REVIEW RESPONSES

kristin: Wow, thank you! I can't believe you reviewed so quickly, lol. I'm glad you're enjoying this and thanks for coming back!

jagchick105: Thank you! I had a lot fun writing that chapter (concerning Harm's high school years) because the show never experimented with it. So I'm like, "dude, I can write whatever I want!" Lol, it was fun. Hey, don't hurt your computer!!!!!

Devorah: heehee! Cool! Hope this was fast enough!!!!!

steveperrysgirl: Here it is, as asked!!! Thank you for reading!!!!

flyboyfan: LoL, I enjoyed adding that last comical bit to chapter six. Thanks again for the idea! Lol, well, since the school year is rollin' back in, I probably will be updating only on weekends or late Fridays, cause during the week can be very slow. This story isn't over yet!!!! Don't forget to update "Complicated Feelings"! You've got a great start there!!

Melanie-Anne: Thank you for reviewing and telling me what you think! I'm so glad you like this!

tomcat_all_2001: LoL, hope you like it! Thank you for reviewing!!!

courtney: thanks, didn't even realize it. And I doubt too many others noticed either since they didn't say anything. I'm fixin' it now.

Sorry this took a little longer, folks. I had to re-read the whole story, make sure everything made sense because the truth is about to be revealed (like, all of it, which I probably shouldn't have done, but, oh well.)! So this chapter takes place all in one scene. Happy reading!!!

~sancti

Chapter 8: Return To The Grave

"Hello, Harm. Nice to see you again." Arial pulled a 9-millimeter, training it on Harm.

He felt his chest tighten. He searched through his options, staying calm.

 All right, Harm, you have no gun, and no weapons. Not really a means of escape since she has a gun aimed at you. But I shouldn't thinking about escape. This may be the only chance I get to catch her. So your goal now is to neutralize the threat. Wait until the right moment.

Arial stood, careful to keep her weapon aimed at the sailor, as she moseyed over to the refrigerator. "I noticed you don't have much to eat, Harm." She stated, opening a cabinet door. 

"I don't need much." Harm replied, his tone flat.

The Marine chuckled. "What, no red meat?"

Harm let her ramble. Letting threats talk to themselves was a good way to see what really was on their minds. Interrupting them might disturb whatever thoughts might be important.

 She hoisted herself up on the island counter, crossing her legs. She then turned the gun over in her hands, and then held it up. "Recognize this? It's yours. Nice model. You haven't cleaned it though. When was the last time you fired it?"

Harm didn't respond.

 Arial rolled her eyes. "Funny, you were so eager to hear what I had to say two days ago."

"Things have changed." Harm finally replied. "Specifically you, Private Thomas...or is it Bennet?"

 Arial's smile diminished. "What did you say?"

Harm crept closer to her, watching the gun carefully. "That is your real name, isn't it? Your father's name is Colonel Howard Bennet, am I correct?"

 Arial tightened her grip on the weapon. "I don't have a father."

Harm nodded in understanding. "I don't blame you. Your parents practically disowned you at an early age. You were sent to live with your aunt in New York."

 "Stop it." She ordered gravely.

"In fact, your whole life has been something of a nightmare," Harm continued blithely, "you were expelled from two schools, went to juvenile hall for some time during high school, you were teased relentlessly by other students—"

Arial hopped off the counter and started to pace around it, her eyes to the floor. Harm followed slowly, watching the weapon. "You had only one friend for three years, Gracie Miles—you remember her?"

She shook her head sharply. "No." Arial answered, her tone clipped.

 Harm narrowed his eyes. "No? She was your best friend. And, apparently, she's been doing quite well. She's made honor role every year, has a boyfriend. She's even been accepted to a good college. Oh, by the way, we visited your 'boyfriend' earlier today. He told us you paid him a visit. He said you talked about punishing someone."

Arial suddenly stopped pacing, pointed the gun at Harm and pulled the trigger. On instinct, Harm ducked, or took cover, as Mac would say, when Arial raised the weapon. The gun went off, the sound reverberating off the apartment walls. When Harm didn't hear anything else, he slowly straightened, glancing around the room. He looked behind him and noticed the bullet hole in one of the vertical blinds that separated the bedroom from the kitchen. She would've hit him if he hadn't acted quickly enough.

 Harm slowly brought his gaze to the Marine. She held the gun loosely at her side as tears slowly made a trail down her cheeks. "Luke is the one that's been punished." She spat, her voice trembling.

 Harm understood immediately. They had released Lieutenant Stephens earlier since they couldn't charge him with anything serious enough to keep him in confinement. Arial had taken that chance to eliminate him. She killed her own lover. And she had nearly killed him.

 "Arial," Harm moved towards her slowly, his eyes still on the weapon, "What happened to you was terrible. And you're still a victim here. I can help you, but only if you tell me the truth. What happened to you that night four months ago?"

 Arial looked at him with drooped, sad eyes. Harm could see the pain still lingering in them. It was a pain that would probably never go away. She backed away to the couch at the window, sitting down, resting the weapon in her lap. Feeling a little awkward at the sudden change of events, Harm cautiously made his way to the armchair across from her. Arial stared down at the gun, her expression blank.

 "Do you remember that night, Arial?" Harm urged, leaning forward in the chair.

"I'm thinking!" She hissed. Harm should have known better. Just because they were sitting down together and talking didn't mean they were suddenly best friends. Harm stayed silent, letting the thoughts come to her.

 "It was dark," She began, "and cold...muddy. We were training for night missions. We were over a hundred kilometers from Chechnya. But snipers were said to have been spotted in the area. So we were warned to take precautions...get me something to drink. Water." She said suddenly. 

 Harm obeyed, coming back with a bottle of water. She grabbed it, taking a swig before returning to her story.

 "Luke had us hiking all night. We wanted to rest...we needed to rest. But he said if it were wartime, there wouldn't be any time to take a break. So we kept going. It must have been 0200 when we finally stopped to camp. I was at the end of the line. Private Saunders was a few meters in front. Saunders and I were given the order from the front to guard the perimeter since we were last in line. That meant emergency rations and the only protection from weather was pine branches. I told Saunders to go ahead with the rest of the camp. I could handle it myself. He was reluctant, but he left, eventually. I cut off good size branches to make a shelter, and I still had to lie in the mud. But I was well hidden...it was so cold," She emphasized again, almost trembling from the vivid memory, "I had to keep resting in different positions, because my legs would go numb.

 "About half an hour later, I heard the first crunch into the frozen branches and leaves. It came from behind me, so I figured it was someone from camp, probably Saunders. They always do a headcount when we stop to rest."

 "But it wasn't Saunders." Harm deduced.

Arial shook her head. "No. We were trained how to be perfectly hidden while in a wooded area. But he knew exactly where to find me. Next thing I knew, I had a hood shoved over my head. I tried to fight, but others came out, holding me down. When I knew I couldn't retaliate, I tried to scream. But they gagged me with a rag. My hands and feet were tied and I was carried through the woods."

 "Did any of them say anything?"

Arial drank more water before answering. "No. I was carried to a truck, and then I was knocked out. After that, it's just a blur. I remember being carried out of the truck...I heard loud, boisterous voices at one point. I assumed they were other prisoners. They all spoke Russian. I was thrown into a cell...and then the guards came to...interrogate." Arial stopped there. Harm didn't have to know anymore. Though Arial's story painted a picture of what happened, it still didn't lead Harm anywhere closer to finding out why it happened, and who was responsible. 

 "But why?" She said abruptly.

"Why what?"

A familiar hatred suddenly filled her bloodshot eyes. "Why didn't you come?"

 Harm cocked an eyebrow. Why didn't I come? What the hell is she talking about?

"What are you talking about, Private?" He commanded as he stood.

 Arial stood as well. "Haven't you figured it out by now, Harm?"

 He had a theory, but was afraid to suggest it.

"You say you talked to Gracie. Did she let her big mouth run off?"

 Harm thought carefully before answering. No way to get around it. "She mentioned you were searching for your...brother."

Arial smiled, rolling her eyes. "Ah, yes, that whole mess."

 "You speak of it as if it's in the past." Harm said, narrowing his eyes.

She stared down at the floor again. "It is. But it's a complicated matter, which means there usually are a lot of loose strings. You're one of them." She added, pointing at him.

 Harm backed away towards the kitchen, his head spinning some. "What is this all about?"

 Arial stared at him, confused. "Don't you recognize me, Harm?"

He quickly shook his head. The girl was crazy, anything she'd declare would be hearsay. "No."

"Oh, come on, Harm. All that time when I was missing, and the news stations were continually putting my photo up, didn't it seem like you knew me?"

 Yes. "No."

Arial walked up to him. "You see, this isn't one of your run-of-the-mill cases that can simply be solved by a little detective work and some government contacts. My situation runs deeper than that."

 Harm quickly pulled himself together, now desperate for answers since he was so close. "And just what is the situation?"

"Does the name Andrew Garner ring a bell?"

Harm felt his breath catch his lungs. He hadn't heard that name in almost twenty-three years. Arial smiled at his reaction. "Good, I'm glad you remember."

Harm dug through his memories, before law school, before the academy, and back to the jungle. The blistering, humid jungle. Corporal Andrew Garner. A Marine sniper. He and Striker had met up with him in a small, very poor village. The Corporal was an expert with his weapon and was invaluable to them when they needed to get past a heavily guarded area.

 Corporal Garner was a few years older than Harm, searching for his uncle who was also M.I.A. Garner constantly talked about his family, and it was a large one at that. He'd get all stirred up, chatting about hunting with his dad (the only other guy in the house), chasing away the guys that ogled his sisters, and the long, humid summers he'd spend with his girlfriend. Harm had a love-hate relationship with those stories, because he knew he'd never experience them, but just hearing them made him glad that at least some people in this world were happy. Garner always used to talk about how excited he was to get home, but he knew he'd never leave until he found out what happened to his uncle. Harm seconded those feelings, thinking about his mother and his home, as quiet as it was compared to Andrew's abode. He'd missed his grandmother too. Hell, he'd even missed Frank.

 But war was war. And this was a dirty one. Harm and Andy saw people die every day. So the two had made a pact. If one of them died, the other would always look after his friend's family. Just keep watch on them. Harm had to break that promise. As Andy died in his arms, Harm told him he'd look after his sisters, all four of them. He'd visit them. He'd make sure they married the right guys. He'd be a true friend to that family. But after returning to America, calming his parents down, and finally falling back into a normal life, looking after the four sisters of a friend he'd known for only a month didn't seem realistic.

"You sent a letter." Arial murmured, "A freakin' letter!" She shouted.

"You weren't even born yet, Arial." Harm pointed out.

She waved a hand in the air in frustration. "What the hell does it matter?! When Thomas Garner found out his son was dead, he had a heart attack! My mother had to deal with two funerals! Then she remarried to Major Howard Bennet, my father."

 Harm connected it all. Arial, with her mixed up mind, had looked for someone to save her when she was a P.O.W. And he was the one person she thought would come for her.

 "Why did you say you were looking for your brother?" Harm asked softly, "He's dead."

She laughed suddenly, a maniacal, haunting laugh. "I know that! But you never gave Andrew the honor of being buried in America. His body's in a hole somewhere in that damned jungle. I'd hoped joining the Corps would eventually bring me there so I could search for him, and give him the chance at a proper burial."

 Harm closed his eyes, taking in the information. For almost nineteen years, he strongly affected someone's life and didn't even realize it. But maybe now, since the truth was out, he could calm Arial down.

 All hope suddenly washed away though when he heard the 9-millimeter cock. Harm brought his gaze to the weapon, held firmly in Arial's hand as she pointed it at him. The look on her face was vengeful, but her eyes still held that sadness, and she smiled ruefully. "You broke a promise to a dying man, Harm. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

 Harm slowly shook his head. "Not anymore." He said truthfully.

His answer stirred the anger in her face, but she didn't pull the trigger. Instead, her eyes fluttered, and her features twitched with pain. "No." She said weakly. Her balance wavered. Harm took a step forward, hesitated, and then grabbed her arm.

 "What's wrong?"

She dropped the gun. "They're trying to come back," She said weakly, "they're coming back! I can't let them!"

 The voices. Of course, Arial was still unstable. "Fight them, Arial." He ordered, placing his hands on her shoulders.

"I can't." She cried weakly.

"Yes, you can, Marine!"

She wrenched herself away from Harm's grasp, stumbling backwards, with both hands on her head. "Go away!" She screamed.

 All Harm could do was watch. Watch her slip back into the dark place she'd ripped herself away from two days ago. And as he watched her curl up on the floor, screaming in agony, he felt his heart break, because there was nothing he could do.          

***

TBC
***

The little jungle story up there is obviously fake, and Andrew Garner is completely from my imagination.

ANOTHER NOTE: This story is so not over yet. I don't plan on Arial returning to the total veggie state. She'll still be able to communicate. And besides—there's still an investigation to complete! :)

~sancti