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Classification Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 30,000 words; 85 pages (8 x 11)
Spoilers Through mid season 7
Rating GS
Author's Notes Thanks to the English poet Richard Lovelace and his wonderful poem, "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars."

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

 

 

Chapter 1

I think I've finally figured something out. And I'm chagrined to realize that it has taken me seven years to understand something really basic about Harmon Rabb, Jr. I once told him he makes simple things complicated. He replied that I make complicated things simple. But in this case, I'm the one who made a very simple thing complicated.

A lot of people, women mostly, have spent an incredible amount of time trying to understand the man. Most of them, unable to do so, have then tried to change him. Allison Krennick tried to have a relationship with him so that she could control him. (Wonder if she ever heard that old line about trying to tame the wind?) Annie Pendry tried to change him into a domestic house cat. (How blind was she? If Harm is a cat, he's a panther -- strong and sleek, stalking his prey through the jungle. Definitely not domesticated.) Jordan, at least, thought she could handle him being in the Navy -- just as long as the only flying he did was courtesy of a ticket and a boarding pass. (Couldn't she see that flying is to Harm what breathing is to the rest of us?)

Which brings me to Renee Peterson. I will never forget telling Mic that any man who went out with her must either be a sugar daddy or a "boy toy." Mic smirked and said, "You got it." And I turned my head to see Harm sit down at the restaurant table with the Video Princess. Renee had to have been the all-time champion of trying to change Harm. She wanted him to leave the Navy -- even though what attracted her to him in the first place was the way he looks in Service Blues. (Can't really blame her for that attraction. The man does look good in uniform.) I guess maybe she wanted him to be available to decorate her arm 24/7. Thank goodness one of them finally came to their senses. (Still can't get over her marrying a mortician, though. Talk about being downwardly mobile!)

Even I, the one woman who should have understood him, tried to change him one ill-fated night. I tried to get him to have a romantic relationship with me. What could be more logical? We were both attracted to each other from almost the moment we met. That was obvious. And the longer we worked together, the closer we became. We were best friends. What better combination, right? And I have to admit, I was fairly confident that he was interested in taking our relationship a step further. So I pretty much propositioned him on a ferry in Australia. And for my pains, he told me that he couldn't do it. Thinking back, he actually said he couldn't do it "yet." But I didn't really pay attention to that part.

At the time, I was blinded by hurt. In my reaction to that pain, I hurt him even worse. I went out with Mic two nights later and wound up taking his ring. If Harm had looked like a deer in the headlights on that ferry, he looked like a pole-axed steer in the airport three days later. I wonder sometimes if I took that ring, not because I wanted a relationship with Mic, but because subconsciously I wanted to shock Harm into letting go and giving me what I wanted -- a family and a home. It shocked him all right. Right into the waiting clutches of the Video Princess.

I should have known that Harm would have a difficult time making the decision to let go of a decade and a half of adherence to the rules and regulations that govern our lives. For us to enter into a romantic relationship, one of us would have to give up the slot at JAG headquarters. And I know, romance is all right within a chain of command. It's marriage that would be a problem. But Harm and I both have always known that if we ever get it together, it's going to be forever -- white picket fences, two point five kids and a minivan. (Well, I may pass on the minivan. We could keep Harm's SUV.) And Harmon Rabb has trouble letting go of things. For a cocky aviator, he's the most insecure man I know when it comes to relationships. So I can see why he would be nervous, heck, downright terrified, about risking the loss of a friendship in order to take a chance on romance.

It was really unfair of me to tell him what I did on that ferry that night. I can still remember that conversation as if it were this afternoon. I had teased him about me going topless on the beach; and embarrassed, he had looked away at the bridge and said, "They wrote eternity in lights on that bridge on New Year's Eve." I asked him if that was how long we were going to have to wait.

And then he said, "Mac?"

And I said, as if it made a difference, "We're not in Washington. We're not even on the same continent."

"Location doesn't change who we are."

"Most men would disagree with you."

"I know. I disagree with myself sometimes too."

"You just can't let go, can you?"

"Not yet."

Stupid, stupid, stupid. The man said not yet. Looking back, I realize that he was unready to shake up his life right then. It had been less than a year since he had changed his designator and gone back to flying. And less than four months since he had done a 180 and come back to JAG. Poor Harm really would have had trouble with that much more change in his life right then. Come to think of it, he still didn't really feel at home in Washington yet. No wonder he was taken aback when I blindsided him like that. The Admiral would have had both our oak leaves for breakfast had we gone to him right then
and asked him to figure out a way for us to be together and not mess up work. So any relationship would have had to have been kept a secret. That would have never worked for the man who once told Bud, "The truth is everything." He could have never been comfortable, much less happy, while living a lie.

The poet Richard Lovelace could have been describing Harm when he wrote, "I could not love thee, Dear, so much, Loved I not honour more." So simple. So Harm.

 

Chapter 2



Why is it so complicated? Mac once said I make simple things complicated. I countered that statement by saying she makes complicated things simple. It sounded good at the time, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe it is possible to simplify complicated things. Maybe if we could make our relationship simple, we would be together.

On the surface, it does look simple. We've been close friends for seven years now. We've covered each other's sixes more times than I can count. We have this connection that we can't explain to anyone, including ourselves. But I know when she's in trouble or hurting, and she knows when I am. Given all that, any other two people would be married and shopping for a minivan.

But not us. We're still doing the same old dance, going round and round in circles, never getting anywhere. What's ironic is that we both want the same things: a great career, marriage to someone we love and who loves us, and a kid or two. Well, Mac also wants lots of comfortable shoes. I know I love her--hell, everyone knows that. Annie, Jordan, Renee, even Kate, could tell how I feel about Mac. I sometimes think that she is the only person I know who doesn't believe I do. So why doesn't Mac believe it?

I can only think that either she does know how I feel but doesn't let me know because she doesn't feel the same way. Or perhaps she does love me, but due to my unfortunate habit of screwing up, she's decided that she is better off without me. Maybe she's afraid that if she ever came out and said, "Harm, I know you love me, but all we can ever be is friends," that we wouldn't be friends anymore. So she doesn't say anything, allowing us to deny my feelings and maintain our friendship. Whatever it is, I'm out of luck.

Or perhaps we're not a couple because of our fears--her fears of being let down by yet another man and my fears of screwing up yet one more good thing in my life. It's funny--when I'm behind the steering wheel of my 'Vette or in the cockpit of an F-14, I'm not afraid of anything. I'm in control of my vehicle and my environment. Even with engine damage, a missing canopy, or a missile fixed on my six, I do what needs to be done--no fear, no hesitation. But when it comes to the thought of changing the status of my relationship with Mac, my mouth goes dry; my stomach churns; my palms sweat. And as she noticed, I'm only that way with her.

There was a time when I might have chalked up my hesitation to try to change our relationship to a fear of rejection or of winding up with a broken heart. But I know now that's not what holds me back. If we tried dating and it didn't work out, I could live with the loss. I wouldn't like it, but I know I'd survive. That's what I do--I survive-- my father's being shot down, my ramp strike, Diane's death-- the list goes on. What I could not live with is the knowledge that I hurt Sarah Mackenzie. I've already hurt her in small ways; and each time, I die a little. And unfortunately, given my track record, the odds are that I'd mess it up. So I do what she accused me of -- indicate my interest when I'm more afraid of losing her than of opening up and then pulling back when I know she's safe.

Lately, a nagging little voice has been asking, "What if *not* being together hurts Mac? Then what?" All I've ever wanted is for her to be happy. I wish to god I knew what I should do to make that happen.

I finally notice the song playing softly on the radio. Rod Stewart's gravelly voice is singing, "Give it all you got no holding back / Let a light in your soul / Ain't it better to lose in love than to never love at all?"

I think I have my answer. It's only ten o'clock. I reach for the phone.
 


Chapter 3

03:00 Zulu
North of Union Station


Harmon Rabb, Jr. hit the #1 on speed-dial on his telephone. The number that once dialed could change his life forever, one way or another. The six rings it took before the call was answered seemed more like sixty.

"Hello?"

"Mac, it's me, Harm."

"Hi. Is everything all right?" Mac sounded a bit concerned.

"Oh, sure. No problem. I just wanted to ask you something, and I didn't want to do it at work." There was a slight hesitation in his voice.

"All right. Fire away."

He took a deep breath. "Yeah. Anyway, I was wondering if you'd like to go out with me Saturday night."

"Out with you? Like on a date?"

"Yeah. I was thinking we could go to dinner at that new place in Georgetown. They're supposed to have good steaks and a decent dance band."

Mac hesitated a few seconds before replying. "I don't know what to say, Harm."

His chuckle came over the line. "Well, I think you pretty much have three options. A--'Yes, Harm. That sounds great. I'd love to go out to dinner with you on Saturday.' B--'Gee, Harm. I'd love to, but I already made other plans. Could we do it some other night? I think I'm free Friday.' Or C-- 'No, thank you, Harm. It's not that I don't like you, but I can't see us going out on a date.' If it's too much to say, just say the letter."

As silence stretched out over the telephone lines, Harm felt the butterflies in his stomach take flight. Why couldn't she just say something? Put him out of his misery one way or another?

"Okay. I'll take A, Harm. That sounds like a wonderful idea. What time do you want to go out?"

He let out the breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. "Great. I'll pick you up at seven. That okay?"

"Sounds good. I'm looking forward to it, Harm."

"Me too, Mac." He tried to think of something, anything, else to say to prolong the conversation but suddenly found himself as tongue-tied as he'd been at junior high mixers twenty-five years before.

As always, Mac came to his rescue. "Harm, I'm really looking forward to Saturday. But I'm going to let you go now. I've got to finish some prep work on the Carlson case before I go to bed."

"I understand. Goodnight, Mac."

"Night, Harm. See you tomorrow."

He smiled. "Yeah. See you tomorrow." He hung up the phone and stared at it. He had really done it--finally let go of all, well maybe not all, but at least some, of his fears and hang-ups and asked Sarah Mackenzie out on a date. A real date, not just a "let's eat carry-out while we work on a case" date. And she had accepted. She even sounded like she wanted to go. Wandering out to the kitchen in search of something to drink, he shook his head. He didn't know whether to be thrilled or terrified. Or perhaps a little of each. Somehow, he knew, things would never be the same again.

~~~~~~~~~~

Mac hung up the telephone, completely taken by surprise. What on earth had possessed Harmon Rabb to call her up and ask her out on a date? A real date, a put-on-a-nice-dress-and-fingernail-polish kind of date. And was she ready to deal with the deeper implications of what it all meant? Because if Harm had actually asked her out on a date, then it meant that he wanted to pursue a relationship that went beyond the current boundaries of their friendship. If he had just wanted a casual evening together, he would have thrown the question at her across the bullpen on Friday. By calling her at home, he had made it abundantly clear that he was raising the stakes. Mac suddenly realized that by accepting the invitation, she had called his bet. On Saturday, they would begin to see if they could "work things out" between them.

She padded out to the kitchen to find some cocoa. Whatever was fluttering around in her stomach needed calming. As she reached for a mug, a slow smile crept across her face. As scary as it was to contemplate dating her best friend, it was also exhilarating. What had she told Chloe? That sometimes, if you were lucky, a best friend could turn into a boyfriend. She'd been waiting for this moment for years. She prayed that they didn't mess it up.

 

17:00 Zulu
Wednesday
JAG Headquarters


As Mac returned to the bullpen from the courtroom, she was stopped by Tiner. "These just came for you, Ma'am." He thrust a vase containing seven pink roses at her.

"Thanks, Tiner." Wondering who they could be from, she juggled the flowers and her briefcase as she entered her office. Her mouth twitched when she read the card. "One for each of the past seven years. -- H" Trust Harm to be enigmatic. What on earth did pink roses represent? She looked across at his office, but the lights were turned off, so she couldn't get an explanation from him. She sat down at her desk and opened up her Internet browser. Going to the search function, she typed in "meaning of flowers." As she pressed the "enter" key, she leaned back in her chair. This could be interesting.

A soft knock on her doorjamb drew Mac away from her research. "Ma'am, those flowers are so pretty. Who sent them?" Harriet looked like she was about ready to burst from curiosity.

"Harm." Mac's mouth twitched up at the corners. "Seems sort of out of character, doesn't it?"

"Oh, no, ma'am. I think it's just what the Commander would do." Harriet was busily counting flowers. "Um, ma'am, are there only seven roses?"

The Colonel smiled at the question. "Yes, Harriet, only seven."

"Do you know why? I mean, I 've seen guys send a dozen, or a half dozen, or a single rose, but I've never seen someone get seven roses."

"Take a look." Mac handed the card to Harriet. "I've tried looking up what pink roses mean on the Internet, but I'm still confused."

Harriet carefully considered the message. "Well, it seems to me that he's trying to tell you how he's felt about you since you met. So the meaning of pink roses is important."

"I know *that.* The problem is, I've found about four or five different meanings for pink roses. Which one is it?" A hint of frustration was evident in her voice.

"What are the meanings?"

"Depending on where I look, pink roses can mean friendship, hopeful love, perfect happiness, and secret love." Mac rolled her eyes. "So which one did he mean?"

Harriet stared at the card. "You know, I think maybe he meant all of the above. They all kind of fit, don't they?"

Mac looked at her with respect. "You may be right. They could apply. At least if what I think is true about his feelings is correct. Well, except the perfect happiness part. I'm not sure there has been much of that between us ever."

The junior officer giggled. "No, ma'am, I can see how that might not be true. You two have had some pretty rocky times, haven't you?"

"Just a few." She leaned back in her chair. "You haven't seen him, have you?"

"The Commander? I think the Admiral sent him to Norfolk while you were in court. I'm not sure how long he's supposed to be gone." Harriet's eyes widened in horror. "I just remembered. He asked me to tell you to check your e-mail. I think he left you a message. I'm sorry." Her voice trembled slightly.

"It's all right, Harriet. I'm sure five minutes doesn't make much difference in when I read the e-mail." Mac shook her head in wonder. "So Harm is turning romantic?"

"Looks that way to me," Harriet agreed. "Oh, this is so exciting. I can't wait to tell..."

"No one, Lieutenant." Mac glared at her friend. "And that is a direct order. Not even Bud. And especially not that son of yours. Ever since he started talking, he's spilled more secrets than all the FBI snitches put together."

Harriet nodded. "Yes, ma'am. I need to get back to work now."

"Dismissed." Mac smiled once more and watched Harriet return to her desk. She clicked on the icon to open her e-mail.

"Hey, Mac,

Sorry I had to run out on you without saying good-bye. I've got to go to Norfolk for an investigation. Some petty officer decided to disobey orders or something. Anyway, I'm not sure that I'll make it back tonight. Hopefully I'll be in the office by Friday. Nothing short of World War III will keep me from picking you up at 19:00 on Saturday though. I promise.

Hope you got the flowers.

Have fun holding down the fort.

Harm"

As love letters went, it left a lot to be desired. But he had sent it from his office computer to hers, and they had learned that it was best to keep things on the computer fairly neutral years ago. At least he had promised about Saturday. And one thing was certain. When Harmon Rabb made a promise, he kept it, even if it darned near killed him. Smiling, she pulled out the Carlson file. With Harm gone for the next couple of days, work was all she had to worry about.


18:00 Zulu
Thursday
JAG Headquarters


Lt. Colonel Sarah Mackenzie's concentration was broken by a knock on her office door. Tiner stood there, holding a bud vase with a single red rose. "Ma'am, this just came for you." He blushed as he placed it on her desk. "Permission to speak freely?"

"Granted." She grinned at the young petty officer.

"Ma'am, do you have a secret admirer? I couldn't help but notice that you've gotten flowers two days in a row now."

Unwilling to give him any ammunition for office scuttlebutt, she shook her head in denial. "Not that I'm aware of." Grinning, she motioned toward the door. "Dismissed."

"Aye, aye, ma'am." He turned crisply and returned to his own desk.

Mac reached for the small white envelope, curious about what the message today would be.

"I hope you know what I'm trying to say with this one. H."

"Hmm, either you're saying you're too cheap to spring for a whole dozen, or there is another hidden meaning to a single red rose," she muttered. Opening up the browser, she returned to the sites with the symbolism of flowers she had found the day before.

Her eyes opened wide as she read, "A single red rose means 'I love you.'" And all five sites she checked agreed this time. That message was certainly clear.

What wasn't so clear was what Harm was up to. He had been acting a little odd for months, but she had about decided to chalk it up to his approaching fortieth birthday or stress from all that had happened at JAG in recent months. This latest turn of events, however, had her stumped. The timing was strangely coincidental, too. She had barely finished figuring out why Harm had said, "Not yet," in Sidney, when the phone had rung. Starting with his invitation to dinner and dancing the other night, the romantic gestures had continued. Flowers with enigmatic messages and an e-mail just to let her know he'd been sent out of town. Normally, he would have let Harriet or Tiner tell her when she finally noticed that he wasn't anywhere to be found. But this time he'd sent her the message and asked Harriet to make sure she read it. He was definitely up to something. The question was, what?


14:00 Zulu
Friday
JAG Headquarters


This time it was a visibly excited Harriet who delivered the floral offering to Sarah Mackenzie. "So what do you think this means, ma'am?" she asked as she handed the Colonel a vase containing a white rose and a red rose whose stems had been wrapped together with florist's tape. "I don't think I've ever seen anything like this before."

Mac shook her head, puzzled as well. "You got me, Harriet. But Harm is definitely trying to tell me something, don't you think?"

"Definitely, ma'am." Harriet smiled broadly. "And I'm pretty sure what it is."

"Oh really?"

"Yes, ma'am. And you are too, so quit trying to make me think you aren't." Harriet bubbled with excitement. "How long have you guys been dating?"

Mac glared at her. "We haven't been dating."

Harriet stared at her, her mouth dropping. "Not ever?"

"No, Harriet. Not unless you consider take-out Chinese while we go over a case a date."

The junior officer shook her head. "No, that doesn't count. A date is when he calls you up and says 'Would you like to have dinner with me?'" Her eyes widened as she noticed the slow flush rising on the Colonel's neck and face. "Has he asked you out?"

Mac nodded.

"You turned him down?" Harriet's voice rose to a high squeak.

"Hush. And no, I didn't turn him down."

"So why did you say you've never gone out with him?" Harriet pressed for information.

"Because we're going out tomorrow night. If he gets back from Norfolk, that is." The corners of Mac's mouth turned down at the thought that Harm might get stuck three hours away.

"He'll be back," Harriet stated with confidence.

Mac looked skeptical. "What makes you so sure?"

"Because, ma'am, he wouldn't miss something he's wanted for years. And you know it." She snapped to attention and turned on her heel. As she reached the door, she turned back for one last comment. "I will expect a full report on Sunday afternoon, Colonel." And with that she scurried back to her desk.

The Colonel quickly opened up the Internet and headed directly to the bookmarked site for the meaning of flowers. She gasped when she saw the significance of two roses twined together. She couldn't wait to see Harm.


22:00 Zulu
Friday
JAG Headquarters


The work day was winding to a close, and there was still no sign of Harm. His investigation in Norfolk had turned out to be more complicated than anyone had anticipated. Mac was beginning to worry that his promise notwithstanding, she was going to be getting a telephone call at some point apologizing and asking for a rain check on their date. For some reason, the thought of that happening distressed her. It was obvious that Harm had some sort of plan. She wanted to find out what it was. The delay was making her crazy.

Mac jumped when her computer beeped, informing her of an incoming e-mail. Her hand shook as she clicked the mouse. Her heart sank as she saw that the message was from Harm. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat as she opened it.

Sarah,

I'm really sorry that I haven't made it back to town this week. This case had more twists and turns than the road to Leesburg. But I think I've finally got it wrapped up and should be able to hit the road by about 19:00 tonight.

I trust we're still set for tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to it.

Did you get today's delivery?

Harm

 

Chapter 4

23:30 Zulu
North of Union Station


Harmon Rabb grinned ruefully at his reflection in the mirror as he knotted his tie. Who would have ever thought that a simple dinner date would have rattled his normal composure so completely? His hands had been shaking so badly that he had nearly sliced his face to ribbons while he was shaving. Then he had tried on and rejected at least three different shirts and suits before deciding on the French blue shirt and charcoal suit he was now wearing. Of course, "simple dinner date" was a major understatement given that he was taking his best friend, Sarah Mackenzie, out to dinner and dancing in hopes of moving their relationship beyond friendship to romance and ultimately to marriage.

He couldn't remember the last time he had been this nervous--certainly not in combat or on a special op. Yet Harm couldn't shake the feeling that he was about to engage in the most important encounter of his life. Having finally decided to risk everything for the chance at a lifetime with Mac, he was terrified that he might fail to convince her to take the risk. The enforced separation of the past three days hadn't helped his frame of mind at all. A couple of quick e-mails thanking him for the flowers had done nothing to assuage his fears. He took one last look in the mirror, wiped his sweating palms on a towel, popped a couple of antacids, grabbed his keys, and headed for the door.


23:50 Zulu
Georgetown
Mac's apartment


Sarah Mackenzie groaned in frustration as she missed the hole in her earlobe with the pearl stud earring for the third straight time. What on earth was making her so jittery tonight? It wasn't as if she'd never gone out to dinner with a man before--it wasn't even as if she'd never gone out to dinner with Harm before. On the other hand, she'd never gone out to dinner with Harm after he'd sent three very clear messages via the Falls Church Floral Shop, telling her, in so many rosebuds, that he wanted much more than friendship from her.

The first floral offering had been slightly ambiguous as to what Harm had meant. But as Harriet had pointed out, the multiple meanings of pink roses all applied to the seven years she and Harm had known each other. The single red rose had been pretty obvious--even middle-school-aged girls knew what *that* meant. It had taken Harm's third floral message to shake her to the core. Could he really want what the entwined roses seemed to imply? Was it possible that Harmon Rabb, Jr., Mr. Commitment-phobe of the US Navy, was finally ready to settle down? The thought was heady -- and also a bit terrifying. To try to move beyond friendship was to take an enormous risk. Nevertheless, neither one of them was getting any younger, the baby deal was due in less than a year, and the reality was, as she'd told Sturgis almost two years ago, she was in love with her handsome partner.

She finally managed to get her earrings on, then struggled for a minute with the clasp on her pearl necklace. A last fluff of her hair convinced her she was as ready as she'd ever be. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and walked out of her bedroom. She was a Marine. She could handle dinner and dancing with a sailor, even if he was the most gorgeous guy she'd ever laid eyes on. He was still her long-time friend and partner. Everything was going to be fine. And if the butterflies in her stomach would believe that, she could relax.

"Mac, it's me, Harm," he called through the door as he knocked.

Startled by the fact that Harm was actually a few minutes early, Mac swallowed nervously and went to unlock the door. "Hi. Come in." Her eyes widened in appreciation as she took note of his attire. He had pulled out all the stops for this date. "Nice suit," she said.

Harm was speechless. Mac was wearing a deep rose-colored dress that draped around the neckline but then hugged every curve beneath it. He stood immobile in the hallway, apparently stunned by her appearance.

"Harm, come in. And shut your mouth. You're gonna catch flies." The corners of her mouth turned up despite her best efforts not to giggle at him. Reaching for his hand, she pulled him into her apartment.

He followed her mutely into the room. Shaking his head to clear it, he managed to say, "Mac...Sarah..., you look fantastic." He flashed her a wide smile, relief evident in his expression. He had managed to actually say something.

"Thank you. You look pretty good yourself." She turned toward her bedroom. "I've got to grab my purse, and then I'll be ready to go." She headed off down the hallway, amazed at Harm's demeanor. Where on earth had all his cocky self-confidence gone?


01:30 Zulu
Georgetown
1910 Magnolia Restaurant


"Harm, dinner was delicious. I'm glad you thought of trying this place." Mac sensuously swirled the chocolate mousse they were sharing on her tongue. "I can't remember the last time I had a steak that good."

He smiled happily at her. After his initial shock at seeing her dressed just as he had always fantasized had worn off, they had talked comfortably about everything and nothing. Harm honestly couldn't remember the last time he'd enjoyed himself so much on a date. Perhaps he *was* right in wanting more. So far, wooing her seemed to be working. "If you're about finished, how about we try out the dance floor?" He looked toward the lounge area where music was gently playing.

"That would be lovely."

Harm put his hand gently on the small of her back as they made their way to the other room. He wondered if she could feel the electrical tingling he felt where his hand touched her.


04:00 Zulu
Lounge area
1910 Magnolia Restaurant


Mac's head resting on his shoulder as they swayed to the slow melody had to be the best feeling in the world. Harm felt a warm glow spread throughout his body. Despite the strong bond they'd had for seven years, he had never felt quite so in tune with her as he did on the dance floor. All of the ghosts that haunted each of them faded from view, and he could pretend, if only for the evening, that no hurt and no misunderstandings had ever come between them. If only they could freeze this moment, he'd die happy.

As the music ended, Mac looked up at his face and murmured, "Harm, it's getting late. Why don't we go back to my place for a while?"

"All right, if that's what you want." He tenderly stroked her cheek. "This night is for you, Sarah."

They left the restaurant hand in hand and strolled to his car. As Harm handed her into the passenger seat, he placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. Then he closed the door and went around to the driver's side.

As they drove back to Mac's apartment, Harm regretted owning a stick-shift for the first time in his life. He wanted to have a free hand, so that he could thread his fingers through hers as they rode through the darkened streets.


04:20 Zulu
Georgetown
Outside Mac's apartment


"Harm, I had a wonderful time. Thank you so much," she said quietly.

"I did too. I don't know what was better, the dinner or the dancing." His eyes twinkled at her.

"Dancing, definitely." She smiled at him as she said, "Would you like to come in for some coffee or tea?"

Relieved that the evening wasn't over yet, he agreed enthusiastically and followed her into her apartment. Harm pulled mugs out of the cabinet as she turned on the coffee maker.

"Decaf all right?"

"Absolutely. I've been drinking a lot of that lately."

She glanced at him, worried. "You having trouble sleeping?"

"Something like that. No big deal." Harm shrugged it off and wandered out to the living room. He roamed around the room, noticing as if for the first time all the pictures she had of the two of them. He also noticed that the bouquet of pink roses was on an end table and the single red rose was on her desk. Of the entwined white and red roses, there was no sign.

Harm turned back to face her as she entered the living room bearing two mugs of coffee. "Thanks." He took a seat on the sofa and was inordinately pleased when she sat down close beside him.

They had been talking for a few minutes about the band that had been playing and how much they had enjoyed the evening when Harm set down his mug and reached for Mac's as well. Placing it beside his on the coffee table, he turned to face her. He caressed her cheek with his hand; and when she didn't pull away from him, Harm leaned in to kiss her gently. Mac reached up and pulled him closer, deepening the kiss. Electricity arched through them, sending tingles along their spines.

"Sarah," he whispered against her lips. "I've wanted to do that for so long."

She moaned softly, moving her lips against his. "Oh god, Harm. This is so perfect."

"Mm, hmm." Harm rubbed sensuous circles on her back with his other hand. Opening his mouth, he traced the line of her lips with his tongue, then sought entrance to her mouth.

Mac's lips opened for him, allowing him entrance. She snuggled closer to him.

When he finally broke the kiss, they were both breathless. "Sarah, I love you," he murmured.

"I know," she replied. Taking a deep breath, she broached the subject he knew was coming. "Harm, we need to talk."

He pulled back a bit, but held her loosely in his arms. "I know we do. But please, not tonight." He looked at her intently, pleading with his eyes for her to understand. "I'll talk to you tomorrow. I'll meet you for breakfast or for a morning run. I'll do anything you want. But tonight, I've had the best time in my entire life, and I want to be able to always remember this one, perfect evening." His voice caught on the second to last word. "Tonight has been perfect. And if we talk, I'm afraid..." His voice trailed off.

"Okay." She nodded. "You're right. Tonight has been perfect." She pulled him back and initiated another soul-searing kiss. When they came up for air, Mac was the one who whispered, "And I love you."

Harm blinked back the tears that welled in his eyes at her avowal. He held her close and bit his lip, trying to get his emotions under enough control to be able to talk coherently. When he felt he could master his voice, he said, "Thank you, Sarah. Now tonight is better than perfect." He let her go then and said ruefully, "And I better get going before I do something stupid to ruin the evening."

She stood with him and looked up at his face, seeing the vulnerability there. "Thank you, Harm. I had a wonderful time." She grinned then and said, "And I'll see you tomorrow at 08:00. We can go for a run, talk, and find some breakfast."

"I'll be here." He kissed her quickly and strode toward the door. "Goodnight, Ninja Girl."

"Night, Flyboy." She closed the door behind him. "Wow!" she said to the room as she turned the locks. "I wonder if the pod people came." Grinning broadly, she picked up the two abandoned coffee mugs. "If they did, I like it." Wandering over to the window, she looked out to watch his tall form fold itself into the 'Vette. She watched until his taillights were out of sight.

 

 


 

 

 

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