Chapter Four

Monday, November 19th, 2001
1314hrs EST
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church VA
(191814ZNov01)

Admiral A J Chegwidden was not a happy man, and the cause of his present unhappiness was the slightly cooler than arctic atmosphere in JAG Ops, directly attributable to what seemed to be an undeclared, if very cold, war between his two senior attorneys. Stalking across the bull pen he sent anger-filled glares in the direction of both Mac and Harm's offices, where, as was now usual, both had their doors firmly closed against intrusion.

It wasn't as if Rabb and MacKenzie butting heads was all that unusual, there had, in the past, been some spectacular arguments between the two attorneys, but at least those arguments had succeeded for the most part in lancing whatever boil was plaguing them at the time. But this time around it had gone on, silently, but thoroughly poisoning the atmosphere at JAG, for two weeks and that was more than the choleric senior officer was going to tolerate.

He waved off Tiner's attempt to come to attention as he entered the Yeoman's cubby hole of an outer office and reached for the door handle of his inner sanctum but then paused as a thought struck him, "Tiner, pass the word for Lieutenant Sims – to report to me ASAP!"

"Aye, aye, Sir!" his Yeoman responded crisply.

Chegwidden had resolved to put an end to this… friction between Rabb and MacKenzie and much as he disliked interfering in his subordinate's private lives, once their personal problem spilled over into the professional arena, then he was damn' well going to. He had been on the point of having his Yeoman summon the two protagonists so that he could hand them both a reaming that would have sent them heading for the hills at a high rate of knots when the old maxim that time spent on reconnaissance was never wasted came to mind, and of ever he needed intel on a situation it was now; and as far as Rabb and MacKenzie were concerned the finest source of intel was Lieutenant Harriet Sims!

The awaited knock at his door he answered with a curt "Enter!" and he watched the nervous young officer cross the expanse of carpet to stand at attention in front of his desk.

"At ease, Lieutenant, and take a seat!" he invited her gruffly.

Once again when told to be seated Harriet breathed a silent sigh of relief, she wasn't aware of anything that she had done that would warrant being summoned to the Admiral's office, but she still felt like a delinquent high school junior being summoned to face the principal.

Chegwidden waited until the Lieutenant had settled and then peered across the top of his reading glass at her, "Harriet, just what the hell is the matter between the Commander and the Colonel, this time? I thought he'd have been happy now that she's back from her TAD?"

Harriet fluttered her hands in a vague, almost helpless gesture, "I don't really know, sir. Really. They're both being infuriatingly close mouthed about it, all I know is that the Commander wasn't happy when he came back from the Guadalcanal, but he seemed to be getting over whatever had upset him on board, and then came all that…. With the… you know, sir, nine elven, well, it knocked us all sideways… and I think he was really worried about the Colonel over that Consulate thing. But when she came back, he wasn't particularly welcoming, and then two weeks ago, her first Monday back, she … the Colonel, sir, didn't really give him any time at all to get settled in, the moment he got to his office she went after him, and although there wasn't any shouting, it was pretty obvious that the Colonel was mad at him, and since then, sir… well… it's been like the North Pole out there."

Chegwidden blinked in disbelief. He was pretty sure that Lieutenant Sims hadn't, out of concern for her friends' privacy, given him a full and accurate account of what she knew. "Are you trying to tell me, Lieutenant, that somehow over the course of a single weekend, the Commander managed to push the Colonel's buttons so badly that it is all she can do to be civil to him if they have to speak with each other on points of duty?"

Harriet's hands fluttered again, "Sir… I can't answer that question fully. The Colonel came to dinner on that first Sunday after she returned from her TAD, and she was blazingly angry then; I don't know why, and she wasn't, and still isn't speaking about it!"

Chegwidden eyed her doubtfully, without actually calling her a liar, he was forced to accept the blonde's word, and if she was being less than totally forthcoming, then it was only because she was being loyal to her friends, even if that loyalty was based on the fact, as Chegwidden was beginning to think, that both Rabb and MacKenzie were at fault.

"Very well, Lieutenant, thank you for being as open with me as you have been. Dismissed!"

Harriet jumped to her feet, thankful to have gotten off as lightly as she had, "Aye, aye, sir!" she rapped out before making an about-face and heading for the door. But as she turned the door handle she was struck by the dreadful thought that the Admiral was now also displeased with her. 'If he is, then it's just too bad,' she told herself, 'I can't betray my friends, even when they're both behaving like asses!'

Chegwidden watched her go, a thoughtful expression on his face as he mulled over what little information he had gleaned. It seemed that the current rift between Rabb and MacKenzie had its roots in the case aboard the Guadalcanal. He shook his head in disbelief, after the way MacKenzie had acted when Rabb went down on his way back for her wedding, this complete volte face on her part just didn't seem feasible, not without some major provocation. 'Yes, that's it. I don't care exactly what happened; it had to have been Rabb's fault!' He reached out and pressed the intercom button, "Tiner, is Commander Rabb in the office?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Good! Pass the word for him to report to me, ASAP!"

"Aye, aye, sir!"

Chegwidden waited, not quite patiently for his errant officer to appear, and when he did, snapping to attention in front of the Admiral's desk, the senior officer regarding him with dark, unfriendly eyes, "Commander, it seems you have a problem with Colonel MacKenzie, and your behaviour is affecting the good order and discipline of this office. Fix it!"

The answer he got was not the crisp "Aye, aye, sir!" he had expected but a firm, "Permission to speak freely, sir?"

It took an immense effort of will for the Admiral not to leap to his feet and demand what the hell the junior officer meant. But he bit back on his anger for the moment and asked, "Just what do you think you can say that will make a difference to the order I just gave you Commander?"

"Sir, with respect, the current difficulty between the Colonel and I is not of my making. Not this time, sir. And also, with respect sir, the only person in this headquarters with whom I have a problem is the Colonel. My relations with the rest of the staff are as they have always been, so I fail to see how my actions can be construed as affecting good order and discipline. Sir!"

Chegwidden sat back in his chair, resting his elbows on its arms an steepling his fingers, he was still annoyed – damned annoyed – at Rabb, but the younger man's words gave him pause to think. What Rabb had just claimed was true; his interactions with the remainder of Ops staff were as they had always been, amicable. In fact he knew, and Rabb wasn't aware that he knew, the Commander had just saved two promising careers by having a quiet word with Major Jackie Fisher, the security detachment OIC, and persuading him that instead of charging them both with fraternisation, to give leave to Lance Corporal Kim and PFC Andrea Burchell, to allow the two young Marines to marry before Burchell's increasing girth became obvious. Of course, one of the two would have to be posted out… but… Chegwidden gave an impatient shake of his head… all that was neither here nor there. But if Rabb's recent behaviour had had any effect on discipline or morale generally, it was a beneficial effect. No… in this case the disruptive element was MacKenzie.

Chegwidden sighed, "Stand easy, Commander," and he waited until Rabb had assumed the 'Parade Rest' position, "At ease. Just what the hell, happened between you and the Colonel, Rabb?"

Rabb relaxed and grinned mirthlessly, "I finally pulled my head out of my six, sir. Despite the mutual attraction between the Colonel and I something was said that made me realise that there was no, and could never be, a joint future for us. I moved on… well, I am trying to move on… and the Colonel is having a hard time accepting my decision, sir. I… at least, that's the way I see it, sir."

Chegwidden sat forward, resting his forearms on his desk and peered at Rabb over the top of his spectacles, much as he had earlier looked at Harriet Sims. "Even so…" he said quietly, "Would an apology to the Colonel from you go any way towards making life around here a little easier for everyone? And if so, for the sake of restoring peace and tranquillity to this mad-house, would you be prepared to make such an apology?"

Harm shifted uncomfortably, "Sir, I honestly believe that there is nothing for which I can apologise. If I apologise for deciding that the Colonel and I have no shared future, then it is quite probable that she will take further offence at what she could quite easily call my arrogance in assuming, in even daring to think, that we might at one stage have had a future. And I honestly don't believe that there is anything else for which I need apologise."

"I could order you to make any apology, Commander," Chegwidden said evenly.

"Yes, sir, you could, but I doubt it would work. Colonel MacKenzie is not stupid, and she knows me well enough to be able to pick up the slightest nuance of insincerity in my voice and besides, sir, for what would you have me apologise?"

Chegwidden appeared to mull over Harm's words, but just as he looked up, apparently about to speak the intercom buzzed. His already exacerbated temper rising rapidly, Chegwidden stabbed the intercom button with an impatient finger, and in a voice fully loaded with displeasure he rasped out, "Dammit, Tiner, I said I wasn't to be interrupted!"

"Yes, sir, I know, sir… but Admiral Morris is here and says he needs to speak with you immediately… sir, and he wouldn't take no for an answer, sir…" Tiner's voice faded out miserably.

"Very well, Tiner." Chegwidden glared up at Rabb, "This conversation isn't over yet, Commander. Make sure you keep Tiner apprised of your movements until we have a chance to finish it. Dismissed!"

"Aye, aye, sir!" Rabb snapped to attention and paused before performing an immaculate heel and toe about face and making for the door.

Despite himself, Chegwidden grinned slightly as he watched his junior almost flee from the office. But composed himself as the second Rabb disappeared through the door Rear Admiral (Lower Half) Stiles Morris appeared, and as befitted the imperative that had brought him here, there was a distinct lack of humour on the Chief Judge's face.

Chegwidden stood as a matter of courtesy and waved his visitor to a chair, "Take a seat, Stiles, and tell me what caused you to browbeat my Yeoman into disobeying his orders?" he invited mildly.

Admiral Morris dropped into the chair indicated and looked across at the JAG, "What brings me here is Lieutenant Colonel Mackenzie, sir!"

Chegwidden re-seated himself with a silent groan, but pinched the bridge of his nose in what he already knew was a futile effort to ward off a headache that had just started to throb behind his eyes. "Go on," he said wearily, "And forget the, sir, bit Stiles, we know each other well enough to use first names."

"That we do," the African-American officer agreed,. "But as this is a formal complaint, perhaps we had better stick to the formalities, sir."

"Is it that bad?" A J asked.

"Sir, as you know, I'm presiding over the McCutcheon negligently hazarding an airplane case, and Colonel MacKenzie is supposed to be defending him…"

Chegwidden nodded, wondering, not for the first time, given the Colonel's past attitude to pilots in general, if he really had been thinking when he assigned MacKenzie to defend an aviator charged with negligently hazarding his airplane.

"Go on."

"One of the Colonel's witnesses for the defence is a Lieutenant Commander Lockhart, McCutcheon's RIO on the day of the alleged negligence, and three times yesterday, and again this morning, I've had to caution MacKenzie against badgering or harassing her own witness. Quite honestly, sir…" he caught Chegwidden's arched eyebrow and hastily corrected himself, "Uh…A J… uh… she's so flustering Commander Lockhart that she's discrediting her own witness' testimony and generally mishandling the defence to such an extent that she's in danger of handing the case to Mattoni on a platter. And if she does…" he paused significantly, "then I would fully expect McCutcheon to petition for another attorney and bring a complaint of inadequate defence against the Colonel, and that, as we both know, would be a career stopper, if not a career killer."

Chegwidden winced, this was not good hearing, "What time are you re-convening, Stiles, I'll look in on the case when you do so I can see exactly what she's playing at…" a thought struck him, "It could all be part of her trial strategy… No?" he finished sadly as Morris shook his head.

"No, A J, and I'm afraid that's not all. I have just reprimanded the Colonel for the manner in which she treated and spoke to my Legalman, and from what I hear, that was in the manner in which she seems to have become accustomed to treating enlisted personnel over the past few weeks. I had hoped that would be the end of it, but Legalman One Andrews is seeking official redress, and has submitted to me her official complaint as per article eleven fifty of Navy Regulations." He slipped a hand inside his Service Dress jacket and produced a white envelope which he slid across the desk to Chegwidden, "Go ahead. It's open; read it, I already have."

Chegwidden drew a despairing hand down his face, Andrews was a level-headed woman, extremely competent, about thirty years old, married with two children, and as befitted a senior petty officer whose name had just been submitted to the next selection board for promotion to Legalman Chief Petty Officer, was not the sort of sailor to submit frivolous, irrelevant or petty grievances for redress.

He read Andrews' complaint with growing disbelief, it seemed that MacKenzie had totally lost all sense of decorum and had berated Andrews in public for something which Andrews maintained was not her fault, and had ended her tirade by calling the Legalman a 'useless, inefficient, lazy, lying bitch.'

Chegwidden finished reading the complaint, his face growing longer as he did so. The only light at the end of what looked like a very long and very dark tunnel was that the only redress Andrews requested was that MacKenzie make a full and open apology to her, in front of the same witnesses who had been present during the Colonel's verbal assault.

Chegwidden desperately looked for some mitigating factor in MacKenzie's alleged conduct and looked across the desk at Morris, "Is there any reason to believe that, despite the unofficerlike language she used, there is any justice in MacKenzie's initial accusation?"

Morris shook his head. "No, that was the first thing I queried with Andrews. She produced documentary proof that the initial error was in fact Colonel Mackenzie's."

"What was the error?"

"A name missing off the witness list. When MacKenzie called the witness, Mattoni quite properly challenged on the grounds that the witness name hadn't been submitted to trial counsel. I upheld the challenge because MacKenzie couldn't give adequate reason for the name to be missing from the docket. MacKenzie apparently decided that it was Andrews' fault, and when I adjourned the court she confronted my Legalman. Andrews was able to show me that the list of witnesses on the docket was identical to the list that MacKenzie had initially submitted." Morris shrugged his shoulders and held out his hands palm upwards.

Chegwidden buried his face in his hands for a few moments, "Stiles, this is one hell of a mess!" he said when he finally lifted his head. "You realise that these are just two instances of MacKenzie's behaviour that have come to light in the last couple of weeks… And it's… it's just not like her. I'm beginning to wonder if that Consulate incident in Aceh might have triggered some sort of adverse psychological reaction…."

"Don't go looking for excuses for her A J. In my opinion, the woman is out of control." He looked with some sympathy at the JAG while thinking, 'And to some extent you've brought this on her, and on yourself. You've let her get away with so much crap that she thinks she's entitled to do or say anything she pleases and won't have to face the consequences.'

Chegwidden glared sourly at Morris, he had a pretty fair idea of what the other officer was thinking, if only because he was beginning to think the same things himself. "Okay, Stiles, I'll have MacKenzie in, and we'll get to the bottom of this, and if I find that Andrews' complaint is upheld, then I assure you a full, sincere and public apology will be made. Although," he added with a sigh, "It's going to play hell with MacKenzie's authority in the future, especially as she's my Chief of Staff. Okay then… have your Legalman deliver all the relevant case documents to my Yeoman and I will look through them. If she can get them to me by secure today, I'll have my answer for you by secure tomorrow."

Morris nodded, "Will do. There's just one more thing, A J…"

Chegwidden groaned, "What?"

"Unless you want McCutcheon to appeal this case, I suggest you consider replacing MacKenzie as defence counsel." He looked at his watch, "Court re-convenes at fifteen hundred," he added in an oblique reminder of Chegwidden's remark about sitting in at the next session.

"I'll be there!" Chegwidden affirmed.

"I'll leave it all with you then, A J," Morris climbed to his feet and gave a short nod of his head in farewell before he turned and left the office.

Chegwidden slipped quietly into the rear row of seats in Courtroom Number Two where he sat in growing dismay as he heard Mac mangle her own direct of her witness and then as Alan Mattoni picked up on every error she had made during his cross-examination. He could hardly bring himself to believe that he was listening to one of his top attorneys making more of a mess of case than would a first year law student in moot court. He could hardly blame Mattoni, he had smelled the blood in the water and like any shark was making lightning attacks, biting off chunk after chunk of evidence and chewing it up. And it was MacKenzie's fault for leaving him so many tempting morsels.

Fortunately direct and cross took up over an hour of the court's time and when Mac, much to Chegwidden's horror, turned down Judge Morris' offer to re-direct, Judge Morris adjourned the court until zero nine hundred hours the following morning.

One look at the dissatisfied expression on Lieutenant Commander McCutcheon's face as he and Mac engaged in furious low-volume conversation was enough to confirm Chegwidden's tentative decision. He would have to replace Mac as defence counsel. The way she was going and if today's performance was any guide, she was digging her own grave deeper every minute she spent in court.

A J dug out his notebook and hastily scribbled a note, which he passed to one of the Marine Bailiffs, "Take this to Colonel MacKenzie, now!" he rasped before he got to his feet and stalked out of the court room.

Two minutes later he stopped at Tiner's desk as that young man leaped to his feet, "Tiner, pass the word for Commander Turner, and when he gets here, tell him from me to stand-by. In the meantime, I'm expecting Colonel MacKenzie and Lieutenant Commander McCutcheon. When they get here, send them straight in to me!"

"Aye, aye, sir!" Tiner responded crisply, wondering what bug had bitten the admiral that he hadn't, as per his usual practice, waved his Yeoman back into his seat, and wincing when the admiral closed his inner office door with something that didn't sound too far off a slam.

Chegwidden's brusque note bought results in under five minutes as a double knock at his door announced the arrival of the two officers he had summoned, both of whom stalked, rather than marched across the space between door and desk once he had bidden them to enter. Both officers halted at attention as Mac announced them, "Lieutenant Colonel MacKenzie and Lieutenant Commander McCutcheon reporting as ordered, sir!"

Chegwidden sat upright in his chair as he absorbed the tension radiating off both officers, and noted the physical distance between them, and then to Mac's surprise when he spoke it was to McCutcheon, "Commander McCutcheon, are you satisfied that Lieutenant Colonel MacKenzie is mounting an adequate defence on your behalf?"

Mac looked as if she'd been struck by lightning and then the blood drained from her face as she heard McCutcheon respond.

"No sir, I am not at all satisfied."

"Thank you, Commander. You are dismissed for the moment, but please wait in the outer office; I shall need to speak with you further."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

Chegwidden waited until the door had closed behind the aviator before he turned his eyes towards Mac, "Colonel, I am severing you from this case, with immediate effect, and I am placing you on disembarkation leave… post-deployment leave… whatever the hell you want to call it for two weeks. During that time you will seek counselling, either through the Navy at Bethesda or with a private therapist of your own choice, to help you to try to cope with what are obvious anger issues that have not only soured the atmosphere in Ops, but also alienated both Judge Morris and his Legalman to the extent that she has submitted a formal complaint in accordance with article eleven fifty of the regulations. In addition, I observed your performance in court this afternoon and it was pitiful! A first year law student wouldn't have… couldn't have made a bigger hash of this afternoon! When you leave this office, you will hand over all your case notes to Commander Turner. While you are on leave, I shall investigate the redress of grievance that has been raised against you by Legalman One Andrews, and if I find that there is sufficient evidence to uphold her grievance, I will require you to make a formal apology to her. Is that understood?"

"Sir, This is unfair…" Mac started to protest.

Chegwidden almost leaped to his feet and slammed an open palmed hand down on the surface of the desk, "No! It is not unfair Colonel! It is an attempt to save your sorry ass! Admiral Morris was that close," he held up a finger and thumb that were only just not touching, "to charging you with contempt of court, and his Legalman has filed a redress of grievance against you. If I allow you to continue in this case, it is very probable that Commander McCutcheon will be found guilty, not necessarily because he is guilty, but because you are screwing the pooch. If he is found guilty I can almost guarantee that he will appeal the finding, citing inadequate defence counsel, and if he does and the appellate court agrees, then I am also pretty sure that he will demand that the officer with Court Martial authority over you charges you with dereliction of duty, and that officer, me, would be obliged to do so. Furthermore, I will require written proof from whichever counsellor you decide to see that you are returning to an even keel."

"Sir… that's going to mark my career as over…" Mac tried again.

"No, Colonel, it will not. It will slow you down for a year, maybe two, but it will not mean you being dismissed from the service or serving brig time, or being disbarred, all of which are probable consequences of being found guilty of dereliction of duty."

The admiral sat down again and leaning both elbows on the desk, passed both hands over his scalp before he spoke again, but in a quieter tone, "Mac, I'm choosing to believe that your aberrant behaviour is the result if your experiences in Aceh, and is not due to any disgruntlement you feel because your personal life is not going in the direction in which you had expected it to. Because," and his voice hardened once more, "If I thought that was the case I would have already charged you with conduct to the prejudice! Do you understand me, Colonel?"

"Sir, yes, I understand, but…"

"But nothing, Colonel. You can accept my decision or not. If you choose not to accept it, you have two options, you can choose to disobey my orders, in which case you will find yourself facing a general court martial, or you can resign here and now, and proceed on terminal leave today. The choice is yours, Colonel."

For a split second as her anger flared Mac was tempted to tell the old fool that she resigned, but a second thought brought her up sharply, she was a Marine. She defined herself as a Marine first and an attorney second. Where would she be, what would she be without the Corps to give her direction. She stiffened her brace even further, "Sir, I will not disobey your orders!"

"Good! Now, go and prepare your hand over for Commander Turner, and on your way out ask the Commander and Commander McCutcheon to come on!" Dismissed!"

"Aye, aye, sir!"

Harm stride down the corridor from Courtroom Number One, a shit-eating grin on his face as he reflected on how he had just totally disrupted Carolyn Imes' case. He just loved it when a plan came together and he successfully pulled a magic rabbit out of his hat. But Carolyn should have known better, she should have followed up the witness statement that the accused's car was not at the scene of the accident, because it was parked up precisely where the accused had said all along, outside the witness' house nearly eight miles from the scene of the hit and run. His grin vanished as he spied a disconsolate figure wandering idly down the corridor in front of him, a figure that he thought, despite it being in different surroundings that he thought he knew, "Ally?" he queried.

Lieutenant Commander Calleigh Lockhart spun around at the unexpected sound of her call sign being used in this building, and for a moment she stared blankly at the tall Commander smiling at her, and then she recognised him, "Hammer!... Uh… sir! What are you doing here? Are you here for the McCutcheon case?"

"No… I work here, but why are you here?"

Ally managed a weak grin, "I am here for the case, and I'm a defence witness, but…" she sighed heavily.

"Hey, why the long face? Who's got his case?"

"Colonel MacKenzie, sir, and it's not going well…"

Harm shook his head, "Mac, Colonel MacKenzie is a fine attorney, none better, if anyone can pull off a hopeless case, it's her." He said in an encouraging voice.

"That's just the problem, sir. It's the Colonel that's sinking the case!"

Harm looked around, startled, and not wanting anybody else to hear, "Easy there. Ally, what do you mean? Are you in any position to judge?"

Calleigh lowered her voice, "Sir, I may not be a lawyer, but I can tell when somebody's out of their depth and floundering. And for whatever reason, it seems to me that Colonel MacKenzie's head isn't in the game, and Chris, Commander McCutcheon isn't happy either. No, he hasn't said anything, but I know him pretty well, and his expression, his body language… it's all wrong…"

Harm looked down into her eyes; there was no sign of subterfuge just what appeared to be genuine worry on behalf of McCutcheon. "Okay… let's say for the moment that I agree you have cause for concern, but court's over for the day, what are you doing here still?"

"I'm Chris' ride back to Andrews, sir, and I'm waiting for him. He's with the Admiral, or…"

"I see… well, you can't just hang around the hallways… can I fix you a cup of coffee?"

Sensing a change in Harm's attitude, Calleigh ventured a shy smile, "Yes, please, sir," she replied, all at once sounding much younger than her twenty-some years.

"Well follow me, Commander," Harm grinned and led her to the break room, where he saw to his pleased surprise that for once thee was coffee on the already brewed on the jug. Pouring two cups and adding cream to Calleigh's coffee, he guided her to his office and invited her to wait there for McCutcheon.

A short interval later saw Sturgis Turner and Lieutenant Commander McCutcheon walk out int the bull-pen, where they exchanged a few words before they shook hands and McCutcheon turned to leave the room. Calleigh hastily put her mug down on Harm's desk and with a cursory, "By your leave, sir," she shot put into the bull-pen, calling "Commander!"

McCutcheon and Turner both turned, the former to grin at the sight of the young woman hurrying towards him and the latter allowing a smile to flit across his face before he turned towards Mac's office only to find his path blocked by six feet four inches of naval aviator turned attorney.

"Something I can do for you, buddy?" he asked in his deep, smooth voice, "I am in a bit of a hurry."

"Yeah, what's going on, Sturg?"

Sturgis Turner frowned, "It seems that Mac has royally screwed the pooch in this case, and the admiral has severed her. I get to pick up the pieces. So, if you'll excuse me, old buddy, I need to get the case file from Mac. And then I suspect I have a long night ahead of me. I only hope I can persuade Judge Morris to grant a continuance!"

"Ah, that explains why I wasn't tapped for this case…."

Sturgis raised a questioning eyebrow and Harm continued, "The Admiral usually hands off aviation related cases to me, but Admiral Morris is unlikely to look favourably on any requests I might make, so it makes sense for someone else to take over…"

Sturgis grinned, "He's still holding a grudge over that MP-Five?"

"Well I wouldn't exactly call it a grudge…" Harm grinned in embarrassment as Sturgis gave a shake of his head and turned away.

"Well, what would you call it?" He called back over his shoulder, "No… don't bother answering, it was a rhetorical question!" and he grinned at Harm.

"Get outta here! Damn preacher's kid!" Harm threw at him, and grinned back.

Monday, November 19th, 2001
2014hrs EST
Harmon Rabb's Apartment
4
th Street NE, Washington DC
(200114ZNov01)

"Umm… Harm?" Beth asked somewhat diffidently as she dried the last of the dinner dishes.

Harm paused in the act of putting the flatware back in its drawer, "Yeah?"

"Umm… could you come out to Andrews tomorrow, after secure?" she asked in a shy voice, and avoiding his gaze.

"Of course!" Harm replied instantly, and then frowned slightly, "Is there a problem?"

"Oh, no, no. Nothing like that!" Beth quickly assured him, "It's just that I think I may have found an apartment, and I'd like a second opinion on it, your opinion."

"Sure…" Harm said, but felt a sinking feeling in his gut, he'd not only gotten used to having Beth around, he also liked having her around and although he knew she would be leaving sooner or later the thought of her departure being sooner rather than later filled him with dismay. "But what's the rush?" he asked.

Beth did turn to face him now as she handed him the last two plates to be returned to their stowage, "Harm, I'm four months gone, now…" she pulled her t-shirt tight over her now noticeably rounded tummy, and pretty soon I won't be able to cope with moving, and anyway I'd rather be settled somewhere for Christmas…"

"Oh… If you weren't on watch, I was kinda hoping that he could spend Christmas together…" Harm said somewhat lamely.

Beth dried her hands and nodded towards the lounge area, "Why don't we sit down?" she suggested.

Harm nodded, trying not to let his unhappiness show, and followed her out of the kitchen, taking his now accustomed seat in 'his' armchair while Beth settled into her permanently placed nest of throw pillows on the couch.

"Well… unless things change, I will be off watch on December twenty-third, twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth, and I would love to spend the holiday with you… I might even be able to persuade you to eat a morsel or two of turkey," Beth grinned, "But although you've been a good friend to me, allowing me to stay here, we both know that I need to find my own place."

"Oh, I know, I know…" Harm spread his hands helplessly, "I just wish that it didn't have to be quite so soon, and that you weren't looking to move quite so far away…"

"It's not that far, Harm!" Beth laughingly protested, "Only half an hour or so, if that!"

"That's plenty far enough if I need to be there in a hurry!" Harm objected.

"Harm, there are excellent OB facilities at the base medical centre, and if, God forbid, anything should go wrong they have their own EMTs and ambulance crews. In fact, I'll be nearer medical help there than I will be here!" she finished.

"Yeah… but you won't be near me! But… you're also right." Harm admitted helplessly, "If you need help then it's better for you to be nearer there than here… but I don't have to like it!" he said grudgingly.

"You are obviously preparing for promotion!" Beth laughingly admonished him, "You are becoming more grumpy and more captainy every day!"

"Captainy?" Harm queried through a snort of laughter, "Is there even such a word?"

"Of course there is, I just said it!" Beth replied mischievously.

Harm sat back, relaxed and smiled, although he knew that Beth still missed and mourned her dead husband, her flashes of humour were beginning to return and he was happy for her that she seemed to be moving forward with her life, although he knew, knowing her as well as he did, that she would always remember Jason Mitchell.

Beth noticed his smile and decided to press her advantage, "So… you'll meet me after secure tomorrow?" she persisted.

"Of course I will, but I won't be able to get away until seventeen hundred, so it's likely to be nearly eighteen hundred by the time I get to the flight offices."

Beth nodded, "That's okay, I can always get a cup of tea in the galley while I wait for you."

"Yeah… and you know… if we're going to be looking at this apartment, we're not going to have much time for cooking, so we could stop on the way home, or get a carry out from somewhere?"

"Or we could just order in once we get back," Beth amended with a smile.

"Anyone would think you don't want to be seen in public with me," Harm teased her.

"It's a wonder that you want to be seen in public with me!" Beth shot back with a rueful glance down at her expanding waistline. "You know, I really think it's about time I switched to the maternity uniform. My skirts are getting really snug and I'm really struggling to fasten my jacket these days…"

"Well, I think you look fantastic!" Harm disagreed, "and just to make you feel a little better, how about a foot rub?"

Beth's eyes lit up like those of a twelve-year old who had just been promised a birthday treat, "Ooh… yes, please!" she enthused.

"Well, you sit still then, while I go get the oils and a towel!" Harm grinned.

"You certainly know how to sweet talk a gal!" Beth smiled back at him.

Tuesday, November 20th, 2001
1842hrs EST
4241 Chariot Way
Upper Marlboro, MD
(202342ZNov01)

"Any special reason for choosing this place first?" Harm asked as he got out of the Lexus and walked the few feet to where Skates was clambering out of the Focus.

"Nothing really," Skates puffed as she stood up, pressing a fist into the small of her back, "Just that of the short list, it's nearest to Andrews and furthest from DC, so it made sense to start at the outer edge and work in, besides…"

"Besides what?" Harm asked almost suspiciously.

"Besides… I had a sort of instinct… a gut feeling about this place…" she caught Harm's eye wandering down to her bump and scowled at him, "Don't even think about it, Mister!"

"I was only going to ask whether you had a sort of hump… uh… I mean a hunch," he said with a completely assumed air of innocence.

"Gonna get you for that!" Beth growled, "Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but someday soon…"

"Oh, well," Harem said shrugging off her threat and his teasing manner at the same time, "shall we?" and offered her his arm as they walked up the path towards the building.

They were met at the door by the letting agent, a briskly affable man in his fifties, who greeted them with a warm smile and an outstretch hand, "Mister and Mrs… oh… no, I beg your pardon. Commander and Lieutenant Hawkes-Mitchell?"

"Uh… no… I'm Commander Rabb, and this is Lieutenant… Oof!"

"Hawkes-Mitchell," Beth finished for him with a sideways glare and an elbow to Harm's ribs. "I'm the prospective tenant, Commander Rabb is a friend and he's just here to lend me moral support. Aren't you?" she finished with a challenging look at Harm.

"Yes, dear," Harm said in a long-suffering voice, which brought a grin to the agent's face and a murderous look to Beth's.

"You really are piling up the score!" she muttered to him as the agent turned the key in the lock.

"Well, I'm Richard Badbury," he introduced himself as he turned back to the couple. He had recognised them as a couple the second he laid eyes on them, even if they failed to see it or acknowledge the fact. "The place is built on two floors, what the Brits call a maisonette. This property has the first and second floors, while the property above, which has its own entrance at the side of the building, has the third floor and a loft conversion. Downstairs is the kitchen cum dining room, a lounge, a bathroom with utility room attached, and a third room, which I've been using as an office."

He grinned at their evident surprise, "I'm not an agent, I actually own the place. I bought it as a home for my wife and myself for my last assignment, after the kids moved out, but Marie, my wife, had a fall last fall and broke her hip. The winter was tough on her, really tough, so now she's able to move again we've bought a place in Florida and converted this place into two two-floor apartments…"

Harm looked around the entry lobby, its hardwood floor won his immediate approval and the staircase leading to the second floor wasn't too steep, curving gracefully around two of the lobby's walls. Nodding in approval Harm followed Beth as Badbury led them through to the living area, still furnished with a three piece suite and a coffee table, while through an archway they could see kitchen stools positioned around a kitchen island.

Badbury followed their line of sight and explained, "You can't see it from here, but just to the right of the archway is a table and four chairs if you'd prefer to sit down to your dinner like Christians…" he grinned, letting them know that he wasn't, not for a minute, buying the 'just friends' tag that Beth had claimed.

Beth and Harm just looked at each other, figuring that it wasn't worth their breath denying his implicit accusation.

Badbury continued his guided tour of the property, pointing out one or two minor faults as well as the apartment's good points, chief among which, as far as Beth was concerned, was that the washing machine and the dryer in the utility room would be left for the tenant's use. The two bedrooms on the second floor were both big enough for king-sized beds and offered plenty of built-in storage space, even if they didn't quite afford the luxury of walk-in closets, and while the downstairs bathroom contained only a WC and a shower, the bathroom on the upper floor was spacious an in addition to the shower also had a rather old-fashioned claw foot tub, while the shower stall was big enough to take a shower chair. "It was pretty much a necessity after Elizabeth broke her hip last year," Mr Badbury explained.

"Your wife's name is Elizabeth?" Harm queried, "So is the Lieutenant's!" he exclaimed, ignoring the glare that Beth sent him, while she tried to ignore Badbury's grin.

After about half an hour, Badbury led them back into the kitchen, and drew out a chair for Beth, who accepted it with a grateful smile and a sigh of relief as she took the weight off her feet.

"Well, I reckon I've shown you everything there is." Mr Badbury announced, "So, do you have any questions for me?"

Beth opened her mouth to ask about utilities, but Harm got there before she could speak, "How long does it take to get to Bethesda Naval hospital from here, and how long to the Medical Centre on base at Andrews?"

"About thirty minutes to Bethesda and fifteen to twenty minutes to Malcolm Grove on base."

Harm nodded, chewing his bottom lip, hesitating so long that Beth interjected, "Harm! Stop looking like that! It takes just as long to get from your place to Bethesda as it does from here!"

"Yeah, but it takes just as long to get to here from my place!" he objected.

Badbury looked confused, "So… you're both not going to be living here?"

"No… like I said, the Commander is just a friend," Beth said. "The only people living here will be me and the little person formerly known as The Bump," she smiled and gently patted her tummy.

"I see…" Badbury said, although by the puzzled look still on his face it was obvious that he didn't. He shook his head and continued, "So… are you at all interested?"

"Definitely!" Beth said, "But we do have two other places to look at, but I've got a good feeling about this place, Mister Badbury, even though you've moved out, it still feels like a home…"

Harm winced, he felt Beth was showing too much interest at this early stage, but Badbury smiled, "I tell you what; I'm more interested in getting this place, and the one upstairs filled, than I am in making a huge profit. So… as one flier to another…" he nodded towards the wings on Beth's jacket.

"You were a flier?" Harm interrupted.

"Yes, Commander, I was. I was a Lieutenant Colonel USAF in a former existence."

"What did you fly, sir?" Beth asked.

"F-Fours, One Elevens and hung on just about long enough for the Fifteen. Great days," Badbury smiled, "And you?"

"Oh… he's the driver, I'm the RIO… the gal in the back seat." Beth grinned deprecatingly.

Badbury looked from one to the other with new understanding, "You flew together?"

"We did," Harm affirmed, "And I was lucky, I had the best damn RIO in the fleet!" he smiled at Beth.

Badbury had identified the ribbons of Harm's fruit salad, and despite himself, he was former Air Force, after all, he was secretly impressed, 'And I reckon she was a lucky gal to have you as her pilot!'

He shook his head slightly, "Okay… as I said, I'm not particularly interested in making a huge profit, so here's the deal… I'll let you have this place on a probationary twelve month lease, for your BAH, but you are responsible for its upkeep, the utilities and local taxes."

"Except for major structural faults!" Harm quickly interjected.

Badbury looked at him expressionlessly for a long moment before his face creased in a grin, "You done this before, Commander?"

Harm shook his head, "Nope, but my step-father has a pretty impressive property portfolio out in SoCal, and I guess I've learned a thing or two from him."

"Okay… so what do you say, Lieutenant?"

"I'm tempted, sir. Very tempted. But like I say, I do have two other places to see this evening. But… if you can get a lease agreement, with the terms you've just mentioned, to me by tomorrow evening, I can give you a definite answer by midday on Friday."

"Why… that's fair enough I reckon. If you can do that, I don't see any reason, once your bank honours your check, why you shouldn't move in ASAP!"

A brief round of handshakes later, Beth and Harm were back in their cars and on their way to the second address in Camp Springs.

Tuesday, November 20th, 2001
2052hrs EST
Harmon Rabb's Apartment
4
th Street NE, Washington DC
(210152ZNov01)

"What do you fancy?" Harm asked as he shrugged off his jacket, while Beth flopped onto the couch.

"Pizza?" Beth asked hopefully as she toed her shoes off, "Ooh that's better!" she added as she wiggled her toes and sank back against the pillows.

Harm grinned in resignation, when it came to Pizza, Beth and Mac had a lot in common, "Shall I order it now, or do you want to shower first?"

"Oh… order it now. I'll shower after we've eaten. That way I can get straight into my PJs and hit the sack. I'm due back on watch at zero eight!"

"Okay… what do you want on your half?" Harm asked. His necktie now off and his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows as he picked up the phone.

"Could we go for a frutti del mare?" Beth asked, "I loved those ones we used to get in Naples…"

"God, yes! " Harm enthused as a memory fuelled smile spread across his face, "That little trattoria down that side street off of the piazza… the piazza…"

"Piazza Cavour!" Beth finished for him with a chuckle. "And it was La Trattoria de Loretta del Mar! Honestly, you're hopeless with foreign languages!"

"Yeah, that was the one!" Harm agreed and then broke off as his call was answered, and he ordered the pizza.

"It's going to be about twenty minutes, so I'll grab my shower now." he told her.

"Go, ahead, make yourself at home!" Beth grinned.

Beth shoved the empty pizza box to one side, and took a last mouthful of sparkling cider, "So… what did you think of those apartments we saw?" she asked.

Harm shook his head decisively, "Two of the three apartments were fine, but the neighbourhood for the two in Camp Springs… nuh-huh. The buildings weren't that old, but the whole place looked dirty, neglected and run down, and I doubt there was a car on either parking lot that was under six years old… and did you notice along the fence line between that second place and the street? All that trash. And that third apartment! Beth it was pokey, dark and it smelled damp, why do you think I hustled us out of there! And it was on the seventh floor! How do you think you would you cope at the end of your third trimester with a bag of shopping and fourteen flights of stairs if the elevator went off-line? And you can bet your bottom dollar it would! If not then, but when you've got an infant, a stroller, and shopping to try and carry up there! Hell, Beth, you'd be better off staying here!"

"Why, Commander Rabb, is that an invitation?" Beth teased him.

Harm grinned and shook his head, "No… much as I'd like it if you stayed here, we both know that it's just not practical…" he shook his head in resigned disappointment.

"So, the first one it is, the one in Upper Marlboro."

"You liked that place, didn't you?"

Beth nodded, "And so did Harriet Sims… she's the one who found it!"

"Oh, well… never let it be said that I disputed Harriet's taste!" Harm laughed, but then sobered, "And the neighbourhood seemed much better, but just don't sign anything until I've had a chance to run it by CC, okay?"

"Isn't that a bit extreme?" Beth frowned.

"No, I don't think so, we are both too closely concerned to be able to maintain detachment on this, and don't forget, this sort of thing is bread and butter to the LSO, if there's anything dodgy about the terms of the lease, CC will be the one to spot it!

"Yes, dad," Beth said meekly, but with her eyes dancing with mischief.

Harm tried to glare at her, but was forced to chuckle instead. "Go on, go get your shower, I'll press a fresh shirt for you!"

He pressed her shirt, leaving it hanging on the bathroom door, and then returned to the kitchen to make a pan of hot chocolate, timing it so that as he walked back into the lounge area, Beth in her uniform skirt and stockinged feet, emerged from the bathroom, a towel wrapped about her head, and her blow-dryer and hair-brush in hand, and smiled her thanks as he presented her with a steaming mug, and laying aside the dryer she cradled her mug in both hands.

The two finished their drinks in silence, and Harm collected the mugs and took them to the kitchen rinsed them and left them to dry overnight.

Then passing Beth on his way to his bedroom, he stopped, stooped, and dropped a gentle kiss on her forehead.

It took a second for them both to realise what he had done, and then both blushed. Harm was the first to find his voice, "Uh… Umm… I…it… you… I… ah… Goodnight Beth!" and he fled to the sanctuary of his bedroom, leaving Beth, her dryer buzzing unheeded in her hand, to stare, open-mouthed, after him.

Wednesday, November 21th, 2001
1910hrs EST
Harmon Rabb's Apartment
4
th Street NE, Washington DC
(220010ZNov01)

Dinner was uncomfortably quiet, not that that was particularly strange, through long acquaintance aboard ship Beth knew that Harm really didn't know how to deal with embarrassing or emotional feelings but would sit and brood for hours, even days, while he tried to figure out how he felt. There'd been no opportunity this morning for them to talk, by the time Beth had gotten back from Andrews it was nearly zero eight forty hours, and Ham had left for work at least an hour previously, and as Beth walked into the bathroom she noticed a damp t-shirt and shorts lying on top of the laundry hamper, a sure indication that Harm had gone for a run to try, so she supposed, to work out why he kissed her and what the possible ramifications and consequences might be.

For her part, Beth wasn't offended or upset; it was just that she had been surprised. She enjoyed her close friendship with him, but it had always been strictly platonic… mind you, so had the kiss on the forehead… but it was an escalation of sorts. All prior demonstrations of affection had been limited to friendly teasing, and an occasional – very occasional – shoulder hug. 'So… maybe last night's events do need talking about…' she thought. She waited until he'd drained his first mug of coffee and had poured the second before she spoke, "Harm? What was all that about last night?"

"Uh…" Harm stared at her with a rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights expression on his face, and to Beth's amused surprise his ears flamed crimson, and there was even a hint of red in his cheeks.

"Umm… Yeah… Beth… I'm… uh… sorry about that… I don't know what came over me, and I promise, it won't happen again…"

"I'm not worried about that!" she waved a hand dismissively, "I wasn't offended, and I didn't feel threatened… it was rather cute in a way, it was just that I was surprised…"

"Ah… like I said… I'm not sure what I was doing… it just seemed – on the spur of the moment – the right thing to do… I hadn't planned on doing it, but…" he swallowed and straightened his shoulders, "It just suddenly seemed the right thing to do! I know I haven't done anything like that before, but you've never spent a month camping out in my lounge before either, and after all that time… it… it feels almost like we're family… and then the idea of you moving out soon… and well…"

"Yeah," Beth agreed, "we are living in somewhat more intimate circumstances than ever before, so perhaps it shouldn't have been entirely unexpected."

"Uh… Beth…?"

"Yeah?"

"If you weren't offended, and you weren't threatened, then, I don't really regret it, you know?"

Beth gathered up her cup and plate and standing delivered them to the sink and then sighed as she looked through the window at the lowering grey skies, "I gotta go and, with the traffic at this time of day, I need an extra ten minutes, and I just know that as soon as I step out of the car, it's gonna rain!" she bustled about, slipping on her uniform jacket, struggling with buttons. "Yep, gonna have to be the maternity uniform – starting tomorrow!" she grinned, and then collecting her cover and umbrella, she crossed back to the island and dropped a kiss of her own on Harm's forehead. "See you later, sailor!" she quipped and then laughed at the thunderstruck expression on Harm's face.