Animal and Maegyn's Home 511 Breckinridge Avenue, Norfolk, VA 0500hrs

Animal stirred from his sleep when the alarm clock went off. Muttering a caustic epithet in the clock's general direction although the clock didn't deserve it, he got out of bed, heading for the shower. A brisk shower and Animal felt more awake. Toweling off, he headed back into the bedroom to find his fresh uniform to wear for the day.

Maegyn murmured softly in her sleep as Animal got ready for his workday. Maegyn, like Animal, was not a morning person and it wasn't wise to wake her if he could help it when he had to wake up at oh five hundred; so just a little I love you scrawl on a piece of notepaper on the bedside table was all that was required. So he quietly walked over to the closet where his uniforms were hanging and picked out a fresh set of khakis with ribbons and rank insignia on them. Fortunately, they always went into the closet pressed and it was a wear and go.

He usually did not pop his head in Mikey's room to make certain that he didn't disturb Mikey's sleep. Mikey was so full of energy and popped awake at the slightest sound of the door opening, so Animal preferred to slip out quietly into the early morning air so as to not wake the two-year old alarm-clock and give his wife some much-needed sleep in the morning. The red brick Virginia Statesman home was quite an old building, but had been redesigned on the inside to bring it up to modern with Hawthorne maple laminate flooring to give it a much brighter appearance on the inside. The old cabinets were torn out and replaced with new cabinetry which gave Maegyn much needed cooking space.

Ever since she'd received her O-6 and had switched to Navy Reserve with its one weekend a month service requirement, she had taken up cooking, as well as motherhood, with a vengeance. Animal would come home to some repast that Maegyn had conjured up after sending him out on a retrieval run for some esoteric ingredients, invariably making Animal wonder how the hell she was going to cobble that all together to make something that seemed to be edible.

Animal's drive wasn't very far. A turn onto Morris Street and the Navy's Headquarters for the Atlantic Region loomed up ahead and the parking next to the building was quite sparse with the exception of a few on the night watch. Parking his car, he got out of the vehicle with briefcase in hand, striding to the main door, which he opened with his pass-card. Returning the salute of the Marine sentry and a perfunctory, "Good Morning, Staff Sergeant", he headed for the elevator.

Upon arriving at the fifth floor of the building, the elevator doors opened and he walked over to the doors emblazoned with the USN COMNAVAIRLANT crest. The office being empty yet, allowed him a chance to brew himself a cup of coffee, add two cream, two sugar and grab a bag of chips from the NEX Vending Machine located in the building and Animal was set to start his day. Of course, Maegyn would give him hell for the unhealthy snack of Lay's regular potato chips and she'd probably give him even more hell for buying a Pepsi later on that day. But he sure as hell wasn't about to try a Kale smoothie. No thank you very much.

It was about oh seven thirty hours when Animal's morning which was going fine until then…went to hell in a hand-basket. The first was a call from the Naval Intelligence wanting Animal to come back down to their headquarters for a meeting presumably about another operation that was being scheduled. This time they wanted Animal and Harm to work with them in conjunction with the CIA. They were not happy about naval assets being used without their knowledge for CIA work.

The next call was at oh seven forty five hrs when the damned phone started ringing again. "RADM Nakamura!" Animal said brusquely into the phone, barely even looking at it because his attention was on the readme file.

"Do you know why the hell Vice-Admiral McMahon just called me telling me that she needed Commander Rabb back at ONI this morning?! He just had to re-schedule a court hearing that's been rescheduled three times before! I'm getting flak from the judge!" When the receiver started sparking with AJ's vitriol, he pulled the phone away from his ear just far enough to keep from getting deafened. "Do you understand the nature of the case that he's working on?" A stupid rhetorical question…as Animal wasn't a legal beagle, he'd have no reason to know the wherefores, the what's and what-not's of a legal case. "If a case of that magnitude is recessed too many times, it gets thrown out of court…"

"Are you done?" Animal asked crossly when the Judge Advocate General stopped a second to breathe. "Doesn't the judge only have one-star, AJ?" Animal retorted back sarcastically. "McMahon has three…and I ain't about to cross her even if I've got two. If you wanna lock horns with her, be my guest. Tell the judge that it's a matter of national security, lie out your ass, I really don't give a shit…but Commander Rabb has been requested presence by a three-star which outweighs us handily in the rank department." He paused for a moment then bore on, "Surely you have legal people capable of handling that case that you could reassign the case to, AJ."

RADM Chegwidden sounded deflated, "But none that can deliver a slam-dunk victory like Commander Rabb…"

"Not my problem, AJ…" Animal said deadpan, "Get the case reassigned. I've got a date with an ornery three-star and Commander Rabb is the expected third party to that date. Something regarding national security is going down and that's all you need to know about it." AJ had better sense than to argue with Animal. They both had formidable wills, but the problem was that Animal, despite the fact that he had only two stars, had a three star on his ass and combined, AJ was out-ranked and he knew it. The dial tone was answer enough as Animal snorted. He set the receiver back on the cradle, then picked it up and dialed an internal number.

"COMNAVAIRLANT Headquarters, Chief Yeoman Trebalos speaking."

"Chief, it's Nakamura, get me Chambers Field on the horn."

"Yes, sir."

"Same location as yesterday." The admiral informed him.

"Yes, sir."

"Good man."

"Thank you, sir."

Office of Naval Investigation, National Maritime Intelligence Center, Suitland, Maryland 0930hrs

When Animal walked into the room, Harm was already there along with another man, a brawny fellow who seemed to be of Eastern European descent. Animal gave him a who are you look and the man got up, an enigmatic look on his face. He towered over the admiral by at least a foot and out-heighted Harm by at least three inches, outweighing him by at least 50 pounds. He had to be at least six foot eight and at least two hundred and eighty pounds. "Peter Kardos…" the man said, his voice was low, but soft-spoken. "I suspect that you know who I work for. Just don't let it get around…sir."

"OK…" Animal replied irreverently, "I suspect that you can read uniforms."

"That I can, sir." Kardos replied. "Six years in Marine Recon, Four years in the Corps before that, sir… met plenty of superior officers in my time in the Marine Corps before the Company recruited me. I was a Gunny when they recruited me, sir."

"So you do still think like a Marine." Animal stated.

"Every single moment of the day, sir. The Company hasn't driven that out of me yet."

Harm was looking at Animal in amazement. "I've been sitting here with him for an hour and you've gotten more out of him than I have in that hour." He sounded like he was complaining.

"Well, sir. You're just a lowly O-5, sir." Kardos grinned at him. Animal snickered as Harm glowered at Kardos.

"Since you've out-processed, you're not subject to the UCMJ", Harm noted darkly as Animal and the former GSGT Peter Kardos grinned, pretty much ignoring Harm's toothless threat. He couldn't do anything to a six eight former Marine, let alone one that was built like a brick shit-house so he grumbled to himself about the roasting that he was getting.

Animal looked at his watch. "Well, I know that you secret squirrels didn't invite us for a cup of coffee and a fireside chat." Kardos snorted at the derisive reference to FDR's little wartime radio broadcasts.

"No, actually that wasn't the reason..." Kardos responded as he looked over seriously at the two naval officers sitting in front of him. "We have news that the new head of Al Qaeda is putting out feelers to see if there is any soft targets. We're expecting something to happen inside of the next three weeks. Homeland Security is keeping a watch on any suspicious entries to the United States."

"Are you dragging us into something again?" Harm asked knowing just how riled Catherine was going to be if he had to go out of country on another wild goose-chase.

"I have no idea what's going to happen...but whatever they're planning, it's gonna be big." Kardos replied enigmatically, "Maybe even on the scale of the World Trade Center attacks. Fringe groups are trying to make threats to throw us off."

"So what do you want us to do about it?" Animal looked perturbed.

"Sir, you may be headed back to sea for deployment."

"Battle-group commander is a one star job." Animal corrected him.

"Sir, we need two flags on this. You, sir, have the experience of having dealt with these terrorists and Commander Rabb has been face to face with Sadik Fahd. You two eliminated him, we found his body." Kardos replied, "and what was left of Webb." He grimaced, having seen the photos. "It wasn't pretty. They had to ID him from his dental records."

"You one hundred percent sure that body was Sadik Fahd?" Harm said. "The guy is like a chameleon; he'll change his face so that he looks completely different; and the only one who spent any time with him is dead." Animal looked at Harm with a raised eyebrow in question. Harm shook his head; he wasn't about to drag Mackenzie into the mix even if it seemed as though they weren't friends anymore. Besides the last time he had spoken to Mac, it hadn't gone over well. Animal shrugged his shoulders.

There was a knock on the door as Kardos got to his feet, "Come in, Ma'am..." He said as the door opened and VADM McMahon walked in with a sheaf of papers.

She gave him a grudging look of appreciation at the CIA spy's gesture of respect. "Well, Gunnery Sergeant Kardos, I'm glad to see that a few years on the block haven't driven all the military values out of you. Unlike some who are still serving..." She said pointedly, looking at Animal who was swigging a drink of Pepsi nonchalantly.

Kardos evidently had read up on his dossier and had put out his favorite drinks as refreshments. Sitting down across from Animal, she raised an eyebrow as Animal put down the Pepsi and looked at her with a "Yes, ma'am…" as infuriatingly as possible; cloyingly innocent and properly respectful. It was well known as to how much Animal disliked rear-echelon mike foxtrots and he did everything to tweak their sensibilities.

"Rear Admiral Nakamura…" McMahon stated as she looked at Animal with some sniff of disdain. She was a rank-climber, persistent on military decorum and structure and Animal knew it from her very bearing. And every single ribbon on her rack screamed career staff officer. "You have orders…" she handed him over a sheaf of papers bearing the seal of the Chief of Naval Operations.

Animal read over the orders with nary a reaction, much to Vice Admiral McMahon's disappointment. "Yes, ma'am." He repeated not even looking up from the papers.

"So you don't have any sort of objection to being sent out to the Persian Gulf, yet again?" she asked. She knew damned well that it was a punishment detail.

"Ma'am. I follow orders. The CNO details me out to the Persian Gulf and areas surrounding, my only response is When and for how long…and whether I have enough time to execute the mission to the depth of detail that is required." Animal replied with as bland a reaction as possible. Maegyn wasn't going to like this one bit, but well, orders were orders.

Vice Admiral McMahon seemed to be let down that Animal hadn't had any contrary reaction to his orders and just nodded. She then turned to Harm and said, "Commander Rabb…you will be detailed as Fleet JAG for this…" handing Harm a sheaf of orders as well. Harm followed Animal's lead and gave VADM McMahon no sign that he was disgruntled at the prospect of sea duty, especially with Catherine's impending due date sometime within the next three to four months.

"Such is Navy life, ma'am." He responded bravely.

"Very well…" VADM McMahon said, "You two will be reporting back to the CIA and to ONI as to what you find. This is a fact-finding mission. Do not discuss anything but the fact that you will be on deployment with your respective spouses."

With a scrape of chairs moving back, Animal and Harm stood at the position of attention and barked in unison, "Yes, ma'am!"

VADM McMahon barely acknowledged the military etiquette with a perfunctory nod and exited the room. As the door closed behind her, Animal and Harm exchanged knowing glances. Kardos turned to them and said, "Admiral Nakamura, Commander Rabb; what we're looking for is recon images of potential terrorist training facilities. We'll negotiate over-flights of Pakistani airspace with the Pakistani government; we also need, if such sites are found, the layout of the buildings, the number of vehicles, weapons caches, etcetera in the location. All of this is necessary information."

"…and we have to hang our asses out over the frying pan to do it." Animal asked.

Kardos looked grim, "Unfortunately." He said, his demeanor resigned to the fact that there generally would be absolutely shit. "There will be operations that require extraction from the LZ. Will your forces be able to do so?"

"It'll be risky, but we'd be able to do it." Animal replied non-committal. "But we need prep notice so that we can do it safely."

Kardos nodded, "It will depend on the situation. Sometimes emergency extraction doesn't give us much lead-time."

"Understood." Animal replied looking over at Kardos with a just do your best expression. "I just want to bring my men and women back home from deployment. This will be the first time that a COMNAVAIRLANT has been underway since WWII and the JCS is going to have a shit-fit if something goes wrong. I want every bit of intel that you have on what we're up against."

"Some of that information is black." Kardos said as equally non-committal as Animal had before.

"I don't care whose arm you have to twist, Pete, but give me the four-one-one so that I can do what it takes to bring these sons of bitches to their knees. I'll bomb them with bacon grease filled drop-tanks from the goddamned mess-hall, if I have to, to send those assholes to Paradise and their waiting seventy-two virgins." Animal growled ominously.

Harm tapped Animal on the shoulder. "Animal?"

"Yeah…what?!" Animal snapped.

"Well… Muslims can't eat pork."

"Yeah…so?"

"Well…if you drop bacon-grease filled drop-tanks on them, they will end up going to hell because they would be unpure." Harm stated.

Animal gave him an incredulous look. "…and that's a bad thing because? Do you really think I care where the hell they go once they get their asses handed to them?"

Kardos was trying hard not to laugh. "I take it that you're not charitable with regards to their particular religious beliefs?" he asked.

"Not particularly, especially when those bastards are trying to blow myself and others up." Animal retorted. Harm shook his head. He could see where Animal was coming from but hearing it voiced was another story. "This isn't your normal war, Commander." Animal continued, "it's going to be an evade and sucker punch war; a war of attrition and subterfuge. We need to track the bastards down into their hidey-holes and engage them one on one. Something tells me we're going to go through SEAL teams like a Hollywood actress goes through costume changes."

Kardos agreed, "Actually, sir, you will be inserting a SEAL team into Hoshab." The CIA agent said unfurling a rolled up map. There is a cluster of three hamlets that are surrounded by a riverbed. The LZ will be twenty- five miles south east of the hamlet in the desert. So I need you to prep a mission. What did the vice admiral say about the deployment?"

Animal furrowed his brows as he looked again at the sheaf of orders and then at Harm's. "Well it says here that we are to deploy forward of Sand Viper Station in the Gulf of Oman. I just direct my squadrons as COMNAVAIRLANT. Anything regarding big boats is above my pay grade." Just as he said that, his phone rang. Holding up a hand, he answered the phone. "COMNAVAIRLANT, Rear Admiral Nakamura!"

On the other end of the line a cheerful voice said, "Animal, it's Mitch; when you're done talking to the secret squirrels, I need you to come up to the JAG office and we can kill two birds with one stone. I've got Wrex up here with me." Animal's eyes widened and he shrugged his shoulders at Harm's inquisitive look.

"I'll do that, sir, if you can clear the pad at the Pentagon for me, I'll let the helo aviator know that we're detouring to Ground Zero." Animal informed the caller who sounded cheerful when he responded.

Admiral Mitch Garner, the Chief of Naval Operations responded, "Sure thing, Animal…I'll get the pad clear for you."

Animal and Maegyn's Home 511 Breckinridge Avenue, Norfolk, VA 1045hrs

"Irish…" Admiral Mitch Garner's voice was warm through the telephone.

"Hello, sir. How may I help you."

"Well…Irish, your husband is heading into the Pentagon this afternoon around 1300hrs. If I send a helo for you in about an hour, can you be at NAS Chamber's Field along with your young son?" ADM Garner sounded like he was up to something. Maegyn could hear it in his voice.

"Sure." Maegyn replied. "I can be at Chambers Field within about an hour and a half, as soon as I get Mikey up from his nap."

"Great, it'll be wonderful to see him again…as well as you and your husband."

"Mitch, you know that you're always able to see your god-son." Maegyn insisted.

"I do also have to talk to you privately before your husband arrives regarding a matter of national security. As a reserve senior officer, you still have top level security clearance, but I have to discuss this in person with you. The phone-lines not being secure and all that."

"Understood, sir." Maegyn switched innately back to subservient officer mode. "Will do, sir. I'll be heading to Chambers Field in zero zero thirty."

"Thanks, Irish. Your helo will be waiting." When Mitch hung up, Irish looked over at the door to the baby's room. "Well…" said quietly half to herself, half to the snoring baby in the crib. "Looks like we're going for a ride."

Naval Air Station Norfolk, Norfolk VA, 1125 hrs

Maegyn waited patiently for the helo to finish loading the other officers onto the flight. They were travelling in an MH-60S Seahawk (unofficially called the Knighthawk). Maegyn had donned her USN uniform whites; the four gold stripes and line star on her shoulderboards contrasting with the white of her service uniform wearing her USN female cover. Mikey looked absolutely fascinated with his mother looking up at her in her service uniform with wide eyes. He was in a stroller, which to her embarrassment, two other officers of junior rank helped to fold up while she held Mikey so that they could load up the stroller in the net to the rear of the passenger cabin. Soon, the rotor blades started spinning and the vibration of the fuselage was felt through the very bench that she was sitting on and she held onto Mikey tightly as the Seahawk took off.

It was an hour before the familiar shape of the Pentagon building was visible in her field view.

"Ma'am, we'll be landing at the North Helipad." The helo aviator turned to her and said.

"Thank you, Commander." Maegyn replied briefly as she took in the view of the Potomac River and the Pentagon Lagoon Yacht basin to one side of the helo as the helo traversed the No-Fly Zone's air corridor which kept those guards stationed on the roof of the Pentagon from launching one of their shoulder-launched Stingers at them. After September 11th, the guards, armed with FIM-92J Stingers, had been placed on the roof to monitor all approaches by aircraft towards the No Fly Zone established around the Pentagon Building and to shoot them down if necessary. After the Pentagon was hit by that B757-223, American Flight 77, the air-defense wall around the Pentagon was tightened up.

Maegyn remembered that day all too well. She had been on maternity leave; pregnant with Mikey and thus was not called up to fly CAP with the F-14s of VF-101. The scar of the Boeing 757 hit wasn't evident with the completion of the Phoenix Project in August 15th of 2002, bettered by almost a month of their originally scheduled completion date of September 11th 2002; however the newness of the white granite that adorned the face of the building was a scar in itself; a reminder of the innocence and belief in the superiority of the United States that died that fateful September morning in 2001.

By the time that the helo had alighted on the helipad, the aviators shut the rotors down so that the other officers could help Maegyn get Mikey's stroller out of the helo. After their egress from the helo, they headed up the sidewalk towards the building while the helo started up their rotors, returning to Chambers Field.

When they had reached the area of the building that was the United States Navy's temporary working area for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maegyn sighted the CNO. Cordially snapping to attention, she said, "Captain Maegyn O'Bannon…reporting as ordered, sir."

"Captain, welcome. Come on in…" Mitch replied as he gestured to Maegyn to follow. "Here let me take the stroller." Others gazed at the incongruous sight of the CNO pushing a stroller of a young two year old. The CNO was a single man having never really found the right woman to bond with and thus his friend, his wife's wife and child were like having a surrogate family. To Mikey, he was Uncle Mitch who sent him all sorts of wonderful things from his travels abroad.

When they reached the CNO's office, Mitch ushered her in and sat her and Mikey down in the stroller, then moved around to his side of the desk and sat down. Looking gravely at her, he said. "We've been having problems in the Middle East again." Mitch said. "I'm afraid that I'm going to have to take your husband away from you again for a while."

Maegyn's heart leapt into her throat. "…but he's a shore-based admiral." She protested.

"I know, Maegyn, but the thing is that we need to conduct operations against this new threat that's cropping up…" Mitch replied, "Terrorism used to be this thing in the shadows. They'd bomb a restaurant or some other building. This is the first time since Beirut in 1983 that they have conducted bombings on this scale and against such hardened targets. Yes, the World Trade Center could be considered a soft target, but the Pentagon was a military installation. We need Tosh out there on the front lines…conducting operations against the terrorists, sending recce aircraft against terrorist installations to find out what their weakness is, sending SEAL teams in to harass and disorient the terrorists so that they don't know what's going on. And your husband is good at that."

"I know…Mitch, I flew with him, remember?"

"Yeah…we all flew together at one time." The CNO and former CO of the VF-41 Black Aces said.

Maegyn drew in a shuddering breath. "Mitch, I know why you need to do this to Tosh, but…the spouse in me protests it and I don't like it."

"I understand that, Maegyn." He said, sighing heavily. "I promise I'll do everything that I can to keep him and his people safe."

Maegyn looked at him grimly, "Don't make a promise that you can't keep, Mitch."

The Pentagon, Washington, DC, 1435hrs

"…and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God." Animal lowered his right hand, palm out to shake the Chief of Naval Operations' hand.

"Congratulations, Vice-Admiral Nakamura." Vice-Admiral Douglas Klassen, the COMSECONDFLT congratulated Animal with a pat on the back once Maegyn had replaced Animal's RADM collar pins with three-star collar insignia.

"Now…the change of command ceremony we'll do formally tomorrow so that Animal can start planning his deployment." Grinned ADM Mitch Garner. The hype and protocol of the change of command ceremony was in keeping with the formality of the promotion ceremony but on an even bigger scale with the whole command presiding; at least the section of the command that wasn't underway. "But we have yet another promotion – of course this is a deep-select promotion and a worthy one at that…" he grinned looking at Animal… "Not that yours wasn't."

Harm looked shell-shocked as he looked over at RADM AJ Chegwidden who looked just about as shocked as he did. And even more shocked when Catherine and a tall familiar blonde stood beside the RADM. He was shocked back to his senses when the CNO barked out.

"Commander Harmon Rabb! Front and Center!"

Everything was a blur until the commissioning oath was read out and he repeated it by rote.

"I, Harmon Rabb, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

CNO Garner extended his hand…and shook Harm's. "Congratulations, Captain Rabb!"