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The Times of His Life - Part 2


Chapter 7

Consumed in each other’s embrace, neither gave any thought to anyone else in the house.  Harm had managed to shove Mac’s coat off her shoulders, letting it fall to the ground. His hands were now frantically caressing every square inch of her back, while his mouth savored the soft flavor that was exquisitely Sarah Mackenzie.  Sarah MacKenzie Rabb.

Mac’s fingers were busy weaving and scratching through his thick dark hair. With her other arm wrapped around him, her hand rested along his back, her fingers dipping and teasing along the edge of his belt.  She’d never imagined after all these years, being separated from Harm would be so difficult.  She could easily spend every minute of the rest of her life kissing Harmon Rabb.

AJ and Sidney were perched near the kitchen door trying to discreetly check on the reunited couple. 

“I’m thinking skip dinner, pack up the kids, and take them home with us. What do you think?” Sidney glanced sideways at her husband standing over her right shoulder.

“Sounds like a plan to me. How long do you think we should hide out in the kitchen?” He looked down at her.

“Till they remember we’re here?” Sidney smiled.

“That could be a while,” AJ chuckled.

“No kidding, Sherlock,” Sidney laughed a little louder than she meant to.

Somehow, the sound of Sidney’s laughter penetrated the isolated cocoon Harm and Mac had momentarily managed to create.  At the same moment Harm remembered they had company, Mac remembered seeing familiar cars in front of the house.

Pulling apart slightly, Harm kissed Mac on the forehead.  “I’m glad you’re home.”

“Mm, maybe you can show me how glad later,” Mac sighed, her eyes still closed, taking in the contentment that came from her husband’s embrace.

“You can count on it,” Harm smiled before stepping back completely and taking a deep breath.  “Somewhere in this house there should be a retired admiral and his wife.”

“Looking for us?” Once they noticed the coast was clear, Sidney led AJ into the room carrying drinks for everyone.

“Thanks.” Mac blushed taking a glass of cola from the admiral. “Are the kids still sleeping?  It’s almost four o’clock.  If they don’t get up soon there’s no way they’re going to sleep tonight.” Mac glanced towards the upstairs.

“Well, I’m glad you mentioned that.  Sidney and I were thinking it might be fun to take the kids home with us for a sleepover.” AJ tried not to grin too broadly.

“Nice try.” Mac smacked AJ on the arm, then sat on the sofa next to Harm.  “Seriously, if they’re not up in fifteen minutes, I’m going to go get them up.”

“Okay, fifteen minutes,” Harm smiled, squeezing his wife’s hand tightly.

“Boy, you really must have missed me,” Mac smirked noticing their wedding album and the two albums with the birth of Matt and Susie out on the coffee table.

“Gave me something to do at night.” Harm raised a suggestive eyebrow.

Sidney reached over and picked up their wedding album.  “This seems so long ago,” she smiled, flipping pages.  “You always were so handsome in your dress mess.” She was staring intently at a photo of AJ walking Mac down the aisle.

AJ rolled his eyes. He hated it when his wife embarrassed him in front of company, even if they were the company.

Having moved over to the sofa next to Sidney, “Isn’t this a great shot of Harm and AJ?” Mac pointed, as Sidney nodded in agreement, then flipped another page.

“Is that Bud with, what is that on his shirt?” Harm asked.

“Hollandaise sauce, something about the asparagus.  It was never very clear, I think Mattoni’s wife dropped a meatball, then he bent over to pick it up bumping into someone standing in line, who hit Harriet, who knocked Bud onto the table, who landed on the asparagus in hollandaise sauce,” Mac chuckled.

“Poor Bud, wasn’t it him someone spilled wine all over at our wedding?” Sidney asked.

“Shortly after he realized little AJ had smeared peanut butter on his tie, yes it was,” AJ chuckled loudly.

“Oh, that’s a nice photo of Danny.  Who’s he with?” Harm asked.

“I’m surprised you could forget her,” Mac snapped.

Uh oh, what Pandora’s box did he just open? Harm silently panicked.

“I’ll never forget the look on your face when you opened the closet door.” Mac shook her head at Harm, and ran a hand through her hair.

“How could any of us forget,” Sidney added.

Harm sat there slightly frozen, obviously he could forget, despite having apparently been a major player in whatever event unfolded, he’d never actually been there!

Laughing softly, “You know, Harm, you looked a lot like you do now. Is something wrong?”  Sidney tilted her head, concern beginning to replace her previous amusement.

“Must be the memories,” Harm smiled. 

“I thought for sure you’d caught them doing something indecent. It never occurred to me you’d caught them doing something illegal.”  Sidney took a deep breath.

“Well, it all turned out for the best.” AJ patted his wife’s hand.

“I know, thanks to your suggestion he join the navy instead of serving probation. I wasn’t so sure at first when the hotel management insisted on calling in the police.”  Sidney took hold of AJ’s hand.  “It still boggles my mind how he could look me in the face, reeking of marijuana, a joint at his lips, and insist it wasn’t what I thought it was.” Sidney shook her head again, obviously dismayed.

AH, Harm thought. So we caught him red handed, so to speak, at our wedding.  No wonder they’re still together. If Sidney couldn’t blame the admiral for falsely accusing her son, there was nothing for them to quarrel over.

“The important thing is he’s a new man now,” AJ reminded his wife.

“Yes, did I tell you that he’s just been promoted to full Lieutenant?” Sidney looked up at Mac.

“Oh, that’s great,” Mac exclaimed. “Is he still on the Henry?”

“Yes, giving Captain Ingalls a run for his money, I’m sure,” AJ smiled.

Barreling down the stairs, full speed ahead, Matt and David ran into the room and jumped into Mac’s lap.

The sounds of, “Mommy, Mommy,” and “Aunt Sarah,” bounced off the walls.

“I’d better go get Susie before she realizes we’re having a party without her.” Harm stood up chuckling at the scene before him.  This life really was perfect.  Too bad Lauren had to be David’s mother.

“Well, if the gangs all waking up, I’d better go toss the lasagna into the oven.  They’ll probably be hungry soon.” Sidney ruffled Matt’s hair on her way to the kitchen.

“I’ll be there in a second to help,” Mac called after her, still hugging the children.

“Nonsense, you’ve got more important things to do.”

In less than an hour everyone was seated at the table, laughing over dinner.   The boys were the first ones finished and were allowed to play a little while in the back yard.

Susie sat in her high chair with almost as much lasagna on her face as had made its way into her tummy.  Waving an empty paper plate in the air, she looked at her father as intently as a fourteen month old could and shouted, “Nya!”

Mac stopped mid sentence, her jaw hanging open.  “What did you say, baby?” Standing up, she walked over to the high chair.  “Do you want some more LASAGNA?”

“Nya!” the little girl grinned widely.

“Oh my God, her first real word.” Mac’s hands flew to cover the gaping hole created by her open mouth.

“I beg to differ with you, but she calls me Duh,” Harm announced.

“That doesn’t count.  All babies say mama and dada first, but this is her first REAL word.” Mac put a little more pasta on Susie’s plate and retook her seat by her husband.

“Well, I’ll agree the kid has good taste.  Sidney this is probably the best spinach lasagna I’ve ever eaten.” Harm picked up his and AJ’s plates and walked towards the sink.

“As long as Meredith’s not cooking, you can bring dinner anytime, AJ.”  Harm placed the dishes on the counter and turned, surprised to see the shocked look on everyone’s faces.

“Meredith?” AJ whispered obviously confused.

Harm’s eyes opened wide.  Oh brother, he didn’t say that out loud, did he?”

“Who’s Meredith?” Sidney asked a bit more loudly.

Oh God, apparently he did.  Okay, Rabb, think fast....

Chapter Eight 

“Did I say Meredith?” Harm asked innocently.

“YES.” Three voices chimed in chorus.

“Must have been a Freudian slip,” Harm shrugged. “My mom used to have a terrible cook named Meredith.” He tried covering with a cute smile.

From the looks on everyone’s faces, no one was buying it.

“Besides, the important thing is your lasagna was good enough to prompt Susie’s first words.” Harm nodded in Sidney’s direction, if bullshit didn’t work, try dropping chaff. Although it didn’t appear anyone actually believed Harm’s flimsy excuse, the evening carried on pleasantly none the less.

By the time AJ and Sidney had left, all they needed was for Sergei or Lauren to pick up David, and get Susie and Matt ready for bed. Harm could hardly wait to be alone with his wife.

Mac came walking around the corner, into the bathroom.

“That was Lauren, she wanted to know if it would be a problem if David stayed tonight and we just dropped him off with Matt at preschool in the morning.”

“What did you tell her?” Harm asked, turning the water off in the tub.

“Same as always, no problem.” Mac leaned over and kissed Harm on the cheek. “Who do you want first, Susie or the boys?”

“The boys.” Harm didn’t have the nerve to mention to Mac it hadn’t occurred to him he was supposed to bathe all the children before bed last night. He was just thankful he knew enough to read them a bedtime story.

Since Mac had been away so long, Matt announced he wanted mom as the designated storyteller tonight.  Harm sat in the same spot he had the night before with Susie once again nestled in the crook of his arm.  Mac sat beside him holding her husband’s hand while she read.

Harm wasn’t really sure what she was reading.  He knew it had to be the same book he had read the night before, but his mind couldn’t stop watching her. He was mesmerized by the way her lips moved with every syllable. How her eyebrows would rise and fall in emphasis of certain words.  The way she would let go of his hand, wave it above the boys in some grand gesture, and then capture his hand in hers again.

He’d always known she would be the perfect mother, the perfect wife.  The more his mind drifted off to thoughts of being alone for the first time with his wife, the more a sense of unease was slowly building, until a sudden panic rose from deep inside him.  This was not their first time.  This was his first time with Mac.  As far as she was concerned, she’d spent the better part of the last five years sleeping with her husband.

The panic was now settling into large twisting knots in his stomach. He realized he didn’t know anything about their normal bedtime routine. Who used the bathroom first?  What did her Harm sleep in?  He didn’t even know which side of the bed was hers? Would she realize he wasn’t her husband if he made some fumbling mistake of a first time lover? He had absolutely no idea what she liked or expected.

Harm could actually feel the sweat forming on his brow.  He tried to concentrate on the warmth of her hand.  Surely the heat flowing between them was evidence enough that nothing else mattered.  As if reading his thoughts and fears, Mac squeezed his hand tightly and paused to send a reassuring smile in his direction.

His heart melted like butter in the sun.  He loved her so much, he had for so very long.  These last two days waiting and hoping to share even a fraction of what he felt with her were the two most energizing days he’d ever spent in his entire life.

When he saw her close the book and lean over to kiss their sleeping son, his heart rose to his throat.  It was almost time.

“Want me to take her to bed?” Mac reached over to take Susie from him.

Yes, there is a God in heaven, he thought. “No, you go and relax, I’ll put her to bed.” Maybe if he gave her enough time, at least he wouldn’t have to worry about the trivial things, like who used the bathroom first or which side of the bed was hers.  All he had to think about was how to show her how much he loved her.

Harm stood up first, then Mac stood and kissed Susie good night. “I really did miss them,” she whispered, “and you.” Her eyes were dark as the night. 

Following her out of Matt’s room, Harm watched her walk down the hall and into their room.  Their room.  The knots were twisting more tightly.

He wasn’t very sure how her husband of five years would react, but he knew how he felt. Hoping she wouldn’t notice the delay, Harm quickly tucked Susie in and took a detour downstairs to the kitchen.  It took a few minutes to remember which drawer they were in, but from the kitchen he proceeded to the family room and rummaged through the stack of CD’s he’d noticed.

By the time he made it back to their room, he was happy to see Mac was still in the bathroom.  Any fears he’d had of what he didn’t know had faded away as he proceeded on his mission of making tonight a very special night.

Placing the tea candles he’d found in the kitchen strategically around the room, he hurried to light them.  Within seconds the fresh scents of vanilla and bayberry were filling the air.  Next, he plugged in the portable CD player he’d confiscated from Matt’s room, and inserted the Best of Burt Bacharach.  He wasn’t sure which one of them had become a fan of his music over the years, but Burt’s style of orchestration was exactly the mood Harm was looking for.

Lastly, he filled two champagne glasses with diet ginger ale, set them down by the candles on the dresser, and took a quick look around the room.  His only regret was that it hadn’t occurred to him to pick up some fresh flowers.  He hoped it was enough.

Tossing the empty can of soda into the trash by the bed, Harm heard the click of the doorknob.  His breath literally caught in his throat when Mac stepped into the room. If he wasn’t mistaken, she had on the same nightgown she’d worn all those years ago in Russia.  If she only knew how many nights he’d dreamt of her walking towards him exactly the way she was now. 

“I hope it’s still your favorite. It took me a little while to find it.” Mac glanced down at the nightgown before looking back up at Harm.

“Anything you wear is my favorite.” She was so beautiful, Harm was surprised he managed to say anything at all. All the air had leaked from his lungs and no matter how hard he tried, he simply couldn’t force himself to breathe.

Mac could feel his eyes burning through to her very soul.  Her heart was racing as though she were a new bride.  Everything felt as though it were moving in slow motion. She could see his hand reach forward to take hold of hers, as his other arm snaked around her waist.  In one felt swoop she was spinning around the room. What the World Needs Now is Love was playing powerfully through the air.  Harm’s lips were delicately caressing her face, blazing a trail of soft, sweet adoration.  Their bodies were swaying slowly to the symphonic sounds, every movement choreographed to perfection.  They moved as one, the gentle friction of man against woman tantalizing their senses.

Harm could feel his blood pumping through every vein.  Sarah MacKenzie was so soft, so tender. Everything about her set his senses on fire: the smell of almonds in her hair, the feel of her soft curves against him, the taste of her skin under his lips.  Pulling her body tightly against him, his lips slid along the base of her chin, seeking and searching the lips he’d so briefly danced with earlier today. 

His mouth was hovering, barely a breath above hers, “God, I love you.” Harm managed to whisper forcefully before his lips finally came crashing down against hers.  As their mouths fused in a tangle of love and passion, Harm fleetingly thanked God for allowing his dream to linger one more night.

Chapter 8.5

Mac was being swept away to a place all their own. With every kiss, every touch, her body tingled in perfect pleasure.  She hated sleeping alone at night, not having Harm’s warm body to curl up against.  He was always so protective of her, even when they slept.  It was almost impossible for her to fall asleep without his strong arms wrapped around her.  She’d been counting the hours for two days until she would be home again in his arms, and now she was finally home and reminded once again of how much she loved this man.

Harm had dreamt and dreamt of having Mac in his arms like this, of holding her tightly against him, of feeling her soft skin shiver under his fingertips.  This dream surpassed any he’d ever had before. Every emotion he’d ever suppressed was gushing to the surface, clawing at his delicate sense of restraint.  He wanted this to be a slow and romantic night, not the rushed release of a hormonal sailor.

The smoldering heat that had been sizzling within Mac since Harm had first kissed her at the bottom of the stairs was now a blazing inferno.  Her legs were growing weak. Her blood was on fire.  His gentle caress of her lips with his own, the tangling of tongues, his fingers barely rubbing her back and teasing the edge of her hips, were sending her nerve endings into overload.  She desperately wanted to feel his skin rub against hers, his muscles ripple at her touch. 

Harm couldn’t tear himself away from kissing Mac.  He’d spent the last few years surviving on the memory of the briefest moment of unhindered passion.  Now, with her body up against his, her fingers unbuttoning his shirt and raking briefly through his chest hair before reaching for the next button, he was quickly coming unglued. When she pushed his shirt off his shoulders, shoving it forcefully to the ground, the sudden surge in his groin made his trousers painfully tight.

Frantically, Mac began working the buckle on Harm's belt. Her fingers casually brushed down the bulge in his pants as she slowly lowered the zipper, her mouth still furiously fused to her husband's.

Harm didn't think it was possible to pull her any closer, but he did.  He was desperate to be one with her, to feel her warmth tightening around him, to hear her scream his name.  His hands slid up her arms, his fingers hooking around the straps of her nightgown, dragging them off her shoulders until the lingerie fell in a pool at her feet. Her naked flesh fully exposed.

Mac grudgingly pulled her mouth away from Harm’s and stepped back, placing herself in full view of her husband.  She could feel his eyes scanning her body, caressing it, loving it.  Noticing the tenting in Harm’s boxer grow even larger, she couldn’t help feeling beautiful. With one hand, she reached out and grabbed hold of Harm’s hand, pulling them back against the bed.

Harm stepped out of his pants and close to his wife. She was more beautiful than he had imagined.  He wanted, no – needed – to feel her soft skin pressed against his.  Before he could respond to her closeness, Mac’s lips began trailing light kisses from his nipples to his abdomen while her fingers slowly pulled his boxers to the floor. 

Mac was startled when she felt Harm’s hands gripping her shoulder and pulling her up hard.

“Don’t,” he whispered into her ear, his breath coming out in ragged gulps. “Just let me...” Her earlobe so close to his lips was too much of a temptation, his tongue slipped out from his lips, cutting off his words, teasing the erogenous appendage.

“But, I thought you....” Harm was slowly inching closer to the one spot that would surely bring her completely unglued. “…liked it when I...” Oh God, that was it.  His tongue swirled and licked the spot, alternately easing and strengthening the pressure. 

His heart soared at the quiet little gasps that escaped her lips as her hips began rocking instinctively against his.  The intimate friction of their bodies in motion was chiseling away the last threads of his determination to take this slow and easy.

“Oh, Harm.”  Mac was dripping with anticipation.  There was no way her knees could hold her upright any longer; they had long ago turned to rubber.  Her entire body was putty in his hands.

Feeling Mac grow heavier in his arms, Harm carefully lifted her knees and scooted her onto the bed.  Crawling over her, he began a dedicated assault on her senses. From what he now knew was an incredibly sensitive spot behind her ear, Harm began a detailed search of every other part of her body that would send her into sensual bliss, his own need hovering on the brink of desperation.

When Harm’s lips closed around her nipple, Mac’s chest arched higher and her hips came clear off the bed, instinctively seeking the one thing that would alleviate her insatiable need to feel Harm buried deep inside her. She wanted her husband, and she wanted him now.  Groping blindly at thin air, Mac endeavored to find the one thing that would satisfy her desire.

“God, Mac.” Harm released her lips, gasping for air after every drop had rushed from his lungs at the feel of Mac’s long fingers wrapped tenderly around his arousal.  “It’s too soon, it’s been too long...” Harm gave no thought to the fact that Mac wouldn’t understand just how long it had actually been for him.

“Please, I need to feel you inside me again...I’ve missed you...”  She was no longer able to stand the fierce passion that was surging throughout every ounce of her body. “I love you so much.” Mac grabbed his face and pulled him down to her, quietly breathing into his mouth, “I love you.”

The feel of Mac’s breath against his lips was the most erotic thing he’d ever experienced. The woman he adored, breathing life into his soul. “I love you more,” he whispered from the bottom of his heart, his lips descending on hers, his fingers gliding down her front and settling anxiously between her legs.  Finding her as ready for him as he was for her, Harm brushed his tip against her curls, the feel of her warm heat almost more than he could stand. Taking a deep breath, and pausing to regain what little control of his body he had, Harm slid into his wife.

Mac didn’t know if it was the separation, or just how well tuned they were after five years of marriage, but she was soaring on cloud nine. The intensity of the exquisite sensations escalated with every thrust, her body coiling tighter and tighter.

“I can’t hold it much longer,” Harm managed to mumble. “Let go, Sarah.  I want to feel you come all around me... I love you, baby.” He couldn’t find enough words to tell her how much he loved her, how much being her husband meant to him.

“Oh, Harm…” His words teased her senses with the same agility his fingers had teased her body.  The fireworks uncoiling inside her exploded in sweet ecstasy. “I love you!” Mac screamed, her body quivering around him, every feeling, every touch, magnified tenfold.

She was still quaking beneath him when she felt Harm go rigid inside her, his body collapsing heavily on her before rolling to one side.

“I love you.” The two echoed simultaneously, then broke into uncontrollable giggles. “I do,” they repeated in chorus, their laughter growing stronger and louder.

Without any more words, Mac snuggled into the arms she had missed so much the last two weeks, and closed her eyes.  Tonight would be a sweet sleep.

Chapter Nine 

Harm was holding onto Mac for dear life.  He never wanted to let her go. He wanted to hold her forever.

Pulling her more tightly against him, he heard a sleepy groan rumble from deep in her throat. Instantly, his eyes flew open.  It was her, Mac, Sarah. Not the soft pillow he usually woke up with after a wonderful night spent dreaming of making love to Mac.  How could that be?  This was too much, too long, he’d never dreamt in so much detail without waking up.  Dear God, something wasn’t right, or maybe something finally was.

His mind was racing at speeds faster than the first morning he’d woken up in this beautiful new world.  Could the Twilight Zone possibly exist?  Was it possible to wish himself into an alternate life? Could dreams last three days? Maybe that’s it. Maybe it wasn’t a dream.  Maybe something happened and now he was in a coma induced sleep until his body was ready to wake up. No, that was too much, too crazy.  What was he thinking? How could being in a coma be anymore crazy than the Twilight Zone and waking up one day in an alternate universe?

“You okay, sailor?” Mac could feel the tension pulsing through his body.

“Sorry, yeah, just a little tired.  Someone I know didn’t let me get much sleep last night.” Harm kissed the back of Mac’s neck.

“Better be someone I know,” Mac giggled.

That sound was so sweet to his ears.  What ever was going on, he prayed it would last forever.

The morning routine was a little different in the house with Mac home. It didn’t help needing to be on a timetable to get everyone dressed, fed and to school or work, or that Harm had no idea what part he was supposed to play. 

The only thing he’d gotten right all morning was when he bumped into Mac dressing Susie. He assumed that meant he dressed the boys.  Kissing Mac quickly on the cheek, and whispering ‘I missed you’ to explain his unneeded presence, seemed to appease the momentary look of bewilderment she had when he first walked into Susie’s room. Fortunately, he was correct about dressing the boys being his job.

Apparently, the routine called for Mac to make breakfast and Harm to pack the lunches.  Of course, he didn’t figure this out until Mac asked him, rather incredulously, why he was drinking coffee at the table instead of making lunch.  He didn’t have a good answer for that, or for why he needed to ask what he usually made.

When he feigned an early morning meeting and insisted Mac take all the children to school or daycare rather than flounder through asking where those locations were, Mac began checking his temperature.

“Maybe you should cancel that meeting and stay home.  I’m not sure you’re well enough to go to work today.” Mac was seriously concerned.  Harm was acting awfully strange.

“No, I told you, I’m just a little tired, that’s all.” Harm tried to reassure her with his smile.

The entire drive to the office, Harm tried to control the butterflies in his stomach. Work shouldn’t be too bad. At least he knew some of the cases were the same and the General was still the JAG.  If he ran into too much trouble, he could always try and pry some information out of Bud.

A sense of calm rolled over him as he parked the ‘vette in the familiar parking lot, and walked into the old brick building.  Letting out a sigh of relief, he stepped off the elevator and made it through the glass doors. Hesitating, he realized he shouldn’t assume where his office would be, and glanced discreetly around the room, spotting his name over the same office as his world.  He also noticed several unfamiliar faces.  This could prove to be more challenging than he expected.

Racing to his door in an attempt to unwind before facing the day, he ran full speed ahead into a navy blue blur.

“Excuse me, Commander,” an undistinguished male voice apologized.

“No, my fault...Aldridge?” Harm made a last minute attempt to hide the surprise in his voice at seeing the now not so young Lieutenant still stationed at headquarters.  A quick survey of his uniform also informed Harm that Aldridge was now a Lt. Commander. He must have finally figured out how to try a case, Harm mused to himself.

After an awkward, but brief, shuffle, Harm finally escaped into the safety of his office.

According to his schedule, he at least didn’t have to be in court today, this would buy him some time.  One by one, Harm began reviewing his open files. The first two he came across were exactly as they’d been in his world, him against Bud, Sebring and Morris presiding.   There were a couple of cases either against Aldridge or with Aldridge as second chair.  So far, so good.

A light tapping on his door disrupted his thoughts.

“Excuse me, Commander.” Bud Roberts approached carefully.  “I’m sorry to disturb you but I was hoping for a second opinion.”

Tossing his pencil on the desk, Harm sat back in his chair. “Sure, Bud. Have a seat.”

“The General asked me this morning to review some of Jason’s recent cases and render an opinion on whether or not I feel he’s ready to sit first chair on the Cunningham murder trial.” Bud paused to gauge Harm’s reaction.


“Well, sir.  I’m not sure I’m as objective as I should be. Jason’s been under my supervision, and I’m not so confidant I’ve prepared him as well as you might have,” Bud sighed heavily, he had so hoped to pass on all the things he had learned in his early years from Harm and Mac.

Harm paused. He had absolutely no idea what kind of a lawyer this Jason was.  He knew nothing about the Cunningham murder, but regardless of its importance, murder trials were always serious business.  Harm had no choice but to go with his gut.

“Bud, you’re an excellent attorney.  I’m sure anyone under your tutelage is well prepared. If you’d like, why don’t you leave me some of those case records and I’ll take a peek at them,” Harm smiled cautiously.

“If you’re not too overloaded, I’d appreciate your impression of the situation,” Bud accepted, standing up from his seat.


At that moment an unfamiliar petty officer appeared in Harm’s doorway.  “Excuse me, sirs.  The General would like to see you in his office immediately.”

“We’ll be right there, Petty Officer.” Okay, obviously, Coates isn’t here.  Harm was starting to come to grips with the fact that he had a lot more blanks to fill in than he realized.

An hour later Harm and Bud were coming out of the General’s office with new orders to provide counsel for a marine captain in Afghanistan accused of murdering five Afghanis.   Harm almost let it slip that Mac would be better for the job, being both a marine and fluent in farsi, but somehow sanity prevailed.  Or was it insanity?

A little annoyed he was going to have to leave his new found family behind, Harm was startled out of his own thoughts by an oddly familiar voice calling his name.  Turning his head to catch a glimpse of the very pregnant blonde in a bright orange dress, Harm almost tripped over his own feet.

“Harm, I’m glad I caught you.  Harriet mentioned Mac is back from California and I was thinking it would be wonderful to get a few of the officers and their wives together for a little impromptu supper at our house.  Say, Friday at seven.  See if Mac can make it.”

Before Harm could answer either way, the blonde was waddling off down the hallway. His eyes followed her as she marched into a neighboring office.  Looking up at the nameplate, it took everything in him to keep his eyes from falling out of his head.  Lt. j.g. Jason Tiner. Oh lord, he was going to have to talk to someone. Do something.  This world was VERY different from the one he’d come from.  If he wasn’t in a coma or a dream, he was going to need some serious reconnaissance, and fast.

Walking back to his office, Harm sat down heavily in his chair, his head dropping in his hands.  Obviously, the Jason Bud was referring to must be Tiner.  What was he doing being considered for first chair in a murder trial? Harm wished he could just close the door and lock the world out.  Today was simply getting too crazy. At least he didn’t have to worry about where Matt’s school or Susie’s daycare was. Well, not yet.  He was leaving for Afghanistan in the morning.

Rubbing his temples, he briefly caught a flash of that same, now not very happy, woman storming past his office.   Harm felt a little guilty, but the only thing that ran through his mind was, thank God it wasn’t him.  Of all the odd twists this world took.  How the hell did Tiner wind up married to Renee?

Chapter 10

Harm was doing his best to pack.  It would have been much easier if he didn’t have to search every drawer and cabinet for his things.

Mac walked into the room just in time to see Harm putting something odd into his suitcase.  Coming up behind him, she draped one arm across his shoulder.

“What you got there?” she asked softly.

“I grabbed this from the TV room.” Harm picked up the photo of Mac with the kids throwing leaves on her.

“How long do you expect to be gone?” she frowned.

“Just a few days, I hope.”

“Is there something you’re not telling me?” Mac slid around in front of him.

“No.” Harm tossed the photo into the bag.

“Harm, you’ve never taken photos of us on short stints before.  What aren’t you telling me?” The look of sheer panic in her eyes was breaking Harm’s heart.

“Mac, honey, I’ve never lied to you, I wouldn’t start now.  You’ve been gone for two weeks.  I’ve barely gotten you back and now I have to leave.  I just can’t stand the thought of leaving you completely behind.” Harm slid his hands up her arms and let them fall on her shoulders.

“If you’re sure?” Mac sort of understood, she hated being separated again so soon herself, but somehow this felt different.

“I’m sure.” Harm kissed the top of her head. “Are the kids in bed?” he whispered, his breath gently caressing her face.

“Yeah, I had to promise Matt you’d read two chapters for him when you come home.” Mac’s eyes closed slowly as Harm’s lips left a trail of barely there kisses down her cheek, along her chin, and back to her mouth.

“I could probably sleep later on the plane,” he hissed before his lips fully captured hers. 

“Sleeping is over rated,” she somehow managed to respond when his lips moved from her mouth to that sweet spot behind her ear.

In minutes, they were tangled in each other’s arms. Garment by garment, clothing was scattered across the room. Only last night, Harm had made love to Mac for the first time, and yet tonight felt like the first time all over again. 

He was terrified that tomorrow he would wake up and all this would be a lonely memory.  His alternate world having vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared, but for now, he savored every caress, every embrace.  Even in sleep, he refused to release his hold on her.

When morning finally came, Mac fought to convince herself Harm’s almost desperate affections weren’t a sign of something more serious. He hugged her and the children with such intensity it was as if he knew it were the last time. 

On the endlessly long plane ride to Afghanistan, Harm played the last two nights with Mac in his mind over and over.  He didn’t understand how he kept waking up day after day in this wonderful new world, but with each passing day, his fear of it coming to an end grew stronger and stronger.  The more entrenched he became in this new life, the more horrific he found the idea of returning to his lonely old one.

Much to his dismay, things in Kabul hadn’t changed as much as he would have liked since the last time he was here.  The road to the small town they needed to get to was bumpy and dusty, everything you’d expect from an unpaved road to nowhere.  The only improvement appeared to be the lack of homemade tollbooths.

Harm and Bud dispensed quickly with military formalities upon their arrival. Harm was anxious to meet with the Marine Captain and get the initial interviews out of the way.  He’d just arrived and already he wanted to get home to his family.

“Who’s next on our list?” Harm asked, looking at his watch for the tenth time in the last hour.

“Master Sergeant...”Bud trailed off, “It’s Gunny, sir.”

“Our Gunny?”

“Yes sir.  He’s attached to the UN peacekeeping forces,” Bud shrugged.

When the door opened, Master Sergeant Victor Galindez stepped into the room. 

“Good to see you, Gunny.” Harm nodded at the marine.

“Yes, sir. How’s the Colonel?”

“She’s well. Just spent two weeks in California.”  Harm moved to sit down at the table.

“If I’d have known we were going to see you, I would have checked with Jen before coming?” Bud interjected.

“How’s she doing, sir?” Gunny’s eyes were dark with concern.

“She’s doing great.  She and Harriet had lunch Saturday.”  Bud took a seat across from Harm.

“Yes, sir, that would be the monthly hang loose lunch,” Gunny chuckled.

Harm watched the conversation as though it were a spectator sport.  He wondered if Jen was Petty Officer Coates, and from the sound of it, Gunny and she were involved in some way.

“When is she due?” Bud waved at the Gunny to take a seat.

“Next month.  I’m supposed to have rotated home by now, but you know how that works, sir.”

Okay, so they’re very involved. Harm concluded.

Personal issues aside, it didn’t take long to get the information they needed from Gunny.  With all the pieces of the puzzle, Harm and Bud would spend the remainder of the day working on negotiations, or if necessary, their defense strategy.

Despite his efforts to remain focused on the case, Harm’s mind kept drifting home to Mac and the kids, or to Bud and Gunny’s conversation.  There was so much going on he knew nothing about.

“What do you say we call it a night?  I think I could use a little fresh air about now, and then some rack time,” Harm suggested casually, the entire situation was weighing heavily on him.

“Yes, sir,” Bud nodded. “You go on ahead, it will only take me a minute to clear off the desk.”  If he were to admit it, jet lag was getting to him too.  These huge changes in time zones were always hard on him. Still, he could tell something else was up with Harm, but he had no way of knowing what it really was.

“You know the drill, sir.  Don’t wander too far. Things aren’t as safe as you’d like to think,” a familiar voice reminded Harm when he stepped outside.

“Aye, aye,” Harm replied playfully. “They assign you to watch our six?” Harm teased.

“Yes, sir.  Count on the Marines to save the Navy’s...six.” Gunny had to remind himself he was speaking to a superior officer and not just a long time friend.

“It’s not easy anymore is it?” Harm was looking up at the stars.

“Easy, sir?” Gunny glanced at the sky and back at Harm. He wasn’t following the question.

“Being out here when the people, the family, we love are back home.” Harm took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“No, sir.  Does it ever get easier, sir? I mean you and the Colonel have been together a long time now.”

“No.” Harm had no right to answer, this was his first time away from his wife and family, but somehow he knew this was the correct way to respond. He knew the ache in his heart, the missing piece that was Mac, was real. “Not if you really care.”

“Yes, sir.” Gunny cared. He’d never thought there would come a day when he could find someone he cared about more than breathing itself, but he did. 

Staring at the Commander for a few long seconds, Gunny couldn’t help but think back to Christmas Eve 2002.  The first time he saw her he was awe struck by her smile.  Then, he was struck how, for a squid, she was so squared away. He saw a lot of the same fire in her he had always admired in Colonel MacKenzie. 

Gunny had been stationed in Afghanistan with the Marine 2nd Force Recon for over a year when he was given leave to go home for the holidays.  Flights hadn’t cooperated much and he found himself in DC, fogged in on December 24th.  Thank God for friends and family.  As though he’d never left, he was welcomed into the Roberts home for the now annual JAG family Christmas dinner.

As much as he had looked forward to being with his family in New Mexico, this was still like coming home to him. Jennifer Coates had been helping Harriet in the kitchen most of the night.  When Gunny got his first glimpse of her, he had to make a conscious effort not to let his jaw drop.

“May I help with something, ma’am?” Gunny squared his shoulders and flashed his best ‘God, I hope you’re not an officer’ smile.

“Yes, please.  If you don’t mind carrying this,” Jen handed him a tray of deviled eggs, “and it’s Jen, not ma’am.” Her smile lit up every dark, hidden corner of his heart.


From there, the night progressed as though they’d been friends for years.  It wasn’t long before they were sitting side by side on the hearth for hours telling each other their life story.  Gunny couldn’t help but shake his head when he heard hers.  She’d have made a great marine.

When Harm finally made it to the party, he couldn’t help but notice how taken the two seemed with each other.

“This is a pleasant surprise.” Harm, slapped Gunny on the shoulder, “Merry Christmas.”

“Well, sir. All out bound flights were grounded. When I heard you were flying in tonight, I had my doubts I’d get to see you at all, but I should know better than to doubt you, sir,” Gunny chuckled.

“Ah, trying to get home?”

“Not anymore, sir.”  Gunny’s eyes followed Jen’s conversation with Sidney Chegwidden across the room. “Your wife said I was welcome to stay at your place for the rest of my leave. I think it might be nice to get reacquainted with the sites of DC.”

“Yeah, she is a site.” Sites of DC, right.  Who did Gunny think he was fooling? “She’s special, Gunny. You know she saved Bud’s life?” 

“Yes, sir. She’s too young, though.” Gunny wasn’t sure if he was pointing this out to the Commander or himself.

“For who?” Harm curled his brow. Gunny was a good man. He’d be good for Jennifer.

“Me, sir.”  Gunny let out a small sigh.

“Gunny, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my lifetime, it’s when fate sees fit to give you the perfect woman, don’t look for petty excuses to refuse. Excuse me, I think I need to find my wife and some mistletoe.” Smiling at Gunny, Harm slapped him on the shoulder again, and went off in search of Mac.

Chapter 11 

Harm turned his eyes from the stars to the Master Sergeant standing quietly by his side.

“Thinking of her?” It was a personal question, and even though Harm wasn’t sure who her was, he felt he and the Gunny were friends in this world too.

“Yes, sir.  Remembering the advice you gave me that Christmas night,” Gunny smiled.

Damn. Harm wished he knew what he had told Gunny.

“You said, ‘when fate sees fit to give you the perfect woman, don’t look for petty excuses to refuse’.  Best damn advice anyone ever gave me.  When I rotated stateside the following June, I knew you were right, the fates had seen fit to give me the perfect woman.”

“Yeah, well, I love it when I’m right,” Harm smiled impishly. No wonder this Harm was so happy, he’d learned a lesson the Harm in his world was too stubborn to accept.

“Do you know, sir, after that Christmas when I returned to this sandy paradise, Jen sent me emails every day?” Gunny shook his head.  “I wanted to marry her the minute my feet hit US soil, but she deserved to be courted properly.”

“I bet the Admiral made a formidable Papa Bear,” Harm teased on a fishing expedition of sorts.

“That he did, sir. That he did.”  Gunny shivered at the memory of a very serious Admiral AJ  Chegwidden, standing toe to toe with him, ‘reminding’ Gunny if he in anyway, did anything, to bring any harm to his yeoman... well, he never did have to finish the sentence.  Gunny got the message.

Harm almost laughed out loud. How about that, Gunny and Jen.  This new world was just full of surprises.

“I’m glad you found each other,” Harm smiled.  Although, this Gunny didn’t know he risked his life to help him single handedly save Mac from a fate worse than death, Harm knew it.  He just hoped Jen knew what a good man he was, but somehow, judging from the smile on Gunny’s face, Harm was pretty sure she did, and then some.

“We were only married six months when I shipped out again.” Gunny glanced around at their surroundings.  Despite the casual conversation, he was still on duty. “But, you know that.”

Now, he did.  Maybe if Harm could get Gunny to keep talking he could find out a few more details of this new life.

“Time has a way of flying by.  How long have you been here now?” Harm hoped he wasn’t expected to remember this information.

“Seven months, one week, two days.  Would you like to know how many hours?” One side of Gunny’s face twisted up in momentary amusement.

“I think I get the picture,” Harm chuckled.

“We didn’t even know she was pregnant when I left.” Gunny looked absently into the distance.

“You know, we’re all keeping an eye on her.” Harm had no way of knowing if this was true, other than a gut feeling.

“I know, sir.  Thank you,” Gunny smiled, his eyes expressing how grateful he was for old friends. “You’d better call it a night, sir.  It’s not a good idea to be wandering around after dark.” The marine was back in place.

“Good night, Gunny.” Harm had seen Bud walk passed them a while ago, it was time he hit the rack too.

“Good night, Sir.”

The next few days passed quickly.  More quickly than Harm had thought they would, considering how badly he missed Mac.  Every morning he woke up more confused than he’d been the day before.  He simply didn’t understand what had happened.  If it weren’t for the lack of memories, he would almost believe his old life was nothing more than a horrible nightmare he’d finally woken up from.

Things weren’t looking good for their client and Harm was starting to suspect they were going to be here a lot longer than either he or Bud wanted to be.  He and Bud had been having lunch in what served as officer’s territory, when Gunny came looking for them.

“I’ve been looking for you everywhere, sirs,” Gunny panted, slightly out of breath.

“What is it? Jen?” Harm presumed by the anxious look on Gunny’s face.

“No, sir.  We’ve found a new witness.  I was giving out chocolate bars to some of the local kids.  You know my Farsi isn’t that good, but I managed to make out a few interesting things one little boy was telling me.  I followed him home and spoke with his aunt and uncle.  They told me that the five men killed had a quarrel with a local warlord.  They’re willing to testify they saw his men on the other side of the square, armed, sir.”

“Gunny, that’s great!” Harm stood up quickly. “Were you able to verify it with anyone else?” 

“Yes, sir.  It seems the warlord was killed the other day in a small firefight outside of town.  Almost everyone in town is willing to testify, now that the threat of reprisal is gone.”

“Let’s go see if we can’t get these charges dismissed,” Harm announced, Bud and Gunny following behind him.

With everything wrapped up, and the Marine Captain back on duty, Harm and Bud were once again airborne stateside.

“Bud?” Harm ventured tentatively.

“Yes, sir.”  Bud was resting comfortably in the seat, his head back and eyes closed.

“What do you remember about the day Sarah was born?” Harm had managed to make the connection with how his and Mac’s getting married had made a difference with Sidney and the Admiral.  Harm’s catching Danny red-handed avoided the break up. He concluded that Mac’s inviting Gunny to stay in their home, a home they didn’t have in his world, allowed Gunny and Jen enough time for their love to bloom, so to speak. He wasn’t even going to try and figure out how Renee and Tiner wound up together, but Harm didn’t understand how his and Mac’s marriage could have saved Sarah’s life.

“Every detail. Why, sir?” Bud straightened up to look at Harm.

“No reason in particular.  What do you remember most?”  Harm squirmed in his chair.

“Honestly, I think it was the look of horror on your face when Lt. Aldridge interrupted court to announce he’d just received a message that an ambulance was leaving your house for Mercy Hospital,” Bud smiled.

“My house?”  Why his house? He thought. “Oh, yeah.” He covered quickly. He seemed to be doing a lot of that lately.

“I guess since Harriet was supposed to be watching the Colonel after the car accident, we all just assumed something had gone wrong with the Colonel.  It never occurred to any of us that Harriet was having a repeat of instant labor as she’d done with AJ.”  Deciding there was nothing serious in Harm’s inquiries, Bud relaxed back against the chair again.

“I probably remember more about little AJ since I was there for most of it.  No one could ever forget your getting stuck in the elevator,” Harm chuckled.

“It’s a good thing the admiral showed up for little AJ. Colonel MacKenzie was afraid she was going to have to deliver Sarah herself.  The ambulance driver was surprised they made it to the hospital. He told me later, they were taking bets on whether or not the baby would be born in the ambulance.”  Bud shook his head.

“Harriet’s never had any problems with any of the kids has she?” Harm asked.

“You and the Colonel thinking of having another?” Bud opened one eye in Harm’s direction.  “Didn’t the Colonel have a pretty easy time with both kids?  Well, I suppose as long as you don’t count those three days of bed rest after that crazy old lady plowed into her.  Thank God, nothing was wrong. It was just a precaution to have Harriet keeping her off her feet. Though, technically she was only off her feet for two days since she had to go with Harriet to the hospital.”

“It was the thought that counted, Bud. Harriet tried,” Harm smiled.  In any world, Bud still had a gift for rambling.

“I guess that little moment with Sarah was the closest thing to trouble we’ve ever had,” Bud continued.

“Little moment?”

“Yeah, I don’t even remember what it was, something with the cord I think, or was it the placenta? Well, whatever, the doctor that attended at Mercy was probably just as good as Harriet’s doctor at Bethesda.  He caught it right away and it wasn’t a problem,” Bud shrugged.

Without thinking, Harm let out a slight snort. ‘As good as Harriet’s’, if Bud only realized what a blessing it was that the ambulance was required to take Harriet to the closest hospital and not to that quack at Bethesda.

“Something wrong, sir?” Bud wasn’t sure what to make of the odd sound Harm made. He seemed, annoyed.

“No, just thinking about the things we take for granted.” Harm shrugged in an attempt to set the junior officer at ease.  “She’s a great kid.”

“Who, sir?”

“Sarah.” Who else have we been talking about? Harm thought.

“Oh, yes, sir. Thank you.” Bud closed his eyes again.  This was getting too confusing to follow.

“Bud,” Harm needed to confide in someone.  There was just too much he didn’t know and it sure didn’t look like he was going to wake up in his own world anytime soon.

“Yes, sir.”

“I…I think I have a little problem you might be able to help me with.” Harm prayed he was about to do the right thing.

Chapter 12 

“First thing, before I tell you anything, you have to promise me you won’t go crazy with any Star Trek theories about space time continuum stuff.”  Harm looked at Bud sternly.

“That would more likely be Quantum Leap, sir,” Bud corrected.

“Whatever, Bud! Just don’t go all Sci Fi on me. Promise?”

“I promise, sir.  What’s the matter?”  

As briefly as possible, Harm explained to Bud the direction he remembered his life taking after Australia.  With the exception of Baby Sarah and Paraguay, Bud’s face remained expressionless. When Harm got to the part about being woken up that Saturday morning by two children he didn’t recognize, Bud’s eyes grew visibly larger in identical increments with the large gaping hole formed by his open mouth.

“Wow, sir.”

“Is that all you have to say?” Harm asked.

“The possibilities are awesome!” Bud’s look of surprise changed to sheer delight in a fraction of time.

“Bud, what I need is for someone to fill in the blanks of this world, not contemplate the awesome possibilities,” Harm emphasized through a forced smile.

“Yes, sir, right.  But don’t you want to figure out what happened?” Bud was like a six year old with a new toy at Christmas.

“Bud, please. We’ve only got a few hours left until we land and I have a lot of questions.” Harm was thankful that at least Bud didn’t think he was hitting the sauce, or worse, crazy.

“I’m sorry, sir.  What do you need to know?”

“Mac is with the Department of Defense now?”

“Yes. She’s a special advisor to the SECDEF.  She’s actually pretty important, sir.  She was head honcho on that investigation into the new AA weapon’s testing accident that brought down the airplane returning from a short hop to Catalina with the Ambassadors from England and Russia, and Senators Bixby and Hoffman on board.”

“Does she like it?”

“From what Harriet tells me, she misses the courtroom sometimes, but yes, she’s very happy.” Bud was relieved to see the contented smile spread across Harm’s face.

“Where does Matt go to preschool?”

“The Lamplighter School on Park and Riverdale.”

“Where’s Susie’s daycare?”

“Hm, I think you’re still using our old daycare.  Kindercourt on Central and Dickson.”

“You wouldn’t happen to know my kids favorite foods, would you?” Harm chuckled, not expecting a response.

“Matt loves spaghetti with extra sauce, and Susie likes to gnaw on broccoli and ranch dip.”

“Well, at least one of my kids eats healthy. Allergies?”

“None that I know of, sir.  I also know Matt’s more of a carnivore and Susie seems to like anything mushy.”

“How old is Ginger?”

“I don’t remember sir, maybe four.  I think you got her just before or after Matt was born.”

“How long have we lived in that house?”

“That’s easy.  You moved in Christmas of 2000, just after Sarah was born,” Bud smiled.

“What did I do with my apartment?”

“It’s rented.  The Colonel wouldn’t let you sell it, said it was almost part of you,” Bud chuckled remembering Harm sanding the floors so many years ago.

“Okay, what about the office. Why didn’t I see Sturgis’ name on any of the files? Is he at JAG?”

“Oh, yes.  Commander Turner came in the fall of…let’s see…2001, right after Mattoni left.” Bud counted on his fingers a moment to make sure he had that right.  “He moved to the judiciary about a year later.  There was a shortage of judges.  You and he served on a few cases.  He liked it and eventually requested a transfer.”

“Is he married?”

“No, but he is dating a really nice singer named Varese Chestnutt.  Ever hear of her?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, Sturgis is dating her in my world too.  It looks like, except for moving to the judiciary, Sturgis’ life is pretty similar.” 

“Why do you suppose that is?” Bud was fascinated with the entire concept of parallel universes. 

“In 2002, Mac and I did temporary stints on the bench.  If Mac left after we got married to work for the SECDEF, that would have made Sturgis the other senior attorney, and obvious choice for temporary judge in your 2002.”  Harm smiled to himself. He was amazed at all the lives affected by a few single choices in his life.

“Who replaced Turner at ops?” Harm continued.

“Commander Imes was reassigned. She’d been stationed in Europe,” Bud offered, just in case things had been different in Harm’s time.

“Anybody check her credentials lately?” Harm teased.

“I beg your pardon?” Bud was completely confused by that remark.

“Never mind, inside joke.” Harm probably was going to have to check her records when he got back, after all…

“What do you know about Tiner and Renee?” Harm’s brow contorted with curiosity.

“Not much.  From what the Colonel said, right after we’d all come back from Australia, you apparently neglected to mention to Renee that you were now involved with the Colonel.  While you were stuck in Iceland, Renee showed up at JAG for a previously arranged date. When Mac told her you weren’t there, Renee took Tiner out instead.”  Bud shifted awkwardly in his seat. His legs beginning to ache from the long flight, he wished he could just remove his prosthesis.

“How did Tiner wind up a lawyer at JAG so soon?”

“So soon?  I don’t know what you remember, but when he and Ms. Peterson started dating, she insisted he take classes to finish his degree.  As soon as he finished, he convinced the Admiral to recommend him to law school. The Navy sent him to Georgetown law full time.  As soon as he finished, he and Ms. Peterson were married.  He’s been back at JAG for just about a year.  As you probably saw, she’s pregnant, twins I think.” Bud rolled his eyes. “You really dated her in your world?”

“Yeah, I really did,” Harm shrugged.

“She just doesn’t seem your type.”

“And she does seem Tiner’s?”  It seemed more plausible to Harm that he would have dated Renee than Tiner.

“Point taken, sir,” Bud chuckled.  “If it makes any difference, Jason does seem happy, sir.”

“Well, I’m glad for that.  Renee wasn’t all that bad.  Actually, if I’d been more committed, she would have probably been really great.”

Harm let out a slow deep breath.  “There’s so much Bud.  What’s the General’s yeoman’s name?” 

“That would be Petty Officer Smythe.”

“Smythe?” Harm repeated.

Bud nodded his head.

“How long?”

“Since Jennifer went on maternity leave.”  

“I thought it was Coates married to the Gunny.”

“Yes, sir.  They met at our Christmas party a few years ago.  I’m not sure how it worked in your world, but Jen stayed with you and the Colonel during her court case back in 2001.  Since she didn’t really have any family to spend the holidays with, you had invited her to spend the 25th with you again the year Gunny came.”

“And since Gunny stayed with us that Christmas he was snowed in, they got… close.”

“Yes, sir.  The admiral barked a little, but, so long as they kept it out of the office, I think he was secretly pleased.”

“In my world Gunny didn’t spend Christmas in DC that I know of.  Any idea how he wound up at your house?”

“It had something to do with the SECDEF’s office. Gunny was either taking some reports, or making a report.  That’s why he stopped in DC at all before going home. Anyhow, when he bumped into the Colonel, he was planning on waiting the weather out at the airport.  Colonel MacKenzie convinced him it could be a while and to join us instead.  We were delighted to see him.”

“What about Aldridge?  He was always such a…”  Harm was at a loss for words.

“He still is, sir.” Bud swallowed a chuckle. “But when the Colonel left at the same time as Lt. Imes, we couldn’t afford to lose him.  We’ve just sort of been stuck with him ever since.”

“Who’s chief of Staff?”

“You are, sir.” Bud had to stifle a laugh at the shocked look on Harm’s face, or was it more panic?

“Great,” Harm mumbled to himself.

“You’re very good, sir.” Bud wasn’t sure why he felt the need to reassure him.

“Thanks,” Harm replied, half-heartedly.

“Would I be correct in assuming if the Colonel was never engaged to Commander Brumby, then I never took a dip in the drink hurrying back to the wedding?”

“No. That I know of, you’ve never crashed in the ocean.  Your RIO did, or at least your old RIO did,” Bud corrected.

“What do you mean?”  A sick feeling suddenly rose in the pit of Harm’s stomach.

“You had a RIO who was flying home on weekend leave in a storm to see her fiancé.  She and the pilot crashed in the ocean.  They were never recovered.”

“When was this, Bud?” Harm prayed it wasn’t that same storm.

“It was the same weekend as your anniversary party at the Admiral’s.”

“May 25, 2001,” Harm dictated from memory.  He’d never forget that date.  If he and Mac had been married on May 20th, the anniversary party should have been around the same time as Mac’s wedding to Brumby in his world.

“Yes, sir.  That sounds right.” For the first time during this unusual conversation, Bud felt really badly for him.  Harm’s face showed true agony.

“She and I ejected on May 25th.  They found her first, it took them a while to find me.  When they did I was so hypothermic they almost lost me.  Skates saved my life.” Harm fought back the tears that filled his eyes.

“I’m sorry, sir.” Bud had no idea what else to say.

Harm sat quietly for several minutes letting Bud’s words sink in.  So far, everything different in this world seemed to be for the better. This was the first truly sad change he’d stumbled across.

“Did you say anniversary party at the admiral’s?” Once he’d regained his composure, Harm continued his quest for information.


“That’s rather ironic.” Harm shook his head again.  He’d been doing that a lot on this plane ride. “A couple of weeks before the wedding, Mac and Mic had an engagement party at the admiral’s.  It was a very ‘revealing’ event.”

“Well, it was just lots of fun in our world, except of course that you and the Colonel spent the better part of the evening on the admiral’s front porch,” Bud smiled inwardly.

“You’re kidding?” A slight air of lightheartedness had returned to Harm’s voice.

“No, sir.  I wouldn’t kid you about a thing like that, honestly.”

“I guess the universe does have a sense of humor, Bud.” Harm couldn’t believe in either world, he and Mac spent most of the night together on the porch.

“I guess this is as a good a time as any to ask.  How did Sergei wind up with Lauren?”  Harm tried not to let his disappointment show.

“Ah, yes.  Your favorite sister in law.” Bud let out an almost sinister chuckle.

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