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Classification Romance (H/M), Adventure
Length Approx 20,000 words, (roughly 42 pages in MSWord)
Spoilers Sometime after "The Return," but in our world Harm and Mac are still best buds.
Rating SLSV

 



 

2230 ZULU
JAG HEADQUARTERS

FALLS CHURCH, VA

 

"Commander Rabb, the Admiral would like to see you and Colonel MacKenzie in his office."

"We'll be right there, Tiner," Harm spoke into the intercom.

Sighing, he dropped his pen on the desk and rose, straightening the front of his jacket. He walked to Mac's office and knocked gently on her door.

"Hey, ninja-girl," he called.

Mac lifted her head and smiled. "Flyboy," she greeted.

"Admiral wants to see us."

Her smile faltered and she tossed her pen down. "Are we in trouble?" she asked as she rose to her feet.

Harm waited for her to join him, averting his eyes when he caught himself watching the gentle sway of her hips. "Not that I know of," he returned, letting her leave the office ahead of him.

A minute later they were seated in the Admiral's office about to find out.

"I assume you two heard about the helicopter crash in Anchorage yesterday? The one that went down on its way to Elmendorf?" Admiral Chegwidden began immediately, standing at his window looking at a file.

"Yes, sir," Harm spoke first. "The transport was carrying some men inland from the Constellation to catch a hop to the states. I understand it went down just prior to landing?"

"That's right, Rabb. Killed the pilot and all four passengers. I want you two to handle the investigation," A.J. stated, finally coming over to sit behind his desk.

"But, sir, we have the Pender case in two days..." Mac started.

"I'd rather you handle this, Colonel. The CAG on the ship, Captain Aaron Savage, used to be under my command and I think very highly of him. I spoke with him a little while ago and he feels this crash wasn't an accident. The pilot, Lt. Jason Teague, has an excellent record and has never had an incident while flying. He's been under Aaron's command for almost three years and he spoke very highly of him. I want you to find out what happened. Bud has all the paperwork on the crash and has made your flight arrangements. You leave in the morning. Any questions?" The Admiral asked.

"No, sir," Harm replied, glancing at Mac as he rose to his feet.

Mac shook her head and stood as well, coming to attention.

"Dismissed," A.J. murmured.

On their way back across the bullpen, they stopped at Bud's desk.

"Sir, ma'am. Did you see the Admiral?" he asked, smiling.

"We did, Bud. He said you have our plane tickets," Mac returned.

"Here they are, ma'am," Bud answered, coming around his desk with a file folder. "The details of the crash are in there, too. You leave first thing in the morning—0730."

Mac grinned up at Harm. "Guess we won't be working late tonight."

He flashed a return smile. "Guess not."

Twenty minutes later they left JAG together. At Mac's car, Harm stopped and turned back to her.

"How about a pizza? We can go over the file," he suggested.

Mac studied him for just an instant. "Sounds good. You're place or mine?" she teased.

"Yours. I don't want you driving home alone later," he stated calmly.

Mac rolled her eyes. "I think I can manage," she returned dryly.

A while later they walked into Harm's apartment. Harm dropped his cover on the coat tree next to hers and watched as she unbuttoned her overcoat. He slipped up behind her and lifted it from her grasp.

"Here," he murmured.

"Thank you," Mac answered, feeling a little giddy at his nearness.

Harm hung both of their coats up and Mac went to the phone and hit the speed dial. She hung up a minute later as he was pouring them both some juice from her refrigerator. He carried them in to the living room and sat down on the couch, sliding hers over in front of her as she sank down on the cushions. Mac sighed as she slipped her pumps off, rubbing her aching toes.

"Put you feet up here," he ordered, patting his leg as he moved a little closer to her.

"I'm okay—really. It just feels good to get..."

She broke off when he bent over and grasped her ankles, lifting her feet into his lap.

"Harm, you don't have to do rub my feet. I'll be fine," she protested, pushing against the throw pillows behind her to stay upright.

"You just hush and tell me what's in that crash file," he interjected calmly, overriding her protests.

Mac glared at him for as long as it took him to start rubbing her feet and then she couldn't help the long sigh that escaped her.

"That feels so good," she whispered.

Harm only smiled.

After a minute she flipped open the file and sifted through the papers. Then she closed the folder again. "I don't want to do this, Harm," she murmured.

He looked at up her in surprise. "Do what? Have dinner with me?"

She smiled. "No, go over this file right now. We don't have to do it right now anyway. Can't we just sit here in the silence for a little while?" she asked, almost the way a small child would wheedle a favor.

Harm looked at her for an instant like she'd sprouted another head. "Fine with me. I didn't want to work anyway," he scoffed with a light shrug if his wide shoulders. "I'd rather just sit here and rub your feet."

Mac tossed the file back onto her coffee table and settled back against the mound of throw pillows behind her. Harm shifted, pulling her feet more fully into his lap. Mac sighed deeply, feeling the tension of the day slide away from her. Several minutes later, she moved and did something that surprised Harm more than anything else could have. Sitting up suddenly, she swung her legs around to the floor and changed positions, laying her head on the hard muscles of his thigh. Stunned, Harm remained where he was for the space of several heartbeats, his hands suspended in the air. Then slowly he lowered them and began to tenderly smooth one broad palm over her silky hair. She didn't say a word but shifted slightly to get more comfortable. The new position gave Harm an open chance to study her without her seeing him and he looked his fill. From the gentle flare of her hips, the nip of her waist, the length of leg she had curled up on the couch—a move which hiked her skirt up to mid-thigh. They were finally getting back on track together after long months of bickering, disagreeing about anything and everything and playing tug of war with Commander Brumby—a man Mac had become good friends with and an egomaniac Harm couldn't stand the sight of.

"Harm?" she whispered, breaking into his thoughts.

"Yes?"

"I'm glad I came over tonight."

"I am, too."

With further words seeming unnecessary, Harm picked up the remote and turned on a movie. There would be time on the flight in the morning to look over the file and discuss the case. For the time being to just be together and enjoy the moment.

The movie ended and Harm realized she had fallen asleep. Moving carefully so as not to disturb her, he took a throw pillow and tucked it gently beneath her head, sliding his thigh from beneath her. Then he covered her with a blanket, letting his finger graze her cheek gently for a moment.

"Good night, Marine," he whispered.

A scream of "NO!" woke him from a dead sleep several hours later and he sat bolt upright, startled to see Mac standing in the middle of the room, the blanket draped loosely around her shoulders.

"Mac?" He said questioningly, not sure if she was awake or perhaps sleepwalking, and pulled himself from the bed to her side, gently closing his hand around her arm.

She gave him a blank look and then recognition dawned in her eyes. "Harm, how...?" She stopped and a slow smile came over her face. "No, I'm not going to ask where I am. Obviously I'm still at your place. But why? Why didn't I go home last night?"

"You were sleeping too good," he grinned. "And I deemed you too tired to drive home safely so I covered you and left you there." He put a light hand to the side of her face. "Now answer a question for me. Why are you yelling no in the middle of the night?"

"I don't...." she began and then a large shudder passed through her. "I was having a terrible dream. In full Technicolor and cinema surround-sound or something. There was cold and snow, so much snow and....." she stopped and shook her head with a short laugh. "Never mind. Go back to bed, Sailor. I'm going home."

"There is no way I'm allowing you to drive across D.C. in the middle of the night," he declared firmly. "Call it selfish if you must but I need my sleep and if I were to let you leave I'd be up the rest of the night worrying. The only place you're taking your Marine six is right back to that sofa. And don't argue with me, you won't win."

He propelled her back toward the sofa, lifting up the blanket so she could lie down. She gave a long sigh and meekly did so. "Good night again. I'm sorry I woke you."

"Not the first time, probably won't be the last," he answered as he dropped the blanket over her.

As he turned to go she reached up and caught his hand. "I'm glad I came over tonight," she repeated her sentiment of earlier.

"Me, too," he grinned. "Very much." He felt as if another stitch had been taken the long process of reweaving the relationship that his leaving to fly had so decimated.

 

1100 ZULU
APARTMENT OF COMMANDER HARMON RABB JR.

NORTH OF UNION STATION

 

"You maggots get your asses out of those racks!".

Mac sat straight up on the sofa to face a grinning Harm. "I just thought you'd like to relive a moment from basic," he laughed and ducked the pillow she heaved at him.

"Okay, message received, Commander," she laughed as well. "I'll see you at Andrews then. Hey, sorry about disturbing your sleep last night."

"I told you then to forget it," he reminded her. "Now get out of here and let me shower, unless you want to wash my back."

"Another time maybe," she retorted, gathering up her things and slipping out the door. "Another time," she repeated softly to herself as the door latched behind her.

 

1325 ZULU
ANDREWS AFB

 

"I know I'm late," Harm panted as he ran up to where she was pacing back and forth.

"I thought I was going to have to leave with you behind," she smiled, relieved at seeing him and able to remove visions of Beltway crashes from her mind.

At the urging of the crew, they boarded quickly and the aircraft took off, climbing smoothly out of DC airspace.

"I'll have a tropical hurricane with a kiwi twist," Harm said to no one in particular when the flight leveled off.

"I could get you a cup of water from the cooler," Mac offered. "And maybe turn on the little air blower above your seat."

He laughed and gave her hand a quick squeeze, smiling at the knowledge that they were coming back.

She pulled out the case file and for the next two hours they read and reviewed the details of the crash, occasionally arguing from opposite points of view but without the rancor that had been so common in other exchanges of past months.

Finally she put the paper she was holding down and slapped down the lid of the laptop, rubbing her temples with her fingers. "Harm, I can't do this any more right now."

"Are you okay?" His concern was immediate and strong.

"Yes, just a headache. I didn't sleep well," she answered.

"No really? I hadn't realized," he teased, remembering back to his sudden wake up "Anyway we've done about all we can right now. Once we get to the carrier we'll know more." He helped her to pick up and stow their papers and the computer.

"Now I'm going to sign off for a while," she told him. "You can wake me if a flock of geese gets sucked into the engine and we're going to bail out; otherwise leave me sleep."

"Hey, don't even kid about things like that," Harm shook his head in distress. "Aviator superstition I guess, but don't."

"Okay. Sorry," she laughed and squirmed about within the confines of the small seat looking to get comfortable.

He watched her for a minute and then lifted his arm over her in silent offering of his shoulder as a place to rest her head.

"Harm, I don't..." she shook her head.

"There is no one paying us any bit of attention here," he told her. "We're about the only ones in this whole section. Be comfortable, you need to rest. It may be that we won't get much over the next few days."

"Thanks," she decided and laid her head against him, asleep almost at once.

For a long time he watched her, seeing the outlines of her pretty features and remembering two dozen other investigative trips, including a few where he thought the outcome would not be so favorable. Finally convinced she was actually asleep, and with no one else in the immediate area, he gave in to his overwhelming urge to place a soft kiss on her forehead, then leaned his head against the window for his own rest. He had closed his eyes before he could see the soft smile that appeared at the corners of her mouth.

 

2330 ZULU
USS CONSTELLATION

GULF OF ALASKA

 

The transport landed smoothly on the deck of the USS Constellation and Harm exited first, turning to extend a hand to Mac. She stepped down on deck, hanging onto her cover and pushing hair out of her face as she followed her partner across the open deck.

"Commander Rabb, Colonel MacKenzie, welcome aboard!"

Harm and Mac returned the salute of the young Ensign.

"Ensign Dixon, sir, ma'am! I'll be your liaison while you're here. Captain Savage wanted me to bring you to see him upon your arrival."

Harm and Mac simply nodded and followed the younger man. A few minutes later, they were on the bridge.

"Commander Rabb and Colonel MacKenzie, sir!" Ensign Dixon announced crisply.

A young man - perhaps Harm's age, perhaps a few years older, turned and smiled. "Thank you, Dixon. Commander, Colonel, glad to have you with us," Captain Aaron Savage greeted, holding his hand to them.

"Captain, Admiral Chegwidden speaks very highly of you," Harm said as he returned the handshake.

"He does of you, as well," Captain Savage smiled.

"We're sorry about Lt. Teague," Mac interjected gently, shaking the man's hand, too.

"We all are, Colonel, thank you. Did you go over the file I compiled on the crash?" Aaron inquired.

"Yes, sir, we have. And we agree that it doesn't make any sense," Mac stated carefully.

"Lt. Teague was a damn good pilot. There was nothing wrong with the helicopter and nothing wrong with him or the men he was transporting. But yet no one witnessed any unusual behavior on or above ground either," Aaron reiterated. "It's like he just decided to crash the chopper. Why don't we go down to the dining room? Have you two had anything for dinner?"

"No, sir," Mac answered.

"We'll talk more there then."

Several minutes later they were seated in the main dining room. Since crews ran around the clock on a carrier, there was a handful of other crewman also having dinner. The men greeted the Captain as he came in. Mac and Harm watched as he put them all at ease, greeting each one in return by name. Harm glanced covertly at Mac and she turned at the last second and caught his gaze.

"Reminds you of the Admiral, doesn't he?" she whispered.

Harm grinned and nodded. "Just several years younger."

Once they were seated with their trays in front of them, Captain Savage looked to them again. "A.J. told me if anyone could figure out what happened, it would be the two of you," he stated openly, almost a pleading quality about him. "Lt. Teague didn't just service under me, he was a good friend," he added quietly.

"We'll do the very best we can, Captain. The Colonel and I need to see the crash site. Can you arrange for us to go out there in the morning?"

"As soon as you're ready," Aaron nodded crisply.

 

1720 ZULU
ELMENDORF AFB

ANCHORAGE, AK

 

"Just follow this road and it will take you to the turn off. The crash site is about a mile down."

"Thank you, Ensign Dixon. We'll radio in when we're ready for a pickup," Harm told him as they climbed into the Hum-V that would take them to the place where Lt. Teague had crashed. The followed the main road the Ensign had outlined for them. The crash site itself was high in the back mountains of Elmendorf, almost to the Ft. Richardson side as the two were joined in the middle. It was cold here in this beautiful place. Mac and Harm were bundled into heavy winter gear but unlike the Eastern Seaboard, it was a dry cold and didn't feel quite so bad. January was the coldest time of the season and the temperature was a mere five degrees. They came to the turnoff and left pavement to travel a logging path of some kind.

"It's so beautiful here," Mac whispered, almost in awe.

"It is. I was in the Gulf once on a carrier but I never got to really see the state. Maybe if we have time before we leave I can talk the Captain into letting up take a Tomcat up. We'll have our own private tour," he suggested.

"In a Tomcat? Some tour that will be for me," she scoffed lightly. "Make it a helicopter and you have a deal," she shot back.

"Deal."

Several minutes later they came around a grove of trees and in the clearing were the remains of the helicopter transport Lt. Teague had been flying. Harm drew the Hummer to a stop and they slowly climbed out. The big helicopter looked like a child's toy, stepped on by some unwitting adult and crushed. They walked toward, taking note of the flattened trees and the packed snow, matted down by all the men who'd trampled in and out removing bodies and investigating the scene.

"This is a desolate area, Harm. What on earth could have possibly caused him to crash?" Mac mused, peering inside the bent cab.

"It could have been anything. The mechanic said the chopper was in top condition and it's not a particularly old model. I've been thinking about this over and over and I keep coming back to the same theory. I think someone on the ground caused him to crash."

"What do you mean?" She questioned. "Like shooting him down?"

Harm nodded. "Exactly like that."

"But surely he would have sent a distress call or something," she protested, planting her hands on her hips.

"Not necessarily. Not if he didn't see it coming. They could have hit him with one rocket and they never would have had a chance," Harm pointed out.

"Then we have our work more than cut out for us. And the big question is why anyone would want to shoot down a transport?" Mac sighed. "Unless the attack was aimed directly at..."

They both heard the deep rumbling at the same time and sought each other's gazes.

"Thunder?" Mac asked, a startled frown across her pretty features.

"Yeah, we're having a tropical storm." Harm returned sarcastically. "No, there's only one thing that can make a noise like that in this terrain."

He was already searching the surrounding area, shielding his eyes against the sun. "There," he pointed, grabbing her arm.

"My god," she gasped, staring transfixed at the wall of white death which was thundering down the mountain just off to their west. "Harm, what do we do?"

"Run," he answered. "Far and fast." Even as he was saying that he was overcome with doubt that they could actually outrun something like that but he knew they had to try. "This way into the trees," he told her, locking her hand in his. "They might break up some of the force of the slide."

Without waiting for her to answer he pulled her in that direction, breaking into a run. "Stay with me, Marine," he panted, his urging unnecessary as she kept pace with him stride for stride.

The roar grew louder behind them and he dared a backwards glance. The ominous wall was right with them, gaining all the time. With the inevitable mere seconds away he grabbed firm hold of her from behind, pushing her to the snowy ground and throwing himself down on top of her. He knew he could not protect her from the suffocating affects of the snow but hoped at the very least to shield her from some of the impact.

She turned her head up to his and their eyes met. With no time for anything else, they attempted to convey in mere seconds what they had not been able to say to each other at any previous point in their partnership.

"It's okay," he said softly, just the slightest hint of a smile on his lips and then the crashing whiteness was over them.

"Haaaaarm!" A scream from her and she felt herself being wrenched away from him. There was a tumbling sensation, then falling and then nothing.

His ears filled with the roar of the snow slide, and then her scream assaulted his hearing and he grabbed for her, only to feel her being torn from him. He managed to scream the first sound of her name as the snow swallowed him. Pain shot through him and then nothing.

The first thing Harm became aware of was the pain. Slowly, he shifted, straightening his arms and legs to make sure he hadn't broken anything. When everything moved like it was supposed to he slowly rolled onto his side to sit up. He was wedged sideways against a tree, a good-sized boulder at his other hip. Just the simple act of sitting up made his head swimming and his breath in gasps. He pressed one hand to the stabbing pain in his side and breathed slowly.

Suddenly he panicked and swung his head from side to side. "Mac!" he shouted. "Mac, where are you?"

"Harm?"

Her voice was weak and somewhere behind him. "Are you all right?" he called to her, trying to push the boulder out of the way.

"I... I think so."

Mac gingerly raised herself up from the cold, packed snow, breathing slowly as dizziness overtook her. She seemed to be all right and she struggled to her feet, her legs sinking in the deep snow. Carefully, she turned and saw Harm.

"Can you move?" she asked breathlessly as she reached him.

"Yeah. Can you help me move this?" he asked, indicating the boulder.

"Yeah," she muttered, planting her weight as best as she could.

Together they moved the rock and Mac grasped Harm's, hand, helping him to his feet. He swayed for a second, holding onto her. Mac raised concerned eyes to his as she wound her arms around his waist.

"Are you hurt?" she demanded.

"I think I cracked a rib," Harm huffed.

"We have to get out of here," she murmured.

Before he could answer they heard the sound again. The deep, thunderous roll of sound that was like nothing they'd every heard before.

"Run!" Harm ordered, giving her a push forward. "Into the trees!"

They veered sideways into the tree break as the roar of another avalanche closed in on them.

"Look up there!" Harm yelled, close behind Mac.

She did and thought she saw the outline of... Harm hit her from behind in a tackle and they went down in a tangle of arms and legs, crashing through a section of wood as the snow swept over them a second time, burying them, closing off the world, their daylight, their air. And then all was silent.

They both opened their eyes at the same time. Harm was laying on her, pushing her slight weight in to hard ground beneath them.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," she answered.

Slowly, Harm rolled away from her. Wherever they were, it was pitch black. He couldn't even see his hand in front of his face. He felt Mac sit up beside him and he reached for her.

"Where are we?" Mac whispered, her gloved hands curling into the lapels of his jacket.

"In some kind of cabin," he told her, his arm going around her back and bringing her close.

"Are we trapped?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "Stay here," he ordered gently, moving away from her.

With his hands on the floor in front of him, Harm started forward on his hands and knees, inching his way slowly toward what he hoped would be a wall. He didn't move far before he came to it. Carefully, he felt along the wall.

"Find anything?" Mac asked from behind him.

"The wall. I'm hoping for a door."

He found it a second later and felt the cold of the snow where it had trapped them inside this dark prison.

"Harm?" Mac called tentatively.

He didn't answer right off.

"Harm!" she called again, more insistently.

"We're snowed in tight."

His stark words dropped her stomach right into her feet.

"Oh, no," she whispered, shaking her head disbelief. "Oh, no."

"I'm afraid so," he sighed, groping his way back to her and then finding her outstretched hand. She clung tightly to him and he smiled in the darkness, feeling her tremble even through their gloves. "Hey, we're going to get out of here," he assured her. "Just have to find the way, that's all."

"Well, you're about to find out something about me," she returned, still shaking.

"What, that you wear leopard patterned underwear?" he teased, still squeezing her hand.

"You'll never know," she retorted. "No, that I'm not very good in small dark places. I got lost when I was ten and fell....". She stopped speaking and his concern for her grew especially since he could not see her.

"Mac? Okay?" he questioned anxiously and then felt her pull her hand away and squirm against him, a minute later letting out a cry of success. "What?" he questioned again.

Triumphantly she produced her ring of house and car keys and a second later a tiny beam of light from a penlight split the darkness. "Dark hallways in my building," she explained.

"Marine, I love you!" Harm screeched and then stopped, embarrassed at what he had said.

"Thank you," she grinned though his words had impacted on her, and then added with a quick laugh. "I also have mace so don't get any ideas."

"Well, if we meet up with any crazed woodchucks we've got it covered then," he laughed as well.

She shined her light around the room, the tiny beam revealing a small cot, a fireplace with wood neatly stacked to one side and a lantern resting on its mantle, a shelf containing a camp stove and some food stuffs. "What is that smell?" she demanded.

"I didn't do it," he grinned, holding up his hands.

"No, it's that," she shook her head, pointing the light to a pile of pelts in another corner. "Trapper's line cabin," she said thoughtfully.

Harm put his hand on hers to guide the pinpoint of light upward. "Too much to hope that there would have been a skylight," he sighed.

She looked down to where their hands were joined and his gaze followed hers. For a long minute there was silence.

"I'm going to make a fire anyway, at least we can get warm and dry," Mac decided, finally breaking the spell. He rose with her and only took a small step before holding his side in pain. "Still bad?" she asked unnecessarily.

"Oh, yeah," he admitted with a wry smile.

"Okay, let me get that lantern lit and then I want you to lie down," she said, her tone indicating she did not expect any argument.

With that accomplished the cabin took on an almost cozy atmosphere in the soft light and she returned to where he was standing. Her arms snaked around his waist, holding him tightly and she led him toward the bed, propping the thin pillow against the headboard before easing him down.

"Stay put while I light a fire."

"Hey, no, you'll suffocate us," he objected. "Suppose the snow is over the flue?"

"If it is we'll suffocate anyway," she answered patiently. "And if that doesn't get us the cold will." She laid the fire quickly then before he could protest further and held her breath while she struck a match to the kindling.

"Not bad, for a girl," he teased as it caught slowly and then came to life, spreading warmth almost at once.

"Not bad for a woman or Marine, either is acceptable," she retorted. "Now let's get out of these wet things before we have terminal hypothermia."

"Hey, in case you haven't noticed there's no men's locker room in here," he pointed out, nevertheless looking around.

"No, there's not, so we're going to have to both be adults about this," she answered calmly, removing her scarf and coat, spreading them to dry in front of the fire. She next moved to her sweater, sweatshirt and flannel shirt, down to her Marine green tee shirt which she had hoped had survived undampened but that was not the case. Her tumble over and over in the snow cloud had taken its toll on everything. "Wipe that smirk off your face, mister," she told him as she pulled that off too, leaving only a gray sport bra in its wake. "You're next."

"I was just thinking I'm going to get to check out whether the underwear is leopard that's all," he replied.

"And what kind are you wearing then?" she countered as she pulled off her boots and snow pants and then added sweat pants to the growing pile.

"None," he grinned and she knew by his expression he was not serious. "No leopard, I'm disappointed," he said a minute later when he saw the underwear which matched the bra.

"Quit commenting on me and get those wet things off," she ordered "Fashion show is over." She came over to the bed and began to help him off with his coat, sweatshirt and sweater, leaving him in his white undershirt, then pulled him to his feet for the rest, noticing the grimace that move brought. "Harm...."

"Don't," he said shortly, fumbling with the layers of clothes on the bottom, finally dropping the pants to below his knees.

She helped him to sit back on the edge of the bed and pulled his boots and pants off. "I see we're not wearing leopard underwear either," she smiled. "How's that undershirt?" Before he could answer she felt it and then whisked it away from him. The side of his chest was already an ugly purple above the rib cage, the bruise obviously spreading over the point where he had impacted the boulder. "Harm," she gasped, putting her hand on his shoulder but wanting to look away and not being able to. "That needs to be looked at."

"You won't be able to do anything about it," he refuted stubbornly.

"You don't know that!" she shot back.

"I do know that." And I know that I wouldn't last five minutes with your hands all over me, he thought mutinously.

Mac scowled at him, arms crossed over her chest, legs spread. Finally, she relaxed her stance a bit and uncrossed her arms. "I can at least pack some snow on it. The cold will help keep the swelling down," she pointed out.

"Fine," he consented.

While he made himself as comfortable as possible on the cot, Mac went to the tiny cook stove where an old rusty tin pot sat. With it in hand, she went back to the side of the cabin they had crashed through to the snow that was piled in with them. She filled the small tin, immediately feeling the cold from the snow permeate it. Harm eyed her speculatively as she came back to him.

"You'll have to roll to your side and press against it. I don't have any way to keep it from spilling as it melts," she murmured.

Without a word, Harm rolled toward her, pushing himself back against the cold wooden wall for support. He winced from the cold at his back as well as the cold of the can Mac levered against him. Harm turned his head slightly where it rested on his upper arm and met her sympathetic gaze. Mac stretched one hand out without thinking and hesitantly smoothed it over his silky hair. She started to repeat the gesture then realized what she was doing. Her fingers curled into a fist as she slowly dropped her arm. Without a word, she turned and went to the pile of fur pelts.

Carefully, Mac lifted the top one. She didn't know really anything about animal skins but it looked to be in decent shape. There wasn't any mildew on it. She put it aside and slowly sifted through the rest of the pile. None of them were very big—maybe half the length of her height - but if they layered them all on... She looked back at Harm who was watching her with quiet eyes. Mac gathered up the pile and took it back to the cot.

"Roll forward just a bit," she ordered softly.

He did as she said and she tucked two of the pelts behind him from neck to foot to keep his skin away from the cold wall. A sharp breath hissed from between his clenched teeth as he settled back against the soft fur.

"I'm afraid we have another problem," he remarked, sounding almost casual as he drew in shallow breaths to ease the pain in his side.

"What's that?"

"Take a look at the snow."

Mac turned and stared at the white fall through what remained of the cabin's exterior wall. It took her a second to see what he was referring to. The small fire she'd built in the cabin was slowly but surely melting the snow.

"Oh, great," she muttered, throwing her hands up.

Harm had to grin at the picture she made—muttering curses in her underwear as she stalked over to put the fire out. While she was at it, she extinguished the lantern -—and their only source of light.

"Why did you put the light out?" he asked.

"Because I think we need to save whatever fuel is left in that in case we might really need it," she answered immediately, narrowing in on the sound of him as she started toward the cot. "And I can't do anything else right now anyway. You need to regain some strength and I'm not looking for a way to get out of here in my underwear," she remarked sourly.

"I don't want you to sit here scared out of your mind," he murmured, his husky voice scraping over her overly sensitive nerves.

Mac reached out with her hands and came in contact with warm skin. She jerked them back instantly, glad it was dark so he couldn't see her face flame and moved until she felt the stack of pelts.

"I'm scared anyway," she admitted matter-of-factly. "Light or dark isn't going to change that fact."

Wrapping one of the furs around her shoulders, she lowered herself to the floor next the cot, shivering against the cold wooden planks beneath her.

"What are you doing?" Harm questioned.

"Making myself comfortable."

"How and where are you?" He demanded, reaching out a hand to her.

His broad palm landed squarely on her hair. "Please, tell me you are not where I think you are." His voice was hard.

"I'll be fine right here," she retorted instantly.

"The hell you will. You are not staying on the floor, Marine, and that's an order," he growled.

"You can't order me around anymore, Squid. I outrank you," Mac rejoined, determined not the let him rile her.

"Then I'll just get down there with you," he stated determinedly.

"No!"

Mac was on her feet instantly, pushing him back down. "I want you to rest!" she cried. "Can't you get that through your caveman skull?"

"And how the hell am I gonna rest with you sitting on that icy floor?" he questioned angrily, catching one of her hands in his.

Mac stilled, feeling his touch travel up her arm. Inside she alternately cursed and blessed the darkness.

"There isn't room for both of us on the cot," pointed out, trying a different tact on him.

"Don't go trying to reason with me," he replied, his voice calmer now.

She had to smile at that.

"I will not rest knowing you're on the floor freezing and we need to conserve every ounce of body heat we can. It's going to get damned cold as it gets later," he continued doggedly.

Mac sighed, knowing the dog wouldn't give up this particular bone. "And how do you suggest we make this work?"

"We'll find a way," was his only answer.

Mac bent to the pile of furs, hearing him shift. There was a clunk on the floor that sounded like the coffeepot. "You should keep that with you."

"No room for it," he answered shortly. "Lay down here with me."

For an instant her heart stopped. Then she forced herself to take a slow breath. This situation was going from bad to worse. Too much more of this and there would be no turning back. Slowly, she lifted the furs one by one and piled them over Harm. When she got through the whole stack, she heard the soft whisper of them as he moved and knew it was time.

"Do you need to get up or anything before I lay down?" she asked softly.

"No."

Well, that took care of any reprieve she might have. Taking a deep breath to steady the shaking in her limbs that wasn't all from the cold, Mac carefully lowered herself to the cot.

Harm waited with gritted teeth, knowing this was going to be the longest day and night of his entire life. He remained insistent because he didn't want anything more to happen to her—and that included hypothermia. They had no other alternatives but sharing this very narrow cot with no clothing and a pile of furs wasn't what he would have chosen. And not because he didn't want her in his arms. He went to bed every night wishing for that reality. But this was a bad time and place for moments of discovery. And he wasn't sure knowing how he really felt about her was a truth he was ready for her to learn.

Finally, she settled down on the cot—facing him no less—and he lowered the makeshift fur blanket over them, tugging the ends down around the edge of her back and hips. Mac tucked both arms between their bodies, her hands flat against his broad chest. Slowly letting out the breath he'd been holding, Harm tightened his hold on her. He kept the arm over her in place, splaying his hand over the silky skin of her back. The other arm, the one under her head, he curled inward until his fingers grazed her hair.

Mac moved the tiniest bit, tilting her head up until her face was tucked in the curve of his neck. She held herself very still, soaking in all the sensations rioting through her. She was surrounded by him completely—from head to foot. His arms held her so close a ray of light couldn't have gotten between them and she wished she knew whether it was the cold or something more. She moved then, sliding one leg forward between his. Harm moved to, curling his upper leg around the one she'd moved.

Neither of them said a word. The darkness intensified their other senses. The sound of their breathing, the almost inaudible brush of skin against skin. Suddenly it was too hot in the tiny, closed space of the cabin but neither one moved so much as a hair. Harm's concentration was focused solely on the slender woman he held as if it was the last thing he'd ever do. Keeping her so near was a dangerous game but their situation was unstable, the outcome an unknown. Selfishly, he would take advantage of this now that he had her and her guard was down. It might be the only time he could ever hold her like this. He wouldn't have believed that any further if he'd know Mac was having the same thoughts. She was trying so hard to memorize the way he felt that she was almost afraid to breathe. Every dream she'd ever had about him holding her was coming true. It didn't matter that he was only holding her. It was everything and nothing all at once. Just being in his arms was more than she could express. She didn't need the rest at this moment.

Harm chose that moment to turn his head a bit, laying his cheek against her silky hair. Mac moved a fraction so she could breathe more freely against the cocoon of his neck and tried to relax. It was going to be a very long night.

The wind moaned above them and Mac shivered, not so much from the cold as the desperateness of their situation, miles from help and with Harm hurt besides.

She stirred against him, waking him unintentionally. "Sorry," she whispered. "Just having a hard time getting settled. That former resolve about us both being adults is flushing itself rapidly down the toilet."

"I know," he answered. "But this is not the time or place and as long as

you wear...." He stopped, feeling for her right hand and realizing her finger was empty. "Mac?"

"No, I didn't move it to the other hand." She shook her head, glad he could not see her face at that moment. "It must have gotten yanked off in the avalanche."

"I'm sorry," he said. "I hope it was insured and I'm sure Mic will be glad to replace..."

She cut off his words with two fingers to his lips. "I was going to send it back to him anyway," she admitted. "It's not what I want. I knew that as soon as I got back here; hell, I knew it on the plane ride home. I was just caught up in the romance of it all. Like some silly sixteen year old being presented her prom date's class ring."

"I see," Harm said softly, trying to ignore the hopeful heart pounding in his chest. "Then when we get back I think we have some things to talk about."

"I think we do, too," she answered, her head moving against his chest.

He rested his chin on the top of her head. "Sleep now. God knows when you'll get another chance."

It was a long eight hours later when the cold woke her and she staggered from the bed to start another fire. Her stomach growled from hunger and she checked the food supplies, blessing the fact that the trapper had stored some freeze dry camping food. It took only a few minutes to start the bags warming in a pan of melted snow. She also dressed and when the food was hot, went to wake her sleeping companion.

"Good morning, sailor," she gave his shoulder a gentle shake.

He jumped, startled - and for a second she was afraid he was about to attack. "Easy, mister," she cautioned. "Just room service."

"You did scare me," he grinned, rubbing his hand over his now stubbled face. "Room service, huh? Great. I'll have a veggie omelet and hash browns."

"You can start with some chicken and rice," she returned. "Starving avalanche survivors can't be choosers."

"Mac, we've got to get out of here today somehow." Harm turned serious, "By now we're officially missing and there should be search planes up but they'll never find us buried in this igloo."

"You think you can move?" she asked, her brown eyes clouded with concern as she lifted the pelts and blanket to look at his chest.

"No choice," he answered. "No way would I let you go off alone."

"No way would I leave you," she retorted with a wry grin. "I guess we're stuck with each other."

"Anyway, I'll be fine," Harm told her as he moved to the outer edge of the bed. She could not help but notice his face twisted in pain as he did so.

"I'll either keep up or you can shoot me and put us both out of my misery."

"I'm holding you to that," she nodded with a quirky smile and sat next to him, slipping her hand into his, feeling the need for a moment of connection.

His fingers closed around hers and they sat in silence for a minute.

"My dream was foretelling you know," she said finally. "Remember when I was screaming about cold and snow? Well, here we are."

"What did you dream about last night?" he asked. "Someplace dry and warm I hope."

She gave him a mysterious smile. "Let's just say it involved a warm fire, a big soft rug in front of it and whip....never mind. That's for another time."

"We still have that talk to accomplish." he reminded her. "And it's not going to be like on the ferry this time."

"I hope not." She turned her head away from him at that memory of how at that moment what she knew they both wanted was within their grasp and the hurt she felt when he could not continue.

He hooked his finger under her chin and brought her back to face him. "No more denial," he promised. "Once we're out of this, I'm taking you some place warm and dry and safe and we're going to lock ourselves in and hash it all out."

"Don't make promises you won't keep," she smiled, another memory replacing that of the ferry.

"Haven't yet," he quoted back to her.

She gave his hand a firm squeeze, signifying they had accomplished enough for one talk, and went to get the food.

Shortly, fed and dressed, they began to consider leaving their entombment.

"Okay," she said reasonably. "We should simply be able to tunnel out. We know the roof is above the snow line so how far can it be, maybe eight feet up and out."

Without waiting for his confirmation, she crouched at the opening and began to pull snow back and away. He watched for a minute and then began to move away what she was dislodging. Within an hour only the soles of her boots were visible to him and he could hear her panting hard with the exertion.

"Okay, break time," he ordered finally, his concern for her growing.

He clamped his hands around her ankles and began to tug her back toward him. At the same time there was a low swooshing sound and she was obliterated by a falling mass of collapsed tunnel.

"No," he screamed involuntarily.

Like a mad man began to shove the offending white wetness away from her body. His ribs screamed with pain which he ignored as he felt her getting loose and finally with one mighty tug he pulled her free, sending them both careening backwards onto the cabin floor.

"Mac, you okay?" he panted, trying to push her off him and being hindered by his ribs.

Only silence greeted him and a cold wave of fear washed through him. He finally rolled from beneath her and scrambled to her head, clearing remnants of snow from her face. He patted her cheeks lightly and put his cheek by her mouth, horrified to feel no breath. It was the Watertown revisited and he had the terrifying thought that this time the outcome might not be so favorable.

"Sarah Catherine MacKenzie, don't you do this," he begged, feeling hot tears behind his eyes. "Stay with me now. I need you in my life."

Tipping her head back, he cupped one hand around her chin and the pinched her nose with the other. Fitting his mouth to hers, he blew in one quick breath. He turned to look at her chest. Nothing. He blew another breath and looked again. Still nothing. He started to blow once more when she gasped, immediately coughing as air filled her lungs. Harm got her by the neck and shoulder and lifted her up, moving behind her. He held her close, his own heart beating frantically as he pressed his rough cheek to her soft one, closing his eyes on a prayer of relief. Mac drew in several shallow gasps. Harm pressed his hand to her forehead, sliding it back over her damp hair as Mac lifted her arm and pressed her hand to his cheek.

Harm turned his head into her caress, closing his eyes for just an instant. "Oh, my God, I thought I'd lost you," he whispered roughly.

"You saved me," Mac ground out.

Harm turned her in his arms so that she was facing him, her body resting against him and wrapped both arms around her shaking form, pulling her close to him. Mac held him as if her very soul depended on it, plunging her hands into his hair and pressing her face into his shoulder. She felt his warm breath on her neck where he tucked his face into her soft skin.

"Thank you," she whispered, her lips brushing against his ear.

Harm pulled back just enough so that he could look into her eyes. Time stopped between them. Their own heartbeats filled the deafening silence. He studied her intently, his gaze steady. The longer they were stuck here in this tiny little cold world of make believe; the more dangerous the territory they were treading into. Harm couldn't bring himself to pull back just yet. All he ever thought about was her. Being close to her, the smell of her perfume, the light in her eyes, the warmth in her smile... everything about her. And now... finally having her so close where there were no interruptions, no other people... He just couldn't break that yet.

Mac tried desperately to relax against Harm but was finding it to be a losing battle. The tension in the air was too thick, being this close to him too overwhelming. He was drawing a tiny pattern on her back, making it darn near impossible to think straight. She wondered if Harm was even aware of his petting and then decided it didn't matter because she desperately wanted this contact with him - had been wanting it for a long time. Slowly, she slid her arm around his neck.

Harm tensed slightly at the touch of her fingers. He dropped one arm and clasped her hip, his fingers flexing against her snow pants. Harm lost track of all that was around them. The cold, the impending doom of being buried—now he was existing on more of a feeling. He could feel the hard beating of her heart and realized she was nervous. He was nervous, too, and his own heart was beating out an answering staccato. They were headed into unknown territory where they were both strangers but they both knew they'd come too far to turn back. Even without words, they'd already crossed one line. Crossed more than one line really and were going to keep crossing them until there were no more left.

Bending his head slightly, he nuzzled his cheek against hers, feeling the difference between his own stubbled skin and the silky softness of hers. Sighing almost inaudibly, Mac tilted her head into the caress, pressed so close to him now that it didn't feel like they were two people anymore. Encouraged by her positive response, Harm turned his head slightly and touched his lips to the same spot. Moving slowly, almost not at all, his pressed a string of barely-there kisses to the curve of her jaw and down to the warm, scented hollow of her throat. His fingers clenched on her hips for a second before sliding around her fully, gathering her in even tighter than before if possible. Mac sensed the small changes in him, from the tightening of his body around hers to the slight increase of his breathing.

Her own breathing sounded none too steady at that particular moment. Reveling in his tenderness, Mac dug her fingers into his shoulders, feeling as if she would fly away if she didn't hold tight to him. Harm's mouth brushed against her earlobe and she gasped, feeling the touch zing clear to her toes. A tingling started deep in her tummy, causing the muscles to clench. Heartened by the tiny sound that reached his ears, Harm slid his tongue across the spot, enticing her further. Aching for more than just a darting touch, Mac restlessly turned her head toward his.

Harm watched her from beneath half-lowered lids, wanting desperately to kiss her but knowing he couldn't let this go any farther. They were already way in over their heads and with so much else going on, this wasn't the time to get this particular ball rolling. There in the dark, he tried to find a way to show her that without her thinking he was rejecting her. He wanted nothing more than to whisk her away somewhere where they could hide away and never come back. Somewhere he could lay her down and make the sweetest, slowest love to her. Without him saying a word, Mac understood what he was trying to communicate to her and nodded slowly. There was no time for this now. And they had some things to solve before they let this - fire between them flare to life. There was too much else at stake.

Harm reluctantly drew back a little, putting some space between them. He cupped her lovely face in his hands and stared down at her for endless moments, his bottomless gaze unwavering. Finally, he tilted his head forward and pressed a tender kiss to her forehead. Mac reached up to cover his hands with her own and closed her eyes for a moment, feeling an almost overwhelming urge to cry. Then he reluctantly pulled back and the tiny tendrils that were wrapped around them separated... for now.

"What do we do now?" she asked tremulously.

We dig again," Harm stated simply. "We keep digging until we find some way to get out of here."

"Okay," she nodded, trying to make herself back away from his body. "But, promise me that we're going to come back to this spot, to this moment in time."

"With every beat of my heart," he vowed. "My game playing days ended at an airport when I looked back and saw the woman I care so much for kiss another man and wear his ring. I'm just now getting my head on straight and making things right."

"I want that, too," she smiled. "And we can't have it trapped in here, now let me see if I can...." She kissed his cheek and pulled away from him, intending to make another attempt at digging.

"Oh, like that's gonna happen." Harm clamped his hands firmly around her waist as soon as he saw what she was planning, bringing her back to him. "Maybe you don't fully grasp what just happened to you there. You almost died. Hell, you were dead for a couple minutes there. And I'll have to be before I let you try that again. There's got to be another way."

"So, what do you suggest?" She fell back to the floor in defeat, admitting to herself that she was not all that anxious to risk a repeat of the terror of having the snow tunnel falling in on her.

He looked around the cabin, considering and discarding several possibilities. "Up," he finally realized. "We know the roof is above the snow, maybe we can force our way out through it. Wonder how sturdy those planks are? If you sit on my shoulders you can maybe force one free or possibly pound your way through with a piece of the firewood."

She looked at him incredulously. "Sit on your shoulders? Harm, do you realize how hard that's going to be on your ribs. I don't think so."

"Staying in this tomb isn't any day at the beach," he retorted. "I'll be fine." He handed her a two-foot log and helped her to her feet. "Get up on the bed and let me slide between your legs," he directed.

Biting back a comeback for that line she did as she asked. With some difficulty and not without pain he got her situated and walked over to where the chimney pipe went through the roof. "See if you can pound on it," he directed, staggering slightly under her weight.

"Hey, Trigger, you wanna hold still?" She begged, beginning to ram the log into the roof.

To their collective amazement the material began to give and she shortly had a respectable hole gaping in the roof. One more huge prod and it enlarged to the point where it seemed she could fit through. At the same time she lost her balance atop him and began swaying dangerously.

"Mac, I'm going to drop you," he warned, struggling valiantly to keep her upright.

Finally, having no alternative before he was hurled to the floor and possibly seriously hurt, he bent forward and let her tumble to his arms.

"Sailor, that's the second time you saved me," she smiled and her brown eyes locked with his blue ones once again.

For another moment time stopped between them.

"Another time, another place," he reminded her, both gently and reluctantly.

"I know," she answered. "Story of our lives; like a ferry boat in Sydney harbor?"

"Not one of my finer moments," he agreed readily as he set her down. "And in the past. And none of that matters unless we can get out of here. I want you to make a boost with your hands and see if you can shove me through the opening and then I'll pull you up. Other way around you won't be able to lift me."

"Okay, yeah," she consented.

She stood beneath the opening and made a stirrup with her hands, letting him step into it and then heaving him upwards. His upper body went easily through and he braced himself with his arms to pull himself through the remainder of the way.

"Well done, Sailor," she called with a quick laugh.

"Yeah, and it's your turn, Marine," he returned, dropping flat onto the roof and extending his arms down to her.

"Harm, you can't pull me up there, especially with your ribs," she fretted.

"Right now we don't know if they're broken or what, too much movement could cause one to puncture a lung."

"Thanks," he retorted. "You are always such a little optimist. I'll worry about my ribs, you worry about getting your six out of there and hurry up. We're burning daylight here."

He did not add that he was extremely uncomfortable with the idea of her still in the site of their entrapment and he above. "Move it, Colonel."

Yielding to the inevitable she gamely raised her arms, catching his wrists as he did hers.

"On three," he coached. "One—-two—-three!" And with a powerful heave, born of desperation to have her free, he pulled her up with him, the force sending them both rolling from the roof to the pile of snow surrounding the cabin.

She was ripped from his grasp and a sudden flashback of the avalanche hit him as he watched her roll away, stopping several feet from him. Before he could reach her he could hear her making odd noises, sounding like sobbing.

"Mac, what is it, are you hurt?" he demanded anxiously. "Are you crying?"

He stumbled over himself in his haste to reach her, rolling her into his arms when he did so. When he brushed snow from her face he found her to be laughing hysterically.

"What is so damn funny?" He demanded. "Do you realize you scared me to death? I thought you were crying because you were hurt."

He gave her a little shake of irritation and then hugged her tightly to him in relief.

"This whole scenario," she finally gasped out, trying to calm herself. "You and me, trapped together, then us flying off the roof and.... I don't know - it just suddenly seemed funny. Better to laugh than cry, huh?"

He gave a long sigh and kissed her forehead, shaking his head in amazement as he stood and pulled her to her feet. One look at her covered in snow started him laughing as well and for several minutes they held on to each other, both laughing together.

"Well, that was cathartic," she finally gasped and sobered as she surveyed the white world in which they were standing. "Now where do we go from here?"

"We start walking," Harm stated simply.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Boss! We've got company!"

Army Captain Gray Synclaire turned from the plans he was studying to his man in the doorway of the tiny cabin.

"Who is it?" He asked sharply.

"Don't know, sir. We found two sets of tracks. Very close together and uneven. Looks like one might be injured."

"Find them," Captain Synclaire ordered flatly. "Find them and bring them to me."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

An hour later, the pair stumbled to a halt near a small outcropping of rocks. Breathing heavily, Harm slumped against one, bending over to brace his hands on his knees. Worried, Mac rubbed her hand up and down his broad back.

"We need to stop for a while," she told him gently.

Harm shook his head. "Can't. Just let me catch my breath."

Suddenly, a faint noise reached their ears. Straightening, Mac looked around, searching the distance.

"What is that?" She asked in a low voice.

"I'm not sure," Harm answered, slowly returning to his full height.

The dull buzzing sound came closer.

"Mac..." Harm's voice held a warning note.

"Yes?"

"Run!"

They darted around the rocks and took off as fast as they could in the treacherous snow just as two black snow machines crested the rise behind them. Harm reached for Mac's hand and dragged her in front of him, keeping himself between her and the men chasing them.

"Keep going! As fast as you can!" he yelled.

"I'm not leaving you!" she called over her shoulder.

"Just go!"

Their pursuers were upon them, breaking apart to surround Harm and Mac. Harm pushed Mac ahead of him. A snow machine crossed before them and the passenger launched himself at Mac, knocking her flat in the powdery snow. With a cry of rage, Harm lunged for her attacker, hitting him square on. The two men rolled over in the snow. Mac scrambled to her feet.

"Harm!" she cried.

Before she could take a step, someone grabbed her from behind, roping an arm around her neck and cutting off her air supply. Instinctively, Mac fought the man holding her, choking as she tried to release his iron grip.

A gunshot rent the air and the tableau froze.

"I suggest you stand up very slowly if you don't want me to kill this very pretty lady."

Slowly, Harm straightened to his full height, his eyes on Mac as she struggled to breathe against the man's arm. They man he'd been fighting with stood up and roughly twisted his arms behind his back. Harm bit down the pain in his side and stood his ground.

"Who are you?" Harm asked, his voice deadly calm.

"You'll find out soon enough." The man holding Mac answered flatly.

Several minutes later the snowmobiles arrived at a cabin set back into a grove of trees. Mac and Harm were pulled roughly from the snow machines and taken inside. A lone man was seated at a draft table studying a set of blueprints. He looked up slowly and stared at Harm and Mac. Slowly, he rose to his feet and walked around to stand before them.

"Who are you?" he asked calmly.

"Who are you?" Harm countered.

This earned him a blow to the back with the butt of a rifle, dropping him to his knees.

"Harm!" Mac cried, struggling to get away from the man holding her.

The other men pulled Harm back to his feet and his faced the older man again, his eyes cold.

"Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr., United States Navy." Harm practically spit the words out.

"Lt. Colonel Sarah MacKenzie, United Stated Marine Corp." Mac sneered, her voice cold.

"Well, well, well, what brings two people of your caliber out here to the wilds of Alaska?"

"Who are you?" Harm questioned again.

"Captain Gray Synclaire, United States Army." The man answered in a slow, sarcastic drawl. "These," he indicated with a sweep of his arm. "Are my men and you are intruding in our territory."

"I know who you are," Mac looked at him more carefully. "And more accurately would be to say you're late of the US Army, having been officially classified a deserter."

Recognition dawned with Harm as well, having seen the man's picture posted at Elmendorf. "Let me guess," he said slowly. "Your people are responsible for what's been happening around here, most specifically a certain chopper crash."

"We gave the lieutenant a chance to work with us and told him what would happen if he didn't." Synclaire gave a short laugh. "Now the next time we tell one of those Navy bozos we need some help we'll point up the lieutenant's accident as a reminder."

"Just what have you got going here, Synclaire?" Harm asked, keeping his voice level. "Raising your own private army I'm guessing - planning a little anarchy."

"That's about right," Synclaire nodded. "And we're not the only ones. There's groups like us around the country. But why am I telling you this? Bailey, take these two to the prisoner trailer and I'll figure out what use they can be. Actually...." He paused and rose, coming around the desk to Mac.

"Actually, I know of one thing right off. This is a pretty Marine. I don't believe I've ever had a Marine officer before." He leaned in close, touching her cheek and she spat at him. "Bitch!" he roared and roughly backhanded her, leaving a scarlet impression across her cheek and tears in her eyes.

"Synclaire, you're a dead man," Harm's voice was low and deadly. "I'm going to put my hands around your throat and send your sorry soul back to hell where you came from."

"Big talk from a man with no weapon and his hands pinned behind him," Synclaire sneered. "Take them out of here but, Sarah, I may see you later."

Mac's eyes were large with alarm at the threat but she said nothing, staring into Harm's face which was dark with rage and fear that something like that could happen to her.

Bailey pushed them out of the cabin, keeping his rifle trained on their backs, nudging now and then as they walked up the path. They came to a small camping trailer, one of many in the trees there and he unlocked the door. "In, Colonel," he ordered.

Mac began to step on to the high step when her footing failed and she stumbled back.

"I said IN!" Bailey yelled, shoving her roughly forward, causing her to land on the floor of the camper.

Harm swung around in rage and Bailey gave him a sharp poke in the stomach with the rife, knocking him down next to her.

"Harm, stop. I'm all right," Mac clamped an arm across his middle, terrified he would be hurt further on her behalf.

"Bailey, you and I are going to have our time, just as I am with your boss," Harm warned, every syllable he uttered deadly serious.

Bailey laughed and slammed the door, locking it from the outside with a large steel padlock.

Tears were still on Mac's cheeks from where the slap had so badly stung and she turned away, not wanting him to see. "I'm okay," she said, her voice barely audible.

His back and side ached but his concern was for her, lifting her from the floor and taking her to the small cot where he lowered her and then tenderly lay his hand along her cheek. "I'm going to kill that bastard," he swore.

She put her hand up, covering his. "Harm, promise me something," she said, her eyes pleading. "If they came back here and want me to go to Synclaire...well I...I can handle that. I'm a Marine and I can take care of myself. The one thing I couldn't handle is you being hurt...or worse...trying to defend me."

He drew his breath in sharply. "Mac, don't ask me to promise that, please."

"Of all things, I can't let Synclaire touch you like he was thinking. He'll have to kill me first."

"Harm, listen," Mac's voice went up an octave. "Don't you see, I can bear that if I have to, but don't make me have to live with your death on top of it, please." Her eyes filled with tears and she squeezed his hand tightly. "Please," she added.

"Okay, you've got it," Harm pressed her cheek gently, at the same time praying it would never come to that. There was a dirty towel hanging above the sink and a bottle of water sitting nearby. Wetting the towel with the water, icy from sitting in the unheated trailer, he held it to her cheek. At the same time their eyes locked, and the message of before was conveyed once again.

"Talk, soon as we're out of here," he reminded her in a soft whisper as he sat next to her and pulled her into his arms, resting her against his non-injured side. "Rest now," he encouraged. "You'll need every bit of your strength if we try to make it away from here."

 

1630 ZULU
ELMENDORF AFB
ANCHORAGE, AK

 

"Admiral!"

Holding his cover in place with one hand, Admiral Chegwidden jogged quickly away from the transport helicopter that had just brought him the final leg of his journey. Ahead of him was his young friend, Captain Aaron Savage.

"Captain!" A.J. smiled warmly, clasping hands with the younger man.

"Good to see you, sir. Sorry it's under these circumstances," Aaron greeted as the two men started walking toward the building ahead.

Inside, Aaron led the way down a long corridor to a small group of offices. Inside a Spartan conference room, there were another man waited.

"Admiral Chegwidden, glad you could make it so quickly."

"A.J., Colonel Paxton," Aaron introduced.

"Colonel," A.J. greeted, shaking the older man's hand. "Now, do you have any idea where my officers are?"

"Right here," Colonel Paxton began, moving over to where a large map hung down. "Is the place where the helicopter went down." "There was an avalanche over that area about an hour after Ensign Dixon showed Rabb and MacKenzie how to get to the site," Aaron spoke up.

"Have you sent any men up there?" A.J. raised one brow.

"I sent a helicopter in to assess the site but they didn't find anything, not even the remains of the chopper," Aaron stated heavily.

"I want to see the site," A.J. stated firmly.

"Yes, sir," Aaron nodded.

"Do you need a team to go with you?" Colonel Paxton asked.

"Not yet," A.J. shook his head. "I want to see the area for myself first."

The three men left the conference room and started down the hall again. "Is there anything in that area where they could have taken shelter?" A.J. questioned, staring at the floor as they walked.

"I have men looking into that now," Colonel Paxton responded. "One of them believes there may be some sort of trapper's cabin up there but they're trying to verify a location."

"Good, good," A.J. murmured.

Several minutes later, A.J. and Aaron were rising above Elmendorf in a helicopter, headed for the back acreage. They flew over acres and acres of thick green Evergreens, spotting Moose and an occasional wolf darting from the brush. Soon the area of the original crash came into view. Lying low against the side of a mountain, the area was clear of trees but now filled in by one continuous ocean of white.

"Been along time since I've seen that much snow," A.J. mused."

"Bet you don't miss it, sir."

A.J. managed a small chuckle. "Not in the least."

As the chopper flew low, A.J. lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes and scanned the ground below.

"Circle back around again!" he called to the pilot.

"Did you find something?" Aaron questioned,

"I'm not sure..." A.J.'s voice trailed off. "No, it's nothing," he answered, lowering the binoculars a second before Harm and Mac's first dig-out came into view.

 

1800 ZULU
THE MILITIA CAMP

 

The door to their trailer was jerked open, startling them both into alertness.

"Hey, Colonel, Captain Synclaire wants to see you."

Harm and Mac exchanged a glance as they rose.

"I'm going with her," Harm stated.

"Sorry, Squid, the invitation is for the Colonel only."

"I'm not..." Harm began hotly only to be stopped by a look from Mac.

"I'll be okay," she whispered.

Harm's face tightened and he gave her a warning look. "Mac..."

"You promised me, Harm," she whispered, catching his hand and squeezing it tightly.

Releasing him, she turned to the man at the door. Without a word, he jerked her out of the trailer and slammed the door on Harm, locking it from the other side.

"Damn it all to hell!" Harm yelled furiously, kicking a nearby chair and sending it skittering across the floor.

Mac remained silent as the guard took her back to the main cabin. Opening the door, he shoved her inside and slammed it behind her. Rubbing her arm where he'd gripped it painfully, she turned to glare at Synclaire.

"Hello, Colonel."

Mac stared him down. "Captain."

He walked around his desk and turned a chair toward her. "Won't you sit down?" He invited.

"We both know this isn't a social visit so why don't you drop the niceties and tell me what the hell you want?" Mac demanded.

His face tightened almost imperceptibly. "I suggest you watch your tone, Colonel MacKenzie. You're in no position to be giving orders." Casually, he turned and walked toward her. Lifting one hand, he idly stroked his finger down the arm of her jacket. "Commander Rabb appeared to be injured when you were first brought in. You wouldn't want those injuries to become something of a more permanent nature, would you?"

A red haze descended before Mac's eyes and she lashed out instinctively, her fist catching him square on the jaw.

"You leave him alone! I'll kill you my..."

Synclaire hit her hard, knocking her several feet across the wooden floor. Mac shook her head slightly to clear the spots flashing before her eyes. With a feral growl, she scrambled to her feet and launched herself at him. They went down in a tangle of arms and legs, rolling across the floor and crashing into a chair. Mac fought him with everything she had in her.

"So this...is the way... you want to play it," he grunted, rolling over on top of her.

Mac tried to shove him away but he used his whole weight to pin her down. Holding her hands in one punishing grip, Synclaire grasped the top of her winter jacket and ripped it wide open, pulling the zipper right from its track.

Harm reacted like a man gone mad when he heard her bloodcurdling scream. Picking up one of the metal chairs, he flung it through the window. All else faded from his mind and he lifted himself through the frame and hit the ground running.

"Stop him!"

Harm recognized Bailey's voice and forged ahead. One of Synclaire's men tackled Harm from behind and the two men crashed through the front door of the office. Synclaire turned his head sharply at the realization the disturbance from the outside had been brought to his door. Harm was the first to his feet, pushing away the other man and having the presence of mind to slam and bolt the door against Bailey's onslaught, knowing the commotion would bring the rest of the camp. The handgun the man had been carrying had gone flying from his hand and Harm snatched it up as the man lunged for him. Without hesitation Harm put a bullet between his eyes and turned on Synclaire.

Synclaire rolled off Mac and it was then Harm got a good look at the clothing that had been ripped away from her body and saw Synclaire had exposed himself. White-hot anger again welled up in Harm and he leveled the gun at Synclaire's head, his finger on the trigger.

"Mac, did he hurt you?" he demanded. "Did he...?" So abhorrent was the thought that he could not finish the question.

"No," Mac shook her head, feeling tears threaten and then began to laugh instead.

"Mac?" Harm frowned, wondering what she could possibly find amusing in this nightmare.

"He couldn't, Harm, he couldn't get..." she stopped and broke again into a combination of sobs and laughter.

Harm had to swallow twice as the relief washed over him before he could speak again. "I'll bet you never thought you'd consider yourself to be lucky on that account," he told him coldly. "If you had raped her you'd be dead right now." He backed away from Synclaire. "Get up you, sonofabitch, and if you ever put your hands on her again I'll rip your heart out with my bare hands."

The noise from Bailey and the men outside grew louder as the door was being pounded.

"Tell them to back off," Harm ordered Synclaire, who responded with a look of defiance. Harm cocked the weapon. "You know I'll use this. For what you tried to do to her I'm only half a good reason away anyway."

"Bailey, take the men and get back away from here!" Synclaire shouted.

The noise persisted and Harm lowered the gun to Synclaire's groin.

"Bailey, for God's sake, get the hell away from here!" Synclaire screeched, now terrified.

With a final blow to the bolted door, all was quiet outside.

Harm grabbed Synclaire up from the floor and pushed him into the nearest chair. Taking up a pair of handcuffs from one of the shelves, he roughly pulled his arms behind him in preparation for the cuffs.

"Hey, we don't have the key to those," Synclaire protested.

"Yeah, I'm real worried about that," Harm responded, squeezing the cuffs closed so that they bit into his wrists.

Mac had begun to sit up and to try to cover herself. Keeping the gun aimed at Synclaire, Harm knelt beside her, trying to gauge whether he should touch her at that moment. She answered the question herself, flinging herself into his chest with total disregard to the state of her undress. With his free arm he hugged her tightly and she wept softly into his shoulder.

"That's all of that," she finally said, sitting up though still leaning against him.

Harm gave her a soft smile and thumbed away the last of her tears, and then brushed his lips to her forehead as he helped her to her feet.

"We have to get away from here," he reminded her and turned to Synclaire. "Clothes for her," he demanded.

"Some in the back in the footlocker by the cot," Synclaire gestured with his head.

"Hurry," Harm urged and said to Synclaire, "I want two backpacks with food and blankets, map of the area and a snowmobile fully gassed. Two 9mms, two AK-47s and fifty rounds for each and a dozen grenades. Tell Bailey he's got ten minutes."

Harm jerked him to his feet and took him to the door, the gun to the back of his head. Synclaire repeated Harm's order and Harm shoved him back into the chair. Mac dressed and the bags were delivered to the front of the office as ordered.

"Ready, Mac?" Harm called. "Need anything zipped by a good-looking sailor?"

"You bet," Mac called. "When you find one let me know."

She emerged a moment later, the terror of the incident gone from her face at least for the moment.

"You know, if you were half as funny as you think you are you'd belong in Vegas," Harm growled, dropping an affectionate arm across her shoulders. "Let's get out of here."

He opened the door and surveyed the items Bailey had delivered.

Satisfied he turned to Synclaire. "You've taught your men to take orders well apparently. Now hear this, Colonel Mackenzie is an expert marksman with handgun and rifle and neither of us will hesitate to use these weapons. If you come after us you'll be unleashing the fury of God's own thunder."

He gave Mac an encouraging nod and put a helmet on her, tickling her chin for a second. "We're going to be okay," he whispered, putting on the second helmet.

"I know," she whispered back. "You'll see to it."

He mounted the snowmobile and she got on behind him, locking her arms around his waist.

"Where to now?" she asked softly, her eyes behind the visor shining with the trust she placed in him.

"For right now we get away from here, far and fast," he answered as the snowmobile's engine roared to life.

 

2200 ZULU
MOUNTAIN RANGE
FT. RICHARDSON AND ELMENDORF AFB

 

They rode in silence for a long time. Harm took a zigzag path through the trees along the base of the mountains. The gas gauge was reading close to empty now and it was almost completely dark. Harm maneuvered them below and thick overhang of trees and cut the engine. He turned slightly to Mac and pulled off his helmet. She did the same and their eyes met in the dim light.

"Now what?" she asked

"We have to stop for the night and it's gonna get pretty cold out here. We don't have any shelter," he stated heavily.

Mac looked around them at the emptiness of the wilderness. "What do you suggest we do?"

"We'll just have to make the best of it. I'd say the temperature is in the mid-twenties and it will drop more before the night is over. I think we should stay on the snow machine and off the hard ground."

"Okay," Mac agreed. "Let's get to it. It's dark, I'm exhausted and I know you have to be dead on your feet, too, and most likely in pain."

"Yeah," he muttered simply.

Harm unrolled one of the two heavy thermal blankets and wrapped it around him. Then he unzipped the heavy winter coat he wore and held open the sides.

"Your turn," he murmured.

Mac wrapped the other blanket around her and opened her own coat. She hesitated and found his eyes in the darkness.

"We have to stay close," he stated gently, his voice soft and calm.

"I know but so much has happened already..." she allowed her voice to trail off. "It's like we haven't had a chance to work up to this part. I'm getting used to being this close to you and that scares me," she admitted.

"It scares me, too. For all the times..." he stopped abruptly and cleared his throat.

"Please, don't stop now. Tell me what you were going to say," Mac pleaded, remembering a lot of other times when he stopped short of revealing something he might feel for her.

Harm sighed. "I was just going to say that for all the times I've thought about having you in my arms—this isn't quite the way I imagined."

Mac couldn't help but smile. "It isn't what I imagined either but I'll take what I can get," she returned impishly.

He chuckled and motioned with his arms. "Then get over here before we freeze."

Mac moved forward on the seat until she was right up to him but the way they were facing each other made it awkward.

"Okay, 'nough beating around the bush. We can do this, Mac. Come here," he stated flatly.

Before she realized what he was doing, Harm reached over and grasped her by the legs, pulling them over his own. Then with one quick tug, he had her up on his lap.

"Harm, what..."

"Hush, Colonel," Harm cut her off. "Snuggle up and let's get some rest."

Shaking her head at his actions, she did as he ordered for once without arguing. Holding her coat open, she pressed herself against his chest and wrapped her arms around him, blanket and all. Harm pulled the sides of his own coat up as far as they would go around her and then closed the blanket tightly around them, wrapping them in a cocoon.

There in the darkness and cold, Mac listened to the night around them. Occasionally they heard the howl of a wolf. But other than that all was silent. Mac had never been anywhere it was so quiet at night. The desert around Red Rock was alive at night with creatures that made their travels after the sun set.

"You okay?" Harm whispered, his breath ruffling the hair at her ear.

Mac only nodded. They were in a dangerous position—even more so than in the trapper's cabin. She had never been more aware of her feelings for him than she was at that moment. Slowly, gently, his arms tightened around her waist. Drawing her up slightly, Harm splayed his large hands across her back, bringing her in tight. Just as slowly, Mac relaxed against him, feeling her soft curves against his hard angles. Harm sighed and turned his face into the hair at her neck, breathing deeply.

By degrees, her senses tuned into the large hands caressing her back with long, smooth strokes. The gentle thud of his heart against her breast, the feel of powerful muscles under her fingers and against her side. She wanted to savor this quiet time with him. Without words or fears. Just the two of them and the electricity snapping in the air around them.

Harm held Mac close, content with not talking. It felt good just to be close to her. He rubbed his cheek against her silky hair, a warm feeling in his chest that she was so comfortable with him. She opened her eyes for just an instant, finding his as her fingers came out to touch his hard thigh. There was something peaceful stealing into his heart, binding him to her. Serenity he'd never felt at any other time in his life—or with another woman. Sighing, he closed his eyes. He didn't want to think anymore. He just wanted to feel.

Seemingly of their own accord, his hands moved over her back, learning, petting, soothing—down over her hips and then back up to do it all over again. Now it was Mac's turn to sigh deeply and the sound touched Harm's heart. She sounded uneasy.

Nervous.

Like she wasn't quite sure what to expect.

Mac tried desperately to relax against Harm but the hand moving against her back was making it damn near impossible. Slowly, she slid one hand down to his thigh, letting her fingers rest for a moment along the hard line of muscle. His fingers clenched on her waist as he fought for control. Mac sensed the small changes in him, from the tightening of his body around hers to the slight increase of his breathing. Her own breathing sounded none too steady at that particular moment. Reveling in his tenderness, Mac dug her fingers into his thigh, feeling as if she would fly away if she didn't hold tight to him. Harm closed his teeth around her earlobe and she gasped, feeling the touch zing clear to her toes. A tingling started deep in her belly, causing the muscles in her belly and thighs to clench. Encouraged by the tiny sound that reached his ears, Harm slid his tongue across the spot his teeth had scraped, soothing the sting.

Aching for more than just a darting touch, Mac restlessly turned her head toward his. Harm watched her from beneath half-lowered lids and he brushed his lips against the corner of her mouth, tantalizing her. Her lips parted and he saw the tip of her small pink tongue dart out to moisten them. Desire punched him the gut and he felt the blood in his lower body pound. Mac's eyes drifted closed as she gave herself over to his ministrations. Harm slid his hands to her hips and pulled them against his own. Their bodies rested together right at the most intimate place and the sudden realty shocked Mac to her senses. Struggling for calm, she lifted her head.

Nervousness fluttered in the pit of Mac's belly when she saw his head dip, bringing that hard, sensuous mouth closer to hers. Watching her expression, Harm placed one hand along the side of her throat, feeling the wild beat of her pulse against his fingertips. She seemed to be holding her breath, waiting for his next move. Idly, he studied her. His eyes took in the gentle arch of her brows, her bottomless eyes, the tiny hollows beneath her cheekbones and finally, the full bow mouth with just a hint of a pout.

Slowly, Harm crossed the final inch.

Mac's eyes drifted shut when she felt the first light pressure of his lips. Tentatively, he kissed her, barely maintaining the contact of their mouths. She felt the slightest trembling in the callused palm resting against her neck and knew he was holding himself in check, waiting to see if his attention was welcome. The minute his mouth touched hers, Mac knew she'd been waiting for this moment all of her life. She lifted her arms to wrap them around is neck and slightly parted her lips against the curve of his mouth. That was the sign Harm was waiting for. He slipped his arms around her small waist and pulled her closer. His hands moved restlessly up her back, catching in the silky strands of her hair. Mac slid her fingers into the cool thickness of Harm's dark hair and held him to her, squirming to get closer to the hard chest grazing the sensitive tips of her breasts. His tongue teased the seam of her lips and they parted beneath his onslaught, allowing him access to the moist interior.

Consumed by desire, Harm devoured Mac's lush mouth. Mac returned each kiss, using her tongue to parry and thrust with his, feeling the urgency in his caresses. A gust of wind blew over them, finding it's way down the blanket to Mac's skin. She shivered and suddenly reality touched her. She turned her head enough to break the kiss and his mouth skimmed over her cheek.

"Don't be afraid of me," he murmured, his mouth brushing the curve of her ear.

"I'm not afraid of you," she answered gently. "I'm afraid of myself."

Mac realized it was the truth. She felt herself drowning in the way it felt to be so close to him. She lifted her head and searched for his gaze. She could feel him studying her intently, his gaze steady.

"What's happening to us, Mac?" he asked, his husky voice calling her nerves to attention.

"Something I think started happening a long time ago," she admitted softly, taking the plunge.

It looked like at least part of their long-awaited talk was going to happen now instead of later.

Instead of denying it, Harm smiled. "It has, hasn't it?" he mused. "I overlooked how you felt, Mac—I overlooked how I felt," he acknowledged.

"I've tried to hide it from you," she confessed.

This took him by surprise. "Why?"

"I didn't want to jeopardize our beautiful friendship," she floundered, at a loss for how to explain herself. "Harm, I've never had a friend like you before—ever. I guess as much as my feelings have grown, I was also afraid to indulge them even the slightest bit because I've been terrified something would tear us apart. As it is, look how we've spent the last 6 months since you returned from the carrier."

"There's been a lot of spite on both our parts," Harm admitted simply. "Have you believed I might not feel the same?" he pressed.

"Yes," Mac answered honestly. "There was never any indication that you might feel differently. Besides, for as long as I can remember ours has been an unconventional friendship. We've always been so close and touchy. I was afraid I might be mistaking things for more then they really were."

Harm drew a slow, deep breath. "It seems that we do have a lot to talk about, Sarah. I'm discovering there's a whole lot we don't know about each other."

"I want to find out the rest, Harm. Whatever the outcome, wherever this takes us—let's not back away this time. Please."

Harm touched her cheek. "No more running," he promised firmly. "I don't know what's going to happen to us," he went on. "But I know I don't want to die with a lie on my lips, a lie of omission. I can't without letting you know how I feel about you... starting with..."

His lips came down onto hers, gently at first, then more insistently as his tongue begged for admittance. She easily, eagerly, granted him that wish. And with fingers hastened by the cold, they began to adjust clothing, pushing it out of the way until there was skin to skin contact as they huddled between the blanket cocoon, body heat beginning to provide some warmth.

"This is not how I imagined we'd first do this," he panted when he came up to breathe from another long kiss.

"You mean you've imagined this before?" she teased, tracing his mouth with her finger.

"Only hundreds of times," he answered and sucked at the tip of her finger. "But at your place, mine sometimes, after dinner. We would have had a nice meal, ostensibly before working on a case, and then I would help you from the table, our eyes would meet, and we'd know—we'd just know—that the time for pretend and denial was over."

"Well, that's sort of what's happening here," she sighed. "Except it's before dinner and dinner is going to be rations." Her fingers tangled in his soft brown hair, making absent squiggles. "But you got one thing right, Sailor, the time for all that to be done with is over." Mac sighed gently and touched his face. "It's going to be a long night."

"We can fill that time up with other activities."

Mac caught his eyes and the air between them was changing subtly even as he spoke the words. He watched her without talking, studying the contours of her face. Feeling suddenly shy, Mac met his gaze, sighing when she felt his rough fingers caressing the planes of her face. He lowered his head and kissed her tenderly, letting his lips play along hers for a moment. When his tongue pressed at the seam of her lips, Mac parted them without hesitation and he slid inside, thrusting in and out slowly, making sure she felt every small nuance. His hands trailed slowly down her arms to her hips, shifting her slightly so that he rested between her thighs. Mac's hands slid across the breadth of his shoulders and into his hair, holding his mouth close.

A shiver coursed through her when she felt his fingers working the buttons on her shirt. When the last one was free, he parted the material, baring her full breasts, encased in their silky white covering. Cool air wafted over Mac's flushed skin and Harm lifted his head to look down at her. Meeting her eyes, he released the front clasp of her bra and parted the cups, baring her to his gaze. Mac heard his ragged breath and felt the tightening of his lower body against her.

"We shouldn't do this, Harm. Your ribs," she protested half-heartedly.

"I'm feelin' fine, Mac."

Almost hesitantly, Harm traced the curve of one breast, shaping its fullness and finally circling the nipple, bringing it to a hard peak. Lifting himself slightly, he repeated the movement on her other breast until they were both straining toward him, aching for something further. Mac's eyes drifted shut when his head lowered. At the first tentative touch of his lips, a low moan slipped from her tight throat.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered hoarsely.

His palms cupped the curves of her hips and Mac felt a tightening in her stomach. She watched helplessly and a fleeting thought passed that she should stop him. Somehow, she just couldn't find the words to say so. She wanted this badly—wanted him badly. He kissed her tenderly, trying to show her how much she meant to him - how much he loved her. Love? It caught him off guard for an instant and then he relaxed. The thought came as no surprise to him as he realized he had indeed fallen for this woman. Fallen so far and so deep he didn't think there would ever be a way out.

Wrapped in the cocoon of blankets, Harm carefully tugged the shirt he wore over his head and tossed it behind him. Without taking his eyes from hers, he slid his big hands beneath the waistband of her snow pants, sweats and panties. Without a moment's hesitation, Mac lifted herself slightly and Harm divested her of the garments. Mac wasn't even aware of the cold seeping around the edges of the blankets anymore as he removed the necessary pieces of his clothing.

Surprised, she opened her eyes and met his gaze. Mac could feel everything - his taut muscles, the fine mat of hair covering his chest, arms and legs rubbing against her skin. The question was in his eyes as he kissed her softly.

"I want to make love to you, Mac. If you don't want that, too, say so now," he stated, giving her a chance to stop him before there was no turning back.

Mac's eyes searched his face. "I've never wanted anything more in my life," she whispered tremulously.

His eyes bored into hers. "Are you sure this is what you want?" he growled huskily.

"I'm sure," she whispered, feeling her love for this man outweighing any lingering doubts. "I think it's inevitable now."

Harm kissed her deeply, tilting her head back and sliding one arm beneath her to bring her closer. Mac met his tongue, kissing him back with every thing she had in her. Lovingly, his hands began kneading her silky skin, moving over her hips, down to her thighs, shifting until she cradling him fully.

Leisurely, his mouth moved downward, his tongue tracing a pattern over the veins in her throat and finding her pulse before moving on until he came to the slope of her breast. His big hands kneaded the firm globes, increasing the tightness in her belly. Her body moved restlessly beneath him as he stoked the flames of passion higher, marveling at her response to him.

One final shift brought their bodies together and they crossed the last barrier. Releasing her legs, Harm gathered her close. After a while, she became aware of the new sensations. He was big and she felt her body stretching to accommodate him, holding his length. There was a delicious throb where he rested and emotion swamped her at the sweetness of it. Having him inside of her - a part of her. Tentatively, she nudged him with her hips. Receiving the signal that she was ready, Harm started to move.

He captured her mouth for a hard kiss, suddenly feeling restless. Desire swept them up, growing, blotting out everything else until they couldn't think—reason—beyond each other. They kissed hard until they were gasping for breath as their bodies moved together. Then suddenly it was upon them both. Mac bit her lip to keep from crying out in the still night air and Harm groaned raggedly against the hollow of her throat. For several long minutes he simply held her tight, the sweat-dampened bodies still joined. When he could breath again, Harm lifted his head and looked down at her.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, kissing her damp brow.

"What for?" she asked. "That was the most beautiful experience of my life. Thank you," she answered, her hands stroking the muscles of his back.

"I was too rough."

"You were just right," she countered. "It was - extraordinary."

There was another long kiss their hands explored each other.

"Harm, I..." she began, pressing her head to his chest and locking her arms even more tightly around him, digging her fingertips into the skin of his back under his layers of clothing.

"Shh, no," he stopped her. "No need. We still need to talk and we will but right now we just need to feel. To feel our bodies against each other like this and to feel what's been bottled up inside us for... well, to me it seems like forever."

Mac sniffled and rubbed her face against his chest, causing him to laugh lightly. "Make yourself comfortable," he smiled.

"I am, very," she answered. "Very warm, very protected and very..." She paused and buried her head more deeply in his chest.

"No, no backing off," Harm reminded her. "We're not doing that anymore. You started to say something, now finish it, Colonel."

"Loved," she mumbled, her voice almost inaudible.

"Excuse me?" he prompted and when she did not answer he jiggled her on his lap.

"Loved," she almost shouted. "Okay, happy now?"

"Very," he grinned. "My work is done, pass an MRE."

Exhaustion over took them very quickly once they had eaten and dressed. Harm carefully adjusted the blankets and coats to provide the maximum warmth and shelter from the wind. It was a long night, neither sleeping well between each other's nearness, the cold and sound of wolves howling in the distance.

The breaking dawn found them stiff and cold, neither wanting to move.

"And they were found in the spring, in the same position as they fell asleep that first night," Mac intoned laughing.

"Okay, get off me," he laughed as well. "But there really is nothing funny.

We've got to find some help because I don't see us surviving...."

Mac stopped him with fingers to his lips. "Listen," she hissed. There was the unmistakable sound of snow mobile engines, the direction unclear.

"I can't tell where they're coming from," his eyes were wide with alarm. "But we've gotta move. Mount up, we'll take ours till the gas gives out and then...." His eyes looked to the small arsenal of weapons they had brought along.

"Then we'll stand and fight," she finished for him. "Together."

He took a deep breath and pulled her into a quick but serious hug. "Together," he repeated and then pushed her away signifying the need for them to move. "Maybe we can get to the other side of the mountain. The noise of our engine should mix with theirs and that might buy us some time. Unfortunately there's no gas station on the way."

Wordlessly she put on her helmet, waiting for him to mount. Then slid on behind him, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist and then laying her head against his shoulder, a silent indicator of her level of trust in this man.

They managed to make another ten miles before the engine sputtered and gave up the ghost. As soon as it died, the ominous noise of the pursuit filled the air.

"They're grid searching, closing in," Mac said quietly, her voice as calm and steady as she could make it.

"Up into the rocks," Harm pointed, grabbing up the supplies. "We're well armed and I meant every word of my threat to Synclaire. If he tries to take us it will be the last thing he does in this life."

He grabbed her arm, pulling her along after him until they reached a defensible point in the rocks and they crouched down, pulling out the weapons. "Been on the range lately?" he asked, with a quick smile.

"Two weeks ago, in fact," she grinned. "Still expert qualified."

"That's my Marine," he approved and then put his hand to his mouth. "Uh, sorry. My Marine? That just slipped out - don't know from where. Too possessive."

"No," she responded at once. "I rather like it in fact. I've never felt like I really belonged...well accept to the Marines, I guess."

"We belong to each other now," he assured her, pulling her down next to him, protected by the rocks as the engine noise grew louder.

The first snowmobile came into sight. Harm and Mac looked to each other, locking their eyes for what both knew might be the last time.

"I love you," he told her, his voice clear and certain.

"I know," she answered, just the bare hint of a smile on her lips. "I love you."

 

1330 ZULU
ELMENDORF AFB AND FT. RICHARDSON

ANCHORAGE, AK

 

"Admiral! We've spotted movement!"

The chopper swung left and A.J. held the binoculars to his eyes. There was a large group of men moving through the deep snow and underbrush and they were heavily armed. A.J. lifted his head and looked at Colonel Paxton.

"Are any of your divisions in the field this week?" he demanded.

"No. I checked when the plane went down. We have no field exercises scheduled for another two weeks."

"Get on the radio and get your men up here now!" A.J. barked. "I'm betting those men down there aren't the friendly sort."

Synclaire and his men came into sight and Harm and Mac exchanged a look. Mac smiled tremulously and squeezed his arm. Harm gave her his best flyboy smile and winked but she could see the warring emotions in his eyes.

"Here goes," he murmured.

Rifles aimed, they waited as the men drew closer. Gunfire erupted from the pack, stirring the snow around them as it hit. Pieces of rock chipped and flew and the noise echoed throughout the still mountaintops.

Harm and Mac took aim and returned fire. The gunplay went on for several minutes as Synclaire's men swarmed in, surrounding their every avenue of escape.

"We have to get out of here!" Harm cried over the noise.

"But where?" Mac answered.

As she continued to fire, Harm swung his head left and right and then looked behind them. There was a bank of dense trees and then nothing beyond.

"I want you to run for the trees!" he ordered.

"No!" she yelled. "Not without you."

"I'll cover you and then run for it. Go! Run as fast as you can into the trees!" he ordered again.

Shaking her head angrily at him, Mac checked the load in her rifle and then tucked two of the handguns into her waistband. She rose slightly, ready to run then turned and grabbed the front of his jacket, yanking him close enough for a hard kiss.

"Don't get dead," she ordered flatly.

"Wouldn't dream of it," he answered cockily.

Head low, Mac turned and started off, running as fast as she could. Harm rose slightly over the boulder and started firing in rapid succession. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw Mac disappear into the dense Evergreens. He grabbed the bag that had the rest of their ammunition and the other guns and started after her, turning partially back to fire again as he went. He crashed into the thick branches.

"This way!" Mac called from ahead.

In the distance behind they heard the snowmobiles drawing close as Synclaire's men launched pursuit. Grabbing Mac's elbow, Harm urged her forward as they crashed through the trees. Then suddenly they were in the open again as the trees gave way. To the left was the low-lying crest of a mountainside—to the right, what appeared to be nothing but a drop off.

"Come on," Harm urged. "Look up there!" he yelled.

Mac followed where he was pointing and saw a ledge that looked like it looked into an opening in the side of the mountain.

"Enough for us to get out of sight," Harm stated as they ran on.

"We have to hurry. They'll come through the trees anytime now!" Mac returned breathlessly.

A.J. swung the binoculars left to right, searching for some sign of Harm and Mac. The pilot turned the helicopter and aimed it for the men below.

"Admiral! They're firing!" he called just as the sound of gunfire reached A.J.'s ears, too.

"Bring us around!" A.J. called, bringing Synclaire's men into focus. He moved directly across in the direction they were shooting. "My God! It's Rabb and MacKenzie! Colonel, we need air support now!" he thundered.

Captain Gray Synclaire knew he was only going to have one chance to take of Rabb and MacKenzie. He looked around from where he was crouched. The mountainside shifted to his left forming what looked like a natural staircase. Mac and Harm started for the half-buried crevice, firing at the men coming through and around the trees. They both knew Synclaire would be there somewhere. Harm ran ahead slightly as Mac fired and turned back to cover her until she could get in front of him.

Suddenly, Mac caught a slight movement high on her right. Synclaire's head and shoulders became visible over the edge of an outcropping and he was taking careful aim at something on the ground... but that something wasn't Mac—it was Harm.

"Harm!" she screamed, racing forward toward him.

Harm turned, hearing her screams and the belch of gunfire at the same time. Something slammed into his shoulder, spinning him around. He landed on his back and his gun went flying out of his hand. Mac stumbled for an instant when she saw Harm go down, her mind going numb. Without a second's hesitation, she turned and pulled the trigger. The tableau froze and her eyes met Synclaire's before she realized her bullet found its mark. Synclaire jerked straight up and a surprised look crossed his face. Then he pitched forward and began to roll down the side of the mountain. The sound of his body sliding through the thick snow spurred Mac into action and she raced to Harm.

Sliding to a halt, she dropped to her knees next to him, sliding her hands over his chest. Blood was rapidly staining the white powdery snow and smearing her hands. Just then the roar of helicopters filled her head. Two assault crafts flew low and fired at the advancing militia. Lurching to her feet, Mac grasped Harm beneath the arms and began to drag him in the opposite direction, away from the firing. She got several feet before she stopped and collapsed beside him. He was still conscious but he breath was coming in awful, tearing gasps. Mac pressed her fingers to his lips as he tried to speak.

"Hang on, Harm. Do you hear me, flyboy? You hang on, damn it!" she ordered, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Don't you dare die on me! Suck it up, squid!" Her trembling fingers smoothed over his face, trying to calm him. "I love you, Harm! Do you hear me? Don't you leave me. Oh, please, God, don't leave me, Harm."

Harm struggled to talk, his breath coming out in hard pants. His hands reached for her and she tried to press down on his wounds. Pain unlike anything he'd ever known flooded his body and for one horrifying moment he thought he was dying.

"I... love... you," he gasped just before his eyes closed.

"Harm! Harm" Mac screamed, shaking him and in the distance Admiral Chegwidden was calling her name.

The hospital on Elmendorf was fairly large and the ER was bustling with late day activity. A.J. sat in chair off to one side. Mac was too wrapped up in her own misery to pay attention to him or anyone else. She leaned weakly against the wall, her gaze falling onto her bloodstained hands. There was blood everywhere. On her coat and shirt and her snow pants. She knew if she looked in a mirror she it would even be on her face where Harm's hands had been. Her mind clouded with the endless stream of red coloring the snow. Emotion gripped her chest so tightly that for a moment she had to fight to breathe. She couldn't make the sounds in his head go away.

"No... no... noooo..." she moaned, grasping her head with both hands.

Mac slid down the wall to the floor as the enormity of the situation overtook her. Sobs shook her slender form. She let the tears fall, pressing her hands against her face as if she could somehow hold it all back.

Someone sat down next to her—Admiral Chegwidden—and she felt his arms come around her, folding her close against him. Mac turned into her CO and curled her fingers into his shirtfront, holding on for dear life. A.J. simply held her, his eyes closed as he rested his chin on the top of her head. His guts felt like someone had yanked barbwire through them. He blamed himself somehow. For pulling them from their caseload and ordering them here when neither wanted to come.

A sob broke from Mac's tightly clenched lips and she bent over slightly, closing in on herself. Every last shred of her Marine pride was gone. Vanished by one second of time when she wasn't close enough to help him. She'd failed him. Failed him somehow by not taking that bullet. All the things she wanted to tell him. There was so much... all she hadn't said but desperately wanted to. Now she may never get the chance.

A.J. happened to glance up as he shifted slightly and saw Aaron come through the wide entryway. Carefully, he rose to his feet, bringing Mac with him. Keeping her firmly in his grasp, he held one hand out to Aaron, who shook it and then gently touched Mac's shoulder.

"How many times was he hit?" he asked softly, seeing the dread in A.J.'s worried eyes.

"Twice. Both in the chest, only one exited, though," A.J. answered grimly. "He's in surgery now."

The young Captain touched the shoulders of A.J. and Mac both. "Don't give up," he whispered gently.

Several hours later a tall man in green scrubs walked in, pulling the cap from his short black hair. His eyes scanned the small assortment of people throughout the waiting room before settling on A.J. and Mac.

"Admiral Chegwidden? Colonel MacKenzie?" he called.

Hearing their names, A.J. and Mac shot to their feet.

"Admiral, ma'am," the other man started. "Lieutenant Crewes. I operated on Commander Rabb."

"Where is he?" Mac demanded immediately.

"He's in Recovery."

"How..." Mac's voice broke. "How bad is it?"

"One bullet passed completely through and nicked his lung. That's why he couldn't get his breath. The other one lodge in the left deltoid. Commander Rabb was living right because they both missed anything vital. A few inches either way and we wouldn't be having this conversation," he explained bluntly. "He lost a lot of blood and there is some fairly major tissue damage but with the proper rest and therapy he'll recover just fine."

Mac stared at the doctor, clutching A.J.'s arm with both hands. "Fi...fine?" she stuttered.

"Yes, Colonel, just fine," Lt. Crewes smiled fully, his eyes warm and reassuring. "He'll sleep through the night so I suggest both of you go back to quarters and get some sleep."

Mac sagged against A.J., her eyes fluttering closed as intense feelings of relief poured through her.

"Come on, Colonel," A.J. murmured. "Lt. Crewes is right. We'll come back first thing in the morning."

By DC standards, it wasn't even dawn when Mac returned to the hospital but winters in Anchorage meant daylight began at 1030. The hospital was still and quiet and still mostly dark when she and A.J. found the way to critical care where Harm had been moved. The pretty young nurse at the desk smiled and rose, coming around the counter.

"Lt. Crewes said you would be back. I'll take you to see Commander Rabb," she stated, her light blue eyes warm. "The Commander woke up when we moved him from Recovery. Lt. Crewes came by and said everything looks good. We should be able to move him to a private room tonight."

"I'm glad," Mac murmured, following the blonde down the hall.

They stopped outside of a closed door and the nurse smiled, indicating that Mac should go in. Mac placed her hands flat against the door to push it open then hesitated, taking a slow, deep breath. A.J. caught her gaze and nodded reassuringly. Then she went in.

Harm was lying flat on the bed save the pillow under his dark head. A heart monitor beeped in time with the quiet whoosh of the respirator. Mac stood at the side of the bed, drinking in the sight of him. Quietly, she pulled up a chair and sat down, reaching for his hand even as her on was trembling. His eyelids fluttered then and lifted, his gaze settling on her face.

"Hi," he murmured weakly.

"Hi," she answered, mustering a watery smile.

Harm's eyes locked with hers and he stared intently. Mac smiled again, tentatively, but he didn't smile back.

"Are you okay?" she questioned softly.

"You're the most beautiful sight I've ever seen," he whispered.

Mac stared at him for an instant and then laughed self-consciously, shaking her dark head. "If I didn't know better I'd think that bullet got you in the head," she muttered, trying for a bit of levity. She grew serious then and leaned forward until they were nose to nose. "If you ever do that to me again, I'll shoot you myself," she threatened tenderly. "I was afraid yesterday, Harm. Plain and simple. Everyone I've loved has been taken away from me and when Synclaire shot you yesterday I felt the world crash down around my ears. I've loved you for as long as I can remember, Commander. I'm just sorry it took us so long to get around to admitting it."

He studied her for a moment, memorizing every detail. The love in her eyes, her smile, her tender touch—were the best kind of medicine for Harm. He lifted his free hand and touched the pads of his fingers to her lips. "Will you marry me, Sarah?"

Mac grinned and just before her lips touched his she whispered, "I thought you'd never ask."

 

The End

 
 
   

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