Operation: Road Not Taken 2
Part 3
Nancy Eddy

Disclaimers in Part 1

After Mattie went to bed, Mac found Harm out on the front porch, sitting on the railing, looking into the distance. The rain had tapered off into a fine mist, almost a fog, which seemed to enclose the house in its own little world. "There you are," she said, giving him a cup of coffee before sitting down on the swing. "You've been quiet this evening."

He looked into the cup for a moment. "Just thinking about the Admiral."

"He'll get over it, Harm. Maybe not right away, but -"

"I know. I just -"

"Harm, what's wrong? I can understand your being worried, but -"

"I really thought they'd get married." He shrugged. "It's silly, but -" he sighed, looking out into the fog-bound darkness again. "Remember that night that we all went to the Chinese restaurant to celebrate Jen's promotion?"

"How could I forget?" she asked.

"You might have noticed that I was a little - distracted."

Mac chuckled softly. "A *little*? You were somewhere else all evening. So much so that you didn't even know when the rest of us got up to leave."

He grinned. "That's because I *was* somewhere else. Somewhere on that 'road not taken'."


"Remember I told you that I wondered what things would have been like if we'd opened up on that ferry all those years ago?"

"Yes. I agreed that we weren't ready then."

"Oh, you were right about that," he acknowledged, lifting his coffee cup. "I spent the entire evening, thinking about 'what if'?"

"That must have been interesting."

"And it wasn't *just* us. It was Bud and Harriet, Jen, Mike Roberts, -"

"The Admiral and Meredith -" Mac realized, seeing to finally begin to understand. "Sounds like a very interesting little fantasy you had going there, Harm," she teased gently.

"Krennick was in it too. She was the new JAG."

"Allison Krennick," Mac nodded. "So when she came back into your life, figured that everything else would follow along."

"I know it sounds silly, but -"

"Why don't you tell me about this fantasy?" she suggested. "Maybe it would help."

He turned to look at her. "You sure you want to hear about it?"

"I was part of it, wasn't I?"


"So I have a right to hear about it." She patted the swing. "Sit down."

"I think I'd rather stay here - for the moment, anyway." Slowly, he began to tell her about his little fantasy, daydream, whatever it had been. "I was the only one left at JAG. Harriet had left Bud at the altar on their wedding day, and left the Navy. She ended up inheriting her parents' fortune. Bud left, too and started a spa business that was very profitable."


"The Spa-King," he nodded, seeing her amused grin. "I never said it made much sense. The Admiral had retired and was married to Meredith. He was working as prosecutor in DC, still dealing with Meredith's 'flights of fancy'. Mike was working with Bud, and Jen was working undercover with the DC police to capture a thief - unknown to the Admiral. Krennick was his replacement at JAG, and she hadn't changed much in some respects."

Mac nodded, understanding what he wasn't saying about Allison Krennick. "You said that you were the only one left at JAG. What about me?"

"We got married after Sydney - and you resented the fact that the Admiral transferred you out of JAG while I stayed on. That, added to the fact that I refused to give up a lot of the things from when I was still single -"

"Such as?"

"The Vette," he told her. "In the fantasy, you mentioned something about my having promised to trade it in for something more 'practical'."

"I said that?"

He grinned again. "And when I came back from the dealership with new wheels on the Vette, you took a tire iron to it and knocked the side mirror off."


"So four years after Sydney, we'd already been separated for almost two years - and you were back at JAG to have Krennick sign your terminal leave papers - and to have *me* sign our divorce papers. You were - planning to remarry immediately."

Mac winced. "Clay?"

"John Farrow."

"John?! I haven't spoken to John in - years, Harm."

"I have no idea why I put him in there. But he was. He had retired and the two of you were going to Colorado to live in a little cabin in the middle of nowhere."

"A cabin. In the middle of nowhere," Mac repeated slowly. "Go on."

"There was a case that I convinced Krennick to have you represent the defendant on - just to keep you in DC for a little longer, to give me time to change your mind, to give us another chance."

"Now *that* sounds like something you would do," she nodded.

"I used the cross and such in court as a means to get through to you. I wasn't working. You were still determined to leave and marry John." He sighed, continuing. "Harriet had moved back to DC - and asked Bud to do some work for her in her new house. They found each other again. Sturgis had recently left the Navy and was married to Varise, managing her career. He arranged for her to sing at Harriet's housewarming. AJ thought that Jen was a thief, and that she had jumped bail - and that she was after some kind of Shakespearean artifact that Harriet had bought at auction."

"Which is where Meredith came in."

"She decided to help AJ with the case," he nodded. "We were all invited to Harriet's housewarming. You and John were there and were supposed to get on a train to leave for Colorado later in the day. I asked Krennick to help me keep you around - with the promise of 'rebound potential' if it didn't work," he told her with a self-effacing grin.

"I'm sure she jumped at the chance."

"Like a fish to water," he agreed. "She gave you your terminal leave papers, and I signed the divorce papers, giving it one more try. I said you couldn't give up on us. You told me that there wasn't an 'us' - and that I was only interested in you when you had one foot out the door."

"Oh, my," Mac sighed, wincing again as she realized how much her words must have hurt him for him to have used them in his little 'fantasy'.

"You grabbed John and stalked out of the party. Meredith saw Jen - who was working as a caterer, and told the Admiral about it. He didn't believe she'd seen Jen, and to prove it, she practically attacked a waiter with a long ponytail, who looked like Jen from the back, embarrassing both herself and the Admiral. She apologized to the Admiral, telling him that she was afraid that one day she would do something so stupid that he would stop loving her. He said that wouldn't happen, and asked if she believed in fate."

"What did she say?"

"That she was a pragmatist," Harm answered with a smile. "And then he told her that he believed that they were meant to be together, that if they were on opposite sides of the world, they would find each other. Sturgis told me that if I let you go, I'd regret it, and that -" he paused, wanting to recall the exact words. "That destiny speaks by the choices we make. I know it sounds corny now, but -"

"No. No, it doesn't."

"I decided to leave - and saw your coat still hanging up. I asked for it, and found your train ticket in the pocket. So I took it to the station to give it to you."

"You were going to - just let me go?"

Harm turned to look at her fully, meeting her eyes. "If that was what it would take to make you happy, yes. Keeping you here against your will wouldn't have worked -"

"And did it work?"

"You started to get onto the train," he said. "Until a gust a wind came up and blew the ticket out of your hand. The train was full - you couldn't have gotten another ticket."

"Fate intervened," Mac said.

Harm laughed. "That's what you told John. That fate 'keeps on getting in the way'. And he said that maybe you hadn't been holding on tight enough. The train pulled out - leaving the two of us standing there. You said that you were ready and asked if I was -"

"And what was your reply?"

"That's when the Admiral asked if I was ready to leave and the fantasy ended. Then you said you'd forgotten your coat and I stole a peek at your fortune while getting it."

"Now I understand why you sold the Vette," she told him. "You totally changed your life -"

"I'd already been heading toward those changes," Harm said. "But that night - I realized that if I was going to take that road, I had to finish the changes. And hope that you were ready to take it as well."

Mac held out her hand in silent invitation for him to join her. "I am," she assured him as he sat down beside her, leaving his empty cup on the railing. "Did you ever think that maybe all of the things people said in your little 'fantasy' were really things that you were trying to tell yourself?"

"Some of it," he admitted. "Sturgis *is* thinking seriously about resigning to travel with Varise," he told her. "Bud and Harriet are happy and together."

"And we're together," she pointed out. "Three out of four are pretty good odds. You had no way of knowing what caused the Admiral and Meredith to break up the first time - or that if they got back together it would come up again."

Harm looked at her. "You know, don't you?"

Mac hesitated. "Meredith let something slip during lunch the other day," she confessed. "I *think* she was unfaithful to him."

His eyes widened in shock. "Meredith?"

"She told me that she'd been engaged four other times - but something always happened to end them, and that she hoped it wouldn't happen this time, since he'd been so forgiving after her first transgression."

"Dear God," Harm sighed. "He said that she had a problem with commitment, but -"

"Did he mention anything about retiring?" Mac wondered.

"No. We didn't discuss that. You think he might reconsider?"

"It's possible." She threaded her fingers through his. "Colorado, huh?"

Harm lifted his shoulders. "Sounded good. I guess I read somewhere that he was from there -"

"Yeah. He always talked about guiding whitewater tours. I still can't believe you were going to marry me off to John Farrow."

"Maybe because he's the only one of the men you've seen that I felt was at all worthy of you."

"Other than you, of course."

He gave her a sheepish grin. "Well, that goes without saying, doesn't it?"

"Were we happy at all while we were married?"

"I think so. In the early days - before your bitterness took over and my inability to change became an issue -"

"Now I understand why you've been so worried about my transferring out of JAG."

He looked down at their hands. "I don't want you to wake up some day angry that you left JAG so that we could be together. I'll go back to work crop dusting - or flying for a commercial carrier before I let that happen."

Mac placed a hand under his chin to lift his face. "It won't happen, Harm."

"I hope not."

"It won't. You didn't mention Mattie -"

"She wasn't there. I guess, since so many other things had changed because of our marriage after Sydney, I hadn't met her - so she wasn't a part of my life. And at the time, I was afraid that she'd end up with her father again."

"Why? You were taking care of her -"

"I was out of town more than I was in town, Mac. I hadn't found a house - that's why I made such a push to do that after that night - only Mattie decided that Tom needed her more than I did -"

"Maybe he did. At least they had this time together, Harm. That's something Mattie needed as much as Tom did."

"I was thinking that myself," Harm admitted. "I've made a lot of mistakes, Mac. But I hope that I've finally turned it around -"

"You have, Harm," she said, standing up and pulling at his hand. "Come on. Let's go to bed, Flyboy. We've got a long day tomorrow. And if you're going to take me up in that plane, I want to make sure you're well-rested."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

They had barely returned to the house in Falls Church the next afternoon when there was a knock on the door. Since she was just coming down the stairs, Mattie called out, "I'll get it!" and crossed the entry way to glance out of the window to the side of the door. Seeing who the visitor was, Mattie tamped down her dislike of the man and pasted a smile on her face as she opened the door. After all, he *had* come to her father's funeral and said she was a part of the JAG 'family', hadn't he? "Hello, Admiral," she said.

"Mattie," he said, looking behind her. "How are you doing?"

"I'm okay," she told him.

"Good. Are the Commander and the Colonel busy?"

"They're in the kitchen making dinner," she told him, stepping back. "Come in. I'll go get them." She pointed toward the living room doorway. "You can wait in there."

"Thank you."

Mattie turned toward the kitchen, where Mac and Harm looked at her. "Who was at the door?" Mac asked.

"The Admiral. He wants to see both of you. I said he could wait in the living room."

Harm turned and lowered the flame under the pan on the stove. "Could you keep an eye on this, please, Mattie?" he asked, removing the apron he'd been wearing.

"Sure," she agreed.

"What do you think's going on?" Mac asked Harm.

"Only one way to find out," he replied as they left the kitchen. AJ was standing before the dark fireplace when they entered the room. "Admiral."

"Harm. Mac," he said, turning to look at them. "Nice place you have here."

"Thank you," Harm said. "It needs some work, and we're still discussing furniture -"

"I'm sure the three of you will whip it into place in no time," AJ said. "I'm sorry to disturb you on a Sunday afternoon, but I thought that this needed to be taken care of as soon as possible."

"What's going on, sir?" Harm asked, indicating an armchair across from the sofa.

"Thank you," he said, sitting down. "I've decided to continue with my plans to retire - and I'm also bringing the timetable forward."

"Admiral -" Mac began, but he lifted his hand and shook his head.

"Might as well get used to calling me AJ, Mac. I won't be your CO much longer. And before either of you ask, I'm not running away."

"We wouldn't have thought that, sir - AJ," Harm insisted. "It just seems a bit - sudden."

"I know you're upset about what happened between you and Meredith," Mac added, "but shouldn't you take some time? Consider your options?"

"I've already done that. My reasons for retirement are still valid." He pulled an envelope out of his pocket. "I got a letter from my daughter yesterday," he told them.

"How's Francesca doing?" Harm asked.

"She's doing well. She's been staying with her mother in Naples for the last few months -" he looked at the envelope again. "I'm going to Italy; spend some time with her - and with Marcella. To try and - reconnect with my family."

Harm took a deep breath. "When are you - leaving?"

"The end of next week. I called SecNav last night and told him what I was planning. He's already starting the process for you to take over until a permanent JAG can be found." AJ looked at Harm. "I should tell you that Allison Krennick's still the top candidate for the position. After the events of last week, they'll probably wait a few months to give her that second star, but she'll most likely be the next JAG." He paused, letting his words sink in. "Is that going to be a problem for you?"

"No, sir. I believe that she's changed from the old days. I look forward to working with her."

"If it does happen, she's agreed to the arrangement with your being TAD to JAG, Mac."

"Thank you," Mac said. "It's not going to be the same without you there, though," she told him.

"Never get too used to the personnel or the billet, remember, Mac?" he said.

Mac glanced at Harm before she answered. "Yes, sir."

AJ stood up. "I'll be going - I have a lot to do before next weekend -"

"Why don't you stay for dinner?" Harm said quickly, causing Mac to look at him in surprise. "There'll be more than enough -"

"Thanks, but, as I said -" AJ stopped, considering what he was doing. "On second thought, thank you. I'd like to stay."

Harm smiled. "Mac, why don't you show him around while I go finish dinner?"

Mac led AJ through the house, telling him about the changes and redecorating they were planning to undertake, ending up in the back yard, looking at the empty swimming pool. "I was right," AJ told her. "It is a nice place. Quiet, big enough that you can spread out a bit -" He turned to look at her. "Tell me if I'm overstepping, Mac, but - don't let him put off marrying you for too long."

Mac shrugged. "Harm's not the one putting things off," she confessed. "I think he'd have the minister here in an hour if I said the word."

"Why don't you?"

"Everything that's happened in the last year - Harm being arrested, Paraguay, - the aftermath of that. Sadik," she said in a quiet voice. "I want things to be right. I don't want to rush into anything -"

"Mac, I've watched the two of you dance around each other for over eight years. Sometimes I got so damn dizzy from it that I'd consider either transferring one or both of you out of JAG - or locking the two of you in a room until you *both* figured out that you were meant to be together."

"You really think so, sir? AJ," she amended.

"I've never been more sure of anything in my life," he told her. "I don't expect clear sailing for the two of you, you're both too damn stubborn not to butt heads occasionally - but you always find your way back to each other, no matter where you are or what's going on in your lives. Don't put it off, Mac."

Mac nodded. "I won't. I hope that - when we *do* decide to make things permanent, you'll agree to come back and give me away?"

"Oh, I'll be here. If for no other reason than to make sure he knows that if he doesn't treat you right, he'll have to answer to me."

They both laughed, before Mac became serious again. "May I ask a question, AJ?"

She thought she saw concern in his eyes for a moment before he nodded. "Go on."

"Why did you practically force Harm to resign to come after Clay and me last year?" she asked.

AJ tensed at her question, turning to look across the yard toward the house. "There was a time when I would have sent him without hesitation - hell, I'd have gone with him."

"Exactly. That's why what happened - your reaction to it - made no sense. You *live* by the SEAL code."

"Leave no man behind," AJ quoted. He drew in a deep breath. "I was told by Kershaw that things were being 'handled'," he said. "I made the mistake of believing him. He told me that Harm's asking questions could jeopardize the mission further. So I decided that I needed to keep him under a tighter rein. I never thought he'd ignore my orders -"

"Your pride was hurt," Mac realized.

"If you repeat any of this - especially to him, I'll deny it - but I always saw a lot of myself in Harm. Thought that if I kept him in line, that one day he'd sit in my chair. So I gave him the tough cases - the ones that could make or break a career. He never let me down."

"Until that day," Mac said.

"I was furious that he'd actually resigned - even though I knew it was to save you, and when I discovered later that if he hadn't, you and Webb would have probably died and Sadik would have gotten those Stingers out of Paraguay. The last thing I asked him before he left my office that day was what he would do to *keep* you. As usual, he didn't have an answer - and I realized that he had no plan other than to get down there and save you. I realized that he needed a wake up call - something to make him realize that he needed to grow up, let go of things that were holding him back."

"Like flying?"

"That was one of them. And his tendency to go off half-cocked on whatever his obsession of the moment might be."

Mac chuckled at his words. "He's certainly had his share of those," she agreed. "He says now that his only obsession is to make me happy. Me and Mattie."

"Well, if he's a determined about that as he's been about all the others, then you and that young lady will be the happiest two people on the earth," AJ pointed out.

She smiled. "I think you're right."

The back door opened, and Harm called, "Dinner's ready!"

"We'll be right there!" Mac called back.

As they moved toward the house, AJ looked around again. "This is a big back yard," he noted before giving her a smile. "Ever thought about getting a dog?"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

After promising to discuss keeping Dammit for AJ while he was getting settled in Italy - "or wherever I end up settling", he'd added - Mac and Harm stood on the front porch, watching him drive away.

Her arm around Harm, Mac rested her head against his shoulder. "That was a nice visit."

"Think he turned Mattie around?" Harm wondered. "She wasn't overly fond of him before."

"Promising to give her a recommendation to the Academy? He won her over in *spades*, Harm," Mac said. "Too bad he wasn't around his own daughter when she was younger. He'd have been one hell of a father, I think."

"To hear Francesca tell it, he *is*," Harm said.

The door behind them opened, signaling the arrival of Mattie. "Dishes are finished," she told them, perching on the rail. "So. Are we going to get a dog?"

"I don't know, Mattie -"

"You said something about getting one when we first talked about a house, Harm," she reminded him.

"You don't know *this* dog," Mac said. "She's a huge German Shepard."

"Is her name *really* Dammit?" Mattie wanted to know.

"That's what she answers to," Harm told her. "She saved the Admiral's life and he adopted her."

"We have a huge backyard. As long as she's not vicious or anything - I don't see that there would be a problem," Mattie told them.

"I thought maybe Mac might want to get *her* dog back," Harm said. "Jingo. He's a retired drug-sniffing dog for the DEA -"

"I was responsible for his being retired and decided to adopt him rather than let them put him down," Mac explained.

"Oh. Where is he?"

"With my little sister, Chloe," Mac answered, looking at Harm. "I think he should stay there. He's too old to bring all the way back here."

"Then do we get to keep Dammit?" Mattie asked, giving Harm a look that she probably knew from past experience that he couldn't easily ignore. "Please?"

"Okay. But you have to remember that if the Admiral comes back to the States to live instead of staying in Italy - he'll probably want her back."

"He won't be back," Mattie said, shaking her head. "Didn't you see how he was talking about being with his daughter and her mother? Why'd they divorce to begin with anyway? Anyone can see that he's still in love with her."

Harm and Mac exchanged a wide-eyed look over the girl's head as she turned around and returned to the house. They began to laugh, ending up sitting in the swing, side by side.

Once the laughter faded, Mac rested her head on his chest. "She's right. I could see it."

"I hope you're right. That man deserves to be happy."

"We all do," Mac agreed. "He thinks we should get married."

"Does he really?" Harm pulled her closer. "Something the two of us agree on."

She sat up, looking at him. "You'd really do it, wouldn't you?"

"What? Marry you? Just say the word, Marine, and I'll make it happen."

"It's tempting," she admitted, playing with a button on his shirt.

"Then give in to temptation," he suggested in that soft, sexy voice that could send shivers down her spine no matter what the setting.

"How about we make a deal?" she countered, and immediately realized what she'd said as his eyebrow lifted.

"Another one? We still haven't made good on the first one," he reminded her.

"Harm, I'm being serious."

"So am I. What's your suggestion?"

"That the both of us talk to Dr. McCool tomorrow afternoon. If she agrees that there's no reason why we shouldn't get married, we'll do it."

"So my immediate future hangs on the opinion of a psychiatrist," Harm mused. He held out his hand, smiling. "You have a deal."

Mac looked at his hand. "I think we can do better than a handshake this time."

"Oh yeah? Got something specific in mind?"

"You bet, Navy," she replied, sliding her arms around his neck, pulling his lips down to hers.

When the kiss ended, Harm lifted his head to look down into her deep brown eyes. "Oh, yeah. That's *definitely* better than a handshake," he agreed, pulling her close for another kiss.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Good morning, Admiral," Jen Coates said, smiling as she rose to follow him into his office.

"Coates," he said.

"Commander Turner asked to speak to you when you arrived, sir. And he requested that I give you this to explain his reason."

AJ put his cover on the desk, eying the folder with an uncertain eye before taking it from her. He opened it and frowned. "Get Turner in here, Coates."

"Yes, sir," she said smartly.

AJ donned his reading glasses to finish reading the paper that the folder contained as he moved to stand before his desk. A moment later, Sturgis Turner appeared in the doorway. "You sent for me, Admiral?"

"Come in, Sturgis," he said. "Are you serious about this? Resigning your commission?"

"Yes, sir. I've realized over the last few weeks that my future no longer lies in the Navy - but with Varise. We got married this weekend," he confessed.

"You eloped?"

"Yes sir. *After* calling my father and her parents and telling them what we were going to do."


"Thank you, Admiral."

"I'm still not sure why being married requires you to retire."

"Admiral, between my schedule and hers, we're lucky to see each other two days a week. And that's usually because I take two days leave and go to *her*. She needs a manager - so I'll be doing that as well as being her husband."

AJ sighed, removing his glasses and putting them atop the folder on his desk. "When?"

"Well, I have a couple of weeks leave on the books -"

AJ braced himself.

"And things have slowed quite a bit - nothing that Commander Rabb and Lt. Roberts can't handle. And with Col. Mackenzie being TAD back here -"

"You'd like for it to begin at the end of the week," AJ guessed.

"Yes, sir. I know it's sudden, but Varise was asked about a European tour - and well, I'd like to be able to go with her."

"A week?"

"We have to leave next Saturday afternoon," he said. "If Varise is going to make it for her first appearance in Paris."

"Request approved," AJ said, shaking his head and extending his hand. "This place isn't going to be the same at all with both of us gone."

Sturgis shook the offered hand, and then froze. "Both of us, Admiral?"

"I've decided that it's time for me to retire as well. I'm going to Italy for a few months at least, spend some time with my daughter and her mother."

"I - heard that you and Dr. Cavanaugh were over again, sir. I'm sorry -"

"Yes, well, what's the old saying? 'Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.' Or maybe it's 'There's no fool like an old fool.'"

"I'd hardly consider *you* to be a fool, sir."

AJ shook his head and sat down behind the desk. "I'll process your paperwork, Commander. Make sure you clean up your cases and have your final reports in by the end of the week."

Sturgis snapped to attention. "Yes, sir."

AJ was still shaking his head when Coates knocked on the doorframe. "Yes, Coates?"

"You schedule for the day, sir," she told him, placing a neatly typed paper on his desk as she put a cup of coffee down as well. "And your coffee."

"Thank you, Coates."

"Will there be anything else, sir?"

"Not at the moment. Would you please ask Commander Rabb to come in when he arrives?"

"Yes, sir."

It was nearly ten minutes before Harm appeared in the doorway, using his fist to rap on the frame. "Come in, Commander. And close the hatch behind you." Harm did as requested before approaching the desk. "Might be a good idea for you to sit down," AJ said, holding out the folder that Sturgis had just given him, "before you read this."

Harm took the folder and read the contents. "He did it."

"You *knew* he was considering this?" AJ questioned, and his tone caused Harm to wince.

"He asked me to keep it quiet, sir. I couldn't tell you without violating his confidence. Anymore than I could tell *him* that you were considering retiring," he pointed out.

"Point taken." AJ sat back. "He's asked to begin terminal leave a week from today."

"Admiral -" Harm began, about to point out that losing both a senior attorney *and* the JAG wasn't good.

"I know. I've decided to extend my time here for another week."

"Can you do that?"

"It will give the SecNav a chance to gain approval for you to take my place - and hopefully enough time to find a couple of new attorneys."

"Admiral, have you asked the SecNav about Lt. Commander Manetti? She's an excellent attorney -"

"I'll mention it when I meet with him later this morning. You have to leave early today, don't you?"

"Yes, sir. I'm meeting Mac at her therapist's for a joint session."

AJ glanced at his schedule. "Have Coates give you a copy of my schedule -"

"It was on my desk when I arrived, sir," Harm said, holding his copy up.

"We need to find time after my meeting with SecNav to go through any possible additions to staff."

"How about after lunch?" Harm suggested.

"Sounds good."

"When are you going to break the news to the rest of the staff, Admiral?"

"I've already begun. Sturgis is aware that I'm retiring - I'll tell the others at staff call." He glanced at the door. "Except for Coates. I think it might be best if I tell her privately."

"Probably a wise move, sir," Harm agreed, aware that Jen was very fond of their CO.

"I'll see you at staff call in an hour," AJ told him. "Dismissed."

Aware of how quickly the rumor mill worked in the bullpen, AJ decided it was now or never and pressed the button on the intercom. "Coates, would you come in here, please?"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"You have a minute, Sturgis?" Harm asked, pausing beside his friend's office en route to his own - which had been Mac's office until Thursday afternoon. On Friday, the Admiral had requested that Coates oversee the moving of Mac's things up to her new office in Judiciary, and the placing of Harm's things in to her old office.

Sturgis looked up. "Sure. I guess you've talked to the Admiral?"

"Yeah. I thought you were going to give it another few weeks?"

"Things changed. She got the opportunity to go to France, and then we decided that we'd rather not wait - My dad was a lot more understanding about not being there -"

"Whoa. Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me that -"

Sturgis held up his left hand to reveal the shiny new gold band on his ring finger. "Saturday night. We found a justice of the peace in Boston and -"

"Why you old - And here I was looking forward to being your best man," Harm told him, shaking his hand and smiling with delight. "Congratulations!"

"Thanks. I'm sorry I couldn't be there for -"

"It's okay. Mattie understood."

"How's she doing?"

"Better. She's spending the day with Harriet, helping with little AJ and Jimmy. Mac and I thought it best that she not be alone today after what happened."

"Probably a good idea," Sturgis agreed, moving to sit down. "So. How long before you and Mac take the plunge?"

"Might be sooner than you think," Harm told him. Seeing his friend's curious expression, Harm grinned. "That's all I'm going to say."

"What happened with the Admiral and Meredith? All I've heard is that he arrived at the funeral on Saturday late - alone. And now this decision to retire and go to Italy?"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Sturgis and Varise are *married*?" Mac repeated, staring wide eyed at Harm as they shared Chinese take out in her new office.

He nodded. "They leave for Paris on Saturday afternoon," he confirmed.

"How did the Admiral take it?"

"Pretty well. Except that he's extended his own time for another week so that we can get a replacement up to speed."

"Any ideas of who that might be?"

"I suggested he talk to the SecNav about Tracy Manetti."

"You really liked her, didn't you?"

Harm shrugged. "She's a good attorney. And she saved the entire office by effectively refuting Teddy Lindsay's hatchet job of a report."

"That's true," Mac admitted. "Isn't she working as SecNav's adjutant?"

"She is. I'm hoping he'll be able to let her go for a few months. Tiner will finish OCS at the end of the summer, and should return to JAG soon after. We just have to hang on until then."

"I can't start my TAD until someone else is brought in as JAG," Mac pointed out.

"Yeah. Which means we technically need *two* new JAGs for the short term." He saw Mac's eyes move to the door and turned to find Admiral Morris standing there. Both he and Mac rose to their feet. "Admiral."

"Commander. As you were. Don't let me interrupt your lunch, Colonel. I just wanted to remind you about our meeting at one," he told Mac.

"I'll be there, sir," she assured him. "Fifteen minutes."

Harm bit back a grin as he noticed the Admiral frown. "One of these days, you'll have to tell me how you do that."

"Trade secret, sir," Mac replied with a smile.

"I'll see you later, then." He nodded at Harm. "Commander."

Harm's brow lifted as he looked at Mac. "That man doesn't like me," he sighed.

"Do you blame him? Firing off a gun in his courtroom wasn't the best way to win his approval."

"I'm never going to live that down, am I?"

"Nope," she told him with a huge grin.

"Well, I have an after lunch meeting with the Admiral, too."

"Did you call Mattie this morning?" she asked.

"Yeah. She sounded like she was having a good time with Harriet and the boys," he said, gathering up the trash from their lunch. "She asked if I'd told the Admiral that we would take the dog," he sighed.

Mac laughed softly. "Did you?"

"I said I'd bring it up after lunch." He tossed everything into the trash can as he suggested, "How about we go out to dinner tonight? We'll pick Mattie up after seeing Dr. McCool and stop somewhere."

"Sounds good."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

By the time Harm had to leave, he and AJ had decided to bring in Marine Lt. Colonel Nathan Grimes, who was currently assigned to Okinawa, at least until things settled down and a new JAG could be brought in.

Grimes had an excellent record. Like Harm, he had begun his military career as a pilot. But instead of a ramp strike sending him in another direction, he been forced to eject at low altitude when his aircraft had suffered a massive systems failure. His back had been seriously injured, preventing him from flying supersonic. The Admiral had suggested that Harm and Grimes would get along well, since they had flying in common. He was expected to arrive by the first of next week to settle in before the Admiral began terminal leave.

The SecNav had promised to ask Manetti about working at JAG again, but they didn't expect her answer for another day or so.

He was in a good mood when he met Mac in the parking lot beside the Lexus, and wasn't surprised to see an answering smile on her face. "Good meeting with Adm. Morris?" he asked.

"Not bad. He assigned me my first case."

"Which one?"


"Ah," he said, recalling the case, aware that he couldn't say much about it as he opened the passenger side door for her and then went around to the driver's side. "Sturgis is prosecuting."

"Who's defending?"

"Bud. At the moment, they are the only two attorneys in the office other than me. The Admiral thought you might draw that case so he decided it might not be a good idea for me to defend the Corporal."

"He was probably right," Mac pointed out.


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