Rating: Mild language
Prompt: Being happy is not always being perfect
Author's Notes: I had a very hard time coming up with an idea for any of my prompts for this ficathon. This is my third attempt at this, so I hope it's true that the third time is the charm.
Disclaimer: As always, I don't own them, and I don't make any money off them.
A disturbance in the bullpen draws AJ out of his office. The sight that greets him would be comical if it weren't happening in i his /i office, especially during normal working hours.
A petty officer and an ensign are huddled together on top of one of the desks, shrieking; the rest of the staff—with the exception of Harm, Mac, Bud and the Marine standing in front of the bullpen doors—are searching for something underneath every desk in the room; and standing in the midst of it all with a small animal carrier in his hands is his 1200 appointment, Clayton Webb.
"He's over here!" "Catch him!" "Don't let him get away!" "He's heading for the door!" "Damn, I almost had him!" "Watch out for his claws, they're sharp!" Those words—and more AJ can't make out—and personnel zing through the room, following a small bundle of orange fur.
Just as he's about to demand to know what all the commotion is about, one of the doors off the bullpen bangs open. "What is going on out here?" Harm's voice booms out over the ruckus.
Except for the orange streak headed directly for the new escape route and the obstacle in front of it, all sound and movement stops immediately as the group notices both of their watchers for the first time. "Look out, Harm! He's headed for your office!" Webb shouts into the silence.
With fighter-pilot reflexes, Harm reaches behind him and drags his door shut just as the target of the chase reaches him. His new escape route cut off and the enemy closing in, the ball of orange fluff decides a change in tactics is necessary. Not slowing down a bit, he races up the nearest surface—Harm's leg.
Harm bites back a curse as the needle sharp claws dig into his leg, stomach, chest and shoulder in the frantic climb. The animal attempts to reach even higher ground, but chooses to make his stand on Harm's shoulder when the route proves too treacherous and noisy.
The silence following Harm's yell is deafening after the earlier racket. "Would someone mind telling me why there is a cat on my shoulder?" Harm asks mildly on the heels of a giant sigh of relief from the group. The staff turns away quickly, straightening, cleaning and putting the desks to rights, leaving Webb holding the bag.
"Sorry, Rabb. He got away from me," Webb admits, starting towards the tall officer to put his charge back where he belongs. That doesn't go very well as the kitten doesn't want to be placed back in the carrier. He hisses and backs up; only to sink his claws into Harm's neck as he nearly falls off his perch.
"Webb, back off," AJ orders, deciding it's time he takes control of this situation before his senior attorney ends up torn to shreds by the harmless looking feline now curled up on his shoulder. "Webb, Commander, my office. And Webb, leave that thing out here before you scare the cat into running again. Lieutenant Simms, please find me a first aid kit and ask Colonel MacKenzie to join us when she's out of court."
Once they all make it into AJ's office—AJ giving Harm plenty of room to enter and stake out a place to stand that won't cause his 'passenger' to panic—he turns on Webb. "What were you thinking, bringing an animal into JAG ops?" he growls.
Uncharacteristically, Webb backs off and offers an apology. "I'm sorry, Admiral. The cat has evidence in an investigation we're conducting and someone thought it would be amusing to tell the Director I like cats. He is part of the reason I'm here, anyway."
"How can a cat have evidence in one of your investigations?" Harm asks, stroking the now calm feline with one hand and holding a handkerchief to the side of his face with the other.
"He ate it. We're waiting for nature to take its course," Webb explains.
"Wouldn't that destroy the evidence?"
"Not in this case. Look, let's wait until Mac joins us so I only have to explain this once."
A knock on the door reveals Mac with her usual impeccable timing, carrying a first aid kit and wearing a very confused expression. "May I ask why the bullpen looks like someone tried to start World War Three?" She gets one looks at Harm and starts towards him, only to be stopped by both AJ and Webb. "Oh my God, Harm. What happened?"
"He stepped into the middle of World War Three," AJ offers wryly. "Walk carefully and quietly, Colonel, the instigator is still over there."
Mac is almost to Harm's side before she notices the bundle on his shoulder. "He is so cute," she says softly, sticking her hand out for a sniff before scratching the proffered head. "What's he doing here?"
"Where were you earlier when he was rampaging around the bullpen?" Harm asks with mock severity.
"Nailing Stevens' butt to the wall," she proclaims proudly, "but it looks like you've had a much more interesting morning."
"Oh no, interesting was only the last half hour; what you didn't see was the three hours I've spent on the phone trying to track down a witness who apparently has decided he doesn't want to speak to me. I finally got him, but didn't get anything out other than my name before I couldn't hear any more due to the uproar in the bullpen, which means I'm probably going to have to go through the whole mess again later. Anyway, I opened my door to find out what the commotion was about and the next thing I knew, Webb was yelling at me and this guy," he scratches the tiny head playfully, eliciting a rumbling purr loud enough for everyone to hear, "was using me for an escape route."
"Well, why don't I take him off your hands so you can get those scratches cleaned up, and then Webb can tell us why he's here," she offers, handing him the first aid kit and reaching for the kitten.
"Ow! Hey, let go!" The purring kitten has stopped purring and started growling at the attempt to take him from his safe perch. Mac immediately backs off, but it is a couple of minutes before the growling stops and the claws are once again retracted.
"Ok, maybe I'll just wait until I get home to take care of those," Harm says, throwing a sly look at Mac, "unless you'd like to change your tactics and clean them up for me, Colonel."
Mac risks a look at AJ before taking Harm up on his challenge. "If your new best friend there will allow me to get close enough, I'll fix you right up, Commander," she offers.
"While Colonel MacKenzie and Commander Rabb are playing doctor, why don't you entertain us with what brought you and this animal here today," AJ prompts Webb with a long-suffering sigh.
"The cat belongs to a government employee whom we believe is using it to pass classified information. Every month, like clockwork, the cat is boarded at a kennel for a period of one week. That in itself isn't unusual, as the animal is always boarded when the employee goes out of town, but he almost never travels at that time of month."
"And you think he literally feeds the cat the information and …?" Harm asks, hissing as Mac begins cleaning the deepest of the scratches.
"X-rays have confirmed that there is a small metallic capsule in the cat's stomach."
"That's awfully circumstantial, Webb," Mac observes.
"This whole system was brought to our attention by one of the workers at the kennel via a long and winding road. A week or so after she started her job, she was given charge of a cat that she was told not to feed and not to be surprised if it disappeared for several days. This was accompanied by one thousand dollars for her silence in the matter. She thought it was just a prank the first month, but it happened the next month, and the one after that. The second month, she reported it to her supervisor who told her not to worry about it. The third month, she reported it to the owner of the kennel who told her not to get involved. The fourth month, the cat was starting to look sick so she reported it to the Animal Control officer who worked the area, but the cat never made it back to the kennel. The following month, last month, this kitten showed up instead while she was covering an extra shift. The demeanor of the owner bothered her so she decided to call a friend who happens to work for us. By the time 'logistics' were worked out, the owner had reclaimed the kitten, so we had to wait until today to seize him."
"So everyone at the kennel was in on it?" Mac asks.
"Actually, just the owner, supervisor and the former employee who gathered enough money from this operation to move to a warmer climate. The employee received one thousand dollars a month, the supervisor twenty-five hundred and the owner ten thousand. They figured anyone would be happy to take the money and ask no questions, so when the previous employee left, they just assumed our informant would go along with the status quo. Since she didn't repeat her concerns to either of them, they had no idea she hadn't dropped it when the suggested she do so; at least not until they were a couple of agents spoke to them this morning."
"Did they know what was actually happening, or were they conveniently in the dark as to the reason for the payments?" The bandages Mac has placed over the scratches pull as Harm speaks; Mac bats his hand away from them, admonishing him to leave them alone until the bleeding stops.
"Neither admitted to knowing, but my guess is the owner had to have known the entire plan. He probably just brought the others in with the promise of money they didn't have to report to Uncle Sam."
"So what exactly do you want my people for, Webb?"
"Despite the fact that we have many lawyers of our own, my meetings with them make me believe none of them are up to the task of using the evidence we now have to get a child's confession, much less a conviction on these guys in court. I would like Rabb and MacKenzie to advise our team as to the best course of action and make sure they get a conviction that won't be overturned on a technicality."
Surprise flickers across the faces of all three officers before Harm puts a voice to their nearly identical thoughts. "I didn't think you had much of an opinion on our abilities as lawyers. You usually try to conscript us as your own personal reserve agents."
"Rabb, you should know I only use you because you're the best for the job, and in this I definitely need the best. We need a strong conviction to scare these guys into not only revealing the final destination of the information, but also what information has been passed along so far. This has been going on for several years; we need to know how long and how deep the hole is."
"You'd better not be getting them involved with something like the fiasco at the Sudanese Embassy, Webb," AJ warns the CIA agent.
"Nothing like that, AJ, I just need them to provide legal advice to our team. And …"
This one comes out as a growl only a SEAL could produce, "And what?"
"IwouldlikeforRabbtokeepthecatuntilthisgoestotrial." Webb runs the words together in hope they'll agree without knowing exactly what he said. He should have known better.
"What was that?" Harm asks, certain he heard his name in that mush.
"I'd like for you to keep the cat until this goes to trial," Webb repeats carefully, waiting tensely for an explosion …
… That never comes. "Webb," Harm says, speaking slowly to make sure he's understood, "as cute as he is, this animal has already ruined one uniform today. Can you imagine the hit to your budget if you would have to replace all of my uniforms, not to mention home furnishings, because you would like me to take your problem off your hands?"
"Harm, you are the only person he's let handle him," Webb pleads. "We had to bribe him into the carrier at the kennel because he wouldn't let anyone there touch him; the vet had to sedate him to get the x-rays, so we were able to put him back in the carrier there without any trouble, but you're the only one he's actually allowed to handle him without going ballistic."
Mac has been watching Harm with the kitten since she finished cleaning up his scratches. Earlier, Harm had removed the cat from his shoulder and set him in his lap where he is now sleeping on his back with his paws wrapped around Harm's hand. "An animal has to be comfortable for it to leave itself so vulnerable to someone," she observes.
Harm looks to AJ, but finds he won't get much support from that quarter; the JAG is truly enjoying the plight of his troublesome attorney. "I don't have anything at my apartment to care for a kitten," he protests weakly.
"It's all in my car," Webb offers happily, sensing imminent capitulation. "There's food, a dish, a box and litter. You'll need to keep the droppings until we're sure we have the capsule; I'll send an agent by in the evenings to pick it up …"
"What about a bed, or toys?" Mac interrupts. "Or treats for when he's good?" That brings about much needed laughter.
"I haven't even agreed to this," Harm protests. " i If /i I do this, I want you to promise to fix any damage he does to my place."
"Harm, I will personally fix or replace anything he damages," Webb vows without hesitation. "I promise I will do whatever it takes to make things right after the trial."
"He even said that in front of witnesses," AJ comments.
"That's really funny, Admiral," Webb returns dryly. "Besides, it'll be much cheaper than trying to repair my place if I had to take him home. He at least likes Rabb."
"Well, at least we know he has good taste," teases Mac with a wink at Harm. "Toys, bed," she prompts.
Webb fishes his wallet out of his jacket and removes some bills. "When did you become so attuned to animals' needs?" he asks, holding the money back until he receives an answer.
Mac snatches the cash out of his hand. "Jingo," she replies.
Harm eyes his new charge, trying to decide what to do with him for the afternoon. Fortunately AJ has a solution ready. "Commander, why don't you take the cat and work from home this afternoon. Colonel, when you are finished in court for the day, you are free to pick up any additional supplies he may need and deliver them to the Commander's apartment so he won't have to leave the animal unguarded. Webb, fill them in on the specifics of your case before you go—and you'd better not leave anything out. I have a meeting with the SecNav in half an hour so I need to get going. Commander, Colonel, if this is going to get too involved, let me know so I can reassign some of your other cases. Good luck," AJ offers, gathering his cover and briefcase and heading quickly out the door.
"Clay, why don't you bring that carrier in here while this guy's still asleep," Harm suggests. "Then you can tell us what we need to know and I can get home and see if this uniform is salvageable."
The afternoon meeting is short, but the weekend of preparation for an early Monday meeting with the CIA lawyers is long. Throughout the weekend, Mac tries to gain the kitten's trust, but is only able to do so when Harm is close by. By Sunday evening the evidence has been produced, enabling Harm to avoid the chore of getting the kitten into the carrier for the trip to Langley. Unfortunately, the reaction of the kitten to being 'abandoned' isn't much better; Harm walks in to a scene that looks like it was caused by a tornado, not one small kitten.
For a month, Harm and Mac work with the CIA lawyers, building an airtight case. Sitting in on the second interview with the erstwhile owner, healing scratches still vividly contrasting with his white uniform, Harm unknowingly guilts the man into giving up his contact. That man, however, proves to be very elusive. Patience pays off eventually, as he is finally taken into custody trying to flee the country hours before the start of the espionage trial. When faced with the opportunity of life in prison instead of the death penalty, he then gives up the information the CIA is most interested in—his contact.
The kitten, it turns out, is actually the fifth they've used for their plans for the last seven years. They never realized—or cared—that the capsule they were using contained lead, which was poisoning the animals they were using to pass information. Number Five was lucky; he was only used a few times, therefore he hadn't built enough lead up in his system to make him sick.
Finally, the trial is over and the kitten has been taken to a shelter to await adoption—hopefully he'll be easier to place now that he's been in a more comfortable environment for a while. Harm is looking at the mess that once was a neat and clean apartment, contemplating the work that it needs to be that way again, when Webb arrives to make good on his promise.
Thirty-six hours later, you would never know there had been a rambunctious kitten in the apartment for over a month, except for the scratches on the figure slumped on the couch, waiting for something or someone. The knock at the door, however, isn't what he was waiting for, and he hesitates a moment before deciding to answer it. "Mac, what are you doing here?" he asks.
"I've been spending so much time here lately, it just seems like the place I should be. Besides, I thought we could order something for dinner to celebrate a job well done," she replies, stepping inside and looking around in awe. "Wow, Webb really did make good on his promise, didn't he? This place looks perfect."
"Yeah," Harm says dejectedly. "He really came through this time."
"Harm, what's wrong?"
"I don't know, Mac. It feels like I'm waiting for something, only I don't know what." He shrugs and tries to explain, "I thought it was just wanting to get my place cleaned back up, but even with that finished, I still feel like something's wrong with it."
Mac takes a minute to really look around before answering. "It looks to me like it did before your unexpected houseguest arrived. You could always empty the garbage can on the floor to see if that helps," she laughs, bringing up one of the kitten's most annoying habits—knocking over the trash can so he could sleep inside.
"That's just it, Mac. I almost think that would be better than this nearly sterile environment," Harm admits, flopping back down on the couch. He reaches behind his back and pulls out one of the furry mice she bought for the kitten to play with. "Do you mind if we do dinner another night? I don't think I'm in the right frame of mind to be good company tonight."
Mac watches thoughtfully as he studies the mouse with all the seriousness he usually displays towards a piece of evidence he's sure will answer his every question in a case. "Sure Harm. We'll do it another night," she acquiesces, letting herself out. He never notices.
Nearly an hour later, there's another knock at the door. Harm is still contemplating the mouse in his hands as he opens it to reveal Mac and Webb. "What are you guys doing here?"
"Harm, you're beginning to sound like a broken record," Mac jokes. "I thought Webb and I could help solve your problem for you."
"You guys aren't planning on dumping the garbage on the floor, are you? Because if that's what you came for, you can turn around and leave right now."
"Trust me Harm; after working so hard to get this place cleaned up, I have no intention of dumping the garbage on the floor. But we did bring someone by who may have something else to say on that subject." On cue, there is a 'meow' from behind Webb's back.
"What do you have there, Webb?" Harm asks, hoping and dreading at the same time.
"Mac thought you looked a little lonely without your friend, so I brought him back for a visit," Webb hedges.
Harm peers into the carrier at the monster who caused him to have to replace most of the uniforms in his closet along with doing a good amount of damage to the rest of his home. "How long can he stay?" he asks, sounding a little like a small child.
"We adopted him on your behalf," Mac reveals. "Actually, they were quite happy to get him out of their hair."
Harm isn't listening to her. He's too busy rescuing his friend from the carrier and scratching him on his favorite place under his chin, trying to get him to produce the sound he's just realized he's been missing—the purr of a contented kitten. It starts quietly, building gradually, but once it reaches full volume, Harm realizes that he just i has /i to keep the little guy around, despite the disruption to the order in his life. He's realized that being happy is not always being perfect.
"What are you going to name him?" Mac asks, her voice finally breaking into Harm's thoughts.
"Oscar," he replies, imagining his friend in his favorite place in the apartment—the trash can.