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Classification JAG story, drama, humor, romance (H/M)
 
Length Approximately 48,000 words, 112 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Spoilers Through mid-season 8
Rating SLSV
 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

 

 

Friday August 23, 2002
2038 Romeo
Mac's apartment

 

Lt. Col. Sarah MacKenzie stopped puttering around the kitchen when she heard a knock at her door. **Why is it always when you're up to your neck in something,**? she thought irritably.

She'd been trying to get grape Koolaid out of her favorite lace tablecloth, with little success so far. Harriet and AJ had left ninety-two minutes before to get in a quick visit with Bud before visiting hours where over. The hospital had been lenient about allowing AJ in for visits even though small children were usually not allowed. He seemed to be the biggest catalyst spurring on his father's recovery.

"Who is it?" she wasn't expecting anyone, and was not in the mood to deal with a kid selling chocolates or a charity soliciting neighbor.

"Me and Sturgis!"

"Harm, just use your key, please! I'm in the kitchen in the middle of something!"

Harm chose to ignore the look he got from his old friend, who was obviously dying to know about the key. "Honey, we're home!" he bellowed in a 50's 'Father Knows Best' sort of tone.

"Right, and this is supposed to fill me with unabashed joy? I thought you two weren't going to be back until really late?" She could hear the two of them walking towards the kitchen.

"We got done in Philadelphia early. Turns out that the sexual harassment is real, but fortunately, not being perpetrated, or condoned by, a member of the military. It's a DOD/Civil Service problem, not ours." Harm came through the kitchen doorway and opened the 'fridge, obviously looking for something to drink, grabbed a bottle of water and tossed one to Sturgis, who, though hanging back in the dining area, was starting to get a knowing smile on his face.

Walking over towards Mac, Harm stared in the sink. "You know, I understand you jarheads love to do things the hard way, but they invented this thing called a washing machine. I seem to remember you have one in the guest bath, along with one of
those nifty machines that dries stuff."

"Antique tablecloth, grape Koolaid, stain remover."

"Ah, I think we've discovered the 'aakdent' at Auntie Mac's house!" said the still smiling Sturgis.

"How did you know...?"

"We stopped at Bethesda for a quick visit with Bud. Harriet and AJ came in while we were there, though AJ's explanation of what happened seemed to involve something about a car and a cat."

"CARrier and the latest toy TOMcat Harm bought him. I think the glass with the Koolaid was the catapult."

Harm looked proud. "That's my godson! I'll turn him into an aviator yet!"

Mac finally decided to give up on the tablecloth and just let it soak for the moment. "Are you two hungry? I knew Harriet was going to be stopping over so I fixed dinner. She must have lost at least ten pounds since all this happened, so I thought I could get her to eat, but it didn't work too well."

"I wouldn't want to put..."

"Can the polite phrases, Sturgis, please. If you weren't welcome, and it was any trouble, I wouldn't have offered. Harm can get the plates and silverware out, and I'll warm things up."

They proceeded to get the meal together, and once the plates were filled with roast chicken, stuffing and vegetables, the two men followed Mac into the living room.

"Wow, Mac, do you cook like this all the time?"

Harm started to choke on the bite of food he had been chewing, turning red with the effort not to laugh.

"I believe my smart-aleck partner here is intimating that I never cook, or that I am incapable of it. Res ipso loquitor. But I usually don't bother."

"But you made the effort for Harriet?"

"Yeah, to pay her back a little for all the care packages of goodies she sent me when I was on the Guadalcanal. Harriet's a born Mom. By the way, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?"

"My fault, Mac." said Harm, who seemed to have recovered his composure.

"Why don't I doubt that!" she said with a smile.

"Sergei called, his car's on the fritz again, so if you've got your 'vette back, I need the Lexus so I can take it over to him. Sturgis was going to just drop me, then I remembered I didn't have the car keys, and I figured I I’d better make sure you were home so I wouldn't get stranded. I didn't see your car, so I didn't know if you had it back yet, or if you'd gone out."

"I couldn't get a place earlier, so I had to park my car on the next block. The mechanic dropped it at the office around noon today. I rode in with Carolyn so I wouldn't be stuck with two cars at work."

"Okay, when we pull out, you can pull around front and get the spot where the SUV is. I hate you walking around in this neighborhood after dark."

"Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! This is GEORGETOWN! You're the one who lives in the, ah, area undergoing gentrification," she said with a laugh. "Besides, I had no plans to do anything except take a bath and read a book tonight, so I'm not going anywhere."

The three continued to converse amiably for the next hour or so until Harm's cell phone rang. "Rabb." `Sergei’ he mouthed to Mac and Sturgis. "Okay, do you want me to meet you there, or do you want to pick it up at Mac's place?" he paused. "No, I'm at Mac's now, so you don't need to call her. Very funny. Just call when you get here, I'll meet you downstairs with the keys and you can give me a lift home on your way to wherever it is you're going at that hour." He shut the phone off and turned to Mac and Sturgis. "He'll be here about 2300, and then he'll drop me off at my place."

"Well, in that case, buddy, it's been a long day, and I think I'll be on my way since you don't need me to give you a lift," said Sturgis, getting up and heading for the door. "Mac, thanks a million for dinner. I didn't know anyone actually cooked anymore! Bobbi's favorite cookbook is the yellow pages, and I know 50 ways to heat up canned soup."

"I do a lot of take out too. Or the frozen food aisle. The Squid here is the real domestic diva."

"I'll go down with you and get my stuff out of the car," said Harm as he followed Sturgis.

"Just leave the door unlocked or take your key. I'm going to see how my tablecloth salvage project is working out."

"Well, Mac, if that doesn't work, I hear purple is going to be very popular next season," said Sturgis with a chuckle.

"Gee, thanks! How is it that Bobbi manages to put up with you?"

"Probably by being on the re-election trail most of the time lately!" he said with a laugh as he and Harm exited the apartment.

There was a weighty silence as they walked to the elevator and pressed the button for the ground floor.

"It's not what you think," Harm finally said.

Sturgis burst out laughing as the elevator door opened, they entered and the door closed behind them. "I knew it! I knew you couldn't resist talking about it! Rabb, you are SO transparent!"

"But..."

"Harm, if you've finally managed to get your head out of your six, more power to you. You could do a lot worse than that lady up there."

"Well, it's complicated." The elevator had reached the ground floor and they exited through the lobby to the street outside.

"Probably not as complicated as you two have made it. I've got to admit, when I first came to headquarters and started hearing the scuttlebutt about your crash causing Colonel MacKenzie's wedding to be canceled, I was pretty confused."

"That's not exactly how it happened. There were a lot of other reasons..…" Harm started to explain as they walked to Sturgis's car.

As he keyed the remote to open the trunk, Sturgis broke into Harm's explanation with a smirk, "Well, 'don't ask don't tell' is all fine and good, but I felt a hell of a lot better when I found out that "Mac" MacKenzie's real first name was Sarah and that you two had been partners and 'very close friends' for over five years. I was beginning to get worried there for a while, buddy," he said with laughter still evident in his voice.

"Yuck, yuck, very funny! We're, well, we're not, oh, damn, Sturgis, I don't know what exactly we are anymore! All I know is that I'm not sure who I'd be without her."

"Then why don't you do something about it? I've seen married couples who don't have the connection and commitment you two seem to have. All the other stuff, careers and whatever, that's just window dressing and you can work it out."

"And you know this because?" Harm grabbed his overnight bag, computer and briefcase out of the trunk.

"I admit, I've made some mistakes in that part of my life, but I think I might be on the right track finally. Bobbi may not be the sort of woman that I pictured myself with years ago, but she is the right sort for who I've become. And you'd have been bored to death with an Annie in no time flat."

"Probably. I think Mac and I are finally on the same page as far as 'us' goes. There was a lot of repair work to do, some of it mine, some hers. Like I said, it's complicated."

"Well, just don't make it any more complicated than it has to be. You two seem to be good for each other, and this situation with Bud should teach us all a lesson about not taking tomorrow for granted."

"I really thought you didn't like Mac at first."

"I didn't know her, Harm, and she was kind of prickly in the beginning. Having heard some of what she'd been through, she probably had a right to be. I know the gossip mill was working overtime while she was TAD."

"I didn't hear much."

Sturgis chuckled again before continuing, "Well, since you seemed to figure largely in most of the versions I heard, I don't wonder that you didn't hear most of it."

"Just exactly what were they saying?"

"Well, the best one I heard was that the wedding was called off because Mac's fiancé found out she was pregnant, it was your baby, and she wasn't really TAD, she'd just gone off so no one would find out."

"Great! I knew deep down that she did the right thing by getting out of Dodge for a while, but I didn't know it was quite that bad."

"I sense that a certain female Lieutenant who shall of course remain nameless may have had more than a passing hand in some of it, but naturally, there's no proof of that."

"No, there never is with that witch."

"I better get going. I want to check in with Bobbi and find out how things are going before it gets too late."

"Okay, well, I'll see you Monday if not before."

"See you, Harm."

Harm turned and walked back into the building as Sturgis drove away.

After Sturgis' departure, Harm turned and carried his bags back into the building, retracing his steps to Mac's apartment. **She knew how he felt, didn't she? They'd gotten their old relationship back, and he thought, anyway, that they were on their way to something more. Something that he at least had been feeling, well, for a long time now. Too long a time to let something almost ruin it again.**

He heard her muttering as he entered the apartment and walked towards the kitchen. "Hey, Mac, you know what they say about people who talk to themselves, don't you?"

"No, but I'm sure you'll tell me!"

"Just be careful that you don't start answering your own questions!"

"Very funny!"

He walked over closer to the sink and leaned over her shoulder "Well, it's not purple anymore."

"No, now it's just pale lavender."

"Is it some kind of heirloom or something?"

"About as close as it got in my family. It belonged to my Aunt Giselle, and had been in her family for years."

"Aunt Giselle? I don't think I ever heard you mention her before."

"She was Uncle Matt's wife. They were only married about eight years when she died. He met her when he was stationed at NATO in Brussels, she was French, and taught economics at the university in Brussels."

"I never knew he'd been married."

"She'd been gone for a long time when you met him, so it's not surprising that you didn't know. She was killed in a car accident shortly before my Mom left us. They were stationed in Japan at the time, so I hadn't seen them in a few years. She was a really special lady."

"Sounds like you had a few pretty hard hits at around the same time."

"You have no idea, Flyboy. Anyway, after Uncle Matt was sentenced, he asked me to sell his house in Minnesota, and told me to take whatever I wanted. I kept a few things of hers, his medals and some old pictures, and sold or gave away the rest." The sadness she felt about her Uncle Matt was evident whenever she talked about him.

"He might get paroled, you know."

"Come on, Harm. You know as well as I do that even though you managed to get his political motives into the court record, which in and of itself was pretty miraculous, once there was a death involved, his chance of ever getting out became almost non-existent. You did well to get him off with second degree murder."

"There's still a shot."

"That's what I keep telling myself, but I also like to be realistic, and the reality is that the only blood relative I have is likely to die in prison. And please don't bring up my mother the less said about her, the better."

Harm didn't know what to say to that, and as he had learned the hard way with Mac, when he was at a loss, he was usually much better off saying nothing. So he slipped his arms around her from behind for a brief hug.

Mac leaned her head back against his shoulder, grateful for the contact, and the lack of argument.

"How about some coffee?"

"I'll take you up on some tea, if that's okay. I'd like to get a few hours sleep tonight, and my guess is that you don't have any decaf."

Mac, giving up on her tablecloth once again, went to the cupboard to get down some mugs. "And you'd be right. Decaf tastes like dishwater! I'd rather have an honest cup of something else than a cup of fake coffee."

The microwave made quick work of the tea and with mugs in hand they went back into the living room to catch some news on TV. The usual mayhem seemed to be going on the world, nothing had changed, yet since 9/11, everything had.

All too soon, his cell phone rang. Sergei and his friend were outside waiting. They took the elevator downstairs, and after placing his bags in the SUV and both having a short conversation with Sergei, Harm walked Mac over to where her car was parked.

"Hey, thanks again for taking Sturgis and I in and feeding us, Mac."

"Thanks for the loan of the car. Hopefully, whatever was messing up my fuel line is now finally fixed, since they drained and cleaned everything."

"If it gives you any more trouble, just give me a call. Though when I talked to Jake at the 'vette hospital, he seemed to think he had it in hand."

"Yeah, well, that's what the dealer said the last three times!"

"Jake really knows what he's doing, and besides he considers any of the 'vette's he works on to be his babies."

"Men, metal, and fossil fuel burning machines. It's a beautiful sight!"

They heard a 'beep' from a distance away. "I think my little brother is impatient to get to wherever it is that he's heading tonight."

" You’d better go." By mutual agreement, they reached for each other, their lips meeting briefly in what was now a parting ritual, along with a longer hug.

Both were feeling far more vulnerable than they ever had in the wake of Bud's injury. Sometimes it took something totally unexpected happening to someone you cared deeply about to show you that time wasn't infinite. Along with 'wanting' each other, they each now felt the need to be connected to someone who meant so much to them, but they were still both a little frightened to believe that after all this time and all the missteps, it could actually be this easy.

"'Night, Mac. I'll give you a call tomorrow and maybe we can do something in the evening if you don't have plans?"

"I'm free after late afternoon. I have that charity shoe auction and luncheon that Bobbi roped me into, then I need to look for a birthday gift for Chloe's Grandmom. I really feel in her debt since they took in poor old Jingo for me."

"Okay, I'll call and leave a message on the machine. I have a feeling I'm going to be working on Sergei's car most of the day."

"Has he figured out yet that you don't buy cars from a place called 'Uncle Al's Classic Cream-Puffs?'"

"Poor Sergei. He was trying so hard to be independent! It would have been a lot easier if he had waited until we were back from Afghanistan, but he wanted to do something on his own. His command of colloquial English still isn't the best, so who knows what they really told him?"

They heard another 'beep' from the SUV. Harm bent forward and gave Mac a quick kiss on the nose and watched her get in her car and start it up. By the time he had gotten around the block to where Sergei was impatiently waiting, she had driven over and was waiting for the parking space to open up.

Harm and Sergei pulled out, waiting for her to take the space they had just vacated. They waited until she had exited and locked her car and was safely in the lobby before pulling out and heading for Harm's apartment.
 


Saturday
1515L


Mac had a wonderful day shopping in some of the quaint shops in the older part of the city, and had enjoyed the shoe auction immensely. The Congressional Wives Club, which Bobbi said most of the female House members felt obliged to support, had
gotten some of the best--and most expensive--shoe designers to donate their wares so they could be auctioned off for the support of childrens’ charities in the District. A win-win proposition all around. Buying designer shoes for charity was certainly a painless way to give. Bobbi had given Mac her ticket, since she was back in Detroit campaigning.

The light on her answering machine was blinking, showing two calls. She pressed the button to play them back while kicking off her heels. They were great shoes, but certainly didn't rate as comfortable. But they did look great, and sometimes comfort was over-rated.

"Hi, Mac, it's me! I just wanted to let you know Grams and I took Jingo to the vet today for his check-up and he's doing great. The vet, who by the way is a hottie, said he's very healthy for a canine senior citizen. Call me later, 'K? Love you, and Jingo says 'woof, woof!" Mac had to smile at the 14 year old exuberance of her little sister.

"Hey, Mac, it's me. I made reservations for L'Auberge tonight at 2030. I'll pick you up a half hour before, unless I hear from you. Hope you had a good time--oh, and if you need me, call my cell, I'm working on Sergei's car. I think I'm going to call it "Christine" from now on! See you tonight."

What had gotten into her partner? L'Auberge was one of the newest and most expensive restaurants in DC, and certainly not the sort of place they went for a normal evening out. Harm had taken her to nice places before, but usually on her birthday, or to celebrate an important case or something, not 'just because.' Maybe things were finally moving out of first gear for the two of them.

She moved into the kitchen to grab a diet soda from the 'fridge, then on into her bedroom to check out the contents of her closet. She'd figured she'd wear a pair of slacks and a nice top for a casual dinner and a movie like they usually went to, but the
restaurant Harm mentioned was definitely a 'dress-up' place.
 


1957 Local


Harm circled the block for the third time, trying to find a parking place. He knew he could just call Mac on his cell and she'd come down and meet him, but he was really trying to be a gentleman. Just because he and Mac had known each other forever, he didn't want to cheat her out of any of the courtship rituals that should accompany a serious relationship. He meant to give her as much time as she needed,; he had no intention of pushing her as he inadvertently had the year before when he followed her to the Guadalcanal. By the same token, he wanted her to know that he was interested in her as far more than a friend.

He was torn out of his musings by the sight of a parking place opening up down the block. With any luck he would make it to her door with about a minute to spare. That sense of timing of hers could be a real pain sometimes.

After parking the car and pocketing the keys, he grabbed the bunch of flowers that were sitting on the passenger seat. He'd seen them in one of the trendy Georgetown flower shops just as they were closing while he'd been test-driving Sergei's ill-fated car, and they just looked like Sarah. Mostly wildflowers, with some small roses and grasses, they seemed to typify her. God, he was getting sappy!

Except for the roses he'd bought for Renee to try to make up for his gaff of calling her Mac at THE least opportune moment, and the obligatory bouquets for Valentines and birthdays for girlfriends and his mom and grandmother, he'd never really been a flower buying kind of guy. But he found himself wanting to do little things to let Mac know just how special she was to him. Maybe it was all the years of obeying their unwritten pact to keep things platonic, or maybe it was because, when all was said and done, she really was 'the one.'

Walking into the building, he held the door for an elderly woman. She gave him a big smile, taking in the suit and flowers, "Thank you. I'm sure she'll love them." Harm gave her a smile in return as she exited the door.

As he made his way to the door of Mac's apartment, he wondered what she was thinking, and if they really were on the same page at last. They hadn't really talked about things, they'd just more or less let their actions speak instead of words.

Mac answered the door, knowing without looking that it was Harm. He was exactly on time, a great improvement for her favorite sailor. Ten to fifteen minutes late was his usual style.

He looked gorgeous. If she wasn't mistaken, he was wearing the same beige suit he'd worn to her engagement party, but with a pale blue shirt and a darker blue tie with a small pattern. It should be illegal for a man to look that good.

"Hey, Mac." He whipped his left hand out from behind his back and handed her the flowers. "You look really nice."

Indeed she did, in a black linen dress, very simple, but from many years around his stylish mother, Harm realized that a dress that simple that looked that good meant a hefty price tag. The high heels she was wearing probably didn't fit in the comfortable
shoe category, but they made her already spectacular legs look about a mile long. She had a simple diamond solitaire set in white gold hanging from a chain around her neck, and matching diamond studs in her ears. He knew that they had respectively been college and law school graduation gifts from Matt. Mac was not the type to buy herself expensive jewelry.

"Ah, come in. You look really nice too." Mac was almost speechless. Harm brought her flowers? And they didn't look like the kind he picked up in the local grocery store either. If she didn't know better...

"Let me put these in a vase and then we can go. They're beautiful. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Would you like something to drink?"

"No, as soon as you're ready, we should probably head out. The traffic is pretty heavy tonight."

"Okay, let me just grab a vase for these."

Mac went into the kitchen and put the flowers in a vase with some water, figuring she could fuss with them later. She wondered if Harm realized that many of these flowers were the ones that bloomed in the southwestern deserts after the rains.

She grabbed her small quilted leather purse off the coffee table as they left. Fortunately for her feet, Harm's car was parked close to the entrance of her building.

They passed the time in route to the restaurant conversing about cases at work and the progress Bud seemed to be making with his rehabilitation. They tried to keep that part of the conversation superficial and light.

Both knew that dwelling on that subject could put a damper on any evening. The important thing was that Bud was alive, and though he would never again be totally whole, he could still live a long, happy and productive life. He had the support of his family. Surprisingly, even the usually less than sympathetic Master Chief Roberts and the ditzy southern belle Mrs. Simms seemed to be in his corner, adding their support when and where it was needed, and backing off when that seemed the right thing to do.

Needless to say, all of the attorneys at JAG were in his corner as well. Even Singer, in her own less than congenial way. There was a feeling among all of them that "there but for the grace of God go I." Even though most military lawyers never saw combat with anyone other than opposing counsel, they all seemed to know that if it could happen to Bud in the most innocent of circumstances--he'd been attending a ground breaking for a SCHOOL!--none of them were immune.

Harm and Mac knew it better than most, and from first-hand experience, but they kept to themselves just how close to home Bud's accident really hit. Since it occurred, they had spoken briefly about the minefield to each other, but left out everything after the Humvee and the goat in their official reports by mutual agreement.

Mac was surprised once again when they drove up to the restaurant, located in an area of the city near the Capitol that had once been regarded as little better than a slum, that Harm turned the car keys for his precious 'baby', the vintage Corvette he and Sturgis had put together from the frame up, over to the valet.

L'Auberge was inside a large stone building that almost 150 years ago had been a warehouse for the railway, but over the years had fallen into disrepair. Today it had been re-fashioned into several upscale shops and the restaurant. There were window boxes with colorful flowers, and topiary outside the massive oak door.

As Harm ushered her inside with his hand at her waist, she thought how utterly comfortable she always was when they were together. There were none of the awkward pauses in conversation that there often were with others. Neither one of them felt that they had to make conversation, yet they could talk about anything, and about nothing.

After checking his book for their reservation, the young headwaiter showed them to their table, in a secluded corner near the massive stone fireplace which now contained a lovely arrangement of summer flowers. The tables were set formally, with starched white linens, fine china, crystal and heavy flatware, but the slightly rustic setting kept everything from seeming stuffy.

Harm remained standing as the younger man helped her into her chair. Trish had instilled all the courtly, old world, some would say old-fashioned, manners in her only child. When they were out together in a social situation, Harm unfailingly treated her like a lady, but had no compunction about treating her like a ruthless adversary in court, or during their occasional pick-up basketball games. Though he did always spot her five points in 21 to make up for the height advantage, he claimed. He still usually won.

"This place is gorgeous. I was reading a review in the Post last month. How did you manage to make reservations on such short notice? I understood they were pretty hard to get."

"Who said it was short notice?"

"It wasn't?"

"Well, let's just say that our first reservations here six weeks ago were used by a grateful Admiral and Meredith. That would have been the training death at Twenty-Nine Palms you were investigating."

"I see!"

"Not yet you don't," Harm continued with a smile. "The ones four weeks ago were enjoyed by Sturgis and the Congresswoman. That would have been my stint on the Henry looking into the helo mishap."

"Oh, no!" Mac was starting to giggle.

"It gets better. Two weeks ago, none other than Lauren Singer and her current assistant undersecretary of whatever used them while we were both at Mayport."

"Well, that barbeque place did have great Key Lime Pie and the ribs weren't bad, even if you did stick to chicken!" By now Mac really was laughing.

"Hey, I'm glad you think this is so funny! Actually, I made Singer beg me for them, so there was some satisfaction in that! I was going to give them to Tiner, but he balked when he found out the menu was in French. I was afraid if I cancelled, they'd put me
on their 'never give this Philistine a reservation again' list!"

"Why did you go through all that, Harm? Not that I don't appreciate the effort."

"Because I heard you tell Carolyn that this sounded like a really nice place when you two were talking about where she should take her sister and brother-in-law when they came to town."

She just looked at him, and gave him a smile that just about melted his heart.

Mac knew she was a tough one to surprise usually she didn't like surprises all that much, but quietly going about arranging something he knew she would enjoy was so thoughtful. And especially doing it without any fanfare, and not making her feel guilty for the 'wasted effort' when the plans had to be changed. She tried hard to keep the intensely happy feeling inside her from bubbling over.

"So everyone knew that we had plans to come here except me, huh?"

"Well, I never said who I was planning on taking, but since the first reservations I gave away were for when you were out of town, I don't think the Admiral had a hard time putting two and two together. And, well, I think Sturgis would have been surprised if I had planned on taking anyone else. Singer, well, who cares what Singer thinks!"

"I'll second that!" she laughed.

The waiter came by to take their order. Mac decided on a country pate and duck breast with a sauce of summer fruits, Harm on a vegetable terrine and sole in a white wine sauce. Both declined wine, but ordered a bottle of sparkling water.

"Harm, you know it doesn't bother me at all if you want to have a glass of wine. I know they're supposed to have a great wine list here, with a lot of them available by the glass."

"Don't tell anyone I told you this, they'll take away my California citizenship, but I really don't like wine all that much. Frank and Mom will go on and on about how this one is fruity, and that one has tannin, but frankly, they all taste the same to me. I usually just nod while they're talking, and then drink beer or water. Most wines give me a headache."

"Okay, now I don't have to feel that you're making a great sacrifice for me," she said with another of those heart stopping smiles.

"Mac, I'd sacrifice anything for you."

Though the tone of their conversation had been light and bantering, she knew by the look on his face that he was completely serious. It just about took her breath away.

"I don't think I want you to. I kind of like you just the way you are."

"I kind of like you exactly the way you are too."

They both looked a little shy and uncomfortable at the way this conversation was going, and started back in their usual mode. But the words had been said, and both were feeling just a tiny bit more secure that they were finally in the same place this time.

After coffee, they decided to drive the short distance to the Mall and take a walk. The evening was beautiful, for a change Washington's sometimes hellish summer weather had cooled off slightly, and the night was clear and starlit, with a breeze and little humidity. After a short while, Harm ended up with Mac's beautiful but highly impractical sandals in his jacket pockets, while she walked along beside him barefoot on the edge of the grass.

"You know, you could have gone with flats, you're kind of cute when you're short," Harm teased.

"I am not short! Actually, I'm on the taller side for a woman. You're just too big!" She really hadn't meant that as a sexual innuendo, but that's the way it sounded.

"Marine, I'm not touching that one with a ten foot pole."

Mac began to dissolve into laughter, "That's even worse!"

The quiet walk ended as the two dissolved into fits of laughter. Several onlookers gave them curious looks, but they continued to chuckle as they walked back toward the car, hand in hand.

The drive back to Mac's place was made in the same way the earlier one had been, with talk of this and that, but nothing specific.

Harm walked her to the door, and even took her key from her hand and opened it. "It's not all that late. You want to come in and see if there's a movie or something on?"

"Sure."

They settled on the couch, Harm with his jacket off, tie loosened and sleeves rolled up, Mac with her feet tucked under her. They decided on a rerun of Saturday Night Live. It was from around the time of the Tribunal and even had a skit that vaguely referenced the case. Neither had been around much since the tragedies of September 2001, so almost anything on TV was new to them.

As the show ended, Harm was starting to feel tired and suggested he call it a night.

"I had a great time tonight. I really appreciate the multiple reservations and I'm glad we finally got to use one of them."

"I had a great time too. Are you still doing that shopping thing with Harriet tomorrow?"

"Actually, I'm taking AJ for her. The meeting of that support group at Johns Hopkins that Bud's physical therapist wanted her to attend is tomorrow afternoon, so it's just Auntie Mac and the Rugrat, off to the mall for bigger clothes."

"Yeah, he's really gotten big. Seemed like every time I saw him after a few weeks away he grew another inch. Want some help with AJ?"

"Harm, you do realize that I'm taking him to the mall to buy him clothes, right? We're not going into every toy store in town so you can buy him toy airplanes, and models he's not old enough for, so you and Sergei have an excuse to put them together?"

"Hey, Sergei didn't get to have model airplanes growing up. Or at least not American ones."

"Right. And that's your only excuse?"

"How about I pick you and AJ up? Now that the car from hell is fixed, we can use the SUV. I don't know how safe it is for AJ in a Corvette."

"Well, since I have no intention of taking him in my Corvette, that's not a problem. Harriet and I are switching cars. But if you'd like to come and help, by all means."

"You're letting a gi.., I mean, Harriet, drive your 'vette?"

"What was that you were going to say, Squid?" said Mac as she reached for a spot on Harm's side that she had discovered was very ticklish during a touch football game one fall.

"Ummmm, ah, that you were ah, letting a, ah, good, Mac, no fair, cut it out!," Harm said through his laugh.

Realizing that there was no way she was going to give up, Harm decided to change tactics, grabbing her around the waist and dipping her over his arm. If she wanted to keep her balance, there was no way she could continue with the tickles. Sometimes having eighty pounds and eight inches in height on someone was a decided advantage.

He brought her back up as quickly as he'd dipped her and tightened the arm that was still around her waist, bringing her in close for another of their chaste good-night kisses.

"What time should I pick you two up?"

"Harriet's dropping him at 1015 and the mall opens at 1100, so any time around 1100 would be fine. I'm kind of hoping to sleep in and then go for a quick run in the morning before it gets too hot."

"Okay, I'll see you about 1100, then. Sweet dreams." He placed another soft kiss on her hair.

"Thanks again for tonight, Harm. Sleep well."

After watching him enter the elevator, Mac closed and locked the door. Just when she thought she might possibly have Harm figured out, he did something that nudged her view of him a little. The flowers and the romantic restaurant had been a nice surprise.

 

~~~~~~~~~~
 

"Mac, tell me again why we're doing this!" Harm, never the world's most patient shopper, was even less inclined to be so while braving the huge Tyson's Corner Mall with a three-year-old in tow.

"Because our godson has had a growth spurt, none of the clothes his mother bought him three months ago fit any more and she's tied up in that support group!" exclaimed the equally exasperated Marine. "No, AJ, don't put the ice cream in your..…hair!" **Oh, well, too late, better sticky than screaming, she thought to herself.**

"Well, you were the one who wanted to let him have an ice cream cone," said Harm with a chuckle in his voice.

"Somehow, Harm, I don't think giving him a Tofu Dog was going to be the solution to keeping him quiet! Those people in Bloomingdale's were looking at us like we were beating him!" she stated while trying to wipe the ice cream out of AJ's hair. Well, at least it was butter brickle, not chocolate. It blended in better.

"He hates that stroller, Mac. Dontcha, buddy??"

"Hunha, I'm big boy! Don't want stoller!"

"Fine, Harm, then YOU carry him when he gets tired. I give up!" With that, he lifted the little boy out of the stroller and grasped his hand, leaving Mac to push the hated thing along in their wake.

"Why do we have to keep looking for bargains anyway? Why don't we just get him what he needs, take the price tags off and tell Harriet we spent what she said she wanted to spend?"

"Harm, that's not the way it's done. If Harriet had wanted AJ to have a bunch of totally overpriced stuff that he's going to outgrow in a couple of months, she would have let her Mom do this. She and Bud have a budget, especially with that new house, which if I remember correctly I WASN'T the one she asked for help in buying!"

"Hey, I thought she told Bud all about it! But he doesn't seem mad about it, and she did confess, and told him I didn't know she didn't tell him about it. Just don't ever put me in that position, okay, Marine?"

"What are you..……okay, here's Gap Kids, and they're having a sale. With any luck we can finish up here."** I don't even want to begin to try and figure out what he means.**

With the help of a cooperative sales clerk, they managed to buy AJ a few reasonably priced outfits for daycare, that hopefully he wouldn't outgrow in the next few weeks. There weren't that many summer clothes left in the kids stores, and in Washington summer often lingered until early October.

AJ had decided that running around the store would be a fun thing to do, and Harm, often acting like a big kid himself, didn't help matters any by playing hide and seek among the clothes racks with the three-year-old.

"Your husband sure is a fun Dad! Most leave this shopping stuff up to Mom," the motherly clerk said to Mac with a broad smile as she totaled up the sale and bagged the purchases.

"Oh, he's our godchild, not our son! And he's not my husband."

"Sorry, you two just look and act, well, so married! Like when you yelled at him for letting the little boy climb the display rack!"

"Sometimes I wonder which one is three! Thanks for all of your help." Calling out to Harm and AJ, "Hey, are you two ready to leave?"

"Finally! Geez, this took so long!"

"Harm, we've been here exactly one hour and forty-three minutes! For a large mall on a Sunday, that's nothing. If I were picking out something for myself..…"

"We wouldn't be within ten miles of the place, right buddy?"

"Right, Unca Harm!"

"That's right, Harm, introduce him to sexual stereotypes early. Let's make sure the kid gets a good hit of testosterone every day!"

"Hey, I resemble that! There is nothing sexual about it at all--us guys just have better things to do with our time than run around malls!"

"Such as? Never mind, forget I asked!"

"Tire, Auntie Mac! Wan up!" Mac stopped and with raised eyebrows gave her partner a look.

Sighing, Harm turned over the hated 'stoller' full of packages he'd been pushing, took AJ's hand out of Mac's and swung him up on his shoulders, leaving Mac to push the stroller with all of their purchases. The little boy's giggles could be heard some distance away--there were advantages to having a godfather who was indulgent and 6'4".

By the time they had driven back to Mac's apartment, AJ was already asleep in his car seat. Harriet would be coming to pick him up early in the evening, so Harm carried him into Mac's bedroom and put him down on the bed for a nap. As he straightened up, Mac noticed him rubbing his lower back.

"Hey, what's up? Is your back bothering you?"

"No more than usual. If I keep up with the exercises the physical therapist gave me, it's usually okay. I sat a lot in court this week, though, and AJ isn't getting any lighter."

"Yeah, well, three punch-outs are not without dubious rewards, I guess."

"Well, officially, it's only two. The one we made together officially never happened, as you well know. Besides, it's the only one I didn't get hurt in. The Russian's might have built pretty crappy fighters, but they made up for it with great ejection seats."

"Tell your back it's only two! And you did enough damage the first and third times. I have something that might help. Untuck your shirt and go lay down in the living room."

"Geez, Marine, you really think this is a good idea with the Rugrat here? I mean..." Harm replied with a smirk in his voice, heading out to the living room so AJ wouldn't wake. A tired three-year-old was best left sleeping and quiet.

"In your wildest dreams! I have some of those heat patches I use when I have, well, never mind when I use them, but one might make your back feel a little better," said Mac as she disappeared into the bathroom to rummage around in the linen closet.

When she entered the living room, Harm was lying on his stomach on the floor, his polo shirt untucked from his shorts, a sofa cushion under his head.

"Show me where it hurts?"

He put his hand on his back, the right side just above the waistband of his shorts. "It just gets tired when I do a little too much. Oh, that feels good," this as she started to rub the sore area, using gentle pressure from her fingertips and knuckles. "I'll give you about an hour to stop doing that!"

"Just relax, Harm. Your muscles feel pretty tight and tense. Is something bothering you?" Mac's voice was not her normal no nonsense one, but kind of low and seductive.

**I wonder if she has any idea exactly why I'm so tense. And if this backrub continues, I don't know how comfortable I'm going to be laying on my stomach.** As determined as he was to take things slowly, sometimes it really tried his sanity. **I might not be 16 anymore, but over a year without, well, without, and the sexiest woman I know with her hands on my bare skin is really starting to jumpstart my libido.**

Some of his thoughts must have communicated themselves to Mac, since she stopped what she was doing and put the heat patch on the sore spot. "Hey, Sailor, just relax, I'm going to go and fix us some lunch. Chicken salad okay?"

"Umm, yeah, fine!" **Maybe if she leaves the room I can get myself under a little better control.**

The rest of the afternoon passed quietly, with a pre-season football game and the viewing of several of AJ's favorite tapes after he woke up from his nap. As much as they both adored the little boy, a three-year-old could be pretty exhausting.

Harriet arrived just before 1800, and agreed to their offer of a pizza before she and AJ headed home. The support group was for family members and caregivers of people recovering from serious trauma, and gave Harriet a slightly better take on what both she and Bud were feeling.

While she and Bud had a wonderful support network of family and friends, in the end it was the two of them who were most affected by what had happened. With any luck, AJ was so young that he would come to regard his Dad's use of a prosthetic limb as just a part of ordinary life.

He really had very few memories of specific activities with his Dad prior to Bud's deployment, and his visits to Bud in the hospital had been explained as Daddy having a 'big owee that the doctor was making better.'

In truth, Harriet's ten days with Bud in Landstuhl before he was ruled well enough to medivac home seemed to have been much harder on AJ than anything else. He simply accepted his father's stay in the hospital as another fact of life, much like his deployment had been, and looked forward to the visits, when his father could read to him from a favorite book.

Harriet had been zealous in finding out things to make the transition easier for everyone in Bud's life. She had even consulted a child psychologist about exactly what to tell AJ, and a family therapist about how the different members of the more than slightly dysfunctional Simms and Roberts families could best help Bud adjust.

The biggest worry among those around her was that Harriet was so busy worrying about how everyone else was reacting, she didn't spend any time concentrating on how she felt. Mac especially felt that she could be riding for a fall, and hoped that this group that had been recommended might help her come to grips with her feelings.

Though both Harm and Mac were concerned for their friends, they had agreed that while they would be as physically helpful and supportive as possible, caring for AJ and helping Harriet get the new house settled, Bud and Harriet were going to have to do their own emotional healing with each other. Too many well-meaning friends had put their two cents worth into other peoples’ relationships with dire results for either of them to feel comfortable doing it in this case. Neither felt they had the expertise to offer more than the occasional shoulder to cry on.

She seemed to be doing really well, almost too well, and those around her were worried that at some point it would all become too much for the cheery front she seemed so intent on putting up. After she and AJ left, Harm and Mac agreed that she did seem to be a little less frenetic than she had been since the return from Germany.

All too soon it was almost 2200, and Harm got up off the couch to leave. "I won't be in until late tomorrow, I've got depositions in the Masterson case at the Navy Yard first thing in the morning. So I guess I'll see you when I get to the office. Lunch?" he said as he headed to the door.

"I wish. I have to drive to Norfolk to interview some witnesses in that bar fight case from the Seahawk’s welcome home party. I won't be back before the close of business, maybe not until the next day if I get really unlucky. Rain check?"

"Sure, how about you come over if you get back tomorrow night? I'll cook something relatively healthy, okay?"

"Just leave the tofu out of mine!"

"I'll even throw in some form of dead animal we can both agree on. Give me a call at the office when you finish so I can time things, okay?"

"I'll call as soon as I get through. I know I can't see one witness before 1530, she works an early shift at a hospital and doesn’t want to be interviewed there."

He leaned forward and gave her a gentle kiss on the mouth. "Night, Sarah. Sweet dreams."

"You too, Harm. Drive safely." Mac watched him head down the hallway to the elevator. **Well, all things considered, the day had been a good one.**

 

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