25 JUNE 2001
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
"I am not sure that you should be doing this."
"Dr. Grayson gave me clearance to drive," Harm said tersely, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel while waiting for the light to change. It had taken no small amount of persuasion on his part to convince his neurologist that he was feeling well enough to drive, at least around town. It had taken even more to get a reluctant okay to travel to Annapolis over the coming weekend for Skates' wedding, and that only after he had sworn that he wouldn't get behind the wheel for that trip and would let Mac drive.
He hadn't even mentioned to the doctor that he was planning to go up to Pennsylvania for the Fourth of July. In fact, he was still having a hard time convincing Mac that he was going to be up to the four-hour drive, regardless of who was driving. He thought he would have a stronger case after making the trip to Skates' wedding, so he was putting off making his final argument for the trip to his grandmother's until after the weekend. Once Mac saw that he was fine and had gotten through Skates' wedding with no ill-effects, he was sure Mac would agree to get away and could help convince the doctor. At this point, he was sure that Mac needed the trip just as much as he did. With the Fourth being on a Wednesday, they would have plenty of time to kick back, and try not to think about everything going on in their lives.
"I do not think leaving the hospital to drive to JAG headquarters is what the doctor had in mind," Sergei said, surreptitiously studying his brother out of the corner of his eye. Certainly, Harm looked better than he had since the accident, and did not seem to tire quite so easily. But Sergei could not forget the cold fear he had felt on hearing of the accident and the long flight from Moscow, wondering if the brother he barely knew was going to still be alive by the time he landed in the U.S. His first sight of Harm in the hospital had done little to allay those fears.
When their grandmother had returned home the previous week, she had invited Sergei to come up with her, to spend some time getting to know each other on the family farm. He had demurred, promising to come up in a few weeks for the holiday. His grandmother hadn't pushed, but she had sensed the reason behind his reluctance, he could tell. He was afraid to give up this time with the brother he had almost lost.
"I'm not going back to work," Harm insisted.
In the seat beside him, Sergei rolled his eyes. "No," he said, "you are just going to ask the Admiral to give you work to do."
"I can certainly sit at home and draft reports," Harm countered. "It will give me something to do all day." He had brought up to Mac his idea of renovating the apartment, but she had been hesitant. He had shown her the plans he had drawn up and although she had agreed, in general, with the concept of remaking the apartment into something that was theirs, she still thought it was the wrong time to begin such a large project. She had wanted him to wait, but for what, he wasn't really sure. She had said that she thought he should see how he did once he got back to work and was back into the swing of things in his life. He had been frustrated at the suggestion, as that defeated the purpose of beginning the work now, when he was stuck at home with little to do beyond resting and exercising his still-troublesome knee.
"Does the doctor know that you are going to ask the Admiral for work?" Sergei asked.
"I should have dropped you off at Mac's apartment," Harm muttered as he turned onto the street where JAG was located.
"You promised to show me around this place where you work," Sergei reminded him. The extracted promise had more to do with keeping an eye on Harm more than anything else, and both men knew it. Harm thought it was ironic considering that Sergei was still recovering from his five-month ordeal as a prisoner. Harm had acquiesced because it was easier than arguing with Sergei, plus he knew it would make Mac feel better if he was accompanied when he stopped by. She was trying not to hover and was hesitant about the increased freedom of movement that he was pushing for with the doctor, so he thought it would ease her mind somewhat if she could see that he was trying to still take it easy.
"You're not going anywhere anytime soon," Harm said. "There's plenty of time to show you around."
"We don't know that," Sergei reminded him, turning to look out the window.
"You've been here just under a month," Harm countered after a long moment of silence. "Even on the tourist visa, you still have two more months." Even as he said the words, he wasn't quite able to mask the concern in his tone. The visa that Clay had wrangled for Sergei had only been for 90 days, and so far, he had not returned any messages left with him about extending it further until they could prove Sergei's paternity and do away with the visa requirement altogether. Harm had worried to Mac that due to the circumstances of his father's presence in Russia, there might be pushback to allowing Sergei to remain in the country. After all, some might think that it any ideas of claiming citizenship for Sergei would be dropped if he were forced from the country before proof of paternity could be obtained.
Their grandmother was working on trying to find something that would provide usable DNA from their father, but so far, she hadn't found anything. With the time required to submit the samples for testing, to get the results and then to submit them to the State Department, Harm preferred to have everything taken care of as soon as possible and to be secure knowing that Sergei could stay in the U.S. if he wanted. During the last few weeks, he had discovered that he liked having his little brother around, even if Sergei had been showing a tendency to worry a little too much.
Sergei had tried to brush off his own concerns about his status, having told Harm and Mac just a few days earlier at dinner that his mother had sounded worried when he had last spoken to her and that she would feel better if she could see him in person and reassure herself that he really was okay after his ordeal. Harm later told Mac that he suspected that Sergei was simply trying to avoid setting himself up for disappointment. He'd seen the look in his brother's eyes. He wanted to stay. He was just afraid to hope.
"It's good to see you, Sir," the Marine guard said as Harm slowed to go through the gate into the JAG parking lot.
"It's good to see you too, Sergeant Wilson," Harm replied. It was his first visit to the office since the accident and it felt good to be there, even if only as a visitor, and to see the familiar faces he normally saw every day. It was another milestone he could tick off on his road to recovery. "I'm signing in my brother as a visitor today." He motioned to Sergei, who was ready with his Russian military ID.
Wilson looked the ID over and passed it back along with a visitor's badge, which Sergei clipped to the neckband of his t-shirt. Harm thanked the Marine and pulled through the gate and into his regular parking spot next to Mac's Corvette.
"So this is where you work," Sergei commented idly as they entered the building. As they walked through the halls, Harm was stopped by numerous people who greeted him enthusiastically, asking how he was doing or when he was coming back to work. Sergei was a little surprised that the people happy to see his brother seemed to be an equal mix of officer and enlisted. Most of the people he'd met at the hospital had been officers, with the exception of the two enlisted men who had accompanied his grandmother from Pennsylvania the night of the accident.
It wasn't what he was used to in Russia, where the often-corrupt officers seemed to be off in their own world and the enlisted seen as little more than drones. Harm wasn't merely being shown the respect due an officer of his rank. His brother was obviously well-liked by the people he worked with. It was a completely different world, he marveled, not for the first time.
"Gunny," Harm said as they reached the elevator to find Victor waiting with a file box.
"Commander," Victor said with a grin. "The colonel said you might be stopping by today. It's good to see you."
"I'm glad to see you, too, Gunny," Harm replied. "Gunny, this is my brother, Sergeant Sergei Zhukov. Sergei, this is Gunnery Sergeant Victor Galindez."
Sergei nodded respectfully. He searched his memory for the American military rank structure, trying to recall if a gunnery sergeant was two or three grades above his own rank. There was no Russian equivalent to the Marines. "We met at the hospital," he reminded his brother. "It's good to see you again, Gunnery Sergeant."
"It's good to see you, too, Sergeant," Victor replied. "How are you enjoying Washington?"
"It's different," Sergei said with a shrug. His experience with cities prior to this was limited to a couple of visits to the airport in Moscow and an hour spent at JFK in New York.
Victor and Harm both laughed at that. Washington was definitely different. "Don't worry," Harm assured his brother as they stepped onto the elevator. "Once we're at Gram's farm, you'll think that you are back at home."
The bullpen was quiet when they stepped off the elevator, a handful of people working studiously at their desks. Harm glanced towards Mac's office, smiling as he noticed the new sign over her door. He knew she had decided to change her name – he'd been surprised one morning shortly after she'd returned to work by the new name tag on her uniform, initially thinking that she had swiped it off one of his uniforms as a joke before she had let him in on the surprise. He'd been more than a little thrilled at the idea of Mac taking his name – and had admitted as much, despite the teasing about being a chauvinist.
Numerous times since then, he'd had to banish the thought that it might not have been his name Mac was now using, especially as Mic continued to insinuate himself into their lives. He didn't know that Mac had been planning to take Mic's name – and he didn't want to know. It was one of those things that he was trying to ignore as part of the past that didn't matter anymore. Sarah Brumby was never going to exist now, he thought thankfully.
"If you'll excuse me, Sir, Sergeant," Gunny said, leaving Harm and Sergei to deliver the box he was carrying to Loren, who was glaring angrily at him from across the bullpen.
"Who is that?" Sergei asked. She looked vaguely familiar, so he thought he might have met her at the hospital, but it was hard to tell with her hair tightly pulled back off her face. He thought back to the people he had met briefly in Portsmouth, trying to make a connection in his mind. There had been two blond women, as he recalled, one of whom he remembered as the mother of Harm's godson. Perhaps this was the other one, although she had looked different at the hospital with her hair loose and casual. He decided that the casual look was better on her.
"That is Lieutenant Singer," Harm replied. "She's one of the junior attorneys here."
"I did meet her at the hospital?"
"Probably," Harm said. Loren had been there, so he assumed Sergei might have met her. He glanced at his brother, shaking his head. There was nothing wrong with his brother having an eye for the ladies. It was something else entirely if that lady was a barracuda like Loren Singer. "She's much older than you….and way out of your league."
"Out of my league?" Sergei repeated, unfamiliar with the idiom, although he thought he could guess the meaning based on Harm's tone.
"Never mind," Harm muttered. He quickly changed the subject. "Do you want to wait in Mac's office while I see the admiral? I think she's in court this morning."
"Perhaps I can wait out here and meet some more of your friends," Sergei suggested in an innocent tone, his eyes still on Loren.
"Behave," Harm said with an exaggerated sigh.
"Take a seat, Commander," AJ said, glancing at Harm over the top of his glasses as he signed some papers.
"Yes, Sir," Harm replied, taking a seat and waiting patiently while AJ finished what he was doing. After a moment, AJ tossed his pen down on top of the stack of papers and removed his glasses.
"How are you doing, Commander?" he asked.
"I'm doing better, Admiral," Harm said. "I just had an appointment with my neurologist at Bethesda. She said it's possible I will be able to return to work around mid-July."
AJ quirked an eyebrow at that. His doctor said it was possible, or Harm was pushing for it? Knowing Harm, he wouldn't be surprised if it was the latter. Harm's health wasn't the only consideration, however. "Commander, on a somewhat related topic, I spoke to Commander Turner this morning," he said. "The inquiry into your crash has been scheduled for the twelfth. It will be held here at headquarters."
"Then this will all be over around the time the doctor is ready to clear me for duty," Harm said confidently.
"You sound sure of that, Commander," AJ commented.
AJ studied him for a moment and then nodded. He hadn't really expected any other answer, but it was gratifying to hear it all the same. It was a good sign that Harm didn't seem to be second-guessing himself. He just hoped that the board would see it the same way. He'd been keeping an eye on the inquiry – as discreetly as possible considering the circumstances – and he knew that if Mic's planned testimony was discounted, it was pretty clear that the crash had been caused by mechanical failure combined with the weather. They could only hope that the board would see it that way.
"So what can I do for you, Commander?" AJ asked. He knew Harm hadn't come by the office just to update him on his medical condition – he could have done that over the phone.
"I was hoping, Sir," Harm replied, "that there might be some work that I could do at home while I'm recuperating, drafting briefs or something."
"I see," AJ said. He leaned back in his chair, studying Harm for a long moment. He knew how frustrated Harm must be to ask for what was essentially grunt work. Getting him to do paperwork under normal circumstances was like pulling teeth. AJ could understand – that had been him back in the day, before rank had gotten in the way. Now it seemed that paperwork was all he did – paperwork and meetings. "You haven't been cleared for duty, Commander."
"That doesn't mean that I can't do paperwork while I'm at home, Sir," Harm countered.
"There's also the inquiry," AJ pointed out. "You are potentially facing some serious charges."
"Would I be on restricted duty if it were not for my health situation?" Harm asked, leaning forward in the chair. He had the same look in his eyes that he would while delivering an argument before the court. "It is your prerogative as my commanding officer to determine my status in such a case."
"True, if it were only up to me," AJ continued. "Because you were, at least nominally, under the command of Captain Ingles during your TAD, he is the convening authority for the inquiry under the auspices of COMNAVAIRLANT."
"So you think Captain Ingles may insist on limiting me from even restricted duty until everything is resolved, Admiral?"
Actually, AJ thought the opposite. He had seen Captain Ingles' deposition. Ingles no more believed that Harm was at fault for the crash than he did. In fact, he was sure he had seen the word 'hogwash' make an appearance once or twice in the statement with regards to other possible causes for the crash. There may have also been something about 'God himself couldn't have kept that plane in the air that night.'
Ingles' certainty said as much to AJ as Harm's own confidence did. Ingles was known to be stern, but fair. If you screwed up under his command, he would make sure you paid your penalty to the fullest extent under the UCMJ. But if he was on your side, he could be your staunchest ally.
"No, I do not believe that Captain Ingles would argue for restricted duty," AJ said. "But there are other people who are watching this inquiry carefully, Commander."
"Understood, Sir," Harm replied. AJ had warned him of that the day he'd told him the inquiry would be headed by the legal counsel for COMNAVAIRLANT. "But would drafting motions or writing a new will for the sergeant at the guard shack who just had a baby really be worth the attention of COMNAVAIRLANT? I'm not asking to draft classified briefs for the Joint Chiefs, Sir."
Harm paused, considering what he had just said. A new will. Perhaps that was something that he and Mac should talk about, especially after everything that had happened. He made a mental note to ask her about it later.
"I suppose that is true, Commander," AJ said, breaking into Harm's thoughts. "Let me see what we have around here. Perhaps I can send some things home with the Colonel this evening."
Harm had hoped for something he could start on immediately, but he supposed that it would take some time to find things for him to do. He would have to accept that for now. "Understood, Sir," he said.
"If there is nothing else, Commander?" AJ asked.
"No, Sir," he said, recognizing the dismissal in the tone. He stood and, out of habit, came to attention. "I was going to see if I could speak to Commander Turner about the inquiry."
"Dismissed, Commander," AJ said, picking up his glasses again. Recognizing the sign that AJ was already moving on to other things, Harm swiftly departed the office, closing the door behind him. As he entered the bullpen, he saw Sergei wasn't in Mac's office waiting, but was leaning on the corner of Loren's desk. He rolled his eyes, deciding he would worry about warning his brother more fully about Loren later. He glanced towards his own office, seeing Sturgis behind his desk, making notes in a file. He went over and knocked on the door frame.
"Harm," Sturgis said, looking up from his notes to smile at his old friend. "Mac said you were thinking about stopping by today after your appointment. I was hoping to catch you while you were here."
"To talk about the inquiry?" Harm asked, closing the door behind him. "The admiral just told me that it's on the calendar."
"Yes," he said, motioning to Harm to take a seat. "I've gotten everyone else's statements, but I've been holding off on yours because of your medical situation."
"You mean the holes in my memory?" Harm had discussed it briefly with Sturgis on a visit after he'd been released from the hospital, and Sturgis hadn't pushed the issue, although Harm wondered if part of it might not have been the stern-looking Marine standing over them during the conversation.
"I know you said that some of your memories were a little vague," Sturgis said. From the statements he'd read from Harm's doctors, it was not unexpected. He was hoping that a few weeks' removal from the events would have helped Harm fill in some of the holes.
"I'm clear regarding the events of the flight itself," Harm said. He didn't add that he often woke up in the middle of the night reliving those events, recalling the hours spent out on the ocean wondering if he was ever going to see the woman he loved again. It was part of the reason why he'd pushed himself to stop taking naps during the day. The less he was asleep, the fewer nightmares he would have.
"Well, do you have some time now?" Sturgis asked.
"I've got all the time in the world, Sturgis," Harm said with a wry grin. He leaned forward in his chair, an intent look on his face. "What do you want to know?"
HALF AN HOUR LATER
Mac's heels clicked against the linoleum floor as she strode through the bullpen as a woman on a mission. Bud had pulled a last minute rabbit out of the hat in court – she knew who he had learned that from and it was no less frustrating than when Harm had pulled similar stunts in the past - and she had to come up with a way to counteract it during the lunch recess. Just as she was about to enter her office, she stopped short at the familiar man perched on the corner of Loren's desk.
"Sergei," she said, turning to walk over to them. Sergei smiled at her, while Loren gave her a slightly challenging glare. Mac ignored the other woman in favor of her brother-in-law. "Harm is with you?"
"Yes, Colonel," he replied, immediately falling back into military habit by calling her by rank, despite their family relationship. "He spoke to the Admiral and now he is with Commander Turner."
"You're not in uniform, Sergei," Mac said with a distracted smile. "You don't have to call me Colonel." She glanced at Harm's closed office door, seeing the two men conversing while Sturgis made notes. "Do you know how long they have been in there?"
Sergei shrugged and looked at Loren, who answered, "About half an hour, Ma'am. I assume they're discussing the inquiry."
Mac sent Loren a stern look to indicate that the topic of their discussion was none of her business. Loren returned the regard with a look which did not come off quite as apologetic as it should have.
Turning her back on Loren, Mac looked at the closed door, wondering if she should interrupt. She knew Harm hadn't given his statement on the crash yet, as Sturgis had been delaying as long as possible out of consideration for Harm's medical condition. It was sure to be emotional, and she ached for Harm to know that she was there for him. She just wasn't sure that Sturgis would appreciate her presence. Ever since that first day when Sturgis had blindsided her with Mic's deposition about their wedding, she had felt like she was walking on egg shells around him. In her head, she knew he was right and that they both had Harm's best interests at heart. She still wondered if Sturgis felt that there wouldn't be so much to be concerned about if it weren't for her screwed up presence in Harm's life.
Before she could decide whether or not to interrupt, the door opened and the men came out of the office, laughing together. Mac released a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. Harm didn't look to be concerned about whatever he and Sturgis had been discussing.
Out of the corner of his eye, Harm saw Mac and went over to greet her, settling for a quick hug and a kiss on her cheek in deference to her uniform.
"I knew you were probably going to stop by after your appointment," Mac said. "How did that go?"
"It was fine," Harm replied without elaboration. There was time to talk in full about it later. "I thought Sergei and I would take you to lunch."
"I'm sorry, I can't," she said regretfully. "Bud pulled a patented rabbit out of a hat move in court today that I need to work on countering."
"Need some help?" Harm asked.
"You're not supposed to be working yet," she pointed out. She opened her mouth to say more, but was interrupted by the ringing of the phone on her desk.
"You probably should get that," Harm suggested, giving her another quick kiss before waving her towards her office. "I'll see you at home later."
"Okay," Mac said. "I'll see you later." As she went into her office, she pondered their quick conversation. Something seemed off about the exchange, but she couldn't quite put her finger on what it was. Chalking it up to Harm knowing she was busy, she picked up the phone and resolved to put it out of her mind for now.
NORTH OF UNION STATION
"You're not supposed to be working yet," Mac repeated her earlier statement as she entered the apartment, dropping a stack of files on the kitchen bar where Harm was standing, chopping vegetables for the half-prepared salad in front of him.
"I take it those are the files the Admiral sent home for me?" he asked. He leaned across the bar to kiss her, but she had already turned towards the bedroom to change. He shrugged. Must have been one of those days at work for her.
"I saw the Admiral when I was at JAG today," Harm explained, slightly raising his voice. "He agreed that he could probably find some paperwork that I could work on while on I'm stuck at home until cleared for full duty."
"Do you really think you're ready for that?" Mac asked, her words partially muffled as she pulled a t-shirt over her head. "Or maybe you could have mentioned it to me before the Admiral had Tiner hand me a stack of files to take home to you."
"You were a little busy when I saw you," Harm reminded her. "Bud's rabbit in court, your phone ringing, remember?"
"Actually, I remember that you seemed very quick to get me back to work," she counted. Their conversation had played back through her mind later, and she had decided that it seemed just a little too quick to her, as if he really didn't want to have a discussion.
"You were busy."
"No, it seems to me like you were avoiding talking about the fact that you're not supposed to be working yet," she said with a frustrated sigh.
"It's barely even work," Harm argued, tossing the tomatoes he'd been slicing into the salad bowl. "It's drafting wills and proofreading court briefs."
"That's not the point!"
"Then what is the point?" Harm asked. "Because right now it seems to be much ado about nothing. I'm not going out on investigations or arguing in court."
"Much ado?" Mac echoed. "Harm, you almost died! You're supposed to be taking it easy while you recover, not pushing yourself too soon."
"I'm not pushing myself too soon," Harm countered, a hint of anger in his tone, "and I'm tired of people acting like I am. Sergei insisted on coming with me to JAG to keep an eye on me; Sturgis had been avoiding discussing my statement with me; you've been on me for wanting something to do while I'm sitting at home all day. I know how my body feels and what my limits are."
"We're all worried about you," Mac insisted, exasperation creeping into her voice. "I'm worried about you. I'm not going to apologize for that."
"Mac," Harm began with a frustrated sigh. Setting down the knife, he went around the counter and went to her in the bedroom. He sat on the edge of the bed, taking her hands in his and tugging her down beside him. "I'm not asking for an apology," he said quietly, curling his fingers around hers and squeezing gently. "You're entitled to be worried. I just want you to trust that I know my limits."
"It's not a question of trust," she said quietly, returning the squeeze as she tried to blink back tears. "Do you have no idea how scared….no, terrified I was? I almost lost you!"
"But you didn't," he insisted with a cajoling grin. She didn't return the expression, instead looking down at their clasped hands. "Mac?"
For a brief moment, her nightmare about the Somers flitted through her mind. In hindsight, she'd taken the dream as a warning, a prediction that Mic could have cost her the man she loved. Why else would she have dreamed about it so clearly the night of the crash? Pushing the thought from her mind, she looked back up at him. "I'm fine," she insisted with a firmness she didn't feel. "It's just…."
"I do know, Mac," he replied. He released her hands and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tight against him, resting his chin on top of her head.
She returned the embrace eagerly, luxuriating in the feel of his body, warm and solid, against hers. She'd never really liked to cuddle in bed – a restless sleeper, she had always liked her space - but it had turned into one of her favorite things about being married to him. When she woke in the middle of the night, it was comforting to feel him against her, a tangible reminder that her dreams weren't real and that she wasn't going to lose him.
The buzzer on the oven sounded suddenly, interrupting the peaceful silence surrounding them. Mac's stomach responded by grumbling audibly, eliciting chuckles from both of them. "You skipped lunch," Harm chided her knowingly. "At least tell me it was worth it and you managed to counter Bud's rabbit."
"Of course," she replied smoothly, lifting her head to meet his gaze. "I've learned a thing or two over the years about countering your tactics in court."
"My tactics?" Harm countered with a grin that didn't come off quite as innocent as he was trying to appear.
"Yes, your tactics," she said, poking a finger into his stomach to emphasize her point. "I almost thought I was facing you in court this morning."
"I obviously taught Bud well," he proclaimed proudly.
"Hey, shouldn't you be on my side?" she asked in mock indignation.
"I'm on the side of the truth," he replied in a teasing tone. "Did your client do it?"
"I'll tell you about it over dinner," she promised. "Don't you have something to get out of the oven?"
"Let's get you fed," Harm joked, pulling her with him as he got off the bed and headed for the kitchen. "I think you'll like this. It's a chicken casserole recipe my mother got from some Hispanic neighbors we had when Dad was on the Tico."
"Not your usual fare," she commented.
"Baby steps," he joked as he released her, waving her towards the table. "I know it's going to take time to convert you to healthier eating habits."
She laughed, remembering his early disgust at her favorite foods. Some things never changed. "Not even a month married and already trying to change me."
"It's not trying to change you to ensure you're with me for a long time," he countered.
"I'm not going anywhere," she promised.
To be continued...
AUTHOR'S NOTES -
Sorry for the delay in posting this part, but I had an injection in my neck last week for my herniated discs and got really sick for several days afterwards. Then the Harm and Mac in my head decided that instead of inspiring me for this part, they wanted to hold a discussion that isn't going to take place until part 1 of chapter V (slow down, guys - there are places to go before you get there).
This part is mostly exposition, but it's important as this is where the story subtly starts building towards the climax of chapter IV, plus it introduces a sub-plot involving Sergei which will run through the rest of this chapter and part of the next. No, I'm not going to give any hints on the climax, except to say that it's the climax of the entire saga. If you remember studying the structure of Shakespeare's plays in high school, the climax of his tragedies always took place in act three (ie, the death of Caesar in Julius Caesar or Romeo's killing of Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet), roughly at the middle of the play, before the action falls towards the dénouement (not that this is a tragedy, or Shakespeare). I can't tell you how many more parts it will take until we get to that climax, but that's not because I don't know where the story is going. I have a very detailed outline for chapter IV, but the parts are breaking out differently than I planned in the original outline (the original parts were longer and what is posted today as part 11 was original only a section of part 5 - I'm trying to limit the number of 30-40 page parts, if you guys remember some of the parts I posted back in the days of 'Can't Fight This Feeling Chapter V'). I just need to sit down with the outline and set the new story breaks, then I can tell you how many parts Lean on Me will be.
The next part of DOALS will pick up with Harm and Mac traveling to Skates' wedding, with Mac overhearing a conversation between Harm and Skates which makes her start wondering about things. The subtle building towards the climax of this part will not be quite so subtle in the next part, and that's all I can say for now.
And now for a few miscellaneous notes - As I'm sure you've figured out by now, I'm alternating between DOALS and Days. DOALS is much more sturm und drang - really, despite the subject matter of Days - so it helps to be able to step away from DOALS and write about a Harm and Mac who are happy and in a good place, relatively speaking. In Days, Harm and Mac have spent the better part of two years (going back to 'Dreams and Revelations' in October 2000) learning how to communicate with each other, and unlike Harm's first return to flying, his second (plus having Tori) has brought them closer together. Their conflicts in that story are external. DOALS has both internal and external conflict, and it's going to be the internal ones which will play heavily into the climax of DOALS - this is a Harm and Mac who got together quickly under trying circumstances, so they have to go back and figure out the hard way a lot of the things they've already learned in the 'Calendar Girl' timeline. They're going to learn the hard way that getting married in DOALS didn't suddenly solve all their problems.
And for those of you who have been asking, yes, I do plan to return to 'Searching For Sunny Skies'. I have an outline for that story somewhere that I'm trying to find. It's around here somewhere, but a lot of my fan fiction stuff got scattered when I had to rebuild my main desktop after a virus.
And finally, here's a little humorous aside - I was watching the Rangers' game tonight while doing my final edits on part 11. At one point, I started talking to the TV (ask my dogs - I do that a lot during sporting events, which they don't always like, especially if things aren't going well) and I called Josh Hamilton "Harm". Tells you where my mind was tonight.