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Classification JAG Story, Adventure, Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 97,000 words, or 237 pages in MSWord (8 ½ x 11" paper)
Spoilers Through "Adrift II"
Rating GS


Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10



Chapter 1


Admiral A.J. Chegwidden looked up at the knock on his office door. Gunny stepped inside a moment later, followed by a man the Admiral didn't know. He was tall and thin, with sandy blond hair that fell in thin wisps to below his collar. His eyes were pale and blue, their intensity hidden behind large framed glasses that were conspicuously ten years out of date. The man's dress was more casual than A.J. was used to seeing-- casual pants and a black t-shirt. Most civilians dressed up when they came to visit an Admiral in the United States Navy.

Gunny came to attention. "Admiral, Daniel Steiner is here to see you, sir."

So that was who he was. A.J. fought to keep the revulsion off his face. He did not stand to greet his guest. "Thank you, Gunny."

Gunny left, and A.J. waved his visitor to the chairs fronting his desk. "Please have a seat Mr. Steiner. I'll be with you in a moment." He returned his attention to the paperwork in front of him. He scribbled a few more lines before putting the papers aside.

When he looked up, he found Steiner slouched in his chair, watching him appraisingly.

"Now, Mr. Steiner, what can the Judge Advocate General's office do for you?"

Steiner's gaze didn't waver. "Since your boss called me, I was expecting you'd already know."

Unfortunately, A.J. did. The Navy needed some damage control and had come to him to make it happen. The sheer humiliation of what his superiors were asking, however, made the orders hard to swallow.

Steiner rolled his head around, eliciting a loud pop from one of his vertebrae. He grinned at the Admiral. "So, do you have investigators for me or not?"

A.J. nodded reluctantly. He touched his intercom. "Lieutenant Tiner! Tell Commander Rabb and Colonel MacKenzie I want to see them asap."

"Which one's the woman?" Steiner wanted to know.

A.J. didn't answer. A few moments later, the two officers walked in. They came to attention in front of his desk, their gazes locked straight ahead, their faces impassive. Neither one showed the least curiosity about the Admiral's visitor. Anything less would have earned them a rebuke from their superior.

Steiner took one look at the pair and jumped to his feet. "Wow. Now this I can work with." He turned and walked off to Lieutenant Colonel MacKenzie's side, studying her with avid, almost lascivious, interest. "Sexbomb city." He grinned at A.J. "Slick the hair back and put her in a bikini… baby." He turned his attention to Commander Rabb. "He's not bad either. Tall, dark and handsome always goes over well. Especially if there's a sixpack under that uniform." He gestured toward the commander's midriff.

A.J. fought to keep his face expressionless. The eyes of his two officers were rolling in anger and indignation, though neither one moved an inch.

Finally, Steiner seemed to register the stiff attention of the officers. He gave A.J. a quizzical look. "How long are they just going to stand there like that?"

"Until I say otherwise," the Admiral answered. Steiner could use a demonstration of military discipline.

Steiner remained doubtful. "If you say so. I really need to hear voices sometime, though. I mean, I can work with the bodies. No sweat there. But, if the voices suck…" He rolled his eyes. "This is reality t.v. We can't do voice-overs."

A.J. let it go for a little while longer. The silence in his office grew heavy. Finally, he looked at his officers. "Be seated, Commander, Colonel."

Like statues come to life, the two took deep breaths in unison. "Yes, sir."

Then, ritual complete, they became the people A.J. knew as friends as well as subordinates. The two settled in their chairs as Mac whipped around to stare venomously at Steiner.

"Sir, who in the world is this-- this--"

"Cretin?" Harm supplied mildly.

"Cretin." Mac looked at A.J. "And what business does he have with JAG?"

Steiner did not look the least put off by the insult. He smiled ingratiatingly. "I'm Daniel Steiner, executive producer of Temptation Cruise."

At their blank looks, his smile faded a notch. "Temptation Cruise? It's only the highest rated show in prime time for the past season." The blank stares didn't change. Steiner became indignant. "Don't you people watch t.v.?"

Harm and Mac looked at each other.

"You don't mean that show where they stick a bunch of newlywed couples on a boat for six weeks and have the crew try to entice them into cheating on each other?" Harm asked.

Steiner beamed. "That's the one."

Mac stared aghast at the producer. "How horrible!"

Harm's expression turned thoughtful. He turned to the Admiral. "This is about that rape case."

A.J. nodded, and the atmosphere in the office immediately turned businesslike. "Yes. A contestant on Mr. Steiner's t.v. show claimed she was raped by two of the ship's crew members to keep her and her husband from winning the million-dollar prize. Unfortunately, both of the accused are Naval reservists."

"I suppose that explains JAG's interest," Mac said. She eyed Steiner as if he were a particularly hideous variety of spider she'd spotted on her living room wall. "Is the case going to be tried under military jurisdiction?"

A.J. shook his head. "No. It'll be tried in civilian court."

"So how are we involved, sir?"

A.J. steeled himself. "The reservists claim they were acting on the instructions of the show's director, a Tony Ariel. They agreed to… ahem, take advantage of the young lady, but deny the rape charge. They say she was flirting heavily with both of them and that the incident was consensual." He shrugged, uncomfortable. "I don’t need to tell you how much bad publicity this is generating for the Navy. But, if the reservists claim about Mr. Ariel is true, it could be useful as a means of deflecting the attention away from the U.S. military."

"Not to mention that it'll look good for you folks to have been involved in the investigation," added Steiner.

At the word "investigation", Harm and Mac exchanged worried looks.

"Sir, you aren't suggesting that Commander Rabb and I…?" Mac trailed off uncertainly.

A.J. nodded. "Unfortunately, I am, Colonel. You and Commander Rabb are going to go undercover to investigate the truth of these allegations about Mr. Ariel. Temptation Cruise II will begin filming in approximately three months. You two will be contestants." He paused. "Providing Mr. Steiner approves, of course."

Steiner grinned his irritating grin. "I like what I've seen so far." He transferred his smile to Harm and Mac. "All I need now is proof that these two can pass for newlyweds and I'll sign off."

A.J. knew Steiner had been adamant in his refusal to let his show be "tainted" by the investigation of his director. Though he professed to be furious over the possibility that Ariel had rigged the results of the show, he also insisted that only "real talent" be allowed onto the sequel, lest the ratings suffer. It had taken quite a bit of pressure from high up in the Navy to gain his grudging agreement to assess the JAG investigators. A.J. knew how important it could be to the Navy's reputation to be an integral part of this investigation. He also knew he was putting his officers in a particularly difficult situation. He folded his hands on the desk in front of him, projecting calm as best he could.

"What would satisfy you, Mr. Steiner?" he asked.

Steiner shrugged. "A kiss, to start with. Let's see if there's any kind of chemistry."

Harm and Mac both stared at him, their gazes owlish.

Steiner's voice turned harsh. "Well? This is just a screen test. If you can't do this, you'll never make it on the show." He transferred his attention to Harm. "Put some heat into it, Commander. Forty million viewers are going to be dissecting every move you two make. If you can't convince me, you'll never convince them." He sat back, arms crossed.

After a moment, Harm shook himself out of his stupor and turned to A.J. "Sir?" His expression fell somewhere between bewildered and amused.

The Admiral spread his hands. "This falls under the auspices of an undercover investigation, Commander. Fraternization regs don't apply. You have my permission."

A hint of mischief crept into the other man's eyes. "Yes, sir."

Turning in his seat, Harm leaned across the distance separating him from Mac. Smiling ever so slightly, he cupped her cheek in one hand and kissed her. Rather thoroughly, A.J. thought. Mac's fingers tightened on the arms of her chair until the knuckles turned white, but she sank into the kiss as if she'd never wanted anything else in her life.

Outside the unshuttered windows flanking the Admiral's door, the hubbub of the JAG office came to a standstill as the members of the staff turned to stare at the unprecedented sight. A.J. bit his lip against a laugh as a pile of papers cascaded unnoticed out of Harriet's fingers. Her mouth formed a perfect 'O' of surprise.

Sometime later, Harm and Mac separated. Their eyes lingered on each other for a bare moment before Mac looked away, ducking her head with unusual shyness for the outspoken Marine.

Harm cleared his throat, his discomfort well hidden. "Good enough?" he asked Steiner. A.J. admired the even, unconcerned air he projected. Harm still carried his naval aviator's cool, which served him well both in and out of the courtroom.

Steiner applauded lightly. "Bravo." He smiled at the Admiral. "They'll do."

Harm turned to A.J., his face impassive. "Is that all, sir?" The question carried a tremendous weight of disapproval in its stiffly formal tones.

A.J. turned the question over to his guest, who nodded.

"I'll have my assistant send over all the paperwork and a rough draft of the schedule. You'll be expected to make appearances with the rest of the contestants, as well as do the photo shoots and advance interviews," Steiner said.

A.J. noted that his officers looked like they'd rather be boiled in oil and decided to end the appointment as quickly as possible. All the parties had agreed, so there was no point in prolonging their exposure to each other. That only increased the risk of something going wrong.

The Admiral dismissed Harm and Mac. Looking relieved, the two rose and came to attention before exiting the office. A.J. saw them exchange eloquently helpless looks before each went to their own office. Neither one acknowledged the curious stares of the other staff members.

All in all, A.J. pitied them.


Chapter 2


Seated on the arm of his couch, Harm watched with amused sympathy as Mac paced the small confines of the living room. He always enjoyed watching Mac when she got really riled about something. Right now, she paced back and forth with frantic strides, her head down and her hands hooked into claws at her sides. He wondered if she were envisioning throttling Daniel Steiner. The occasional muttered comment he could hear seemed to point in that direction.

"Look at the bright side, Mac," he offered. "We get to spend six weeks on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. When would either of us ever get to take a six-week vacation?"

Mac paused to glare at him. "Traitor."

Harm chuckled and held up his hands. "Hey. I don't like it, either. I'm just trying to be positive."

"You aren't the one he was mentally undressing."

Harm grinned. "I wouldn't be so sure of that."

Mac ignored him. "Have you watched any of the episodes yet? The show is absolutely disgusting. It's morally reprehensible, degrading to women, and-- and-- just plain tasteless!" She stopped short to stare at Harm. "Why aren't you upset about this assignment? Don't tell me you actually want to be involved in this cockamamie scheme?"

"Not really, but I don't have much choice." This time, there was no humor in his voice. Mac could get very aggressive when she felt threatened, something he had little patience for.

Mac's tirade ended with a long-suffering sigh. She reached up to massage her eyes. "I know. I'm sorry. I'm just so angry…"

"Why, Mac? Because it rubs salt in old wounds?" It had been a while since Mic, since Renee, and since the near-miss conversation that might have changed their lives forever.

She nodded without looking at him. "That, and because I don't like the idea of pretending with you." Her gaze darted to his, then away. "We're best friends. We're honest with each other. That's important to me."

And playing at being in love for the next few months is going to blur the lines beyond recognition. He sighed. He, too, feared their new assignment would only make things worse between them.

"Come here, Mac." He held his arms open.

For a moment, he thought she might refuse. But then she came to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, laying her cheek on his shoulder. Harm held her close.

"We'll always be friends, Mac. No matter what."

He could feel her smile against his shoulder. "I'm going to hold you to that, sailor."




A few days later, Harm and Mac once again found themselves in the Admiral's office with Daniel Steiner and a tall, perky blond woman who reminded Harm just a bit too much of Renee for comfort. She was Steiner's assistant, but other than handing out papers and distracting the male members of the JAG staff from their duties, she seemed to serve little purpose.

Harm scanned the sheets he'd been handed while keeping his ears tuned to the Admiral.

"Your cover identities will be modeled as much after reality as possible," Chegwidden was saying, "to avoid any possible mistakes or conflicts in your stories. You, Commander, will be Harmon Ray, a partner at a small D.C. law firm. The Colonel will be Sarah McPherson, also a partner at the same firm. Your personal histories should remain as close to reality as possible, editing out all references to military service or undercover investigations."

Mac looked up before Harm. "Mitchell, Bloomberg, Moore?" she asked, noting the name of the law firm they supposedly worked for.

Harm nodded to himself as the name registered in his memory. "Isn't that where Commander Bailey went after he retired from JAG?" Bailey had left JAG several years before Harm's arrival, but his exploits in the courtroom were still talked about.

The Admiral nodded. "Yes. He's the senior partner there. He has agreed to let us use his firm for a cover. Your respective aliases will be on the books at MBM within the next few days."

Harm shot his partner a sideways glance, but her face remained impassive. She was all business. He tried to match her. It was the safest choice.

Steiner sat forward, hands clasped together. "These covers will play beautifully on the show, particularly with Tony." He was a serious as Harm had yet seen. "If he is fixing the results-- and I'll personally rip his throat out if he is-- he'll be sure to pick some other couple to win." The smarmy grin appeared for a moment. "After all, who wants a couple of lawyers to get the prize?"

Before either litigator could respond, he went on. "So, as long as you two can stay on the straight and narrow, he'll eventually be forced to take matters into his own hands to get you out of the running."

Harm stifled a groan. The plan was sound, but that meant they had little hope of getting off the show before the entire six weeks were over.

"So when does all this start?" he asked instead.

The blond assistant hopped up to hand each of them another piece of paper.

"Here's the tentative schedule," Steiner told them. "The first real event will be the meet-the-other-contestants dinner in two weeks. It's an informal affair-- no reporters or cameras allowed. Besides ours, of course. You'll both need to do a costume fitting in the next few days so wardrobe can have something for you by then. And you'll have to have your contestant packets filled out by then as well."

The assistant plucked two thick document envelopes from the stack of papers beside her and held them out toward Harm and Mac.

"I'll take those," Admiral Chegwidden said, reaching across his desk. The assistant handed them over. "You two have more important things to do, like wrapping up your caseloads. I'll get someone else to fill these out."

Harm was still thinking about the dinner. A thought struck him. "Should Mac wear an engagement ring?"

Mac turned to him in surprise as Steiner frowned. "We don't provide rings and such, assuming all of our couples intended to get married anyway. You'll have to take care of that yourselves."

Mac smoothed her skirt, a nervous gesture. "That's all right. I… have a ring I can use."

Harm winced. He couldn't help it. If Mac noticed, she gave no sign, and Harm was forced to wonder once more if she had really gotten over Brumby. After all, he'd left her, not the other way around.

Steiner continued, giving no indication that he’d noticed Harm's reaction. "Going back to the schedule… After the dinner come the early photo shoots-- People, Cosmo, and Teen Beat all want spreads to go with their articles. Cosmo also wants one of the ladies for their cover, though they won't decide who until after the first shoot." He winked at Mac. "I'd say you're probably going to be in the running, Colonel."

"What? Me?"

Harm pushed his thoughts aside and studied his partner. Was that a flush creeping up her cheeks? Mac didn't blush easily.

Steiner didn't pause. "The television spots won't happen until later, after the advertising campaign really kicks in. You'll do the filming for the ads sometime early next month, but the Tonight Show and Letterman spots won't happen until a week or two before you board."

Harm's thoughts had begun to spin. He wondered if he looked as dazed as he felt. It was Mac, however, that best expressed his sentiments. She looked imploringly at the Admiral.

"Sir, you realize that after this, no one is ever going to take us seriously again."


Chapter 3


"I can't believe you two are going to be on t.v." Harriet split her grin between Harm and Mac. "It's kind of exciting."

"For them, maybe," Bud said with a grimace. "Commander Turner and I are the ones who get to pick up their caseloads." He indicated the commander with a wave of his coffee cup.

Sturgis only shrugged, his familiar, laconic smile in place. "Oh, I don't mind so much, Lieutenant." He shot Harm a sly look. "It'll be well worth it to watch these two making fools of themselves."

"Gee, thanks, Sturg." Harm rolled his eyes.

The five JAG officers were gathered around the coffee machine in the common morning ritual. Mac stood with her coworkers but felt worlds removed from the lighthearted banter. She could understand the others' teasing, but not Harm's easy acceptance of it all. How could he take it so lightly? Didn't this assignment jangle that raw nerve running through their relationship?

"Commander, that's not very nice," Harriet scolded Sturgis. Mac snapped back to the present.

Sturgis grinned hugely. "Maybe so, Lieutenant, but I'm not the one who volunteered to host the Temptation Cruise parties at my house, either."

Harriet blushed scarlet. Harm laughed. "He's got you there," he told Harriet.

Angered and quietly humiliated by the exchange, Mac turned away. She headed toward her office with brisk strides.

"Mac?" Harm asked from behind her. She could hear the sudden concern in his voice.

"I have work to do," she told him without turning.




"What was that about?" Sturgis asked as Mac walked into her office and shut the door.

Harm sighed resignedly. "She's a little upset about this assignment. I can't say that I blame her."

"Hmm." Sturgis met Harm's eyes, his gaze piercing. "That wouldn't have anything to do with this thing between you two, would it?"

Harm was vaguely aware of Bud and Harriet exchanging uncomfortable looks, but most of his attention was riveted to his friend.

"There is no 'thing' between us, Sturgis." Harm sometimes wondered if it was bitterness or relief he felt every time he made the protest. "We're just friends."

Sturgis gave him an enigmatic smile. "Maybe that's why she's so upset about the assignment." He raised his coffee mug in salute and turned away.

Harm could only shake his head.

"Sir," Harriet said after a moment, her voice uncertain. "I'm not in any position to comment on your relationship with Colonel MacKenzie…"

Harm raised an eyebrow, smiling despite himself. "But…?"

Harriet dropped her gaze, abashed. Then she raised her head, her expression determined. "But, sir, she does seem to be taking this all very seriously." She made a vague gesture. "The rest of us are making a joke out of it because it's almost too absurd to believe, but Colonel MacKenzie doesn't take jokes very well. At least, not when they're on her."

Harm inclined his head, impressed by her assessment. "That's pretty insightful, Harriet. Thanks. I'll have to keep it in mind."

Harriet's smile lit her face. "You're welcome, sir."




Mac looked up with some trepidation when Harm walked into her office. He dropped into a chair, squirming to find a comfortable position. The standard hard wood chairs had not been designed to fit Harm's six plus feet.

He gave her a cheerful smile. "How's it going, dear?"

Mac blinked at him. "Did you just call me dear?"

The blue eyes twinkled mischievously. "Would you prefer 'honey'? Sweetie?

Mac rested her elbows on her desk and held her pen in both hands, staring at him over the top. "Harm, what is going on?"

"I'm trying to come up with a pet name for you." His grin was utterly guileless. "Couples have special names for each other, right? It occurred to me that we ought to be getting some of these little details organized. So, what would you like? Babe? Sweetums?"

"Oh, please." Mac knew he was turning on that little boy charm to try to cajole her out of being mad. Unfortunately, it was working. "You're crazy, you know."

He slouched a little further in the too-small chair. "Mac, that the only way we're going to survive this assignment without going stark, raving mad is to laugh our way through it." Those blue eyes bored into her, deep and serious. But then the glint of humor returned. "How about 'Snookers'? Sugar plum? Poopsie?"

"Poopsie?" A chuckle escaped her. "Be glad I'm not armed, sailor." She had to admit he had a point. It was kind of funny, if you looked at it a certain way. And ignored the dull, constant heartache, of course.

Taking a deep breath, Mac decided to join in on the fun. "Do I get to pick a name for you, too?"

Harm shrugged. "Sure. You're still not giving me any clues here, though. How does 'Shortcake' grab you?"

"I could call you Stud Muffin."

His grin deepened. "Boo Boo?"



"Honey Bucket of Luv."

Harm burst out laughing. Mac joined him.

"O.k. Maybe the pet name idea wasn't such a good one," Harm admitted as he climbed to his feet. "But at least I got you to laugh."

Mac accepted that with as much grace as she could muster. "That you did." Her intrinsic honesty wouldn't let her leave it at that. "Thanks," she added.

"You're welcome." Harm turned toward the door. "Well, see you later, lovebug."


He walk out of the office, chortling. Tossing her pen down on the desk in front of her, Mac sank back into her chair, grinning and shaking her head.


Chapter 4


Harm and Mac went to the wardrobe fitting together. Dressed in civilian business attire as if they'd just come from the office, they approached the nondescript building with an equal sense of unease. It was Showtime. Well, at least the dress rehearsal.

Mac paused a few feet from the car and looked at her partner. "Do you think we should hold hands?"

She was gratified to see that Harm looked as uncomfortable as she felt. "Yeah, probably." He offered his hand with a lopsided smile. Mac took it, then tried to keep her reaction from showing as his fingers twined with hers. It wasn't as if she'd never held his hand before. But this wasn't a friend offering affection and support. This was a possessive gesture that said, We're together.

They had only taken a couple of steps before they discovered a problem. Mac's hand had ended up in front. With the difference in their heights it made for an uncomfortable and unwieldy arrangement. They had to pause to rearrange, which, with the current level of nervousness turned out to be more difficult than they might have imagined.

"Here, Mac, like this."

"No, my hand needs to be on the other--"

"If you do that, we're going to be back where we started."

"No we're not."

"See, like this--"



They finally got it straightened out.

"A couple of twelve-year-olds could have done this better," Mac growled as they once again set off toward the building.

Harm released her to open the door, then held it for her to enter. It was a common courtesy in the military, one that Mac rarely noticed.

The woman waiting just inside, however, did. "I see there are still some true gentlemen in the world," she commented as they entered. She was an inch or two taller than Mac, a stunning beauty with dark hair and skin, and an exotic lilt to her words. She smiled blindingly at Harm, who returned the smile with one of his own.

Mac quickly slipped her hand back into Harm's. "We're here for the one o'clock fitting," she said, meeting the woman's eyes and holding them.

Smiling faintly, the woman nodded. "You must be Mr. Ray and Ms. McPherson. Hi, I'm Selena." She shook hands with each of them. "I'll be your coordinator for the duration of the show. My job is to guide through each step of the production process. If you need anything, let me know. I will be available at any time to answer questions." She paused for a moment, but when neither of them spoke, she continued, "Now, if you'll both come with me, I'll take you back to the studio."

Mac and Harm fell in behind Selena as she led them through a set of glass doors and into a business area. Offices sprouted to either side of the hall, which was painted in odd shades of green. Beyond the offices, they emerged into a large room divided up by movable partitions and curtains. Mac spotted several tall mirrors in rolling frames as well as what looked like a huge auto mechanic's tool box piled high with sewing paraphernalia.

A man and a woman waited for them. The man could have leapt from the pages of GQ, Mac thought. He was of middle height, slender, and dressed all in black. His hair was cut short, dyed blond, and stuck out stylishly in all directions. He even wore a nose ring in addition to multiple earrings.

"Mr. Ray, this is Toby, your fashion consultant." Selena introduced the man, who grinned and waved.

She turned to the woman. "This is Ellen. Ellen, meet Ms. McPherson." Ellen was Toby's opposite in every way. Short, frumpy and middle-aged, she gave Mac a motherly smile as Selena introduced them.

"I'll trade with you," Harm murmured to Mac as they finished the necessary pleasantries. "I'd feel a lot safer with yours."

Mac grinned at him. "Wimp."

Then her humor died. The two fashion consultants obviously expected the couple to split and accompany each of them to different parts of the room. Mac looked up at Harm, her stomach knotting. A parting kiss was in order, wasn't it?

Harm seemed to be thinking the same thing. He bent toward her.

Mind racing, Mac tried to meet him. Unfortunately, she turned her head the same direction as his and they nearly collided.



They both back off and tried to reorient themselves. We must look like fools. Mac felt a flush of warmth rising in her cheeks.

"Let's try that again…"

After a couple of jerky false starts, they managed a passable kiss.

"I think we're going to have to practice if we're going to pull this off," Harm muttered into her hair as they separated. Mac had to agree, frightening as the thought was.

They parted ways with a sense of relief. Mac followed Ellen into a little cubby surrounded by curtains. There were no chairs, so she stood near the center of the space, arms crossed.

Ellen busied herself at a smaller wheeled toolbox like the one Mac had seen, but eventually she turned.

"Nervous, dearie?"

Mac dropped her hands to her sides self-consciously. "Yeah. I guess. And my name's Sarah."

Ellen walked over to her, trailing an armful of cloth and measuring tape. "Well, Sarah, you don't have anything to worry about. You're quite beautiful. We're just going to give you a wardrobe to do justice to that lovely face."

Mac stared at her, bemused. "O.k." She hadn't had many women tell her she was beautiful.

Ellen took Mac by the elbow and steered her to a spot on the floor. "Now, take off those shoes and stand straight for me, feet together."

Mac did so, settling into the attention position her body was familiar with.

Ellen bustled about, taking measurements. "You have very good posture, Sarah." She poked Mac gently between the shoulder blades. "Relax a little, dearie. You're not a soldier."

Mac bit her lip against a smile and wondered how Harm was fairing.




Toby, Harm soon discovered, chattered incessantly as he worked.

"So, how long have you two known each other?" Toby asked at the end of a string of bland personal questions.

"Oh, about six years." Harm kept his voice casual and tried not to fidget. He was not ready to be grilled about their cover story.

"And it took this long to tie the knot?" Toby knelt to measure Harm's inseam.

"We work together." Harm wondered if the Admiral had any idea what kind of torture he was putting his officers through. "It's kind of complicated."

"I noticed she's not wearing a ring."

Uh oh. Harm scrambled for an answer. "Well, this cruise thing came up a little unexpectedly--" He decided he had to qualify the statement. "I mean, we didn't really expect to get picked."

Toby whipped through another set of measurements. Harm didn't understand how he could possibly get accurate information at that speed. "So you haven't really popped the question yet."

Harm was becoming more uncomfortable by the moment. "Uh, no. Not exactly." We are really going to have to get on this. The contestants' dinner is only a week away! He wasn't sure if he was going to be able to stand seeing Mac wear Brumby's ring all the time, though.

Toby grinned at him. "Well, better get on it. Just 'cause she knows she's gonna say yes doesn't mean she won't want the full production."

Harm stared into the distance an idea blossomed in his mind. Mac might very well kill him, but… He chuckled to himself. Why not? This wasn't reality. What did he have to lose?

He nodded. "Thanks, Toby."

"Sure thing, man."




When they returned to the car, Harm and Mac simply sat for a moment, each staring straight ahead, lost in their own thoughts.

"This is going to be harder than I thought," Harm commented after a while.

Mac didn't dare turn to look at his face. "Yeah," she agreed.

There was an awkward silence.

"You're right about practice," Mac said finally. "I hadn't realized how many little details people work out when they're in a relationship together."

"Like how to hold hands?" Harm shot her a sly smile.

"And how to kiss." Mac returned the shot. Their eyes met and held, filled with mutual understanding. They could both feel compassion for the difficult position the other was in.

Taking a deep breath, Mac forged ahead. "As you know, we're supposed to have dinner with Bud and Harriet tonight." It was something they did regularly, as much to spend time with little A.J. as anything else.

"Uh huh."

"It would be a good opportunity to… you know… practice."

The mischievous twinkle had returned to Harm's eyes. "Uh huh."

"Anyway, I'm sure Bud and Harriet will understand. They're not the teasing type. In fact, since they're married, they might be able to give us some pointers. I think--"

"Mac." Harm cut her off.


His smile was gentle. "It's o.k."

Mac gave him an odd look. He was being reassuring, which made her nervous when she didn't know why. "Of course it's o.k. Why wouldn't it be?"

Harm just chuckled. "Pick you up at six?"




The first thing Bud Roberts noticed when he opened his front door was the arm Commander Rabb had companionably draped across Colonel MacKenzie's shoulders. The commander grinned cheerfully.

"Good evening, Bud."

Covering his surprise, Bud took a step back to let them in. "Good evening, sir, ma'am. Come in."

"We're not in uniform, Bud."

"I know, sir."

Colonel MacKenzie walked into the house first, her hands raised. "O.k., before this evening goes any further, we're going to have to apologize for our bizarre behavior."

"Ma'am?" Bud asked.

The Colonel didn't reply as a tiny dervish raced up and threw himself into her arms. "Auntie Mac!" She swept him up in a hug.

Bud mentally shook his head. No matter how many times they told him the Colonel's name was Sarah, he still called her Mac. But then, Harm called her Mac, which was all the reason A.J. needed.

"Hey, sport!" Harm tossed A.J. into the air when it was his turn to greet the little boy. A.J. giggled wildly as Harm set him down.

"Come play airp'anes wit' me!" A.J. held the commander's big hand in both of his and tried to drag him bodily toward the back of the house.

"Later, sport," Harm promised with a smile. Bud took the hint and shooed his son off to play on his own for a while.

"Bizarre behavior, ma'am?" he asked once A.J. was gone.

As if in response, Commander Rabb stepped up behind Colonel MacKenzie, slipping both arms around her waist. After a moment, she crossed her arms over his, fingers curling around his forearms. Her expression dared Bud to state the obvious.

Bud stared at them for a moment as his whirling thoughts coalesced. "Uh, since I know neither one of you would ever violate regulations, I suppose there's another explanation?" Bud was proud of himself for managing that with straight face.

Commander Rabb chuckled. "Yep. It's called an undercover investigation that Mac and I both need some practice getting into character for."

Harriet came around the corner from the kitchen just then, wiping her hands on a towel. "Hello, Commander, Colonel." She took one good look at them and came to an abrupt halt. "Oh!"

"Hi, Harriet," the two said in unison. Commander Rabb quickly repeated his explanation.

Harriet took it all in stride, which was one of the reasons Bud loved her so much. "Well," she said thoughtfully, "We'd be happy to help in any way we can, of course. I'll do my best to provide constructive feedback, and I'm sure Bud will, too."

Bud wasn't so sure he liked that idea, but didn't contradict her.

"Do you want to help me in the kitchen, Colonel?" Harriet inclined her head that direction.

The colonel smiled. "Only if you call me Sarah."

Harriet grinned. "Yes, ma'am."

It was a little disconcerting to watch Colonel MacKenzie reach up to kiss the commander on the cheek before she went off with Harriet. Nonetheless, Commander Rabb looked like he enjoyed it. His gaze followed her as she walked away, lingering long after she'd disappeared around the corner.

"Beer, sir?" Bud was totally willing to avoid the topic of Colonel MacKenzie and any relationship the two might have. One, it wasn't any of his business, and two, what he didn't know he could never be forced to testify about.

"My name is Harm, Bud."

Bud grinned. "Yes, sir. I'll be right back with that beer, sir. Make yourself comfortable."

Harm's resigned sigh followed him out of the room.

When he returned, the two men talked of inconsequential things until Harriet called them to dinner. Even that passed uneventfully, with little sign of roleplaying between the two JAG officers.

Later, however, while Bud was in the kitchen slicing the pie, Harriet stuck her head around the corner and held a finger to her lips. "Honey, you've just got to see this," she whispered, crooking her finger at him.

Curious, Bud followed her out to the edge of the hall leading into the living room. Grinning impishly, Harriet pointed in the proper direction then made room for Bud to peek around the corner. She joined him as he did so, leaning against his shoulder to peer around with him.

Bud had to smile. Commander Rabb was sitting in the easy chair with Colonel MacKenzie perched comfortably on his knee. She held their wineglasses and watched with a tolerant smile as the commander played at dogfighting with A.J. The toy airplanes whirled and dove across the broad arm of the chair. From the volume of shooting noises and explosions, Bud could tell the battle had been going on for a while. A.J. always got louder over time.

"Aren't they adorable?" Harriet whispered to him as they crept back toward the kitchen. At his nod, her expression turned mournful. "I really wish there was something we could do to help. They're so perfect for each other."

"There is." Bud decided he needed to nip this one early. "We can help by not interfering."

"Aw," Harriet gave him her trademarked pout. "Where's the fun in that?"


"I know, Bud. I know." She sighed, squaring her shoulders. "Well, maybe they'll stumble into it anyway. They've still got a long way to go."


Chapter 5


Mac walked into the office Thursday morning feeling better than she had in a while. After what had turned out to be a very nice dinner with Bud and Harriet and a couple of days later a "date" with Harm that had involved a movie and lot of light-hearted PDA, she was beginning to think they just might make it through the ordeal unscathed. Harm was right. All they had to do was to not take it all too seriously.

To her surprise, she noted a bouquet of pink roses on Gunnery Sergeant Galindez's desk. Galindez was bent over some paperwork, oblivious to her approach.

"Nice roses, Gunny."

He looked up with a start, then stood. "Good morning, Colonel. Actually, the roses are for you. They arrived about ten minutes ago."

Mac tried to hide her sudden burst of excitement. "Really? I wonder who they're from." She took a second look at the bouquet. There were a dozen long stemmed pink roses, professionally displayed with bits of fern and baby's breath. The vase was tied with pink bow. It was a little… girly for Mac's taste. But it was nice.

"There's a card, ma'am." Gunny picked the vase up carefully. "I'll carry them into your office if you'd like."

Since her arms were already full, Mac nodded. "Thank you, Gunny."

Once Mac was alone in her office, she plucked the card from its plastic holder. With eager fingers she opened the envelope and extracted the card. The plain piece of paper had nothing on it but the letter 'A'.

"A?" Mac looked around the office in consternation. "Who the heck is A?"




On her way back from the coffee station, Mac ran into Gunny. He was holding a bouquet of yellow roses in a vase. Mac stopped in her tracks.

"You're kidding. For me?"

He nodded. "Yes, ma'am. I'll put them in your office."

Mac trailed him, intensely curious. This time she didn't wait for privacy before opening the card. She noted absently that it had been sent from a different florist than the pinks. On the card was written a letter 'M'.

Once again Mac looked around her office as if she might find the answer written on the walls. "What in the world?"




By the time the third bouquet arrived, word of her roses had spread, so Mac had an audience when she opened the card. These had come from a third florist. This dozen were a pale lavender, interspersed with tiny yellow flowers. Mac took a deep breath of their sweet scent to ward off the excited queasiness in her stomach before opening the card.

It was an 'R'.

Sturgis grinned at her. "Well, if the next one's an 'H' we'll know who the culprit is."

Mac just looked at him. "Why in the world would Commander Rabb send me three-- excuse me-- four dozen roses?"

Sturgis shrugged.

"Where is the commander, anyway?" Admiral Chegwidden wanted to know.

"In court, sir." Mac added the 'R' to the other two cards lying on her desk. The purple roses she gave the preeminent place on the corner of the desk and moved the yellow ones off to a filing cabinet. "He won't be back until this afternoon sometime."

Harriet spent a few moments sniffing the new roses. "Mmmm, those really smell great, Colonel."

"Maybe you have a secret admirer," Bud suggested.

Mac put her hands on her hips. "Well, whatever it is, I'm not going to get anything done with all of you hovering around here." She grinned to soften the words.

Her coworkers slowly filed out. Shaking her head at the strangeness of the day, Mac sat down and tried to work.




Oh please, oh please, oh please let this be an 'H'. Mac stared at the new floral card in her hands. The fourth dozen roses, their petals striped in a brilliant mixture of red and yellow, sat on Gunny's desk. Mac had been too impatient to wait until she got to her office.

Without thought for how she might appear to her coworkers, she ripped open the envelope and yanked out the card.


"Ma'am?" Gunny watched her with an expression of concern.

Mac stared at the piece of paper in her hands, unable to immediately reconcile what was written with what she'd been expecting. "It's an 'L'." The words came out as a protest.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Well, that blows that theory," Sturgis commented as he walked by. Mac had to throttle the sudden desire to hit him. Shaking her head, she collected the roses and headed back to her office.




When Mac got back from her midmorning meeting with a client, she found four more rose bouquets sitting on Gunny's desk. They were orange, peach, cream and a very dark pink, respectively. Gunny stood a short ways from his desk, working on paperwork that lay scattered across the top of a filing cabinet as if he had given up trying to share space with the flowers.

Mac just stared, mouth agape.

"This is getting ridiculous!" she exclaimed when she had recovered her voice. Harriet looked up at her, as did Gunny.

Lieutenant Tiner nodded in greeting as he passed. "There are two more in your office, ma'am," he said.

"Do you want some help moving those, ma'am?" Harriet stood.

It was so crazy Mac wanted to laugh. "Uh… yes, please." She scooped up a random vase and headed for her office, leaving Harriet and Galindez to follow.

The Admiral appeared at the door before they'd managed to find spaces for the now ten dozen roses. Mac's office had begun to resemble a flower shop.

"Colonel, what is going on here?"

Mac raised her hands helplessly. "Sir, I wish I knew. They just keep coming."

"You're disrupting the operation of this office and tying up important personnel who have jobs to do." He glared at Gunny for a moment.

"I'm sorry, sir." Mac stared at the forest of blooms surrounding her. "I don't know what to say. It'll have to stop soon."

"It is pretty extravagant for a practical joke, sir," Harriet chimed in.

"Not to mention expensive, sir," added Gunny, rubbing his thumb and forefingers together. Mac had been trying not to think of how many hundreds of dollars worth of roses she now possessed.

The Admiral seemed only partially mollified. "See that it does, Colonel," he told her with a no-nonsense glower.

"Yes, sir."

Chegwidden returned to his office. Gunny also left.

Mac pounced on the new cards. "I can't believe this is happening." She opened them, laying each one out on her desk beside the others. "Let's see… 'R', 'U', 'O', another 'L', 'W', and an 'E'. I feel like I'm playing Scrabble."

Harriet laughed, her eyes full of gentleness and humor. "I think it's wonderful."

Mac grinned back at her. "Thanks, Harriet. Me, too. I just wish I knew who they were from."




By midafternoon Mac had fifteen cards of varying shapes and sizes laid out on her desk. All were letters save one, which bore a question mark instead. She had placed them in a line with the question mark at the end, assuming the letters could be unscrambled into something that made sense. At the moment, she had:

A R M L O U R W E M Y L I Y ?

She was getting nowhere. The stunning bouquets of roses-- no two alike-- covered every available inch of her office, creating a montage of color. Mac had given up on work entirely, and was arranging and rearranging the letters on her desk in the hopes of answering the question that totally preoccupied her.

She didn't bother to look up when someone entered her office. In her peripheral vision she registered a pair of Navy white pants coming to a stop in front of her desk, but was too engrossed to notice beyond that.

"Wow, it smells great in here." Harm's voice snapped her back to reality with a painful jolt. She jerked her head upward to look at him. He leaned over the desk, hands holding his cover behind his back, and studied the row of letters. His expression was a mixture of amusement and curiosity.

"Hi, Mac." The blue eyes met hers. "Looks like you've been having an interesting day."

"You could say that." Mac leaned back in her chair. "How was court?"

Harm shrugged. "I do my closing argument tomorrow." He turned his attention back to the letters.

Mac was a little surprised when he reached down with one hand to slide one of the cards out of its position, shuffling it to another spot further down the line. She looked at his face and found it intent. He moved another card.

Mac watched him in fascination. "I swear, Commander, if you've figured this out after looking at it for twenty seconds, I'm going to strangle you. I've been staring at these things for an hour!"

Harm grinned at her but said nothing. He continued rearranging the letters. ME emerged at the end of the row, WILL at the beginning.

Mac didn't get it until he'd put the very last letter in place.

The cards read:

W I L L Y O U M A R R Y M E ?

Mac shoved herself to her feet with a gasp. She backed away from Harm, staring at him in utter shock. Her mouth moved as she tried to say something-- anything-- but no sound emerged.

Harm watched her reaction mildly. His smile was the epitome of innocence.

"It occurred to me at some point that we really needed to have an engagement story," he said as if it were the most normal thing in the world. "We could have just sat down and made something up, but I figured this way, we'll both be able to keep the details straight."

From behind his back he brought out, not his cover, but a single long stemmed red rose and a small black velvet box, which he gently lay on the blotter in front of Mac. Only at the point did she notice that there were no other red roses in the room.

Mac started to tremble as she approached the desk. She still couldn't speak as she picked up the little box and opened it. Inside was a plain, beautiful solitaire diamond ring.

"So, Mac, will you marry me?" The blue eyes danced.

Mac shook her head in denial, though of what she wasn't sure. Her chest felt like it might explode at any moment. "Harm, this is-- you didn't-- I mean, this is a lot of money for…" For something that isn't real. She trailed off, afraid to put that last into words.

His smile dimmed, turned bittersweet. "Don't worry, Mac. It's borrowed. Well, sort of."

"Sort of?"

"It's nothing you need to worry about."

They stared at each other for a long, silent moment. Under other circumstances, Mac would have demanded some kind of explanation for such a high-handed statement. Right now, however, she was doing well just to keep breathing.

Suck it up, Marine! she barked at herself. This man went to a lot of trouble to help solidify our cover stories. And maybe, just maybe, because he thought you'd enjoy it, too. The thought sapped her building desire to rant at Harm.

As if waking from a dream, Mac took the ring from its black case. She studied it for a moment in the light. The gold band glowed, warm and buttery, as she turned it. The edges of the band had been worn smooth, she noted in surprise. It had seen years of use, perhaps years of love. She hoped so.

Don't take this game for more than it is. Play along. Have fun. Mac had to admit she'd really enjoyed all the excitement and attention. She looked up at Harm and summoned a smile.

"Yes, I would love to marry you." Feeling a bit self-conscious, Mac slipped the ring onto her finger. It fit beautifully.

Harm wiped imaginary sweat from his forehead with an extravagant gesture. "Phew. You had me worried for a minute there." To Mac's relief he seemed willing to let the intensely personal moment slip away. "It's no wonder men don't like to commit." His grin was teasing. "Talk about an intimidating situation!"

Mac rolled her eyes and the tension between them eased. Her heart rate began to slow.

She picked up the red rose and sniffed it, her eyes on Harm. "You know, this is a side of you I've never seen."

He raised an eyebrow.

"The whole romantic gesture thing." Mac gave him a teasing grin. "No wonder women go wild over you."

She managed to embarrass him. He ducked his head briefly.

Mac let her breath out in a gusty sigh. "It's kind of a shame to have wasted all this on me, really."

Harm's brows dipped, but then the brief, injured expression was replaced by a sly smile. "Oh, I don't know. You should have seen your face, Mac."

Mac pretended not to see the flash of pain. There was no place for it in this game they were playing. Instead, she stayed with the banter, where it was safe.

"Well, I must say you certainly surprised me, flyboy. But pleasantly." She smiled at him. "Whatever possessed you to send me all these roses?"

The boyish grin came back. "We did meet in a rose garden." He shrugged. "It was kind of short notice to get permission to go back there."

Mac laughed, a little overwhelmed by the implications. No, it wouldn't be easy to get into the White House Rose Garden. She wondered if Harm had tried anyway. Knowing him and the kinds of friends he had, probably.

She sighed. "Thank you, Harm." His attention frightened her, but at the same time filled her with warmth and a strange joy. She couldn't bear the thought that he might walk away disappointed by the day. "This is wonderful." To her mortification, tears formed in her eyes. She wiped them away impatiently, but not before Harm had noticed. She saw him twitch, as if only an effort of will kept him from coming around the desk to comfort her despite the uniforms they wore.

"You're welcome," he said instead.

Mac smiled, but secretly she wished he would have done it anyway.



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