To everything there is a season,

This takes place five years after Can't Fight This Feeling. Each section is from a different person's POV.

+++

To everything there is a season,

and a time to every purpose under the heaven

A time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which has been planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance. . . .

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

+++

Sergei:

BACHELOR OFFICER'S QUARTERS

QUANTICO, VIRGINIA

I should be exhausted, but I'm not. Or maybe it's just that I'm still on the high from the adrenaline rush I get whenever I'm up in the air. It's just after seven in the morning and I feel like I'm on top of the world despite having been awake for nearly thirty-six hours. Gram says that it's because, like my grandfather, father and brother before me, I have flying in my blood, in my heart and soul.

The first time she told me that, the day the United States Marine Corps pinned my gold wings on my uniform, she had this wistful, faraway look in her eyes. I knew what she was thinking about. As much as flying is a part of us, the men in my family, flying is what took two of those men away and nearly claimed a third. In 1942, a twenty-two year old woman was left with a farm in Pennsylvania to tend to and a two-year-old to raise. Twenty-seven years later, that fatherless child, then a man grown, left behind a young wife and a six-year-old son of his own. Another twenty-one years passed and the six-year-old had grown into a man of twenty-seven and nearly lost his own life because of flying. Some people might think that this family is cursed.

Sometimes, I wonder if it bothers Gram, the gold wings and the love of flying that is as much a part of this family as our tradition of military service. It crossed my mind to ask her, but I couldn't risk hurting her by bringing up painful memories. Nor could I ask my stepmother Trish for the same reason. She still gets teary-eyed when my father's name is mentioned, even after all these years. I thought about asking my brother, but some feeling that I cannot name stopped me. Maybe it was that I wasn't sure he would truly be able to understand and put it into words. Or maybe I didn't want to remind him of that Christmas day when his childhood was turned upside down.

Finally, I did ask Mac, but even that took courage. After all, if my brother was still flying full-time, it would take only a cruel twist of fate to put her in the same position as Gram and Trish, mourning her beloved husband while struggling to raise young, fatherless children. So it was with great reluctance that I voiced these thoughts to her.

After I had asked the question, Mac was silent for a long moment, so quiet that I immediately regretted asking. I stumbled over an apology as I started to back out of the room, stopping when she finally replied, her voice quiet, steady and sure.

"Flying is a part of the Rabb family makeup," she said, a faraway look in her eyes. I could see the love that she has for my brother and I hope that someday I will be as lucky as he is. "Your grandfather, your father, your brother – none of them would have been the men that Gram, Mom and I feel in love with if not for their love of flying."

She paused for a moment and I could almost see the memories replaying in her mind. Eventually, she continued, "When Harm had surgery and got his eyes fixed, I wanted him to stay so much. There was a part of me that wanted to take him in my arms and beg him to stay. But I couldn't make the words come out, because as much as I wanted and needed him to stay, I loved him enough to let him go. No matter how much it hurt, I knew deep down that if he didn't go back, he wouldn't be the same man that I had fallen in love with."

When she finished, she looked at me and smiled and I could see in her eyes that she thought it was worth it, the risk of loving someone who could very easily be taken away. I wonder if, as much courage as it took for Gram, Trish and Mac to love an aviator, it took just as much courage for Grandfather, Father and Harm to love them, knowing that they might break their hearts by going away and never coming back.

I smile as I start going through my mail, while my friend and squadron mate, 1st Lieutenant James Paul, throws himself on my couch. This has kind of become a tradition with us, sitting down after a mission, training or otherwise, and discussing our mission and other assorted topics. Eventually, we'll wind down and James will head back to his own apartment and we'll finally collapse into sleep.

"I'd forgotten how much I hate night training flights," he declares, looking over at me. "I don't suppose they bother you, do they? You've probably flown many missions at night."

I just shrug. My time with the Russian Army seems like almost another lifetime ago. I do miss Russia at times and I miss my mother even more, but I have built a good life for myself here in America. A life that I have no regrets about. "A few," I say with disinterest as I pull one particular envelope out of the stack. I tear open the envelope and barely glance at the outside of the card before opening it and reading the lengthy message on the inside.

"What have you got there?" James asks, glancing at the card in my hand with interest.

"Christmas card from my grandmother," I reply, holding up the card. I frown a little as I add, "This will be the first Christmas since I have been in America that I will not get to see her."

"Bah humbug to the genius who scheduled training missions all Christmas week," James says with disgust. "Where does your grandmother live?"

"In a small town called Bealsville in Pennsylvania," I answer as I carefully stand the card up on the coffee table with the rest of the cards I have already received from friends and family. Gram always picks out beautiful Christmas cards and her card seems to stand out just a little bit from the rest. "It is not far from Pittsburgh. She lives on a farm just outside of town."

"So your family always gathers at the farm for Christmas?" James asks, curious. I remember him once telling me that his family isn't very close, his parents divorced and his grandparents all dead. In spite of my somewhat unusual family situation, I can't imagine life like that. In my extended family, you don't have to even be related by blood to be made to feel like you belong.

"Not always," I say, remembering the first year I was in America. I was so nervous that first Christmas, finally meeting the rest of the family that I'd only spoken to on the phone prior to that. Fortunately, everyone made me feel so welcome that I could easily forget that we were practically strangers. It didn't take long for me to feel like I'd known them my entire life. "The first Christmas I was in America, everyone came to Washington. My brother had just gotten married and his wife was expecting twins so it wasn't a good idea for her to travel that late in her pregnancy. The following year we began the tradition of going to the farm. It was the twins' first Christmas and Gram didn't want to miss it, but she came down with the flu and couldn't travel."

"So everyone went up to the farm to be with her," James concludes. "Sounds like you have a great family."

"We're all very close," I say, picking up a framed photo off the coffee table. It is a snapshot of the extended Rabb-Burnett-Mackenzie family taken last Christmas. "My father was her only child and. . . .she says that having my brother and I around is like having my father back, we remind her so much of him."

"So who is everyone in the picture?"

"This, of course, is my grandmother," I say, pointing out everyone in the photo as I name them. "Next to her is my stepmother Trish and her husband Frank. That's my brother Harm and he's holding his son Matt. His wife, Mac, is holding their daughter Sarah. Next to Mac is her mother, Deanne. Behind her is Mac's Uncle Matt and sitting in front is Mac's sister Chloe." In the photo, I'm standing next to Gram, my hand holding hers just out of view behind Harm's back.

At the same time, the phone rings and there is a knock at the door. As I pick up the phone, I ask James, "Can you get the door for me? It's probably Lisa. She said she would stop by this morning."

As James goes to answer the door, I take his place on the couch and say into the phone, "Hello, Lieutenant Rabb."

Out of the corner of my eye, I see James pull open the door and motion in the redheaded woman dressed in the uniform of a Marine 2nd Lieutenant. "Hey, Lisa," I hear him say while I'm trying to pay attention to the woman on the other end of the phone line. "Your boyfriend's on the phone."

I smile and wave at Lisa and my heart flutters just a little bit in my chest. I met her just after being stationed at Quantico when I finished flight training school and we hit it off immediately. She's bright and bubbly and fun to be with. Is she the one I want to spend

the rest of my life with? I'm not sure and that's nothing against Lisa. She's going to make someone a great wife someday, maybe even me. Now that I'm out of college and my Marine training is over, various members of my family – mostly Gram and Trish, of course - have been dropping subtle hints about my settling down. Harm likes to joke that since he is finally married with children, Trish and Gram need a new project and that they don't want to wait until I'm thirty-six, the age Harm was when he married, before I settle down. Since I'm only twenty-three, I figure that I can easily give them what they want sometime within the next thirteen years.

I manage to bring my attention back to my phone conversation with June Randall, a neighbor of Gram's. I remember her fondly from my times on the farm. Like Gram, she is a widow, but her children are scattered across the country and rarely visit. Sometimes, the attitude of Americans amazes me. In Russia and most of Europe, elder family members are revered and taken care of. In America, they seem to often be ignored by children who seem to have forgotten where they came from. I am so glad that my family is not like that. Anyway, Mrs. Randall – as Harm and I still insist on calling her, no matter how many times she says we should call her June – loves to bake and often brings over to the farm lots of goodies when we visit for all of us to take home.

In an instant, as what she is saying registers in my mind, I feel like my world has gone spinning out of control and my mouth falls open. No, this can't be happening. Just a few days ago. . . .no, this can't be. I just got the card in the mail. It's the last thing I ever expected to hear. But it is happening. She wouldn't be calling me otherwise. "I understand," I say dully, my mind frozen. I can't believe this. "No, I'll talk to them. Thank you for calling." My voice is almost a whisper as I say goodbye and let the handset slip from my numb hand. I barely notice when Lisa sits down next to me, putting her hand on my shoulder.

"Sergei," she says, her warm voice full of concern. "What is it?"

My mouth opens and closes, but I can't seem to form the words. I pick up the card that I had just set a few minutes ago on the table and stare at the words inside, not really seeing them. "It's my grandmother," I finally manage to say, closing my eyes against the pain that is settling over my soul.

Lisa seems to understand what I cannot put into words and she leans her head against my shoulder, running a hand through my hair. "Oh, Serge," she says softly. "I'm so sorry."

Taking a deep breath, I say, "That was June Randall, a neighbor of Gram's. She tried to call my brother, but no one was home and she doesn't have his work number. I need to call him – no, I should go up to DC and see him. I need to see him. And Trish and Frank. I need to call them. They'll want to get the first flight out from California. And. . . ." I have to keep talking. If I keep talking, then I won't have to think about it. And if I don't have to think about it, then I won't feel.

"Sergei," Lisa says, closing her hand over one of mine. Her hand feels so cold. Or is that just me? "Slow down for a minute and take another breath. Take two or three. You need to take a moment to digest this. I know you and your grandmother were close."

I pull away and jump up from the couch, going over to the desk on the other side of the room, searching for the unit phone roster. I need to call Major Sampson and let him know that I need to take leave. I need to go to Washington and then I assume to Pennsylvania for the funeral. I'm not sure what Gram's arrangements were. Harm would probably know.

I sense Lisa coming up behind me and she puts her arms around my waist, trying to offer some measure of comfort. "I'll drive you to Washington," she offers as I finally find the phone roster. "You've been up all night and most of yesterday. You shouldn't drive."

I'm about to protest, but I stop myself from saying anything. I don't really want to be alone right now. I don't want to be alone with my thoughts.

+++

Mac:

TWO HOURS LATER

JAG HEADQUARTERS

FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

I'm smiling, humming 'Deck the Halls' as I walk through the bullpen with a stack of files for the case the Admiral just handed me. I smile at Gunny as I stop by his desk, handing him the top folder on my stack. "I have some research I need done," I say as he opens the folder. "The details are all on top. No rush on this. I'm going on leave in a couple of days and this case doesn't go to trial until after the New Year."

"I'll get on it as soon as possible," he replies, closing the folder and placing it in his inbox. "The research will be waiting on your desk when you get back from Pennsylvania."

"Thanks, Gunny," I reply, turning for my office as I see a familiar figure walking towards me in Marine greens, accompanied by a young woman also dressed in a Marine uniform. She must be the mysterious Lisa that Sergei has hinted about in his last few phone calls. I wave them over. "Sergei, what a nice surprise. What brings you. . . ." My voice trails off as I get a good look at his face and I know that whatever has brought him to DC, it is not good news. About a thousand possibilities race through my mind and I steel myself for whatever it is that he is about to tell me.

"Mac, can we go in your office?" he asks. More than the tone of his voice, so dull and lifeless, his words frighten me. I may be his sister-in-law, but military protocol is as much a part of him as it is the rest of us. I can't recall him ever calling me by my name while we have been in uniform. I am, after all, a superior officer, despite being family. Mutely, I nod as I lead them into my office.

His friend sits in one of the chairs in front of my desk, but Sergei remains standing, staring at me with an unreadable expression. I can't begin to count the number of times I've seen a similar expression on Harm's face, usually when he's trying to mask his emotions. I sit down, forcing myself not to fidget as I wait for him to tell me what has brought him here. Finally, after a lengthy silence that seems to stretch on into eternity, he asks, "Is Harm around?"

I shake my head, replying, "He's stuck up on the Hill today, some last minute business before Congress adjourns for the holidays." It puzzles me that Sergei almost looks relieved that Harm isn't around, as if he doesn't want to tell Harm what is on his mind. What could possibly be that bad. . . .

"I got a call from June Randall," he says quietly. I recognize the name and a feeling of dread settles over me, stronger than ever. Please God, don't let him say what I think he is about to. Please God, anything but that. But my silent prayers are in vain. "Gram died in her sleep last night."

I cover my mouth with my hand in shock as tears spring to my eyes, my other hand going to my stomach in an automatic gesture, as if to reassure myself that life goes on in the form of the child growing safely inside me, a child who will never know first hand what a wonderful woman his or her great-grandmother was. And what of Sarah and Matt? They're not quite five. Will there come a day when they won't even remember the gentle woman who would hug them and tell them stories? Oh, God, what about Harm? He loves his grandmother so much. We all do. In so many ways, I think she is the glue that has held this family together through everything.

"Mac, are you okay?" Sergei asks, kneeling beside my chair, a hand on my arm. His grandmother just died and he's asking how I'm doing? Biting my lower lip, I nod, fighting to control the tears as I remember the first time I met Gram. There was no hesitation, no concern over my past mistakes, only a welcoming acceptance. She is. . . .or was an amazing woman. It never surprised me that Harm wanted to name our daughter after her. I couldn't ask for a better role model for my daughter to live up to.

"What about you?" I ask, turning to look at him. I can see, just beneath the surface, how much he is struggling for control. I know that look. He is so much like his brother sometimes it's almost scary. Harm has been a major influence on him the last five years.

"I am fine," he says, sounding almost as if he's trying to assure himself of that as much as me. "I just. . . .there are things that need to be done."

I nod in agreement, thankful for something to focus on other than the pain. "Do Mom and Dad know yet?" I ask, calculating the time in California. It's still early there, probably too early for them to be up and what news to wake up to.

Sergei shakes his head. "I told Mrs. Randall that I would. . . .take care of it," he replies. His voice sounds so distant. "I wanted to wait a little bit. I didn't want to wake them up with this."

"I should call Harm," I say, my voice sounding foreign to my ears. "I'll call him and ask him to go home. And I'll pick up the kids from school on my way there. I really need to see my kids right now. You'll come, won't you? I know Harm will want to see you." Sergei nods as I reach for the phone, trying to concentrate as I dial the number for the small office Harm keeps in the Capitol. Why can't I remember the number?

I can feel Sergei's eyes on me, watching me, as I finally manage to dial the right number. I listen to the ringing sound and a part of me hopes that he isn't there, that I can let him go on just a little bit longer believing everything is all right with the world. But my hopes are dashed when he picks up on the third ring. "Captain Rabb," he says, his voice cheerful. I hate to be the one to shatter his good spirits.

"Harm, it's me," I somehow manage to say, fighting a losing battle to control my voice.

"Sarah?" he says, his voice concerned. "Baby, what is it?"

"Can you go home?" I ask, blinking back tears. I try to brush them away with my hand, but they won't stop falling. "I'm on my way there and. . . ."

"Sarah, is something wrong? Is it the baby?" he asks, the words tumbling from his mouth. I shake my head, forgetting for a moment that he's not in the room with me.

"No," I reply, my voice trembling. "Please, just go home and I'll explain everything there." I can tell that he's about to protest, wanting to know more, but I stop him with a single word. "Please."

"Okay," he concedes reluctantly, hanging up the phone on his end. I can almost see him in my mind, rushing from his desk and grabbing his coat as he races out the door. I know that I probably scared him, but I didn't know what to say. How do I tell him this?

Almost as if I'm in a trance, I stand and grab my coat from the rack behind the door. I blink several times as I pull the coat on, trying to clear my cloudy eyes. I cover my mouth again as a sob escapes me. Sergei puts his arm around me and leads me back to my chair. "Why don't you sit down for a minute?" he suggests. "I'll go talk to the Admiral, let him know what's going on."

I look up at him, my eyes wide. I'd forgotten completely. I would have just walked out of here without saying a word to anyone. I just hurt so much right now. I can't imagine hurting more if Gram were actually my own flesh and blood. Then again, she was more like family to me than some of my own blood relatives. I nod shakily.

As Sergei leaves, I try to smile at his friend, who is trying hard not to look at me. I guess not many 2nd Lieutenants get stuck in an office with a tearful Colonel. "You must be Lisa," I say, grabbing a handful of tissues out of the box on the corner of my desk. I dab at my eyes, wishing that the tears would stop falling. "Sergei has talked about you. I'm Sarah Rabb."

"Lieutenant Lisa Stafford, Ma'am," she says, her voice a little nervous. She shrugs. "I drove Sergei here. He just got in from a training flight and hasn't been to bed yet and he was so upset when he got that phone call."

"I understand," I say. She seems to really care for Sergei. I'm glad that he has someone to be there for him at a time like this. "Harm and Sergei, they're both very close to Gram. She's an amazing woman." It occurs to me that I'm talking about Gram in the present tense, but I can't stop thinking about her that way. I just can't believe that she's gone yet.

"Sergei talks a lot about her," Lisa says, smiling a little. "He was really upset that he wasn't going to be able to go to the farm for Christmas." She stops and looks down at her hands. In just a few minutes, I'd managed to almost forget about Christmas. Since Harm and I got married, it has been a new family tradition for all of us to gather together at this time, to celebrate a holiday which used to be about sadness and loss. I thought Christmas was supposed to be about hope and life or it has been since I got married and had my children. It shouldn't be about death. Not back in 1969 and not now.

I look down at my lap myself, not sure what to say. I look up when I hear my door open to see Sergei standing there with the Admiral. Lisa and I automatically stand, but he waves us off. "Do you need anything, Mac?" he asks, his voice full of concern.

"Not right now, Sir," I reply weakly, shrugging. "I just want to be with my family right now."

"I understand," he says. "Take all the time you need. You'll call if you need anything?"

I nod, promising, "I will, Sir. I'm just. . . .I need to leave now. I called Harm and he's supposed to meet me at home and I want to pick the kids up from school on the way."

The Admiral nods, satisfied for now with my response. "Tell Harm that Sydney and I will be thinking of all of you," he says and I manage a small smile. In many ways, the people here at JAG are as much like family to me and Harm as our own relatives.

I take a deep breath, trying to prepare myself for what is to come. Oh, Harm. This is going to devastate you. I wish there was something I could do to make this better for you. I just wish there was something I could do.

+++

Harm:

FORTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER

THE RABBS' RESIDENCE

MCLEAN, VIRGINIA

I think I broke every speed limit across the river from DC. Sarah scared me on the phone and I spent the entire drive home racking my brain, trying to figure out what the emergency is. I run through a list of everyone close to us in my head, trying to figure out what's going on. About the only reassuring thing about her phone call was her insistence that nothing is wrong with the baby, which makes sense. If something was wrong, wouldn't she want me to go to the hospital and not come home? I just wish I knew what was going on.

I pull into the garage to find I'm the first one home. Exhaling a deep breath, I enter my silent house, waiting impatiently for Sarah to come home and explain everything. I try to keep myself busy as I wait, moving from room to room, picking up the odd piece of paper here, the stray toy there. As I enter the study, I see the red light blinking on the answering machine as I hear the garage door open, followed shortly by two familiar voices that I shouldn't be hearing, not at this time of the morning. What is going on here?

"Daddy! Daddy!" two voices call out as I hear running footsteps in the hall. I step out of the study just in time to be ambushed by our twin tornadoes. I kneel down, my arms around my children as words tumble out of their mouths, overlapping so that I can barely understand a word they're saying. I think I make out something about Mommy and school and car, but I'm not sure.

"Slow down," I insist with a small laugh. "I can't understand a word you're saying. One at a time."

They look at each other for a moment and, as if by unspoken agreement, Sarah starts speaking again, "Daddy, what's happened? Mommy was crying in the car. Why is Uncle Sergei here?"

My breath catches in my throat as I look up to see my wife and brother standing a few feet away with a woman I don't recognize. I recall Sergei saying something about a girlfriend he met at Quantico. But it's the look on my wife's face that especially has my attention. Her eyes are red, overflowing with tears. My arms tighten just a little around the twins. I don't want to hear what she has to say. I know I don't.

She walks over and puts a hand on a shoulder of each twin as she nervously chews on her lower lip. I look up at her, afraid to ask what is going on. "Why don't we go into the living room?" she suggests.

"Sarah?" I ask softly, standing as I take each twin by the hand. They both look up at me expectantly. They're young, but they both realize that something is very wrong. But they have that trust inborn in the young and innocent that Mommy and Daddy will make everything okay. They haven't had to learn that lesson yet that there are some things that Mommy and Daddy can't fix, no matter how much they may want to.

She shakes her head and turns away from me. "Let's just go into the living room," she says, motioning in that direction. I look towards Sergei, but he refuses to look me in the eye, instead focusing on his hand by his side, clasping the hand of the woman with him.

Silently, I follow Sarah to the living room, Sergei and his friend trailing behind me. Sarah and Matt both tighten their little hands around mine, as if seeking reassurance. I remember when they were babies and their tiny hands would curl around a single finger, holding tight. Then they would smile just a little, seemingly content to know that Mommy or Daddy was there and all was right with their world.

Then another memory replays in my mind and something tightens in the pit of my stomach. I remember standing beside Mom on a long ago Christmas, clinging to her hand as the big men in the blue Navy uniforms told us that Dad was missing. I looked up at my mother, hoping to see some reassurance in her face that my six-year-old mind was misunderstanding what these men were telling us. That was the day that the cold, hard reality of life intruded on my childhood and I fear that today is that day for my children.

Numbly, I sit down on the couch, pulling Matt and Sarah into my lap, my arms wrapped tight around their waists. They both look up at me with wide eyes and I give them a small smile, trying to offer them a comfort I don't really feel. Sergei and his friend sit on the loveseat, still holding hands while my wife stands behind me, taking a few deep breaths. Finally, she sits down beside me, one hand on my shoulder while the other plays with our daughter's ponytail. She looks over at Sergei and then after a moment she looks back at me.

"Sergei came to see me this morning," she begins softly, her sad brown eyes holding my gaze. I need to look away, unable to stand the pain I see in her eyes, but I can't bring myself to tear my gaze from hers. "He got a call earlier from June Randall."

I immediately recognize the name and know what this is about. "Gram?" I ask, my voice almost a whisper. Slowly, she nods and I swallow, trying to get a handle on the sudden pain in my heart. I need to be strong. I have to be.

Sarah can't continue, leaning her head against my shoulder as the tears fall from her eyes. She loved Gram just as much as if she were her own grandmother. I kiss the top of her head as Sergei continues, his voice quiet, the slightest hint of a tremor evident, "She said that Gram died in her sleep sometime during the night. They were supposed to get together this morning to do some Christmas baking and that's when Mrs. Randall found her. She. . . .looked very peaceful, Mrs. Randall said."

I nod, not sure what to say as unshed tears sting my eyes. I look down at Matt and Sarah, both of whom are looking up at me, unable to understand why everyone is so sad. I'm not sure how to explain this to them. At just four years old, death has never touched their lives. Even Jingo, already old when they were born, is still with us, completely blind now and usually content to spend his days lying in his favorite spot in front of the fireplace. They haven't even learned enough to question yet why they have two grandmothers and only one man to call grandfather. They don't understand yet why Daddy sometimes goes and talks to the black wall with all the names they can't read yet.

Focused on my children, I barely notice when Sergei and his friend get up and leave the room, understanding that Sarah and I need to be alone to try and explain this to our children. Sarah lifts her head from my shoulder as she pulls our daughter from my lap onto hers. "Are you okay?" she asks, smiling through her tears.

I nod, not trusting myself to speak just yet. I'm trying so hard to hold it together right now so that I can explain this to those too young to really understand.

"Daddy?" Matt asks hesitantly, leaning against my chest. As I look into his eyes so like mine, I imagine myself, just a little older than he is now, looking to my mother for answers to questions that I didn't quite understand enough to ask. I try to remember what she said, how she explained to me that my father wasn't coming home. But I can't remember the words. All I remember is the smell of her perfume and the feel of her tears against my cheek as she held me to her.

"Something has happened," I say, struggling to put this into words. This doesn't sound quite right, but this isn't exactly something you can rehearse. Even though I logical knew it wasn't possible, I think a tiny part of me expected Gram to live forever, to always be here watching over this family. "You know how we always go up to Gram's for Christmas? Well, Gram is not going to be there. . . ." My voice trails off as two pairs of eyes stare up at me, uncomprehending. I'm failing miserably at this. I'm looking up at the ceiling, as if I can find some kind of guidance there, when Sarah steps in.

Her voice is quiet as she continues what I was trying to say, "God puts people on Earth to do something and when he feels they have done what is needed, he calls them back up to Heaven, to be angels to watch over the rest of us. Well, God has decided that he wanted Gram back with him, to watch over this family from Heaven."

"Gram went to Heaven?" This comes from our daughter, whose head is tucked under her mother's chin, her eyes closed. I see tears glistening on her cheeks, but I think her crying is a reaction to the sadness of the adults around her. To four-year-olds, Heaven is probably just another place, like Bealsville or La Jolla or McLean are places. She confirms this when she asks optimistically, "Can we see Gram when she gets back?"

"Baby," I say sadly, brushing the tears from her cheeks. She opens her eyes and looks up at me and I wish I could take away the sadness I see in her eyes, in her brother's eyes, in their mother's eyes. "When people go to Heaven, they don't come back. They stay there forever."

"Forever," Matt says softly, struggling to understand. "That's a really long time, isn't it, Daddy?"

"Yes," I reply quietly, "a really long time."

"If Gram won't be coming back," Matt continues, "can we go see her?"

I wish it were that simple. For all of us, I wish to God it could be that easy. "Um, someday," I say hesitantly, not really willing to think about the possibility of my children someday dying. They're way too young for that. "When God decides it's your time to go to Heaven. Until then, we just have to remember Gram in our hearts and remember all the fun we've had with her."

"But I want to see Gram," Sarah says insistently, a little pout on her face. "I made her a picture for Christmas that I have to give her."

"I'm sorry." This comes from her mother as she rocks Sarah gently in her arms, her own tears falling freely. "I wish we could all see Gram, but we can't anymore, not until we go to Heaven. But we can take your picture to the funeral and it can go to Heaven with her." I have to smile a little at that idea.

"What's a funeral?" Matt asks. "Can she take my present to Heaven with her, too?"

"Um, a funeral is like church," Sarah tries to explain. Both children nod at this, familiar with church. At least there is something that makes sense to them in all of this. "Everyone who loves Gram gathers to say goodbye to her. And yes, Matt, your present can go, too."

"Good," he says. He looks up at us, from one to the other, then asks, "Can we go play?"

I nod as I give him a quick squeeze and kiss on the forehead before he can slide off my lap. I lean over as my daughter holds her arms out to me, wanting her own kiss. I oblige her and she slides off her mother's lap, taking off upstairs after her brother. I look over at Sarah as she takes my hands in hers.

"I wish it could be that easy," I say quietly, referring to the twins as I look down at our entwined hands.

She nods. "I know what you mean," she agrees. I can feel her eyes on me for a long moment and she finally asks, "How are you doing?"

"I'm okay," I insist. I need to focus on something besides the pain I'm feeling. "Do Mom and Dad know yet?"

"No," she replies, tightening her fingers around mine. I look up at her as she explains, "Sergei told Mrs. Randall that he would call, but he hasn't yet. He wanted to let them sleep a little longer before. . . ."

"I understand," I say as her voice trails off. I look up at the clock on the wall and calculate the time in California. It's just after seven there and Dad should be up. He's usually an early riser, even in retirement. I reach for the phone as I go on, "What about your mother and Uncle Matt? And we should probably call Martha so that she can let Chloe know. And Sergei will probably want to call his mother in Russia. And Keeter, I should see if I can get him. . . ."

"Harm, slow down a minute," Sarah says insistently, taking the phone from my hand and setting it down on the coffee table. Her fingers massage my hands gently. "It's not going to hurt anything to take a few moments to breathe. We'll call your parents and my mother and Uncle Matt and Martha in a few minutes. I talked to Carolyn before I left JAG and she's going to take care of talking to Keeter. But please, just take a moment and let me hold you." She wraps her arms around my neck, pulling my head down to rest against her chest. I breathe deeply as I close my eyes and allow myself to forget for just a moment everything but her comforting embrace.

"I'm okay," I insist after a moment, but I don't pull away. I'm not ready to yet.

"I know you are," she says, not quite convincingly. I know her too well, just as well as she knows me. After nearly a decade, we usually know when the other is hurting without a word being said. "But just let me hold you for a few minutes. I need to hold you."

I nod as a single tear falls from my closed eyes. I do need to be held. I also need someone to tell me that it will be okay, but I know that is something I won't hear right now.

+++

Trish:

THAT EVENING

DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Frank squeezes my hand tightly as we stand in the aisle, waiting for the plane door to open so we can disembark. He has been my rock for so long, never more so than today as he told me of the death of the woman I loved like my own mother. When I first woke up this morning to find him sitting up on the bed beside me fully dressed, looking down at me, I knew immediately something was wrong. My first thought was of Harm, that something had happened to him, a fear I've always lived with since the day he first told me that he was following his father to Annapolis and into the Navy. For some reason, I never thought that he would tell me that my beloved mother-in-law had died.

She had always been there for me, from the day I was a young bride marrying a brash Naval aviator who would be away more than he was home, to the day I first found out I was expecting and needed someone to tell before I burst, to the day I first held my beautiful baby boy in my arms uncertain of what kind of mother I was going to be, to that awful Christmas day when I found out my husband wouldn't be coming home.

She was even there for me as I remarried, warmly welcoming Frank into the family even when my own son wouldn't. She was the one that I confided all my fears in when Harm announced he was following the family tradition of Naval service and who held my hand and prayed with me when the Navy nearly cost him his life. She celebrated with me the day I found I was to finally become a grandmother. She listened as I expressed my confusion over my feelings about finding out that my beloved first husband had a son with another woman.

I can feel Frank's eyes on me and I glance over at him with a smile. "I'm okay," I insist. "I am just anxious to see the boys. I'm sure they need me. They love their grandmother dearly. And Mac, she just adores Mom. And those poor children, they probably don't really understand what's going on."

"You need them just as much, Trish," he reminds me as we finally make our way off the plane and down the jet way. "Please don't forget that. You need to grieve, too."

I'm silent for a long moment and before I can think of a reply, we're walking through the door to the gate and we hear two young voices proclaiming loudly, "Grandma, Grandpa!" Small bodies bundled in coats launch themselves at us, wrapping their arms around our legs. They must have just gotten to the airport because I can't imagine my grandchildren sitting bundled up in the gate area waiting for us. I bend down to find that it's Matt with his arms wrapped around me and I give him a quick kiss. I look over to see Frank easily lifting Sarah up into his arms as she squeals with delight. Oh, to be that young and carefree again. I can't help but smile at the resilience of the young and innocent. They're proof that life really does go on.

I lean over and give Sarah a kiss in greeting as I guide Matt to his grandfather. I take a few steps towards Harm and Sergei, my arms outstretched. They both walk easily into my embrace, the three of us holding each other tight. After a moment, I step back, giving both of them a kiss on the cheek in turn. "How are you doing?" I ask, looking into two sets of eyes so like their father's.

They both give me identical wan smiles and I resist the urge to sigh. I know they're hurting, but for them to admit that. . . .They'd sooner fall all over themselves trying to be strong for everyone else around them. "We're fine, Mom," Harm answers for both of them as Sergei nods his agreement.

That's probably the most I'm going to get out of either of them right now, so I turn my attention to Mac, who is watching Harm carefully, concerned about his reactions even through her own pain. I hug her tight, sensing that there is something else on her mind besides her concern for her husband and her grief. "And you, Mac?" I ask, brushing a tear from her cheek. She smiles a little at the motherly gesture.

"I'm managing," she replies, shrugging. "It's just. . . .it's hard. Gram meant a lot to all of us."

At least someone can give me an honest answer. There's still something else there, but that can wait for later. There will be plenty of time to talk and to share our memories after we get out of here. I feel a tugging on my hand and look down to find Sarah looking up at me, her blue-green eyes so brilliant against her olive skin. "Mommy and Daddy said Gram went to Heaven," she says solemnly.

I bend down and carefully lift her up into my arms, settling her on my hip. "That's right," I agree, resting my head against hers. "She's gone to be an angel to watch over us."

Sarah smiles at me. "That's what Mommy said," she tells me. "Gram's an angel now."

"Mommy's a very smart lady," I say, smiling myself. Life does go on. "What do you say we go get Grandma and Grandpa's luggage and go home? I'm hungry. What about you guys?"

Matt, now being carried by Frank as we head for baggage claim, pipes in, "Grandma Deanne is home making dinner. We're going to have spaghetti."

"That sounds good after a long flight," I proclaim. I look over at Mac who is walking with her arm around Harm's waist. "Have you spoken to your Uncle Matt?"

She nods, looking down at the floor for a moment before replying, "I called him this morning. Unfortunately, with the holidays, he couldn't switch his flight to an earlier one so he won't be arriving in Bealsville until the night before the funeral."

I'd almost forgotten with everything that's going on. We were all supposed to be flying to Pennsylvania in three days to meet for Christmas and New Year's on the farm. Christmas hardly seems important anymore, not for the first time in my life.

"So the funeral's on Sunday?" Frank asks. When I had called Harm after Frank told me the news, he had said that he wasn't sure yet what the exact arrangements were.

"I spoke to Gram's lawyer this afternoon," Harm explains. "She left pretty clear instructions with her will and her lawyer had already, per her instructions, spoken to the pastor at her church. She's going to be buried on the farm next to Granddad. If the weather's permitting, she wants the funeral to be a graveside service."

"That sounds like her," I say. Mom lived on farms for all of her eighty-six years, first on her parents' farm then on the one she shared with her husband. She loved the outdoors so much. More often than not, when I would call her, the conversation would start off with 'I just came in from outside.' And the family burial plot is in such a beautiful spot, on a bluff overlooking a lush, green valley. Generations of Rabbs going back two centuries are buried there with the exception of my husband, buried in secret halfway around the world, only a marker over an empty grave on the farm to remind people here. For Mom, I hope the weather is decent.

I'm surprised when, instead of the familiar SUV, Harm and Mac lead us to a dark blue minivan. I see the slight smile on Frank's face out of the corner of my eye when he sees the make on the rear hatch. Under other circumstances, he'd probably make some kind of teasing comment about Harm finally buying a Chrysler. "So what happened to your SUV, darling?" I ask.

Mac answers instead of Harm. "With the kids getting older," she explains, "we thought we needed something just a little bigger." There is a nervousness to her voice, so slight that I almost don't catch it and a suspicion takes root in my mind. If I'm right, it would explain the feeling earlier when I first saw Mac at the gate. I hope I'm right. We could all use some good news. But I won't say anything, not until they do. But I can hope, can't I?

As we drive home, Harm, Mac and Sergei are mostly quiet, wrapped up in their own thoughts. Occasionally, one of them jumps in with a comment as Matt and Sarah regal me and Frank with tales of school and their friends. At one point, Mac turns and hands me an envelope of pictures taken from her purse. "We just got these developed," she says as I pull out the pictures and look through them before handing them one at a time to Frank. From the table decorations in a few of them, they were taken around Thanksgiving. Some are of the twins, both by themselves and together. There are a few of them with Harm, Mac and Sergei. There are a couple more of the kids with Deanne.

My favorite is a shot of Matt and Sarah with all their friends, the group of seven that Bud Roberts, with his love of Star Trek, jokingly dubbed JAG: The Next Generation. All are the children of various JAG officers and only two and half years separates AJ Roberts, the oldest of them at six and a half, from the youngest, AJ and Sydney's daughter Mary, who just turned four last month.

All the kids are dressed as pilgrims and Indians, perhaps for some school function. Matt and AJ, as the only boys in the group, look just a little bit uncomfortable surrounded by all the girls, all of whom are giggling about something. Sarah leans over as I'm looking at the picture and tells me, "Daddy was making silly faces at us."

"It's a cute picture," I reply. "I'll have to ask Mommy for a copy of this one." I feel as if I know the rest of these kids almost as well as I know my own grandchildren. Usually, news relayed of my grandchildren often includes a lot of talk of AJ and Sarah Roberts, Michele Mattoni, Amanda Keeter and Mary Chegwidden as well. Especially since AJ, Sarah, Amanda and Mary are all Harm and Mac's godchildren. Then when I talk to Jack, whom I often joke that I speak to more than my own son, his news is often full of not only his daughter Amanda, but also Michele, who is his and Carolyn's godchild. I once joked to a friend at the gallery that at times it feels like I have seven grandchildren and not just two. But I don't mind. I adore all the children and enjoy spending time with them whenever I'm in Washington.

"Matt and AJ didn't want to be in the picture, but Daddy said they had to," Sarah confides in me. Matt overhears and shoots her a dirty look.

"We had to be in the picture with the girls," Matt says, rolling his eyes. I almost laugh, remembering Harm having a similar attitude at that age. There's just a certain age where boys and girls think the opposite sex is the yuckiest thing on Earth. That feeling will change in a few years.

"But Mommy's a girl and so am I," I protest with a smile. It feels so good to think about something else besides Mom and what has happened.

"But that's different," Matt counters, sounding so matter-of-fact about it.

Then Sarah jumps in with something that has me smiling even wider and Sergei flushing with embarrassment. "Uncle Sergei brought home a girl," she says.

I look across the aisle at Sergei, who is avoiding my gaze, looking out the window instead. "So tell me about her, Sergei," I insist. It must be serious. In the reflection of the window, I see the same look the I often saw on Harm's face when I would ask him about Mac. Hopefully this boy has more sense than his brother did for four years.

"Her name is Lisa and she's a 2nd Lieutenant," he replies. "I met her when I moved to Quantico after flight training."

"So what's she like?" I persist.

"Mom," Harm protests from the driver's seat. "Give him a break. He's still young."

"He's older than your father was when he and I married," I point out. Okay, only by a year, but he's still older. When Harmon was Sergei's age, we were welcoming our son into the world. It's not my fault I want to see my boys happy. I'm a mother. It's part of the job description.

"Lisa drove me to DC," Sergei adds, finally turning to look at me, the flush gone from his cheeks. "I had a training exercise last night and she thought I shouldn't drive."

That sets off my mother's radar. "When was the last time you got any sleep?" I demand as Frank tries to smother a grin. I can't see his face, but I imagine Harm up front rolling his eyes.

"Sometime yesterday," he replies vaguely. Too vaguely for me. Which means he's probably been up since at least yesterday morning. Rabb stubbornness. They won't admit they're dead tired until they're falling down unconscious at your feet.

"I don't want to have to tell your mother you're not taking care of yourself," I tease as Sergei shakes his head. "I expect you in bed after dinner and don't want to see you up until well into tomorrow morning." I know the chances of that happening are slim to none, but Sergei just nods agreement. Probably anything to get me off his back for now. I know all the tricks. Harm has used them often enough.

"Yes, Mother," he teases as Harm pulls into the driveway. There are two cars lined up on one side of the driveway, both of which I recognize. One belongs to Deanne, whom I already knew would be here. The other is Jack and Carolyn's, which is hardly surprising. I'd be more surprised if Jack wasn't here tonight. A lot of people loved Mom.

As we walk into the house, Mac falls into step beside me and I put my arm around her. "Just be patient with him," I advise, nodding towards Harm who is a few feet in front of us talking to Frank. I keep my voice low so that he won't overhear. "He'll talk about it when he's ready."

"I know," she responds quietly. "I've seen this before, in Russia." She pauses for a moment, then adds, "Thanks, Mom."

"For what?" I ask, just a little puzzled.

"In the car," she explains, "the way you were with everyone. . . .that's just the kind of thing Gram would have done, keeping everyone's spirits up."

I'm touched at the compliment. I can't think of higher praise than being compared to my mother-in-law. I just wish. . . .I don't know. Mom was so good at that, holding everyone together during the bad times as well as the good. I wish she was here now and that it wasn't left to me to try to step into her shoes. I don't think anyone can do that.

+++

Frank:

The mood is somber as we all sit down to eat. With all the adults present filling the main table – aside from Harm, Mac, Sergei, Lisa, Deanne, Jack, Carolyn, Trish and myself, AJ and Sydney are also here – Mac set up a card table in a corner of the dining room for Matt, Sarah, Amanda and Mary. This brings a protest from Matt about being relegated to the smaller table with the girls. His protest is on the verge of becoming quite vocal and loud when Mac shoots him a stern look and begins in a low voice, "Harmon Matthew. . . ."

Matt stands there for a moment, his mouth open, as if trying to decide whether or not to argue with his mother. Mac, in the meantime, is taking a deep breath to calm herself, probably worried that she's about to blow up at her son and Harm is leaning towards her, whispering something and rubbing her arm. Being closest to Matt, I motion to him. Reluctantly, he walks up beside my chair, eyeing his mother warily. He knows that his mother has to be quite upset with him to call him Harmon.

I lean down to talk man-to-man with my grandson. "Matt, do you think you can help Grandpa out with something?" I ask quietly, keeping our conversation private. He nods silently and I smile to set him at ease.

"You know Mommy and Daddy are upset because Gram went to Heaven, right?" I continue and again he nods, his demeanor solemn. Even if they don't quite understand what's going on, Matt and Sarah both realize that something isn't right. "Well, Grandpa wants Mommy and Daddy to feel better and it would make them feel a lot better to know that the girls are being taken care of. So do you think you can look after the girls while Grandpa looks after Mommy and Daddy?"

Matt manages a smile and finally speaks, his voice quiet like mine, "Yes, Grandpa."

"That's my big boy," I proclaim, pulling him into a hug. He wraps his little arms around my neck while I notice Mac breathing a sigh of relief out of the corner of my eye. Patting him on the back, I release him and suggest softly that he go give his mother a hug to make her feel better before sitting down to eat.

Matt runs around the table and throws his arms around Mac, delighting her. She returns the hug enthusiastically as he exclaims with childish glee, "Love you, Mommy." Mac hugs him just a little tighter as she looks up at me and flashes a grateful smile.

"I love you, too, baby," she replies as tears threaten. As Matt goes to sit with his sister and friends at the smaller table, Mac reaches across the table and squeezes my hand. "Thanks, Dad."

I shrug. "Not a problem," I say, returning the squeeze. "I just suggested that he would be doing a big favor if he would sit with the girls and look after them."

She laughs a little. "Good thing Sarah didn't hear you say that," she points out. "It's a matter of pride for her that she's older than her brother."

I wink at her. "I think it will be Matt's and my secret," I reply, thankful that the mood is lightening just a little. If she were here now, I think my wife's mother-in-law would be the first trying to lift everyone's spirits.

Not to mention being the first to make the newest person among us feel welcome. That was just her way. I know I felt it the first time I met her. I was so nervous about meeting her, even though I wasn't about to admit it to anyone, even Trish. Things were already tense between me and Harm and I was worried about more of the same from Sarah, although now it seems irrational. But I didn't know her well enough back then to know that she would never be that petty.

But the very first words out of her mouth immediately set me at ease. "Thank you for making Trish happy again," she had said and I knew I had a friend in her. I firmly believe that if it hadn't been for her open acceptance of my presence in their lives, Harm would have been a lot more hostile towards me. I even suspect that Sarah had a talk or two with her grandson over the years about me. But I wasn't going to ask about that. I was just grateful for her support in trying to get through to my son.

She also paid me the second-highest compliment anyone has ever paid me, after Harm's finally calling me 'Dad' after twenty-four years. Once, shortly before Harm left for the Academy, we were all planning a trip to the farm. I had been away on business and was going to meet Trish and Harm there. Due to flight delays on their end, I managed to make it to Pennsylvania before they did. It gave Sarah and I the opportunity to talk, mostly about how it felt to be sending a child off to the Academy, a topic she was very familiar with.

The talk eventually trailed off and we sat in silence on the porch for a few moments. Then she said something that surprised me, even as it touched me more than I can ever express. "You know, my first wish would have been that my son could have been here to watch his son grown up," she said, staring off towards the sunset. "But that wasn't possible. But I think my son would have agreed that we couldn't have asked for a better father for Harm than you, even if my grandson won't admit it. And if God had seen fit to grant me another son, I would have wanted him to be just like you."

I'm not a man given to tears, but I was almost moved to them that day. I couldn't love that woman more if she had been my own mother. And I would have been proud to call her 'Mom' as she had suggested more than once. But out of respect for Harm, I always held back on that point. As resentful as he was back then, seeing me as trying to replace his father, my calling his beloved grandmother 'Mom' would not have helped my cause.

Smiling at the memories, I decide to take a page from Sarah's book and make sure Lisa feels welcome here. This has got to be awkward for her. Meeting a significant other's family can be daunting at any time. But at a time like this, it is probably hard for her not to feel like she's intruding on our grief. "So Lisa," I start, smiling at her while Sergei tries not to groan, afraid he's about to be embarrassed, "Sergei tells us that you two met just after he transferred to Quantico."

She nods as she replies, "I'm a communications hardware specialist and he was having trouble with the comm gear in his helo. I thought he had a nice smile, so it was hard to say no when he suggested lunch while we were waiting for a part to be delivered for the repairs."

"Well, Sarah once said that smile was a Rabb family characteristic, as I'm sure my wife and Mac will agree," I say with a grin. Mac takes Harm's hand as he gives her one of those smiles and Trish is smiling softly at her own memories of falling for the same smile. "But after meeting Jack here, I decided it's something they teach the guys in pilot's school." I see Trish, Mac and Carolyn all nodding knowingly around the table.

"Too bad Sergei's not in the Navy, Lisa," Carolyn adds, smiling at her husband as she says it. "You get the dress whites, gold wings and that smile working together – talk about an irresistible combination. Wouldn't you agree, Mac?"

Mac acts indifferent, but I think everyone can see it's just that – an act. "Highly overrated," she says with an affected yawn as Harm elbows her and laughs a little.

"If there weren't children present," he threatens, "I'd point out exactly how overrated you find them." Everyone laughs at that and Mac flushes a little in embarrassment. I notice the children looking over in our direction. Matt and Sarah seem more relaxed to see their parents in better spirits.

Trish takes my hand and leans over to whisper, "Thank you. I think we all need this. And making Lisa feel welcome is exactly what Mom would have done."

"Of course it is," I reply, "and I can't think of a better way to honor her memory."

Our attention returns to the conversation around the table as Sydney interjects, "I have a thing about bald ex-SEALs myself." AJ tries to give his wife a stern look, but it doesn't quite come off. If Sergei wants a good example to follow for relationships, he couldn't do better than the couples at this table. Well, except for those four years when Harm and Mac were seemingly blind, deaf and mute, anyway. Sounds like something Sarah would have said about them – probably did say about them, come to think of it.

I think Sarah would approve of Sergei's choice in women. She's polite, pleasant and doesn't seem fazed to be sharing casual dinner conversation with not only her boyfriend's family, but an Admiral, Captain, Colonel and two Commanders. Sarah once said – referring specifically to Mac at the time – that Rabb men don't need any of those silly women who can't seem to think for themselves and look to men to take care of them. They need strong independent women who can challenge them and not put up with the occasional pilot's arrogance. That could just as easily be applied to Trish and Sarah herself. Lisa strikes me as that kind of woman. Sarah definitely would be pleased.

Conversation continues relaxed and easy through the rest of dinner. Occasionally, when it seemed the talk was slowing, Trish or I would jump in with something new to talk about. Sarah's name is even mentioned several times. Everyone even manages to laugh out loud – except Harm and Mac, who look a little embarrassed – when Trish relates how nonchalant Sarah was the day we showed up at the farm to meet Mac just as she and Harm were finding out the results of a home pregnancy test. The rest of us were all about to die of shock and Sarah acted like it was an everyday occurrence.

After dinner ends and the dishes are cleared from the tables, AJ, Sydney, Jack and Carolyn all say their goodbyes, needing to get their daughters home and in bed so they can get up for school tomorrow. Sergei and Lisa offer to take Jingo outside. Yes, at his age, he does need to be accompanied outside, but I think they want a few minutes alone. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe alone, Sergei will talk to Lisa about how he's feeling. Then again, maybe not. After all, he is a Rabb.

Deanne, Trish and Mac take the twins upstairs for their baths, which gives me the perfect opportunity to sit down with Harm. He worries me. He learned at a young age how to be strong for everyone around him, essentially becoming the man of the house at the age of six. Add to that his devotion to Sarah and his normal reticence about expressing his feelings and I know that he's hurting terribly inside. Something tells me he probably hasn't even truly opened up to Mac about what he's going through right now.

We sit down in the living room, Harm showing me the plans for the playhouse he wants to build out back for the twins. Intended as a present for their birthday in February, he wants to have it finished in the spring when the weather warms enough for the twins to really use it. We toss back and forth ideas for additions and improvements for a few minutes before I ask, "How are you doing, Harm?"

He looks down at the plans, unwilling to meet my eyes as he answers. "I'm fine, Dad."

Of course he is. That's why he won't look at me. But I don't say that. If nothing else, I've learned that it often takes large doses of patience to deal with Harm and some of his moods. "You know, your grandmother would encourage you to talk about it," I point out.

"I know," he admits reluctantly. "But there's a lot to deal with. Sarah's really upset – she and Gram were very close." He pauses, acting as if he's about to say something else before stopping himself. I wonder about that, but he continues before I can ask what's on his mind, "And the twins are confused. They don't really understand what's going on, why everyone's so upset. They even asked this morning if they could see Gram when she got back from Heaven."

I smile sadly at that. You wish you could shelter children from things like this, that childhood could truly be the idyllic fantasy that people try to make it out to be. I can understand about him wanting to spare his children this pain. Right now, I'd give anything to ease the pain my child is feeling. "You know, Mac's probably just as worried about you as you are about her," I remind him and he finally looks over at me. "Talk to her, talk to each other and share your memories."

Harm seems to consider this for a moment, then he asks me a surprising question. "What about you, Dad? How are you doing?" Then again, maybe not so surprising. I'm sure his being strong for everyone includes Sergei, his mom and me.

It's on the tip of my tongue to say that I'm fine, but I figure that if I'm trying to get him to open up, I could open up a little myself. "It doesn't seem real yet that she's gone," I admit. "She's been such a large part of my life almost as long as you and your mother have."

"She loved you like a son," Harm says, smiling a little. That must have come from one of those talks that I suspect Sarah had with him about me. "She once said that loving you didn't mean we loved my father any less."

"Well, I loved her like a mother," I reply, smiling myself. "Sarah was a very wise and special woman. She has this strength about her, the same strength I see in your mother and Mac. You Rabb men seem to have a real knack for picking the good women."

"I guess," he says with a look in his eyes and a smile on his face that tells me he's thinking of Mac right now. "But you have that knack too. After all, you picked Mom."

"Best decision I ever made," I say. "After all, I got you and your grandmother in the bargain as well."

Before Harm can reply, Matt and Sarah come running into the room, dressed in pajamas, launching themselves at us. They're in high spirits. Bath time must have been fun tonight. Then again, time with the grandparents is usually fun. I'll be the first to admit that Deanne, Trish and I spoil these kids rotten with love and affection. "Not to mention these two little guys," I add with a laugh as I pull Sarah into my lap while Harm does the same with Matt.

"Mommy said it's bedtime," Matt says, not sounding pleased with the prospect. "Can you come tuck us in with Mommy and Grandma Trish and Grandma Deanne?"

"Of course we can," I reply. I stand and swing Sarah in my arms as she giggles with delight. Everyone tucking in the twins when we're all together is kind of a family tradition. Sometimes it makes for a somewhat chaotic bedtime, with up to eight adults - Harm, Mac, Sergei, Deanne, Matt, Trish, myself and Sarah when she was still with us - trying to put two whirlwinds to bed and making sure everyone says goodnight. Between hugs, kisses and the inevitable 'I forgot something' delaying tactics from one of the twins, it can take a while sometimes to accomplish the task.

"Uncle Sergei, bedtime," Sarah calls out, earning her a mock glare from Harm.

"Sarah, don't shout," he says, standing as Matt squirms to get out of his arms. He sets Matt down as Sergei and Lisa enter the room with Jingo, who lays down in his place in front of the fireplace. Lisa looks at Sergei with a question in her eyes.

"Bedtime tradition," he explains with a grin. "Everyone puts the twins to bed."

"You're welcome to join us if you don't mind a lot of chaos," I say.

"Yes, please," both twins chime in, bringing laughs from all of the adults.

"Of course, these two are hardly going to turn down even more attention," I tease, tickling Sarah in my arms as her laughter fills the room. And I imagine for a brief moment that her great-grandmother is looking down, laughing with her namesake.

+++