All the important legal stuff is in part one.
30 March 2003
We've been busy here for the last 6 hours, preparing our prisoners for transport to one of the POW centers further west of here. General Jasper has ordered me to bring Razzaq to him personally, so I'll be off to Doha as soon as the chopper delegated to the task arrives. What a difference 5 days make! We'll get to go by helo the entire way, thanks to quick work by the frontline troops who have secured so much territory so quickly.
The best part is that the general has found me a seat on a C-5 headed back to Dover AFB this afternoon. He says he's got the experts available to him to do the initial interrogation of Razzaq without me – meaning an anti-terrorism team from CIA and FBI, no doubt – and that he's putting the entire forward team up for at least one commendation above and beyond the OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM COMBAT ACTION COMMENDATION for which I've just qualified. I should be back in DC before midnight East Coast time.
"Colonel, I'm really sorry that you're leaving us," Zeke Taris says to me as he watches me repack my sea bag. "I learned a lot more from you in five days than I did from Major Felden in five months."
"Thanks, Zeke," I reply. He's a good kid and will go far, I think. "You'll like Major Lukas, Lieutenant. He's good – he and First Sergeant Henderson and I all served together in Bosnia. And remember that Henderson and Waggoner are your best resources."
He nods thoughtfully beside me. "Yes, ma'am." We're both silent for 36 seconds before he fidgets a little and asks timidly, "Ma'am, how do you stand being away from the people you love like this?"
It's a plaintive plea for help; I recognize the "I have a sweetheart at home" tone in it as well as the "I want my mommy" whine that I hear from Little AJ on occasion when I've had to chastise him for misbehavior while Harm and I are babysitting. Harm is never the disciplinarian; in fact, he's usually the cause of the trouble, which gets him chastised, too. One of these days that chastisement will take on a whole new form because I'll be in a position to deny him certain activities…
Focus, Marine. One of your men needs you.
"Prayer," I say, "and knowing that they are praying for me, as well. Trust. Knowing that they do love you helps a lot." I smile at the young man beside me. "And making sure that they know you love them is always a good move. Does she know?"
He blushes; it's endearing. "I proposed over Thanksgiving, before we knew we were going to be deployed."
"When's the wedding?"
"As soon as I can get a license after we get back. We'll worry about the big ceremony later." He pulls an already tattered new letter out of his pocket; the boys got mail yesterday on the supply truck. "Haley and my mom have put up yellow ribbons all over town and the council of churches had a prayer service for me and six other guys from the town who are over here. She says she's counting the number of times she thinks about me every day so she can kiss me that many times when I get home."
"That's nice," I say, thinking that if I did that to Harm, we'd never be able to go to work again.
Zeke is blushing again. "Then she says that the Marine Corps probably wouldn't accept kissing as a reason for being AWOL."
I start to laugh even as I'm saying, "I'll defend you, Lieutenant."
And if Harm were opposing counsel, I'm quite sure I could convince him to drop the charges. As long as I remembered to secure leave for myself first, of course.
It's 0346 Sunday morning here, which makes it…1946 in Washington…and means that I'll see Harm in about 29 hours. Because if you think I'm going back to my apartment before I see my Flyboy to get him unlocked from his self-imposed prison, you've got as many rocks in your head as he does in his.
I've just turned Alim Abdullah-Razzaq over to General Jasper and his team here in Doha and have an hour and 4 minutes before my flight for the States leaves. As I'm walking out of the headquarters building, though, Major Gerrity comes running out of the general's office suite.
"Colonel Mackenzie, you have a phone call!" he shouts to me. "It's Clayton Webb."
I groan; what the hell does he want?
Gerrity ushers me back into the empty reception area and motions at the phone. "Line three."
It still amazes me how much like a normal base office this place is – in Bosnia, the closest we came to an office was a small cubbyhole in an abandoned building that had no electrical connectivity save our gas-powered generator. I sit down at the desk and punch the line. "Mackenzie."
"Mac! Well done," Clayton begins, and I recognize the effusiveness in his voice. He wants something. "I think I can safely say that you've averted another 9/11."
Which makes it how many in the past 18 months? "We'll see, Clay. What do you want?"
He laughs a little. "Actually, I'm calling to offer to go tell Harm that you're okay. But I need you to cover my ass for me."
I'm confused. Why does he need me to cover his ass if he's going to tell Harm that I'm okay? "What?"
"Well, you remember that your cover mission hasn't happened yet, right?"
"My cover mission is real?" Now I'm really confused.
"Well, of course, but someone else was tapped to do it anyway. That's not the point. Marine Intel will be meeting you and sequestering you when you arrive, so don't try to get a ride from anyone. I'll tell Harm that you still have to be debriefed about something that happened when I see him before you come home. Then when we're done with you, you can call him."
"To come and pick me up?"
"No. You'll have to go to GITMO to meet Razzaq."
"Clayton…" If he doesn't recognize that tone by now, he's an idiot.
He sighs; he isn't an idiot, after all. "Okay, okay, I'll see what I can do."
"Fine, you're done as soon as you've been debriefed."
That was almost too easy, but I've gotten what I wanted and Harm will know I'm okay. "Thank you, Clay. See you tonight?"
"Probably not. I'll have someone there who will know what to do, though."
This flight is much better than the one over in terms of the ride. Unfortunately, I think it's mainly because there are three caskets on board, each containing the body of a brave man killed in action.
It feels good to be back in my dress uniform after those BDUs. However unfeminine the Video Princess thinks the olive drab skirt and jacket are, at least a woman has some curves in them. No one, and I mean no one, has anything but a rectangular form in BDUs. The t-shirts, however, had to be packed away, so I don't feel as close to Harm now as I did in the field, even though each minute brings me nearly 7 miles closer to him.
I wonder as the pilot, an Air Force reservist who has come back to chat with me a few times on his breaks, announces that we are now under Washington, DC air traffic control if Harm is flying tonight. Maybe it will be his Tomcat that approaches us in a little while to make sure we're exactly who and what we say we are; if it were daylight – and if this plane had windows – I might be able to look out the portal to see if "Hammer" were the call sign on the fighter.
Damn it. Why did I have to think about Harm flying again?
I spend the rest of the flight worrying and envisioning horrible things happening to my Flyboy, although I don't fall asleep. Just as well, I'm sure, as I'd have had nightmares instead of daymares. And damn Clayton Webb for keeping me from Harm tonight when all I want to do is hold him in my arms and tell him over and over again how much I love him.
The crew chief sits down beside me and straps in as we make our final approach to Dover. "I hate to tell you this, ma'am, but we're stuck on the aircraft until the caskets have been escorted off."
"I know, sergeant," I sigh. I've flown bereavement flights before, but never for combat related deaths. "How many of these have you done lately?"
"This is only our second, ma'am. We've had convalescent flights already; I suspect as long as we're needed to ferry things over there, the powers that be will find things for us to ferry back." He looks at me. "No disrespect, ma'am, but are you a lawyer? You look like that Marine lawyer who was on television a while back."
Suppressing a chuckle, I nod. "That's me, sergeant."
"So your partner is that Navy pilot and JAG who let a dirty nuke fly up his tailpipe last spring?"
"He'd be the one, Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr." Does everybody in the military know that story?
"And you work with Alec Baldwin, right?"
Sturgis is going to love this. "Commander Sturgis Turner. You've got some good connections, Sarge."
He smiles at me. "On my day job, I'm Congressman Goldman's chief of staff. He and Bobbi Latham are good friends. She has newspaper clippings and official photos hung up all over her office, especially of Commander Turner."
Really? Now isn't that interesting…
Our pilot is very, very good. It takes me a minute after we've landed to realize that we're on the ground. The wait for the caskets to be off-loaded with the appropriate ceremony takes 34 minutes, after which the nose ramp goes up in preparation for our deplaning and the loading of the materiel going back to the war zone.
I heft my sea bag to my shoulder and join the crew at the top of the down ramp as we wait for the all clear sign from the ground crew chief to deplane. His conversation with our load master has gone on for a minute and 19 seconds when I look away from the plane crew out toward the base.
My heart skips a beat when I catch sight of someone on the tarmac. I would know that figure anywhere, and I don't really care how or why he's here, just that he is, wearing his dress blues and standing uncovered as close to the plane as he can.
My Flyboy. My Sailor.
The load master waves to us and I run down the ramp at full speed, pumps and tight skirt notwithstanding. Six seconds later I am in Harm's embrace and I can tell by the way he crushes me to his body that the key has been turned and he's set himself free from his prison.
Maybe those three words aren't so essential, after all.
A long moment passes before I tip my head back to look at him; those green-blue hazel eyes are now deep, tear grazed blue; my own eyes are also wet as my heart thuds in my chest. I fight for words; the first ones I find are the ones that matter least.
"How'd you know? Marine Intel said I'd be met and sequestered until I've been debriefed."
Harm chokes a bit before he answers me. "Clayton. He scared me to death first, of course. But I'm okay now."
I heave a sigh of contentment. "So am I," I admit, and we stand wrapped in each other's arms for 36 seconds before I realize that the tears that filmed his eyes are now flowing down his freshly shaved cheeks. "Harm?"
"Sarah," he whispers, and all I want to do when he owns my name like that is ravish him with kisses. "Sarah, I have to let go. You took my heart with you to Iraq and I've been dying since you left. I can't let another minute pass without you knowing how much I love you."
I don't believe it for a split second, then the words penetrate my soul. I love you. He just said the three most important words of my life. But I can see that he's not finished.
"I've been holding myself prisoner for so long and now if I don't let myself out I'll wither and die. Marry me, have my children, grow old with me, just say you'll always be with me, please."
Oh, my God, thank you! I can feel his love crashing into me in waves, bathing me in joy. I bite my lip a little to keep my sobs under control so I can reply to what he's just said, but I've given up on the tears that stream down my face. This is the most perfect moment of my life so far.
Harm moves one arm from around my waist and brings his smooth, warm palm to my cheek. His thumb caresses my lip with a delicacy I wouldn't have thought possible from anyone; I burrow against him, wanting to melt into him forever. He's still not finished; I hear him take a deep breath.
"I love you, Sarah Mackenzie. I will give up anything you want me to just to have the chance to make you happy for the rest of your life."
I think I could play with the silky hair at the nape of his neck forever, although I want something else more right now. I pull him toward me as he moves his hand from my cheek to the back of my head. Our lips meet in a soul-baring, searing kiss that leaves us both breathless after several long moments.
"Harmon Rabb, I love you," I whisper against his ear, and I know that I've turned the key I can now throw away forever.Fin