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Classification Humor, Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 8,000 words; 19 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Spoilers Through "A Tangled Webb Part 1"
Rating GS
Author's Note This story was written the during the summer following "A Tangled Webb Part I" - before we saw "A Tangled Webb Part II."

 

 

 


I have only been up in the air with Harm a handful of times, but in those times we have been forced to make one emergency landing in the mountains of Virginia, we've been shot down over Russia, and we’ve crashed into the forests of Paraguay.

If this is the Fates metaphorical way of telling me that when it comes to Harm, I am safer staying on the ground, that I'm foolish to let my hopes and dreams of having a life with this man soar – well then – I will just have to take my chances. Sometimes crashing back down to earth is the quickest way to get to where you're going, and sometimes you have to crash a few times before you can really learn how to fly.

It was my heart that soared when he burst into that torture chamber to rescue me. I had been trying to make peace with the fact that I would never see him again, and then he was there, appearing like an avenging angel, like the hero in my dreams.

He was all business as he released me from the restraints. He was capable and efficient as he hurried me from the room and hustled me out to find Gunny and Webb. He was strong and compassionate as he helped Gunny pick Webb up from the ground and carry him out to the car.

But his eyes – they burned with a distant fire as he shot and killed the man who would have willingly tortured me. They blazed with a frightening intensity as he took in the car battery and my position strapped to the table. And when his eyes finally met mine they scorched me to my core.

Now I was back home, safely soaking in a tub full of soapy bubbles, breathing in the scent of juniper berries and trying not to think about Harmon Rabb, Jr.

But of course he was all I thought about.

I thought about how quickly we fell back into our normal pattern – masquerading as Mac and Harm – partners of old. He pretended that I hadn't been through hell, and I pretended that his sudden appearance in Paraguay was nothing out of the ordinary.

I thought about how we managed to gloss over the fact that he had resigned his commission to rescue me – and Clayton, too. Dealing with what that might mean for him – for us – took more courage than we could muster. So by mutual agreement we just ignored it.

We could dynamite missiles, survive plane crashes and track down CIA moles without blinking an eye, but when it came to honestly acknowledging that there was something between us, we fell apart.

But I breached that unspoken agreement almost as soon as we were home. I sank down into the bubbles and leaned my head back against the cool ceramic tiles, remembering the mess I'd made of everything.

We’d come straight to my apartment from the airport, both of us still running on adrenalin and coffee, and I had unwisely forced the issue. Being by Harm's side constantly for the last few days had lulled me into a false sense of security. We had seemed so close, so in tune, and I somehow managed to forget that with us certain subjects are best left unexplored. They would only lead us down the same emotional dead end roads we had traveled so often before.

“Tell me why you quit, Harm.” Impulsively, I pushed him for reasons – needing to hear him say why he would willingly give up the career he loved.

His answers had been vague and indefinite.

Frustrated, I baited him, finally throwing his sense of duty in his face and telling him that I hoped saving Webb had been worth his career.

He pushed himself off my couch and walked straight out the front door, only turning at the last minute to face me. “I can only tell you that I would do it again, Mac.”

And then he'd been gone.

Sitting up with a splash, I covered my face with my hands and groaned. Maybe someday I would get it through my thick skull that I would never have a meaningful conversation with Harm that didn’t go in circles. I slumped back down into the water, resigned to my fate.

The sound of the door knob rattling startled me from my reverie, and I looked up to see the source of all my frustration sauntering through my bathroom door, big as life.

“Are you decent?” Harm asked nonchalantly as he walked into the room. He had gone home and changed into faded jeans and a black denim shirt.

I suddenly felt terribly underdressed.

“Not exactly,” I yelped as I slouched down into the tub. “What are you doing here, Harm?”

“Finishing the conversation you started,” he said as he sat down on the closed toilet seat.

“Well, just make yourself at home!” I crossed my arms over my chest and tried not to notice the thinning suds that barely covered me from his view.

“Thanks, I think I will.” He filled my small bathroom with his long legs and cocky attitude.

Through gritted teeth, I asked. “Can’t you at least make yourself comfortable in the living room while I throw on a robe?”

“Nah – I’m comfortable right here,” he said. “Besides I need to talk to you, and with our history I do believe it’s your turn to be the one that gets mad and leaves. This way you’re more or less a captive audience.”

I snorted at his smugness. “What if I decide to stand up and walk out of here right now?”

His smile broadened, and he looked me over appraisingly. “I await your decision with bated breath.”

He ducked when I threw a wet washcloth at him.

“I’m going to kill you when I get out of this bathtub.”

“Is that going to be before or after you put on some clothes?”

I snarled which only made his grin wider. It was obvious that he wouldn’t leave until I listened to what he had to say. And though I wouldn't admit it to him, I was dying to hear what was so important that he had to invade my bathroom to say it.

“At least let me have some more bubbles,” I said while trying to maintain my dignity. I waved my hand toward the bottle that was on the shelf over his head, and he laughed knowing that I couldn’t reach it without exposing myself.

“Sure Mac. I’m a reasonable man.” I carefully scooted forward and adjusted the water faucets to the right temperature while he poured in a cap of bubble bath. “Better?” he asked with the air of a man who knew he had the upper hand.

“Much better, thank you,” I said with false sweetness while I settled back and arranged the bubbles for maximum coverage.

He dropped back down onto the toilet seat and asked, “Are you ready to listen now?”

“I’m all ears,” I said sarcastically.

“Okay, well, first of all we need to get one thing straight.” His tone instantly changed from teasing to deadly serious. “Clayton Webb can go to hell, as far as I’m concerned.”

“That’s what you came back to tell me?”

“No, I came back to tell you that I didn’t quit JAG because Webb was in trouble, and you know it. He nearly got you killed, and if he makes a full recovery I’m not promising that I won’t be tempted to beat him to within an inch of his life.”

I was startled by his anger. “You don't mean that, Harm. Besides, it’s not all his fault. I knew the mission was dangerous when I accepted it.”

He stood up and towered over me menacingly. “Don’t make excuses for him, Mac. And don’t even try to make me see reason.”

“Well, I’ve nearly been killed a few times when I was with you too, Harm. A recent plane crash in Paraguay comes to mind. Why is that any different?”

“It just is,” he declared forcefully and then attempted to pace around the confines of the small room.

I worked myself into a proper state of indignation and informed him, “You are being completely irrational.”

I was just about to trot out my ‘I’m a Marine who can take care of herself’ speech when he turned toward me and exploded, “I am allowed to be irrational – I nearly lost you!”

The pain in his eyes cut right through me, and I whispered quietly, “But you didn’t.”

“Didn’t I?” he laughed mirthlessly. “Tell me that kiss you shared with Clayton didn’t mean anything.”

“It didn’t mean anything.” At least not in the way that Harm was implying, so I chose not to elaborate.

He didn’t look like he believed me and said grumpily, “Well, you never kiss me when I nearly get you killed.”

“What’s this really about, Harm? Is this about marking your territory?”

“Yes.” He looked at me challengingly and didn’t deny it. “If anyone is going to put you in mortal danger, I want it to be me.”

He waved me down when I started to protest. “And it has nothing to do with whether or not I think you can take care of yourself – I know how capable you are, Mac – it has everything to do with the way I feel about you.”

“How do you feel about me, Harm?”

“I think you know the answer to that.”

“Do I? Let’s see. Mic has been gone for two years, and you have barely made a move in my direction.”

“Mac – that’s not true.”

I cut him off before he could continue. “And on top of that, you were just on trial for murder, and it killed me that I couldn’t be a part of the trial. Intellectually I understood all of the reasons, but I needed to be there for you, at least emotionally, and you wouldn’t allow it. But what hurt the most was finding out that you had been shutting me out long before you were ever accused of anything.”

He squatted down beside the tub so that his face was level with mine. “I’m sorry, Mac. I know I made a lot of mistakes where Singer was concerned. It was all just so ugly, and I wanted to keep you out of it. The only thing that kept me going, besides your visits to the brig, was the fact that you weren’t involved.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Harm. If I am nothing else, I am your best friend and your partner. You aren’t allowed to shut me out. Promise me that you will never do that again.”

His eyes locked with mine and he stated solemnly, “I promise.”

His hand rested on the side of the tub and I grabbed it, bringing it to my lips. He smiled and cupped my cheek, then tucked a wet strand of hair behind my ear. We both seemed to remember that I was naked at the same time, and he made a gentlemanly retreat back to the toilet seat.

I managed to take a shallow breath – my lungs didn’t seem to be operating properly with him so close. Harm on the other hand seemed to be breathing just fine, and that was half of the problem. Despite his teasing, I sometimes thought I could walk around naked all day long, and he would remain completely indifferent.

“So where were we?” he asked. “Oh yes, my feelings for you – they’re complicated.” He grinned at my expression. “Well, they are,” he insisted.

“Go on,” I said with a sigh.

“You say that I haven’t made a move toward you since Mic left, and that is simply not true. I know I have been taking things slowly, but this is too important to mess up. How can you think we haven’t gotten closer? We spend almost all of our free time together these days.”

He was warming to his subject and started ticking off instances to make his case.
“I mean you always patch me up after my basketball games. I let you take me to chick flicks all the time. Hell, I even let you help change the oil in the ‘vette last month, and you’re always my official guinea pig when I cook something new.”

“How does that make me any different from Sturgis?”

“He doesn’t like chick flicks, and I have never named a dish in his honor.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh how could I forget? Harm’s ‘Mac’aroni and Cheese”

“Sturgis and Cheese just doesn’t have the same ring.”

“Hmm, well, as a seduction technique that one needs a little work.”

“I’ll admit I’m a little rusty at seduction.”

I looked at him pointedly “I don’t think you’re rusty, Harm. I think you’re reluctant.”

“Mac – that’s not true.”

“Please, Harm. I know you care about me, but it seems pretty obvious that you don’t want me.” I could barely get the words out, but I’d decided to lay my cards on the table. “If you did something would have happened between us by now.”

“Is that so?” His eyes narrowed intently.

I squirmed a little under his scrutiny but I had gone too far to back down now. “Yes, that’s so. I think that when Mic left you felt a duty to give this thing with us a chance.”

“How very noble of me!” he exclaimed before rising to his full height and glaring down at me.

I cowered beneath my trusty suds as he let me have it with both barrels.

“Has it ever occurred to you that it’s because I want you so much that nothing has happened?”

His eyebrows climbed up near his hairline, and he looked at me as if he expected an answer so I opened my mouth to tell him that actually no, that would never occur to me in a million years, but he continued his rant before I could get a word in edgewise.

“Has it occurred to you that once I take you to bed, I might never let you leave? That once I start touching you I won’t ever want to stop?”

His eyes had turned dark and smoky, and the way he was looking at me was making my toes curl. I shivered with something between relief and desire as his words danced around in my head.

“Well, it's occurred to me, Mac! Sometimes it’s all I think about, but one of us has to be sensible. I mean we work together – you’re my partner, and I trust you with my life. The question is whether I can stand back and let you do your job once you become my lover? What if I can’t be objective when things get dangerous? Just look how I reacted to your mission with Webb.”

He was babbling now – the way you do when you have thought about something way too often – the way you do when the conclusions you reach are always changing. I knew how he felt having had this same conversation inside my own head on numerous occasions

“And besides that, how is it going to look if the Admiral catches me dragging you into the supply closet two or three times a day?”

“Only two or three times a day?” I giggled, feeling brave now. I couldn’t really follow his convoluted logic, but that idea about the supply closet was worth pursuing.

“Laugh if you want, Mac, but we can’t always afford to just throw caution to the wind,” he insisted somberly. “It could have grave career consequences for both of us.”

“What career, Harm? I think you threw caution to the wind when you resigned your commission.”

He stared at me wide-eyed before breaking into a full-blown grin. “I did, didn’t I?”

With that he sat down and began taking off his shoes.

“What are you doing, Harm?” Now I was the one that was wide-eyed.

Standing up, he took his wallet out of his jeans and placed it on the sink.

“Well,” he said as he stepped into the tub, blue jeans, shirt and all. “I may be ready to throw caution to the wind, but I’m not crazy enough to get into the bathtub with my shoes on!”

Water sloshed out of the tub and onto the floor as he sat down behind me. I barely had time to squeal in protest before he turned me around and pulled me up against his chest and into his arms. “That’s better,” he stated emphatically.

And then his mouth crashed down on mine.

I grabbed his head and kissed him back with all the finesse of a billy goat. My mouth glommed onto his, twisting one way and then the other but never breaking contact. It was a kiss that laid claim, a swaggering kiss that announced mutual intentions – both good and bad. His hands made a mad march up and down my back, slipping over my wet soapy skin, pulling me closer into his body with every foray. My breasts were crushed against the coarse cloth of his denim shirt while his lips – those talented lips – insisted on having their way.

We wrestled around in the small space – jammed together, churning up waves as we strained to get closer. His long legs had no place to go. One was bent awkwardly and wrapped around my backside. The other was propped up on the side of the tub as he angled us sideways. I was wedged between his legs, immersed in a strange mix of soapy water, wet denim and Harm’s demanding mouth.

And when we finally broke apart we were gasping for breath and laughing.

He speared his fingers through my hair holding my face still for his inspection and then for the longest time he simply stared. I stared right back, throwing off the mask I had carefully worn over the years – the one that had hidden all the love and desire I felt for this man.

“Hi,” he said finally.

“Hello,” I answered with a grin.

“You know what I just realized, Mac? I’m exactly where I want to be. Except when I’m flying I don’t remember the last time I felt this way. I’m sitting with you in a bathtub full of water with all my clothes on – and I’m completely happy.”

My heart was about to beat out of my chest at his words, but I tried to keep it light. “Would you be this happy if I weren’t naked as a jaybird?”

“I’d be happy if you were wearing a big furry parka – but we don’t need to test that theory,” he added with a grin.

“You know what else I realized?” He trailed his fingers across my cheek, and down the slope of my nose, and along the arch of my eyebrow.

I shook my head, shivering at his touch.

“I’ve never told you that I thought you were pretty.”

My eyelids fluttered as he traced my lower lip with his fingertip.

“Well, you do that waggley eyebrow thing at me sometimes when I get dressed up for fancy occasions,” I reminded him.

I was distracted by that wicked fingertip as it traveled from my lip to my collarbone and slowly moved down to where my breasts were pressed against his chest.

He waggled his eyebrows at me for good measure. “Well, you’ve never looked prettier than you do right now – even if you are all pruney.” He picked up my hand and played with my waterlogged, wrinkled fingers.

“Thank you,” I sighed. “It took me hours to get this look.” I leaned forward to nibble the hollow at the base of his neck and managed to undo a few buttons on his shirt. I placed little kisses on his chest as I uncovered it.

He groaned and brought my face back to his for another kiss.

My hands were wedged between us, and I kept working at his buttons.

“What are you doing, Mac?” The words slid from his mouth to mine as he deepened the kiss.

“What do you think I’m doing? I’m trying to get you out of this shirt.”

“Ah,” he mumbled as he trailed his lips from my mouth to a sensitive spot just beneath my jaw. “I told you I was rusty at this stuff. But I’m sure if you keep going it will all come back to me.”

He nuzzled the side of my neck, and his hot breath sent goose bumps skittering across my shoulder and down my arm.

I unfastened the last of his buttons but because of the close quarters I couldn’t get rid of the offending garment. I tried to push the material off his shoulders, but had no room to maneuver.

He was no help since he was busy sucking on my cheekbone. That shouldn’t have been erotic, but it was.

Pushing myself away from him as far as possible in the limited space, I made another attempt to remove his shirt, but it was no use.

“Harm, you need to sit up some – I can’t get this off.”

“Hold on,” he said. "This is worse than being in the back seat of a Volkswagen." He tried to straighten his legs to get enough leverage to move into a more upright position. I was still plastered to his chest and was trying to help, when suddenly he surged up and out of the water taking me with him.

An unnatural noise came from his throat, and water spilled over the rim of the tub as he unceremoniously dumped me out onto the floor where I landed in a heap on the bath rug.

Stunned, I could only watch as he stepped over me and did a stumble, jump, shuffle, hop dance out my bathroom door while repeatedly yelling, “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!”

I crawled after him, pulling my robe down from the hook on the wall and wrapping it around myself as I climbed to my feet. I ran into my bedroom as I tied my belt and asked with alarm, “Harm, what’s wrong?”

He was hobbling around in circles, grimacing and dripping all over the carpet. “Calf cramp,” he gasped through gritted teeth.

Realizing it was nothing serious, I tried not to laugh. “Are you okay?” I asked with a grin on my face. “What can I do to help?”

“Just have to walk it off,” he muttered. After a moment, he managed a half smile, and though he was walking gingerly said. “It’s better now.”

“Are you sure? Maybe you better sit down and let me rub it.” I laughed out loud at the look he gave me and tried to lead him to the bed.

“Very funny,” he said, “but I’m still soaked. I don’t want to get everything wet.”

“You need to take off your clothes, Harm.”

“Not that I mind, but you have a one track mind, Mac.” He grabbed the collar of my robe and hauled me up against him. “I can see why you’d be overcome with lust though. It always drives the women crazy when I do that howling, jumping around thing.”

“Well, it was the limping and whimpering that made me weak in the knees.”

“I didn’t whimper,” he protested, and then he kissed the living daylights out of me.

“Seriously, Harm,” I whimpered while he kissed my neck, “I need to throw your clothes in the dryer, or you won’t have anything but clammy clothes to wear later. One of us has to be sensible.” Resolutely, I grabbed his arm and started pulling him back towards the bathroom. “So get in there and get naked. That’s an order. I’ll see if I can find something big enough to fit you in the meantime.” I pushed him inside the bathroom and closed the door quickly before I could change my mind about helping him with the chore.

I draped my robe across a chair and threw on a tee shirt and some jogging shorts so I could run down to the laundry room with his clothes. Then I started rummaging through my dresser looking for anything that might fit him. I could hear Harm mumbling and cursing as he tried to get out of his wet jeans, and I laughed from pure happiness.

Someone started knocking at the front door, so I pulled the bedroom door closed behind me and went to answer it.

“Bud!” I exclaimed as I opened the door.

“Welcome home, ma’am. We were so happy to hear that you were okay.”

“Thanks Bud. Come on in. Is anything wrong?” It wasn’t like Bud to show up unexpectedly.

“No ma’am, I knew you were due back today and wanted to let you know about the get together we’re having tonight at Benzinger’s for the Admiral and Meredith. I mean if you’re up to it.”

“Oh, thanks for letting me know. That sounds like fun. Harm told me about their engagement.”

“I left a message for the Commander, too. You haven’t seen him have you?”

Before I could answer, the bedroom door opened, and the Commander in question came walking out wearing nothing but my short pink robe.

“Mac, where did you go? I took off my clothes and you disappeared.” He stopped short when he saw Bud standing in my living room.

Bud’s eyes got very big. “Hello, sir.”

“Bud! I didn’t realize you were here.”

I wasn’t sure which one looked more startled. They both stood frozen in place until Bud whirled around and stammered while grappling for the doorknob, “Sorry, sir – sorry – ma’am – I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“This isn’t what it looks like, Mr. Roberts.”

Harm’s voice stopped Bud in mid-escape, and he turned around not bothering to hide the knowing smirk on his face. “It looks like a seashell pink silk robe with three quarter length sleeves and accents of ivory piping along the collar.” Being pleased with himself he added, “Very flattering, sir.”

Harm tapped his bare foot impatiently while Bud tried to compose himself, and then said, “Yes well, I got – caught – in some – some water, and Mac was just about to go throw my clothes in the dryer for me, weren’t you, Mac?”

“Very convincing,” I whispered on my way past him. He gave me a helpless shrug as I left the room, and as I walked back through carrying the laundry basket, I said, “Find out the details about tonight while I’m gone. I’ll be right back.”

As I shut the door behind me, I heard Harm ask, “Don’t you think the piping is more of an ecru?”

When I returned a few minutes later Bud was gone, but Harm was still standing where I’d left him. He seemed lost in thought, but he looked up when I closed the front door.

I leaned against the door and just stared. Even in a short, pink robe he was the most masculine thing I had ever seen. “Hey, you know what I just realized, Harm? I’ve never told you that I thought you were pretty.” I pushed off the door and started toward him. “And you have never looked prettier than you do right now.”

He smiled but seemed subdued. “You’re asking for trouble.”

“Actually, I’m begging for it.” I grabbed his hand and dragged him to the couch. He sat down, careful to keep some distance between us. “But something tells me I’m not going to get it right now.”

He looked at me apologetically and said, “Sorry, Mac. It’s about this party tonight. Maybe I shouldn’t go. The idea of seeing everyone from JAG just made me realize how different things are going to be now.”

I was suddenly flooded with shame. I had been so caught up in the possibility of ‘us’ that selfishly I hadn’t given enough consideration to how he must be feeling.

“I’m the one that’s sorry, Harm. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be facing any of this. But nothing has changed the fact that those people are your friends, including the Admiral. You are planning to talk to him about coming back to JAG, aren’t you?”

“I’ll talk to him, but I think I have to be prepared to look at other options.”

“This is so unfair. The Navy is your life, Harm. And it’s not as if you just ran off to rescue me. You saved Webb, too and in the process helped the CIA clean up a big messy operation.”

“And I am sure that Admiral Chegwidden will be more than happy to let the CIA repay me.”

“You don’t belong with the CIA. You belong at JAG.”

Another thought hit me, and I suddenly felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. His wings! Because of me he wouldn’t be flying anymore. I felt like crying but buried it beneath sheer determination.

“The Admiral just has to take you back, Harm.” I spoke fiercely and squeezed his hand. “That’s all there is to it.”

“The Admiral can be a very stubborn man, Mac, but whatever happens, we’ll deal with it together.” He looked down at our joined hands and ran his thumb across the back of my mine.

“Maybe we shouldn’t deal with it together,” I said quietly.

His head shot up at that.

“ – at least not tonight. If there’s a chance he's considering letting you come back, we don’t want to give him any reason to change his mind. The idea of dealing with us as a couple if we're both at JAG might make him decide that it’s not worth the headache. I think it’s a good idea if we just act like nothing has changed – you know, act like we’re still just friends.”

“I told you there would be no going backwards for me, and I meant it, and frankly I don’t think it’s necessary.”

“You’ve sacrificed enough for me, Harm, and I won’t be responsible for ruining a perfectly good opportunity for you to get some of that back. Do it for me.” I was begging and felt close to tears again.

He studied me for a moment before asking, “So if I care, I’ll pretend not to care?”

“Exactly,” I said relieved that he seemed ready to go along with me.

“So, you mean I can’t do this tonight?” He leaned over and kissed me gently on the lips.

“Absolutely not,” I said kissing him back.

“What about holding hands?” he asked as the kiss deepened.

“Not a good idea,” I murmured.

He dragged me into his lap. “Can we at least play footsey under the table?”

“Maybe,” I conceded as I wrapped my arms around his neck. “But watch the way you look at me. If you look at me the way you’re looking at me right now, it will be all over.”

He took my mouth with his again, and the skimpy piece of silk he wore wasn’t nearly enough to make me forget how close I was to his powerful body. His hands wandered under the back of my tee shirt, and he mumbled, “We need to work on our timing. One of us is always overdressed.”

Remembering why I’d gotten dressed in the first place, I stopped his attempt to pull my shirt off, and whispered, “I better go get your clothes from the dryer.”

“Not yet,” he insisted even as I crawled off his lap.

“Sorry, Harm, but you need to get dressed and go home. It's time to get ready for tonight,” I said with regret. I stumbled my way to the front door feeling hung over from waves of desire. I risked a look back as I went out the door, and the sight of him lounging on my couch was enough to make me groan. That pink robe was going to be starring in some very erotic dreams.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

I sat at the table, trying to take part in the conversations going on around me, but all of my attention was focused on the front door of Benzinger’s. Every time it opened I looked up to see if it was Harm. I was beginning to think that he had changed his mind about coming after all. Not that I could blame him. His appearance might make things awkward, and he didn’t want to put a damper on things for Meredith’s sake.

When he left my apartment he'd still been unhappy about the idea of being discreet, and I certainly didn't want to put on the brakes either, but it was just for one night, and I didn’t think it could hurt to err on the side of caution. He wanted to pick me up, but I convinced him that we should arrive separately, and he finally agreed when he realized he would be able to leave if things got uncomfortable.

I could barely wait to see him. We had only been apart for a few hours, and I already missed him. This new level of intimacy was deliciously promising. I mean, we’d almost made love and even if there’d been no grand declarations, we had danced around some deeper feelings. We still had a few things to work out, but for the first time in months, I felt hopeful that we just might get there.

Everyone had been happy to see me, asking me about Harm, and telling me how worried they had been especially after he’d left to go after me. I was happy to see them too, but I knew without question how hollow this would all feel if Harm weren’t a part of it.

The Admiral had approached me when I first arrived. “Good to have you back, Colonel.”
My feelings toward Admiral Chegwidden were all over the place. He was like a father to me, and yet he had refused Harm permission to go after me. He was also the main thing standing between Harm and his career in the Navy. I hoped none of those things showed on my face as I said, “Thank you sir. It’s good to be home.”

“I expected Rabb to be with you,” he said gruffly.

“No, I came alone.” I was alarmed at the disapproval in his voice. He made a harrumphing noise, but Meredith came over before he could say anything else and swept me away toward the table where the rest of the group was sitting.

Harriet and Meredith were discussing wedding plans, and I tried to feign interest until the door opened once more, and a large group of people came in together. I started to look away when I recognized his forehead peeking up over the top of the crowd. He always stood taller than everyone around him, and not just in physical height. It was part of his appeal, his ability to be bigger than the situation he found himself in – but who knew that the mere sight of his forehead could fill me with such longing, such contentment? Harm had arrived, and I felt safe. It was that simple. Seeing him walk through doorways was proving to have an incalculable impact on my life.

I watched his easy approach. He was wearing a long sleeved charcoal collarless sweater tucked into black pants and I barely resisted the urge to jump up and run to him. Not looking once in my direction, he shook hands with Sturgis and hugged Bobbie, and then he knelt down beside Harriet where she sat with her feet propped up and kissed her on the cheek. He said hello to Bud, and Tiner and Coates, before making his way over to the Admiral and Meredith. He hugged Meredith and then offered his hand to Admiral Chegwidden.

The Admiral stood at his approach, and hesitated before shaking his hand but then said, “Welcome back, Mr. Rabb. I got a report from the CIA. You did a good job for them in Paraguay.”

“Thank you, sir. I was just reacting to the circumstances, and the Colonel and I got lucky.”

The Admiral studied him with that inscrutable stare and then said, “I’m glad you could get her back.”

Harm’s eyes locked with his, and he said simply, “So am I.”

Some other mental conversation was happening between the two of them that I was at a loss to understand. But it seemed clear that some kind of challenge was being issued.

Now I was more worried than ever about Harm’s future in the Navy, and I was even more convinced that we should keep our distance from each other for the evening.

Unfortunately the only available chair was beside me, and I felt the weight of everyone’s eyes on us as he dropped down beside me. The curiosity everyone had about the two of us bordered on the unhealthy, and this latest exploit in South America could only make the speculation worse.

“Hey, sweet thing,” he said in a voice loud enough for the whole table to hear. Then he leaned over and kissed me on my mouth even though it was hanging open.

All conversation ceased, and now what had been surreptitious glances changed to open stares.

Sturgis coughed and started asking Meredith if they had picked a date for the wedding yet, so everyone pretended interest in her answer.

“What are you doing?” I hissed under my breath.

“I didn't like the plan so I changed it,” he whispered in my ear.

The Admiral was watching us, so I smiled at him, and then while trying not to move my lips, said to Harm, “You can’t change the plan!”

Harm’s answer was to scoot his chair closer to mine and throw his arm around my shoulders.

Bobbie had been out of town a lot and said, “Well, it looks like some things have changed while I’ve been gone. So when did this happen, you two?”

Harm turned to consult with me. “Let’s see, sugar noodle. About what time was it this afternoon when I decided to join you in that big, ole bubble bath?”

Tiner started choking on whatever he was drinking and Jennifer started pounding him on the back, so no one noticed when I stomped on Harm’s foot under the table as hard as I could. “So this is your idea of a plan?”

He tried not to wince as he nuzzled my cheek and said into my ear, “I’m winging it.”

“I knew something was going on!” Bud exclaimed triumphantly once Tiner had recovered.

“Ah yes, I’m afraid Bud caught us in a bit of a compromising position this afternoon.” Harm informed everyone helpfully.

“He did?” Harriet squealed and turned to Bud. “You did?” And you didn’t tell me? Bud!” She whacked him on the arm.

“Well, I just caught the Commander in a pink silky robe, but to be fair the Colonel was fully dressed.”

“Harm, this has brought out a side of you I’ve never seen before.” Sturgis remarked sardonically, and then asked. “Do you have a pet name for him, Mac?”

I could think of a few --

Snake in the grass --

Double-crossing, double-dealing, no-good, plan-changer --

Lily-livered, throwing away all his chances to stay in the Navy, heartbreaker --

Before I could answer, Harm got a dreamy look on his face and said, “She has several, but I’m partial to snookums.”

I looked at him incredulously. I couldn’t imagine what he was thinking. Maybe he’d hit his head too hard in the plane crash in Paraguay and some kind of delayed concussion was just now setting in. I was seriously hoping for an explanation that would require a note from his doctor, because otherwise I was going to have to kill him.

“Could I speak to you for just a minute, Harm?” I stood up and grabbed his arm pulling him up and out of his chair before he could respond.

“She can’t keep her hands off me!” he explained as I hauled him to the back of the restaurant.

I glanced back at the table, and the Admiral was still watching us with a speculative look on his face, so I dragged Harm into a back hallway that led to the restrooms.

“What do you think you’re doing, Harm?”

He backed me up against the wall and kissed me.

“Well, that explains everything.” I said with a sigh.

“I was hoping to distract you so I wouldn’t have to explain.”

“It won’t work.” I said, but I didn’t stop him when he kissed me again.

“Harm,” I said trying not to whine, “I thought we agreed on discreet – instead you’re flaunting our relationship in the Admiral’s face. And it’s not even our relationship – sweet thing,” I added for emphasis.

“Call it an instinct. I felt I needed to make a statement,” he said defensively.

“To who? To the Admiral? Don’t think I didn’t notice all the male posturing going on between the two of you.”

“To the Admiral, to every loveable, busybody friend at that table, and even to you, Mac. I'm tired of pretending and this way they really have something to talk about.”

“What about the Admiral, Harm?”

“I can’t worry about him right now – and don’t give me that look. Do you trust me?”

“With my life,” I stated without hesitation.

“How about with your heart?” he asked sounding vulnerable.

“You’ve had my heart for years.”

He traced a small heart shape on my chest, and smiled sadly. “Maybe I better start taking better care of it then.” He kissed me once more then said, “Let’s go.” This time he was the one hauling me back to the table.

I sat back down, but Harm remained standing and said, “I might not be the obvious choice to do this since I have never been married, but Meredith, Sir, with your permission I would like to say a few words in honor of your upcoming marriage.”

“This ought to be good,” AJ and Sturgis said in unison. Everyone, including Harm, laughed.

“As I was saying, I have never been married, so I applaud both of you for making the brave decision to spend your lives together. It has been an ‘experience’ to watch the two of you find each other and fall in love. AJ, you have been like a father to me, and Meredith, it has been a pleasure to watch you bring joy and surprise into his life. Sometimes, when we least expect it, the one person we’ve been waiting for is just around the next corner, and our lives are instantly transformed by love.”

He paused. “I’ve never been that lucky.”

My heart dropped at his words, but I kept a smile on my face and my eyes focused somewhere just over his left shoulder. I could feel everyone glance my way, and their pity was a palpable thing.

“So though I don’t know much about marriage, my real wish is that years from now, when the newness has faded, you’ll be lucky enough to have found even half of what I’ve found with Mac.”

My eyes flew to his face, and he turned to me.

“Sometime when I wasn’t looking, I made an irrevocable decision to spend my life with this woman in what ever way she would have me – as a colleague, a friend, a lover – and though we’re still working out the details, she has given me more over the years than I could hope for in fifty years of marriage.

Despite a few detours, we find ourselves bound together by all the stuff that makes life worth living – my arrogance, her stubbornness, my pride in her, her faith in me. We’ve gone to the ends of the earth for each other without stopping to ask why.

I may just now be putting a name to it, but there is no denying that I love her. Nothing else is more important, and everything I have given up recently pales beside that.
Admiral, you asked me before I left what I would risk to keep Mac, and the answer is simple. The same thing that anyone with the courage to love risks – my heart.”

He knelt down beside my chair with his emotions laid bare and took my hand. “But a funny thing happened on the way to Paraguay. I realized that there was nothing left to risk. You already had my heart, Mac. And I guess I should have told you before I told our friends, but in case you weren't listening, I do love you.”

My heart was splitting wide open as I threw my arms around his neck “Oh, snookums – I love you, too.”

He lifted me from the chair and kissed me right there in front of the Admiral and all our friends. It was one of those kisses you read about in books where everything gets dim and the world disappears. I never really believed that the world could disappear, but it did – except I could hear scattered applause, Harriet sniffling, the Admiral clearing his throat, and Tiner giggling – but other than that everything faded away except Harm.

We made our excuses soon after that, needing to be alone. I hugged everyone and couldn't stop smiling as we said our goodbyes.

Then my heart soared when the Admiral stopped us on our way out the door. “Commander Rabb, be in my office first thing Monday morning.” The twinkle in his eye belied his gruff tone.

“Yes, sir,” Harm answered smartly.

Then we pushed our way out the restaurant's front door and into the cool night air. We laughed and ran down the street toward our cars – but it felt like we were flying.

 

The End
 

 

 
 
   

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