Chapter 5 – Admiral's Dinner
Commander Harmon Rabb stood by the bookshelf in his office, staring at a familiar picture. He ran his hand over the frame and sighed.
I wish I could talk to you about all this, Dad…
Mac was out of town for at least three days, checking out a complaint of sexual harassment aboard the Seahawk. Things were going so incredibly well between them that he felt almost like he must be missing something. He just wanted another perspective, one that knew them but wasn't quite as close to the situation as he was. He wanted someone to talk to, to get advice from. It's too important not to bounce off someone. I don't want to mess this up.
Shaking his head, he pulled a slat of the blinds down with one finger and looked out into the bullpen. Coming out of the Admiral's office was Sturgis Turner, one of his closest friends. Surely Sturgis knew something about what had begun last week. Mac told Harm three days ago, blushing, about her accidental confession of affection in front of his old friend. Harm grinned at the memory and shook his head. It wasn't that he didn't trust Sturgis, it was that talking to him about this just didn't feel quite… right.
Bud Roberts walked through the space next, and Harm frowned. Why not Bud? Certainly the man had been through a lot, besides having a successful career and marriage. Bud was probably the closest thing to a brother, sidekick and backup man that Harm had, at least in this country. Yeah, but Bud and Harriet have been rooting for us for so long, there's no way he'd be objective. And anything I said to him would go to Harriet as well… he sighed at his indecision and let the slat snap back into place.
Better to wait and have a dinner with all four of them. It would be a party instead of… he paused. Instead of what? What was it he wanted? Picking up the picture frame, he spoke quietly. "I guess I want a father to talk to, eh, Dad?" Frank, his stepfather, had always been supportive, but it wasn't the same. His finger traced over the image of the smiling man standing next to the fighter jet. "I wish there was someone who could see me the way you would, who would understand the complications..."
With a slight frown, Harm looked up through the blinds again. His gaze drifted towards the Admiral's door. He stared for a long minute, shook his head. "Nah. That would be crazy." The phone rang, and he leaned over the desk to pick it up.
"Commander, I need to talk to you. Get in here pronto."
"Aye, Sir." The receiver clicked in his ear, and Harm stared at it for a minute before hanging it up carefully. He regarded the picture in his other hand suspiciously. "That wasn't funny."
Admiral AJ Chegwidden looked over his reading glasses at the commander who sat, in his opinion, a bit nervously in the leather guest chair. "I think that's all."
"Thank you, sir. I'll get on it."
"Good." He paused, waiting for Harm to stand. When nothing happened, he continued. ""Something on your mind, Commander Rabb?" Harm's eyes darted up nervously. "Ah, no, Sir. I mean... no." He shook his head as he stood.
The Admiral sighed inwardly. I'm too old for this. "Fine. Dismissed."
Then he waited for it as Rabb barked "Aye, Sir," and made a tidy about-face for the door. He stopped with his hand on the knob, just as AJ had reached '5' in his count. Right on schedule. I haven't lost my touch.
"Can I ask you something?"
Chegwidden looked at him with the lazy power of a jungle cat. "Make it fast, Commander, I'm busy here."
"Yes Sir. I was just wondering if you were busy after work tonight." The younger officer was practically sweating.
"I have plans. Why. What's going on?"
"Oh, nothing, Sir. I just wondered if you might want to go to McMurphy's…" Harm stopped abruptly at the Admiral's expression.
"The two of us?"
"Well, yes, Sir."
"Are you asking me out, Commander?"
"No, Sir. I mean, well, I guess I was just thinking it might be nice to talk outside the office…" He floundered as AJ sat back and stared as if he had two heads.
"I don't know that it would be wise."
"Certainly, Sir. I apologize."
As Harm walked past Tiner, the yeoman could hear him muttering under his breath, "Stupid, stupid, stupid." Somehow it was clear that the Commander was talking about himself. Tiner shrugged. Just another day at the office.
AJ sat at his desk writing, and stopped. He stared at the door, shook his head and went back to work, his concern as always masked by an expression of annoyance.
Voglio's Italian Restaurant Thursday Evening
"What do you think he wanted to talk about?"
"Who knows. I've got enough trouble with the Secretary thinking I've got no control over discipline in the office without going out for a drink with my most out-of-control lawyer."
Meredith tilted her head to the side, watching him. "You could just as easily describe him as your most devoted, most determined, most successful lawyer." She adjusted her napkin distractedly. "From what I've heard of you at that age, he sounds a lot –"
"Don't you start defending him." Their eyes met, and AJ looked away for a moment, grinned slightly, and looked back at her. "You're supposed to be on my side, remember?"
"And I am, dear. But I can't help wondering what might be happening if Harm came and wanted to get together with you. Has he ever made overtures like that before?"
AJ considered as he ripped a piece of bread, dipped it in the herbed oil and took a bite. "Not that I recall."
Meredith opened her mouth to speak, and closed it again. She picked up her wineglass and took a delicate sip.
"What, Meredith." His voice had a weary, affectionate acceptance in it.
"I beg your pardon?"
He leaned his chin on his palm, his elbow on the corner of the table between them. "I know when you're trying not to say something. You always do eventually." He smiled at her look of imaginary dismay. "You may as well go ahead."
She smiled at him, put her glass down. "If you insist." She ignored his response to that and went on. "You know he's been going through a lot lately, AJ. Maybe he needs someone to talk to. Someone older and wiser, perhaps?"
"Oh, no you don't. There is no way I'm old enough to be a father figure to that boy. Man." He bit his tongue in consternation. Meredith laughed.
"I'm a teacher, AJ. I know that being a parental figure is a state of mind, not an age. Besides, he lost his father when he was very young. Do you realize he's probably been in your command, at this point, longer than he was aware of his father being around?" She paused as he stared at the candle on the table, considering. "His dad was Navy, he was an authority figure, he was someone who he saw as larger than life. A hero."
"I'm just pointing out the similarities."
"Meredith, I'm his commanding officer. That's all. His boss. He has to answer to me, but I'm not some icon that he puts up on a pedestal, nor do I want to be."
She grinned and twirled a few strands of fettuccini on her fork. "Methinks the Admiral doth protest a bit too much." She looked back to her plate and made an approving noise. "This is delicious. Say, speaking of Harm, did you ever get that vegetarian lasagna recipe?"
He shook his head, saying nothing, and returned to attacking his chicken, which looked particularly defenseless. She let him take out some of his denial on his meal before speaking again, seeming to change the subject.
"You remember that I've got that regional conference tomorrow."
He sipped his wine, still not making eye contact. "Right."
"So I'll be gone all evening. If it gets really late, I'll probably stay over with Janice."
"So you'll have the house to yourself."
He paused, fork halfway to his mouth. Slowly his eyes panned over to her, where she sat innocently spearing a shrimp. Too innocently. He dropped the fork onto his plate with a clatter and held out his hand. Meredith blinked at him, her expression carefully neutral, and handed him her cell phone. AJ punched in a number without looking away from her, an expression on his face that would have struck dread in any of the officers under his command. Meredith simply smiled. The voice that picked up on the other end sounded weary.
"Commander. You're still at the office?"
"Oh, yes, Admiral. I was just getting some loose ends tied up on the missile system investigation." AJ could almost hear the frown. "Is anything wrong? Can I do something for you, Sir?"
AJ sighed and continued to stare at his fiancé. "No, nothing wrong. I was just wondering," his eyes closed briefly as he frowned. "You remember that vegetarian lasagna recipe you offered to teach me?"
"Ah, yes, Sir…"
"Well, Meredith is out of town tomorrow, I thought you could come over, we could work on it." He stopped, looked over and caught the brunt of her most teacherly look. "I mean, would you be willing to join me for an educational dinner. Harm." She looked relieved. AJ rolled his eyes. Swinging the receiver up away from his mouth, he whispered, "Just wait until I get you home." Meredith gave a wicked chuckle and refilled their wineglasses.
There was a pause. "At your house, Sir?"
"Is there a problem with that?"
"No, not at all. That would be great." Another, shorter pause. "Thank you, Sir."
"Don't thank me yet, you're going to have to help cook."
The smile was evident in Harm's voice. "I'd be glad to."
He sighed. "Let's keep this as quiet as we can. I don't want it to turn into a cooking school."
"Agreed, Admiral. Please give my best to Meredith."
"I will. And by the way, Rabb, I don't care if she is away on assignment. Go home."
"Yes, Sir. Goodnight."
AJ folded the phone and handed it back to Meredith, who smiled benignly and slipped it back into her purse. "I hope you're happy."
She laughed, more musically than one might expect. "I'm the happiest woman in the world."
Leaning over, she ran her fingers lightly over his hand. "I think it's wonderful that you're doing this."
"Yeah. I could tell." He leaned toward her and kissed her slowly. "Oh, just wait until I get you home."
Harm smiled at the phone for a minute after hanging up, thinking about what he would have to bring over to the Admiral's, when suddenly his eyes widened. "You 'don't care if she is away'…" He groaned. Evidently his eagle-eyed commanding officer had already figured something was going on. Unless he was just suggesting that Harm was putting in extra hours because Mac had started on the case with him. He stared at the ceiling. "Ohh, Mac. I think I may be in trouble."
Harm stood at the door, a bag of groceries tucked under one arm, a smaller bag in the other hand. The Admiral told him that he would get the bread and salad, if Harm could pick up the things for the lasagna. Now, standing at the door, Harm felt an unfamiliar nervousness. Come on, Rabb, you see him every day. You trust him with your life, you can trust him with… your lasagna. Before he could overanalyze his tension, he rang the doorbell.
AJ Chegwidden opened the door, wearing jeans and a black t-shirt that made him look more like an off-duty SEAL than an Admiral. "Evening, Harm. Let me get that."
AJ turned back to look at him with a calculating expression. "Let's go easy on the 'sir's' tonight, alright?"
"Yes, S – " Harm looked briefly at the floor and laughed. "Sounds good."
As they walked into the kitchen and put the bags on the counter, Harm said, "I brought my own sauce, so –"
"Wait a minute. How am I supposed to recreate this dish if we're using your sauce?"
Harm laughed. "Well, we could do sauce another night. Or you could use your own."
AJ stared. "My own. Right."
"Perhaps Meredith makes…" Their eyes met and Harm didn't bother to finish. "Ah. Right."
AJ pulled the box of lasagna noodles out and stared at them. "You know, these have always been my least favorite part of making lasagna. They're such a pain."
"Yeah, I usually make my own sheets of pasta. Then you don't have to deal with the whole hot pasta dance."
The Admiral looked thoughtful. "You know, Meredith gave me a pasta machine. I've never used it." They looked at each other for a moment.
"You want to try it?"
"Will it take too long?"
"Not at all. In fact, if we make the pasta first, we can get everything else ready while it's drying." The Admiral nodded and ducked into the next room.
"It's here somewhere. Ah." He came back with a large box, and Harm looked excited.
"Wow. I have the old version of this one. This is a great machine." He started to unpack it, and the Admiral grinned behind his back.
"It's a pasta machine, Harm, not a 'vette." Turning toward the refrigerator, he said, "You want something to drink? Or should we be traditional and start on the wine while we're cooking?"
"Well, we do have to taste as we go…"
Two hours later the kitchen smelled like a particularly good Italian restaurant, and dinner was finishing up in the oven. AJ looked around. "Will you look at this place?"
Harm looked, frowning slightly. The assembling of the pasta maker had taken any remaining tension out the meeting, and the wine didn't hurt. "You think this is messy?"
"No. I think it looks like we weren't even cooking." He refilled their glasses and motioned Harm toward the den. "Where are the women when we do things without making a mess?" Harm laughed and followed him into a large, comfortable room. The couch and chairs were upholstered in brown leather, and bookshelves lined three walls. A large mahogany desk took up one corner, and a burgundy oriental rug softened the hardwood floor.
"Thanks." They sat down comfortably. With a reluctant grin, the Admiral said, "So I suppose this is where one of us says, 'speaking of women…'" Harm laughed, a little nervously.
"Admiral. I wanted to talk to you about Colonel Mackenzie and me."
"I don't want to put you in an uncomfortable position, being our commanding officer –"
"Do you have a lawyer?" The Admiral's interruption caught Harm by surprise.
"Ah, well, I used Bud once. Usually I take care of things myself."
"I'm not surprised." AJ stretched his long legs out and put his feet up on the ottoman. "Here's the deal. Rules about fraternization are established to protect the military. You know that. However, I don't believe you two would act any differently if you were 'involved' than you do as friends. You'd still pull her out of a burning building before the rest of us." Harm chuckled. "If you get into any trouble, you can bet your ass it'll be with me before anyone else. If it's 'anyone else', well… at that point I suppose you'll need a lawyer. One who knows you both, and could defend your actions." He swirled the wine in his glass, making a garnet whirlpool.
"You would do that, Sir?" The sincerity in Harm's wide eyes made AJ grin in spite of himself.
"I would. So we have lawyer/client going for both of us, got it?"
AJ nodded. "So what's going on?"
Harm leaned forward, his elbows on his knees as he held the glass with both hands. "We seem to be dating."
"Well… we're taking our time."
"Yeah. And I know there're things we have to work on, things that we need to talk about…" His eyes raised and met the Admiral's. "I really don't want to mess this up."
The Admiral's voice was surprisingly gentle. "And why do you think you might 'mess it up'?" Harm chuckled softly. "We both know I haven't got the best track record."
"Neither has she, as I recall."
The younger man shrugged. "I guess." They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping occasionally. When the Admiral spoke, it came out of nowhere.
"You care about her, Harm?"
"Enough to work on yourself?"
"I'd change for her –"
"No, not change for her. Work on yourself. As in take a hard look at why you do what you do, and figure out how and if it can coexist with why she does the things she does." Harm looked at him, puzzled. "For example. You say you don't have a good track record. Do you know why?"
Harm stared down at his glass. "Because I'm afraid to commit – afraid that if I let myself care absolutely, then I'll never survive if they leave me, or die…" The silence sat in the room for a while.
"And how's that working for you."
The commander chuckled wearily. "I'm tired of it. I think I'm ready to give up surety for happiness."
"That sounds like a very healthy choice, Harm."
Rabb smiled down at the floor. "And I kept telling myself I couldn't have Mac." He lifted his eyes to the Admiral. "I'm tired of that, too."
"Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, you two should talk as much as you can… you're both lawyers, both used to having to win. That can make things… difficult."
"I hadn't really thought of it that way. We don't act like lawyers when we're talking about -" he stopped, considered carefully.
"Right. The devotion you two have for each other, even when you're 'just friends', is clear. Make sure you take off the litigation hats when you're trying to work things out. Remember that losing to someone you love, " he said, putting his feet down and leaning toward Harm, "is not losing at all. It's just trusting them with another piece of your self."
Harm looked thoughtful. "I really appreciate this, Admiral." AJ brushed it off lightly.
"Anytime, Harm. I mean that." He stood and looked down at Harm's thoughtful expression. "Let's eat."
Chapter 6 - Lists
Commander Harmon Rabb stepped out of his office and nodded to Bud as he headed for the elevator. Mac had been tied up on the Seahawk right through the weekend, and he found that the closer it came to her being home, the more he missed her. He had quietly mentioned something to that effect to the Admiral when they were in the coffee room the day before, and AJ had looked genuinely amused. "You are new at this, aren't you?"
Harm had spoken to Mac on the phone only three times in five days, knowing how closely military communications were being watched and not wanting to draw attention to themselves. Even those conversations had been largely business, as they discussed the missile case they had started before she was called away – a situation that revolved around the mishandling of classified paperwork. Tracing the paper trail was tedious and time consuming, and the only thing that kept him feeling connected to her was a legal pad currently on the coffee table at his apartment. He remembered clearly how the Admiral had suggested it.
"What I would recommend, Harm, is that you try to keep track of all the things that you two need to talk about. You're lawyers; use that to your advantage. Look at your relationship as a case that needs investigating, and jot down anything you can think of that you need to know or look into. Then, when you're together, you won't waste any time on avoiding issues… or being distracted."
Harm had proceeded to have the following convoluted shore to ship phone conversation with Mac.
"Hello, Colonel, this is Commander Rabb."
"Listen, Colonel, I was talking to the Admiral yesterday."
"Yes. About that potential partnership deal between the two Navy and Marine officers? The ones that want to make sure that they have all the difficulties covered?"
There was just a touch of squeak in her voice. "You talked to the Admiral about it?"
"Yes, he was quite helpful. It was almost as if he knew my questions before I did." There was a pause. "Ah… good."
"Indeed. I know you're busy there, but could you grab a legal pad and write down any concerns you think they may face? When you get back we can compare notes."
"The Admiral suggested this?"
"Well, he knows that it's not a priority in the office compared to some of the other things we're working on - since they only asked for advice - but he'd like it cleared up with the minimum of interruption."
"I see. Well, I'd certainly love to know what he had to say about this. Thank you, Commander, I think I can wrap my brain around a list. I'll get on it."
"Great." Another pause. "Any idea when you'll be getting back?"
"Not soon enough." She chuckled. "Do they miss me in the office as much as I miss being there?"
"More than you know, Ma'am. Looking forward to your return."
Harm laughed to himself as he remembered that call. It was murder to hear her voice and not tell her how much he had been thinking of her, how he wanted to hold her… but the fun of playing the dutiful officers almost made up for it. The fact that he could start the charade and she could immediately catch on and run with it delighted him. He took a deep breath and exhaled contentedly as he walked to his car.
The Admiral had said she'd be home tomorrow, and he couldn't wait. Some laundry tonight, a little football, and try not to think about those eyes.
Harm sat on the floor leaning against the couch and folding undershirts, stacking them neatly in a basket to his left. A beer sat on the coffee table just to his right, along with an open bag of Terra chips. The play onscreen had his total attention at the moment, and when he yelled at the call and pointed, he managed to completely crumple the shirt in his hand. "Two feet down! Are you blind?"
The phone rang almost immediately.
"Rabb." He paused, pointed at the TV. "Yes, I saw it, no, he was not out of bounds." He shook his head vehemently. "Look, Sturgis, there's no way it's going to be upheld –" a loud cheering from the television made his eyes widen. "Fine. Fine. Rub it in. The game's not over yet. Yeah, right. See you tomorrow." He hung up the phone, shaking his head and muttering.
Picking up the laundry basket, he was walking back to his room when abruptly the noise on the TV became even louder. He still had the basket in his hands when he dashed back to see what had happened.
To his absolute surprise, standing in front of the still-open door was Colonel Sarah Mackenzie in full uniform, her luggage in one hand, keys in the other. He stared at her, his jaw hanging.
"I knocked, but I could tell the TV was kind of loud so I just used my key –" she looked at his gaping expression and frowned slightly. "Was that okay? I mean –"
She didn't get the chance to finish her sentence. Harm unceremoniously dropped the laundry basket, vaulted over the couch and the coffee table, hit the door shut with his left hand and proceed to pin her bodily against said door, making her drop the suitcase as he kissed her passionately. He stopped to look into her eyes, and when she caught her breath she laughed. "Surprise. Miss me?"
"They said you wouldn't be home until tomorrow," he said hoarsely, his eyes bright with happiness.
"I would have picked you up." His hands cupped her face and she felt the joy welling up in her chest.
"Well, that would have been quite the scene at the airfield, wouldn't it?" She giggled and he kissed her again, more gently. "Actually, I told the Admiral that I'd be at work tomorrow."
Harm's eyes widened. "He knew?"
"Evidently." She dropped the keys, wrapped her hands around his neck and pulled his lips to hers in a kiss hat could definitely lead to something other than a conversation about their commanding officer.
"Mac." Harm whispered against her ear as he held her, making her shiver with a delicious desire. He seemed to pause a moment and then said, just as quietly, but with a faint humor in his voice, "So days you're away count as two each, right?" She paused long enough for him to pull back and look at her, wondering if she was thinking –
"Nice try, Flyboy." Her hand stroked his cheek affectionately. "I brought my legal pad, I thought we could do a little work on that partnership case. That's what all the waiting is about, right?" He smiled and gestured at the coffee table where his pad was sitting next to the chips and beer, and his expression grew serious for a moment.
"Which makes me think of item six on my list – how do you feel about me drinking around you?" He looked more concerned than nervous. "I mean, I don't drink that much anyway, but I imagine that kissing while I was drinking would be like blowing smoke in the face of someone who quit." She nodded, appreciating his candor. "And of course, if the choice is a beer or kissing you, there is no choice to make."
"Frankly, Harm, I don't mind you having a drink around me. I would be distressed to see you drunk –" he nodded, 'me too', - "and yes, while we're kissing I'm sure you will find that you don't need any auxiliary intoxicants." He laughed and hugged her again, delighting in her confident tone. "Now. As much as I want to work on this, I also want to get out of this uniform and get something to eat."
He blinked at her with false innocence. "Need any help with that?" She rolled her eyes, then tilted her head and dropped her voice seductively.
"As a matter of fact, Harm, I do." He froze just long enough for her to get her revenge. "I need dinner. Desperately. So either go do some kitchen magic, or let me run out for a burger. I'm starving."
Harm nodded in resignation. "I knew you only wanted me for my extraordinary skills. I just didn't think they were the ones I use in the kitchen." She opened her mouth and he held up a finger, stopping her. "Don't go there, young lady." She laughed and he hugged her again, not wanting to let go. "I'll whip something up. You go change."
"Thanks, Navy." She picked up her suitcase and headed for the bathroom. "I'm going to grab a shower, okay? Long flight."
"No prob." He found himself dashing around the kitchen, more excited than he had been in a week, happy to be making her dinner. Passing by the window, he caught his reflection in the glass. The man he saw there was far more than happy, and Harm stopped, stared at himself curiously for a long moment. It's true. Better tell her. He shook his head as with some embarrassment he heard himself giggle, and went back to work.
Mac sipped her cranberry juice and gave a contented sigh. She leaned over the table to where Harm was sitting watching her with his chin resting on his crossed arms, and kissed him on the nose. "Thanks, Handsome. You're beginning to make me feel like a kept woman. Next time it's my house, and I cook." He smiled, picked up his ginger ale and motioned toward the couch.
"Most certainly." They sat on the couch, and he put his arm around her shoulder, squeezing her toward him. He though he saw a slight wince.
"I'm fine." She stretched her head from side to side and winced again. "A little achy, I guess. You know how well I sleep on a ship."
"Sit on the floor." She slipped off the couch to sit between his legs, and he began to massage her shoulders and neck, gently at first, then more strongly. Mac purred under his touch, finally flopping her head back into his lap.
"Wonderful. I feel so much better."
"Then get back up here." He leaned over to kiss her, upside down, and she giggled when he explored the possibilities of the position before moving back to sit next to him.
Mac stared into his eyes, happier than she had been in ages. Who am I kidding? When have I ever felt quite this good? What could possibly make this any better than it is? Her heart gave a little drop as he suddenly looked at the lists on the table, then back to her. His expression was abruptly serious.
"Mac, I want to work on those tonight, but there's something I want to tell you first. I didn't write it down, but I think it's important."
Her first impulse was to back up, to sit up straight and put the walls in place. Without warning she saw Harm's face in her mind's eye, the last time she did that. The hurt, the pain that was there because it was so hard for her to trust him. Alright, Mackenzie. Let's look at this as a field test. What's the worst thing that can happen? She tried to ignore the series of answers that her ever-fertile imagination came up with. Instead, she did her best to look at him calmly, brushed her hand over his. "What's that, Flyboy?"
He appeared to see the effort she made. With an easy motion he pulled her toward him and turned her body so that she was lying back across his chest, cradled in his arms. Brushing the back of his hand along her neck, he lifted her chin. He paused with his mouth so close to hers she felt the warmth of his breath on her face, waited long enough that she gave an anxious shiver, and lowered his lips to hers.
Mac felt herself opening to him. Felt her abdomen tighten with desire as he deepened the kiss, exploring her with powerful intimacy. A low moan escaped from her throat as she laced her hand into the hair at the nape of his neck, pulling him to her hungrily, and she heard a rumble in his chest as he growled in response. In the euphoria of the moment, she had what felt like a strange realization. She had been with men who wanted to dominate her emotionally, and with men who she could easily wrap around her little finger if she wanted to… but never with someone who she felt she could call a 'soul mate'. Was that what this feeling was? He pulled back, ever so slightly, and whispered her name.
She shuddered a little in her delight. He had a way of making her given name sound like the most intimate, sensual endearment in the world. Opening her eyes she looked into his, the color of the sky after a storm, and spoke softly to him.
"Yes, Harm. What did you want to tell me?" After that kiss, he could have told her anything. He looked intensely into her for a long moment, then nodded.
"I love you." For a few seconds she stared at him, wondering if she had heard correctly. He looked away for a bare second and returned to her with the famous grin. "I feel like I've said it a thousand times, but never out loud, never to your face. I love you, Mac." She smiled, her hand tracing his features as if to make sure he was real.
"I love you, Harm." They kissed again, and she snuggled down into his shoulder, and sniffed just a little as he held her close.
"I feel… like I took a chance, and now I'm so much more alive. I feel like I'm flying, with both feet still on the ground." She gave a joyous little laugh as she leaned back to look at him, and then shifted around so that she was on her knees straddling his lap, her hands on his shoulders. "All my life I've felt like I have to prove I can do it alone."
He blinked at the sudden change. "And you have. You've done great." "Yes, yes I have. But there's always been this other side, the one that said I needed someone to love me to make me feel worthwhile."
He kissed her forehead, and said very gently, "I know. I've never understood why everyone can see – beyond the devout Marine, beyond the phenomenal lawyer - what an amazing woman you are… except you." Harm looked hesitant before he added, "I wish I could take that misconception away." Her smile was affectionate. "I'm the only one who can do that. I put myself in a lose/lose situation. I had to be alone to be a successful officer, and I wasn't worth anything as a woman if I was alone." Her eyes were watering with the force of a lifetime of struggle. "But during this year I finally came to peace with being alone. I've been happy. I don't have to prove anything anymore." She took his hand and pressed it to her cheek. "I'm someone I like spending time with now. Now I can give myself to someone and not worry about losing a thing." There were tears in Harm's eyes as well as hers when she grinned at him happily. "I love you, Flyboy." She leaned forward and kissed him tenderly.
"Why did it take us so long?"
She giggled. "Shakespeare has a great line that I've used about my life more than once. He said, 'If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.'" He looked at her, raised an eyebrow.
"You mean we just need better writers?"
This time she laughed out loud. "Maybe we can do our own writing now." They fell into the kiss like old lovers, old friends, and relished the sheer comfort they felt. When they stopped, Mac's dark eyes were sparkling. "Well, I've covered about four items from my list. Should we look at yours?" He brushed her hair back from her face, and his thumb cleared away a stray tear. "Soon."
"What was your favorite story when you were a kid?" Mac looked across the coffee table which was littered with tea mugs, spoons, ice cream bowls, an empty bag of chips, a pop bottle and the empty stems from a bunch of grapes.
"You're kidding." She laughed and yawned when she covered her mouth.
"Nope. The story that you'd run off to when you were playing by yourself. I want to know." His expression was serious but his eyes were laughing. "Let's just do one more each. I know I've kept you up too late."
"You're not the only doing this, handsome." She reached across and took his hand. "But you're right. One more each, if we're just doing fun stuff now."
"You don't think discussing how we'll behave in court if we're against each other is fun?"
"I was just amused that it was number three on both our lists."
"Yeah. Go figure." He kissed her fingers and smiled. "Favorite story. Go."
She looked thoughtfully up at the ceiling, and slowly smiled. "Peter Pan was always a big one for me."
"Yeah. Ironic, isn't it?"
He looked at her and laughed. "You mean because you're sitting here with the guy that everyone thinks has a Peter Pan complex?"
She giggled. "You know, eh?"
"Oh, yeah. Been called that one to my face." He looked at her a bit more seriously. "So were you Peter, or were you Wendy?" Her eyes widened.
"Perceptive, Flyboy." He nodded.
"Just answer the question, ma'am."
"Usually I was a lost boy. But I was a girl that no one knew was a girl…yes, and get that psychological look off your face. Sometimes I was Wendy, the caretaker… but sometimes, when I was feeling really cocky," she grinned, blushing a little, "I was Tinkerbelle." She looked down for a moment, then back to his eyes, her expression almost brash. "Of course, when I was Tinkerbelle, I managed to get Peter away from Wendy."
He tried for a long moment not to laugh, but it was too late and they were too tired, and they both collapsed in a flood of giggles. "Only you would make me see Tinkerbelle as a Marine."
"Good." She wiped her eyes and shook off the laughter. "Your turn. Favorite story."
He grinned down at his list. "Robin Hood."
She looked at him, wide-eyed. "I loved Robin Hood." He nodded, lifted his eyes to her face.
"Rescuing the damsel in distress, working around the rules to do what's right… Yeah, I can see that."
Harm nodded. "Don't forget hiding behind a disguise when you have an uncomfortable challenge – one that could hurt." She gave him a sympathetic look. "And yeah, I was the man himself, not one of the sidekicks." Mac blinked at him a couple times and smiled.
"I like that. I'd be your Marian."
"That you would." He looked at his watch and his eyes popped. "Two? Oh, Mac, I'm sorry. You must be exhausted."
"I'm fine." She yawned in spite of herself.
"Sure you are." He stood up and grabbed the trash from the table as she gathered up the dishes.
"You're staying, right?" Mac nodded again as she yawned, her hands full. "You want the bed? I could sleep here…" He dumped the trash in the garbage and wrapped his arms around her where she stood at the sink. "I feel so bad that I kept you up this late."
She turned in his arms and nestled against him. "Knock it off, Harm. I want to talk as much as you do. And I think this was wonderful." Looking up, she kissed him sweetly, then looked a little shy. "I liked sleeping on the couch with you. It felt like we were kids." Harm laughed.
Turning off the lights in the kitchen, he kissed her once more in the dark. Then he stepped away, held out his hand for hers. "C'mon, Tink. Let's go to sleep."
Chapter 7 - Open Court
Admiral AJ Chegwidden looked thoughtfully impatient as he held the receiver to his ear. "And I don't suppose you can tell me any more than that."
"C'mon AJ, you know how it is. If you don't have time anymore, which I understand completely, can you at least spare someone?"
The voice on the line sighed wearily. "Look, it's just for a day, maybe an afternoon, every week or two. You can keep your precious stable of lawyers intact the rest of the time. For the most part, I just want someone -"
"What you want is a reference book that you can pick up when you need it. It's not that easy. I've been getting crap from the Secretary about my 'lack of control' over here."
There was a heated pause. "We both know that's –" the voice paused, clearly censoring himself.
"That's ridiculous. You're the best, and your people reflect that. Otherwise I wouldn't be asking."
"Thanks," AJ drawled sarcastically. "I'll tell the Secretary you said so."
"If I thought it would do you any good, I'd tell him myself." There was a shuffling of paper on the other end. "Looking at the senior staff, I see Rabb, Mackenzie, Turner… any of those would be-"
"Highly inconvenient." AJ rubbed his fingers across his forehead and exhaled heavily. "Here's the thing. If I do let one of them do this, I don't want any confusion about chain of command if you suddenly have to pull him out."
"I don't think that will happen. I already said it was strictly part time. A couple hours a week, like we've always done it. And only when -"
"Yes, but I know how these things go. Part time when you need him, and if I need him at the same time, we have trouble."
"Look, we've always been able to do this on the side before. I don't think I've ever been unreasonable about taking whatever you could set up. What's different?"
"I told you, the Secretary –"
There was an exasperated sigh. "AJ, don't make me point out my third star. One SEAL to another. What the hell is going on?"
"Morning, Sir. Tiner said you wanted me?"
"Yes, Commander. Sit."
Harm sat, slightly apprehensive. He knew the look that the Admiral had; the one that usually would portend an unpopular assignment. "If this is about the Lewis case –"
"No, Commander, this is something else." Harm nodded attentively, his eyes vivid blue in the morning light coming through the Admiral's window. "I'll just tell you what I can, and you can give me your opinion."
"I'll do my best, Sir."
"Good." AJ closed a folder on his desk. "There's an Admiral at the Pentagon who is looking for legal advice."
"Personal advice, Sir?"
"No. Well, sort of. There's a whole slew of politically correct advice over there, but he's always come to me to chew over the legal ramifications of his decisions." Harm nodded, frowning slightly. "Once or twice a month we'd meet for lunch, make it a casual session. If there was anything I wasn't sure of, I'd look it up and get back to him. Of course there were many times he couldn't tell me what the hell I was advising him on, but we managed." The younger officer took in the Admiral's unusually warm expression, and a light dawned.
"A former teammate, Sir?"
Nodding with a faint grin, AJ continued. "Now, with everything that's happening, he wants to meet more often."
"Understandable, but not practical. I've got more on my plate as well. It just isn't feasible for me at this time."
Harm looked thoughtfully at the Admiral's desk. "I can see that, Sir."
"Right." At this point AJ stood, walked around to sit in the visitor's chair next to Harm. He leaned forward, looking intently at the younger officer, his elbows resting on his knees. "When I told him I didn't think it was possible, he asked if one of my staff could do it. Someone I trusted."
Harm's eyes widened slightly as he listened.
"He said it would likely be one meeting a week, and maybe a phone connection once or twice. I know how these things go, but I think he's being realistic. Barring acts of God or Congress, of course." AJ looked Harm in the eye. "I thought you might be interested."
The Commander was speechless for a moment, locked by the eyes. "Thank you, Sir."
"I told him a few things, which he seemed to understand. One, that I can't afford to lose any staff here. Two, that whoever is taking this assignment should be directly under his command."
Harm glanced out the window toward the Pentagon, frowning thoughtfully. "I really don't want to leave JAG, Sir."
"I should hope not, Commander. If you're interested in this position, it will mean that you are in the Admiral's chain of command, that you are available to him once a week in person and probably wherever your cell reaches. It will also mean that you'll still have a full workload here, which it will be your duty to keep him informed of so as to minimize conflicts." The Admiral looked down at his folded hands for a moment before continuing. "It'll mean, Harm, that you'll still be working for me, but you'll be out of my chain of command." He waited.
Harm's thoughtful frown suddenly became a wide-eyed stare. "Are you sure about this, Sir?"
"No." He slowly allowed a grin to appear. "Are you? I imagine the extra workload and on-paper transfer will mean a bump in your pay scale, and it will probably be in the Admiral's best interest to have your security clearance upgraded…" AJ continued quietly. "It's a big responsibility, Harm. And a big challenge here. If you two can't handle working together, one of you will still have to move, and if we've put this in motion it would probably be you." The Admiral took a deep breath. "I don't want to presume too much, but I have faith in you both to not make me look bad. At least if I ask nicely beforehand." Harm grinned at that, looking a bit sheepish. "Should I assume you're interested, or do you want to talk about it… with anyone… first?"
Harm flashed the smile. "Oh, I'm definitely interested, Sir. But you're right. Can I give you a final after lunch?"
"No later. Sorry for the rush, but I want this cleared up."
The Admiral stood and paced around to his chair again, suddenly fully in command once more. "That will be all, Commander. Dismissed."
Rabb stood to attention. "Aye, Sir." With a smooth about-face he stepped to the door, stopping halfway out to turn around and look back at the Admiral, sincerity shining in his eyes. "Thank you, Admiral. I can't tell you how much this means to me."
"I have a vague idea."
With a broad smile, Commander Rabb headed back to his office.
The Admiral sat writing for a moment or two, stopped, looked thoughtfully at the door. With a quiet grin he picked up the phone and hit the button for an outside line.
"Nope." He grinned at her, shaking his head.
"Harm, that's amazing! What a great career move."
"It's a bit more than that."
"Really?" Mac was sitting back in her desk chair looking up at Harm's smiling face. "Better than being a personal legal advisor to an active Admiral?"
Harm closed the door he was leaning on and glanced through the half-closed blinds before answering. "Mac, it would transfer me to this Admiral's chain of command. I'll have more work on the side, but I won't be leaving JAG."
Mac first reaction was a frown toward her commander's office. "Why would he –" her eyes grew wide. "Are you telling me the Admiral offered it just so we…" she shook her head, unable to finish the sentence.
"No, he really does want a military lawyer. That way he can have someone with a security clearance on his own staff that he can talk to – but since what he seems to want is an outside opinion, he wouldn't want me in the office anyway.
"You don't know who it is yet?"
"Not until I take the job."
"I know." He smiled at her. "The Admiral is giving us a chance. If we want it."
Her dark eyes were shining. "I think we've established that already."
"Agreed." He leaned over her desk, resting his palms on the smooth surface. "But it will be more responsibility. It could take more of my time."
Mac shrugged. "That could happen with any promotion, Harm. Anywhere." She seemed to sit a little straighter in her chair. "This is a big decision. Do you want to do this? If something happens here, and we can't pull it off..."
His eyes rose slowly from the desktop to her face. "I've made a conscious decision not to worry about us. And as for the assignment, I think it sounds interesting. If he was a teammate of the Admiral's, I should be able to get along with him." He broke into the grin. "'His and Hers' Admirals. Who would have thought of giving us a gift like that." She dropped her head and laughed. "I can't wait to come clean to the guys." A knock on the door interrupted the moment, and he picked up a pen from Mac's desk as he straightened up to open it. "Hey, Bud. I was just leaving." As he traded places with the lieutenant, Harm glanced over his shoulder. "She's all yours. At least until after lunch."
"After lunch, Sir?"
Mac covered smoothly. "We've got court this afternoon, Bud. And then the Commander will be busy losing the Foster case to me."
Harm grinned at her and walked away, calling over his shoulder. "That has yet to be seen, Colonel."
Bud looked at the Colonel and frowned slightly, then out toward the Commander's office. Turning back to her, he said, "He's in a good mood today."
Mac laughed and looked at Bud. "I can only assume that's because he thinks he's going to win."
She smiled mischievously. "Not if I can help it. What can I do for you?"
He smiled at her, openly surprised. "You seem to be in a good mood, too." Mac lifted her eyebrows and blinked at him. "I mean, not that you aren't usually in a good mood, Ma'am. I mean… ah…" He stared down at the file in his hand. "I have the witness list you wanted." He held it out like overdue homework, and while Mac struggled not to grin as she took it, her expression abruptly became serious as she looked it over.
"We didn't get Major Arkin?"
"No, Ma'am, that's what I wanted you to know. He's still deployed, and they can't even tell me where he is." He looked apologetic.
She stared, bit her lower lip. "This could be difficult."
"And because of Major Arkin's importance to the defense, and his current deployment on a classified mission, we respectfully ask for a continuance."
"Your Honor, the government feels that if the entire defense hinges on the testimony of one man, when the prosecution has any number of witnesses that can place-"
"Which all have second-hand or circumstantial accounts, your Honor. Clearly my client has shown-"
The door in the back of the courtroom opened and closed quietly. Admiral Chegwidden sat down, unnoticed by his officers as they continued to argue their cases, voices raised slightly. If he didn't know them, it would be easy to think that they were merely professional rivals, and ones that didn't get along that well. He winced internally as Harm pressed a point, making his colleague sound less than prepared. They argue cases like some people play tennis. He waited for the judge's comment.
"Commander Rabb, I understand that in time of war we are trying our best to expedite matters. However, I must agree with Colonel Mackenzie that it is only fair to allow an eyewitness to testify. Colonel, you should realize that there is the unfortunate possibility that Major Arkin may not return. You have two weeks. If he isn't back by then, we go on with whatever you have."
"Thank you, your Honor."
"This court is adjourned until 1430."
AJ stood quietly and slipped out the back door. He was standing there waiting as Harm and Mac exited the courtroom, talking much more calmly.
"So does Arkin really matter that much?"
"What, you think I'd bluff just to get a continuance? That's a Rabb move."
Harm clutched his chest and did his best to look wounded as he turned and saw the Admiral. Abruptly he snapped to attention. "Afternoon, Sir."
"At ease. Walk with me, people." They fell into step with him, walking out into the afternoon sun.
"Nice work in there."
The two younger officers looked at each other. Their expressions were strictly professional at this point, and they prepared their defense instinctively. The Admiral did not make a habit of checking on courtroom performance unless he was concerned about something. Rabb cleared his throat. "Ah, we didn't realize you were there, Sir."
"I know that." The Admiral stopped and leaned against the stair railing, crossing his arms lazily on his chest. "Let's just say I was pleased by what I saw as 'appropriate behavior'."
"Well, Sir, we did get a little loud, but – " Mac stopped, frowned. "Did you say 'appropriate', Sir?"
"Yes. Nothing less than I expect." He shifted, looked up at the blue sky and changed the subject. "You have an answer for me, Commander?"
Harm looked at Mac for the briefest instant, then nodded. "Yes, Sir. I'd be pleased to have the opportunity."
"Good. I'll get it underway, then." He looked at Harm and extended his hand. "Good luck."
"Thank you, Sir. I'll do my best to live up to your standards."
The Admiral couldn't quite hide a smirk. "Well, you do that. I'll make the announcement at the staff meeting tomorrow."
Mac nodded to them both, her voice cheerful. "If you'll excuse me, Sir, I have to get back for a conference call about Major Arkin's last known assignment." The Admiral nodded her dismissal.
"Good luck with that."
"Thanks. I think I'm going to need it." She turned to Harm and extended her hand. "Congratulations."
"Thank you." Harm smiled as she turned to leave, and suddenly looked like he remembered something important. "Oh, Mac, I almost forgot. Here." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pen. "This is yours." She held out her hand and he placed a pen and a small metal object on her palm. She frowned down at it for a moment, then her eyes darted up to his, shining, a faint blush on her cheek.
"Ah… thank you," she said, in a tiny voice. Saluting the Admiral, she turned and walked quickly back toward her office. Harm just stood there, smiling after her. The Admiral cleared his throat.
"Do you suppose it's the Navy or the women that make us this way?"
"Beg pardon, Sir?"
"I left a bunch of pansies on the Professor's desk the first week we were dating."
"Pansies, Sir?" Harm's brow furrowed.
"Pansies. For thoughts." He looked down and pursed his lips. "Hamlet." Harm stared, a bit bewildered.
"Nevermind, Commander. My point is we all find our own way to say private things in public. But let's keep it quiet. You don't know why there's a sprig of rosemary under my desk blotter, and I can't imagine why you just handed Colonel Mackenzie a thimble."
Lieutenant Bud Roberts flipped the file in front of him closed, looked at the rest of the collected staff. "And that seems to be the end of it. It looks like they're dropping all charges against Corporal Lewis." He looked up with a sigh, and Mac laughed.
"You sound almost disappointed, Bud."
"It was an awful lot of work that won't get used, Ma'am. But I'm not really disappointed." He grinned at her, looked up at the opening door of the conference room and managed to be the first on his feet, even slowed by his leg. "Admiral."
"Sit down, people, this won't take long." He looked over at Colonel Mackenzie, the accepted chair of the informal meetings. "Sorry I'm late. Are you through with anything important?" She glanced down at the pad in front of her, then down the table for any input.
"Looks like the Lewis case was the last, Sir."
"Good. Then I have a little news."
The Admiral made the announcement of Harm's change in status with a minimum of fuss, and it took a minute for people to realize what was actually happening. Sturgis was the first to comment. "So there really shouldn't be much of a change in appearances, Admiral?"
The Admiral nearly grinned. "Let's put it this way. There better not be. I don't expect to have to run a string and two cans between here and the Pentagon building." The staff chuckled and rose as one when their commander stood to leave. "Dismissed." The Admiral was at the door when he heard Rabb clear his throat over the casual chatter that marked the end of the meeting.
"Colonel Mackenzie?" Harm's clear voice rang out in the room, so that no one could help hearing. She looked up at his formality, replying with equal gravity as she handed Bud a stack of folders.
"I was wondering if you were free for dinner this evening."
There was a moment of absolute silence when it seemed everyone in the room was holding their breath. Eyes darted from Harm to Mac to where the Admiral stood with his back to the room, one hand on the doorknob, but no one seemed willing to move. Mac blinked, a little startled. "You mean to work on –"
"No, Mac, I mean I would like to take you out to dinner. On a date." His eyes sparkled and he broke into the grin. "If you're available." All eyes were on the two of them, in a spell that was broken abruptly at the sound of the Admiral opening the door and leaving with a heavy sigh. Mac looked at Harm a little nervously, the blush on her cheek faint.
"I'd be delighted."
"May I pick you up at, say, seven?"
"That would be lovely." She turned smoothly and walked back into the corridor, leaving the rest of them staring at Harm. Sturgis was the first to break the silence.
Sarah Mackenzie stood in the quiet hallway, looking up toward the heavens with tears smiling in her eyes. He'd given up his place in the seniority line here at JAG. He'd publicly asked her out. Their boss seemed pleased with their behavior in court. And he had given her a thimble… Having nothing else to worry about, her mind suddenly came up with the only question it could.
What in the world will I wear?
Laughing to herself, she walked back through the bullpen in a warm, romantic blur.
Chapter 8 - Thimbles of Affection
Three Months Later
"It's Friday, sir." Harm looked up from his paperwork to see the smiling face of Bud Roberts.
"It sure is. Big plans?"
Bud smiled. "Mikey offered to stay with the baby while he's on leave, so Harriet and I are taking AJ down to Water World this weekend." Harm laughed at the enthusiasm. He wondered if his godson would enjoy the waterpark half as much as his father would.
"Sounds exciting, Bud. Wish I was there."
"Well, gee, sir, you could come along if you wanted to."
"You know, it could be really fun."
"Bud." Harm exhaled a laugh. "As difficult as that offer is to turn down, I'm afraid we've got plans."
"C'mon, Bud, you know you aren't any good at straight faces, so don't even try. Yes, we. Colonel Mackenzie and I are having dinner tonight, and tomorrow, well..." The commander looked off towards the colonel's office. A wistful glow lit his eyes.
Harm's look jumped back to Bud, and after considering for a moment, he gave him a confiding nod. "I'm hoping to fly her out to the country for a picnic. You know how tough this week has been."
"That's for sure, sir. You guys deserve a break after finding that security leak on the Henry." He smiled happily at the commander. "It seems like you two are getting along really well."
Harm smiled back at him, then looked a little concerned. "Bud - can I ask you something?"
"Of course, sir. What's up?"
Harm looked surprisingly uncomfortable. He stood up, walked to the office door and closed it carefully. "I need an honest opinion."
Bud looked startled. "I always try to be honest, sir."
The commander laughed lightly. "I know, Bud, I know. But this is different. It's kind of personal, but kind of professional." He ran his hand back through his hair and sat down on the edge of his desk. "Have we been doing all right?"
"I mean, Mac and me. We've been dating for three months now, and I'm just worried that - well - I don't want either of us to look unprofessional in the office. I know that you and Harriet do a great job of balancing your work and your relationship here, and I just wondered how Mac and I looked to the outside world." Harm looked sheepishly at the lieutenant, and Bud looked humbly flattered.
"Well, gee, sir, thank you. I mean, sometimes it's difficult, but we try." He stopped and focused on what he could remember of the Commander and the Colonel lately in the office. "Let me think." Harm waited patiently, and then impatiently, for a response. "Bud?"
"I'm trying to be honest, sir. I have to look at the evidence."
Harm grinned in spite of himself and shook his head. With any luck, Bud would someday be the best judge the Supreme Court ever had. After another minute, the lieutenant nodded. "Okay. I think I can give an opinion." He leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms on his chest. Harm looked at the calm, considered expression, and knew that he had asked the right person.
"I think you're doing better in the office. Back when you two were apart, there was more tension between you. It got ugly sometimes, to be frank, sir." Harm nodded for him to go on. "The first week or two that everyone knew you were actually dating, you were both so careful to not look any different here that you really…well… looked different here." Harm frowned.
"What do you mean?"
"Well... you two have always been friends, sir. You have to accept the fact that most people here think of you as a couple anyway, and have for years."
Harm glanced through the closed door toward the bullpen and looked nervous. "Really."
"Don't worry, sir, it's only the people who know you well that feel that way." Bud paused for a moment, decided that it was close enough to the truth to go on, but also deciding to stick to the first person from here on in. "I'm used to you looking at each other, reading each other's minds. That's perfectly normal for you two. It's part of what makes you such good partners. It's the same with contact. You would open a door for the colonel, put your hand on her back... she would put a hand on your shoulder looking at a file on your desk. But for a couple of weeks there, you avoided it. Like it was suddenly an impropriety when it hadn't been before. Like you didn't really like each other, I guess."
"Okay. We overcompensated." He sighed. "Are we doing any better?"
Bud looked up toward the ceiling and tilted his head. "I think you're doing great." He dropped his eyes to Harm's and smiled. "I'm sorry if this is out of line, but it's a good example. I've seen you two brush hands accidentally - I saw it this morning, in fact - and instead of looking nervous, as if it didn't happen, you just grabbed her hand for a second... and you smiled at each other, and went on with what you were doing. That kind of acknowledgement actually is less of a distraction." He shifted his back against the wall. "You seem comfortable with the relationship, so it's not getting in the way. Not sticky at all. I think it's just what we've all hoped would happen, frankly."
Harm laughed. "Well, good. I'm glad we're not being... sticky or anything." Bud grinned at him and nodded. "Good thing we've got such good teachers. Thanks, Bud." He looked around for a moment, then leaned forward. "Do me a favor?"
"Of course." Harm smiled. Leave it to Bud to agree before he knew what was being asked of him.
"I'm asking you this as a friend. If you see us getting... sticky... will you promise to let me know?"
Bud considered for a moment. "Of course, Harm. If you want me to." He put out his hand, and they shook solemnly.
"Thanks, Bud. It means a lot to me."
"No problem." The lieutenant turned to go, stopping at the door. "Oh, by the way, Sir, I think you should know you're giving the rest of us men a bad name."
Harm frowned. "Why?"
"Evidently you're more 'romantic' than we are."
Bud tried not to grin. "Let's put it this way, Sir. Just about everyone has noticed the thimble thing."
"The thimble thing?" Harm tried, unsuccessfully, to look confused and completely innocent.
The lieutenant sighed. "Yes, Sir. You know. You walk into a meeting and drop one on the papers in front of the Colonel. You pass her in the hall and hand her one."
"And there was some discussion about it, I must admit. Coates said she got it, so did Harriet… but they wouldn't tell. They just looked at the rest of us like we were totally stupid." He frowned. "Except for the Admiral. He seemed to understand it from the beginning."
Harm shifted uncomfortably. "He is the Admiral."
"Right. Anyway, I finally figured it out."
"Don't know what you're talking about, Bud." Harm moved around the desk to sit in his chair, smiling politely.
"Sir, please. I was reading to AJ last night while Harriet was feeding Jimmy… and he wanted me to read Peter Pan." Bud may have been mistaken, but there was the faintest hint of a blush under the Commander's innocent act.
"Yes, Sir. When I got to the part where Peter asks for a kiss and Wendy hands him a thimble, I looked at Harriet and she just smiled at me…" Bud shook his head. "I've got to tell you Sir, you're raising the bar." He grinned sincerely. "Nice one."
This time Harm's smile was genuine. "Hey. A man's gotta do…"
"Right. But do me a favor?"
"What's that, Bud?"
"If you come up with something else like that, let me know first. So I can at least be prepared to buy flowers."
Saturday Morning Outside Mac's apartment
Harm stood outside Mac's door, messed with his hair, straightened his shirt, and checked the pockets of his jeans one more time. He nodded to himself, took a deep breath, and found he almost knocked on Mac's nose as the door opened. She jumped back and laughed, and he laughed as well, when the shock wore off. "Tink, I'm so sorry! Are you okay?"
"You never touched me, flyboy. What timing. I was just going to check for the mail." She giggled and leaned close to him. "You're early. You're not usually early." He leaned over and kissed her.
She sighed happily as she pulled away, and ran her fingertip down his nose. "I'm glad you're here."
"Me too." He kissed her finger and folded her hand in his. "Sleep well?"
She looked grateful. "I slept like a rock. Probably snored like crazy. Thanks for understanding." He shook his head, dismissingly.
"Hey, after this week, I needed the sleep, too. It worked out fine." He flashed her the famous grin.
"Besides. I understand discipline is good for the soul." She laughed out loud, then covered her mouth with her hand.
"Right. You going to come in? Or are we ready to go?"
"Everything's in the car. But I think you'll need a jacket for in the air."
She grabbed a hooded sweatshirt from a hook near the door and gave him a teasing look. "You mean your love won't be enough to keep me warm?" His expression was so serious for a moment that she frowned. "Harm? You okay?" He looked at her, and his sudden expression of love almost brought tears to her eyes. "Sweetheart?" He just shook his head and folded her into his arms, hugging her tight against his chest.
"I love you, Sarah."
She looked up at him. "And I love you, handsome."
There was something going on this morning that Mac didn't quite understand. She did, however, understand sudden feelings of insecurity. For that reason, she answered him absolutely seriously while still smiling. "Really really." He gave her another squeeze, and left one arm around her as they turned from the door.
She glanced up at him, and wondered. One way or another, she had come to terms with her love for him long ago. Maybe these waves of insecurity that she got from the always cool commander were his own adjustments. Surely he must know, after all they'd been through in the last four months, how much she cared. She frowned at herself. Was she holding anything back? He had discovered his more playful, romantic side, and was always doing sweet little things for her. Could she be more... open? She tilted her head and smiled up at him. "Besides." He looked down curiously at her. "Your love is keeping me warm." She held up the gray sweatshirt, and he saw that it had a navy logo.
"Hey! I wondered where that was." He reached for it, but she pulled it up to her face and inhaled deeply. Her dark eyes looked at him over the crumpled gray fabric.
"You've got to let me keep it. It smells like you." Her expression became more sincere. "Please?" The make-believe stern look in his eyes faded to laughter, and she smiled shyly. "You know when you were gone for two days last week on the Patrick Henry?"
He nodded. "A very long two days."
"I stole it from your apartment when I watered the plants. It made me feel like you were here." She looked down, positively embarrassed. "I slept in it."
Harm looked at her, and something in his heart both relaxed and tensed with excitement. "Well, I guess you can keep it for a while. If you don't mind being a Navy girl." She laughed and they hugged each other hard. "By the way," he said, after kissing her again. "I found a great place for the picnic. It's just a quick hop."
Chapter 9 - A Modest Proposal
Mac leaned back against a tree and sipped raspberry iced tea. "Oh, Harm. You've outdone yourself." He smiled at her, almost shyly.
"Did you enjoy it?"
"Absolutely." When she looked up, the view was of maple leaves layered over themselves in glowing green shades, clearly getting the most out of the late summer sun. She closed her eyes and followed their example, letting the sunlight wash over her. "Everything was delicious. A girl could get terribly, terribly spoiled."
He smiled at that, picked a blade of grass and toyed with it. "I hope so."
Mac opened her eyes, looking at him as he stared down intensely at the shred of green. There is definitely something going on in there. She almost laughed when she realized that she wasn't at all nervous about what it might be, just curious. Three months ago that thought would have astonished her; now she accepted it gratefully.
Still, as she studied his profile, she wondered. They had talked, lightly, about moving in together. Maybe that was on his mind. Even though they spent most nights wrapped in each other's arms, the idea of actually 'moving in' felt - odd. She closed her eyes again and relaxed against the rough but somehow comforting trunk of the ancient maple. Everything was going so beautifully... she couldn't say at the moment why she would be nervous about taking that step. Maybe it was because she had struggled with being alone for so many years, and ironically, just as she gained acceptance of that, their relationship had fallen into place. He had been just as commitment-shy for other reasons, but maybe at this point-
She startled from her reverie, neatly avoided spilling her tea and looked at him.
He shifted nervously and stood up, reaching down for her hand. "How about an after-lunch walk?" She put down her bottle, took his hand and bounced to her feet.
They walked quietly from the trees down the grassy hill, hand in hand, until they reached a few boulders and a stone bench near a long, narrow lake. The sunlight illuminated the woods on the other side, and sparkled like diamonds across the water. "Oh, Harm. This is beautiful." Mac stared in absolute delight at the view. "Did you scope this out just for today?" He grinned, caught.
"I found it a while back. The farmer that owns the field we landed in told me I could come anytime. He's retired Navy." Harm shook his head. "I was saving it for a special occasion."
She sighed. "It's so beautiful, the air is so fresh... I could just stand here looking for hours."
He put his arm around her, pulling her close. "You're such a Marine. How about if we sit, instead?"
They walked over to the bench and he swung one long leg over it as she moved to sit back into his open arms, leaning against his chest. The air off the water gave them a cool breeze, tempering the warmth of the sun. Mac rested her head back on his shoulder and sighed happily. After a few minutes, she leaned back and looked up into his eyes.
"So?" He kissed her forehead.
"Harmon Rabb. Are you going to tell me what's going on in there? Or do we have to pull out the legal pads again when we get home?"
He laughed. She used his full name the way his mom did, when there was going to be trouble if she didn't get an answer.
"Yes, ma'am." For a moment he looked unsure, but shook his head. Okay, Rabb. Just tell her. Disentangling himself, he stood up, and reached into his pocket. He gracefully dropped to one knee in front of her and took her hand. Her eyes widened, unbelieving. "There's something I want to tell you."
She put her other hand to her mouth, trying not to speak, certain she must be mistaken in her thoughts. As usual, her mouth didn't appreciate her efforts.
Harm looked at her nervousness and smiled reassuringly. "I'd like to tell you some things that I want out of life."
She looked into his sincere, storm-tossed eyes and nodded. "I'm listening." He nodded, looked down at her hand, and then back into her eyes.
He spoke her name the way he always did, with a whispered bedroom voice. "Sarah-" he caught himself, almost stopped, went on.
"I want to be able to work with you, stand beside you, share our victories and our defeats. I want to be able to talk in the car about the day, fade into talking about what we're making for dinner. I want to be able to sit and read in the evening, listen to music, relax on the couch with you, maybe sing you a song." He looked deeply into her eyes, which were filling with tears, and stroked her hand gently. "I've had that, these last few months, and I don't want it to end. Seeing what can be has only made me want it even more."
"Oh?" Her voice, small and tentative, made him smile.
"I want to go to sleep every night able to rest my head on your shoulder, knowing that you're the first person I'll see in the morning." He looked down for a moment, grinned, and looked back into the midnight depths of her eyes.
"I want, someday, for you to wake me up by poking me in the back and saying, 'it's time'. I want to be sitting up in the family room playing Scrabble when our kids get back late from a dance, so we can lecture them together about how important it is to find the right person, and what a blessing it is when you do."
She blinked, looked off at the distant trees and back to him, trying not to cry.
"I want to live my life with you. I love you, Sarah. "
She swallowed hard, found her voice, barely. "I love you, too, Harm."
He smiled at her, opened the small box in his hand, and took out a ring. She gasped in spite of herself. His voice remained quietly strong.
"It's a little different, but I thought a diamond solitaire was too typical for someone as extraordinary as you."
The stone in the center of the ring was a heart cut emerald. Delicate, narrow gold wings swept back on either side to form the band. Two small diamonds, one on each side of the emerald, seemed to stand guard. Mac's eyes widened, her hand unable to decide between reaching to touch the ring and covering her mouth.
"Where in the world -" realization hit her. "You must have had this made." He grinned at her.
"I must admit, the Admiral does seem to know where to get almost anything done." He looked anxiously at her, almost child-like. "Do you like it?"
Mac stared at it, her hand still over her mouth. "I love it." She looked up at him and saw the joy in his eyes. "Tell me the story."
He grinned, and held the ring so that the sunlight shot emerald rainbows across his hand.
"I knew a diamond alone wasn't right. And I thought, 'hey, I know she looks great in green'." They laughed at the reference to her Marine uniform, but he could see the pride shining in her eyes. "If you've earned your wings, they show that you've proved, through perseverance and patience, your skill. Even when the plane's not handling right, even when there's a storm..." He looked down again, then back to her face. "Mac, this band has the wings to my heart." He grinned at her. "You've earned them."
She swallowed hard as a tear ran down her cheek.
"The two little diamonds are for us. Because as beautiful as we are together, we know that we're two separate people... that we choose to be together, we don't have to be. That decision, that choice-" he shook his head wonderingly, "makes this relationship all the more precious."
He took her hand and brushed his lips across it. "Well, lady?"
Mac stared at the ring in his hand, looked into his eyes that spoke of promises and love. She straightened up, called on her Marine training, and found her voice. Despite her determination, it came out in a husky whisper.
"You didn't ask me yet. Ask me."
Harm swallowed at her sudden seriousness, took her hand between his, formally. "Sarah Mackenzie. Will you do me the honor of joining your life to mine?"
Mac looked at him and smiled. "Yes." She swallowed as tears continued to stream down her face. "Yes."
His eyes were shining with tears as he held her now trembling hand. For a moment they couldn't speak, but when he shook his head in amazement and smiled at her, the joyful laughter came. They held on to each other for dear life.
When they separated, Harm kissed her hand where the ring would rest, and gently slipped it onto her finger. Mac felt his hands tremble when he did. Then she leaned forward and they kissed gently, passionately. When they stopped she found she was on her knees with him, and they laughed, and hugged each other, and wept tears of happiness.
Mac wrapped her arms around his neck and looked over his shoulder at the ring on her finger, shaking her head. "I can't believe this. I don't think anything in my life has ever felt so right." He gave her the grin. "Me either." He kissed her forehead and held her tight. Mac pulled back a couple inches and looked at him earnestly.
"Let's go home, Harm." He brushed her hair back over her ear as she rested her left hand conspicuously on his chest, the stones playing sparkling games with the sunlight. "Right now?"
"Yeah." A mischievous little grin lit her features. "I feel like flying."
"Tiner. Is the Admiral busy? I need to talk to him."
Tiner checked the schedule. "He's in the middle of paperwork, but I'll let him know, sir. How about fifteen minutes from now?"
"Perfect. I'll need to see Colonel Mackenzie, Lieutenant Simms and Lieutenant Roberts as well. Oh, and Sturgis. Get them in on it?"
Tiner nodded efficiently, picking up the phone. "Yes, sir. I'm on top of it." Harm nodded and walked toward Mac's office. He arrived as the phone rang, and Mac picked it up as she smiled at the commander.
"Yes, Tiner. Fifteen minutes. Thank you." She looked at Harm. "You sure about this?"
Harm grinned. "Too late to worry about that now, Mac."
She rolled her eyes. "Great. Easier to get forgiveness than permission, eh?"
"Fear not." He put his hand to his heart, dramatically. "Have I let you down yet?" Then, with feigned panic in his eyes, he added, "Today?"
Mac laughed, a little nervously. "Okay. So in fifteen minutes, you have an audience with the Admiral. You do know what you're going to say, don't you?"
"Hey, it can't be any harder than closing arguments against Colonel Mackenzie, can it?" He looked at his watch and turned toward his office. As he left, he threw her a kiss over his shoulder. "See you there, Tink." Mac shook her head and giggled at the pet name as he walked away, wondering just what was going to come of this.
Fifteen minutes later, Harriet, Mac, Bud, Sturgis, and Harm were standing at attention in front of Admiral AJ Chegwidden.
"At ease." He looked over the cream of his command and held back a sigh. Now what. "So. To what do I owe the honor of this gathering?" After a bare pause he stopped in front of Harm. "Commander Rabb. I understand this was your idea?"
"Yes, sir." He looked at the Admiral and took a deep breath. "I wanted to let the Admiral know that I took his advice." After a frown, AJ looked surprised, then almost smiled.
"Really. And may I ask what the result was?"
Harm turned to Mac and held out his hand. She looked startled, then fearlessly put her left hand in his. A green sparkle made Harriet gasp. "She said 'yes'. I'm sorry to take office time, sir, but we wanted all of our closest friends to find out at once."
"Oh, Mac!" Harriet broke formation and hugged her friend. "Congratulations! I'm so happy for you! Both!" The Admiral gracefully ignored the loss of protocol and waited as hugs and handshakes were exchanged.
Harm turned to the Admiral, his arm around Mac's shoulder. "Sir. Thank you." Mac looked at him, confused. "I promise I'll take good care of her."
The Admiral nodded, and grinned at the colonel's confusion. "I'll have you know, Colonel, that the Commander actually came to get my permission to ask for your hand in marriage." Mac looked astonished, and stared at Harm.
"When? I mean - I don't know what to say, Sir."
AJ looked out the window, and if he was embarrassed, they couldn't tell. "Commander Rabb actually told me that this was too big a favor to get from the universe without asking someone if it was okay."
He looked at Mac, who blushed and looked at the floor. "I told him that you were a big girl, and if you were brave enough to take on life with him full time, you certainly could." He looked back to Mac in time for her eyes to rise, meeting his. "You both make me damn proud."
The Admiral stepped to the side, folded his hands behind his back, and nodded to Rabb. "So you did it. Good for you." He stuck out his hand and shook Harm's, then turned to Mac.
"My best wishes, Co - " He got that far when she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him hard, protocol or no.
"Thank you, Sir," she whispered. "For giving us a chance, for believing in us… for everything." She stepped back, blinked, and stared in front of her, standing at parade rest. "Sir. I know it's asking a lot, but would the Admiral be willing to give me away?"
AJ looked as if he were considering it, and gave up the pretense. "Mac." Mac looked at him, her eyes shining. "I would be honored." He grew more serious, his tone hardening. "But let me tell you. If this marriage interferes in any way with the work in my office -"
AJ looked sternly at Rabb's interruption.
"Yes, sir. I just wanted to point out that there have been plenty of interruptions in work brought on by the basic interaction between the personalities of Colonel Mackenzie and myself, and I didn't want any future disruptions to be considered without due comparison to our former work habits..." Harm stopped as the Admiral stepped just a little too close for comfort. "...Sir."
"Commander, there's a little more lawyer in you every year." He stepped back and looked at the two of them. "Suffice it to say that you'll be told, instantly, if I think one of you needs to request a transfer. Don't make me do that."
Harm and Mac smiled. "Thank you, sir. We won't let you down."
"I should think not." The admiral stepped around to the other side of his desk, and sat down. "Now. Show me how efficient you all are by getting back to work."
Five officers snapped to attention, Harm barked "Aye, sir", they all turned on their heels and marched out of the office. Once outside, Harriet hugged Mac and looked at her ring again, then hugged Harm. "Look. I know we've got work to do... how about we all have lunch together? Would that be okay? I want to hear everything!" Mac smiled at her friend, and looked up at Harm, who nodded.
Turner laughed, a warm, low chuckle. "Well, well, well. It's about time. At least now we don't have to knock your heads together."
"You just better make sure this works out, hotshot."
"Hey, you've got to admit, we've been doing alright so far."
"Yeah, but remember: you hurt that woman and you'll have every man in here on your six. And a few from outside, I'm sure."
Harm laughed. "Don't I know it." He glanced over at Mac when she touched his arm, and realized immediately what she was thinking. "Say, Sturgis... do you think your father would be willing to do the ceremony?"
Sturgis took a deep breath and smiled broadly. "I'll ask him right away. I'm sure he'd be thrilled." With a hug for Mac and a handshake for Harm, Sturgis headed toward his office to make the call. Harriet was looking like she might burst with happiness. "So, lunch, right? I still want to hear how he proposed!"
"Sure, Harriet. You won't believe..." Harriet and Mac walked off together, laughing and whispering, leaving Harm and Bud standing and staring.
"Sir?" Harm turned and looked from smiling after his fiancée to Bud, his arms crossed.
"What's up, Bud?"
"I just wanted you to know how happy I am for you, Harm. I really think you and Mac are a good match." Harm looked delighted and a little surprised. Bud used his superior officer's first names, on his own, maybe once a year.
"Thanks, Bud. I think so too." He smiled, a thought dawning on him. "Will you do me a favor?"
"You bet, sir. What is it?"
Harm turned and faced Bud squarely. "I need a best man. I was hoping it would be you."
Bud's face lit up like a little kid at Christmas. "I'd be honored. But don't you think your best man should be your brother?"
Harm looked at the friend before him, shook his head at the man's humility. "Bud, I talked to Sergei last night, and he's agreed to be one of my men if he can get here... but we want you and Harriet to be our best couple. Is that okay?"
"Of course, sir!" Bud was glowing.
"There is one thing Sergei said, though."
"Well. He said that since you're married, or 'taken', as he put it, he should be the one to 'take over my duties' with Mac if I'm not able to complete my term..." He began to laugh, and Bud joined him.
"I think I can agree to that, sir. And I know Harriet can."
Harm and Mac sat cuddled together on the couch, a bowl of popcorn and a two bottles of root beer on the coffee table in front of them. The movie on the VCR was playing the opening credits, in black and white. Mac picked up the bowl and rested it in her lap.
"So the Admiral just handed this to you?"
"Yeah. It was in his desk drawer, almost like he's been saving it. He couldn't believe we'd never seen it."
"Sounds kind of suspicious."
"Well, he is the Admiral."
"I know. He knows everything, doesn't he."
Harm shook his head. "I remember he mentioned it when we talked about 'us'." He leaned over and kissed the top of her head. "He recommended that we 'study it carefully', whatever that means." She leaned back and caught his lips with hers, distracting him thoroughly.
"Hey. It's starting."
She grinned and turned back to the screen.
"'Adam's Rib'." She snuggled into his arms and nibbled the popcorn. "Hmmm. I love Spencer Tracy."
He wrapped his arms around her more tightly and stole some popcorn. For a moment, he caught her looking down at her left hand. A laugh of pure joy welled up from him, and he whispered in her ear. "Just you wait."
She looked up at him, puzzled. "For what?"
He smiled at her. "I'm going to make you forget all about Spencer Tracy."
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