To Hell and Back

Chapter 18

Inez Elgin remained outwardly calm as she listened to the Marine Light Colonel, but inwardly she had taken at least two steps back in amazement. What she had heard was, in terms of the Marine's psychology, nothing short of a bombshell. Of course it had been the realisation on Colonel MacKenzie's part towards which she had been working, but even so, the suddenness of her patient's declaration practically knocked her socks off. But a tiny niggling voice of suspicion whispered in her ear that maybe, just maybe, MacKenzie was only saying what she hoped Inez wanted to hear.

As it was all she said quietly was, "That's an interesting path you took."

Mac gave a short laugh, not without some bitterness laced in with it, Inez noted, "Yeah, well, it seems that my life has been nothing but interesting for months, so why should a wakeup call be any different?"

"Is that the way you see this… realisation… as a wakeup call?"

Mac hesitated a moment and then gave a little shrug, "I'm not sure what else to call it… I mean it doesn't rate high enough on the scale to call it an epiphany, now, does it?"

"Oh, I don't know…" Inez tried to lighten the mood slightly, "It is a pretty earth shattering moment. And I can't tell you just how pleased I am, for your sake, that you've arrived at it! And," she grinned, "A little peeved that you got there without much help from me. And that is a good thing too! Now that you've realised that there are aspects of your life – and affected by your choices – that you… uh… don't much like. We can work together and see if we can't put those right, or even maybe just in perspective so that they don't carry on making waves in either your personal or professional lives!"

Mac nodded, "That sounds good to me. Where do we start?"

"Well… you've already started… When you first visited me I decided that not only were you a very angry woman, but that you were in denial, both of the anger and of course with the causes of that anger. But your acknowledgement that it may have been your choices were responsible for where you've ended up is an abrogation of that denial. So… Now that we've decided that, let's take the ostensible reasons for your anger and deal with them, one by one. Firstly then I'd like to address what some people term abandonment issues. Now, the first physical abandonment you experienced is when your mother walked out of the family home, leaving you to cope with an alcoholic father, a father who had already psychologically abandoned you in the aftermath of your rape. So yes, you were angry with both your parents, and most people would say justifiably so… but in the end you found it within yourself to go see your father when you learned he was dying…"

"Yeah, but I did it for myself not for him. Someone…" she saw Inez's raised eyebrow at her attempt at concealment, "Oh, alright it was Harmon Rabb that made me see that I would find it easier living with myself and my memories if I achieved some sort of closure. It wasn't until the priest gave me my dad's wallet, stuffed full of clippings of me, that I realised he must have been following my career. And that's something else that suddenly rankled, if he'd been following my career, why didn't he contact me and ask for help, or forgiveness… or… or whatever…?"

"How did that make you feel? I mean that it was Commander Rabb, who gave you a nudge in that direction?"

Mac thought for a few seconds and then grimaced, "Okay, I admit, I was furious with him for sticking his nose into my personal business… but at the same time, I was also mad at him for being right. Oh, yeah, I knew he was right even before I booked my flight to Fresno!"

"You were mad at him for sticking his nose into your personal life? But his advice was good? That sounds like the sort of thing one friend would do for another?"

"Yeah, we were friends at that time…" Mac conceded as a thoughtful expression settled on her face.

Inez gave her a minute to contemplate the thoughts and feelings that had arisen before she went on, "Now, from your journal you also had a reunion with your mother at Fresno?"

"Oh, yeah. A repeat of the old, old, pattern. Things got a little heavy emotionally, and she ran. Just like she did from home!"

"And you're angry at her for that?"

Mac considered for a moment, "No… I honestly don't think I am. Oh, I was for a long, long while, but I think I've come to realise that she couldn't help running, any more than I could help turning to the bottle."

Inez let ride Mac's comment about not being able to resist turning to alcohol as a crutch and contented herself with, "But you sobered up. Has your mother made any effort to contact you since your father's death?"

Mac grinned cynically, "Nope, I guess she's still running."

"And you're not angry about that?"

Once more Mac considered at length before replying, "No… not mad at her, disappointed, even accepting maybe but not angry, no… I gave up being angry at her a while ago. It's just the way she is, I guess."

That didn't quite ring true to Inez Elgin's ear, but she decided that at least the Colonel had thought about the matter and if she had decided that she wasn't angry at her mother, then it might eventually come to that state of affairs. Whichever, she wasn't about to rock that boat when there were other, far more sensitive issues, to be tackled.

"Now, for your other abandonment issues… Would it surprise you to learn that on reading through your journal it seems that you consider yourself that you are as much a sinner as sinned against when it comes to that?"

Mac did indeed look surprised, "You think?" she demanded almost aggressively.

Inez nodded, "Yeah I do think so, Colonel. Let's start at the beginning… You walked out on your father – not that I'm saying you didn't believe he deserved it – but then when Chris, your husband at the time, got sent to jail, you bailed out on him, went off into the desert with your uncle without so much as a backward glance. Again, not that I'm saying you were wrong to get out of a relationship that was obviously bad for you, but just walking out of his life like that was a bit like your mother in that regard, or wouldn't you agree with that?"

"No!" Mac was emphatic in her denial, "The two cases were totally different!"

"Were they? Really?"

"Yeah, I had to get out from under Chris' influence, he was the one encouraging me to drink, and then when Eddie died and I needed support, where was he? Behind bars, that's where, and the only person who stepped up to the plate for me was my uncle. Is it any surprise then that I left the ruins of my life behind and tried to start afresh?"

"No, it's no surprise. But isn't that exactly what your mother did? And she had no-one to step up for her! Where was her brother, your uncle, when she could have done with his help?"

"Uh… he was stationed in Okinawa. I do know that when he returned to the States he tried to find her, but it seemed she had just dropped off the face of the planet. You have to remember that back then we didn't have all the computerised records that make it so easy to trace someone these days," Mac ended somewhat defensively.

Again Inez nodded, "Let's say that I accept that… Now this is going to sound a little strange maybe, but it arises from what you wrote in your journal… Dalton Lowne…"

Mac stiffened at the name, "Yeah… Dalton… I… I… I was there when he died…"

"Yes, I know, I read that," Inez said sympathetically, "But perhaps you don't realise that you saw his death as yet another abandonment…"

"I didn't!" Mac denied furiously.

"Well, yes, you did, here, let me refresh your memory, 'And then he died… he left me, just like all the other men in my life'…"

"Oh… yeah… okay… I guess maybe I did…"

"But hadn't you in fact ended the relationship a little time earlier?"

"Well, yeah, but he wasn't prepared to let it go, he was almost stalking me…"

"So… in effect, he hadn't abandoned you, but the boot was rather on the other foot?"

"Huh? Oh… I guess you mean I abandoned him?"

"Well, abandoned is a strong term for a romantic break up, but yes, in effect, isn't that what happened? And far from abandoning you, he made a major effort to reconnect?"

"Well, yeah he did. But he betrayed me on both a personal and professional level. I just couldn't trust him after that!"

"Yes, you catalogued the betrayals in minute detail in your journal, yet you still felt as if he left you when he died?"

"Yeah, it was just one more betrayal," Mac agreed unhappily.

"I see… Now, in light of what we've discussed today, I'd like you to go away now and think about the later episodes in your life where you consider yourself to have been left behind by friends and lovers. You could start perhaps with your aborted wedding and your rather torturous relationship with Commander Rabb."

"I… we… Rabb and I don't have a relationship!" Mac sputtered.

"Well, yes you do. Oh, it's not a romantic relationship any more – if indeed it ever was – but there is a tangled relationship in there somewhere. So, as I say, go away now and give this some serious thought, and I'll see you again tomorrow at the same time." Inez looked across at Mac and saw an expression of puzzled discontent and offered a friendly smile. "Yes, I know I'm cutting this session short, but only by about ten minutes, and that is mostly out of consideration for you. You may not realise it yet Colonel, but you have made a couple of amazing strides this morning! And I'll see you tomorrow, where hopefully we can pick up from where we left things today, and make even further progress!"

With that Mac had to be content, and with a half-smile of her own stood said, "Okay then Doctor, and thank you."

Inez Elgin watched the Marine Lieutenant Colonel quit her office and then said to herself, "Wow! That was surely one surprising session!" before she sat down at her desk, opened Mac's file and started making notes on the session that had just finished.


Harm slipped into courtroom two to find that Loren Singer-Medwick, together with her client, were already present. Hearing Harm enter she half-turned and cocked an ironic eyebrow at him, to which Harm replied with a pointed glance at the courtroom clock, showing that he wasn't – on this occasion – adrift. Loren acknowledged his silent defence with a smile and nod, and then returned her attention to her client, who was looking understandably nervous.

Harm still had few minutes' grace before Staff Sergeant Delany opened the door that led to the judge' chambers and allowed LN2 O'Reilly to enter the courtroom and slide into the court recorder's chair. There was no surprise there, O'Reilly was Candace Carson's Legalman and Commander Carson's name was on the court calendar to hear this case.

So when Staff Sergeant Delany opened the door for a second time and intoned, "All rise! Article Thirty Two Hearing is in session the Honourable Commander Candace Carson, presiding!" Harm along with Loren Singer-Medwick and the accused rose to their feet, with both Harm and Loren, at least anticipating a swift resolution to what was a straightforward case, and a case that both felt should never have gone any further than a Captain's mast, but Thompsett's CO had been adamant. Thompsett had been UA for fifty seven days and Captain Ricketts felt that length of UA deserved a harsher sentence than he was permitted, under the UCMJ to hand down to the accused.

Candace Carson looked around at the sparsely occupied courtroom and then taking her seat indicated that everyone should sit before she cocked her eye at her Legalman, "What have we got O'Reilly?" she asked in a low, and to Harm's mind, a slightly musical voice.

"US Navy versus MN2 Thompsett UA, ma'am."

Carson nodded again and looked at Harm, "Prosecution ready?"

"Ready, aye, ma'am!" Harm responded smartly.

"Defence?" Candace turned to Loren.

"We're ready, yes, ma'am!"

"The facts, Commander?" Candace asked Harm.

"Yes, ma'am. MN2 Thompsett failed to report for duty at his division's morning muster on October tenth last year. After twenty fours when he was marked as being absent from his place of duty, he was marked as UA until he finally surrendered himself to the duty MAAs at Newport News on December sixth."

"And your evidence to support this charge?"

"The original muster state from the USS Pennington, Thompsett's billet before he went UA, and a statement recording his surrender from the MAAs who took him into custody at Newport News, ma'am."

Commander Carson turned to Loren, "Can we wrap this up, it seems to be a pretty straightforward case…"

"The facts are not in dispute ma'am, but my client has a statement in mitigation of the offence ma'am."

Commander Carson frowned and then turned her attention to the bailiff, "Staff Sergeant, please bring me the prosecution's statement of evidence and the defence's plea in mitigation," She waited until the required documents had been handed up to her and then looked at the defence table, "There really cannot be any mitigation in the case of UA, Commander. So, does your client admit to the fact that he was UA?"

Loren looked slightly discomfited, "Yes ma'am, he acknowledges that he was UA, that he was in the wrong and is prepared to take his punishment."

Carson looked through the file, "I see that his Commanding Officer feels that he has insufficient sentencing authority to punish this case as he feels it should be punished, and in this instance I think I agree with him! Accused, please stand."

Loren and Thompsett, the latter looking pale, stood and braced themselves at attention, as Candace Carson spoke, "MN Two Thompsett, by going UA, and irrespective of any excuse that you feel might mitigate your offence, you broke the trust that the US Navy, your Commanding Officer and your shipmates had reposed in you, and I find that totally reprehensible. I am of a mind to refer this case to a general court martial, however on this occasion only, I am inclined to allow you to accept sentencing here and now. The choice is yours. Commander Singer-Medwick, I am declaring a fifteen minute recess so that you may advise your client!" with that she tapped the gavel sharply on its pad as Staff Sergeant Delany called out, "All rise!" as the IO came to her feet and made for the door leading to her chambers.

Harm waited until the IO and her Legalman had left the courtroom and then turned to Loren, "Well… that's something different… I had hoped we'd get this cleared up this afternoon!"

Loren nodded glumly, "So did I," and then a thought struck her, "How open are you to working out a sentencing deal?"

"I guess I could go for that if it was a realistic proposition…"

"What do you say, Thompsett?" Loren asked her client. "The three of us could sit down here and work out a sentence that would be acceptable to the Court, to your CO and to you. It might be better for you coming that way instead of waiting for the IO's axe to fall and commit you to a General Court Marital."

"I just want this to be over ma'am, and if you can figure out any way I can stay in the Navy… You read my statement ma'am, you know why I went UA, and now that's all fixed…"

Harm sat back in his chair, and looked around to ensure that the three of them were the only people remaining in the court room, "Just why did you go UA, Thompsett?"

"My sister, sir… she was knocked down by a hit and run driver… Our parents both passed a couple of years ago, and I was the only family she had left. I requested leave, but the skipper was being a real hard ass and refused me leave… so I went UA."

"For fifty seven days, MN Two?"

"Yes, sir. The fifty two days my sister was in a coma before she… before she…" the sailor gulped and lowered his eyes to glare at the table top in front of him.

"What Thompsett is trying to say, Commander, is that his sister didn't make it." Loren filled in gently, "And then there were the four days before her funeral..."

Harm winced, with the prospect of Lieutenant Ellis' funeral at the end of the week, and given the manner of that unfortunate officer's death he felt a real sympathy for the young man sat next to Loren, "Oh… I'm sorry for your loss, Thompsett – and no I'm not just saying that – I've just lost a colleague in almost identical circumstances!" He switched his gaze to Loren, "So… given the facts of the case and that your client has expressed a wish to stay in the Navy… ninety days confinement, loss of all pay and allowances for the ninety days, plus of course his period of UA, and a drop to MN 3?"

"That's a bit harsh, Commander," Loren objected, "Thirty days, loss of pay and benefits for the combined period and no loss of rate."

Harm shook his head, "Won't wash. Sixty days, loss of pay and allowances for the combined period and… okay… no loss of rate?"

Loren looked at her client, "We don't stand much chance of getting a better deal from the bench, I suggest that you go with it. It looks a bit grim, but face it, if you keep your nose clean you'll be out of the brig in forty days, and because it's a short sentence and you're not a hardened criminal you'll probably serve it in the brig at Norfolk – which is a damned sight better than Leavenworth or even Groton!"

"That's about the best you can do for me, ma'am?" a crestfallen Thompsett asked.

"It's about the best that anyone could get you, Thompsett," Harm remarked mildly. "But seeing as how it's something you feel you need to talk through I'll give you ten minutes and then come back for an answer… Commander," he said gravely to Loren, before picking up his briefcase and cover and marching up the aisle to the courtroom door where entering the hallway, he took a seat on one of the row of chairs opposite the double doors.

Barely five minutes passed however before the court room door opened to allow Loren to step out into the hallway and plant herself in the chair next to Harm, who grinned at her and then nodded in the direction of the courtroom, "Taking a chance aren't you?"

"Huh? Oh… no, no Thompsett isn't going to run. I've actually come out here to tell you that he's agreed that you've got yourself a deal. He serves sixty days confinement, loss of pay and allowances for the total period and no drop in rate?"

"Sounds good to me, so shall we get something down in writing before Commander Carson returns?"

"Yeah, we haven't got much time!"

Ten minutes later Harm and Loren stood and watched as Staff Sergeant Delany opened the door that led to the judges' chamber to allow Legalman Two O'Reilly and then Commander Carson to re-enter the courtroom.

After the formalities of re-convening the hearing had been completed, Candace Carson looked at each in attorney in turn, "Have you anything to say, either of you before I hand down my decision?"

Loren stood, "Yes, ma'am. In the interests of saving the Navy's time and the expense of a General Court Martial, MN Two Thompsett pleads guilty to the charge of being UA, and prosecution and I have come to an agreement that is acceptable to Thompsett, and we hope to this hearing."

Commander Caron nodded, "Let's hear it then!"

Harm stood and relayed the details of the sentence that he and Loren had hammered out while Commander Carson listened intently.

When Harm had finished speaking however, she observed, "And Thompsett continues in the service?"

Loren stood and replied, "Yes, ma'am. His page eleven is clean, apart from this offence, and as you will have read from his plea in mitigation, there were exceptional circumstances that cannot be replicated, therefore there is no possible reason for him ever to repeats his offence."

"Point taken, Counsellor! Very well. The accused will please rise." Commander Carson read out the details of the sentence which she had hastily written down as Harm detailed them, adding only that the time Thompsett had already served in custody be discounted against his sentence.

Five minutes Loren sighed as she and Harm watched later Staff Sergeant Delaney led the MN Two away to begin his sentence. "Well, that's over and done with. I hate cases like this. Why do you suppose his CO refused him leave in the first place? I mean, a little bit of give and take would have saved a lot of people a lot of time, and who knows it may even had a less damaging effect on the Navy's dime!"

Horn shook his head, "Sometimes I give up on trying to figure out what passes through people's minds. All we can do is try to pick up the piece after the event."

"That's a depressing thought," Loren said almost mournfully, but then perked up, "Come on, this technically counts as a win for you, so let's head for the galley and I'll buy the coffees… Harm!" she finished, testing the waters of his recently given permission for her to address him by name.

"Loren, The coffee in the galley is free!" Harm objected, returning her mode of address in kind.

"Yeah, but it's the thought that counts!" Loren twinkled.


Still shaking his head in amusement at Loren's quip Harm ferried his coffee back to his officer saying regretfully to the petite blonde, "There's no rest for the wicked, and even less for their attorneys!"

Loren had grinned impishly over the brim of her own coffee mug, "And ain't that the truth!" and then as she watched the tall former aviator thread his way around the desks in the bull pen she nodded happily. Harmon Rabb had never really been one of her 'enemies' at JAG, but blither had he been overly friendly. The episode of the compromised parachuting accident report had strained their early relationship, and although Harm had accepted her word that she was neither a liar nor a thief, but recently, since Daniel's birth and her marriage to David Medwick, there had been a marked thaw in the manner in which the former aviator treated her. Or maybe… it was since he had hooked up with former RIO of his… What was her name again? Oh, yeah, Elizabeth Hawkes. It might just be worthwhile to keep an eye on that situation; it seemed to be doing Commander Rabb a great deal of good after whatever had happened down in South America and its aftermath, particularly considering the effect on his attitude and temper that a certain much disliked (by Loren, anyway) Lieutenant Colonel of Marines had engendered.

Harm, totally unconscious of Loren's thoughts, dropped into the chair behind his desk and reached for the top file of the stack in his in-try, grimacing as he realised it was the Otto Schmidt case, the Corporal who had accused his CO of being a paedophile. This case meant that Harm to travel to Quantico to interview the Corporal and to safeguard his interests while being interviewed by NCIS, and finding time to do that this week was going to be highly problematical. Why the heck couldn't the USMC put one of their JAG Division officers on the case? Surely they couldn't all be tied up in other cases? Still, there was no help for it and with a sigh of resignation he reached for his phone to begin the round of negotiations that would, he hoped, bring the Corporal, himself and NCIS all together at the same place and time.


By the end of the day, after a singularly profitless round of telephone calls to the NCIS field office at Quantico and to the Quantico brig, Harm was more than just grateful to climb out of his Lexus when he reached home, and hoping that the evil genie that inhabited the unreliable elevator was able to recognise his disgruntled mood he rode he protesting car up to the third floor. Entering the apartment with a sense of relief and allowed himself as brief smile at the sight of Mattie's book bag and jacket tossed onto the couch, and he could clearly hear the sound – although he supposed she called it music – of one of her currently favourite bands being pumped out at a high volume from her music centre.

Crossing the lounge towards her bedroom door his smile was replaced by a frown as he realised that despite the fact that he could plainly hear both music and lyrics, that the bedroom door was firmly shut, and he wondered about possible damage to Mattie's hearing. It seemed at firt that his concerns were warranted as his sharp rap on the door followed by his "Man on deck!" went unanswered.

Silently counting off the thirty seconds, Harm took a deep breath and hoping that the teenager was properly dressed he turned the door handle, to see his ward sat at the small table in the bedroom, head down over something she was writing, but with the music centre on top of what should have been her vanity table pounding out an insistent beat. With a shake of his head, Harm, his presence still undetected by the teenager quickly crossed the room and switched off the music.

Mattie shot bolt upright and Harm felt that she nearly gave herself whiplash as she twisted in her seat.

"Hey, Squirt," he greeted her, "How was your day?"

"Oh… Hi, Harm… damn it you just about scared the pee out of me! Why didn't you knock?" Mattie exclaimed in aggrieved tones.

"Well, I did, as a matter of fact, knock, and gave the man on deck warning, but it appears that I'm in no position to compare with that… that… noise…" he indicated the music centre.

"Harm that was the Backstreet Boys – not noise!"

"Well it was pretty noisy from where I was standing, and it must have been pretty noisy for you too, after all I did catch you by surprise!"

"Only because I was concentrating on this darned English Lit essay!" Mattie pouted.

"And discounting any damage to your hearing, Mattie? Don't forget, if you really want to fly for the Navy – even if only in Maritime Patrol planes you will need perfect hearing!"

Mattie looked appalled "Patrol airplanes? No way – fast jets for me!" then as she saw Harm was about to reiterate his warning her face fell and she looked a little crestfallen, "Yeah, I won't forget… Honest, but every so often I feel the need for a little loud music, but yeah, I will tone it down."

Harm nodded, "Good, and I'm glad to see the noise hasn't interrupted your homework, but what Beth might think about the rest of your stuff scattered all over the lounge, I hesitate to say!"

Mattie gave a martyred sigh and pushed herself to her feet, "Okay, okay, I get the message – I'll go and pick up."

Harm nodded, allowing his face to crease into a grin of approval, "Good call, Squirt! And while you're doing that, I'm going to change into something a little more civilised and then I'll make a start on dinner!"

Mattie's face was transfigured by a smile and she stopped halfway through the door, "Now, that sounds like a plan!" she agreed happily.

"Yeah, I never met a dinner you didn't like!" Harm smiled.

"Well… apart from your meatless meatloaf," Mattie said seriously, but with a teasing glint in her eye.

Harm shook his head in pretended sorrow, "That meatless loaf is one of the healthiest dishes I've ever made!" he said mournfully.

"And it is one of the worst tasting!" Mattie shot back.

"You just don't appreciate good food!" Harm accused her.

"Ah… that's the snag – I do too appreciate good food!" Mattie sung back over her shoulder as she crossed to the couch to pick up her bag and coat.

Harm just grinned and turned away, heading for the refuge of his bedroom and a long hot shower.

Harm was still in the shower when Beth returned from the Pentagon, and unseen by him, the expression on her face was practically identical to that which he had shown when he first arrived home, so it was with some surprise that when he emerged from his bedroom, his hair still spikily damp from his shower he found Beth slumped on the couch, her service dress jacket slung carelessly over one arm of the said piece of furniture, her neck tab awry, her shirt collar unbuttoned and her shoes lying in an untidy fashion on the floor while her stockinged feet nestled in the pile of the rug in front of the couch.

Harm took one look at the pout on her face, and smiled in what he hoped came across as a sympathetic manner, "Rough day, huh?"

"Rough enough for you to recognise the signs of it, anyway," Beth managed a brief grin and with a backwards nod of her head indicated the kitchen area, "and bad enough to spur Mattie into making a fresh pot of coffee!"

"Well…" Harm slid onto the couch net o Beth and raised his arm around her shoulders, encouraging her to relax against him, which she did with a deep sigh of content.

"Better already, huh?" Harm teased her gently.

Beth, however, wasn't rising to the bait this evening and contented herself with a dreamy, "Umm… yeah, much better, already…"

Harm dropped a gentle kiss on her forehead, "I'll bet it wasn't as nigh as bad as the day I've just had…"

"Oh… swapping war stories now are?" Beth looked up at him challengingly.

"Only if you want to," Harm demurred.

Beth but her lip for a moment and then shook her head in a decided manner, "No… I don't think I do… all I really want to do is forget about the whole clusterfu… Oh… ah… I mean SNAFU…" she hastily amended what she had been about to say and shot a conscience stricken glance over her shoulder in Mattie's direction, where happily for Beth's state of mind it appeared that the teenager hadn't picked up on the former RIO's slip.

Harm narrowed his eyes slightly but retained the good humour in his voice, "Well, if that's the way you feel… wouldn't it be better if you got out of uniform and into something a little more relaxing?"

"Yeah it would – but not without my coffee first!" Beth declared mutinously.

Harm recognised the battle ensign rising to Beth's masthead and fell off to leeward, "Of course, coffee first," he agreed gravely.

The said coffee and a shower and change did much to alleviate Beth's uncertain mood so it was with a good grace that she sat at the table for her dinner of spicy root and lentil casserole, the sauce mopped up with a share of the crusty baguette Harm served up with it. And it was during the course of this meal that Harm became aware of shared glances between Beth and Mattie, invariably followed by he suspected they thought were hidden smiles as they then turned their heads and looked at him.

This was fast becoming past a joke as far as he was concerned, so pointing an accusing fork at Beth he demanded, "Okay… this has gone just about far enough. Now would you like to tell me just what it is about me that has got you two giggling up your sleeves?"

Mattie looked gravely at him and then at Beth before she looked back at Harm and shook her head, "Nooo…" she replied slowly, "I don't believe we would, right, Skates?"

Beth swallowed her mouthful of sauce-soaked bread and the ends her grin threatening to meet at the back her neck, said, "Have a little patience, Harm, all shall be made clear – good time!"

"And in the meantime, I am to provide you with unlimited hours of amusement?" he challenged them.

Beth's grin grew even wider just as Mattie's eyes opened to their most innocent and guileless extent, "Of course!" she declared with what was definitely a giggle.

Harm looked at the two female members of his little family and allowed his shoulders to slump, "Oh. Well… I suppose I can live with that!" he declared in overly mournful accents.

"Yep, I reckon so!" Beth answered and then deliberately changing the subject turned to Mattie, "And what about your homework this evening?"

"Oh… a darned essay on Dickens' 'Bleak House'," Mattie groused, "And it's a heck of a stinker, 'Consider Whether the City of London is a Character in Charles Dickens' Bleak House'! I mean, come on people, a city is a city, not a people!"

Harm's forehead creased in a frown, "Is that what you were working on when I came home?"

Mattie nodded, "Yeah, and getting nowhere fast!"

Beth nodded thoughtfully, "I can see where your objection comes from Mattie, but on the other hand it is people who give a place its character – I mean DC is a totally different city from say… San Diego, right, Harm?"

"Of course it is, that goes without saying… they're on opposite sides of the country for a start!"

"Well, yeah, but that's not what I meant! They feel different, and I say that's due to the people of each city, the population of San Diego is pretty much more relaxed that folk in DC are, and that sense of relaxation permeates the whole of the city!"

"I don't know… the people aren't that much different… I mean there are a whole slew of servicemen in both places, if you count Pendleton and Quantico, plus the five sided fumble farm… so they have to have some impact."

Beth nodded, "Agreed to a limited degree… But you've really just confirmed my theory… The presence of the Pentagon and all the high ranking military and civil servants have an impact on the atmosphere. I mean, I know it's a while since I was at Miramar or even Pendleton, but things weren't quite so… sharp-pressed… if you know what I mean?"

Harm grunted what might have been agreement as Beth turned to Mattie, "So, you see that although a city is not a character, it can have character, imparted to it by its citizens. So… on reading Bleak House, what was the overriding impression you got of how the characters in the story felt about their lives in London?"

"Desperation!" Mattie declared forcefully.

"Really?" Beth asked.

"You bet! I've never read such a depressing book!" Mattie said.

"Well… what else have you got this evening?" Harm asked the now pouting teenager.

"Well, there's a page of trigonometry problems to solve – Mister Silverman's favourites! But I don't mind them so much…"

"Well… why don't you do those, and then when you feel you've accomplished something, go back to the essay, and maybe try to work into it what we've just been discussing. In fact if you've finished eating…" he gazed pointedly at Mattie's empty plate, "Why don't you get on with that right now? Oh, it's okay," Harm continued as he saw Mattie's eyes drift to the wreckage of the meal, "Beth and I can take up your share of the chores – just this once, though!"

Mattie stood and although gratitude showed in her voice she scoffed, "Huh, you just want me out of the way so you and Beth…"

"Mattie! Don't even finish that thought!" Berth half-scolded her through her own laughter.

"Okay… okay… I'm gone!" the irrepressible teen answered with a grin, but then threw over her shoulder as she headed back to her bedroom, "But I know what I know!"

Harm watched her go and turned to Beth, "Not that her ideas was all bad," he said suggestively.

"Squaring away, first. Making out later!" Beth teased him.

"Making out? Now that sounds like a plan!" Harm agreed enthusiastically.

"H'mm, maybe, but we won't have any time to make out before Mattie finished her homework if we don't get on with policing the kitchen!" Beth said forcefully.


Jennifer Coates moodily pushed her half-eaten dinner away from her and glared down the length of the kitchen table at the red-head sitting opposite, "Honestly, Helen, I don't know how you do it! This was supposed to be chili con carne, right?"

"Well, yeah… but there weren't many chilies left, so I sort of made it into a Bolognese – to go with the pasta – we've run out of rice too…"

"That's what happens when you tear off for the weekend, instead of going to the store – like you were supposed to do!" Jen finished with a snap to her voice.

"Oh, come on Jen," Helen Spicer replied, "It's not every weekend that I get a chance to get away…"

"Yeah, with some random guy on a Harley!" Fran Neumann interjected, glowering at her meal in just as much discontent as Jen had.

"Well, it wasn't my fault that we got back too late for the stores… and what do you mean 'some random guy'? I've known Greebo for… for… well… a long time, anyway!" Helen fired up defensively.

"What all of three weeks? And you still call him by that dumb nickname?" Fran retorted.

"Well, he doesn't answer to anything else!" Helen grumbled. "And as for you, Jennifer Coates, you're only grumpy because your latest guy is down at LeJeune!"

Jen flushed, there was just enough truth in Helen's barb to make her comment accurate, and her reaction brought a triumphant "Ha!" from the red-head.

Jen shook her head, "Latest guy? You make it sound as if I'd had a string of boyfriends – and you know that just ain't true!" She fixed Helen with a gimlet stare and dared her to respond, but the other girl stayed silent, deciding that at least on this occasion that discretion was the better part of valour.

Jen gave a satisfied sniff, and stood up, "Well, there's only one thing left to do with… this…" she indicated the now congealing mess on her plate, "And that's for it to go straight into the garbage disposal! And you lady, can damned well give us a hand to clear up!"

Helen recognised the determined glint in Jen's eyes and merely nodded, "Okay, okay, keep your hair on!" and then she smiled ruefully, "It really wasn't one of my better attempts, was it?"

"That," Fran Neumann returned acidly "might just qualify as the understatement of the year!"


Harm and Beth managed to grab nearly an hour nestled against each other and exchanging occasional soft kisses before their peaceful interlude was broken by Mattie's somewhat tentative call, "Is it safe to come out?"

Harm shot an amused glance at Beth, but then as she made a token effort to slip out from under the arm he had looped around her shoulder, he tightened his grasp slightly and shook his head in deterrence before he replied, "Yeah, come ahead, Mattie, we're all decent and buttoned up!"

Mattie's giggle preceded her into the lounge "Eww… the alternative is something I don't really need a mental image of!"

"Don't worry, we'll keep on trying not to traumatise you!" Beth quipped, and then spying the three-ring file in Mattie's hand asked, "What have you got there, kiddo?"

"Oh… just a draft of that darned essay… I was hoping that maybe you could take a look at it for me… I'm not really happy with it, but I just can't think of anything better to write…"

Beth heaved a sigh and this time did disengage from Harm's arms, "Okay, then let's have a look at it!"

Harm groaned his way to his feet, "Okay then, I'll fix the chocolate – not that it's my turn!" he added with an accusing look at the copper haired teen.

"Yeah, I know, but I will make it up to you, and that's a promise – and, yeah, I know how you feel about promises!" Mattie replied.

"I know you do, Squirt, but don't sweat this one! One day you will have to make the chocolate while Beth and I are busy!"

Mattie gurgled with laughter as she settled into the space just vacated by Harm, "As long as I don't have to know what you're both busy doing!" she said with a sly glance at Beth.

"Mattie!" the two adults thundered in unison.

"What?" the teen asked in a disarmingly innocent manner.

Harm was forced to chuckle, "Oh… never mind!"

Just at the same time Beth complained, "Harm can't you keep her under some sort of control?"

Harm shook his head, "Apparently not, but I am trying!"

As Mattie broke into renewed giggles Beth shot him an exasperated look, "Well try harder, dammit!"

"Yes, ma'am!" Harm replied with a wink at his errant ward.


Mac sat at her computer, reading back over the saved copy of the journal that she had given to Doctor Elgin, reminding herself of just what she had written, and how in th light of the realisation she had recently come to, in might read to someone with a less intimate knowledge of her thoughts and feelings. To her dismay, in trying to look at her written words objectively, she suddenly saw how right that annoying blonde had been. She and Harmon Rabb did have a relationship. Sure, it was in a deep downward spiral – almost a flat spin she thought with a cynical grin as she adopted one of Harm's aviation born remarks – and was certainly headed for a complete and final disastrous impact… unless if it could – even at this stage somehow be salvaged. However, the annoying jet jockey had shown no signs, on this occasion and contrary to his normal MO, of wanting to reconcile with his long term partner.

And that, she told herself ruefully was entirely her fault. He had come to her for help at a time when their relationship – mixed up though it may have been – was finally taking an upward trend, and what had she done? She had turned her back on him. Just as he had complained that she had done in Paraguay. But Paraguay had been such a FUBAR from start to finish, and now she had to ask herself how the hell had Webb managed to convince the admiral to let her go on such a screwball mission without ensuring that a practical plan for retrieval existed, instead of, as she had finally winkled out of Webb, his belief that if things went belly up, that Harmon Rabb would home charging to the rescue.

And of course, Mister Knight in Shining Armour had done just that, arriving just in time to save her from torture, possible rape and almost certain death. And that had rankled. He had discovered her at her most vulnerable, strapped down to a table, completely helpless, and if there was one thing Sarah MacKenzie hated was being helpless, and even more so to be seen to be helpless. But… and here was the thing, she and Harm had started to close the breach between them occasioned when his resignation was accepted and he had gone off to fly for the CIA. Thank God, she thought with some surprise at her own reaction, that Webb, through jealousy had arranged to have Harm canned from the Agency. But then she had turned on him again when he had asked for help in the guardianship case. She still thought he was making a huge mistake, but she could have been a little more supportive, she supposed, rather than just turning on him and accusing him of being a bad son and would therefore make a lousy father. After all, as he had carefully pointed out to her in their subsequent argument – and that too rankled – that she was no better a daughter than he was a son, and that if he was going to make a lousy father, then she would in all probability turn out to be a lousy mother – that is if she ever found another man she would even look at as the father of her child or children.

At this last thought, sadness overcame the Marine and with a savage stab of a finger she closed the programme on the computer and powered it down, sitting lost in thoughts of what might have been, if only she'd been a touch smarter, a touch more sympathetic, and touch less selfish and self-absorbed.


Jen had slipped into her normal sleepwear of athletic shorts and a t-shirt and was just about to climb into her bed when a quiet tap at her bedroom door announced a visitor. With a sigh of impatience she called out, "Okay, come on in…"

As he had half expected it was Fran Neumann, now safely wrapped up in her terry cloth bathrobe over her pajamas, who opened the door and in response to Jen's waved invitation perched on the single chair in the room. Jen cocked an inquiring eye at her and asked, "Well, what brings you here at this time of night?"

Fran frowned, "A general sense of dissatisfaction, I reckon. I mean, this evening's dinner was a disaster… I know we agreed on shared messing, but really Helen let us all down tonight, and I wouldn't mind betting there's not much left in this week's ration pot to go and replenish supplies…"

"That's a bit harsh," Jen commented lightly, but thinking too, that she wouldn't be at all surprised if that were to turn out to be the case.

"And…" Fran paused, "I'm thinking of moving out… finding somewhere where Tim and I can have a bit more privacy… Obviously we can't afford a place this big on our own…"

"Whoa! Hold it right there, Fran! If you're going where I think you're headed, it's a bit of drastic step just because one dinner wasn't up to standard!"

"Oh… it's not just that, Jen… Helen is completely unreliable when it comes to her doing her fair share around the place… and look how many times we've had to chase her for her contribution not just to the messing fund, but even for rent and utilities. I mean it wasn't that long ago that we dreading that the 'phone or electricity were going to be cut off! Maybe I'm being a bit anally retentive, but I can't and won't live like that. But what I'm really proposing is that you come and join Tim and I in a two bedroom apartment… I know there are a couple coming up for rent not too far away, down on the four hundred and the six hundred blocks…"

"Wow! " Jen reached for her pillow and hugged it to her chest, "You don't pull your punches when you go after something, do you?"

Fran giggled, "No.. I guess not… but this isn't so sudden… Tim and I have been talking about moving out for a few weeks now… but it's like I said, it's a question of money… But look at this way," she added earnestly. "Here we've got four girls all contributing to a four bedroom apartment. If you moved in with Tim and me, we'd have three people sharing the cost of two bedrooms – that's got to work out cheaper. And we'd use less electricity and gas and phone and… oh… everything!"

"H'mm… I'm not going to give you an answer tonight Fran, because I need to think this thing through, and in a way we'd be bailing out on Helen and Sally – where is she by the way? I haven't seen her at all this evening – or this morning come to that!"

Fran shrugged, "I haven't seen her either, but her weekend bag was on the couch when I went for my shower this morning, so I guess she made it back from Sharpsburg, okay, but where she's got to I just don't know. I mean, if she didn't come home after secure, then she's still somewhere out there in uniform!"

"H'mm…" Jen looked at her watch and frowned, "That's not good this time of night!"

Fran shook her head in agreement, "No, it's not… and if she hasn't shown up by the morning, I'm thinking of reporting her missing!"

"After checking with her billet PO!" Jen cautioned her friend.

"Oh, yeah, of course!"


Harm yawned and stretched out an arm, his hand flailing for a few seconds until it located the 'off' button on his alarm clock. Blearily he donned his running gear and stumbled through to the bathroom where a dash of cold water on his face did wonders as far as waking him up went, although he shivered at the impact and hastily dried his face before emerging from his bedroom into the lounge at just about the same time as Beth crept out from the bathroom that she shared with Mattie.

"Ready?" Harm asked.

Beth nodded and to Harm's relief she didn't seem to be in the ebullient mood that had teed him off yesterday, although as usual she was one or two points ahead of him on the cheerful scale this early in the morning.

Disdaining, as usual, the elevator the pair trotted down the three flights of stairs to the first floor where after a few minutes stretching exercises Beth asked, "Ready?"

"Ready as I'm going to be this morning!" Harm replied gruffly.

"Yeah, I know what you mean!" Beth said emphatically as she began to jog up Fourth North East.

"Well if you hadn't taken so much time over Mattie's essay, we could have had another hour in bed – easy!" Harm grunted.

"Yeah, that's true, but the poor kid was in such a state. I mean I tried to rescue the essay, but it's a bitch of a title, and I'll be surprised if she gets any more than a C for it!" Beth exclaimed.

Ham frowned, "She really struggled that much?" he asked in concern.

"She sure did!" Beth exclaimed, as they ran on the spot, waiting for a chance to cross Florida Avenue, "But now, if you don't mind, I have had enough of Mattie's homework, and I feel the need to expend energy!"

"Oh, thank God for that!" Harm grinned as he jogged across the road, "For a moment I thought you were going to say you felt the need for speed!"

"No way!" Beth laughed. "I hate that film almost as much as you do!" then as she reached the gates to Gallaudet University campus, and with a laugh over her shoulder, she lengthened and quickened her stride, forcing Harm to do the same to keep pace with her.

Skates set a brisk pace for the double figure of eight circuit of campus and the cemetery alongside it, so it was a little less than the usual forty minutes later that saw a panting pair arrive back at the old warehouse building, where both with hands on their knees drew in deep breaths of the still cold near dawn air.

"Better?" Harm asked when his breathing eased.

"M'mm… and I'm looking forward to a shower and breakfast… I wonder if Mattie…"

"Of course she has! Are you trying to kid me? Mattie miss breakfast, even if she does have to make it herself!"

"Of course the fact that neither of us thought to go to the store yesterday and stock up on her essentials – mushrooms and bacon, remember – won't have any effect on her willingness will it?" Beth asked as she started to climb the stars.

Harm groaned, "Oh for heaven's sake… but I was so whacked at the end of yesterday that I completely forgot about go to the store!"

"M'mm… me too. I guess we'll just have to face the wrath of Mattie!" Beth grinned.

"Yeah, but we're both bigger than she is!" Harm grinned, so I don't reckon we've got too much to fear!"

"Maybe not – but she is a red-head!" Beth grinned back over her shoulder.

Beth's worst fears were borne out by the scowl on the said red-head's face as Harm and Beth entered the apartment. "Breakfast in twenty minutes. If you ain't here it's going in the dumpster!"

"Mattie!" Harm barked a warning, "Watch your tone!"

"Yeah, okay… but how the hell… uh… how the heck can I make a decent breakfast when there's nothing to make it with? And you're either going to have to leave me some cash, or call in at the store on your way home…" she stared challengingly at her guardians, although her tone had moderated, "Because these are the last of the eggs, and apart from bacon and mushrooms we need a gallon of milk too, oh and some onions or shallots wouldn't be missed either!"

"Okay… we'll get to it! Harm sighed with a rueful look at Beth, who by now was trying to stop herself from giggling as Mattie tore them both a new six. The girl was as mad as a wet hen, the former RIO reckoned, but the sight of the tiny teenager tearing into the six feet four attorney was just too damned funny for words. Her amusement didn't go unnoticed by Harm who could only shoot her a disgusted glance before offering an olive branch to Mattie.

"Okay… we'll be back for breakfast before the deadline. Eggs on toast I guess?"

"Just about," Mattie agreed in a more equitable voice, "Unless you'd prefer omelette?"

"No… no… don't go to any extra trouble, eggs and toast is just fine!" Beth interjected, casting a look at Harm warning him to go along with her.

"Yep, just fine!" Harm agreed, although even he could hear a sharp edge to his words.


Much to Harm's relief Beth, in the interests of domestic harmony – she could see that Harm was still a little mad at Mattie's attitude – volunteered to drop the teenager off at school and took the opportunity to drop a few words of advice in the youngster's ears. "You know, kiddo, it doesn't do to start digging at Harm – well not first thing in the morning… you know, the pre-caffeinated Harm?"

"I know, I know…" Mattie sighed, "But I did make a point yesterday of saying that the fridge was running low on breakfast items."

"Yeah, I know you did… but this morning you could have been a little more tactful, like saying maybe, something like didn't you have time to get to the store yesterday? In a pleasant voice, though! Both Harm and I were pretty beat up by secure yesterday, and we either plain forgot, or in my case anyway, I was just too darned beat to make the effort to get to the store. Believe it or not," Beth grinned as she guided her car up to the kerb outside the school gates, "Your fund of youthful energy will deplete as you get older!"

That elicited a grin from Mattie, "Just one more thing to look forward to, then!"

"Yep, just about. But remember what I said about the early morning Harm!"

"Oh, I know, I know," Mattie repeated contritely, "But I was so darned mad at him – at both of you! I miss a proper breakfast!"

"Yeah, well I kind like bacon and mushrooms for breakfast too!" Beth confided.

"So, you won't forget to go the store today then?" Mattie hinted.

"What? And have an action replay of this morning tomorrow! No thank you very much! Either Harm or I will definitely get to the store!" Beth laughed, "Now get on with you, or you'll be late for home room!"

"Hey, I'm already not here!" Mattie chuckled as she opened the car door and stepped out to begin her day.