~~~ Part Thirty-three – Amends ~~~

 

Harm slowly walked up to his cabin, lost in thought. Try as he might, he had no idea how to say what he wanted to. He didn't know how to make amends, or if it even mattered now. He'd let time slip though his fingers again, and he knew there was no going back. Only he didn't know if a path forward still even existed. And if it didn't, he'd have to live with the guilt for the rest of his days.

He kicked the dirt off his boots and paused by the screen door. He put a hand on the handle and blew out a long breath. He pulled the door open and stepped into the living room. It was empty.

Relief coursed through him when he saw her emerge from the bathroom.

"Hey," he greeted softly. "I'm sorry."

Mac joined him and gave him a brief, tense smile. "You said you'd come back. I knew you would."

"I didn't know if you'd still be here," he said, his eyes locked on hers. He stood perfectly still, hovering between crushing guilt, searing anger and overwhelming longing. He wanted to fall to his knees, and beg for her forgiveness. He wanted to grab her shoulders and shake her like a tree in a hurricane and demand how it was possible for her not to know how he felt. He wanted to gently gather her in his arms and press her body to his, bury his head into the crook of her neck and never let her go. He wanted to do so many things, to say so much... so he did nothing. He only watched her come closer to him, one step at a time.

He watched her as if time had slowed almost to a standstill, acutely aware of how her dress fluttered as she walked, the way her hair brushed her collarbones, the way her tongue darted at the corners of her mouth, of the way her eyes bored into his.

"Why would I leave? I spent so much time... I..." Her hands met his and held on.

His eyes closed as his fingers gently closed over hers. Silently, she tilted her head back as he brought his forward, their foreheads meeting in what could almost be described as a caress.

"I swear, I didn't know," she murmured.

"How could you not?" he said, just as softly.

"You... You never said anything. You always stood by..."

"I showed you. I respected your choices because I do." His arms encircled her, gathering her close.

"I'm sorry. I pushed you away. I didn't even thank you..."

"It's all right. You didn't push me away. Not this time. I ran... Oh, god, Mac, how can you ever forgive me?" he whispered.

Her arms went around him and she laid her head on his chest, listening to the beats of his heart.

"Why did you go like that?" she asked. "Why couldn't you tell me? Why couldn't we talk about this?"

He drew in a long, deep breath and coughed sharply.

"Sorry. To answer your question..." He coughed again. "I think we need to start back at the beginning." Again, he had to stop, as a he was overcome by a harsh coughing fit. "Damn it... I'll be right back," he said breathlessly.

Mac watched him disappear into the bathroom, puzzled. Her bewilderment turned to concern when she heard the distinct hiss of an inhaler... like the ones asthmatics use... She quickly made her way to the bathroom. Sure enough, he held a blue inhaler in one hand, the other braced on the sink.

Sensing her presence, he lifted his head to look at her, releasing a blowing breath.

"Since wh--"

He stopped her with a raised hand as he took another puff from the inhaler before returning it to a shelf. To Mac's utter surprise, he pulled out another one, bright orange. After taking two doses from it, he rinsed his mouth and gave her a quick smile.

"Are you all right?" she questioned.

"Fine, now." Anticipating her question, he motioned to the shelf and its content. "It's not asthma. It's recurrent bronchitis. I've had it for the last three weeks or so."

"Kat said something about you being sick..."

A flash of anger crossed Harm's eyes. "I'll have to have a talk with that girl about discretion," he muttered.

"She cares about you a lot."

Rolling his eyes, Harm led Mac back to the kitchen. "Yeah, in her own annoying, overbearing way, I guess."

Mac turned to him and smiled. "Remind you of anyone?"

Harm couldn't help the smile that formed on his lips, nor the soft chuckle that rumbled in his chest. He shook his head lightly and studied the woman in front of him. His soft gaze took in every detail of her, from her soft brown eyes and her strong, square shoulders, to the way her pale yellow dress brought out the highlights in her hair.

He reached a hand and caressed her cheek. "I missed you."

She leaned into his touch and pursed her lips, her expression a mixture of sadness and longing. "I missed you too."

He blew a quick breath and squared his shoulders: it was now or never. "What do you say I cook you dinner, and we try and work out this mess I've made?"

"You're not the only one-"

"Mac, stop. Let's not make the same mistake again. Honesty, all right? All of it."

"If you want that, then you have to listen to what I have to say."

He lowered his eyes. "You're right. I'm sorry. God, I don't even know where to start..."

"How about we start with dinner and catch up a bit? Get used to each other again?"

He smiled. "I'd like that. And Mac?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"For not listening to me. I'm really glad you're here."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"So little AJ insisted on knowing how baby Mackenzie came out of her mommy's belly..." Mac explained, her eyes twinkling.

Harm smiled broadly and chuckled, as he laid his utensils across his now empty plate. Dinner was done, and both now knew what lay ahead. The tension level in the room rose with Harm, as he gathered the remains of their meal.

A heavy silence settled over the kitchen, broken only by the sound of clinking dishes, while Harm cleared the table.

He rinsed both plates in the sink and braced his hands on the edge, watching the sky turn from light purple to deep indigo, a few stars already visible against the velvet sky.

He hung his head and stared into the drain. He felt like he was perched on the edge of a cliff, ready to jump off, but with no idea if he had a parachute on or not. He decided he definitely hated the feeling.

"So, I guess it's time for me to explain," he said in a low, charged tone.

He heard Mac blow out a long breath. "Yeah, I guess it is."

Harm pushed himself off the counter and turned to face her, motioning towards the living room. "Shall we?"

"How about we take a walk outside?"

Harm snorted. "Bad idea. Farmhands all over the place, and I'm not exactly known for having, um... female guests, so they may get..."

"Have you forgotten I'm a Marine?" she asked, a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice.

He rolled his eyes. "No I haven't. But... This... I don't want interruptions, Mac. If..." he hesitated, his blue-green eyes filled with a mixture of fear, anxiety and hopefulness. However, the storm behind the eyes, the one in his soul, was far stronger. He could see the cliff looming closer, and he almost felt the wind pick up, pushing him towards the edge. He shook his head and put his hands solidly on his hips.

"Mac, if we can't work this out, I think we both know this is really the end, this time. I do *not* want to screw this up."

She lowered her eyes and nodded softly. "I think you're right. But I don't want it to come to that."

"Neither do I." He wanted to yell out 'then if we both want to be together, why don't we just do it, and forget the rest?' But deep inside, he knew they needed to talk this through, to make sure there would be no resentment, or regrets. She needed to understand why he left as much as he'd needed to when she'd run off to the Guadalcanal.

The feel of her hand on his brought him back from his musings. She guided him to the sofa and sat next to him. She crossed her ankles and folded her hands in her lap.

"Why did you leave?" she asked, her voice full of hurt and incomprehension.

Harm closed his eyes and breathed deeply a few times, before attempting an answer.

"Do you remember that look we shared, in that shack?"

"You mean when you burst in and killed the two thugs?"

He nodded silently.

"I do. You didn't seem to be happy to see me."

"I remember it too. It's burned into my memory, as one of my life's most horrible moments."

At his words, her eyes widened and darkened with anger, but before she could speak, he grabbed both her hands and his intense gaze pinned her in place. "I'd just killed, I don't know, a dozen men maybe, one with my bare hands, and I walk into that shed to find the woman I love shackled to a torture table. I didn't know if I'd been fast enough, if I'd made it in time; I didn't know if I'd let them hurt you by not acting fast enough."

He saw the ire in Mac's eyes vanish and turn to sadness. She knew how easy it was to kill, especially using an AK-47. In those strange times, humanity takes on a surreal quality; it loses its value and becomes unimportant. Lives are now so incredibly easy to destroy, almost inconsequential, just like swatting a mosquito. In a sense, both of them knew this change in perspective was one of the ways soldiers could deal with taking so many lives.

But killing a man in hand-to-hand, up close and personal, even in combat, tended to keep you up at night, regardless of how deserving your victim was: looking in the eyes of one's victim effectively renders their humanity, magnified tenfold. The person whose life is hanging in the balance becomes a father, a brother, a son. A person. One can no longer ignore the horror of the act about to be committed, and it becomes murder, regardless of the justification, even to save one's own life. It stays engraved in the killer's mind, for all eternity, tormenting the soul. And knowing Harm, he had probably spent more nights awake than most.

When he spoke again, his voice was low and guarded, laced with buried pain.

"And then, there was just no time to talk, no time to explain... I saw you kissing Webb, and all I could think of was how much I'd given up, and I didn't even get a chance to speak my heart before losing you again. It hurt so much, Mac... I just can't explain why that one hurt so much. But the look in your eyes when you saw me... It said: what the hell do you think you're doing? I don't need you! And after the crash... I couldn't face that. I just couldn't. I think I just... reached my limit. So, I cut and run." He paused, drawing in a shaky breath, before pushing on.

"As soon as I got back, I went to see the admiral, and he tried to get me to come back, but I couldn't put myself through the torture of seeing you with another man, again. So I left."

Mac sat next to him, pondering his words. Since she'd asked him if he really did love her, he hadn't denied it once, or tried to hide it. In fact, it shone in his eyes, like a beacon, though the pain, the anger and the bitterness. It gave her hope.

Seeing he was waiting for her to speak, she chose her words carefully. "I did think that, when you came in. I did tell myself I didn't need you to come to my rescue, and I was angry that you did."

The look of pure hurt in his eyes almost made her back away from the truth, but she knew her next words would bring him some comfort, help him understand. "If I did acknowledge I needed you, it meant accepting the fact that without you, I was going to die, and that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Nothing. And I had to hold on to something, Harm. I needed to hold on to that not to crack, not to give in. I'd listened to Clay scream and tended his wounds and listened to him tell me he wanted to die for me, so they would leave me alone..." A tear trailed down her cheek and a choked sob forced up her throat as the memories flooded back.

Instantly, her arms surrounded her, drawing her close. He pressed her head to his shoulder, rocking her.

"I'm sorry," he murmured, his own throat tight. "I'm so sorry. I should have understood. I should have known..."

"So when you left, I... I went to him for the same reason. If I admitted to needing you, it meant opening myself up to so much pain... And I couldn't do it. Not for a long time."

His arms slackened slightly around her. "I was right, then. You were with him."

"Yes. Until... Until little AJ's birthday party."

Harm instantly stiffened and released her. His face was set in a mask of a barely controlled mixture of pain and rage. He pushed himself off the couch and walked to the living room window, resting his palms on the sill.

He knew he shouldn't be angry with her. After all, he'd told her in his letter he wanted her to be happy, even if it meant her being with Clayton Webb. He forced back the rage and swallowed hard, but before he could speak, Mac did.

"The first thing I did was give up, and respect your choice." She chuckled. "It lasted all of two days, until Harriet got your letter. She knocked some sense back into me, so I went looking for you. I got as far as Stanford Milton. He stonewalled me."

"And then, you went to Clay," Harm said, his voice dead.

She nodded, not looking at him. "Clay called me when he came home from the hospital." Mac took in a deep breath and released it. "He knows I love you. He always has. So he told me he'd ask of me only what I could give, and that he'd love me, and make me happy. In the end, what made me happy was finding you," she finished softly.

Mac rose off the couch and walked to Harm's side, placing her hand over his. "You implied at the end of your letter that you were the one crying. And I believe it. I'm sorry I hurt you. But I meant what I said. I did love you then, and I still do."

At her last sentence, he closed his eyes and let his head fall forward, some of the tension easing from his frame, but when he spoke, his voice still betrayed a deep bitterness.

"Thank you for saying that, but don't lie to me, Mac. I saw you with Clay, on AJ's birthday."

"What! How dare you?"

He straightened and faced her, his eyes an angry ice-blue, incredibly cold. "I went to Washington, to talk to you. I saw you on Bud and Harriet's porch, in his arms. I saw it, Mac. Don't you dare lie to me and tell me you weren't together. Did you just think I'd forget my promise to you?" he snapped. "Did you really think I would? I've never broken my word, Mac. NEVER!" he said forcefully.

"We were saying goodbye, Harm! And why didn't you even bother to talk to me? If you had, well, maybe we wouldn't be in this mess!" she yelled back, incensed.

"Well now I guess you know how I felt! Damn it, Mac, when I came back I was so hurt I... I almost assaulted Kat! And then... and then, I spent a week fighting for my life and now if I ever get back to Washington and the Navy I may never fly again because that damned thing may have damaged my lungs for good!"

Overwhelmed, he scrubbed a hand over his face and started pacing. "This," he gestured widely with both his arms, "this is what I was afraid of. That we'd end up at each other's throats again. Damn it, this isn't how love's supposed to work!"

Mac was still trying to figure out what he meant by his statement about Kat, but now wasn't the time to ask. She walked back to the kitchen and filled two mugs with the coffee Harm had brewed before they had started talking, giving him some time to cool off.

When she walked back into the living room, he was sitting in the worn leather armchair facing the fireplace.

"You're right. This isn't how love's supposed to be. But we have a lot of stuff to work through before we get to the good stuff," she murmured, handing him a cup.

Harm gave her a disbelieving, yet pessimistic look. "You still think there's a chance? After all this?" He couldn't help the hopeful note in his voice, despite his lack of faith in that possibility. He wasn't sure anymore which of them had made the biggest mistake, but he was slowly starting to see the sun thought the clouds.

"I don't know for sure. I hope so. I wouldn't have come if I didn't believe it. But I need you to explain a few things: What happened with Kat, and what's the matter with your lungs?"

"On the first..." Harm tossed his head and snorted humourlessly. "I... I... I almost... forced myself on her..." he murmured ashamedly, his eyes locked on the floor.

Mac's eyes widened in disbelief and shock. "You... you... you what?" she stammered.

"I tried to kiss her and I didn't stop right away when she said no... but she put me back in my place quick enough. That girl has a vicious right swing," he muttered.

Mac was still shaking her head slowly, not believing for a minute that Harm would do such a thing as not take 'no' for an answer.

"You can stop shaking your head, Mac. It's the truth. But in my defense, twelve hours later, I was in the ICU, which brings me to the second question. A few hours after our... incident... I packed up my stuff and I was ready to leave, but Kat wouldn't let me. Like you, she thought what I did made no sense, so she... we talked, about where I'd disappeared to. I hadn't slept in days so she sent me to bed."

Mac's eyebrows raised mischievously. "You follow orders given by women at least fifteen years younger than you?"

Harm made a face and snickered. "Twelve. And I do, when it suits me. Anyway, Lea, who is usually quiet, decided to make a racket, so Kat came looking. I was told they found me unconscious, with a high fever and I had trouble breathing, so they took me to Sundance med. I was diagnosed with respiratory Anthrax, and transferred to Gillette, where I spent four and a half days somewhere between life and death. So, my lungs aren't too great. And to top it off, I was dumb enough to spend a whole night sitting outside three weeks ago, and added bronchitis to the mix. So, my lung capacity is shot to hell. I can't even run a half a mile without getting completely winded."

Again, Mac was left completely speechless.

For some reason, it struck Harm as funny. "Close your mouth, Marine. Here, you really can catch flies," he snickered.

Mac did, but still, she didn't say a word. After a few more seconds, she shook her head and finally found her voice. "My god, Harm! Are you all right? I mean... Anthrax is almost always fatal..." she said, he throat tight. She could have lost him and not even know about it, without getting a chance to say goodbye, or to make peace with him. She shuddered at the idea, and closed her eyes.

"I'm still on antibiotics for another month, and the bronchitis is a problem. It's too soon to tell if there'll be permanent damage, but I'm ok. So, I guess you want the rest of the story?"

Mac could only nod. Harm proceeded to tell her about the barn fire and Lea's heroics.

"I knew about that part. That's how Clay found you."

"Oh?"

Mac retrieved her purse and pulled the picture from the Sundance Chronicle. Harm smiled and gazed at Lea.

"So, I guess I owe you a t-bone, huh, girl?"

He was rewarded by a joyous yowl. He turned his attention back to Mac. "So, where does that leave us now?" he asked seriously. He let half a smile slip on his lips, his heart daring to hope again.

"I don't know, Harm. I really don't know," Mac replied honestly, staring into his eyes.

"All I can say, is how sorry I am for this whole mess," he said quietly. "If it's possible, I'd like to be a part of your life again. And for the record, I do love you, Sarah, very much. I tried to tell myself I could get over you, but I just can't. Not while there's still a chance. And I can promise you that I'll never let a misunderstanding come between us again." He covered her hands with his larger one and kept his eyes on her.

He held his breath, awaiting her answer. This time, his intentions were clear. His heart drummed furiously in his chest. This was the point of no return.

Mac blinked a few times before smiling gently. "I can't ask you to give up what you have here, Harm... and I can't leave DC... But... " She closed her eyes and let her head fall to the side. "I love you too. But we're no better off. Our lives are just too different now," she finished sadly.

Harm swallowed the lump in his throat at the finality of her words. "What if I said I wanted to come back? It's up to me to make amends, I think," he asked, his voice rough.

"But what about Kat and your job here?"

Harm gave her a wan smile. "I think Kat always knew I wouldn't stay. God knows she tried to convince me to go back enough times."

"Why didn't you?"

Harm's mouth drew to a thin line and he pursed his lips. After a pause, he looked at her again. "Because I didn't want to be hurt that badly ever again, Mac. You know better than anyone I'm not as tough as I let on." Again, he rose to his feet and walked to the window, staring into the night.

It was then Mac realised just how much power she held over Harmon Rabb. It took only one look, one kiss to push him almost completely out of her life. The weight of that truth suddenly cut off her air supply, and she had to remind herself to breathe.

She rose off the couch and again took his hand. "I'm sorry I hurt you so much. Why is it that it's all we seem to do to each other?"

"I don't know. But the fact we keep trying and don't give up says something, doesn't it?"

"It does. And at least, now, how we feel is clear."

"Is it enough?" he asked, sadness evident in his entire being. His earlier hope had been almost quelled by her statement about them not being better off.

She didn't know the right answer to that one. She chose honesty. "I don't know, Harm. Years ago, I would have said yes. I guess now, I know better."

She thought about the letter tucked in her purse, the one with the SecNav's seal on the front of the envelope. She knew it contained a reinstatement offer. She didn't know the exact terms, but she knew it was his ticket back into the Navy. But she didn't want that letter to motivate his choice to go back to Washington.

Harm closed his eyes tightly and bit his lip. That cliff he'd feared was now looming in front of him, dark, endless. And he knew without a doubt he would jump off. Whether he survived the fall was not up to him anymore.

"Sarah," he began softly, "I already said I want to be in your life. That's not entirely accurate. I want to be a part of it, not just a presence in it. If you'll give me a chance, I want to give 'us' a try. I won't make any promises, but I... I need to know if we could ever be as good as I think we could. All I can promise is one day at a time. We'll work from there. In case it's not clear, I'm hopelessly in love with you, so much so it defies reason. I never knew it was possible, but I do. " He wanted to add a question, like 'what do you think, how about it?' but it felt lame and weak, so he left it at that.

His heart lay bare in front of her, waiting, hoping, and fearing. Harm could almost feel the rush of air as he stepped off the mental cliff, all he could do was pray she'd catch him, or that he would simply stop living, not to have to face the pain of her rejection again.

Mac took a deep breath and licked her lips. "I... I think I want that. Very much." She smiled.

The relief flooding through Harm's soul was so intense, he shivered. A slow smile spread across his lips, his eyes once again finding hers. "Thank you."

She felt the intensity of his gaze shift and take a smoky, burning quality.

Just then, they could her faint sounds of guitar and laughter coming from the main courtyard. Soon after, the faint glow of a distant bonfire could be seen flickering on the white walls of the cabin.

Both stood only inches apart, lost in each other. From outside, both could hear a clear female voice, singing into the night.

Please Remember
Please Remember
When I Was There For You
And You Were There For Me
Please Remember
Our Time Together
When Time Was Yours And Mine
And We Were Wild And Free
Then Remember, Please Remember Me


And so, they did. They remembered each other, their connection, and their friendship. The hurt was still there, but it was now just a shadow, slowly fading in the light of a new day.

He brought his hand up to her cheek and caressed it with the back of his fingers, as one would touch a feather; gently, slowly, savoring the soft feel of it. She leaned into his touch and closed her eyes.

His arms closed around her and drew her close. She rested her cheek on his chest, just above his heart. As the guitar outside resumed, he tilted his head and hooked his fingers under her chin, turning her face towards his.

"I love you," he whispered, an instant before their lips met.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Kat ran her hand over the strings of her guitar and the final bars of the song resounded through the night. She looked up over the fire, and spotted the light on in Dean's -- Harm's cabin. She squinted in the firelight, as she saw a shadow cross the window.

"Here, Garry," she said to the man on her right, handing him her guitar. "I'll be right back." She stood from the log she'd been occupying and walked towards the cabin.

"Hey Boss! You ain't leavin' already!" called one of the farmhands.

"No, Jones. Just getting some more brew," she called back, raising her still half-full bottle of beer. The men quickly turned their attention back to the fire, as one of them pulled out a harmonica and began to play.

As she neared the cabin, a slow smile crept on her face. There wasn't one figure in the window. There were two. There might as well have been one, as they stood, locked in what looked like a very passionate embrace.

She stood a few yards away, nodding happily. She couldn’t help the pride she felt at seeing Harm so clearly happy. But her joy quickly turned to melancholy. Her unofficial big brother would be leaving, soon. She didn't get time to dwell on the fact, as whistles and catcalls began to erupt behind her.

She looked over her shoulder and burst out laughing: all the hands had left the fireside to see what she was looking at.

"Hey Hammer! Way to go, Boss! Let's get to it!" someone shouted.

Kat was sure they'd heard, as both figures suddenly froze. Harm's head fell back.

"Don't you guys have anything better to do than mess with me?" came the muffled reply.

Kat rose her hand to quiet the troops. "Get out here, Hammer. You know you won't get any peace otherwise. Besides, you said you'd sing," Kat called out.

"Sorry Kat, I'm otherwise occupied. And besides, Mattson," Harm added, addressing the man that had called out, "the lady is a Marine. If *I* could break your nose, think of what she could do to you!"

With that, the living room light went out and the window slammed shut.

Kat shook her head and turned back towards her employees. "Come on, guys. Let's celebrate!" She herded the troops back to the fire, leaving the two figures in the cabin in peace.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Inside the cabin, Mac couldn't hold back and outright laughed.

"You think this is funny?" Harm asked, a bit annoyed. "I haven't seen you for over a year and we just barely manage to work things out, and those idiommph..."

The rest of his sentence was lost as she dragged her head down to hers and captured his lips.

"I've missed you," she murmured, when they parted.

"You have no idea how I missed you," he replied, placing both his hands on the small of her back. He'd said he'd take it one day at a time, but one day suddenly felt like an eternity. The only thing he truly wanted was never to let her go.

"I have some idea... I saw the pictures in your nightstand..."

"You went through my drawers?" he asked, astonished more than anything else.

"I had some help," Mac replied, casting a glance at Lea.

"Woof!"

Harm magisterially rolled his eyes. "Why don't you find some bats to chase?" he told the dog dryly. Lea yowled and ran to the door. Harm released Mac only long enough to send the four-legged matchmaker out for some night hunting. "She can be such a pest sometimes," he reflected out loud.

Mac's eyes twinkled, as his arms once more wrapped around her. "They say like master, like dog..."

Harm chuckled. "Funny, Marine. Real funny."

She buried her head in his chest. "I missed that; just kidding around with you."

He didn't reply, as he laid his cheek on the top of her head, smiling. Letting her go for the night would be impossibly hard. After another long hug, Mac guided Harm back to the couch.

"So, where do we go from here?"

Harm took a moment to think. "I'll talk to Kat tomorrow morning, tell her I'm going back to DC. Then I'll talk to Mo. It's the start of the busy season, and I don't want to leave him in a lurch. As soon as he finds a replacement, I'm moving back to DC."

"Are you sure that's what you want?"

"Yes. What I want is you. Besides, I miss the law. I shouldn't have too much trouble finding a job in a law firm, even if I haven't practiced in a year. All I need to do is change back my name and renew my bar license."

"Ok. I think I can help with that." Wordlessly, she took a white envelope from her purse and handed it to him. Even in the dark living room he could still recognise the SecNav's office seal. He turned on the table lamp beside him and ripped the letter open, his eyes trained on Mac.

Once the letter was free from the envelope, he lowered his eyes and read. Once he was done, he handed her the letter, a wide smile on his lips.

"I guess I don't need to make the rounds of the law firms after all," he said happily.

"What is he offering?" Mac asked, not even bothering to look.

"Reinstatement to the rank of Commander, and a post in his office, as senior legal advisor."

"Not JAG?" she said, a bit disappointed.

"No. He thought there might be some fraternisation issues if I went there. A recommendation from the admiral, I'm guessing."

Mac thought for a moment. They may not work in the same office, but they would be close to each other. A sudden thought occurred to her. "You're getting Lindsey's old post?"

"Apparently. How's that for irony?"

Mac snorted. "I bet Teddy won't be happy to hear about that." She tried to stifle a yawn, but failed miserably. She cast an apologetic glance to Harm.

He glanced at his watch and immediately understood: for Mac, it was past 0200...

"You're still on DC time, and probably exhausted. Just give me a sec. I'll ask Kat to borrow her spare bedroom," he said, rising to his feet.

"No need," she replied quietly.

Harm froze. "Are you sure?"

Mac walked towards his bedroom. "I'm sure. Come on."

Without further prompting, Harm followed her. A few minutes later, they lay curled into each other's arms, and for the first time in over a year, Harm fell asleep with a smile on his lips.

 

Epilogue


THREE WEEKS LATER.
0744 ROMEO
BEARLODGE MOUNTAIN RANCH
SUNDANCE, WYOMING

 

Harm threw the last of his bags into the bed of the pickup and closed the fiberglass cover. Mo and Kat stood on the main house porch, watching him. He leaned back against the tailgate, taking in his surroundings. Yep, he was going to miss this place. He was going to miss its people, and the simplicity of the life he'd found.

It didn't matter.

He was going back to DC, back to his family, to the Navy, but mostly, to Mac. She had left a week before, when her leave had finished, and the parting had been bittersweet. Neither of them had wanted to let go, after two weeks spent catching up and just getting to know each other again. But they knew Harm would soon join her. His furniture was due to be delivered back to his loft from storage tomorrow.

He had only one regret: he would miss Lea terribly. He could call Kat, or email her, but DC was not a place for a Springer, used to farm life and the great outdoors.

"You ready?"

He started and looked up at Kat. "Yeah, actually, I am. Just... having a last look, I guess." He smiled a bit sadly, and opened his arms. "I'm gonna miss you, Miss Barefoot," he said affectionately, as she stepped into his waiting arms.

"I'll miss you too, Big Brother," Kat sniffled into his chest.

Harm pulled back and gazed into her tear-filled eyes. "Hey! What's this?" he asked gently, as he thumbed the tears off her cheek, much as he had done for Mac, those times they had parted as friends. "Since when do tough gals like you cry?"

Kat didn't even try to put on a brave façade. "Since I'm losing the best friend I've ever had."

"You're not losing me. I'll keep in touch. I promise."

Kat tossed her head, her green eyes flashing. "Everyone says that. But they never do."

"I never break my word, Kat. I never have before, and I never will," he told her, his voice firm, his eyes sincere.

Kat gave him a watery smile. "I believe you." She reached up and hugged him once again. She laughed a little, a hint of her usual boldness coming back. "Did I ever tell you you're way too tall?"

Harm grinned. "Take care, all right?"

Kat gave a sharp nod, biting her lip. "Back at you."

"And don't you mess up things with Sarah, now, boy," Mo ordered sternly, offering his hand.

Harm took it and shook firmly. Mo dragged him into a tight embrace, firmly squeezing his other shoulder with his knotted hand.

"I won't," Harm assured. He smiled warmly at the old zoomie who reminded him so much of an eagle, with his hooked nose and amber eyes. "Thanks for everything, Mo."

Mo gave a brief, approving nod. "No trouble. I told you I'd end up knowing your story, and as a bonus, Betty never ran so good." The old man tossed a look over his shoulder and eyed the twenty-something, sandy-haired man hanging around the newly erected barn frame critically. "I just hope he won't wreck her."

Harm chuckled. His gaze dropped to the ground, or about 18 inches off it, actually. He gazed lovingly at Lea. Of all, he would miss her the most. Somehow, he found that stupid. He forced back the sudden lump in his throat. He would definitely miss the soft ears and wet nose on his face in the morning. He smiled, as he told himself he could only have one set of brown eyes in his bed at a time. Lea had actually been a bit of a pain in giving Mac the space she considered hers in Harm's bed. In the end, Mac had bought the peace with a piece of steak.

He let out a low chuckle as he put a knee to the dirt and called Lea to him. "Seems all the girls in my life are stomach-driven," he murmured as he stroked Lea's head.

Sensing her master's mood, Lea pushed her head into his chest and whimpered.

"Goodbye, girl. Be good for Kat, okay? And leave some bats for the others." He hugged the dog tightly and rose to his feet, clearing his throat.

"Take good care of her, all right?" Harm said, his voice rough.

Kat nodded wordlessly.

After taking one last look around, Harm opened the truck door and turned to step in. But before he could move, a flash of brown and white fur flew past him and landed in a huff on the passenger seat.

Harm shook his head. "I'm sorry, girl. I can't take you. Out," he ordered sadly. Lea didn't budge.

"Lea, out." Nothing.

"Lea, out, NOW. Come on girl, this is already hard enough."

"Woof." A decided bark, and a sharp wag of the tail.

Harm turned to Kat, to find her smirking. "Help me out here," he asked.

Kat crossed her arms. "What's the first thing I told you when she used your boot as a pillow?"

"That she'd adopted me."

"Did you ever doubt it?"

"No, but--"

"She'll let herself die if you leave her."

Harm rolled his eyes. "Kat, I can't take her with me! We already went over this!" he replied, mildly annoyed.

"I know, but try and tell her that. I told you: you're her master, and she won't accept another. Unless she lets you leave, I won't be able to keep her. That's how they are," Kat stated, her usual determined air firmly back in place.

Harm pursed his lips and walked over to the passenger side and yanked the door open. "OUT!" he ordered.

Lea snorted.

He reached in to physically take her out but stopped short, as a low, menacing growl greeted him.

"Lea, stop it!" he snapped. He reached in again. This time, he was greeted with a louder growl and bared teeth.

He pulled back, not quite sure what to do. As soon as he'd taken a step back, Lea quieted and whimpered, furiously wagging her short tail.

Harm put his hands on his hips and sighed deeply, hanging his head. After a moment, he looked up to Lea and inched closer.

"Easy, girl. I'm just coming to chat." He approached Lea and crouched to meet her eyes. "You want to come with me."

"Woof!"

"You’ll have to stay inside all day."

Wagging.

"There are no bats to chase and you’ll have to go out on a leash."

More wagging.

"I have to go out of town for days, sometimes, and you'll have to stay with friends."

A lot of wagging.

Harm rose and walked off, shaking his head. He snorted, turned on his heel and faced Lea. "All right. You can come. But you cannot, and I mean NOT sleep on my leather couch."

Lea jumped out of the truck and barreled into Harm, yowling and whimpering joyously.

All three humans shared a good laugh at Lea's obvious delight. After a few more moments, and a new round of hugs, Harm and Lea climbed back into the truck. It was time to go.

Harm turned the key and waved one last time. The Bearlodge Mountain Ranch quickly faded in the rearview mirror, quickly followed by the sleepy little town of Sundance, Wyoming.

As he sped up on the highway, the early July sun descended over the Western horizon, bathing the landscape in a fiery light. It was as if the sunlight had taken on a life of its own, pushing Harm eastward, towards her... He turned to Lea.

"Let's go home. My Sundance is waiting for us."

 

The End

 

 

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