0815 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
Harm accepted the hug from his mother and stepfather as he let them into the house. "Thanks for coming," he said to them. "Even though I'm still not sure why you came back. There's really nothing you can do."
"I can be here for you. And I can talk to Mac," Trish said, looking past him. "Where is she?"
Harm grimaced. "She insisted on going to work," he told them, indicating the door into the kitchen. "You want some coffee?"
"I knew we should have come over last night when we got in," Trish said to her husband as they followed Harm into the kitchen.
"It was after midnight, Trish," Frank pointed out.
"But I wanted to talk to Mac."
"I appreciate the thought, Mom," Harm said, getting two clean cups out of the cabinet, and filling them with coffee. "But I'm not sure what you could say to her that I haven't said already."
Trish looked at Frank, and then took a deep breath. "I doubt you would have said what I have to say. It takes someone who's gone through it to fully understand what she's going through."
Harm blinked, trying to understand what she was saying. He watched as Frank placed a protective arm across his wife's shoulders, as though he were loaning her some of his strength. "What are you talking about?"
Trish took her cup and moved to the table, where she sat down, her gaze locked on the dark liquid in the cup. "The summer that you ran away to Southeast Asia -"
"That was a long time ago, Mom," Harm said, suspecting what she was about to say - and hoping that he was wrong. He sat down across the table from her.
When Trish didn't continue, Frank placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently. Trish lifted her hand to cover his as he said, "Right after we found out that you had run away, your mother had a miscarriage."
He felt the blood drain from his face at the realization. "Because of -?"
"No," Trish said quickly, reaching across the table to touch his arm. "No. It wasn't your fault. The doctor said that it would have happened anyway. Yes, I was upset, but he told me that I had probably miscarried before you left; only I hadn't realized that I was even pregnant at the time."
The news stunned Harm. "You don't know that if I hadn't run away - Why didn't you tell me about this when I got home?"
"I asked Frank not to do so," Trish said quietly. "I didn't want you to do what you're doing now - blaming yourself for something you had no control over. You'd already done that with your father's disappearance. I didn't want you to feel guilty."
"I'm sorry, Mom," Harm said, taking her hand in his. "I'm so sorry. If I'd known -"
"*I* didn't even know," she reminded him. "Not until it was too late." She looked up at Frank, then back to Harm. "It made me that much more determined to find you and bring you home again. Frank and I had talked about having a child, but we weren't really trying - I thought that I was probably too old to have another baby, so I missed the signs."
"Mac was too busy with work," Harm told them. "She thought the signs were related to her endo."
"It was a logical assumption for her to make," Trish confirmed. "And now she's blaming herself for what happened. Thinking that it was caused by something she did or didn't do. When will she be home?"
"Sometime this evening," Harm said. "She told me that she might have to work late to catch up after being away from the office yesterday."
"Then I suppose I'll have to wait to talk to her," Trish said with a sigh, and then looked at him. "How are *you* doing?" she asked.
"I'm fine. Mac's the one I'm worried about at the moment."
"You need to worry about yourself, too, Harm," Frank said. "Losing a child isn't easy on either parent. Even if you never really *knew* the child. Luckily we had you to keep it from being as difficult as it might have been otherwise."
"And Mac and I have Mattie," Harm reminded them.
"How is she doing with all of this?" Trish wanted to know.
"She's coping. You know Mattie. She tends to keep things bottled up."
"Like you," Trish pointed out.
"And Mac," he nodded. He studied his cup for a moment. "After you - lost the baby, did you and Frank - talk to anyone?"
"A counselor, you mean?" Trish questioned, and when Harm nodded, she shook her head. "No. Back then, there weren't as many support groups for things like they are now. My doctor just told me that it wasn't my fault and that Frank and I should try again when we were ready." She covered Frank's hand with hers again, looking up at him. "I suppose it just wasn't meant to be."
"I told Mac the same thing," Harm confessed. "And reminded her that we still have Mattie, even if we never have a child of our own. But I got the feeling that she wasn't listening. Or that she didn't believe me."
"She probably feels like she let you down, dear," Trish told him.
"Let *me* down?"
"Mac knows that you want a child of your own as much as she does. I'm sure she sees this as a failure on her part to give you that child."
"It's not the child, Mom," Harm said. "It's never been *just* about a child. As long as I have Mac, I'll be fine. With or without kids."
"Have you told *her* that?" Frank asked.
"I guess I figured that she knew it already -" seeing his mother shake her head, Harm grimaced. "I guess I shouldn't have done that, huh?"
"Talk to her, Harmon," Trish said. "Make her understand that she hasn't failed anyone. Not you, and not herself. She'll get past it. It will take some time, but she will."
"Why don't you, Mac, and Mattie come over for dinner this evening?" Frank suggested. "We'd both love to see Mattie -"
"I can't guarantee what time Mac will come home," Harm reminded them.
"Well, you and Mattie are welcome anyway," Trish assured him.
1030 Hours Local
San Diego, CA
"Capt. Gordon has authorized me to accept a plea bargain," Vic told Harm as he came into the conference room.
"What's he willing to offer?" Harm asked, aware that Lt. Collins and John Harding were watching them. When Vic had called Harding's office to arrange this meeting, Harm had told John to let him handle things.
"An honorable discharge - and six months in the brig."
Harm snorted and sat down. "Not good enough. Lt. Collins didn't do anything wrong. If anything, he should be given a commendation for his efforts to control a malfunctioning aircraft."
"His 'control' cost the life of a civilian, injury to several others, and the loss of a civilian vessel," Vic reminded Harm, remaining on his feet. "Capt. Gordon doesn't buy into your theory, Rabb. Carson Engineering has assured him that their systems are working as designed."
"Then they're wrong. And if this is the best you can do, Lieutenant, we'll see you in court, and let a panel decide who's right."
Harm rose and started to leave the room - only to stop as Vic spoke again.
"Harm - okay. Capt. Gordon is willing to admit that you might be right -"
Harm turned to look at him. "Don't kid yourself, Vic. The Navy doesn't want this getting out into the public. They'd rather quietly sweep it under the rug than let anyone know that they were using a faulty control system in a military aircraft. Tell Capt. Gordon that we'll accept nothing less than clearing Lt. Collins and allowing him to return to what he's been trained to do: be a Naval aviator."
This time John and Collins rose as well when Harm turned to the door. When Vic spoke again, Harm shot John a look of triumph, and saw a bit of awe on the younger lawyer's face.
"Wait. Okay. You've got it. As long as the Lieutenant agrees to sign a statement that he won't talk to the press about this or reveal what he knows."
Harm's eyes narrowed. "And what about Carson Engineering?"
"Capt. Gordon is going to launch an investigation into the control system that Carson is supplying," Vic confirmed.
Harm looked at Collins, saw his agreement to the terms. "You have a deal, Vic. Let us know when it's ready, and he'll sign."
Vic nodded sharply, and left the room, his back stiff with anger.
"Thank you, sir," Collins said to Harm.
"Don't thank me until after the FENAB," Harm told the young man. "But if I were you, I'd get started on my physical therapy so you'll be ready to get back into a cockpit."
"I will," Collins assured him. "Thank you. Thank you both. Excuse me -"
John Harding stood there shaking his head. "You know, I'd heard you were good at what you do, but if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes - You know, you need to think about doing this on a full time basis."
"I've been thinking the same thing. I think I miss the courtroom."
"I'd seriously consider it - of course, I'd wait til after your wedding to start a practice."
"Speaking of my wedding," Harm said, picking up his briefcase, "I need to go check on Mac."
In the hallway, Harm was surprised to hear Vic call his name. "Harm - can we talk?"
Harm stopped, waiting for the shorter man to catch up to him. "What about?"
"You knew that Capt. Gordon would cave, didn't you?"
"I thought he might, yes."
"He and I flew together years ago. You learn a lot about a person when you're depending on them to watch your six in the air. I knew that he would do the right thing when push can to shove."
"Protecting the Navy?" Vic questioned, and Harm lifted his eyebrow.
"No. Not pursuing charges against someone when there was no merit in order *to* protect the Navy. He had an open mind and was willing to admit he might have been hasty in his judgment about Lt. Collins' actions."
"A court martial would have convicted him without the testimony about Carson."
"You know Lieutenant, one of these days, you'll figure out that it's not about winning and losing. It's about justice. Doing what's right. Now, if you'll excuse me - I have to see my fiancée."
He walked away from Vic, wondering once again how much longer the young man would last. He'd seen the type before - the ones who would do anything to win a case, even if they knew justice would be subverted in the attempt. Luckily, they didn't usually stay in the Navy long enough to do any real harm to the service. Just long enough to pay back the time and money spent on their law degree, and then they were out.
Jen rose from her desk when he entered her office, eyeing him nervously. It was the first time he'd seen her or spoken to her since she had left the house the previous evening, and she quickly spoke. "I don't blame you if you're angry with me for calling your parents, Harm, but I thought they should be here for you, if nothing else. You're always so strong for everyone. I thought you needed someone to be strong for you."
He smiled at her quickly spoken statement. "I thought that's what you were here for," he told her, and she visibly relaxed. "I was a little upset when I realized that you'd called them, but I'm glad you did. Thank you." He took her hand in his, a friendly gesture, intending to let her know how much he appreciated her looking out for him.
"Coates, I need to talk to -" Lt. Vukovic stopped when he saw them, his gaze moving to their hands before Jen pulled away. "Sorry. Am I interrupting something?" he asked in a smooth, oily tone that made Harm's skin crawl. It obviously had the same effect on Jen, because Harm noticed that she shivered slightly.
"No, sir," she assured him. "Mr. Rabb was just going in to speak to the Colonel."
"Really?" The speculative gleam in Vic's eyes made Harm want to put his fist into the young man's face, but he simply smiled pleasantly.
"Really. I was just thanking Jen for all her help over the last day or so," Harm explained. "I'll announce myself," he said, moving to the door and opening it as Jen spoke again.
"What can I do for you, Lieutenant?"
Inside the office, Harm noticed that Mac wasn't sitting at her desk, and turned toward the sofa where she had been the last time he'd been here. She wasn't there, either.
Instead, she was sitting in an arm chair, her feet resting on a leather ottoman, studying a folder in her hand. "What is it, Jen?" she asked without looking up.
Without speaking, Harm cross the room to place his hands on her shoulders, bending over to place a kiss on her hair. "It's not Jen," he told her.
Mac lifted her face as he came around the chair. "Harm. What are you doing here?" she asked.
"We had a meeting with Lt. Vukovic and I thought I'd see how you were doing." He indicated the footstool. "Taking it easy, I see."
"It was Jen's idea," Mac informed him. "She thinks I came back to work too soon."
"Then she and I agree," he replied, kneeling beside the chair. "I think you should have taken the rest of the week, at least."
"I have too much to do, Harm," she said, pointing to a pile of folders on the desk. "I have a thousand things to get done before the meeting in DC next week."
"That's something else I wish you'd reconsider. We're only a couple of weeks away from the wedding, Mac."
"Your mother has everything to do with that under control," Mac told him.
"Speaking of my mother. She and Frank came by the house today."
"I don't know why the came back early."
"Because they were concerned about you," he said, lifting a hand to cup her cheek. "They've invited us for dinner this evening -"
"I don't think I can make it tonight, Harm," she said. "Like I said, I have a thousand things to -"
Harm interrupted her. "To do so that you won't have to think about what happened," he suggested.
"That's not true, Harm," Mac declared, moving away from his touch and rising from the chair. She rounded her desk, sitting behind it. "There's nothing to think *about*," she told him. "I lost a baby. Probably the only chance I'll ever have to *have* one. So I've just decided to concentrate on what I *do* have."
"Your job." It wasn't a question.
"Yes," she responded, meeting his gaze. "My job."
"And what about the other things you have? Me? Mattie? Our family?" He thought he saw her jaw clench, but couldn't be sure.
"Harm, I don't have time for this right now -"
"That's the problem, isn't it? You've never had time for anything else."
He stood there, hoping that she would deny his words. But when she didn't say anything, Harm sighed. "I don't want to argue with you, Mac. Mattie and I will be at Mom's for dinner." He turned to leave the office.
"Harm, I'm just going through a rough patch right now," Mac said, causing him to stop and look at her again. She hadn't moved, but she looked a little contrite, anyway. "Try to understand. Please."
"I do understand, Mac," he assured her. "I just wish you'd let the people who care about you help instead of shutting us out."
"I can't. Not right now. I need to sort things out in my own mind first."
"Okay. When you get that done, I'll be here." There was an odd sense of déjà vu in the scene.
Mac's smile was tinged with sadness. "I know. Knowing it helps more than you know." The telephone rang, and she picked it up. "Col. Mackenzie . . ."
Realizing that her attention was once again focused on work, Harm took the opportunity to leave the office. Jen looked up when he closed the door, her dark eyes searching his face.
"Is everything all right?"
"As right as it can be for the moment, I guess. Thank you for keeping an eye on her."
"I try," she told him. "But it's not easy. The Colonel is just a little stubborn sometimes."
"Tell me about it." He remembered Vic having been there when he went into the office. "Has Lt. Vukovic stopped bothering you, Jen?"
"He hasn't been a problem lately," she answered, dropping her gaze to the desk, as if looking for something to do.
"That's not an answer to my question, Jen."
"Yes, he's stopped bothering me," she said, her expression clearly telling him that she didn't want to discuss the subject.
"Jen-" he said, but she cut him short.
"Tell Mattie I said 'hi'."
"I will." After his conversation with Mac, and now Jen, Harm decided that almost all of the women in his life were conspiring against him and impossible to understand.
1015 Hours Local
La Jolla High School Natatorium
La Jolla, CA
Harm looked up as his mother and Frank joined him and Jen in the bleachers to watch the competition. "Hi," he said, standing to give her a quick kiss. "Glad you're here."
"Sorry we're late," Trish apologized. "Where's Mac?" she asked.
Harm shrugged. "She had to go to the office this morning," he explained.
"She didn't need you, Jen?" Frank wondered.
"Not today. She knew that I'd promised Mattie to be here, since this is a district meet, and told me that she could handle things by herself."
"She *did* promise Mattie that she'd be here before it ended," Harm continued.
"Where is Keeter?" Frank wondered. "Did he have to work at the airport?"
Keeter, in order to have something to do, had taken a job as the manager of Hicks Aviation. Cal's father was having some money problems, and there was talk that Keeter might buy into the operation before long.
Harm chuckled, nodding toward the far end of the pool. "He's down there with the video camera."
"I think he's a frustrated filmmaker," Jen confided. "He bought a video camera to use at the airport."
"He volunteered to do it today, and I didn't want to say no."
The loudspeaker announced the first competition, and the audience quieted down to watch the swimmers.
"I could have done better on that last leg," Mattie said after the meet.
"You can in second, dear," Trish reminded her. "In fact, I wasn't sure that you *hadn't* won until the judges made their decision.
Mattie looked around at her family and friends, and then frowned at Harm. "Mac's not here?"
"No," he said, and then put an arm across her shoulders. "I'm sure she had a good reason, Mattie."
"Yeah," Mattie sighed. "Work. I'm going to change," she said, clearly disappointed that Mac hadn't come as she'd promised.
"And then we're going out to dinner," Frank announced. "To celebrate your second place win."
Mattie nodded and moved toward the locker rooms with her teammates. Harm watched her, concerned. "Why don't you try to call her?" Jen suggested in a quiet voice.
"The Colonel. She might have gotten caught in traffic or something."
Harm sighed and took out his cell phone, only to see that he had no signal inside of the building. "I'll go outside and try to call," he told everyone. "Meet you there."
Once outside, Harm moved away from the doors to dial Mac's cell number. When it went directly to her voice mail, Harm disconnected and decided that she must be on the phone at the office, and hadn't been able to answer. So he waited a few moments, and then dialed the number for her private line at the office.
"Col. Mackenzie's office."
Harm frowned as he recognized the voice on the other end of the line.
He hung up, closing the phone, wondering what the hell Greg Vukovic was doing at the office on a Saturday - and why he had answered the private line into his CO's office. Before he could think about the reasons, Mattie, Jen, Keeter, Trish and Frank joined him.
"Did you reach her?" Trish asked.
Harm shook his head. "No. I guess she was out of the office for a minute."
As they headed toward the cars, Harm hung back and touched Jen's arm to get her attention. "Jen, do you know why Vic would be in the office on a Saturday afternoon?"
Jen's eyes widened for a moment before she shook her head. "He could have come in to pick up some papers, I guess. He has a couple of court appearances tomorrow -"
When they reached the vehicles, Harm turned to Mattie. "Why don't you go with mom and Frank, Matts? I'm going to go make sure Mac's okay."
She looked worried. "Why don't I go with you?" she suggested.
"No. You go on and get started on the celebration. I'll catch up to you at the restaurant."
Mattie looked for a moment as though she might argue with him before nodded. "Drop altitude," she said, and he bent so that she could give him a kiss on the cheek.
"We'll be at Oscar's, Harm," Frank informed him.
"I'll be there as soon as I talk to Mac," he promised.
The Marine guard at the gate let Harm into the parking lot, and Harm parked in the space beside Mac's Vette. There were a few other cars in the lot - including Vic's blue Nissan Z.
He cleared the guard at the front door easily and made his way up the stairs instead of using the elevator. Harm didn't want to think what he was thinking. There had to be a logical reason why Vic was here - and why Mac hadn't kept her promise to Mattie.
The hallway was empty, and Harm approached the doorway into Jen's office with some trepidation. Finally, he took a deep breath and opened the door, not surprised to find the room empty. The door into Mac's office was pushed to, but not closed, and through it he could hear voices.
"How many more of these do we have to do?" Vic wanted to know.
"Only ten or twenty more," Mac answered, then yelped. "Oh -"
Vic laughed softly. "Here. Let me help -"
"No, I can do it -"
Harm pushed open the door and stood there, watching as Vic wiped a napkin across Mac's fabric covered leg. She was wearing slacks and a top instead of her uniform - a concession to the fact that it was Saturday.
Mac - to give her credit - was trying to stop him, but she was laughing at his attempts to continue what he was doing.
That laughter faded when she realized that Harm was standing in the doorway. "Harm."
He could see that she had a hamburger in one hand, and a package of fries with catsup nearby. The napkin in Vic's hand had obviously been used to clean up some catsup from Mac's pants leg.
In fact, that hand was still resting on Mac's leg. But when he saw Harm's eyes focus there, Vic lifted his hand and moved out of Mac's personal space, and rose from the chair in which he'd been sitting.
"I'm surprised to see you here, Vic," Harm said into the silence that seemed to stretch out for too long. "I'd have thought you would have a hot date for the weekend."
Before Vic could answer, Mac spoke. "He came in to get some papers for the Mitchell case and found me here working on these reports," she explained. "And offered to stay and help so I could get them done and get home."
"You mean before Mattie's swim meet ended?" Harm questioned, now ignoring Vic to focus entirely on his fiancée.
He saw Mac's eyes widen, and could almost see her checking her internal clock. "I missed it?"
"Yeah. You missed it. Mattie was disappointed, Mac." Harm came a few steps into the room as Mac spoke to Vic.
"Would you give us a few minutes, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, ma'am," Vic said, giving Harm as wide a berth as possible on his way out of the room.
Harm waited until he heard the outer door close behind the younger man before speaking again. "You broke your promise, Mac."
"I'm sorry, Harm," Mac apologized as she came to her feet, "but I *have* to get these reports finished before I go to DC next week."
"No. You *had* to be there for Mattie when you said you would be. She came in second, if you care."
"If I -"
"You could have called," he pointed out. "We were worried about you when you didn't show up."
"I'm sorry. Time just - got away from me."
Harm shook his head. "From you? Mac, I know better than that. If you didn't want to go to the meet, you should have just been honest about it and said so."
"I wanted to go, Harm," Mac insisted. "But I'm sure she did fine without me there. She had you. You're the important one in her life. Not me."
"What are you talking about?"
Mac shook her head. "Never mind. I'll make it up to her."
"Fine. Then leave with me now. We're all meeting at Oscar's. Frank's treat."
Mac indicated the files on her desk. "I can't." When Harm shook his head and sighed, she came over to him. "I'll be home tonight. I'll take Mattie shopping tomorrow -"
"She doesn't want to go shopping, Mac," Harm pointed out. "She wanted you to be there to watch her compete in something that's important to her. Keeping promises to Mattie is important," he pointed out.
"I know. I won't make anymore promises, okay?"
"Are you sure you won't leave with me?"
"If I do, I won't be home tonight at all," she said.
"Would you have been anyway?" he asked. "I have the feeling that if I hadn't come over, you and Vic would have *worked* all night."
Mac stepped back. "You're *jealous*!" she accused.
"Do I have reason to be?" he asked, folding his arms across his chest. "From what I saw when I came in, you and he looked pretty cozy."
"I dropped some catsup on my knee. He was just cleaning it up," she insisted.
"Mac, you're his *CO*, even if you're not in uniform. What if someone else had come in here and found you and him together? Do you think it would have been appropriate?"
"Look who's talking about appropriate," Mac snorted. "You had an enlisted person living next door to you and taking care of your ward in DC," she reminded him. "At least Vic's an officer -"
"Nothing untoward ever happened between Jen and me in DC, Mac. It's not the same thing and you know it."
"But it was the *appearance* that mattered."
"Gen. Cresswell never questioned the arrangement. Even after Jen was arrested for murdering her old boyfriend. Jen and I kept our friendship out of the office."
"Vic and I weren't doing anything wrong, Harm. He was helping me."
"You told Jen that you didn't need any help," he reminded her.
"I knew she wanted to go to the meet. And since I couldn't be there, I thought she should be. She's closer to Mattie than I am anyway."
"That's not true."
"Jen's the one that Mattie talks to about her problems that she can't talk to you about, Harm," Mac said. "Not me."
"Only because you're never home," Harm said pointedly.
"I have to work, Harm. If things had been different - if we'd gone to London instead of coming here, you would have been the same way."
"I think we've had this discussion before, Mac," Harm said, feeling suddenly tired. "Okay. Stay here and work. I'm going to celebrate with Mattie and our family and friends."
"Your family and friends," Mac muttered, causing Harm to turn and look at her again.
"What was that?" he questioned, not sure that he'd heard her right.
Mac shook her head. "Never mind. Just ignore it. I'm tired -"
"All the more reason why you should get out of here for awhile."
"I've already eaten," she reminded him, pointing to the half-eaten hamburger and fries on her desk.
"You don't have to eat. Just spend some time away from this damn office with people who care about you. You've been working almost nonstop since -" he broke off, not wanting to remind her about the miscarriage, since she hadn't mentioned it. "For the last few days," he amended, but the look on her face told him that he needn't have bothered.
"You have your way of dealing with things, Harm. I have mine."
"I guess so," he said, turning toward the door again. "I'll talk to you later."
"Harm -" her voice stopped him, but this time he didn't turn around. "I *do* love you. You know that, don't you?"
"Yeah. I know."
1500 Hours Local
Outside Oscar's Restaurant
Harm pulled Jen aside while everyone else was saying goodbyes to ask, "Jen, I need to know if you took any heat when we were both at JAG and living in the same building."
"Some good-natured teasing, I guess," Jen told him. "Mostly my friends saying how jealous they were that I lived next door to you," she explained.
"That's all? No one questioned the fact that you were enlisted and I was an officer?"
"Not that I recall. Gen. Cresswell did ask me about it when he first took over, but I assured him that you weren't paying *my* portion of the rent, and that the only contact we had was Mattie."
"You weren't entirely truthful," Harm said, remembering the Scrabble games and movie nights and dinners the three of them had shared during those days.
Jen grinned at him, no doubt recalling those same things. "Well, I just figured what he didn't know wasn't going to hurt either of us," she said. "Besides, nothing happened. And nothing would have happened. You were an officer. I'm enlisted. End of story." Her smile faded. "Why? Has someone said something now?"
"No. It's not that." He glanced to where Mattie and Keeter were listening to Trish tell them a story about one of her and Frank's trips to the Bahamas. "Mac mentioned it when I talked to her." He looked at Jen. "Vic was at the office when I got there," he explained.
Something about the way she said it caused Harm to frown. "It's happened before, hasn't it?"
"Sometimes when she works on Saturdays, he comes back to get something he left on Friday and ends up staying to help her. But I've never seen anything untoward, Harm. I'm sure that nothing's going on. Mac loves you."
"I know. She told me that as I was leaving to come here. I just wish there was something I could do - someone I could get to talk to her that she might listen to."
Trish had tried on a couple of occasions to talk to Mac about her own experience with a miscarriage, but Mac had refused to discuss it.
"She won't talk to anyone, Jen. She's keeping it all in -"
"Didn't I hear that Harriet Roberts had a miscarriage?"
"It wasn't really a miscarriage," Harm said. "She and Bud had a daughter who was born at term, but she died within moments of birth."
"I thought there was something else. Before she knew Bud. When she was younger?"
The words reminded him of Harriet's teenage indiscretion that had come out in the malpractice trial of the doctor who had delivered Baby Sarah. "You're right. I'd forgotten about that."
"I know that the Colonel thinks the world of Harriet Roberts. And since she's going to DC this week . . ." Jen's voice trailed off, allowing Harm to finish the thought on his own.
"It might be a good idea for me to call Harriet and fill her in, asking if she might be able to talk to Mac while she's there. Thank you, Jen."
"Anything to see you smile again," Jen told him. "You smile so infrequently these days."
"Not much to smile about, I guess." He looked toward the others. "Except for Mattie, my life's a mess. I'm supposed to marry a woman in two weeks who's never home, and who's practically shut me out of her life."
"And she refuses to let me help her with that hurt."
"Or to acknowledge that you're hurting as well," Jen noted.
Harm turned to look at her. "I'm not the important one here."
"Someone else might think you are," she countered.
Before Harm could comment on the look in her eyes, Keeter called his name. "Hey, Harm! Mattie wants to go flying tomorrow morning," he said as they joined Harm and Jen, ending their private conversation. "Of course, I think she just wants a reason to see Cal," he teased, winking at the girl, who playfully punched him in the arm. "Think you could bring her out?"
"I think I can manage."
Keeter put an arm around Jen's shoulders. "Why don't you come out with them, Jen?" he suggested. "I know how much you like to fly. And if ol' Harm here won't take you up, I'll do it."
Jen's smile was wide as he spoke. She turned to Harm. "What time should I be there?"
0800 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
"Where are you going?" Mac asked as she stirred and watched Harm getting dressed.
"Mattie and I are going flying," he told her, coming over to sit on the edge of the bed. Leaning forward, he kissed her.
"It's supposed to turn stormy this evening. The sky's clear right now."
"You're welcome to come with us," he said.
"I can't. I have -"
"I know," Harm said, pulling away. "Work."
"I brought what I needed to do home last night so that I could stay here and spend some time with you - and Mattie," Mac told him.
"You can take the morning off, can't you? Having you work here is nice, but you're still working. Not really spending time with us."
"I'm leaving this evening, Harm," she reminded him. "I don't have time to drive out to Ramona, spend a few hours watching you and Mattie fly, and get my work done when we get back."
"I guess you've made your choice, then," Harm said. "You *do* realize that the wedding is in two weeks?"
"Of course I do. That's why I'm working so hard now. Trying to get a week ahead so that we can go to the Bahamas like we planned."
"Is that really why you're doing it, Mac?" Harm questioned.
Her eyes fell, unable to meet his for long. "Mostly." The doorbell rang, and Mac frowned. "Who could that be this early on a Sunday?"
"Jen," Harm said. "She wants to go flying for awhile, too."
"I see. You'd better go, then. Have fun."
"You really should go with us, Mac. I think you'd enjoy yourself."
"No. I'll stay here and keep the home fires burning," she told him.
Harm gave up. "Okay. I'll be back in time to take you to the airport."
"You don't have to -" she began, but Harm stopped and looked at her.
"No, but I want to."
1845 Hours Local
San Diego-Lindbergh Field Airport
"It's time for me to go," Mac said as the public address system announced that her flight was boarding.
"Yeah. Call me?"
"As often as I can," she said, gathering her jacket and briefcase.
"Give Bud, Harriet and the kids my best and tell them I'm looking forward to seeing them in a couple of weeks."
Harm frowned, wanting to shake off the dark cloud that seemed to be hovering near the horizon. As Mac started to move away from him, Harm grabbed her arm and turned her to face him, pulling her close for a long kiss.
Since the miscarriage, Mac had kept him at arm's length for the most part. He hadn't questioned it, understanding that she needed some space. But the idea of her going to the other side of the country without knowing that he still wanted her - still *needed* her - caused him to do something totally out of character. And he could see the surprise on her face when the kiss ended.
"What was *that* for?" she asked.
"Just a reminder that I love you, and that I'll be waiting here for you to come home," he told her.
Mac drew a deep, shuddering breath, then turned and left him standing there as she moved quickly toward the security checkpoint.
Harm watched until she cleared security. Then, he turned toward the front doors and out to the short-term parking, where he'd left the car. His conversation with Jen the previous day replayed as he considered how to convince Mac that losing the baby hadn't been her fault and that they could try again - if she wanted to. Even if she didn't, she had to know that he loved her and wanted her with him.
Taking out his cell phone, he pressed speed dial and waited for the other end to be answered.
He smiled at the sound of the young voice. "Hello, AJ. Is your mom or dad home?"
"Uncle Harm! Mom, it's Uncle Harm!" His six year old godson yelled, causing Harm to pulled the phone from his ear, grinning widely at the enthusiasm. "You okay, Uncle Harm?" he asked at last.
"Yeah. How about you? How's school going?"
"'kay, I guess. I'm playing football -"
"Really?" He heard Harriet's voice in the background, telling her son to give her the phone.
"But I want to talk to Uncle Harm."
"You'll get to talk to Uncle Harm when we go out there for the wedding," Harriet assured him.
"When I'm Ring Bearer."
"Bye, Uncle Harm," AJ said.
"Bye," Harm said, chuckling softly as Harriet came on the line.
"Harriet. Sounds like things are under control there."
"They always are," she replied. "I run a tight ship. Is everything okay, Harm?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I don't know. Something in your voice, I guess."
"Actually, Harriet, there is something going on - do you have a few minutes?"
"Sure. What's up? The wedding's still on, isn't it?"
"Of course. Why would you ask?"
"That's the only thing I can think of that would make you sound so serious. Are Mattie and Mac okay?"
"Mattie's fine," Harm said slowly. "Mac - I'm not so sure about at the moment." He went on to explain about the miscarriage and Mac's reaction to it.
"Oh my. I'm so sorry, Harm. I know what it's like - losing a child."
"I know. That's why I called, actually. I was hoping you could - talk to Mac. My mother tried to talk to her, but she didn't want to listen."
"What makes you think she'd listen to me?"
"She respects you. You're friends."
"I can call her -"
"You don't have to. She's on her way to Washington for a meeting the Gen. Cresswell tomorrow. She'll be in the city for a week. I was hoping that -"
"That I could invite her to lunch or dinner and maybe try to help her get through this?"
"You know I will. How are *you* doing?"
"Once Mac's back to herself, I'll be fine. Right now, she's the one I'm worried about."
"I won't believe that you're okay until I see for myself."
"You'll see me in a week and half," he told her.
"We're all looking forward to it," Harriet assured him. "How's Mattie doing?"
Close to the end of the week, Harm had talked to Mac three times, always put off by her insistence that she had work to do. She didn't mention talking to Harriet, so on the day before Mac was due back to San Diego, Harm called the Roberts house again.
This time, Bud answered the phone. "Hello?"
"Harm? Hi! I was just thinking about you today."
"After we got the news about Col. Macken-zie," Bud said, slowing down as though he realized that he'd probably said more than he should have.
"What news?" Harm asked, suddenly on red alert.
"Uh, it might be better if you hear it from her when she gets home," Bud said, trying to back track. "It's not that big a deal -"
"Bud, what's going on?"
"Uh, I'd really rather not say, sir - Harm."
He heard Harriet in the background. "Is that Harm, Bud? Let me talk to him." She came on the phone a minute later. "Harm, this is a surprise."
"Mac hasn't mentioned talking to you, so I thought I'd call and see if you managed to meet up with her," Harm explained. "But now I'm curious about what Bud's talking about."
"I *did* talk to her," Harriet said, apparently deciding to try and ignore Bud's slip of the lip. "But she wasn't very responsive, I'm afraid."
Harm's shoulders fell as he sat in one of the chairs on the patio. "What do you suggest I do, Harriet?" he asked.
"Talk to her when she gets home. Let her know that you want to help and just - be there for her if she'll let you be. I'm sorry I can't be more helpful. Right now, it's something that Mac has to work through on her own."
He sighed. "Okay. Thanks for trying, anyway. Now, do *you* know what Bud was talking about when he and I talked a minute ago?"
"Yes," she answered honestly. "But I really think you need to hear about it from Mac, not from us."
"Not even a hint?"
"Not from me."
"Okay. I'll let you go then. I'm sure we'll be talking later."
"Probably. Keep in touch."
"I will." He wanted to say "See you next week", but for some reason, Harm couldn't get the words out. "Thanks."
Harm hung up and sat there for a moment, wondering what was going on. There had to be someone he could talk to about it. Finally, he returned to the house and grabbed his car keys before going to Mattie's room, where she was working on her homework while listening to some music.
She looked up when he tapped on the partially open door. "Hey."
"Hey. Listen, Mats, I need to go out for a little while. Will you be okay?"
"Sure. I'm going to finish up this chapter and then go to bed." She studied him. "Is everything okay?"
"That's what I'm hoping to find out," he answered cryptically, then came forward to give her a kiss on the cheek. "I'll explain later. I shouldn't be long."
"'kay. Be careful."
"If you need me, call."
Harm left the house and took the Vette over to Jen's apartment, halfway expecting to find Keeter there. Despite his old friend's protests, Harm knew that they were spending a lot of Jen's off duty time together.
She answered the door wearing loose shorts and a tee-shirt that looked vaguely familiar. Her expression was confused when she saw him. "Harm. Is Mattie okay?"
"Yeah. She's fine," he answered, looking behind her. "I'm sorry if I'm interrupting something -"
"No. I was just doing some studying for one of my courses." She stepped back. "Would you like to come in?"
"Thanks." He hadn't been here before, Harm realized. The apartment was small, but neat, with several photos of herself and Mattie - and a few of him and Mattie, he realized - scattered around. Some textbooks were open on the small table, along with a spiral notebook.
"Would you like something to drink? I have some soda. Or bottled water -"
"Water would fine," he told her, watching as she crossed into the tiny kitchen area to retrieve the bottle.
She indicated the sofa, taking the chair nearby. "What's wrong?"
Harm sat down, his hands around the bottle of water. "Have you heard any scuttlebutt involving Mac, Jen?" he asked, lifting his eyes to her face.
Jen's eyes widened. "Uh, maybe a few - rumors," she said. "Before -" she glanced away. "Before the Colonel had her miscarriage, Gen. Cresswell told her that he needed someone to go to Naples to start a JLSC there using this one as a model."
Harm frowned. "She didn't mention it."
"She told me that she was going to ask him to send someone else so that she could stay here to finish out her twenty. Why did you ask?"
Harm sat back on the sofa. "I called Harriet to find out if she'd talked to Mac, and Bud answered the phone. He was excited about something involving Mac, but wouldn't tell me what it was."
He saw Jen's brow crinkle as she considered his words. "That doesn't mean she accepted the assignment, Harm," she said slowly. "Maybe she - maybe she's decided to tender her resignation and plans on spending her terminal weeks in San Diego."
"Can *you* see Mac resigning her commission, Jen?" he questioned.
She exhaled loudly, shaking her head. "No. I can't." Sitting forward, she asked, "What are you going to do if she's accepted it?"
"Go with her, I guess," Harm said.
"Even if it means uprooting Mattie when she's just getting settled in?" Jen asked. "And then you're just getting established with a new law practice," she reminded him.
"Once Mac and I are married, things will work out. Mattie will enjoy spending some time in Italy. And I can find things to do to keep busy there. It's no different than it would have been for Mac if we'd gone to London." He managed to ignore Jen's doubtful look.
"I'm sure I'll find out tomorrow when she gets to the office," Jen told him. "Are you picking her up?"
Harm shook his head. "No. I have a meeting with a possible client that I can't put off. She said she would get a taxi to the office and see me after she secured for the day."
"And since she's been gone for almost a week," Jen noted, "she'll probably be late getting home." Harm sat there, staring at the generic tan carpet on the floor beneath his feet. "You know, she'll have to eat lunch -"
Harm looked at her. "I don't think discussing this at the office is the way to go, Jen. I'll wait til she gets home tomorrow night to find out what's going on."
2200 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
Harm sat in the kitchen, listening as the garage door opened and then closed behind Mac's car. He'd talked to Mac once during the day - not long after he finished his meeting. She had been busy - and a bit cool. Her brusque tone had nearly caused him to say to hell with everything and go directly to Mac's office.
But he had held off, not wanting to confront her about whatever was going on in public.
So here he was, waiting for her to come into the house. She was carrying her sea bag, and Harm spoke. "Need some help?"
Mac jumped, clearly surprised to find him there. "Harm! You startled me. What are you doing?"
"Waiting for you," he answered, moving forward to take the bag from her. He dropped it onto the floor, and pulled her into his arms, giving her a long kiss. He was relieved when her arms went around his neck and she responded. Maybe his suspicions were wrong after all.
"Something tells me that you missed me," Mac said when the kiss ended.
"I did," he assured her. "You realize that in a little over a week, we'll be married?"
He felt her withdrawal almost immediately. "We need to talk about that," she said.
"What about it?"
Mac sighed as she retrieved her briefcase from the floor beside the bag. "Can this wait, Harm? I have a ton of paperwork that I still need to finish -"
"No," Harm insisted, blocking her attempt to pass him. "We need to talk, Mac." When her eyes narrowed, he continued, "I talked to Bud yesterday. He seemed pretty excited about your news." Her eyes widened again.
"What's going on, Mac?" he asked.
She turned away, carefully putting her briefcase onto the dining table before speaking. "A couple of weeks ago, Gen. Cresswell told me that he had decided to start a JLSC in Naples, and wanted me to go over there to head up the project, just like I'd done here."
"You didn't mention it."
"Because at the time, I told him that I couldn't take the assignment. I suggested that he send Sturgis, that he could handle it, using my notes. I planned to stay here. With you. I told him that we were getting married, and wanted to - to start a family . . ."
"But you changed your mind," Harm said when her voice trailed off.
Another deep breath before she turned to look at him. "Yes. I told him that I'd go to Naples."
He'd already suspected as much, so Harm took the news in stride. "When do you have to be there?"
"In seven days," she explained slowly. "Sturgis will be coming out here to take over this JSLC."
"Seven days," Harm repeated, ignoring the news about Sturgis. "Before the wedding."
"Well, we can move it up. Not everyone will be here, but we can do it anyway -"
"Harm -" Mac began, sounding strained.
"Or we can postpone it until we're settled in Naples. It will probably be a couple of months before Mattie and I can join you there -"
"It's not going to work, Harm," she said in a quiet voice. "We're never going to have that family we talked about. It's not fair to you -"
"We have each other, Mac," Harm insisted. "And Mattie. That's all we need. And there are other options if you decide you want to keep trying."
"I love you, Harm," Mac said.
"And I love you -"
"That's why we can't continue this," she told him. "I love Mattie, but she's not *mine*. I *need* a child of my own. Mattie's always going to be yours. I'm like - like a stepmother who always takes second place."
"That's not true."
"Yes, it is. And it's not just because I haven't been here. I don't - don't *belong*. I'm not sure I belong anywhere right now."
"Mac, you haven't thought this through -"
"Yes, I have, Harm. Look, this isn't your problem. It's mine. *I'm* the one who can't accept never having a child of my own. Right now, the only thing I *do* have is my career."
"You can't mean that," Harm said, reaching out to pull her close. "You love me."
"Yes, I love you," she admitted again. "But sometimes love isn't enough." Her hand came up to cup his cheek.
"I'm not going to give up, Mac."
"You *have* to. For Mattie's sake, if no other reason. You need to be here for her."
"What about you? I promised -"
Mac's fingers moved to his lips, stilling his voice. "I know. And I'm releasing you from any and all promises you've made to me, Harm. I need to figure out what *I* need. You need a family. A wife who can be here for you instead of you being there for her all the time. Someone who can put you first instead of everything else. You have so much love to give, Harm. You deserve to find someone deserving of that. The only promise I want from you is that you'll find her. That you'll be happy."
"I can't -"
"Harm, you can't live in the past. Promise me."
"I promise," he said at last. Mac reached up and placed a kiss on his cheek.
"I'll go back to the base tonight," she told him. "Get a room in the BLQ."
"You don't have to go."
Mac smiled. "Harm -"
"I'll - uh - I'll sleep in the guest room. You take the bedroom. That way we can explain to Mattie tomorrow morning -"
"Okay. But you take the bedroom. I'll sleep in the guestroom."
0645 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
Mattie stood next to Harm as they listened to Mac's car pull out of the garage. She rested her head against his chest. "What are we going to do now, Dad?"
"Get on with our lives, I guess, Matts," he said, putting his arm around her. "It's what Mac wanted us to do."
She turned to look up at him. "You okay?"
"I will be," he told her, tightening his arm around her shoulders and resting his chin on her hair. "I have you, right?"
"We have each other," she corrected, turning to give him a hug.