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MIDDLE EASTERN DESERT

Acrid smoke swirled from the aircraft's damaged instrument panels. Fine sand drifted through the spider web of cracks in the windshield, sifting down to coat the still forms of two men slumped over the plane's controls. A tongue of flame flickered out of a smashed module, combining with the sun pounding down from outside to drastically raise the temperature of the cockpit. Finally, one of the men stirred.

"Harm?" Matt Shepherd coughed, choking on grit and smoke. He raised his head and groaned as blood ran down his face from a cut on his scalp. "Harm?" Matt painfully freed himself from his safety harness and leaned over to shake the other man. "Harm!"

Harmon Rabb Junior flopped bonelessly back in his harness under the gentle pressure of Matt's hands. Blood streamed down his face and his left arm was twisted at a peculiar angle, broken most likely.

"Harm? Come on, buddy, we gotta get outta here." There was no response and Matt swore softly. Then he noticed the flames. Staggering to his feet, a wave of dizziness made the cockpit swim before Matt's eyes. He only hoped he could get them both to safety.

He moved to the hatch and tried to open it. It didn't really surprise him when it didn't open. Gritting his teeth, Matt looked at the emergency instructions that were posted to be sure he'd done everything the way he was supposed to. He had, but the hatch still wouldn't pop and it was getting awfully hot inside the plane. The air was hazy with gray smoke and they needed to get out now.

Bracing himself, Matt kicked out with both feet, hard enough to send shooting pains the entire length of his legs. The hatch still didn't budge and he swore sulfurously. He kicked out again and the hatch creaked open a few inches and fresh air whistled through the opening. The small fires sucked up the air greedily and the flames leapt higher. One more solid kick and there was an opening large enough for them to get out of the ruined plane.

Matt squeezed back into the cockpit and hurriedly unstrapped Harm. Grabbing the taller man under the arms, Matt dragged him to the hatch as carefully as he could manage. A circuit board swung loose from it's housing in the ceiling, showering both men with sparks. Readjusting his grip, Matt carefully hauled his friend over the debris and out the hatch.

Stepping out into the desert was like entering a blast furnace. Sunlight reflected off the sand in a blinding wash of white light. There was nothing but shimmering waves of sand as far as the eye could see. The heat pounding down on his head and the sand shifting under his feet made Matt suddenly light headed. The desert vista swirled around him and his knees buckled under Harm's weight.

* * * *

Matt blinked and realized that he'd lost some time – he had no idea how much. Sitting up gingerly, he rolled Harm's weight off of his legs and settled his friend as comfortably as he could, checking his pulse and trying to assess his injuries. Unfortunately, Matt's medical knowledge didn't enable him to provide a more accurate diagnosis than 'bad.' Of course, Matt wasn't feeling all that great himself. He patted his friend's shoulder reassuringly.

"Hang in there, buddy," he said, just as if Harm could hear him. "I'm gonna check and see if there's anything useful in the plane."

This proved to be a little easier said than done. Matt's world spun around him as he staggered to his feet and he fought off an almost overpowering urge to lie back down and close his eyes for just a moment. He shook his head to clear it. Matt was betting he had a concussion. He resolutely pushed himself forward, knowing that if he gave up now he'd be leaving Harm alone and defenseless.

Fires were still smoldering inside the plane and Matt's eyes stung as he quickly searched for anything that might help them survive. The crash had conveniently unsecured most of their gear, so all he had to do was pick through the rubble at his feet. Working quickly, Matt tossed two assault rifles out the hatch. A small first aid kit followed. It was a very small plane and didn't contain much else. The heat had built up alarmingly in the small, enclosed space and sweat poured out of Matt's body in stinging rivulets. He stumbled back out into the desert to collapse beside Harm's inert form.

* * * *

Someone was groaning in pain. It took Harm a few long moments to realize that it was him. He grudgingly forced his eyes open, only to shut them immediately as a blade of pure white light knifed through his skull. Shielding his face with his right arm, Harm gingerly squinted his eyes open just enough to see.

The view was not encouraging. Matt Shepherd was stretched out on the sand nearby. Rubble and debris were scattered around the burning hulk of the reconnaissance plane they'd been flying. Generally, the best way to be rescued was to stay within the immediate area of the disabled vehicle, but just before the instruments had gone wild and they'd crashed Harm knew that they were deep inside enemy territory, so any attention was likely to be unfriendly. The problem was, Harm didn't think he and Matt were in any shape to move very far.

"I'm sorry," Harm whispered to the unforgiving sky.

He didn't even realize that he'd spoken aloud until Matt mumbled a reply.

"What?" Harm asked, startled.

"Not your fault," Matt repeated, a bit clearer this time. He levered himself painfully up on one arm.

"I was the one flying the plane."

"Yeah, you were…and I only know one other pilot who could have gotten us down alive." Matt paused to wipe some sweat and blood out of his eyes. "How you doin'?"

"I've been better," Harm rasped.

"I gotta fix that arm," Matt muttered, heaving himself to a sitting position. He crawled over to Harm's side, dragging the first aid kit with him. "I kinda faded out there… sorry…"

"No problem," Harm said with a grin that was just a touch faded around the edges. His entire body spasmed in sudden pain as Matt gently probed his broken arm. "How long you think we've been out here?"

"Dunno," Harm replied, glancing at the shattered face of the watch that was still strapped to his left wrist. 'Mac would know,' he thought absently. He wished she was there with him now for so many reasons…

"Damn, I wish Rico was here," Matt said, partially echoing Harm's thought as his gaze wavered from Harm's bloody limb to the mostly useless first aid kit.

"Who's…" Harm swallowed painfully, "…Rico?"

"A friend…a medic," Matt explained.

"At least…at least I'm not alone," Harm whispered, his eyes beginning to glaze.

Matt shook his friend's shoulder roughly. "Hey! Hey – none of that! You stay with me, you hear?"

"I hear ya…it's my arm that's busted, not my head."

"That's debatable."

"You don't look like an ad for springtime freshness yourself, pal," Harm replied tartly. "What's wrong?" he asked, seeing Matt frown.

"You mean what else is wrong. Look, I'm no medic, but I don't think I've got the right tools here to help you," Matt confessed.

"I figured," Harm stated quietly.

"How long do you think it'll take someone to find us?" Matt wondered.

"I don't know," Harm told him. "I was transmitting images directly back to base…Webb doesn't really have any reason to come after us – he's got his intelligence."

"Yeah…same goes for Trout. The last time something like this happened, we at least knew he'd try to recover the evidence he sent us in for. Now…"

The silence between the two men hung heavily in the bright-hot air.

"Mac will come after us," Harm finally stated with quiet conviction.

"You think so?"

"I know so. She'll walk out into the desert alone if she has to."

"She would at that," Matt said, grinning as he recalled Harm's fiery Marine partner.

"I don't imagine your team would leave you hanging out to dry either," Harm commented.

"Not if they could help it. Everyone comes home." At Harm's curious look he continued, "My dad was shot down over North Vietnam when I was a little kid. I…when I joined the service, I made myself a promise that I'd never leave anyone behind, for any reason."

"That sounds like a hard promise to keep," Harm observed.

"Nowhere near as hard as not keeping it." Matt looked off into the distance, but Harm knew he wasn't really seeing the waves of blowing sand. "I promised myself that I would never be the one to have to tell some woman that her husband was just…gone." He dashed a hand across his eyes to hide the sudden blur of tears.

Harm swallowed painfully. "My mother was one of those women. My dad was shot down, too. Christmas Eve…I was five."

"They never found him?"

"The government, you mean?" Harm snorted derisively. His chest spasmed and he coughed violently.

"Take it easy," Matt said, alarmed.

"Don't suppose there's any water?" Harm asked when he could finally speak again.

"'Fraid not. Just take it easy."

Harm closed his eyes for a long moment, trying to recoup his strength. "It wasn't the government that found my dad," he said, so low that Matt had to strain to hear him.

"Who then?" Matt asked curiously.

Harm laughed softly. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Try me."

"I never stopped believing, you know?"

"I know," Matt whispered.

"I never stopped searching," Harm continued, just as if he hadn't heard Matt. Perhaps he hadn't. His eyes burned with feverish intensity as he continued, "I followed a trail that led back to Russia."

"Russia?" Mat asked incredulously. "I thought that was just a rumor."

"That's what a lot of people would have you believe. It was KGB and no one wants to take responsibility for anything they did."

"Imagine that," Matt muttered under his breath. "Did you find him?" he asked carefully.

Wordlessly, Harm shook his head. "I found…the last person who saw him alive. Mac was with me…she followed me…"

"And that's how you know she'll follow you here?"

"Yeah. That's how I know. What about you…did you ever find your answers?"

"Yes, I did. I was lucky…I got my dad back…in a manner of speaking."

"What do you mean?" Harm asked hoarsely. His voice was fading fast along with the rest of his strength.

Matt was very slow to answer. "The Chinese…they brainwashed him."

Harm winced in sympathy.

"He's in a witness protection program…he's wanted for some of the things they made him do."

"The Chinese want him back, too?" Harm surmised.

"Yeah…it's not so bad, though…at least I get to see him sometimes."

"I wish…" Harm's voice trailed off. He didn't know what to say that wouldn't sound petty or jealous. And it was getting so hot. His last thoughts were jumbled images of his father and Mac and Russia.

Matt heard his companion fall silent. Perhaps it was for the best. It was getting so hard to think or to breathe. So hard… He wished he could see his dad, just once more…

* * * *

There were voices, coming from a long way off…

"Matt? Matt, can you hear me?"

He felt that he should recognize that voice. It's owner obviously cared about him, to judge from the tenderness in her voice and the feather light caress of her hands on his face.

"I don't think he can hear me."

The voice was concerned now. A second, deeper voice chimed in.

"I know, Sweet Pea. Let's just get 'im outta here."

Matt tortuously forced his eyes open and saw the face of an angel. An angel with very worried green eyes.

"Hey," Margo breathed, with a relieved smile.

Matt tried to muster a grin for her, but his face was blistered and his lips were cracked and bleeding. "Harm?" he croaked.

"He's fine, Major," Benny Ray told him. "You just hang tight and we'll get you outta here."

Matt just nodded wearily, then felt his world lurch as Benny Ray carried him to the waiting chopper. When everything swam into focus once more, he was lying on the floor of the helicopter. Turning his head slightly, he saw Harm cradled in the arms of his own angel.

Margo saw where his attention was focused. "It's all right," she crooned softly. "You're safe now, and we're going home."

"Home." The word flew from his parched mouth in a rush of dry air.

"Home," Margo repeated, her soft lips brushing his forehead.

Fin.

* * * *

Disclaimer: SOF is the property of Rysher, et al; JAG is the property of CBS, Donald Bellisario, et al; "The Day the Sun Stood Still" is from the musical "The Civil War," by Frank Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd & Jack Murphy; this is a recreational endeavor, no
profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.

Spoilers: (for JAG) "Ghost Ship;" "To Russia With Love;" "Gypsy Eyes;" (for SOF) "Last Chance;" "White Dragon".

Thank you to Grace (as always!), for proofing and editing.

Feedback is most welcome.
Miss Kathleen A. Klatte
kat@gsidigital.com
kawklatte@aol.com
http://members.xoom.com/Kath725/


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