This is my first JAG story. The characters aren't mine, just this story. Please, let me know what you think.

Buried Secrets


Sarah MacKenzie looked carefully at her reflection in the mirror. With a wry grin, she acknowledged that there was at least one thing she could thank her parents for. She was very skilled at the use of makeup. She had learned as a teenager to use cosmetics to cover the bruises on her face. The ability had come in handy at Bud and Harriet's wedding after Mikey Roberts had shown up with a shiner, courtesy of his father. Now, the same skills were applied to cover the dark circles under her eyes, reminders of another sleepless night.

As she walked into JAG headquarters, she greeted everyone as usual and was relieved when no one commented on her appearance. That was a good sign.

She laughed to herself. 'It's pretty sad when the best thing in you life is that no one notices you.'

She sat down at her desk and dove into the mountain of paperwork that seemed to be threatening to take over. Engrossed in a file, she didn't hear the tap on her office door.

Harmon Rabb, Jr. looked through the window at his partner. She was involved in paperwork and didn't look up when he knocked. He took advantage of the opportunity to study her. Her always trim figure seemed thinner to him, her face pale and her manner brisk and business like. It was her eyes, though, that worried him the most. They were dark, and cool, like windows boarded over to keep intruders out. There was no sparkle, no glint of mischief, usually followed by a witty remark.

She had been through some tough times in the last few months. In fact, between Dalton, Coster, Chris, and a million and one other things, she had been through hell recently. But her fighting spirit had shown through it all, faltering briefly once or twice, but always returning.

Until...

When had he noticed?

He was embarrassed to admit that he had been so wrapped up in his own life that he really hadn't noticed until Harriet had pointed it out to him. He remembered a time when he would have noticed before anyone else.

It wasn't that he felt guilty about having a life, he just hadn't realized how much he had left her out of it.

"Commander!"

A call from across the room brought him out of his reverie and reminded of his reason for being there in the first place. As he raised his hand to knock again, she looked up and caught his glance. He opened the door.

"The Admiral wants us in his office."

She nodded and rose to join him.

He couldn't help but notice the distance she kept between them.

She couldn't help but notice the concerned look on his face.

'Please, Harm, let it alone.'

'I'm going to find out what's going on if it kills me...or if she does.'


That night, Harm tossed and turned, unable to fall asleep. He had tried a warm shower, a cool shower, and even warm milk, but nothing seemed to help. He couldn't get that look out of his mind. They had both been busy all day and there had been no opportunity to really check on her.

That wasn't entirely true.

He knew that he could have cornered her at some point. She had done it to him often enough. Whatever problems he was facing, she had always been there for him, even when he thought he wanted to handle it on his own. He was ashamed to admit that she had been a much better friend to him than he had to her.

He sat up in bed, remembering the night she had spent at his apartment, cleaning his gun and standing guard over him.

Her comment about not sleeping.

That hadn't changed. He could see that by looking at her face. She was good with the makeup, but he knew her too well, had seen her in too many different situations to be fooled by a little cover up.

Well, since he was awake and she was probably awake, there was no time like the present to sit her down for a long talk. He would find out what was going on in her mind, why after everything they had been through, she was once again keeping him at arm's length.

He pulled into a parking place in front of her building, switched off the engine and looked up at her apartment window. He had hoped that it would be dark, a sign that she might be sleeping, and that this confrontation might be delayed. As usual, though, a light still burned. In the past few weeks, he had often driven past her building late at night, usually taking Jordan home after a late dinner. She had finally asked about his circuitous route and, after a little bit of prying, he had told her about his concern for Mac.

He remembered how she had shifted immediately into psychologist mode and explained that it was wonderful that he was so concerned about his friend, but that he shouldn't let it have so much affect on his life, that Mac would talk to him when she was ready. He shouldn't push her; it might make things worse. Just be patient.

He was tired of being patient.

He was tired of the tension, of the distance that had come between them.

He was tired of seeing his best friend hurting so much and not being able to do anything about it.

He was a man of action, and it was long past time to take some.

Wasn't it?

Or was Jordan right? Would pushing Mac now only make her push him further away?

He sighed deeply and turned the ignition key.


Twenty minutes later, he knocked gently on the door to her apartment.

"Mac!" he called softly, "It's me, Harm!"

After a moment, the door opened slightly and she peeked out.

"What are you doing here? Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"It's about 2:30am."

"2:37am, to be exact," she replied.

"So, why did you ask me what time it is?"

She sighed. "Harm, what do you want?"

"Well," he indicated the bag in his hand, "I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd run out and get some frozen yogurt. I saw your light was still on, so I thought maybe you'd join me."

"Harm..."

"Of course, I got you the real stuff..."

He saw her hesitate.

"It's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough..."

She smiled and stepped back to allow him to enter.

He noticed a comforter on the sofa, a book lying face down on a table next to it.

"I hope I didn't wake you up."

"No," she answered as she closed and secured the door. "I wasn't sleeping anyway."

She followed him into the kitchen. He watched while she got down the bowls and spoons. She had on baggy sweats and no makeup and he thought she looked even more drained than she had that afternoon.


They settled on the sofa, Mac at one end, Harm at the other.

"So," she said, as the first bite of her treat slid smoothly down her throat, "Worried about the Turner hearing in the morning?"

He shrugged. "Not really. It looks pretty clear cut to me."

"So why is the great Harmon Rabb making an ice cream run in the middle of the night? Something on your mind?"

She wished she could take back the words as soon as she said them.

She didn't want him spilling his guts to her. She didn't want him thinking that she cared about him as anything more than a business colleague.

She didn't want him to care about her.

'Then you never should have let him in.'

He set his bowl down on the table in front of him and turned to face her.

"That's funny. That's the same thing I came here tonight to ask you."

"Why you're making an ice cream run in the middle of the night? Hmm...
Could it have something to do with a certain Navy psychologist?"

"No, actually it has to do with a certain Marine lawyer."

She looked down into her ice cream bowl, trying to pretend she didn't know what he was talking about.

He moved over and reached out to lay a hand on her shoulder. "I'm worried about you, Mac. You're not sleeping..."

She laughed as she pulled away from him.

"Geez. One lousy night of insomnia and my partner thinks I'm losing it."

"Mac, it's been a whole lot more than one night. I've noticed the circles under your eyes. I've also noticed how withdrawn you've become."

She headed for the kitchen to put her bowl in the sink.

"I really don't have any idea what you're talking about, Harm."

"You come in early, you work late, you never want to go to lunch or dinner with me anymore and I can't remember the last time we spent an evening together eating pizza and getting ready for a case."

"Come on, Harm. You've certainly got better things to do than spend time with me. You've got a beautiful girlfriend who deserves your attention."

He got up and walked over to her.

"I've also got a very dear friend who's hurting right now and she won't tell me why. Maybe I won't be able to help, but I want to try. I care about you, Mac..."

She turned away and walked over to the window.

"Don't! I don't want you to care about me!"

"Why not?"

"Because people who care about me end up in trouble! Look at John Farrow! Look at Coster!"

"Hold it right there, Mac. Coster was a very sick man. You can't compare what he felt for you to anything normal. It was his sickness that got him where he is, not you. As for Farrow, he made his own decisions and I honestly don't think he has any regrets about them."

She continued as if he hadn't spoken.

"Of course, they're the lucky ones; they're still alive. Don't forget Eddie and my mom and Dalton and Chris!"

"Mac, you can't blame yourself for what happened to them."

"Yes, I can. Maybe none of them would be dead if they hadn't met me."

"And maybe they would be. From what you've told me, Eddie and Chris were both involved in some things that don't contribute to long, healthy lifestyles. And if Dalton had gotten out of you life like you told him to, Coster probably wouldn't have killed him. He made his own decision, too."

She leaned her head against the cool window. She didn't want to think about any of this, and she certainly didn't want to think about...

"Mac."

His voice interrupted her thoughts as he walked up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders.

"I thought you told me that you mom had walked out on you."

She straightened and walked away from him again, careful not to let him see her face.

"Yeah, she did. I was about 10 years old."

"Just now...you said that she was dead."

"I haven't seen or heard from her in years. How should I know whether she's dead or alive?"

"You said 'Eddie and my mom and Dalton and Chris'."

"No, I didn't."

He walked around to face her again, lifting her chin with his hand so that he could look her in the eye.

"Yes, you did. When my dad was missing, I refused to believe he was dead, even though everyone insisted that he must be. Why would you believe your mom is dead without some kind of evidence?"

She looked deeply into his eyes. One part of her mind desperately wanted to tell him everything. Another part fought against it, warning her that she would appear weak and foolish to him.

He waited, watching the battle going on inside of her. He kept quiet, doing his best Boy Scout imitation...loyal and trustworthy.

She finally reached a decision. She had been trying to deal with this on her own for too long now. As much as she hated to admit it, she needed help.

"You remember the Holst case? I had a hard time defending him because he reminded me so much of my father and you told me that whatever my father had done, he had never murdered my mother."

She paused and took a deep breath.

"Actually, I'm not so sure."

She walked over to the table and picked up a newspaper. She glanced at it and then handed it to Harm.

It was opened to a story about some construction on an old marine base. While digging, the workers had discovered bones, human remains. The preliminary autopsy report stated that the bones were of a female, probably in her late twenties. Her skull had been fractured, likely the cause of her death. Several other healed breaks lead police to believe that she had probably been abused. There was no clothing or jewelry to give them any leads and no match to any persons reported missing in the area. They couldn't say for certain how long the body had been there.

Harm looked over at his friend, eyes wide.

"Do you think this could be your mother?"

Mac shrugged. "Probably not."

Her voice, though, betrayed doubt.

"Your dad was a marine, too. Did you ever live here?"

"I'm not sure. You know how the military moves people around. Besides, those bases all look pretty much alike."

She had looked away again, a clear sign to Harm that she was hiding something.

"Mac..."

"Okay, yes, we lived there."

"Were you there when your mom left?"

She was silent a moment. "Yes, but that doesn't mean anything. She left. She packed her suitcase, walked away from us, got on a bus, and left."

"You actually saw her get on the bus and leave?"

"Harm, I really don't want to talk about this."

"Did you actually see her leave?"

"Why are you cross examining me like this?"

"Because I want you to talk to me! I want to know what's bothering you! I want you to stop keeping all this bottled up inside of you!"

"If I don't, there's no telling where it might go."

"If you do, you'll end up killing yourself. Do you have any idea how many people that would hurt? I know you're a big, tough marine who doesn't need anyone, but most of us aren't like that. Like it or not, there are a lot of people who care an awful lot about you. I can't stop just because you want me to and neither can Bud, or Harriet, nor the Admiral or your Uncle Matt, or anyone else. Please, Mac. You've got to let us help you. Even Marines need backup sometimes."

She sighed and wrapped the quilt around herself.

"I know because I helped her pack her bags."

He led her over to the sofa and set himself on the edge of the table in front of her.

"Tell me everything you remember about that day."

She leaned back and closed her eyes.

"He had come home really drunk the night before. He slapped me around pretty good and I had a split lip and a real shiner that morning. Even all of mom's tricks with the makeup bag couldn't cover it all, so she said I could stay home from school that day. I guess dad was feeling a little guilty because he said it was all right with him. Usually, he made me go anyway...said that if I was such a klutz to get so banged up, I would have to live with the consequences. I slept most of the morning and when I woke up, mom was in my room packing a bag. She told me that we were going on a long trip and that if there was anything that I wanted to take with me, I should put it in my bag. She laid out some clothes for me and told me to get dressed.
When I was finished, I went to her room and helped her with her things. She wouldn't tell me where we were going, but she seemed to be in a hurry. When everything was ready, we each took a suitcase and started out the door. Unfortunately, my dad had chosen to come home for lunch that day, and he was coming in the door just as we were ready to leave. He grabbed my suitcase and threw it back into the house. Then he pushed us both back inside and started yelling at us. I think he hit mom a couple of times...told her that if she didn't like her situation, it was her own fault, she was the one who had gotten knocked up, he was doing his best to take care of us. Then he turned to me and asked me if he didn't always take care of me. I don't know why, but I said 'no'. He let go of mom and focused on me. He grabbed me and started shouting about how ungrateful I was, about how he never wanted me in the first place. The whole time he was shaking me and hitting my head against the wall. It seemed to take forever, but finally, everything went black."

Mac fought to keep her voice steady, to keep the tears from escaping. If her eyes had been open, she would have seen the look of horror and fury on Harm's face. He clenched his fists tightly, fighting off the urge to seek out the man right now and kill him with his bare hands.

"When I woke up, it was dark outside and I was in my bed. Dad was unpacking my bag. He saw that I was awake and came over and sat down on the side of the bed. He told me that he was sorry about what had happened, that he didn't mean to hurt me. He just loved me so much and he was so scared that he wouldn't see me again. I asked him where mom was, and he told me that she had left. She was tired of being a wife and mother and that she thought we would be better off without her. I started crying and he told me that we would be fine, just the two of us. He left and came back a few minutes later with a bottle and a glass...I'm not sure what it was, but he poured me a drink and told me it would make me feel better. I guess that was the first time I got drunk...but not the last."

She looked over at Harm, expecting to see disgust and revulsion on his face. Instead, she saw compassion, pain and anger, and understanding. He reached out and took her hand in his.

"No wonder you couldn't understand my obsession with finding my father. You would have been better off without yours."

She lay her head back on the back of the couch. "But I never doubted what he told me about my mother. Why didn't I wonder?"

Harm could almost see the fight coming back to her, the dark embers in her eyes rekindling as she thought about what had happened.

She looked over at him. "He killed her and lied about it for almost twenty years. He let me hate her for something that she never did and all the while her body was hidden away in the woods somewhere."

She pushed back the comforter and stood up, posture straight, eyes snapping, and started pacing the small room.

"First, I'll need to contact the authorities, find out who's handling the case, and set up an appointment to talk with them. I'll also need to get my mom's dental records. She probably saw a military dentist at some point, so that shouldn't be too difficult.
Once we determine that it really is her..."

Harm stood up and grabbed her as she walked past again.

"Slow down a minute, Mac. We don't know that it is your mother."

"I can't, Harm. I need to know the truth about what happened to my mother. Even if that's not her, I still need to know. I have only my dad's word about what happened that day. There's bound to be more to the story than that. I owe it to her to find out."

"Fine. We'll find the truth. Together. But not at 3:30 in the morning."

"3:21 in the morning."

"Sorry. 3:21 in the morning. Right now, most of the people involved are probably sound asleep and you should be, too."

He saw her pause.

"You'll think much more clearly after some sleep."

"I don't know..."

He led her over to the sofa and waited for her to lie down. He covered her with the comforter and made a show of tucking her in. She smiled slightly and closed her eyes. Then, she suddenly opened them again.

"Harm..."

"I'm staying here the rest of the night. I know you don't need me to, but it'll make me feel better, so don't argue."

She smiled again, grateful for a friend who knew her so well, a friend who would give her what she couldn't ask for.

"Good night, Flyboy."

"Good night. Sweet dreams."

And with Harm standing guard, Sarah MacKenzie did something that she hadn't done in a very long time.

She slept.



The end.