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Classification Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 6,000 words; 16 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
 
Spoilers Through “Take It Like a Man” Season 9
Rating GS

 

 


Dulles International Airport
Thursday 15:48

 

Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Mackenzie could never remember being so completely exhausted in her entire life. She wasn’t simply tired, not just worn out from overwork or long hours of travel. This was the bone deep weariness of having expended the very last drop of strength she owned. Her muscles no longer responded properly, her mind did not process thought clearly, even her brain synapses were misfiring. It was a constant struggle to simply remain upright. She was nearly at the point where she wondered if she had a gram of energy left to fuel the functions of heart and breath.

Taking one task at a time, putting one foot deliberately before the other, she managed to haul her carry on from the overhead bin, before dropping it unceremoniously on the head of a neighboring passenger. She was certain she apologized, she must have it would be rude if she did not. However, she couldn’t swear to it. He had been kind enough to help her pull it from between the seats and steady her on her feet, before allowing her to move into the aisle ahead of him. If she suspected he was shepherding her, she was too tired to care.

She’d been gone two weeks, seventeen days to be exact, counting travel time. If she made a guess, eighty hours sleep the entire trip would be a generous estimate. A temporary deployment to a war torn country, to replace the JAG officer killed when his convoy was ambushed, had drained her personal resources to a point of total depletion after the past year.

Days spent in a chilling wind fighting blowing sand, and nights spent in freezing temperatures, while she advised on Rules of Engagement, were supplemented by an endless stream of personal paperwork, filling individual requests in any spare time she could gather. The brutal schedule could have bested anyone. Even to someone in perfect physical and mental health, it would have proven exhausting.

The additional element of danger to their presence, in an area of constantly uncertain safety, exacerbated the mental fatigue. After several sessions to examine her possible PTSD, the therapist had cleared her to return to duty, but somehow she doubted this was what the doctor had in mind. The proximity of men of similar nature to Sadik had cast a shadow over her mind, adding a special kind of terror to her assignment. She knew he was dead, but somehow he was still nearby in spirit. Sarah Mackenzie had no idea how to exorcise his ghost.

The man had studied her soul, he’d called her names and identified weakness she had fought ownership of all her life. Killing him had not quieted the demons that assailed her, it only added to them. She had run to Clay for solace and found none. He had demons of his own, but he had taken what she offered without understanding or concern for the meaning and needs behind it.

A small hidden part of her screamed she should have turned to Harm, and truthfully the thought had flittered across her mind, squashed by the very demons he could have helped her erase.

He wouldn’t understand she told herself, and besides he doesn’t care. Why should he? The one thing she did know is that Harm wouldn’t have taken her physically, not out of context that way. He would have helped in his own way. She found out too late he did still care and another ugly demon reared its head. She now felt she had betrayed everything they had ever hoped to be to each other, by giving herself to Clay. So once again she ran.

The last seventeen days were an assignment from hell, but she had grasped it when it was mentioned in staff meeting. Perhaps the complete overwriting of any input from her life would cause the demons to shrivel. All she discovered was that the body doesn’t hold the ghosts, the mind does, and as long as she breathed, they would return. Isolation would not effect a cure.

She soon found food had little appeal and sleep was nearly impossible. She was utterly uncertain how many hours she had existed on coffee, bottled water, and an occasional power bar, before her replacement arrived.

She had no memory of how and when she managed to board each plane that brought her ever nearer to her own bed, but if she were capable of forming an abstract thought, she would have attributed it to a homing instinct. There had been close to thirty hours of travel by military transport in each direction, except for this last leg when she was bumped by a group of vacationing brass. As a final blow on this final hop, she was booked on the least comfortable commercial jet currently flown by any airline.

Somewhere between retrieving her bag from the claim area and finding the customs counter, she lost her voluntary escort. Only sheer will and force of habit guided her through the familiar procedures. Just take this step, do this next task, she instructed herself, promising a cab ride home and eighteen hours sleep to her dangerously overextended body.

She was pondering how much tip it would require to have the cabbie take her bag up to her apartment, when she moved through the exit leading from customs. Not long now, she told herself as she wrestled her bag through the unwieldy door. Unfortunately, another impatient traveler picked that moment to bump against her, and she knew she could no longer save herself. She hadn’t the strength to remain upright.

She felt herself fall and knew in a heartbeat that she would hit hard, possibly breaking something, definitely scraping chunks from her skin. As if in slow motion she watched herself plummet towards the pavement, wondering in a detached way what injuries she would sustain.

The despair that comes with total exhaustion dulled her surprise, when instead of hard pavement she landed against a massive chest, caught by strong familiar arms. She didn’t have to smell his after-shave, or look up into his concerned azure eyes; she knew those arms. She had rarely felt them encircle her, but the few times were burned into her memory

“Harm,” she mumbled against his shirt, relief flooding through her.

“Whoa there, Marine, you look like hell,” he tried for a joke, but it was too true to be funny.

“Nice sailor, you’re a real charmer.” She had no idea where the energy came from for banter, but somehow with him here, she found she could release her carefully hoarded reserve. Harm would help now; she no longer had to protect herself. He would watch her back. She nearly collapsed against him.

Pulling her to the side, out of the path of travelers, he held her trembling in his arms. Suspecting she would like to cry in spite of her declarations that Marines don’t cry, he also discovered she was only about half conscious. He seriously contemplated taking her to a hospital, but opted to stay with his plan. He could change their destination if necessary after he assessed her condition more carefully. For the moment, he held her close and pretended to curious onlookers that they were indulging in a long awaited homecoming. Perhaps in a way they were.

After allowing her a few moments to recover, he snaked one arm around her waist, lifting her bags with the other, as he supported her in the direction of his car. Settling her into the cushioned seat, he reclined it slightly before strapping her in and tossing her bags in the back.

Moments later he was on the road headed for their destination.

“Wrong way, Harm,” she murmured in sleepy aggravation.

“No it’s not, just rest.”

“Harm, I’m too tired for this,” she was annoyed. Somewhere in her depleted mind, she managed to wonder what he was thinking. Surely, he couldn’t have picked this moment to address their issues. What could he expect of her in this condition? Submission perhaps, because she was too tired to fight? The concept would be foreign to any conceivable impression of Harm, but in her overwhelming fatigue, she could find no plausible explanation.

“Harm I’m really exhausted, I want to go home. I need to sleep,” she demanded weakly.

“You need a lot of things Marine, among them is food and someone to just care. Now relax, it isn’t far.” He picked up his cell and dialed a number. “This is Rabb. We’ll be there in fifteen,” he spoke into the instrument cryptically and hung up.

“What isn’t far? We’ve already been driving for….um, she searched her mind and finally found the answer, “for eighteen minutes and we’re going south not east,” she argued.

“Good, I was afraid you might really be sick. At least I don’t have to take you to the hospital,” he smiled, acknowledging her awareness of time and direction. “Now do as I say and relax. Just close your eyes, we’ll be there in another fifteen minutes.”

Having little left of her reserves, she complied. She dozed fitfully, her head lolling against the seat back.

She could barely lift her eyelids, when he pulled up in the circular driveway of a vintage home, just minutes later. She wanted to fight him, wanted to tell him that whatever he had in mind wasn’t going to happen, but she just didn’t have the energy. Fine let him have his way; he’d regret it every minute for the rest of his life, she vowed. Just as soon as she recovered, she’d make him the sorriest man on the planet.

He turned off the car, walked quickly to her door, and half helped, half lifted, her out of the car. He handed his keys to an attendant, before supporting her up the steps and into what would be an impressive entry hall, if she had possessed the will to be impressed. There was a massive circular staircase, that might as well have been Mount Everest, but he guided her to a small elevator behind the stairs.

A few steps later, they were in a large room decorated with warm antiques and bathed in late afternoon sunlight. It was a fairytale setting, but she just wasn’t in a princess mood.

“C’mon Marine, lets get you out of those clothes,” he smiled, as he walked her the last few steps into another room.

 

Chapter 2

 

Still supporting her, they progressed into an oversized bathroom, centrally occupied by a large tub full of steaming water and mountains of bubbles. She recognized her favorite bath scent, the one with lavender that she used when she was particularly drained.

“I’d go away but I’m not sure you can handle this alone.” He pulled a large bath sheet from a nearby shelf and held it between them, before suggesting, “I can help with the clothes or just hold this for you but I don’t want to leave, you might fall.”

Still uncertain she gave him a puzzled look, but his eyes held only concern so she undressed as quickly as her limited dexterity would allow. He immediately wrapped the oversized towel around her and helped her to the tub, supporting her as she sank into the warm sudsy water.

“Try not to fall asleep there, I need to go get something, I’ll be right back.” He returned a minute later bearing a large ceramic mug filled with steaming hot chocolate and topped with a huge blob of homemade whipped cream.

“Here,” he offered, “this will make you feel better. Once you’re muscles are relaxed we’ll get some nourishment into you, then it’s off to bed.”

She looked up at him again wondering what his motives were. Surely, he couldn’t be planning to take advantage of her because she was so depleted.

“Turn around,” he ordered

“What?”

“Turn around,” he twirled his hand in a circle. Curious and cautious she complied turning her back to him. A moment later, she was surprised and soothed as she felt his warm strong hands massaging lotion into her weary muscles. He worked expertly on each group in her back and neck, applying just the right pressure to get the aches of exhaustion to relax. As he worked she sipped her chocolate, still peripherally curious where this was leading.

If he was planning a seduction, he had picked a woefully inadequate subject, but they were no longer friends enough for this to be a platonic gesture. Oh he might have picked her up at the airport and taken her to her apartment, he might have even brought her some takeout, but then he would have left. He had gone to some real trouble here, her favorite bath oil and lotions, special food and this place, how had he ever found this place. The entire scene smacked of a long-term relationship, which they clearly didn’t have.

In spite of the ragged suspicion assaulting the remainder of her functioning brain, her body started to relax. Carefully he leaned her back against the tub wall and patted her shoulder.

“You soak for a few more minutes Marine. Your shampoo is right there,” he indicated the edged of the tub. “Don’t drown. I’ll be back before you get chilled.” He took the empty mug from her and quietly left the room. Closing the door almost all the way to contain the warmth, he left it open just far enough to keep an eye on her.

Taking the bottle of shampoo in her hands, she poured a healthy portion and rubbed it into her disgusting hair, drawing on her partially restored energy, before relaxing and closing her eyes. She was beginning to drift and faintly aware the water temperature was dropping, when he returned at that precise moment with a folded stack of clothes.

“Here we go,” he announced cheerfully, “let’s get you out of that water, it must be getting cool by now.”

She looked at him quizzically, but nodded in acquiescence.

He cast his head from side to side trying to work out the next move, when she shifted and started to rise.

“No!” he said suddenly, “wait, you’re too tired. If you try to get up you might fall. Here tell you what,” he said. “Turn to face me,” she complied and he held up a towel, “take this,” he said. She took the towel and held it in front of her. Reaching beneath her arms, he encircled her upper body with his hands and lifted her from the tub like a child. Setting her on her feet, he steadied her before he released her.

“Okay, your clothes are on the rack there,” he indicated an antique brass shelf unit, “I’m going to turn around, but I’m not leaving, you’re too unsteady. If you have any problems, I’ll be here.” He turned his broad back to her, but didn’t step away.

It was a struggle to steady herself as she dried off, but not as much as it would have been half an hour ago. Several times, she placed a hand against him for support. He braced against her hold, asking softly each time if she was all right.

Dropping the towel to the floor, she reached for the mysterious pile of clothing.

“Harm?” she asked, as she held up the brand-new pair of flannel PJ’s, decorated with an assortment of kittens and puppies romping through a flowerbed.

“What Mac,” he responded.

“Uh… this isn’t exactly, uh… romantic?” She wavered.

“Put it on Mac, this isn’t about romance, not this time,” his voice held just the hint of quiet promise under his deep concern.

“Oh,” was all she could say through the tears gathering in her throat. She mulled the significance of Harms gesture, as she donned the PJ’s quickly, and wrapped herself in the long soft robe.

“Ok I’m decent,” she tried for a teary joke as he turned back to face her. Taking the towel and hooking it on the back of the door, he placed his hands on her waist and dropped a soft caressing kiss on her forehead. “Sit down,” he ordered.

“Geez Harm, you’re awfully bossy today,” she remarked in another attempted joke, but once again complied.

He smiled at her in the mirror as he rubbed the excess water from her hair with a fresh towel.

“You can’t go to bed with wet hair, and the sooner you get well the sooner you can be on top.” He commented wryly.

She blushed slightly at the double meaning, but took it as lightly as it was intended. This almost felt like some sort of personal progress. She would have to think about it later.

He surprised her further when he reached for the hair dryer and began fluffing the remaining moisture from her hair.

“Do you do this for all your women, Harm?” she asked, trying not to sound jealous.

“Now is not the time to discuss my checkered past, Marine,” he answered, laying down the dryer before adding, “C’mon, let’s get you some food.”

He seated her at a small table by the window, and dished a large bowl of homemade chicken vegetable soup for her, and one for himself. Then he poured her a glass of milk and handed her a basket full of warm, freshly baked bread.

“Eat as much as you can, just don’t make yourself sick. There’s more for later,” he suggested watching her tentatively begin the first real food she’d encountered in almost a week. There was no kitchen, so they must be in some sort of hotel. Her mind slid off that thought vowing to consider the implications later.

They ate in silence, but he watched her closely. He knew all too well, that what she had been through could require hospitalization. He wasn’t going to avoid it if necessary, but he also judged that huge doses of TLC could alleviate the need for professional help. She hadn’t been getting the TLC, and he was going to change that starting now.

He had licked his wounds, rerunning all the pictures of their various experiences and sacrifices, over the last few weeks. In the end, he decided that all things being equal, he’d been hurt badly and lost a lot. However, the realization finally crashed through that she’d been through so much more. Things she’d kept hidden from him, from everyone. Things no human should have to endure, and she’d done it in her own tough style. The quintessential Marine, admired and underestimated by all. He should have known her better; he was ashamed.

Surprisingly, she finished the entire bowl of essential nourishment, polished off several pieces of home baked bread with butter, and two glasses of milk before she looked up at him with the saddest exhaustion he’d ever seen.

“Feeling better?” he asked.

“A little, but…” she faltered, still unable to believe his apparent motives.

“but you need about seventeen hours sleep?” He finished her sentence.

Her smile was tiny but brilliant, “We haven’t done that for a while,” she ventured.

“Finish each other’s sentences?” he cocked an eyebrow at her.

“Mmmhmm,” she nodded.

“We’ll have to fix that, I miss it.” He stood up. “C’mon tiger lets get you to bed.”

He pulled her gently from the chair. Her strength was slowly returning. She managed to walk beside him, without support, into the adjoining bedroom.

He reached around her and pulled back the covers on an antique four-poster, before undoing the belt on her robe and peeling it off her shoulders. Offering his arm, he helped her to climb in, and when she was settled, he pulled the soft quilt over her.

“Warm enough?” he asked

“Perfect,” she answered with a huge yawn. She was bathed, fed, and warm, what more could she want. She knew there was more, but for now her foggy brain wouldn’t grasp anything else.

“Good get some sleep. You have orders not to even think until you’re completely rested.” He turned to go, but before he reached the door she called his name

“Harm,” was the tentative sound.

He turned and looked at her. She almost gasped at the wealth of emotion present in his eyes.

“Where are you going? I mean…ah… you won’t leave will you.” Her words were slurred but urgent.

“I have a room on the other side,” he indicated the sitting room. Sleep well Mac,” he smiled, softly closing the door. She was asleep before it shut completely.

 

Chapter 3

 

He awoke slightly cramped with a heavy object pinning his shoulder, and a long expanse of warmth extending down his side. It was another second before his sense of smell kicked in and he recognize her bath oil and shampoo.

Opening one eye he found her tucked against him, her head on his shoulder, and her hands wrapped around his arm holding it close to her body. Momentarily, he was surprised and uncertain, then he realized she was still dressed in her flannel PJ’s. He breathed again, when he realized she understood. She apparently just needed to be close.

He glanced at his watch and found it was only 06:33. She was a dead weight and nothing was likely to wake her. So, he adjusted his shoulder slightly, rolled towards her and spooned her against him, embracing her with his other arm. With his nose buried against her hair, he fell soundly back to sleep.

It was 09:20 when he woke again, surprised he had slept so long. If he didn’t get up soon his back would cramp, but he was afraid to leave her after she sought him out. Then he realized her head wasn’t the dead weight it had been, and her body had a slight tension. When he felt her eyelash flutter against his bare upper arm, he knew she was awake.

He couldn’t resist the urge to tighten his arms around her very slightly.

“Mac?” He asked softly

“Hmmm?”

“Why are you here?”

“You brought me here.”

“No, I mean here in my bed.”

“Couldn’t sleep. Wasn’t comfortable.” He knew it wasn’t the bed; they were identical.

“When did you come in here?” he continued.

“About 23:00. I woke up, but they wouldn’t let me sleep,” was the cryptic answer

“They?” the sound of this worried him a little.

“My demons Harm. My ghosts, bad memories, whatever you call them. I sleep for a few hours then they come back,” she explained.

“I see,” that explained a lot.

“But you were sleeping fine a few hours ago. I woke up and you were sound asleep,” he tried to draw her out, to start her talking without pressure.

“I know. They wouldn’t come in here,” she explained. “Harm I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” she started to rise.

“Hey, whoa, hold on, it’s okay. Please Mac, stay, if it helps then please stay. Anything I can do that will help,” he offered.

Nodding she relaxed against him, and his arms tightened around her again.

“Why Harm?”

“Why what? Why did I do this?”

She nodded, “This is like a…I don’t know, like something a person would do in a long term relationship. We don’t have that Harm.”

He allowed a soft chuckle to rumble through his chest.

“Yes. We do, Marine,” he affirmed.

She turned and looked into his eyes, “What do you mean?”

“We’ve had a relationship since the day we met, Mac. We’ve denied it, abused it, and almost destroyed it. We haven’t treated it well, but it’s always been there, it’s still here,” he stated simply.

She looked stunned for a minute. “Go on,” she invited.

“Mac how many people have you told about your family, your problem with alcohol, the first time you met them?” he didn’t want to dredge up more ghosts, but he had to get his point across in order to help her.

She wasn’t sure where he was going with this, but she knew she could leave if she didn’t like it. She decided to stay. “No one,” she answered. “Never right away.”

“Some never at all, right?” he verified.

“Right,” she agreed.

“How many people have you voluntarily traveled halfway around the world to help and protect? Two?” he included Webb reluctantly.

“No, only one. You. Webb doesn’t count, that was an assignment,” her voice took on a slightly harsh note.

“Okay, one,” he tried to keep the elation from his voice.

“How many people have always had the key to your apartment, almost from the time you met them?”

“One,” she said in a small voice, “Only you.”

“And who is the first person you think of when you have a problem? Now I need to qualify this one, because you don’t always come to him and he’s not always there for you, but who is it, Mac?”

“You, and you’ve been there for me, Harm, when I let you,” she argued.

“Not nearly enough Mac, not nearly enough,” he pulled her tighter.

“Harm,” she spoke thoughtfully, “relationships work both ways.”

“I know and you’re the only one who knows all about my father, all about Sergei. You’re the only one I’ve told anything to voluntarily, ever. Everyone else always had to drag it out of me, bit by bit, if they cared enough to try. You always listened. I always wanted to tell you everything. Sometimes things were too hard to talk about, but if I did, I talked to you. See?” She didn’t answer, but he felt her head nod against his shoulder.

“You’re the only person who has always had a key to my apartment from the time I met them, and kept it no matter what.” He continued.

Again she nodded. “And I’m the only one you would have given up your career to rescue.”

“Precisely,” he whispered.

She cried quietly against his chest for several minutes, before raising her head again to look into his eyes, “Harm how long can we stay here?”

“Till Sunday,” he smiled then added, “this time.”

“What if we try to….?” she started.

“Take better care of our relationship?” he finished.

“Yes,” she nodded, watching as his eyes also filled with tears.

“I’d like that, Marine,” he murmured.

“Me too, Navy,” she snuggled back against him.

He held her close as she slept again, disregarding his aching muscles. He could always soak in a hot tub later.

 

Chapter 4

 

“Hi,” she smiled softly up at him, when she finally woke refreshed an hour and a half later.

“Hi yourself. How do you feel?” His back was killing him, but he refused to let her know it.

“A lot better, thanks.” It was sincere, and for the first time he felt she had accepted his help without regret or resentment.

“You’re very welcome Mac, it was my pleasure.” He meant every word.

“I need to use the bathroom, then I’d like to take a shower. Do you mind if I use yours?” She requested almost shyly.

“Not at all. I’ll check and see if we can still get breakfast,” he offered. It would give him a chance to work his way out of bed without her witnessing his discomfort.

The moment the door closed, he pried himself stiffly from the bed and reached for the phone. After discovering that breakfast was over but lunch was being served, he asked for a table in the dining room in forty five minutes. He calculated he had just enough time for a fifteen-minute soak in the tub, before Mac reappeared.

Grabbing some clean sweats, he headed for the larger bathroom. Although he wondered why she’d used his shower when there was one in here, he didn’t give it too much thought. He’d only been soaking for about ten minutes, when he felt her presence behind him.

“It’s your back, isn’t it?” she stated softly.

“Um yeah, a little,” he admitted. Lying wouldn’t be a good way to get them back on the right road.

“I thought so, but thanks anyway. I really needed that, both the sleep and the holding,” she admitted

“I know. So did I,” he replied.

“Lean forward,” she pushed lightly on his shoulders

“Why,” he asked, but complied.

“There’s a small favor I can return,” he heard the smile in her voice, and recognized a hint of Mac from several years ago pushing through. Maybe he had done the right thing for once. It had been a risk, but it seemed to be working. Now, if he could just keep doing the right thing until their tilted world returned to something that resembled level.

She expertly massaged his shoulder and back muscles before leaning him back against the tub. Their closeness was rapidly becoming an easy habit. Her hands and the hot water felt so good he forgot his modesty, as she leaned around his shoulder and placed a small but sincere kiss on his lips.

“Behave yourself, Harm,” she said with a definite smile in her voice.

“Me? You’re the one who kissed me,” he protested.

“Yeah,” she countered, “but you’re the one who responded.” Her laughter sparkled merrily.

Realizing she had noticed his reaction under the water, he quickly drew his knees up and playfully ordered her, “Get out of here, Marine. I’ll be out in a minute.”

Still laughing, she pulled the door closed behind her.

Fifteen minutes later they were in the dining room ordering a substantial lunch, and planning their afternoon.

“How do you feel about a long walk Mac?” he asked. He didn’t want to overtax her, but she needed to start exercising her muscles, to bring back the tone lost to fatigue and lack of nourishment. “Afterwards we can sit in the hot tub in the sunroom.”

“Sounds good, can we run? I feel like I really need to do something physical now,” she suggested.

“Tell you what, we’ll walk today, and if you’re stronger we’ll run a little tomorrow. We’ll soak after we walk then you can nap again. I brought some paperwork with me. It will keep me busy while you catch up on your sleep. When you’ve rested we can go somewhere for a nice dinner. Will that work?” he bargained. He couldn’t allow her to move too fast. Her mind was responding more quickly than he dared hope, but her body needed to catch up.

“Okay, you’re probably right about the running, maybe tomorrow. But no nap, I don’t need any more sleep not until tonight. I’ll help with the paperwork,” she offered.

“Maaac,” he started.

“Harm I’ve had a rough time and you’ve done all the right things, but I’m not resigning from life. Let me come back slowly, I promise I’ll let you know if I get too tired.” Her voice was appreciative but firm.

“Okay Marine, if you promise,” he surrendered.

They spent the next two days with the same schedule. Brief runs, long walks, soaks in the hot tub, some paperwork, and lots of talking. She surprised him with something he hadn’t counted on, while they were walking after lunch on Friday. She insisted he give up the second bedroom. “Harm, I’m not sleeping alone. You said you wanted to help, and sleeping near you helps more than anything. I’m sorry I can’t give you more right now but….”

“Mac I’m not looking for more right now,” he interrupted. “Letting me hold you, letting me help, is more than I hoped for. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted us to have more eventually, but not now, let’s give it time,” he protested.

She smiled one of her brilliant Mac smiles. She finally understood this man. His existence was grounded in integrity; it had always puzzled and annoyed her, because she had taken it as rejection. Hitting bottom and seeing how he responded to her needs, had finally opened her eyes to what really made Harm the man she loved. And she did love him, she just never understood him. A secret part of her believed that perhaps he felt the same way.

“Okay then the second bedroom goes, I checked with the desk, it can be locked off and rented as a single room. There just is no point in paying for something we’re not using,” she stated with her own sincere practicality.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

It was Sunday afternoon now, and soon they would have to leave. After a last long walk, they were standing under a huge tree just beginning to bud out for spring. The pasture before them was green, and a dozen horses grazed peacefully. He was leaning against the tree trunk and she was leaning against him, her back to his chest much the way they had slept for three nights now.

“I’m dreading going back you know,” she murmured

“To JAG?” He asked, hoping she hadn’t lost interest in her job.

“No. There’s been some tough times lately, Harm,” she stared at the horses studying their quiet pursuit of life, “but I love my work, and I love the Marines. I really think I’ll be all right.”

“Good. Then what?” he was puzzled.

“Harm I’m still going to see the therapist for a while. This has been great, but I need to work on regaining my coping skills, and turning loose of some events. Having you near blocks things I don’t want to think about, but I have to learn to deal with them and leave them behind. Don’t be angry,” she worried.

“Why would I be angry Mac? I’m glad I could help, and I hope it’s because I helped, you want to finish the job,” he replied sincerely.

“I’m scared of one thing though Harm,” she turned in his arms.

“What,” he held her close.

“I’m scared of being alone at night. What if….?” she didn’t continue

“what if the nightmares return?” he finished again.

She nodded unable to speak.

“I don’t know, I don’t want you to be alone, but I don’t know what to do. You’re always welcome to stay with me of course, or I’ll stay with you. But doing that might suggest a definite direction to our relationship. Are you ready for that? Are you ready to accept that’s where we’re heading?” he asked uncertainly.

“Are you?” her voice was unsteady again, wondering just what he intended.

“I’m not sure if you’re prepared to hear this yet Mac, but that’s exactly what I want. I want to hold you every night for the rest of my life. Eventually I intend to make it legal, and move on to more, but only when you feel comfortable. I’ll wait Mac, and I’ll be there for you, but you have to set the pace. Am I making my intentions clear?” he smiled.

“Very clear Harm, I like your intentions,” she reached up and kissed him. Not a passionate kiss, but not a platonic one either. Just a sincere kiss, filled with the promise of a love that was both old and battered, yet just as fresh as this spring day.

“Let’s go home sailor,” she suggested.

Wrapping their arms around each other they walked slowly back to the inn, to collect their bags and return to a new version of their life.

 

The End

 

 
 
   

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