by Maureen S. O'Brien
Characters from the show JAG belong to Donald Bellisario and Belisarius Productions. Thanks a bunch for 'em. All the SCA people in here are my own invention, with only coincidental similarity to any persons living or dead. Unless you like them, of course. :) The way I write, it can only be so. Swallowshome is, as far as I know, a product of my own imagination. I camped it next to Pink Fuzzy Bunnies, where Tagmata was this year. Sorry about that, Tagmata folks (especially John Quilley). Flaming Gryphon is a real barony, including the municipal area of Dayton, Ohio, USA; but the version camped in here is all my fault. Nothing in this story should be construed to reflect badly in real life upon The Society of Creative Anachronism, Inc.; Cooper's Lake Campground, or Slippery Rock, PA. If I didn't love you, I wouldn't bring the JAGsters home to play with us, or try to propagandize my fellow JAGniks so shamelessly.

"There is no such thing as an open cockpit Tomcat," his RIO objected.

Since when was Mac his RIO?

"Well, I hear you can fly one with the canopy open," he explained. "Not SOP, and I hope I never have to, but it's possible."

"Harm, this Tomcat is yellow! And I don't know what kind of controls you're looking at, but mine are all dials and gauges. It all looks...like your Tomcat went on liberty and met your Stearman."

He looked at it for a moment. It did. He grinned. "Gold wings and whites...."

Mac retorted, "Mention anything about being named Sarah and you are a dead...."

Then it was dark, and nothing below them but a postage stamp-sized aircraft carrier on the pitch-black sea.


"I told you you didn't want to be in my dreams," he said quietly.

"It's just a dream, Harm. Falling dreams are very common."

"Crash dreams aren't."

"Then don't have it. Turn this dream into something else."

He tried, but the Tomcat started going in for the trap just like always -- too low. "I'm sorry, Mac."

"It's only a dream, Harm," she said. "Only a dream. Wake up!"

A ringing noise shredded the air next to his pillow. His arm shot out without conscious volition, and he found himself staring at the receiver.


"Uh, hello, sir. Sorry to wake you. It's Bud."

"I know who it is," he said resignedly. "And it's not like you woke me up from a *good* dream. What I want to know is why."

"Well, sir, I only have one phone call, and Harriet wanted to call the major."

There was a pause. "Bud? You got arrested?"

"Uh, yessir. And Harriet."

"Care to share the charges, Lieutenant?"

"Murder. But we didn't do it, sir! We just found this body last night -- well, this morning -- and then this Tuchux came along and thought we killed him. But we didn't! But Security gave us to the police, so here we are."

Harm absorbed all that for a moment. "Bud, I need you to listen to me. First of all, I need to know exactly where you are."

"The Slippery Rock Police Department."

Harm wrote this down. "Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, right?"

"Yessir. And the place where we were camping is Cooper's Lake Campground."

"Okay. Now, the Major and I will be come as quickly as we can. But until we get there, don't let the police question you, okay? Be polite, but tell them that your lawyer told you not to talk to them till you have your lawyer present. The Major will be telling Harriet the same thing, so you don't have to worry. You understand?"


"Okay. I also want you to stay calm. Get some sleep if you can. Worrying won't do you any good. Besides, you know Mac and I will get you out of this."

As soon as Harm got off the phone with Bud, he called Mac. Her phone was busy. Still on the phone with Harriet, he concluded, and called the airlines. There were no seats available on any flights to Pittsburgh. "There's a big celebration going on downtown this weekend," one ticket agent told him. "Some kind of Renaissance Festival, too."

Harm groaned, thanked her, and hung up. His phone rang and he picked it up. "Morning, Mac."

"Morning," she replied. "I got a busy signal, so I figured you'd heard."

"No flights," he told her. "We'll have to drive."

"And my car has more trunk space. Not to mention that you don't want to take your 'Vette on a camping trip."

"We do have a better alternative."


"We could take Sarah."

There was silence for a moment on the end of the line. "You planned this, didn't you, Harm?"

He chuckled.

Mac warmed to her subject. "You had someone killed right in front of Bud and Harriet just so you could get out of the office and into your Stearman."

Harm smirked. "I plead the Fifth, Major."

"Ergh. We'd better call the admiral and tell him what's up... no, you'd better call. I'll be on my way to your place."

"You just don't want to wake him up."

"Marines are crazy, Commander, not suicidal. Oh, and pack your camping gear. Harriet told me the motels are booked up for miles around during this thing."

"This just sounds better and better." He sighed. "See you when you get here. If I live."

She just laughed and hung up.

He rubbed his eyes for a moment and dialed the admiral's home number, hoping the machine was on.

On the second ring, a voice answered. "Whoever you are, you'd better have a good reason for calling at this ungodly hour."

"We have a situation, sir. Lieutenant Roberts and Ensign Sims have been arrested for murder."

"On a camping trip?" Chegwidden groaned. "I assume they asked you and the major to act as their lawyers?"

"That's correct, sir."

"Nothing like a murder charge against two of my people to make the morning bright. All right, you two go on up to Pennsylvania or wherever it was and take care of it. Keep me informed of your progress. And try not to call me this early."

"Yes, sir." And thank you, sir, for letting me live.

SOMEWHERE OVER PENNSYLVANIA Scene with Mac and Harm in Sarah the Stearman.
Scene with Mac and Harriet at police station. Comments on clothes? Mac meets up with Harm briefly, leading up to scene with police lady. (Lieutenant?)


Mac got right to the point. "What evidence do you have against them?"

"An eyewitness claimed to have seen them stab the man." The assistant police captain sighed. "We interviewed her this morning, and apparently she didn't actually *see* them do so. She just thought she did, and told everyone in the vicinity that at the top of her voice. The Pennsic security staff called us and our officers took them in." She sighed again. "I would just have taken them in for questioning, but the officers on duty were excited about catching themselves a criminal."


"Practically. They've been on the force a couple years, but they've never dealt with any major case. Now they have...and now the county prosecutor's on my case, I'm on theirs, and we're just lucky the damn Pennsic amateurs knew enough to preserve a crime site, because our people didn't. So here I am spilling my guts to a couple of lawyers." She sighed one last time. "I shoulda known it was gonna be a bitch puppy as soon as the chief hit the hospital at the height of the tourist season."

No one else would have noticed, but Harm felt Mac relax. "So, " Harm said easily, "I assume there'll be no problem releasing our clients from custody."

"As long as they don't leave town. But you'll have to speak with the Pennsic people. Apparently, there's been some talk of banning your clients from the camp, and something called a Court of Chivalry. We didn't want to send your clients back without some official presence and some support. We also wanted to make it clear that I apologize for my department's hastiness. Pennsic is important to this town, and we don't want to cause any bad feelings."

"But you'd also like to question our clients about what they saw," added Mac.

"Our clients have no objection, as long as we are present," Harm told the captain. "They want to cooperate with your investigation. It was the arrest part they didn't like."

"I understand." The captain looked even more chagrined, if that was possible. "We'll do the interviews as quickly as possible, so your clients can get back to their vacation." She rose. "Right this way."

Interview? Bud and Harriet go back to Pennsic in a police car. Harriet and Bud conversation.


"Is that little bridge going to hold that pickup in front of us?"

"Sure! What's a little metal fatigue among friends?"

"The fiery death of my only means of transportation home. Now, if this were _your_ car, Harm, you'd be a little more concerned."

"My car is not going to be parked in a dirt-and-gravel parking lot. I just washed it. Besides, your car has the trunk space."

"Excuses, excuses." She craned her neck. "Do you see any end to this line?"

"I think we go up the hill and then to our right. I don't know how much further it is after that." He sighed. "We get out of the Beltway and still get caught in a Friday traffic jam!"


Harm sat back. It was obviously going to be a while. "Pretty country, huh? Reminds me of going to my grandmother's house in the summer."

"That's right, you said she lives in Pennsylvania."

"Southeast of here, in Belleville."

Mac turned to him. "If you wanted, we _could_ go back to DC by way of Belleville."

"I'd like that," Harm said quietly. Then he grinned. "And you should meet my grandmother. She's really something. She used to be a spy."

"You're kidding me."

Harm grinned wider.

"You're not kidding me."

"Nope. And you thought only the men in my family were crazy."

Mac openly contemplated her options, her lips parted and her eyes devilish. Then she closed her mouth again. "Folks around here are supposed to be chivalrous. And that one's way too easy."

Harm was opening his mouth to reply when somebody knocked on his window. Hm. He kinda liked the hat the guy was wearing, but that white shirt with the big dangly sleeves was kind of weird.

Then he realized. That was Bud!

Harm rolled down his window and stuck his head out. "I see we found the right place."

Bud smiled sheepishly. "Not quite, sir. You've got another five minutes in line. But then you can drive right back to our camp to unload. Here's your site medallions," he said, handing over two aluminum disks on a string. "If you lose them, it's a big hassle to prove you're allowed to be here."

Mac put on her medallion. "How have they been treating you two since you found the body?"

Bud looked uncomfortable. "Well, not too bad. The local police were asking Harriet and I a lot of questions, of course. But they don't regard us as suspects, I don't think."

"How did they find out about the

"Oh, and Harriet and I got some donations of medieval clothes for you to wear while you're here, so you can change as soon as you get in."

"What medieval clothes?"

"You didn't know, sir?"

Harm frowned. "No."

"You gotta wear an reasonable approximation of pre-17th century clothes or you don't get in. Well, I mean, you could get in, at least to set up camp, but only the Coopers wear modern clothes and they wear these weird blue outfits so you can tell they work here. So if you're gonna blend in at all...."

"We gotta wear the clothes. Great." Harm threw up his hands. "So what is the well-dressed refugee from a Renaissance fair wearing this year?"

"That depends."


"Well, it does. Pre-17th century covers a lot of territory, sir. We've got everything from Roman and Byzantine legions to samurai. I'm not sure what all got donated to the cause." Harm did not look reassured, and Bud couldn't resist the chance to tease him. "But don't worry, sir. If all else fails, we'll just wrap you up in a great kilt."

"You just gave me a necklace. I'm not wearing a dress, too!" He stopped. "Bud, you're smirking at me."

"Sorry, sir."

"Now Mac's smirking, too."

She was. Unlike Bud, she made no attempt to control it. "Come on, Harm. Relax! It's not like you're ever going to have to come here again."

"And besides," Bud contributed helpfully, "you know what they say about Pennsic."

"You're smirking again, Bud. I'm not even going to ask what they say."

"Oh, don't worry, sir. You'll find out."

The line stopped moving for a minute, so Harm let Bud into the backseat. Bud settled down with a sigh. "Air conditioning."

Mac smiled into the rearview. "Hot week?"

"Not as hot as last year, but hot enough for me. At least, during the day." Bud frowned. "Did you bring warm clothes and bedding for the nights?"


"Oops. This is pretty much like being in the mountains, see. And the lake gets things really damp at night. Well, we'll ask for donations again. Somebody pitched in a couple of spare cloaks, and I brought scads of extra blankets and stuff, so you'll be all right." He paused. "Here comes the checkpoint. Let the guy see your medallion." He held his up.

Harm followed his lead. Sheesh. A necklace.

Mac just sat there, secure that the guard could see her medallion from his side. The guard was wearing Cooper blue. Apparently, there'd been a really good price on blue scrubs.

The guard peered in and saw their uniforms in turn. "Welcome to Pennsic, folks. Too bad all we've got around here for you is a lake, huh?" He waved them on.

"And a murder," Mac murmured as they drove away. "How many people are here, Bud?" To her left, a sea of cars parked on grass stretched up a hill and out of sight. To her right, there were some sort of camp-type buildings, a farmhouse, and a small trailer park. A bit further along, a sea of tents began which ran along both sides. And everywhere, like exotic birds cast ashore by a storm, people strolled and hurried and chatted and waved. A few were in Cooper blue, and many in modern dress; but most of them were wearing clothes she'd never seen outside the illustrations in a history book.

"Well, official attendance says we've never had ten thousand. Most people don't believe it...Right now, there's probably 6 or 7000 people here, and there'll be more by the end of this weekend. Some people will only show up for the last weekend, though."

"And we have to find a murderer and a kidnap victim in a little more than a week?" Harm whistled. "This is a little bigger job than I thought."

Bud grimaced. "Here's our turn. Turn right."

Mac turned very slowly, afraid she'd run into someone. But the crowd parted before her, and she rolled onto a blacktop lane next to the farmhouse. Time to start memorizing this place's layout, she thought.

Harm thought so, too. "What's with the trailer park and the farmhouse, Bud?"

"There's some senior citizens who live here year 'round in the trailers. The farmhouse is where some of the Coopers live. They're both off-limits for campers. The big tent past the pop machines is more of the merchant area, and the big tent in the middle is the A&S Tent -- Arts and Sciences, that is. Um, I'll tell you about that later... Up ahead's one of the bathhouses -- there's bathrooms and showers in there. Camp store's to the right. They sell the best chocolate milk in the world." The lane forked in front of the bathhouse. "Turn right."

Catty-corner to the camp store was the Barn -- a barn-shaped building open on one side. "That's where they hold kingdom courts. And there's dancing every night," said Bud. He pointed to their left. "That's the tree where the sewing people sit. First week, anyway. It's getting a little too busy now. And that's Mistress Megan's booth, for scribal supplies, and Claus the Toymaker's next door." The booths were small houses. "Behind on both sides is more of the merchant's area." The road made a left. "Those are the A&S classroom tents on the right, and then behind the wall is the Midrealm royal encampment. See the gate guards?"

"And the dragon statues." Harm grinned. "Rank Hath Its Privileges?"

"Oh, yeah. But all the royal encampments hold big parties during second week. Wednesday night is Midrealm's turn to host all the Knowne Worlde, I think."

Mac stopped. She had to let a party of pedestrians cross in front of her, including two toddlers in the cutest little 'princess' outfits she'd ever seen. But then she looked further beyond. She was almost to the crest of a hill. Below her was a small valley full of encampments. She could see pavilions, gypsy wagons, huts, and even a yurt, as well as modern tents of every shape and size. And almost every camp was surrounded by walls of fabric, hung with banners, and filled with pictures of coats of arms. The woods beyond seemed filled with tents as well.

"Runestone Hill," Bud said quietly. "We're almost home."

Slowly, Mac began to drive down the hill. Bud rolled down his window. She wondered why. Then she saw how the people walking up and down the hill next to the road searched their faces as they went by. She checked her rearview mirror. Sure enough, Bud was doing the same.

One of the women on the hill stopped short. "Buddy!"

"Lady Talia! How have you been?"

"Oh, fine, fine. How's my old drinking buddy?" She said this ostentatiously. Harm estimated how long she'd been able to drink legally and grinned. Still proud of it, huh? "Are you camping with Swallowshome again this year? What have you been up to?"

"I sure am. I haven't been up to much...well, mostly." He didn't want to bring up the corpse if she hadn't heard about it. Which hopefully she hadn't, since it was supposed to be kept quiet. "I have a lady now. You'll have to meet her."

"Oh, that's wonderful!"

Harm watched, amused, as Talia, following the car back down the hill she'd just climbed, took advantage of Mac stopping for more pedestrians to give Bud a big hug. The little redhead seemed genuinely delighted for him.

"I'll have to come by and meet her tonight. We're gonna go stroll the Serengeti and find some parties...as always...."

She broke off. "But who are your friends? And why are they in uniform?" She grinned at Harm. "Not that I object to a good-lookin' guy in a uniform, of course."

Harm grinned back. "Of course."

"These are the people I work with all year," Bud told her. "They came straight from work. Major Sarah McKenzie and Lieutenant Commander Harmon Rabb. They're camping at Swallowshome too. This is their first Pennsic."

"I'm Talia," she told them. "I helped Buddy get into trouble last year, and I can help you do it too."

Mac grinned. "Harm doesn't need much help finding trouble."

"Sarah McKenzie," she said thoughtfully, as the car turned left with the road at the bottom of the hill. "That's a good medieval name. Though I kinda like the Gaelic version -- Sorcha." She said the 'ch' back in her throat, as if she was speaking German. The car had to stop again. Somebody's pickup was blocking the road. "That means 'light', my friend Mor says, but it sounded close enough to Sarah that they told the English that's what it was. Or something like that. Harmon. I don't know that one."

"It's like Herman," a brown-haired woman came up to them and said. "From the Old German 'Harimann'. Harja-mann. Army-man."

Harm made a face.

Mac and Bud just laughed.

The woman looked at the people in the front seat a little more closely. "Oh. Sorry. Didn't mean to offend." She grimaced. "I'm Mor, by the way. Also from Flaming Gryphon, also part of Talia's journeys into madness last year."

"Journeys Into Madness," Talia repeated, delighted. "Yep, that's us."

"I live near Wright-Patt," Mor was still explaining, "so the only uniforms I'm trained to recognize are Air Force ones. And if it helps any, a 'harja' or 'here' was more of an elite corps than an army."

Mac heard 'corps' and turned to see Harm's reaction. Harm just groaned even louder.

Mor looked disconcerted. "Oh, yeah. There's some kind of Navy/ Marine thing, isn't there."

"It's fate," Mac was saying. "You really loved going undercover in Force Recon. Don't fight it."

"You sound like Darth Vader talking to Luke."

"The Marine side of the Force...."

Bud shrugged. "They're always like this, Mor. Don't worry about it."

She smiled wryly. "You know me. I worry about everything. So are you still going for law school? And that JAG thing?"

"I'm in it. And I'm a law clerk for JAG. These guys are JAG lawyers." Harm and Mac had momentarily stopped bantering, so he repeated his introductions.

Mor smiled. "Did Buddy warn you? 'The law is diff...'"

"'-erent in Pennsylvania,'" the other two chorused.

Mac and Harm looked nonplused.

Bud explained. "People come here from other states and sometimes expect the Pennsylvania state laws to be the same. So they get in trouble. So there's a saying about it, to try and keep all us out-of-state Scadians from getting into trouble."

"There's a saying about everything," said Mor. "Or an in-joke, or a slang term, or a story, or a song...you'll feel like a foreigner for the first couple of days. But just keep asking questions, or give us a blank look. We all love to explain." She smiled. "And Scadians are people in the SCA."

The pickup finally moved out of the way. "Next camp to the left is Swallowshome," Bud told Mac and Harm. "And food, and some garb."

"I'll help you all put up your tents," said Mor, "if you, Buddy, will introduce us to this new lady you were telling me about yesterday."

"Harriet's great," Bud sighed. "You'll love her. But I gotta ask you a favor. Could you call me by my SCA name, or just call me Bud? My lady gets, um, nervous when she hears people calling me Buddy."

"Ooh, she's jealous!" Talia was delighted. "Guess that means we shouldn't tell her about what you did last year at...."

Mor tsked at Talia. "Don't tease him. It's not courteous." She curtsied with a flourish. "Far be it from us, m'lord, to hurt the cause of True Love. We will do your bidding. Hence, you shall be hight by us Ysaye le Clerc."

Unseen by the relieved Bud, Mac and Harm turned to each other. Simultaneously, they mouthed, "Ysaye?"

Harriet trotted over to meet them, waving. Mac waved back, then grinned ruefully. This was beginning to seem surreal. They were here to investigate a murder, not go on vacation and hang out with friends.

But it was hard to remember that, when Talia and Mor, who'd only met them a few minutes ago and only knew Bud from a week spent here last year, were helping them set up camp. Talia, who was as delighted to meet Harriet as she'd been to meet them, had pulled out a huge Swiss Army knife in case they needed it, while Mor had attempted to carry half the contents of the trunk in one trip. And refused to surrender any of her armload to Harm. Mac, her own arms full of stuff from the backseat, had laughed at the expression on his face as he pulled out most of what was left in the trunk.

"What's wrong, Harm? The damsels too busy slaying dragons to do a decent distress?"

With six people helping, their two tents were up in 5 minutes and 20 seconds. Okay, maybe they could have gone up faster without six people; but it had been fun.

Then it was dinnertime. Talia and Mor went 'home', just across the road. Then the people of this 'household' Bud belonged to, Swallowshome, stuffed them with a wonderful stew. The chocolate milk really was the best she'd ever drunk. And with all the people there, dishes were done quickly, too.

Then Harriet brought out the clothes. Or garb, as these 'Scadians' liked to call it. She didn't know what she'd expected, but...it was beautiful. She liked khaki and green. Really, she did. But medieval people liked color, and Harriet had collected gowns and tunics and cotehardies and who knew what all else, in every shade of every color of the rainbow.

"Most of them will be short on you," she said worriedly. "But maybe that's good; you won't have to worry about tripping over a hem or dragging it in the dirt or something. And I'm afraid they won't fit you like they were made for you, because they weren't. But the lace-up gowns should be okay, and there're tabards and stuff to go on top of some of them...." She stopped, and her curved face turned angular. "Not that you need to worry about not looking good."

Mac looked wry. "Thank you, I guess."

"I didn't mean it like that, really!" Her face wavered. "It's just that...I always wanted to be...I don't know. Taller. More exotic-looking. Not just me."

"I wanted to be blonde. And not have people mistake me for a guy."

They traded glances. Then Mac started pulling out clothes she wanted to try. She ended up picking a blue gown with some kind of white thing that went over it and had a ventilation hole running from just below the arm pit to just below the hip.

"I like that one," said Harriet. "Gates of Hell is a good look for you."

"Excuse me?"

"That's what it's called. Really. They used to preach sermons against that style."

Mac looked skeptical.

But when they went down to a bathhouse further down the hill and she tried it on, she suddenly understood. The undergown was formfitting. The Gates of Hell was not. She was completely covered, and yet....

Somehow it looked sexy.

And yet this was practical, too. It was comfortable. She'd always thought that medieval women were trapped by layers of clothing. But she could run in this if she needed to.

And suddenly, she remembered the pictures she'd seen in history books of illuminated manuscripts. There'd been women in those pictures dressed in these "Gates of Hell". She'd always thought they looked stiff and hieratic. She'd assumed they were somehow less than real.

But they were real women, who wore real clothes, with an eye to fashion and attracting men and doing what needed to be done. They had laughed and cried and lived and died just as vividly as people did today.

History really happened.

And suddenly, she could understand, at least a little, why all these people were here.

Harriet turned to her anxiously. "So what do you think?"

"I think I like it," she smiled back. "I really do."

The Swallowshome people were waiting for Mac and Harriet when they returned from the bathhouse. So were Talia, Mor, Bud, and Harm.

Harm could tell Mac was nervous, but he doubted anyone else could. She walked into camp with the dignity of a queen -- or a certain Marine about to try a case -- and accepted all compliments as her due.

Fortunately for him, there seemed to be a lot of tall guys around camp. He was wearing a tunic and some drawstring kind of pants, which was about as medieval as he cared to get -- Talia's urgings to wear a kilt, tights, or something called 'trews' notwithstanding.

She was driving, and she was drunk. Not herself, but her remembered self. The seventeen-year-old Sarah was loaded, and Major MacKenzie was stuck inside her for the duration, unless she stopped the dream. And she couldn't bear to stop this nightmare without seeing Jesse.

She couldn't picture his face anymore. Not really. It had been too long ago. And she never had dreams about the good times they'd had -- at least not that she could remember. She had a photo of him in her yearbook, but she tried not to look at that. Too many bad memories. So she only saw him in her nightmare about the accident.

So she waited until Sarah turned her head at the intersection to get another beer. Then she took a good look at her old best friend. Jesse was grinning like always. He was loaded, too, but he was a friendly drunk, unlike her dad. He drank because he was too shy to go to parties any other way. But he and Sarah had been buds since....

And then he wasn't Jesse anymore.


Oh, God. Last night had been bad enough. She wasn't going to dream she killed Harm. She stopped the dream, and suddenly she was in the hills of Arizona. But Harm was there instead of her uncle, and her memories of being seventeen seemed malleable clay instead of prison bars.

A sudden worry crossed her mind. She turned to him.

"I can see fine," he told her, reading her mind. "Nice to see twilight again."

She smiled. "Then it's time for a run," she said.

"You exercise in your dreams?"

She didn't bother to reply. She just started to run, knowing he would follow.

An old dirt road wound through the hills. She knew every inch of it from that long summer she'd spent with her uncle. That was when she had learned to understand that her body could do more than she had ever known it could. She had learned to love the feel of running. Racing someone was fun; she had delighted in Harm's challenge -- before the car came along, anyway.

But she loved this best of all: to run and run and run, and always hear another's strides beside you, keeping pace, as the sky turns from grey to gold and the hills brighten. It had been a long time since she'd gone running like this. Too long.

They ran till they got to the end of the road. She slowed down as she came to it, and Harm slowed too. Together, they stood and watched the sunrise. After stopping, she felt a little cold but she didn't shiver. She was more used to this chill than Harm was, and she didn't want him to offer her his jacket. But even without touching him, she could feel his warmth at her side.

"I wish I'd known you back then," Harm said.

Her mouth twisted. "You wouldn't have liked me back then. I don't."

"You were just a kid, Mac." His voice was gentle. "You had a life I wouldn't wish on Saddam Hussein. But you survived."

"Jesse didn't."

He nodded grimly. "Neither did my RIO. Some errors of judgement are harder to live with than others. But you were just a kid. Don't be too hard on yourself."

"I won't if you won't."

"Point taken."

His mother thought he was going to Philmont. He was sorry for lying to her, but she would never have let him go to Laos to look for his father. And he'd saved up the money himself, so it wasn't like he was stealing. His ticket was waiting at the airport counter.

And then he saw her. A darkhaired, darkeyed girl a few years younger than he was. She looked tired. She looked lost. And somehow, she looked familiar.

He wracked his brains. Nope, nobody he knew. But he went up to her anyway. Maybe he could help her out.

"Need some help?"

The darkhaired girl stared at him.

"Where are your parents?"

Her eyes looked frightened for a moment. Then they hardened. "No. I won't go back to them."

"Running away from home?" He grinned, amused. "Any idea where you're going?"

"It doesn't matter. Any place has to be better than home."

Harm felt the weight of his high school wisdom settle on his shoulders. "That's not true, you know. A lot of kids who run away get picked up by pimps. They use them for, um, prostitution, and they make them take drugs."

"My father gets drunk and molests me," she said matter-of-factly. "I'll take my chances."

He felt his jaw drop open. He closed it. "Point taken," he sighed. "Look, I'm starved and I've got cash. Let's go grab some food. My dad used to say that a full belly did wonders for the brain."

"I can't pay you back," she said hesitantly.

"So pay it forward. Sometime when you've got money, buy lunch for somebody who doesn't."

She considered for a moment. "I like that," she declared. Then she smiled a little. "You know, I don't even know your name."

"Harmon Rabb."

"Harmon Rabb?" she pronounced with disbelief.

"Junior," he confirmed with a grin. "Yours has to be better than that."

"Sarah MacKenzie," she shrugged. "It's okay, I guess." They started walking down the concourse.

"Sarah? My grandma's named Sarah. So's my dad's Stearman," he told her. "You know, you must like your name. If you didn't like it, you'd be telling me how you always wanted your name to be Alexis or Cassandra or Sigourney or something."

"You don't like your name."

"I do like it. It's my dad's name," he said, as if that explained everything. "Though there've been times I've wished he'd been named something a little more normal. Like John."

She cocked her head and looked at him. "You don't look like a John. But then, you don't look like a Harmon, either."

"It's Harm for short."

That made her giggle. "I bet you get a lot of jokes about that."

"Yeah. But it's good for playing football."

They talked as they went down the concourse. Sarah was quiet, but the longer they talked the more he liked her. She was as sharp a mind as he'd ever run across, and she had a wicked sense of humor hidden away. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that Laos would have to wait. Sarah needed help right now. And Dad would understand.

He fed her first. The lady at the fast food place looked at them pretty weird when the boy ordered a salad for himself and two Big Beefy Burgers, extra large fries, and a shake for the girl. But Sarah wolfed them down.

"Next we go back to my house," he informed her. "My mom and stepdad