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Chapter 3

 

The dust of autumn was blown away by the winter wind. It puffed in a cloud and then settled softly into the empty places once filled by regret.

Mac was glad for the change. This seasonal shift was a metaphor, sure, but the temperature dipped just as true. Her stomach did too when she saw him.

He'd carried her bags for her and touched her cheek. He wore stripes on his shoulder and his heart on his sleeve. He'd never done that before, really. He liked to think that he kept his emotions masked; a shrug of the shoulders, a tilt of the head, but she always knew what he was thinking. The world knew now. He wore his affection for her like a medal on his chest. She thought she caught him humming the Officer and a Gentleman theme as they were checking their luggage.

To hell with the rules, she thought carelessly, openly admiring the way his pants fit his hips. If everyone followed the rules, they'd both be out of a job.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

She drew the eye of nearly every man in the airport, and some of the women too. He was used to it, of course, but now something felt different. He fought off his initial flare of proprietary jealousy by telling himself that it was the uniform, but after he caught a Northwest copilot biting his fist, he took a step closer to her and started shooting looks.

She pulled up short when they were halfway to their gate and turned to him.

"Do you want me to just stop walking so you can pee in a circle around me?" She asked him.

He looked to the side sheepishly, knowing he'd been caught.

"Commander?" She said, not without humor, "I'm sure I can find an airport worker to put up a Wet Floor sign, and you can just growl if anyone gets too close."

He glared at her with a quiet glimmer in his eye.

"Harm," she said, her tone a little more gentle, "I'm not going anywhere."

"Everything just feels," he began, "…tenuous."

She regarded him for a moment and then reached up and kissed him right on the lips in the middle of the airport terminal.

"Cemented a little more there, Sailor?" She stood there staring up at him, looking defiant and nonchalant. Her lips were glistening, it was driving him mad.

After a stunned moment he shook himself.

"You're hopeless, Rabb," she said. "Every person in this airport can see right through you."

"Is that a bad thing?" He said after a moment.

"Right now? It's the sweetest thing I've ever seen." She smiled at him and he stood a little straighter. "Come on, flyboy," she said, pivoting in the direction of their gate, "if you promise not to kill anyone between here and Washington, I promise not to run off with any flight attendants."

He grinned at her and offered her his arm. "I'm not making any promises."

She flitted away the comment.

"Thank you," she said, slipping her arm through his.

"My pleasure," he replied.

And it was.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

He'd once heard love described as friendship caught on fire. And if Mac's flammable singularity had endeared her to his mind, it had most certainly lit the tinder of his heart.

They parted ways at the baggage claim in Dulles. He walked backward away from her, his steps sluggish and reluctant.

They'd agreed to talk to the Admiral tomorrow, though neither was really certain what they'd say. Harm didn't worry terribly much at what that might be, the JAG had to have seen this coming. He did worry though, about the other end of the conversation. The solution seemed hazy and pragmatic, but at least the problem was manifest.

If only the path ahead of him were just as clear. For once in his life he was more interested in the journey than the destination.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

He was wearing a tight black t-shirt and jeans. He looked strong, and young, and positively sexy. She indulged for a moment in the look of him from a purely female perspective. He was tall and thick through the shoulders, lean through the waist. He could pull off a uniform and just about anything else he wore, though if she were being honest with herself, she wanted little more than to see him in anything but his shadow.

He turned to her then and a smile lit his face. In the second he saw her, he was radiant and focused; glowing. He had the look of someone who had walked into serendipity and could keep it in his pocket.

"Hey," he said, surprised but pleased, "what are you doing here?"

He'd been organizing his desk drawers and trying to sort out his life. There were things he'd kept that he had no real need for, but had refused to part with because they'd been touched by her. A notebook she'd doodled in, a movie stub, a book full of lawyer jokes she'd gotten him as a gag. He recognized the pang of juvenile sentimentality for what it was, but shoved them back in the drawer just the same.

She was more than a match for him, which he hadn't dared hope to find, and certainly not in one as bewitching as she. He'd never been able to pull anything over on her. She was leggy and secure and sharp as a trephine. Every little look from her shook him up inside.

"Couldn't sleep," she said on a contradictory yawn, slipping off her shoes like she owned the place.

She moved around his luggage that was still sitting by the door, and over to the couch. She flopped down, slouching out of her jacket. He walked up to her and took it without a word, hanging it on a coat rack.

"Why not?"

She had her legs tucked under her in the corner of his couch, curled up like a cat.

"I don't want to be in the office tomorrow," she said, "tiptoeing around each other like there's nothing between us."

Harm had been hoping it was something a little more sinister than guilt and apprehension. He sighed and sat down on the other end of the couch.

"In all of our time working together," he said, "have we ever pretended there wasn't?"

Mac's head dropped back against the sofa, conceding the point.

"I keep oscillating," she said, rolling her head to look at him, "between contempt and apathy for the Navy rules concerning fraternization, and the complete and abject fear over breaking them."

"I know what you mean," he said. "Of course, I've always been kind of good at breaking the rules."

He could think of a few he wanted to break right now.

"You are quite adept," she said, agreeing, laughing.

He laughed with her.

"Is it rubbing off yet?" He asked, flashing a grin and leaning toward her.

He caught a pillow to the head.

She finally sighed out a last bit of laughter and caught his eye, sobering.

"I shouldn't have come over."

He was unexpectedly hurt, but she made no move to get up from the couch. They weren't even touching and he didn't want her to go. He was on his best behavior.

"Why did you come over?" He asked.

"I guess I'm looking for reassurance," she looked at the ceiling, "that this is going to work out. That we're not about to jeopardize our careers and our lives as they are for something as impulsive and un-military as…"

"Love?" He finished for her. She turned to look at him again, one eye slightly obscured by a lock of hair. "I can't give you that kind of assurance, Mac."

"No one can," she said, a smile turning up the corners of her lips, "that doesn't stop me from wanting it anyway."

They sat in a comfortable silence, contemplating the deep water they found themselves treading.

"You know that song by REO Speedwagon?" he said, suddenly.

"Oh God," Mac replied, her eyes flitting to his guitar and back, "please don't."

He shot her a smile and got up, the couch creaking underneath him.

"Do you want some tea?" He asked.

"I'd love some," she said.

He banged around in the kitchen and Mac closed her eyes at the domesticity of the moment. She imagined that this was her life, here with him. It dawned on her suddenly that it was. The screaming of the teapot made her jump.

He finally handed her a steaming mug and settled back down, turning to her in full.

"We've been standing on an edge," he said, "and it cuts."

She merely looked at him a moment without answering. It was as if he'd been speaking antiquated words and it was taking her a moment to figure out exactly what he'd been trying to say.

"That it does, Commander," she replied, taking a sip of the brew, "tomorrow'll be one for the books."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Saying the words to their commanding officer had actually been easier than she thought it would be.

They were in front of him now, electing to stay standing as if the weight of their situation might not ever allow them to get back up were they to sit. Chegwidden remained impassive throughout their oratory, a finger pressed to his temple. They'd finished what seemed several minutes ago, and the admiral’s silence was ostensibly a punishment in and of itself. Mac fought the urge to fidget. AJ took a breath.

"Commander," he said, and Harm snapped-to.

"Sir?"
"I'll see you Monday morning. I'd like to talk to the Colonel."

"Sir?"
"Dismissed, Commander."
"Aye aye, Sir."

Harm nodded, catching Mac's eyes as he turned to leave. He gave her the briefest nod and a shot of courage passed between them - a look that could only be shared by those who had been in, and were about to go into battle.

She stood a bit straighter as the office door closed.

"You love him." It wasn't a question.

He'd chased her, killed for her, saved her from gunslingers and superiors, and he'd saved her from herself. He trusted her, and pined for her, and paid her the respect she was due. How could she not love him? How could she possibly be expected to resist?

"Yes."

The admiral nodded, confirming his suspicion.

"If I have to reassign one of you?"

Their eyes held one another's, though Mac wouldn't answer.

The admiral nodded at this too.

"Dismissed, Colonel," he said. "You two have a good weekend." She caught the flicker of a soft smile as she turned, but she couldn't quite make out its tenor.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

When Harm parked his car at home, he sat for a moment with the engine shut off. It had dawned on him that somewhere in the surrounding few days, be they ahead or behind him, the course of his life had reached a dividing point. It would now consist of two halves - before he'd given his heart to Mac, and after.

The enormity of that thought left him a bit shaken. He left his wallet, briefcase and coat in the car and went for a walk.

Thunder rumbled in the distance; a storm was brewing.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

There was an old black man sitting on a blue milk carton outside a barbershop, selling flowers. Harm was half a step past when he checked himself and turned around. He eyed a small bouquet of daisies, and then patted his pockets, realizing he'd left his wallet in his car. "How much?" he asked, nodding in their direction.

The old man was humming James Taylor and rocking softly to his own beat. He paused when Harm spoke.

"How much you got in your pocket?"

Harm dug deep.

"Seventeen cents," he held it out in front of himself self-consciously. He shook the small heap of change, hoping to eek out more.

The man nodded once and leaned forward, peering into Harm's cupped palm. He reached forward slowly and took some change.

"Sixteen," he said, handing Harm the best looking bunch. "Never leave a man without a copper in his pocket, at least."

The transaction was complete, and the old man hummed his song. Harm turned back towards home, an officer with an armful of daisies.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

He wasn't surprised at the knock on his door. He was in the process of changing out of his uniform, and opened the door in a t-shirt and dress pants, his feet bare.

The displaced air lifted up the edges of Mac's hair in a quick puff and then was gone.

"I got fired," she said, her face serious.

"What?!" He asked, incredulous.

She held her expression for a moment more and then released it. The grin she wore was more sly than he was used to.

"You're a cruel woman, Sarah Mackenzie, I shouldn't let you in," he said, even as he opened the door wide to admit her. She passed under his arm, still grinning.

"So," he said, closing it behind her, "what did the Admiral say?"

"Wouldn't you just like to know," she replied, flicking an eyebrow up coquettishly.

It couldn't have been that bad, Harm thought, she was openly flirting with him. He hoped.

She stood there in the middle of his apartment, her eyes holding his.

"He said to have a good weekend," she finally said.

"Did he?" Harm replied, taking a step closer to her.

"He did."

"Those were his exact words?" He asked, standing right in front of her.

"His exact words were 'you two have a good weekend,'" she said, having to tilt her head back to meet his gaze.

He took a moment to digest that, squinting at her.

"Now I don't know about you," he said, "but I take that to imply that he'd like us to spend the entire weekend together."

"Is there some Naval handbook that I never got on decoding the pleasantries of superior officers?" She said, tilting her head in that way she had of engaging in banter with him.

"You don't want to spend the weekend with me?"

"I'm just trying to understand how a simple 'have a good weekend' not only condones 48 hours of fraternization, but also suggests it."

He was gradually getting closer and closer to her, she could smell his aftershave.

"We told the Admiral," he said, his face only inches from her own, "it's out of our hands now, Mac. The way I see it, we've been absolved of any misconduct by the anticipatory informing of our commanding officer." He leaned even closer. "It's not our fault he can't do anything until Monday."
She nodded her head at this, fractionally. It was a tenuous conclusion he'd drawn, but she was having trouble arguing with it. She was distracted by his proximity. And his smell.
"And you're evading my question, Counselor." Harm continued.

"Your question?" It came out as a whisper.

"Do you want," his lips nipped at hers with a gossamer touch, "to spend the weekend with me?"

Her eyes were heavy-lidded and she didn't answer for a moment.

"What the hell," she finally said, and his mouth descended on hers in a torrent.

The storm outside broke as well.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

The night would pass by without serious incident, but not without its moments.

For now, few lights burned in the apartment and the bouquet of daisies sat forgotten on the counter.

Mac straddled her partner on the edge of the bed that she'd been wanting to test for years. She tasted him for a moment and then pulled back, her mouth hovering over his. She didn't move, though her eyes flicked around the room.

"What is it?" He whispered, so only she could hear.

She smiled down at him. "Just… Savoring this," she said, though really she was waiting for something to happen. For a knock at the door, or the phone to ring, for him to change his mind.

Nothing came. Rain patted down on the glass, beading on his windows. Sounds from outside were muffled, as if the universe had seen fit to cocoon them tonight, leaning over a bit of writing so no one else could see.

Fate certainly had a sense of humor, she thought. His fingers traveled up her arms, light as a feather, a whisper of wings along her skin. She finally felt the draw of flight.

So this is what he feels, she thought, so this is what he loves.

 

Chapter 4

 

Some people were born to it. Things just happened to them; whether it was an astrological accident of being born under a certain sign, or a scientific law that hadn't yet been discovered. There were souls out there that happenstance followed around like a forlorn puppy. Harm was one of them.

In his case, it was usually danger or drama that found him, and he seemed to be forever tethered between the two, east of the rock and west of the hard place.

Since being partnered with him, Mac had been sucked inexorably into his vortex of episodic phenomenon, and he felt a twinge of guilt at the unscrupulous nature of its assignment. She likely hadn't pictured herself in a future of such blatant unpredictability. He knew she wanted a normal life, a long and distinguished law career, a husband, children, PTA meetings, and anniversary diamonds. All safely enclosed in the proverbial white picket fence of American domesticity.

She had to know what she was getting into - choosing a future with him in it, she was a smart woman. The knowledge that she'd done so anyway both broke his heart and buoyed it at the same time.

As he watched her sleep next to him, he brought a hand unconsciously to his heart. He'd never before considered love a physical sensation. This woman, he thought to himself, he ached for her.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

They'd each fought against the singular attraction that they felt for the other. They'd tried ignoring it and masking it and burying it. They'd each tried replacing it. With every attempt at denial it seemed to manifest itself more aggressively until finally they gave in to it. After such a long fight, Harm was a bit thrown at how easy that had been.

This, however, was the challenge: the living of it. Playing it any other way would have been safe. You couldn't get burned if you stood outside the fire.

He remembered cases they'd worked and endless hours they'd put in. Their lives together had held more than a fair amount of adventure and excitement, but the quiet times were the ones he truly coveted.

When they worked late and the office had emptied out, he'd sometimes put on some music. He kept several CDs in his desk drawer, but Mac had always been partial to Paul Simon's "Graceland". One day he'd take her to Africa, to Memphis.

Two weeks ago he thought he was in the wrong lane, but going in the right direction. He'd been taking it slow with Mac for years, being ever so careful. He swallowed a breath and steeled himself. Overcorrection could make you lose control.

Angels in the architecture, they reached for lo mien.

He rolled out of bed and watched her sleep, standing guard over her dreams. He would hold on to this moment too.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

She came awake slowly, stretching languorously, like a cat in the warmth of the bed. She knew without looking that he was no longer lying next to her. She could hear him in the kitchen, trying to be quiet in that loud way of men.

It was odd, how many times she'd been in his apartment, and yet this vantage point was completely foreign to her. She debated as to whether or not she should get up, but decided against it. The view may be strange, but she liked it. Surrounded here by his things, she felt, somewhat abstractly, as if he'd finally let her in.

There was an especially loud crack from the kitchen and she heard his muffled curse. A moment later he approached and she pretended to be asleep. The mattress dipped near her hip as he sat down next to her.

"Faker," he said a moment later, and she smiled and opened her eyes.

He was smiling down at her, his eyes crinkled with affection. She returned his grin. Feeling somewhat shy, she took the steaming mug he held toward her, shifting up the bed to sit.

"Did I wake you?" He said, looking pained at the thought.

"Not at all," she replied, burying her nose in the aromatic steam of her mug.

He took a sip from his own, and they each sat somewhat sheepishly as a silence stretched on.

This was ridiculous, Mac thought to herself, considering some of the things they'd done the night before. Neither of them had been shy.

She set her mug down on the nightstand next to her and leaned forward, letting the sheet fall away from her chest. She pushed her lips against his and stole one quick kiss, lingering in front of him for a moment.

"Good morning," she said, and then leaned back, enjoying the startled, pleased look on his face.

"Good morning," he returned, setting down his own mug and looking at her. She felt as if he were drinking her in instead.

He rose and reached down, squeezing her knee through the sheets. He moved to the other side of the bed and flopped down next to her.

"How did you sleep?" He asked, propping himself up on his elbow.

"I didn't much," she said slyly, "but you already knew that. You were there."

He grinned at that, looking smug. He ran a hand over his chest contentedly.

"You look good when you wake up," he said without preamble.

"This isn't the first time you've seen me first thing in the morning," she said.

He reached out and took her hand in his. It was impossibly warm beneath her fingertips and soft as silk.

"Not like this," he said.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Sometimes, in flashes, she'd wonder at the thought of him wanting her the way he did. Like all women, she was never quite convinced at her own attractiveness, no matter how much evidence to the contrary was presented her. That he; this man who was himself alluring beyond all fairness, who always seemed to be preoccupied with matters far more important than love; would want her with the passion he seemed to, stunned her.

It was also quite confidence inspiring. She felt courageous and cavalier with the knowing of it.

She lured him into the rain.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Mac was standing in front of his big plate-glass window wearing one of his button-down shirts that was three sizes too big. He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.

"It stopped raining," she said, leaning back into him. He felt somewhat disappointed. The rain made his apartment feel more secluded and cozy.

He didn't say anything, but sighed.

"What was that for?" She asked him, catching his eyes in the reflection from the window.

"It was a sigh of contentment," he answered, burying his nose in her hair.

"Do you mind giving me a ride to my place this morning?" She asked him, "I want to pick up some things."

"What kinds of things?" He said, beginning to nibble at her neck.

"Clothes, mostly," she said, distracted.

"I don't know. I don't intend to let you keep them on for very long."

"Confident, aren't we?" She said, suddenly stepping away from him playfully. He leaned toward her, as if magnetized. "Come on, Rabb," she said, sauntering off to where her discarded uniform waited, "be a gentleman."

She purposefully walked with her hips swaying a little more than usual, and his thoughts took a decidedly ungentlemanly turn.

An hour later he found himself standing in her living room while she shuffled about in her bedroom taking more time to pack for a day and a half than any Marine should.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

How is it that he deserves this, he wonders later. Dripping wet and sodden, he can feel bubbles squish their way up between his toes whenever he takes a step. How did he manage to find what others have searched their entire lives for? His clothes, soaking wet, stick to him like a second skin and he sends up a prayer of thanks. He's clearly one lucky son of a bitch.

"Ready," she said, standing in the doorway of her bedroom with a small backpack slung over one shoulder.

He turned to her from examining a framed picture of Chloe that he'd seen a million times. Thunder rumbled in the distance, the promise of more foul weather. Harm recollected vaguely that the sailors in Chicago had called it the Witch of November.

That flare of energy he got at seeing her out of uniform was back again and this time it passed between them. He opened the door for her and led her out without a word.

They paused in the entranceway of Mac's building. Somewhere in between her apartment and the front door, the rain had begun anew. Harm had parked just north of her building, not two blocks away. He turned to her.

"What do you think, Marine? Do we make a run for it?"

She smiled at him then.

"Haven't we already?" She said, taking a step backward, pushing the door open with her elbow.

He cocked his head at her, squinting in question. She flashed him one more smile and then stepped into the rain, turning south.

He'd taken risks in his life and she'd pulled his can out of the fire more than once. He knew he was a brave man, but admitted (if only to himself) that perhaps he could use a bit of work on his impulse control. He had no wish to lie in Flanders Field.

He stood a moment watching her from the relative safety of the building's entrance. He could work on impulse control tomorrow. He followed her into the downpour.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

She heard his splashy footfalls behind her and turned, waiting for him to catch up. The rain was pouring down, she could feel the water soaking her shoulders and dripping off her hair. He grabbed her arm as he reached her, but didn't try to lead her anywhere.

"What are we doing out here?" He asked, stopping beside her.

She finally realized that this was the difference between him and everyone else she'd ever loved. He stood beside her. He always had.

"Well, I was going to ask you a question," she said, "but you already answered it."

His shoulders were hunched up against the cold and wet and he gave her a questioning look.

"You followed me," she said simply.

A gust of wind came in then, bringing still more rain with it, now coming in almost sideways.

"I'd follow you anywhere," he said.

She was soaking wet and giddy. She grinned like an idiot.

"You're crazy!" He shouted above the roar of the downpour around them. She knew he'd never seen her so madcap and juvenile. These were the things he invoked in her. Insane crashes of love; she couldn't help but act her shoe size.

"I know!" She yelled back, thunder punctuating her admission.

She felt crazy. Wild, happy. A laugh bubbled up from inside her.

He stood in the middle of the sidewalk, looking like a soaked cat; miserable and bewildered. But there was something else in his look, too; an air of intrigue and affection surrounded him and it made her knees a little bit weak.

Impossibly, the rain seemed to fall harder in a great whoosh around them.

"I love you!" She suddenly shouted, almost bending double in the effort to be heard above the din of rushing water.

"What?" He yelled above the roar.

"I said I love you!" She yelled again, laughing.

A smile bloomed across his face, even as rain poured down it in rivulets. He shook his head, laughing, and then took one great stride to her, catching her mouth with his.

They walked down the street, caught in the rain, caught up with each other; too warmed by the look of the other to be cold. If anyone bothered to pay them any attention, they'd see nothing but two people smiled upon by Eros.

He took her home and wrapped her in a blanket, and she decided that this too was love.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"You're like a clarinet sounds," he says to her in the night.

She looks skeptical in the glow of a single burning candle.

"Have you ever dropped acid, Harm?" She asks, but he refuses to let her break the trance she's charmed him into.

"That's what I think of when I think of you. You're like a clarinet sounds, like a Miles Davis song."

If his declaration is a little weird, it's unfailingly sweet. She feels tears prick the corners of her eyes, but she won't let them fall.

"You're quiet, and calming. A little bit sad," he says, running a fingertip down her temple, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "But beautiful. And different. I lose myself in you."

It's a midnight admission, pillow talk of the hopelessly fallen. There's a magic in candlelight as well. She knows she isn't likely to get professions like this often. She looks into his eyes and holds them with hers.

"Where?" She whispers, the question barely audible.

He touches a finger gently over her heart. "Here," he says, and moves it to her lips. "And here." She closes her eyes to that. "Everywhere."

Knowing him is like eating an orange, she thinks. You have to peel away a lot to get to the center of him, but what you find there is wholly worthwhile; tangy, sweet, and a little bit messy.

"I know," she says, "you're it for me, too."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

In flight school he had a poem from Yeats taped to his bathroom mirror. He used to read it while brushing his teeth. "I know that I shall meet my fate, Somewhere among the clouds above; Those that I fight I do not hate, Those that I guard I do not love." If he still had the sheet somewhere, he would throw it out. He stood watch now with his heart alone and he'd met his fate with two feet planted firmly on the ground. Yeats probably hadn't had Service A's and pumps in mind, but he could split the difference.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

What the Admiral said tomorrow didn't matter. What did matter was that they each had dreamed for themselves a future that was fulfilling and exciting and full of the things that make life worth living, and now their reality held the promise of even more. Few are blessed enough to live life knowing what they have, and fewer still are satisfied by it.

Whatever did happen was fated to be, she knew this intrinsically. But she also knew that her future had Harm in it, whether in a professional capacity or not. That too, was fate.

The earth would continue to circle the sun, just as it always had. The tides would rise with the moon, rain would fall and storms would rage. Time would pass no slower or faster than since it dawned. Life would carry on. And so too, would Mac; but now with Harm beside her.

She finally realizes that love is an epiphany born of paying attention.

It may be the tragedies that stand out.  The worst times are the most vividly remembered. But if you pay attention, if you shut up and just watch, you'll see things you never saw before. You'll see victory where you once saw defeat, control where you once saw only chaos.

You'll see love where you once couldn't see anything at all.

All Harm needed was a push. All she needed was him.

 

The End

 

 
Part 1 Part 2

 
 
   

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