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Classification Adventure, Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 30,000 words; 79 pages (8 ĹĒ x 11Ē)
 
Spoilers Through Season 7
Rating SLSV
Author's Notes I always thought Mac had more issues to deal with than Harm, and I always thought Lieutenant Singer was a powder keg waiting to blow. So this is sort of a chick flick, but it is a shipper flick too. Takes place in the summer before Season 8.

 

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

 

 

 

1422 EDT
JAG Headquarters, Falls Church, Virginia
Late August, 2002

 

The only sound in the room was the dry scratching of a pen on paper. Lieutenant Jackson sat in the chair in front of the desk and discreetly allowed his eyes to move over the shelves and bland walls of the office. His gaze caught on the model Tomcat at one end of the credenza, the battered flight helmet beside it. Hammer? He glanced back at the gold wings and the two DFCs on his CO's uniform.

"Okay," Commander Harmon Rabb said as he tossed the form onto the stack in his outbox. "That does it, Lieutenant. Dismissed."

Jackson stood immediately and came to attention. "Aye aye, sir," he said, and executed a perfect about-face. He released his breath in a silent whistle once he cleared the door. He felt like he had just finished the obstacle course at the Academy. Progress reports with Commander Rabb were no joke.

"How'd it go, sir?" Lieutenant j.g. Muller was waiting tensely.

"And I thought law school and the bar exam were tough." Muller looked spooked, and Jackson rolled his eyes. "Hey, man, just kidding. But you'd better know your stuff, because trust me, he does. You ready?"

The adam's apple in Muller's throat bobbed up and down. "I -- I think so. I mean, I'm just doing research, I don't get to handle any cases yet" --

"Relax, he's fair. Now you'd better get in there." Jackson jerked his head at the closed door. Muller squared himself away and knocked.

"Enter." Harm hung up the phone and looked up as Muller came to attention. "At ease, Lieutenant. Are you and your partner in crime ready for inspection?"

"Yes, sir. Lieutenant Singer and I are set up in the small conference room downstairs."

"Well, let's get it over with." Muller scurried to keep up as Harm walked swiftly to the elevator.

"So, Lieutenant, how do you like it at headquarters so far? You finding your way around all right?" Harm inquired as they rode down to the basement.

"Uh, just fine, thank you sir."

"You just graduated from Georgetown, right? How's Con Law these days?"

"Still tough, sir. You went to Georgetown, sir?"

"Yeah, coming up to my tenth reunion pretty soon." Harm led the way off the elevator with Muller trotting in his wake. Now he realized why Commander Rabb's name seemed so familiar. Oh Jeez, there couldn't be two Harmon Rabbs who left their byline in the Georgetown Law Review. Great. Now he had to contend with that, too. Well, Rabb seemed like a pretty decent guy, at least.

When the door to the basement meeting room swung open, Lieutenant Lauren Singer leaped to her feet. Her diminutive figure was nearly obscured by stacks of file boxes and documents piled on the big table from edge to edge.

With Muller hovering discreetly in the background, Harm stood in the doorway with his arms crossed and silently surveyed the scene. Finally he lifted his eyebrows and said, "Well, lieutenant, you've been busy." He gestured to the three chairs not filled with boxes. "As you were, both of you. Let's get to it."

Singer waited until Harm was seated before handing him a single folder. "Sir, everything is complete for Navy vs. Worldwide Dynamics. I have prepared a detailed index highlighting the crucial sections."

Harm groaned to himself. He hated civil cases. The tedious proceedings could drag on for years, and the JAG Corps had hundreds of lawyers who specialized in the minutiae involved. Just his luck that the Navy was bogged down in civil litigation these days, and the admiral had ordered his section to help with the overload. He in turn had assigned Singer to do the groundwork, with Muller to help her.

Harm fired questions for an hour as they worked their way item by item through the basis of the lawsuit. From time to time one of the junior officers would dig through the files to locate a specific document. Finally Harm leaned back and stretched.

"Okay. The contractual obligations seem solid, and the document trail for the change orders is clear. What do you have on the company itself?"

Singer quickly summarized Worldwideís financial status and corporate profile. As she finished, Harm saw Muller look at her with an alert expression. "Something you want to add, Lieutenant?" he asked. From the corner of his eye, he saw Singer glower.

"Well, I donít know if itís relevant, sir," Muller began hesitantly.

"I donít either, Lieutenant. Try me."

Muller cleared his throat. "I did some digging, sir, and it seems that Worldwide has previously done business under several different corporate names, going back years. In each instance, they have defaulted on a contract or gone bankrupt. And each time, the same basic group of corporate officers has reorganized, refinanced, and obtained new defense contracts."

"Youíre kidding. And the Office of Procurement overlooked it." Harm shook his head in disgust.

"You bury something under enough different holding companies and wash it through enough different state registrations, sir, and itís easy to miss."

Harm cocked his head. "So how did you find the paper trail, Lieutenant?"

"I did an internship at the SEC during law school, sir. Worked in the fraud claims division. I noticed that most companies that get into trouble have a pattern of similar infractions."

Harm swiveled in his seat. "And you were going to omit this from your report, Lieutenant Singer?"

"No, sir," she bristled. "I had some doubt that it would be admissible, but youíll find the summary in Appendix G."

"Itís not a criminal case, Lieutenant. I think our colleagues in the civil division will have fun deciding whether they can add this to their lawsuit. Regardless, they can use it to help sway the jury, even if it gets thrown out. As you know, it will be heard in civilian court, and a lawsuit is a very different animal from a military court martial."

He could tell Singer was simmering with resentment at his professorial tone, so he eased off. "Look, Lauren. Youíve done an excellent job here, both of you. Just donít forget to keep an eye on the big picture while youíre organizing the details."

"Yes sir. Thank you sir." She bit it off. Internally, Harm sighed. When she got mad, Lauren Singerís jaw began to jut forward until she looked like a female version of the Nutcracker. Clearly she resented sharing the credit with Muller. Tough.

Harm paused. "Just one more question."

"Sir?"

He gestured at the table. "This looks like the Library of Congress. If it werenít so well organized, Iíd think you were trying to confuse the defendants by overwhelming them. Is there any documentation you *didnít* include?"

"No, sir!" Singer replied. "I am confident we didnít miss a thing, sir." Harm wondered if this girl would ever learn to lighten up.

"Relax, Lieutenant. I know you didnít miss anything. But itís also important to develop a sense of whatís essential and what doesnít really matter, or youíll burn out one of these days." He gave her a quick smile. "Hate to see that happen. I heard how you spotted that dummy submarine."

She flushed and gave him one of her tight smiles in return. At the back of his mind, Harm wondered why he had never found Singer attractive. She was pretty, but there was something about her eyes . . . . Then, "Thank you, sir," she said sweetly before she looked down and assumed a pious tone. "Any word on how Lieutenant Roberts is doing, sir? What happened was just terrible."

Harmís gaze turned frosty. "Heís recovering. It will be awhile before he can return to duty."

"I certainly hope he won't have to leave the Navy, don't you, sir?"

Abruptly Harm stood up and the two junior officers were instantly on their feet. "Okay, people. Leave the report in my inbox and Iíll sign it. Then you can arrange to have all this stuff transferred to Commander Connorís section. Dismissed." He was out the door while the duet of "Aye aye sir" still hung in the air. As he punched the button for the elevator he could hear Singer snapping orders at the hapless Muller. She always loved having a subordinate to kick around, he thought.

Where the hell was the damn elevator? Abruptly he wheeled and took the stairs two at a time.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"What was *that* all about, *Lieutenant*?" Singer hissed as the door swung shut.

"Maíam?"

"Donít you ever undercut me with a superior again, got it?"

"Maíam, I didnít" --

"Just because you graduated from Georgetown, donít think you can push your way ahead of me with that Old Boy Network crap." She planted her hands on the table and leaned forward until her nose was barely a foot from Mullerís. He took an involuntary step backward.

Her voice was low and venemous. "Listen, you little weasel. I know why youíre here, with your fancy degree and your quickie commission. Youíll get your student loans paid off and get some Navy time on your resume, and in a few years youíll move on to a fancy corporate firm with a big paycheck. Well, youíre not doing it at my expense, got it?"

"Maíam, that was never my intention" --

"Thatís all, Lieutenant. Get all this stuff together and have the summaries on my desk by 1700. Dismissed."

Muller found himself staring at the door for a full minute after it swished shut behind her. His guts had been so efficiently unzipped that he was mildly surprised there was no blood on the floor.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Sarah Mackenzie looked up at the light knock. Harm was leaning in the doorway, trying to look pathetic.

"Tough day?" she inquired, making an effort not to laugh.

He rolled his eyes and dropped into her extra chair without being invited, stretching out his long legs. "Project reviews. Finishing up with the ever-charming Lieutenant Singer."

Mac regarded him with tolerant sympathy. She and Harm each supervised a dozen junior attorneys in their respective sections, in addition to their own case loads.

"She always makes you cranky," Mac pointed out. "What was it this time?"

Harm rubbed his forehead. "No matter how you phrase it, she doesnít listen." He shook his head in disgust. "Forget it. I keep making the mistake of thinking sheís teachable."

"No, you keep acting like a good C.O. Itís her problem that she still resents everything and everybody."

"Well, she sure as hell still resents Bud. Sheís got her eye on his office and his job."

Mac gave a quick frown. "What do you mean?"

"Ah, I just hate the tone she uses when she asks about him."

"What tone is that?"

"Insinuating." Irritably he waved it aside and leaned back with a sigh. Simply walking into Mac's office always made him feel better. "It's just that with Bud on medical leave, we'll probably have to start giving some of the bigger cases to her. The thing that gets me is, she's bright. She's incredibly thorough, she works hard. There's no real reason why she shouldn't get a chance, except that -- hell, I don't know how to put my finger on it."

"Every case is all about *her*," Mac said thoughtfully. "Her ambition, her ideas. As you said, she doesn't listen. She tends to get the facts but misses the point."

Harm's warm gaze held a hint of a private smile. "What?" Mac asked.

"You," he said softly. "As usual, you hit the nail on the head."

Mac looked at him in surprise. "Well, you're the one who has to write her fit rep," she pointed out. "Anyway, how *is* Bud? You went by last night, didn't you?"

Harm shrugged. "Yeah. He's doing okay, all things considered. They've got him walking every day, and he's just about recovered physically. They'll be sending him home in a week or two."

"That's great. It'll really make things easier for Harriet. Between work and A.J. and running to the rehab hospital, she's about worn out. I'm going over to their place tomorrow night to baby sit so she can do some errands." Mac looked at her partner carefully. "So what aren't you saying?" she asked.

Harm glanced up. Damn, she could read him like a book. "He's depressed," he said finally. "Didn't want to hear about work, didn't want to play chess, didn't really want to talk. We spent the whole time watching the ballgame on TV. I got the feeling he would rather I didn't come."

"You remind him," she said after a moment, hoping she wasn't going too far.

"You mean because I stepped on a mine and walked away?" he said, his voice sharp. "Mac, do you think I don't wake up every day and realize how lucky I am?"

"I know you do. I also know you feel guilty about it," she said gently.

"I don't feel guilty," he argued, not looking at her. "I just wish I could do something."

"You are. Bud will get through this, Harm, because he's a good man and he has Harriet, and he has good friends who are there for him."

"Like you were there for me?" Their eyes met and held.

"Hey, buddy, can I get a rain check for our game? I'm on the red eye to Rosey Roads and I need to pack." Sturgis's deep baritone came from the doorway. "Excuse me for interrupting, Colonel."

Harm opened his eyes wide. "You finally realized you can't beat me, is that it?"

Sturgis wadded up a Post-it and tossed it accurately into Mac's waste basket. "He shoots, he scores. Colonel, my fit rep summaries will be on your e-mail. I'll finish them on the plane."

"They aren't due for two weeks, you know," Mac kidded him.

"Some of us like to get things in ahead of deadline," Sturgis said. "Besides, I'm going to take a few days in Jamaica on the way back."

"You always were an overachiever," Harm snorted. "This couldn't have anything to do with a certain Congresswoman who is currently campaigning in Detroit, would it?"

"That, my friend, is on a need-to-know basis," Sturgis said.

"Hey, I need to know."

"Not in this lifetime. Colonel, see you in two weeks."

Mac smiled as Sturgis sketched a wave. "Well, I guess I'd better get this finished," she sighed and looked at her computer screen.

"Okay, but what are you doing tonight?"

"Well, Ben Affleck stood me up, so I guess I'm doing my laundry."

"How would you like to have dinner with someone else who got stood-up?"

"Dinner twice in less than a week? People will talk." She kept her tone light.

"So? You game?"

"Does this mean I have to shoot hoops?"

"No, it means I come by your place around 1800 and we figure out what to eat."

Mac laughed. "Well, I don't know. Does this mean I'm your fallback date? The girl next door?"

Her teasing tone might have fooled anyone else. As Harm stood to leave, he said, "Mac. If you were the girl next door, I would never have left California."

 

1830 EDT
Macís apartment, Georgetown

 

And I thought it was hot on the Guadalcanal, Mac reflected as she stepped out of the shower and reached for a towel. She half expected to see steam rising from her damp skin as she blotted herself dry. Her apartment was on the top floor of a big brick Victorian and it never really cooled off, despite the best efforts of two wheezing window air conditioners.

Face it, Washington in August was an oven.

But last August, she reminded herself, you were so raw and hurt you couldn't sleep, you could barely eat or do your job. You were furious with yourself, and you sure as hell weren't speaking to your best friend.

At least we got past that, she told herself. Since last fall, Harm had been so cautious with her, almost as if he were trying to make amends -- if that was a word one could ever associate with him, she thought with an internal smile.

During those desperate weeks last spring, something had rekindled between them -- something that made her think of the current flowing through a high voltage line, so powerful it nearly hummed. And somehow, since their return, Harm had begun stopping at her place two or three evenings a week on his way home. Usually he changed into civvies here, rather than driving across the District and back. It had become part of their regular routine -- so far, and no farther.

So where *are* we, Mac wondered. She didn't know. Whatever was happening between them now was moving far beyond any safe familiar territory she had ever known.

Mac stared out the window, not seeing the sunlight shimmering through the glass. Harmon Rabb was the only man she had ever known with walls thicker than her own. All she really knew for certain was that his presence was the one truly necessary thing in her life.

Was it possible to be terrified of letting someone love you, she wondered? I don't think I could stand being hurt again.

Maybe that goes for Harm, too, she thought.

With an abrupt movement, she grabbed a fresh towel and briskly dried her hair, then combed it back. Naked, she went into the bedroom and began to dress, slipping into a soft tee shirt and a pair of shorts.

The man is stubborn, obsessive, utterly bullheaded, and an incorrigible flirt, she reminded herself. Iím damned if Iíll be one of the parade of bimbos who forget their own names if he smiles at them. She tossed her head and wandered barefoot into the living room, picking up the stack of mail she had tossed onto the table.

Bill, bill, bill. Catalog, advertising, bill. She picked up the new copy of TIME and flipped to the People section. Harm was late as usual. A faint smile came and went on her face. A postcard fluttered out of a flyer from the supermarket, and she was about to toss it when she looked at it and stopped.

A long moment later she was still staring at the card, frowning, when the knock came on the door. "Mac! It's me," Harm's voice echoed in the hall.

"It's open," she called. Quickly she tossed the card and the rest of the mail onto the table and dropped the magazine on top. She turned as Harm came in, still in uniform, looking hot.

"Hey, youíre not getting dressed this time?Ē he inquired with a cheerful leer. ďDamn. And do you always leave your door open like that?Ē

"I knew it would be you," she smiled.

"Oh yeah? Promise you'll lock it from now on?" He scolded as he went to stand directly in front of the air conditioner.

"Okay, okay. What do you want to drink?" she asked over her shoulder as she gathered up the mail and carried it with her to the kitchen.

"Mind if I change first?" he held up a tightly rolled shirt.

"Sure. There are clean towels in the cupboard if you want a shower," she called. He held up his hand in acknowledgment without looking around.

In the kitchen, Mac opened the pantry cupboard, surveyed the uninspiring contents, and pulled out a jar of spaghetti sauce. She regarded it with distaste and opened the refrigerator, where she found only a wilted head of lettuce, some leathery mushrooms, and a slightly moldy block of cheddar.

As she swung the door of the refrigerator closed, she selected a bottle of sugar-free tonic water and twisted the cap off with a sharp snap, relishing the cold fizz of bubbles. Mac leaned against the counter and sipped the soda, her eyes distant.

At that very moment, Harmon Rabb was in her shower. She sighed a little, not knowing she did so.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Harm closed his eyes beneath the lukewarm spray and let it cascade over his face, taking all the tension of the day with it. After a while he grabbed the bar of Irish Spring that Mac kept for him and lathered up, then rinsed in cool water.

As he toweled off, he looked around. He had never known a woman whose bathroom wasn't draped with pantyhose and damp towels. Especially Annie's, god almighty, now there was a sloppy mess. Jordan's had been filled with frilly girly stuff, from draped shower curtains to embroidered towels. Renee's had been a welter of bottles, perfume, tubes of makeup, jars of cold cream, brushes and hair clips scattered across the counter and piled three deep on the shelves.

But Mac's bathroom was -- serene, he thought. Cool black and white tile and old fashioned porcelain. A window overlooked the tree tops outside. The mirror sparkled, and there was a refreshing absence of cosmetics and clutter. Even her soap smelled light and fresh.

In the bedroom, he quickly pulled on clean boxers, a pair of khaki shorts and a polo shirt and stacked his white uniform, shoes and cover in a neat pile on the chair. He glanced around with a slight smile. This cool, airy room had been the setting of some of his hottest fantasies, literally for years. Would anyone believe that Mac invited him into her bedroom and all he did was change clothes? Did he?

How can I feel like this about a woman and not be sleeping with her? He asked himself for the thousandth time, and came up with the same answer. Because Mac was the closest friend he would ever have. He couldnít bring himself to do anything that might jeopardize that -- and Mac still had her defenses up.

Impatiently he kicked his feet into a pair of topsiders and pulled open the door.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Mac, it's a little late in the year for spring cleaning," Harm remarked, running his eyes up her taut, tanned legs. He had wandered into the kitchen to discover her standing on the kitchen counter, rooting purposefully around on the top shelf of the cupboard.

It ought to be illegal for a girl to have legs that long, especially with an ass like that, he thought. Casually he leaned against the doorway and crossed his arms.

"I *know* I had a package of macaroni up here," she muttered, shoving boxes around.

Harm eyed the dubious-looking items on the counter. "While I appreciate your vote of confidence, Mac, I don't think even *I* can make something edible out of this stuff."

She stopped and craned around to look at him, puffing a stray lock of hair out of her eyes. "Now you tell me," she said. "Why are you just standing there? Make yourself useful, help me down."

"Ah, but the view is much better from over here," he grinned as he picked up the magazine from the stack of mail on the counter. "Jeez, Mac, how many credit card offers do you get a day, anyway?"

"I'm holding out for one where they offer to pay *me*," she said. "Can you scoot that ladder over?" She waved her foot at the step stool.

"C'mon," he said, holding out his hands. "Jump."

"Jump?" She looked doubtful.

"Yeah, c'mon. I'll catch you." Mac hesitated, and he grinned. "Ah, what, you'd rather fight 'em? Come on, Sundance. The fall will probably kill ya." He put his hands around her slim waist.

"Oh-h-h shit!" She leaned forward to rest her hands on his shoulders and laughed as he lightly lifted her, letting her slide down his body until they stood barely an inch apart. Her dark eyes were dancing, and she smelled like flowers after a spring rain --

"If I lose -- kill 'em," she whispered. Abruptly she hooked her leg behind his knee and dropped her shoulder.

With a startled "hey," Harm nearly went down, laughing, but managed to catch her around the waist. Together they stumbled against the counter, wrestling playfully. Mac wriggled like a fish and he figured he'd better go for broke before she decided to hurt him. He managed to subdue her by wrapping his long arms around her and bending her backwards over the table.

"Give up, teacher lady?" he inquired, panting. Funny, she gave up awfully easily. . . .

Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes bright, and he leaned down . . . .

"I wish just *once* you'd be on time!" she giggled and slipped from his grasp. Harm grabbed for her wrist and sent a cascade of envelopes sliding across the tile floor.

"We've gotta stop watching the classics channel," he said as he bent to help her gather up the scattered papers.

"Yeah, but we're the pros from Dover," she gave him a mischievous look.

"Goddamn Army." He handed her a pile of envelopes. "Here, Hawkeye."

She realized he was staring at something. The postcard. Oh, God.

"Harm" -- she began.

He held up his hand. After a moment he carefully put the postcard on the table and turned toward the window. His face gave nothing away.

"It isn't what you think," she said.

"You don't owe me any explanations, Mac."

She curled her toes against the floor. "I think I do," she said steadily. "He called last spring, to apologize for the way he walked out. Said he'd like to see me." No reaction. "I said no."

He stared at her, his face a careful mask.

"He still sends these cards every now and then. I tear them up."

After a painful pause, he said, "This is probably going to sound just as patronizing as Brumby, refusing to take 'no' for an answer. But Mac -- I just don't want to see you hurt again."

"It would only hurt if I loved him," she said calmly.

He watched her steadily, then lifted his eyebrows and relaxed. "So -- where do you want to eat?"

An unspoken vote of confidence, much appreciated. "How about down by the harbor?"

"Okay. Or there's a jazz concert on the Mall. Want to go?" Macís face lit with one of those incredible smiles. How does she do it, Harm wondered -- how did she make him fall in love with her a little bit more every time?

"I'd love it," Mac said, "But what about dinner?"

"Relax, Marine, they'll have hotdogs and stuff there."

"Will that be okay for you?"

"More than okay."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"There's never any place to park down there," Mac observed as they climbed into Harm's Corvette.

"Got it covered." Harm looked smug. He shifted into reverse and slid an arm across the back of her seat as he twisted around to watch where he was going.

Mac hoped he wouldn't notice her cheeks redden as he leaned toward her. As Harm accelerated away from the curb with a growl from the transmission, she leaned her head back against the leather seat and tilted her head up to the evening sky. She felt a calm happiness settle over her. "Going out on a Tuesday night. Feels positively decadent."

"Decadent, huh? I like the sound of that," Harm grinned as he ran through the gears. They rode past Foggy Bottom and joined the flow of traffic that swept past the Kennedy Center and the Watergate. A couple of blocks from the Lincoln Memorial, he surprised her by taking a left and pulling into a private garage. He flashed a permit, the gate lifted, and they drove through and parked.

"How did you do that?" She looked at him, impressed.

He shrugged, pleased with himself, and opened her door. "Guy in my building works for State," he told her. "He's in the Hamptons 'til Labor Day and loaned me his card." He reached behind the seats and pulled out a folded blanket, which he tucked beneath his arm. "Of course, during business hours you have to show picture I.D."

"Nice to know the right people," she said. Together they walked east along Constitution Avenue, wandering through the throngs of tourists surrounding the street vendors. The sun was just beginning to set, and golden light bathed the Washington Monument over the tops of the trees.

"Speaking of the right people," Harm said, and waved. "Hey, Jerry!"

"Harm! That you, mon?" A tall Jamaican with Rastafarian dreadlocks greeted them exuberantly from behind an enormous grill throwing clouds of aromatic smoke.

"Jerry, this is Mac. Jerry sells the best jerked goat sandwich in the city."

"And how would you know?" Jerry laughed exuberantly as he shook Mac's hand. "Old Harm here never eats any. No meat, you know?"

"I know," she said, "But I do. May I have some, please?" She looked hopefully at Harm, who shook his head and reached for his wallet.

"The usual for me, Jerry." Fascinated, Mac watched the big Jamaican fill a roll with spicy rice and beans and slide grilled vegetables from a skewer on top. He did the same for her, adding succulent barbecued meat.

"Is that really goat?" she asked him.

"No, no, not goat. Goat's tough. This is kid," Jerry assured her. "Nice and tender, go on, you like it." Mac hesitated.

"Don't pay any attention to him, Mac," Harm grinned. "Jerry shops at Safeway." She took a cautious bite, and smiled. "Whatever it is, it's wonderful. Just don't tell me it's really a baby goat," she said to Jerry.

"For you, gorgeous, it's whatever you want it to be," Jerry laughed. "You come back, we give you whatever your little heart desires."

Harm laughed and paid him. "See you later, Jerry."

"You too, mon."

They bought two tall cups of lemonade, wandered past the Vietnam War memorial, and sat on a bench facing the reflecting pool to eat their dripping sandwiches. "Wow, this really is terrific," Mac said with her mouth full. "How do you know Jerry?"

"He's usually somewhere around the fountain in front of Union Station. I met him a couple of years ago because he was the only street vendor who made decent vegetarian food. I helped him out with his license, and he promised me he'd stop using stray cats in his barbecue" --

"He did not," Mac stopped chewing.

Harm shrugged. "You never know what's under all that spicy sauce, Mac."

"That's true of the mystery meat casserole on the Seahawk, too, you know."

"Just another good reason to become a vegetarian." He crumpled up their greasy paper wrappers and cups and tossed them into a trash can, then handed her a clean white handkerchief. "Come on, the music's starting."

"Can I have an ice cream cone?"

"Yes, you may." Her happy laugh made him smile, and casually he reached out and took her hand. The warmth flashed through her body, startling her. He had never touched her in pubic before.

A sudden wave of happiness filled her. Together they wandered down the Mall, savoring the evening air as it cooled off and watching the sunset glow pink on the Jefferson Memorial, reflected in the Tidal Basin.

On the lawn in front of the Washington Monument, clusters of people were milling around and settling onto blankets and lawn chairs as musicians gathered on a raised platform stage. A soccer ball thumped into Harm's leg, followed by a three-year-old careening out of control. Harm leaned down, steadied the little boy, and handed him the ball. "Here you go, partner. Watch where you're going." The child stared for a moment, fascinated, before yelling "Ma!" and scampering off.

Mac laughed as she helped Harm shake out their blanket. "He liked you," she kidded him.

"Hey, kids and dogs, what can I say?" He looked around. "There's the ice cream guy."

"Two scoops, please." Mac lowered herself with unconscious grace and leaned back on her hands. Harm looked down at her and swallowed.

"Um, sure. Okay. Vanilla, right?"

"Please."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Harm managed to pull his eyes away and not stumble over any blankets or coolers as he headed for the ice cream cart. Grinning, he gave himself a mental shake. Damn, he felt happy.

By the time he found his way back, the sky was darkening to indigo and lights had come on above the stage, burning red and green and violet. Mac smiled up at him as she accepted her cone, and he dropped down beside her.

"Here's some napkins," he handed them to her and saw it spark in her eyes as their fingers brushed. Quickly Mac looked down and wrapped the sheaf around her sugar cone to catch the drips. He leaned back on one elbow and watched, admiring the erect line of her back and the long lovely line of her throat, unable to tear his eyes away from what she was doing to that ice cream cone.

All around them couples and families were chatting and laughing, enjoying the music and watching the stars wink on, one by one. A soft warm breeze brushed their skin. Suddenly Mac gave a delighted little laugh and reached up as a firefly traced its meaningless hieroglyphics above their heads.

"My favorite things about summer," she said.

"Fireflies?"

"Fireflies. Ice cream. Sitting outside." She turned to him, and her eyes were luminous in the starlight. "When I was little, my mom would take me to the park on evenings like this. I would feed the ducks, and she'd push me in the swings." She had a happy, far-away look on her face. "Watching these kids running around reminds me how great it was. Remember? That wonderful feeling when you felt like you could fly?"

"One of my first memories is Dad lifting me up to go ceiling flying." He smiled and asked, "Did you and your mom go to the park a lot?"

A shadow brushed her eyes. Mentally he kicked himself, but Mac went on, "No, but when I was six or seven, I had this friend, Billy, who had a tree house. They lived on the base in Arizona, too, and there werenít many trees, but there was one right by the fence between our back yards. I used to climb out my window at night and sneak up there and catch fireflies, watch the stars. It was so quiet and peaceful. Lots of times I slept up there."

Harm had a pretty good idea why the tree house must have seemed like a haven. But Mac's cheerful tone did not invite sympathy. He kidded her, "You climbed out the window when you were six?"

"I was a tomboy, you know that. Besides, remember those old barracks they converted for base housing? They all had those old-time fire ropes in the upper stories, instead of fire escapes. It was a cinch. And I used it to climb back up in the morning before anybody woke up."

"Didn't your mom worry?"

Mac shrugged lightly. "She knew where I was. She never said anything."

Harm raised an eyebrow, unseen in the darkness. "What did you do in the winter, when it got cold?"

"I had a sleeping bag up there. It never really got that cold, anyway. But then Billy's dad got reassigned, and the new people didn't have kids. They pulled down the tree house, and then we were stationed in Texas." He saw the flash of her smile in the darkness. "Ever since, I've wished I had a house with a screened-in porch upstairs, so I could sleep in the tree tops again. It was so great, just the wind in the leaves and the stars. And the fireflies." She caught another and held it for a moment in her cupped hands before setting it free.

Tenderness squeezed his heart. He said, "Yeah, I felt the same way about my grandfather's sail boat. I used to sleep on the deck and watch the stars, and promise myself I'd have a boat myself some day." He grinned. "No luck so far."

Mac smiled back at him. "The stars are better from the deck of a carrier, anyway."

"I'm still surprised you learned to like it out there," he said. "Especially after everything that happened." He didn't need to say 'with Bud,' or anything else to bring back those terrible weeks last spring.

"Maybe *because* of everything that happened," she said quietly. "It reminds you to appreciate the good things that much more." She gave him an impish grin. "Besides, I wouldn't have missed the chance to see the stars and appreciate the quiet of the Afghan desert at night. You sure know how to show a girl a good time."

As Harm chuckled, a toddler staggered by, clinging to his mother's hand and holding a balloon. The father followed with a tiny little girl asleep on his shoulder. Harm turned to find Mac watching him. "What?" he asked.

She gestured. "I don't know. Just glad that all this is still here, I guess. Reminds me of what we do it for." She held out her cone. "Want some?"

He leaned in and licked at it, his eyes on hers, smelling the faintest trace of perfume and feeling the warmth of her body. He heard her take a quick little breath. The cone tilted, and Harm caught her hand to steady it as melting cream drizzled over her fingers. He quickly licked it off, and for one endless moment their eyes caught and held.

The pulse was hammering in his throat. Helpless to do anything else, he reached out laid his hand against her cheek. Her eyes were filled with wonder and longing and --

Harm's pocket gave a quiet chirp. He sat up straight with an impatient jerk and pulled out his cell phone in annoyance. "Rabb."

At the first words he frowned and began to listen intently. A moment later he pulled out his PDA and punched in something, then said, "Right. Thirty minutes," and clicked off the phone. Mac watched him with quiet resignation as he jumped up and held out his hand.

"Mac, I'm really sorry. That was NCIS. They've got a homicide in Alexandria, and my name is on the duty roster for tonight. It's a high ranking officer, and he's asking for a lawyer."

She stood, gathering up the blanket. "I'll go with you." Hurriedly they picked their way through the crowd and headed toward the lights and bustle of Constitution Avenue. The music receded behind them, and Harm took her hand as they walked rapidly across the grass.

"You don't need to come, I can drop you off."

"Harm, it's the opposite direction. Unless you don't want me to go, I'll be glad to ride along."

"Okay, Colonel." He flashed her a quick smile as they ran to make the pedestrian crossing light.

 

2043 EDT
JAG Headquarters

 

Lauren Singer switched on her desk lamp and scowled. Where the hell was that deposition? She couldn't send the Worldwide discovery tomorrow morning without it, and the document she needed for the final report seemed to have sprouted wings and flown away.

"Shit," she muttered to herself. She had meant to get this report into Commander Rabb's hands for signature before he left tonight. God knows when she would be able to catch him to sign off on it tomorrow, and the documents couldn't go without it. Then Connor's aide would call up and bitch about it, and she'd take the heat.

She sighed. Why did she always end up being the conscientious one? Everybody else had gone home long ago. Briefly the sterile silence of her apartment near Dupont Circle mocked her, then she dismissed it with an irritable flip of her head.

Harm. She hesitated, and unconsciously touched her hair. He had actually complimented her this afternoon. Too bad Muller horned in. Fit reps were coming up, maybe Rabb was giving her a signal that she would be moving up in the promotion list. She was due for lieutenant commander this winter.

An arch little smile came and went on her face. Maybe he was finally beginning to notice someone besides Colonel Mackenzie. It occurred to her that he lived only ten minutes down Massachusetts Avenue from her apartment, she could drop the report by his place tonight. He'd invite her in, maybe offer her a drink . . . .

Lauren did not realize 20 minutes had passed when she suddenly snapped out of her reverie and found herself staring at the missing deposition, peeking out from beneath her briefcase. With a gleam in her eye, she pulled up her report on screen and resumed typing.

 

 

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