Chapter 1 - Somebody Else's Life
"You free for lunch?"
Sarah Mackenzie looked up from a slurry of paperwork on her desk and blinked. "Free? Are you free? Are any of us truly 'free', Harm? And what is freedom? What does it mean?..." There was a moment's pause when Commander Rabb looked confused, before he looked down with a smile.
"Still chewing on the Tannister case, I take it."
"Chewing, swallowing, digesting..." she waved her hand vaguely without continuing the progression.
"Let's just say I'm 'immersed' in it." Her eyes brightened at the exchange and a weary smile touched her lips. "I've got to eat sometime, I suppose. What did you have in mind?"
"Well, ah..." She frowned prettily as he hesitated. "I brought some lunch."
"Well, that's peachy for you, but I-"
"No, Mac. I mean," he took a deep breath and his eyes widened, a little embarrassed. "I brought enough lunch for both of us."
She sat back and tossed her pen into the confusion on her desk.
"Well, Harmon Rabb. What made you think of that?"
"It's Thursday, there's a full moon tonight…" He gave her a look as she rolled her eyes. "I just thought it would be nice." Grinning, he fiddled with the light switch. "Besides. Shrimp was on sale and I made too much." They shared a laugh and Mac shook her head. "Look," he said with a slightly nervous smile, "if it's not a good time for you, don't worry. I just thought you might -"
"Harm! If you think I'm going to turn down one of your seafood salads -" Her eyes narrowed. "Which dressing?"
"Sun-dried tomato basil vinaigrette."
His eyes laughed. "Fresh this morning. Basil right out of the windowbox."
"Mmmm." She looked at her watch. "Here, or your office?"
"Ah, I thought maybe off-base. The park?"
She looked intrigued. "Let's go."
He smiled, a boyish, happy grin. "Great."
Mac couldn't help grinning herself as he carefully closed the car door behind her. It was obvious that Harm's mother had raised a gentleman, and she sighed peacefully as he walked around the car, reflecting on their friendship. It was comfortable again. After the marathon they had run with the rest of JAG, they had even taken to running together on Monday mornings. She looked over at him while he settled in and smiled.
It was amazingly good to have her best friend back.
As they drove, putting distance between them and the office, she felt herself relax. "This was a great idea, Harm. Thanks."
"Hey, we haven't even eaten, yet."
"No, but I didn't realize just how much I needed to get out of the office." She reached over and patted his hand companionably. "Thanks."
"No problem." He flashed her a smile, his eyes bright. "Besides, that judge was making my teeth itch this morning. Did you hear her with that poor bailiff?" Mac nodded and they both laughed, just a little guiltily.
Mac flopped back on the blanket after lunch and made a satisfied noise. "Good work, Navy. You should have entered the culinary competition."
Harm chuckled, his smile glinting in the sun. "Right. I can imagine how happy the Admiral would be if I told him I wanted to take six months off to go to the culinary institute."
"Oh, come on... you could be the poster boy for the Navy's new pilot-lawyer-chef division." He looked at his watch as she laughed, her eyes closed.
"I hate to say it, Mac, but we should get back. I've got to finish getting the Michaels case together. Court tomorrow." She balled up her napkin and threw it at him.
"Spoilsport." Sitting up and stretching, she looked at him more seriously. "How does it look?"
Harm shrugged. "Good, I think. Plenty of witnesses for before and after." He shook his head. "Still pretty sad." Mac nodded soberly as she stood and folded the plaid picnic blanket.
"Really sad. Whatever happens in the case, I hope he can live with it." She looked pensive as she brushed grass off her marine greens, but her eyes brightened abruptly. "Thanks again for lunch, Harm. It was wonderful."
He stared at her back as she headed toward the car. "Anytime, Mac."
Norfolk Enlisted Men's Quarters
Commander Harmon Rabb looked up from his sheaf of papers to the officer sitting across from him. My God, they look younger every year. "Not even a letter of reprimand, Lieutenant. You've been cleared completely."
Rabb waited for a response, looking back down to stack the files. When none came, he looked again. "Lieutenant Michaels?"
The dark-haired young officer was staring down at the table, expressionless. "Look, Lieutenant. Is there something -"
"Thank you, Commander. I appreciate the trouble you went through to help me..." The response, coming late as it did, brought a concerned frown to Rabb's face. The younger man's voice trailed off, as if he had practiced that line and didn't have anything else in him.
"Lieutenant?" The commander waited. He could feel the tension, and hoped that if he just gave him time, Michaels would tell him what was going on. He wished for a moment that Mac was here. She was intuitive about these things. Women. He almost smiled as he pictured her response to that comment, but at that moment, the young man's shoulders began to shake.
"Lieutenant? Greg? What's going on?"
The sobs wrenched out as Michaels slammed his fists down on the table. "She's still dead." Harm pushed his chair back, his head tipping to one side. He spoke quietly. "I know, Greg. But it wasn't your fault. The private was sober when you signed out that jeep to him-"
"Who cares?" The lieutenant broke down again, his head in his hands. "I mean, when this happened, I was so worried that it might have been my fault, and now, now it isn't, I know that, I know it isn't, but damn it, sir, she's still dead! She's, she-"
Harm stared for a moment, not knowing what to say. Slowly, realization dawned. He stood and walked to the other side of the table, put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "She was more than just a friend, wasn't she." It wasn't a question, and Harm was sure he had hit something when the shoulder under his firm grasp began to shake again. The commander squatted next to the chair and distractedly dug a handkerchief out of his pocket, handed it over.
Taking it with a nod, the young man responded. "No, sir."
Harm's eyebrows raised, the blue in his eyes curious. "No?"
"No. We were just friends. Really good friends. The best. But we could have been more than that." Harm sighed. Been there. "Greg, no one knows what could have happened."
"Oh, it could have, sir, but I - was an idiot. We used to get together all the time, have a couple beers, talk, watch movies, talk more... and do you know what we talked about most?"
Harm shook his head, his eyes wide with concern for the shaken young marine.
"We talked about how hard it was to find someone to get along with. Someone who you could talk with, laugh with, work with... someone who you could respect, who'd respect you. Hell, sir, you wouldn't understand." He wiped his shirtsleeve across his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to control himself. "We looked at each other sometimes, just looked, and we both knew we were thinking 'what if'... but we never did anything about it." The young soldier's voice cracked as he laughed at himself harshly. "No, no, that's not true. I never did anything about it. I kept putting it off. She tried to talk about it once or twice, but I joked my way out of it."
Harm stood up again, moved back to his chair. A chorus in his mind was getting louder. Familiar, eh? "Listen, Greg. I can recommend some time off. I'll talk to your commanding officer, and-"
"No, thank you, sir." Harm looked surprised. "I mean, I appreciate the thought, sir, I just think that if I keep working it would be better. Thank you."
"Greg-" He stopped. Everything he thought to say sounded so clichéd. Once more he wished Mac was here. Even if she didn't have the words, just having his partner here often helped him find the ones he needed. Have I ever told her that?
"Sir?" Lieutenant Michaels looked into Harm. Their eyes were almost the identical shade of blue-green. "It's not that I don't think there will ever be anyone else. It's not that. It's just... well. I'm only twenty-three. For the rest of my life, I'll remember how it feels right now, how it feels to never know what could have been."
For a brief moment, the ghost of a smile lit the young man's face. "Judy must be laughing at me. She always said I needed to learn to follow my heart..." the tears filled his eyes again, and he looked down to the table. "We used to talk about how when you're in the military, your life could be on the line anytime. I thought that made a difference somehow. And then she gets hit by a car. A damn car, Commander, crossing the street, as if we were just... as if we were... ordinary... This big scary military excuse I gave myself was a lie, because anyone, anywhere, could be dead tomorrow. Gone. It doesn't matter. And you'll never see them again. And they'll never know, and you'll never know... "
He looked back up to the wide eyes of Harmon Rabb. "I'll live differently now, even if it's in her honor, instead of beside her, but the things I would have made sure of..." Lieutenant Michaels shook his head, resolve growing in his expression. "Can you imagine, Commander? Can you imagine never seeing your best friend again? Ever?"
Harm ignored the first feeling that came to him. A veritable chorus in his head, training from the beginning, told him to avoid identifying emotionally with his client. "I've had friends die, lieutenant. It's not easy."
The younger man almost snorted a laugh. "No, not easy." He shook his head. "It's a hell of a way to learn a lesson, sir. I just-" He stopped, sobbed without a sound. "I just want to hold her again. That's all. Just hold her."
Chapter 2 - Bullpen Sideshow
Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr, was on the beltway when it hit. An overwhelming sensation of loss, a loss that hadn't even happened.
"Yeah, Rabb, and what if it did? What if she doesn't just transfer, or even just marry someone else.
What if she -" He couldn't bring himself to finish the thought. "Right, counsel, as long as she's alive, there's hope." He pounded the steering wheel, shouting.
"Hope of WHAT? What are you waiting for?", and must have shouted something else, as well. A woman in a minivan full of kids glared at him. Harm looked sheepishly at her, mouthed 'sorry', and changed lanes for his exit.
As much as he tried to dismiss it, the image of Sarah Mackenzie lying dead in the street, hit by a drunk driver, maybe after one of their stupid, stupid arguments, was blazing in the front of his mind. In full, horrible color. Those luminous dark eyes glazed and empty. Never being able to make it right again. Never being able to apologize. Never being able to talk it out, or pretend, as they did so often, that it just didn't happen. Never being able to hold her, ever, ever again.
A nasty little voice in his head said, "Well, Commander. At least you won't have to worry about deciding whether to take it a step farther anymore." Something finally snapped into place. He swore softly and stepped on the accelerator.
Colonel Sarah Mackenzie was standing at the copier, staring blankly at the wall opposite her as she waited for the documents to finish reproducing. "Exciting work, Colonel?" She blinked with some embarrassment back to awareness, smiled brightly if somewhat artificially at the Admiral as he walked past.
"Oh, unbelievably exciting, sir. But they're almost done." The Admiral returned her smile and was safely in his office when Harm came flying into the bullpen. He ran to her office, looked in, turned and searched the room slightly more frantically than a seasoned fighter pilot should. When he saw her, he visibly exhaled, as if he'd been holding his breath. He covered the distance between them in record time, yet when he stood in front of her, half a step apart, he hesitated. She frowned, puzzled, and gave him a quirky smile.
"Commander? Is something-" She didn't finish as he wrapped her in a hug and held on tightly, his head dropped on her shoulder. She laughed in surprise.
There was something in his whisper that turned her expression to one of concern. She responded quietly, realizing peripherally that they were getting puzzled looks from the staff.
"Harm? Are you all right?" She tried to pull back to look at him, to figure out what was going on, but he wouldn't let go. He whispered her name again. Slowly, she put her arms around him, holding him tight, rubbing her hand across his back. Whatever was going on, she couldn't let him down when he was so obviously upset. "It's okay, Harm," she whispered back to him. "You found me. Tell me what's going on."
He held her tighter for a moment, then released his hold, his hands sliding to rest on her shoulders.
"I need to talk to you."
She blinked. "Sure. Of course. My office?"
"No. Not... not here." He looked around, realized that work had come to a standstill in the bullpen. He flashed a big smile at them. Mac could tell at a glance it was the fake version, but then, she also knew he was perfectly capable of fooling most people with that smile. Good thing the Admiral wasn't here. "Ah." Harm looked back to Mac, a slight wave of panic in his eyes.
Accepting that this strange incident had turned into another one of those moments when she was called on to save her partner's life, Mac thought quickly, smirked at him, and gave a very theatrical sigh as she half turned toward their coworkers. "Well, well, well. I guess that means I won the bet. And don't think that throwing yourself on the mercy of this court is going to work." She rolled her eyes across the audience, looked primly back at the commander. "It's not my fault if you can't go for three months without a speeding ticket. You promised me two hours of paperwork!" He laughed weakly, shrugged at the rest of the office, and smiled again.
"It was worth a try."
There were scattered laughs and amused looks. The staff largely returned to what they were doing before the sideshow began. Mac looked at him, continuing in the theatrical voice.
"Now if you'll follow me, Commander, I'll pick out some choice files for you."
She headed for her office with a slightly sheepish Harm in tow. When they got inside, she closed the door halfway and turned to him, her eyes dark and serious once more. "Are you sure you don't want to talk here?"
Harm looked at her. His eyes softened their piercing gaze, and she felt something melting inside her. She looked away, ostensibly to see if the staff was still following the story. "It looks like our acting was good enough. I don't think we're the center of attention anymore, so if-" she stopped as his hand touched her cheek. He was staring at her, completely absorbed. "Harm?" He raised his other hand, cupping her face gently.
"Oh, Mac." She felt the warmth of his breath, and then the soft caress of his lips chastely brushed against her cheek. He pulled back carefully. "Can you come over tonight? Please? I'll make dinner... and we can talk." She opened her eyes, which had closed of their own volition, and it seemed a thought crossed his mind. Mac knew that 'deer in the headlights' look all too well.
"Unless - you don't want to? I mean, if you have other, ah..."
She blinked at him, again. "Harmon Rabb, if I don't get a full explanation, and I mean full, of whatever is going on in that flyboy brain of yours, I'll -" she stopped. "I don't know what I'll do." A smile slowly spread from her eyes to her lips. "But I'll make sure you don't like it. What are you cooking?" He looked happier than she had seen him in months. "Anything you want. Anything." She was tilting her head curiously, when a sly smile crossed her lips.
"Okay." Her smile began to fade when his expression became nervous once more. "So, ah, which files do you want me to take?"
"Yeah, you said I was going to do paperwork for you…" He trailed off, and she almost laughed at the little-boy look in his eyes.
"Harm, I was just trying to get us out of there. You don't have to do any paperwork for me."
He looked almost disappointed. "Well, okay." He moved toward the door, and stopped with his hand on the frame. "I'd do it, you know."
"I know. But you really don't owe me any work time."
The sea-blue of his eyes grew brighter as he stared at her, as if his heart was beating just a bit faster. "I owe you a lot more than that."
Harm ducked out before she could say anything else, and Mac stood at her desk staring at the door for quite some time before she shook her head and realized she'd left her paperwork in the copier. She was ready to walk out and get them when the worried questions began, as they always did when she had a particularly interesting experience with her sometime partner. Especially if he wanted to 'talk'.
Is this good? Is it bad? Has he decided he knows why we can never get together? Has he fallen for someone else, and wants me, his 'best friend', to be the first to know?
"Auugh." She turned and leaned against the door, closing it, and put her face in her hands for a moment. When she took them away, the woman of resolve was back. Moving to her desk, she hit the intercom.
"Tiner. What can I do for you, Ma'am?"
"Yes, Tiner, I think I left my files on the copier. I'm in the middle of things here, could check for me?"
"Sure thing. I'll bring them over."
Mac sat down and pulled a couple of files closer, opening them to support her claim of busyness. As she did so, she chuckled, sighed, and tried to get her mind to be quiet long enough to get some work done.
He wants to talk.
Chapter 3 – Harm's Apartment
Mac stood outside the door and hesitated, brushing a hand over her hair and straightening the light jacket draped over her arm. She looked down at her outfit - dark pants and a low cut ruby shirt that gracefully accentuated her cleavage - and wondered for at least the fifth time if it was 'too much'. She rolled her eyes. It seemed that curiosity, nervousness, and absolute despair were taking turns with every breath she took. "Okay, Marine. Pull yourself together." She tapped on the door and it popped open as if he had been waiting with his hand on the doorknob.
"Ah. Hi. I mean, come in." He looked, she noticed, both nervous and embarrassed. It actually helped her settle down.
"Little jumpy there, flyboy. You okay?"
"Oh, yeah. Yeah. Dinner's almost ready." She got her last chance to worry as his eyes drifted quickly down her outfit. "Wow. You- ah…" Mac watched his eyes, and grinned as she could almost see a little subroutine click into place. "That color is beautiful on you."
"Thank you." They stood uncomfortably for a moment as he looked at her, laughed nervously, and motioned for her to come in.
"Can I get you something to drink?"
She turned to look at the table as he took her jacket, and put her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide. Harm noticed her look and swallowed. "Anything?"
"Oh, Harm, it's lovely." She stepped over and reached out to touch the low vase of burgundy tulips and ivy, glowing softly by candlelight. "Very nice." Turning back to look back at him, she said softly,
"I think water might be a good idea." He smiled, nodded, and filled two crystal goblets. Handing one to her, he held his up.
"To friendship," he said. She smiled, nodded. This was ground she understood.
He took a deep breath just before he drank, and said, "And all it can become." She almost choked. A timer chimed into the abrupt silence and they were literally saved by the bell. "Ah. Everything's ready. Let's eat, Mac."
Dinner was calm. Harm asked how the Tannister case was going, and they segued into talking casually about the office, about some car work she was having done, about anything but a frantic hug in the middle of the bullpen, an undefined kiss in her office and a romantic setting tonight. When the last of the tiramisu was gone, they adjourned to the couch, sipping tea.
"That was delicious, Harm. Thank you."
He shrugged. "I hoped you would like it. I wasn't sure." Putting his mug down on the coffeetable, he walked over to the stereo and changed the CD. "That peppercorn sauce was new for me, and I didn't know if-"
"Harm, for heaven's sake. You made steaks! They'd have to be compressed soy protein - and overcooked compressed soy protein at that - for me not to be happy with them." They both laughed as he returned to the couch, and she watched him for a quiet moment.
His eyes looked up at her, his head still tipped down. "So. Well. I suppose you're wondering..." He floundered, sipped from his mug and put it down again.
"I don't quite know what to say."
He looked deep into her eyes, and saw the humor waiting there, overlaid with a familiar tension.
"Mac. I told you about Lieutenant Michaels. I didn't tell you everything." She listened quietly as he related the story of his morning. When he had finished, she shook her head sympathetically, sipped her tea and sighed.
"The poor guy. As if it wasn't bad enough to lose a colleague."
"Do you think he'll be alright?"
Harm nodded, running his finger around the edge of his mug as he stared into the depths of his drink. "I found that I really identified with him."
Mac felt the ground shifting, and instinctively pulled back. "Really."
"Really. I listened to him, and all I heard was myself… and I suddenly realized, I've been afraid."
She put down her tea and sat back into the couch, long standing defense mechanisms tensing against what might be coming. Is this what the evening was about? He'd finally figured out … what? With stunning clarity she realized that although she had always wanted an explanation from him of why they couldn't be together, the last thing she wanted right now was to actually hear what it was.
"Afraid of what, Harm?" Her concern got the best of her when she saw the expression that came over his handsome features.
"Afraid that I'd lose my best friend. Afraid that we'd end up hating each other. Afraid that you'd go away..."
She exhaled, reached over and put her hand on his arm. "Hey. We both have abandonment issues. You'd think after all this time we'd trust each other more than that, but..." She shook her head, took a deep breath. No need to make this harder than it was. "So something is clear to you now?"
His eyes widened as he tipped his head, then a smile grew irresistibly across his face.
"Yeah. Something is clear. It took a while for me to figure out just what it was, but -" He shook his head. "Mac, I found something I'm even more afraid of than us trying and failing."
Here it comes. Whatever he says you are not going to cry again, Mackenzie. "What's that?" Her voice was a bare whisper.
Harm took a deep breath. "I'm more afraid of never being able to see you again. To touch you again. As long as we're both on the planet, I know we'll eventually see each other, we'll talk again no matter what. God knows we're too damn stubborn to leave anything that important alone." Shifting uncomfortably, he stared at the floor. "I couldn't get anything done at work today after you left for the meeting with Tannister. All I could see was you … dead. Gone. No way for me to rush in and save you, or at least die trying..."
His voice, always so strong and clear, shook for a moment. Mac could feel the intensity of his emotions and reached out impulsively to take his hand, which he grasped as if it were his only link to survival. "I thought of never having a chance again, of something ending our chances..." He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it reverently. "I know I must have thought about it before, but maybe I've just never felt it that way before. I don't know why. But I'm sorry I haven't."
Mac looked down for a long moment, fighting with her own resolve. "Actually, Harm, that's exactly how I felt when your plane went down. The night before I was supposed to marry Mic. I realized it then. I knew in my soul that night how it would feel to never see you again."
She looked up with watery eyes. "I couldn't stop seeing you under the water, drowning, not able to help you… it was such a clear picture in my mind." The marine took an abrupt breath and swallowed hard. "I still have nightmares sometimes." She attempted a laugh, as if it were nothing, but her breath caught and she frowned down at the floor, trying not to cry.
"Oh, Mac. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I'm an idiot."
She looked at him, staring so sincerely at her, and felt an abrupt opening warmth in her chest. Suddenly she couldn't help giggling. Sniffing, she dabbed at her face with her napkin. "That's okay, Harm. I'm actually pretty used to it by now." He laughed with her, then folded her delicate hand in both of his.
"Listen, Sarah. Are you willing to take a chance-" Harm grinned, gave her half a smile. "With a lawyer slash pilot of questionable intelligence? One who, I promise, catches on eventually?" His expression stayed the same while his eyes became seriously earnest. "Please."
Mac looked down at their hands for a long moment, then back up at his handsome, slightly worried face. The face that she knew so well, in all of its moods and feelings. The face that haunted her dreams as well as her nightmares. She sighed.
"You're right about one thing. Even if it didn't work out, we are too stubborn to never be friends again."
She leaned closer, and he felt himself falling heartfirst into the liquid midnight of her eyes. He felt, as much as heard, her silky whisper. "So what have we got to lose?"
For a brief, eternal moment, he stared into her with earnestly burning passion; the same passion she saw when he talked about flying, or truth, or justice. Subtly, something in that look changed as he lowered his lips to hers.
With a little thrill of shock Mac recognized the expression, although she rarely saw it in her friend's face, and never with such ecstatic release.
Chapter 4 - Couch Conversations
They had been sitting on the couch kissing for what seemed like minutes,
although their mugs of tea were quite cold by now. Harm felt Mac's hand
slipping smoothly from the back of his neck into the scant space between
them as she reached for the top button of his shirt. So many thoughts
ran through his mind at once that he froze. She felt him withdraw and
pulled away with a frown.
"Are you happy?"
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