at sea with his grandfather. "You remember his name, Mike?" Harm asked.
"Gene something - Gene Andrews - Yeah. That's it. Chief Andrews."
"You have an address?"
"No. Just the name and the fact that he's got a boat down there in the area."
"I could try to find it on the computer, sir," Tiner offered.
"Do that, Tiner," Harm agreed, nodding toward the room across the entryway. "The computer's in there. I'll call Lt. Evers, let him know. Maybe coming at it from both ends, we'll find someplace to start." Jason was already out of the room before Harm finished talking.
"Calling the police might not be a good idea, Harm," Mike said, causing Harm to stop mid-dial. "Chief Evers doesn't like the cops much. He spent a couple of months in jail on what my dad claimed was a 'bogus' charge."
"Why does that not surprise me," Mac sighed.
"But he does respect the Navy -" Mike added.
"Even officers?" Harm questioned.
"Yeah," Mike confirmed with a wry grin. "Even officers."
"And he's a friend of your father's?" Jen asked.
"It was about the only thing they ever disagreed about," Mike explained. "His son's an officer. He's overseas at the moment."
Harriet's fingers on his arm caused Harm to look down into her eyes. "Go talk to him, Harm. Please."
"I don't want to leave you -"
"I'll be fine," she said. "Everyone's here - you could take the Colonel and the Admiral -" she looked at both of the others, silently asking for their assistance. "Go bring little AJ home."
Harm pulled her into his arms. "I will," he said. "As soon as Tiner gets us some kind of lead."
Ten minutes later, Tiner came back with a piece of paper. "He lives in Cove Point, Commander. No phone number, but here's the address."
"Thanks, Tiner," Harm said, taking the paper.
"I'll drive," AJ decided. "Mike, you're with us, since you know
Harm gave Harriet a goodbye hug and kiss before leaving with AJ and Mac. Once they were gone, Meredith spoke. "Why don't I make us some coffee?" she suggested. "It looks to be a long night."
Cove Point was quiet on this Christmas Eve night. The lights in the small harbor side house where Gene Andrews lived were out except for a small string of Christmas lights in the front window. "Looks like he's asleep," Mac said.
"We'll just wake him up," Harm told her as he opened the door.
Mike knocked on the front door and they waited several minutes before the front porch light came on and a face appeared in of one glass panes of the door itself. Gene Andrews opened the door, apparently still trying to wake up. He was thin and a bit grizzled looking, with a shock of graying black hair standing straight up. "Mikey?" he said, blinking as he recognized Mike. "Something wrong with your dad?"
"Have you talked to Dad lately, Chief?" Mike asked.
"Not for a week at least," he said, glancing behind Mike to see the others. "What's going on?"
"This is Adm. AJ Chegwidden, Chief. Lt. Col. Mackenzie - and Cmdr. Rabb."
"Rabb?" Andrews repeated. "Bud was telling me about a Rabb that's planning on marrying your brother's widow."
"That's me, Chief," Harm acknowledged. "I don't know what he's told you about me -"
"Nothing good," Andrews snorted. He frowned. "What's Bud done that's brought you here?"
"He was babysitting little AJ tonight, Chief," AJ told the man. "When we got back from Christmas Eve services, they were both gone, and he'd left a note that he was taking his grandson away."
"In retaliation for Harriet's decision to marry Harm," Mac finished. "Harriet's very worried about little AJ, Chief."
"I'm sure she is. Losing her husband and now this -" he glanced at Harm. "I knew he was upset about her getting married again - especially to you. He blames you for Bud's death and Mike's decision to go to the Academy."
"I know what he blames me for," Harm said. "Right now, the only thing I'm worried about is that little boy."
"Why come to me?" Andrews wondered. "They're not here -"
"No, but Dad once told me that you offered to let him use your boat whenever he wanted to," Mike reminded him.
"Yeah. He was always blowing smoke about taking a sea trip around the -" he stopped, looking from person to person. "You don't think that he -"
"Where's your boat moored, Chief Andrews?" Mac wanted to know.
"Just down the road. There's a marina - let me get dressed and we'll go down there. I can take you right to it." He vanished from the open doorway for a minute. "Might as well come inside and wait," he called back.
The interior of the house was filled with memorabilia from Andrews' days in the Navy, and of his son, including a photo of father and son at the latter's graduation from Annapolis. "That's my son," Andrews said as he returned, now wearing a pair of faded jeans and flannel shirt. "Lt. Carl Andrews. He's stationed aboard the John F. Kennedy."
"You must be very proud of him," AJ said.
"Yeah. He's fourth generation Navy - first one to go through the Academy. Bud said that you went to the Academy, Commander."
"So did I," AJ told Andrews. "Are we ready to go?"
"Sure. Like I said, the marina's just down the road. I'm sure you're wrong about this. Big Bud wouldn't have taken the Linda Lee without checking with me first."
"Linda Lee?" Mac questioned.
"My wife's name," Andrews explained as they moved toward the SUV. "I bought it because she and I had always talked about taking an ocean trip after I retired. But she died before we got the opportunity."
He gave AJ the directions to the marina, and once they were out of the truck they headed down the pier toward the spot where he kept the boat tied up - only to find it empty. "Damn," he sighed. "Damn it, Big Bud."
"Looks like he's on the boat," Harm said.
"They won't get far," Andrews said. "She needed some engine work. Problem is, there's an exhaust leak. If they keep the engine running for heat and are in the closed cabin, it could be dangerous."
"Damn," Harm said, pulling out his cell phone. "We need the hull numbers on that boat, Chief," he said as he dialed Lt. Evers' number. "Maybe the Coast Guard will be able to find them before it's too late."
Lt. Evers was joined by an FBI agent when he arrived on the scene. "Since he's taken the boy across state lines, it's now a federal offense," Evers explained.
"I'm aware of the law, Lieutenant," Harm said. "What I want to know is how you're going to find them. Chief Andrews said that if they go to sleep out there, they could end up dead from carbon monoxide poisoning."
"We've already dispatched the Coast Guard, Commander," Agent Devlin informed him. "My advice to you and your friends is to go home and wait for news. There's nothing more any of you can do here."
"So that's it? 'Go home and wait'?" Harm asked him, ignoring Mac's attempt to grab his arm. "That boy is in danger, Agent Devlin. I'm not going back to his mother until I have him back, safe and sound."
"You're out of the loop, Commander," Devlin declared. "You're not his family -"
"I'm his god-father. The Colonel is his god-mother. And I'm going to be his step-father. And Mike here is his uncle. So I think that puts us *in* the loop."
"Added to that, Devlin," AJ interjected, "That's not just Mike's nephew out there. It's his father as well. And the boy is *my* namesake. So none of us is going anywhere until this is settled."
Faced with two Navy officers, a Marine Colonel, and a Middie, Devlin shook his head. "Suit yourselves." Another agent appeared from the direction of the office. "Anything?"
"The guy on duty remembers seeing the boat pulling out about an hour ago," he said. "Said he saw a heavyset man carrying something on board before it left."
"Little AJ must have been asleep," Mac said. "He probably fell asleep during the drive, -" Harm's cell phone rang, and he opened it after glancing at the screen.
"Harriet. I was about to call -"
"Is there any news?"
"We have a lead," he confirmed, not wanting to worry her anymore than necessary. "They were seen getting onto Gene Andrews' boat about an hour ago."
"Oh my God."
"The Coast Guard has been alerted, honey," he assured her. "They'll find them soon."
"There's something you're not telling me, isn't there?"
"No," Harm said - too quickly, and he knew it as he closed his eyes.
"Harm, I know you too well. I can tell when you're trying *not* to tell someone something that will upset them. What's going on?"
"Chief Andrews told us that the boat's engine needs some repairs because of a carbon monoxide leak."
"Then little AJ's in danger?"
"He could be - under the right circumstances."
"When are you coming home?"
"Not until they find him," Harm told her. "Unless you want me there to wait with you."
"I do. But I also feel better knowing that you're out there looking for him. I love you."
"I love you, too," he said. "How are things there?"
"Not too bad - well, except for Prof. Cavanaugh's coffee," she whispered, and Harm heard Meredith's voice.
"More coffee, Harriet?"
"NO. No, thank you. I think I'm - coffeed out."
"Next time, have Jen make the coffee," he suggested.
"I will. Stay in touch."
"I will. Bye." He put the phone back into his pocket and rejoined his friends.
"How are things?" Mac asked.
"Harriet's fine - if she can survive Meredith's coffee."
"I should have suggested Coates or Tiner make coffee before we left," AJ sighed, shaking his head.
"They'll survive," Harm assured him, his eyes on the darkness out to sea. "I just hope that AJ does, too."
"He will, Harm," Mac said.
Harm turned to look at her. "Mac - I don't suppose - Never mind."
"Nothing. It was a silly idea."
He should have been surprised when she turned to call Agent Devlin's name. "Devlin?"
"Yes, Colonel?" he asked, his voice sounding more than a little frustrated to have what he considered to be amateurs on his tail.
"Do you know where I can find a map around here?"
"A map?" he questioned.
"Even an oceanographic chart of the area would help."
"There are probably some in the marina office."
"Mac," Harm began, already seeing AJ shaking his head in disbelief.
"What's going on?" Mike asked AJ as Mac and Harm moved toward the marina office.
"Mac used a map when Harm was missing at sea a couple of years ago," AJ explained. "She can sometimes - find people that she cares about when they're in trouble. It doesn't always work, though."
"She's done it other than with Harm, though, right?"
AJ nodded. "When her little sister, Chloe was missing, she found her. And after she helped find Harm, she helped solve the murder of a Navy officer that she and Cmdr. Turner were working with."
"Then it might work."
"Maybe. I've never been one to put my faith in the unknown."
"Right now, it might be the only thing we have left, sir," Mike pointed out.
Mac was standing in the middle of the room when they entered, studying the map, holding Harm's hand, her eyes closed. "Mike," she said, reaching out toward him. "I need your help."
Mike glanced at AJ, and then took her hand, closing his eyes and thinking about his dad and nephew out there on the water, possibly in danger.
Suddenly Mac opened her eyes and pointed to a spot on the map. "They need to search in this area," she told Devlin, who snorted in disbelief.
"You don't really expect me to tell them to change their search pattern on the word of a - psychic Marine Lt. Colonel, do you?" he asked.
"Yes, I do," AJ said in a firm, no-nonsense tone. "She's done this twice before with some success."
"It wouldn't hurt to send one of the helicopters in that direction, would it?" Mike said. "If she's wrong, then they can return to their regular pattern."
"It's crazy," Devlin declared.
"I'd do it if I were in your shoes, Devlin," a familiar voice said, causing them all to turn around to find Clayton Webb standing in the doorway.
"Well, you're not in my shoes, Webb," Devlin said with a sneer. "But you *are* stepping on my toes. This is a Bureau matter, Webb. What are you doing here?"
"A friend of mine with the Bureau called and told me what was going on. I thought I'd come by and see if there was anything I could do to help. And it would appear that I can. Because if you won't order the Coast Guard to shift their search area, I will."
Devlin sighed. "I'll see if I can't contact someone and get it set up."
"Thank you, Mac," Harm said, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"Thank me when they find him, Harm," she said. "I only hope I was right."
"And thank you, Clay." It was the second time in a year that Clayton Webb had come through for Harm on his birthday.
"Didn't have anything else to do tonight."
"I need to call Harriet, give her an update."
"Don't tell her about -" Mac indicated the map. "Not until we know for sure if it worked. When I did it with you, you weren't where I told them you would be."
"I wasn't far away, though," he pointed out. "You were in the ballpark." He pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial.
"When will we know something?" Harriet asked after Harm told her what Mac had tried to do.
"I don't know. But it shouldn't be too long."
After another few minutes, Harriet reluctantly hung up and accepted the cup of coffee from Jen - this one prepared by the young petty officer instead of Meredith. Strangely enough, Meredith hadn't been able to tell the difference in the two brews.
"Any news, dear?" Meredith asked.
"Not really. They think that they might have a lead - but they're not sure yet."
Sturgis hung up his cell phone. "My dad offered to come and sit with you, Harriet -"
"Oh, I don't want to get him out so early on Christmas morning," Harriet said. "I feel bad enough that all of you are still here when you should be in your beds."
"We're here because we want to be here, ma'am," Tiner told her. "We're - well, we're all kinda like family in a way."
"Yes," Harriet agreed, smiling at the young man. "We are." She had never really been sure if she had been accepted into that family or was just allowed to be a part of it because of Bud's already established place in it.
But the last six months had proven that she was indeed part of what she called the "JAG family", even if she was no longer working at JAG. She had settled into her new duties at the IG's office, similar duties to what she had been doing for the last several years, but it wasn't the same, and she was seriously considering giving up her commission once she and Harm were married. It was something that she hadn't really mentioned to Harm, though.
The idea of being a housewife, held a surprising appeal to her. Especially now. If they found AJ - she amended that to *when* - she wasn't sure she wanted to let him out of her sight for awhile.
"I told Dad as much," Sturgis assured her. "But I'm sure he'll be by later in the day to help welcome AJ home when they find him."
"Thank you, Sturgis."
"You know, I'm a little surprised at how close all of you are," Meredith said. "I always thought that the military was so stiff and unfriendly until I started seeing AJ."
"We've known each other for a long time, ma'am," Harriet said. "Harm and Sturgis were at the Academy together -"
"Really? I didn't know that."
"And Tiner's been with the Admiral since not long after he became the JAG, right, Tiner?"
"That's right. I was his temporary yeoman when he first started, and he finally asked me to take the job full time."
"And what about you, Jennifer?" Meredith asked.
"I'm the new kid on the block," Jen answered with a shy smile. "I only met everyone a year ago when Commander Rabb represented me on a robbery charge."
"I did my time and turned it around, ma'am," she said. "Thanks mostly to the Commander's influence. Then after -" she looked at Harriet, unable to finish.
"After Jen did so much to try and save Bud's life, the Colonel suggested that she transfer to JAG, since they needed someone to help with investigations."
"I didn't *do* anything, ma'am," Jen said, not for the first time, her head bent to stare into her coffee cup. "Not enough, anyway."
"When it's a person's time to go, Jen, nothing we do can change it," Harriet told her. "According to what Harm and Mac have told me, you were the one responsible for getting him to help at all."
"I'm sure you did everything you could, Jennifer," Meredith said. "I know that I wouldn't have the faintest idea of how to react in those circumstances."
"I think there's some cake left if anyone wants some," Harriet offered, more to change the subject than for any other reason. She could see how uncomfortable talking about that day made Jen, not that she blamed her for that. It had been a horrible day for everyone.
She only hoped that she wouldn't have to think of Christmas as the day when she lost her son as well.
It was nearly dawn when the front door opened and Harriet, who had finally given up and agreed to rest on the sofa, heard Harm's voice. Sitting, she stood up and turned toward the door - just as he appeared holding little AJ in his arms.
"Oh thank God!" she said, rushing to take him from Harm. "Oh, AJ. Are you okay?" She looked up at Harm. "Is he okay?"
"He's fine. The Coast Guard doctors checked him out and said I could bring him home for the day. They want us to take him in to the doctor though tomorrow for a check up."
"We will," she nodded, letting him enfold them all in his embrace. She felt safe and secure, until she saw that Mike wasn't with them. "Where's Mikey?"
"He went to the hospital with Big Bud," Mac said.
"I couldn't wake Grampa Bud up, Mommy. He was sleeping real hard."
"Is he -?" she asked, not wanting to say more in front of her son.
"He's going to recover," Harm told her.
"He was taking me to see Santa Claus," little AJ told his mother. "But he fell asleep."
"You've already seen Santa, AJ," Harriet reminded him. "At the mall, remember?"
"Grampa said this was a special Santa who would bring Daddy back home."
His words caused a silence to fall on the gathering until AJ cleared his throat. "Well," AJ said. "Since things turned out well, Meredith and I will be going. See most of you tomorrow."
"Thank you, Admiral," Harriet said.
"Not necessary. You just take care of my namesake. Oh, and Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas!" little AJ repeated eagerly - and loudly, causing everyone to laugh out loud. Enjoying the attention, he said again.
Mac was the last to leave the house, and Harriet gave her a huge hug. "I don't know how I can ever thank you, Mac."
"I got lucky, Harriet. You can thank Harm for suggesting it. I wouldn't have thought about it if he hadn't."
"Wait, Auntie Mac! You need to get your present," AJ declared, struggling for Harm to let him down. Once he was on his feet, he ran to the Christmas tree sitting in the corner of the living room and dug through the packages, tossing them aside until he found two with Mac's name on them. Running back to them, he held the packages up. "Here."
"*Two* packages?" she said, taking them. "Thank you, AJ. Merry Christmas."
"You gonna open them?"
"You're welcome to stay for Christmas breakfast and dinner, Mac," Harriet said.
"No. I don't want to intrude. I'll be fine."
"Do you have other plans, Mac?" Harm wanted to know.
"Well, actually, I do." She gave him a smile. "Clay invited me to Christmas Brunch."
"Webb?" Harm questioned. "You're going out with *Webb*?"
"He's a friend, Harm. And since neither of us have anything else to do -"
"I thought he would have been spending the day with his mother."
"He'll be going over there later. Anyway, I have to get going." She gave little AJ another hug. "You be good, okay?"
"Okay," he nodded, his attention focused on the presents under the tree.
Alone, Harm and Harriet stood there, arms around each other, as they watched the little boy sit down in front of the tree. "Well, should be open gifts or have breakfast?" Harm asked with an eager expression on his round face.
"Gifts!" AJ declared.
"We usually have breakfast first," Harriet said. "But I think we can make an exception today."
Later, as AJ was playing with the toy airplanes that Harm had gotten for him, Harriet and Harm sat across the room, talking quietly. "Looking at him, you'd never know that anything happened," Harriet sighed.
"I'm not sure he thinks it was anything more than an adventure," Harm explained.
"Did you talk to Big Bud at all?"
"He woke up just before they transported him," Harm nodded. "He said that he'd asked AJ if he wanted his Daddy to come home, and of course AJ said that he did," he said, his expression somber - and sympathetic. "I can't say I blame him. If someone had offered something like that to me when I was a little older than he is, I would have jumped at it."
"That's when Big Bud offered to take him to a Santa that could bring Bud home," Harriet guessed.
"Yeah. AJ fell asleep on the drive to the boat, and didn't realize they were on one until he woke up right after they started out to sea. "Big Bud told him to go back to sleep, but AJ was too excited about seeing Santa - and his dad." Harriet placed a hand on Harm's leg to comfort him. "Big Bud took him down to the cabin to try and get him to sleep, keeping the engine going since he planned on going back up to keep heading out - but he got too much of the fumes and got sleepy. AJ said that he thought the helicopter might be Santa bringing his Dad back and went up onto the deck to see him."
"What's going to happen to him, Harm?" Harriet asked, and he knew she was talking about Big Bud.
"He's in a lot of trouble. Kidnapping a minor child, taking him across state lines, endangering him, theft -"
"He's going to need a good lawyer," Harriet pointed out.
"You're not suggesting that I -"
"Harm, as much as I'd like never to see the man again, he *is* still my son's grandfather. And while I don't condone any of what he did, I can appreciate that he's still not over losing his son and that caused all of this. How long did it take you to come to terms with your father's death?" she asked.
"Awhile," Harm acknowledged. "But I would never have -"
"No. Because you're strong. Big Bud isn't. He never has been. If you won't do it for him, then do it for AJ?"
"He might not want me to represent him, Harriet - he wasn't very remorseful even after he realized what he'd almost done. Even if AJ hadn't died from the fumes, he would have starved to death since Big Bud *would* have if help hadn't arrived when it did."
"It's your decision whether or not to help him, Harm," she said. "But I think you should at least try."
"I'll think about it," he assured her. "Right now," he said, putting his arms around her and pulling her back against him on the sofa, "I just want to enjoy Christmas with you and AJ."
"What about going to the Wall?" she asked.
"We'll do it later," he told her.
She turned to look at him. "Are you upset that little AJ wants Bud back?"
"No. Like I said, I understand the feeling. For years after my dad went down, I would have gone anywhere, done whatever necessary to get him back. I went to Laos when I was sixteen with a former Marine who was there searching for MIAs," he said.
"Your mother let you -?"
Harm shook his head. "I ran away. She and Frank had no idea where I was until I came home - without the proof I'd been sure I would find that my dad was alive. At least AJ will know what happened to Bud. I didn't know for almost thirty years."
"But you did find out the truth," Harriet reminded him. "And what you went through can only help AJ deal with everything he'll have to deal with."
"I hope so. I hope he doesn't resent me some day -"
"The way you resented Frank?" she suggested, and when Harm gave her a surprised look, she said, "Trish told me about it."
"I never gave him much of a chance," Harm recalled.
"You were older. AJ's still young. He can adjust easier to changes. Plus, as you said, there were still questions about your father's fate that AJ won't have about his."
Harm brought her hand to his lips. "You're pretty smart, you know that?"
"I know," she said, settling back against him.
"Wow," AJ said as he looked at the black granite wall that ran as far as he could see, his voice strangely quiet, as though he somehow sensed the importance of this place - not only to Harm but to others who were gathered along its length.
Harm reached out and touched the carved letters that he knew so well. "Hi, Dad," he said. "Merry Christmas."
"Who's that?" AJ asked, looking up at the names carved into the granite.
Harm picked him up and pointed to the name. "That's my dad's name. He died when I was only a few years older than you are."
"What about Grampa Frank?" AJ asked, frowning.
"He's my step-father," Harm explained. "He married my mother and helped her take care of me."
"Oh. Like you do with me?"
"Yeah. Like I do with you." Harm reached over and pulled Harriet closer. "It happened on Christmas Eve, so I usually come here to spend a few minutes with him."
"Why don't you go to his grave, like we're going to my Daddy's to see him?"
"Because I didn't know where he was buried until I was all grown up," Harm said.
"Didn't know? Why?"
"It's a long story, Champ," Harm said. "And one day, I'll tell it to you. When you're older." He stood there a moment, staring at the reflection of himself, AJ, and Harriet in the highly polished stone. "Bye, Dad," he said at last before turning away from the Wall, Harriet moving to his side.
AJ hadn't been to Bud's grave since the funeral over six months ago. He stood there, staring at the stone, his head tilted and frowning. "Daddy's not here."
"His body is," Harriet said, her voice tight with emotion that she didn't want to give way to in front of the little boy. "But his soul's in Heaven."
Harm watched AJ, reliving his own feeling of finality that he'd found on a hilltop in Western Russia as he overlooked the Taiga where his father had been buried in an unmarked grave. He doubted that the boy had actually understood what "death" was - or if he had, he hadn't wanted to face it. Seeing the headstone and his mother's quiet, somber reaction to it, seemed to bring the truth home to him in some way. "Daddy's not going to come back, is he?"
"No, honey, he's not," Harriet said.
"But Grampa Bud said he would if I asked Santa -"
Harm knelt beside AJ. "Grampa Bud said that because he wanted you to go with him on the boat, AJ. He knew that your daddy couldn't come back, even as much as we wish he could. I'd give anything if he were here instead of me - but that can't happen. Can you understand that, AJ?"
AJ's eyes were filled with tears as he nodded slowly, his blue eyes on Harm's face. "But you're here?" he asked, sounding as if he were afraid of losing Harm, too.
"Always," Harm promised, pulling the little boy close for a hug. "Always, AJ."
"How is little AJ doing?" Mac asked the next day.
"Okay. He slept most of the evening. Harriet was taking him to the doctor today to make sure he doesn't have any lingering effects from his experience. How was your brunch with our favorite spook?" he questioned.
"It was - nice," she told him. "Clayton Webb can be a very charming man when he sets his mind to it."
"Really? I've never seen that side of him."
"That's because he wasn't trying to be charming for *you*," Mac pointed out with a teasing smile. "Have you heard anything about Big Bud?"
"Not yet." He took a deep breath. "Harriet thinks that I should offer to represent him in court."
"Oh? I guess that would go a way toward smoothing the waters. If he'll accept the assistance."
"That's the thing. I'm not sure he'll let me within ten feet of him. He wasn't exactly the picture of contrition the other night."
Recalling how Big Bud had snarled at Harm and been angry that he had failed in his attempt to get little AJ away, Mac nodded. "You're right. Maybe if I go with you when you talk to him?" she suggested.
"I couldn't ask you to do that-"
"You don't have to ask. We'll go and see him, find out exactly what they're charging him with and see if he'll accept my help if he won't accept yours."
"Thank you, Mac."
"No need to thank me, Harm. That's what friends are for, to help each other out. I don't approve of what he did, but I can understand it."
"That's what Harriet said."
"Did she also point out that no matter what he did, he's still little AJ's grandfather and that Bud was his son and that Bud would probably want you to help?"
"Yeah. Only I think this might have been the straw to break the camel's back where Bud and his father were concerned. Endangering little AJ's life that way -"
"Well, to be fair, he had no idea that the boat needed repairs or that he *was* endangering AJ's life," Mac pointed out.
"Mac, anything could have happened out there. Big Bud could have become ill, or fallen overboard. A storm could have capsized the boat - and no one would ever have known what happened. It was irresponsible and reckless."
"That doesn't sound like a man who's going to offer to defend someone, Harm," she said.
"I know. I'm trying to keep my emotions in check, and I know there were mitigating circumstances, but -"
"That's not your style. You're concerned about AJ, and you should be. Tell you what - why don't I go see him on my own first?" she suggested. "Feel him out. Maybe now that he's had some time to think about things, he'll be less belligerent."
"Would you be willing to do that?"
"I think I can handle Master Chief Roberts," Mac said.
"Keep me informed."
Thanks to Mac's intervention, which Big Bud reluctantly accepted, he wasn't facing jail time for what he'd done, since it was his first offense and there were mitigating circumstances. There were conditions, however. Any visits with his grandson were to be supervised by Harriet and Harm - and he was to cease and desist any and all harassment of his ex-daughter in law and her future husband. Any violation of those conditions would result in him being sent to prison for ten years.
He refused to attend the wedding - mostly because, as Mike explained to Harm, "He's not sure that he could sit there and not say anything to disrupt the wedding. And if he does that, he'll end up in jail."
It was the only dark spot on an otherwise bright day - even if the forecast was calling for snow that evening to begin the New Year. The afternoon was cold and clear - and the chapel was filled with people who knew and loved the tall, handsome Navy Commander who smiled so tenderly into the face of the blonde and beautiful woman standing beside him as they took their vows.
They had opted not to go for the arch of swords - mostly because of the memories attached to that event from Harriet and Bud's wedding. The very informal reception was held at the house right after the wedding. Lydia and Roland would be taking AJ back to Florida with them while Harm and Harriet spent four days in Bermuda; and the newlyweds would detour back through Florida to pick him up before returning to DC in a week.
As they got into the limo that would take them to the airport for their flight to Bermuda, Harriet leaned close to Harm and whispered the news that she had only confirmed that morning. He gave a 'whoop' of delight and pulled her into his arms for a celebratory kiss.