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Classification Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 29,000 words; 72 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Spoilers Post season 10 Christmas episode and “Automatic for the People”.
Rating AO for sexual situations
Summary The affects of one little thing done differently.
 

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

 

 

Chapter 1


Friday Night
Harm’s apt near Union Station

 


How did things go so wrong, again? They were getting along so well since the accident. Mac had apologized for pushing him away. They were spending more time together when they weren’t out of town on assignment. She even found Megan’s kiss an amusing story.

Harm hadn’t meant to push too far. He didn’t intend to insinuate anything had to happen. He just thought it would be a good idea for them to go away for the long weekend, spend some down time together. The next thing he knew they were arguing about... what were they arguing about? God, he didn’t even know that! All he knew is Mac ran out of his apartment at mach one and was half way down the street before he could catch up to her.

Slamming the phone down, this would be the tenth time he’d called her in just over an hour. She wasn’t answering her home or cell phone. Glancing at the phone he debated if it wasn’t time to go over and talk to her in person. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the best of ideas after four beers. He could certainly hold more than four beers, but drinking and driving was not something he took lightly.

Four hours and half a bottle of bourbon later, Mac still wasn’t answering her phone. Harm knew she must have really been furious with him. He’d spent all evening rehashing their nine years of friendship and trying to pinpoint the first place their relationship veered in the wrong direction.

He’d gone through all sorts of possibilities. His first mistake was probably sandbagging her in court all those years ago, although he’d never admit that’s what he’d done. Things would probably be in better shape if he hadn’t left to return to flying a couple of years later. That didn’t sit well with anyone. It only made coming back to JAG, and to her, much more challenging. Of course, letting Brumby follow her scent definitely hadn’t been the brightest move in the world. Why Harm had to add ‘except me’ when telling Mac ‘no man wants to be just friends with a woman who looks like you,’ was beyond even him. If he had just admitted then that he wanted to be more than friends with her, maybe things could have been different. He just didn’t want to lose the friendship in order to have her. Was that so terribly wrong?

No, he had to admit, of all the screw ups, big and small, from not being one hundred percent honest on the admiral’s porch that chilly May night, not confiding in her about Singer’s baby, to not telling her how he felt about her in Paraguay, the nail in the proverbial coffin was definitely the ferry ride in Sydney. If one event could have drastically changed their lives, that was it.

Wobbling his way into his bedroom, he agreed to himself, if she didn’t answer his calls in the morning, he would park himself on her doorstep until she talked to him.

Falling into bed fully clothed, in a fitful state of sleep, Harm’s head started spinning with visions of that fateful night.
 


February 2000
 


“Harmon Rabb you’re a prude!” Mac almost grinned.

“I am not! Look, I don’t care if you want to go topless.” Harm tried to cover how much it really bothered him.

“You do if it’s in front of Mic.” Mac didn’t think this was the right time to point out she hadn’t actually been topless earlier that day.

“You work with the guy, Mac! You wouldn’t go topless in front of me would you?” Harm’s palms were starting to sweat. This conversation couldn’t go anywhere good.

“Is that a request?” Mac moved in closer to Harm.

“You know, they wrote eternity on this bridge in lights on New Year’s Eve.” Harm looked up at the bridge they were passing under. Anything was easier than looking at her dark eyes and soft bare shoulders.

“Is that how long we’re going to wait?” Mac’s eyes were burning a hole to his soul.

“Mac,” Harm didn’t want to do this, not here, not now.

“We’re not in Washington. We’re not even on the same continent.” If she couldn’t make Harm see her now, she never would.

“Mac, this has nothing to do with what continent we’re on and you know it.” Harm’s voice came out in barely a whisper.

“Then what’s it all about?” Mac was practically pressing herself against him.

Harm took a deep breath, he couldn’t bare the thought of losing Mac’s friendship, of losing her.

“What happens when we go back to Washington?” Harm’s eyes hadn’t left hers.

“What do you want to happen?” Mac moved her hand to rest on Harm’s, her fingers slowly caressing the top of his hand.

“I don’t ever want to lose you.” Harm wasn’t sure he was breathing.

“I promise you, no matter what happens, you won’t lose me.” Mac’s heart skipped a beat, maybe they were finally going to get this right.

“Even if I do this?” In an instant Harm’s lips were devouring hers. His arms reached around pulling her tightly against him. Within minutes his body was reacting to her soft curves, molding perfectly to him. He shouldn’t have done that. Tentatively, his lips released hers, his hands dropped to his sides, and he gradually leaned back against the railing.

“Especially if you do that.” Mac let out a short sigh. “Don’t you understand, I’ve wanted this for a long time.” Mac didn’t understand why he’d pulled away from her, why he stopped.

“I can’t do this. I want more than one night with you, more than a few days. If we do this, Mac, I won’t be able to let you go again. I can’t go back to just being friends.” Harm’s mouth felt full of cotton.

“You still don’t get it. I’m not offering you a one night stand. I’m asking for eternity.”

Before she knew what happened, Harm had scooped her into his arms and was kissing her as though they were the only two people on the ferry. The soft flimsy fabric of her blouse shifted teasingly under the motion of his heavy hand. Her fingers tangled with the hair on his head while her other hand slipped under his jacket.

Every nerve inside him was suddenly alive, but somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he had to stay on a short leash. He couldn’t very well make love to her on the deck of a public ferry, at least he didn’t think he should, not if they still wanted careers when they got home. Careers! That sobered him quickly, once again he pulled his lips away from hers.

“We better slow down before someone starts selling tickets.” Harm tried to smile. “Besides, I believe I owe you dinner.”

As if on cue, Mac’s stomach began to growl. “I suppose I’m hungry for dinner too.”

At Luna Park they ate hot dogs and discussed the murder case he was working. With his arms around Mac, Harm leaned over and kissed her before reenacting the struggle. At every opportunity he lightly kissed her cheek, her lips, her shoulder, and any other body part close enough to nibble.

“You realize there’s no way the struggle happened this way,” Mac chuckled.

“Well, maybe there wasn’t any kissing but there also wasn’t anything to trip over.” Harm stole another kiss.

“It couldn’t possibly have happened the way Lee said it did. Dunsworth should have fallen into the harbor, not on the deck. Your client is a liar.” Mac stepped away to look in the water. This case was becoming more and more complex.

Standing at her hotel room door only a few short hours later, Harm was suddenly at a loss for words. They’d walked around the park holding hands, discussing the case. They’d ridden the ferry back and taken a stroll along the hotel grounds. Somehow despite the brief foray into the future, neither had mentioned the previous conversation again that evening. Now he stood at her door unsure of what to expect, of what she wanted.

Her door now open, “Would you like to come in?” Mac asked, her voice unusually timid.

“I’m not sure I should. We just went from colleagues to eternity in less than three hours. Maybe we’d better take this a little more slowly.” Harm knew this was probably best, even though every fiber of his being wanted to drag her off to bed and show her exactly how he felt.

Mac’s eyes dropped to the floor as she searched for courage. “You’re probably right, but still, I think...” this time she closed her eyes. “I think I’d like you to stay.” Mac kept her eyes shut and her fingers crossed, until she felt his finger hook under her chin and lift it up closer to him.

“Are you sure?” Harm didn’t want to screw this up.

“Yes, maybe... yes. I think.” Who was she kidding, standing this close to Harm with his eyes reading into her very soul, how could anyone possibly be expected to think clearly?

“You don’t sound very sure to me.” Harm’s mouth was full of cotton again. He wanted very much to stay, but he wanted very much more to do this right.

“I’m sure I don’t want you to leave. I don’t want to wake up and find this entire night has been a dream.”

Harm leaned over and kissed her forehead. “It’s not a dream. If I came in and just held you in my arms, would that be enough?” He hoped he could do that.

“Thank you.”

Harm followed Mac into the room, her hand firmly entrenched in his. Without letting go of her, he toed off his shoes and reached for the remote control. Watching her kick off her shoes and sit down on the bed, without even removing his jacket, Harm crawled onto the bed beside her. Turning on the TV, he shifted his weight pulling her against his chest and into his arms.

Kissing the top of her head, “Good night, Sarah.”

“Good night.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Harm was holding onto his pillow for dear life. He never wanted to let Mac go, he wanted to hold her forever. This is how his life should have been. His nights should be shared with the one true love of his life.

As he pulled the pillow tighter against him, he was overwhelmed with the feeling he wasn’t alone, the feeling he was being watched. Not wanting to awaken from the warm place he’d been slumbering, he snuggled into the pillow, trying to go back to his dream of Sydney and holding Mac in his arms, the way it should have been.

Unable to shake the feeling someone was with him, he grudgingly opened one eye, then both eyes sprang open as he shot up in bed. Blinking tightly, Harm took in the sight before him. Surely he was still dreaming. Two little boys in matching Boston Red Sox pajamas were standing on either side of a large, panting, golden retriever.

Rubbing his eyes, Harm tried to wipe away the last fog of his dreams. A loud bark snapped his eyes open again, at the same time he felt several sticky fingers come to rest on his thighs.

“We fixed our own breakfast.” The shorter blonde haired little boy announced proudly, still leaning on Harm. From the look of the two children, they were wearing more than they ate.

Startled by the golden retriever nudging the boy out of the way and licking, what smelled like marshmallow from his legs, Harm struggled to find his voice.

“Good morning.” He had absolutely no idea who these children were, and looking around, he had no idea where he was, either. He knew he’d had too much to drink last night, but he didn’t remember going out anywhere, did he? He had fallen asleep at home alone, hadn’t he? His mind was racing faster than he could process the answers.

Looking down at the bright-eyed children watching him intently, Harm took a deep calming breath. He was long past the age of meeting a woman in a bar, flashing his gold wings and going home with her. Surely, he hadn’t done that last night?

Well, looking around him, he obviously couldn’t deny he’d done something last night, whether he remembered it or not.

“Where’s your mommy?” Harm asked, shooing the dog away.

The two boys looked at each other a minute before the dark haired one answered, “Fornia.”

“Fornia?” Harm repeated. The dog was back again licking what little remnant of marshmallow sauce was left on Harm’s legs.

With a grin as broad as his face, the little boy smiled proudly, “You know, Fornia.” Both boys nodded in affirmation.

“I see.” He didn’t really, but he couldn’t very well ask anything else until he figured out what or where Fornia was? Maybe, if he knew that, he could figure out who mommy was and what he was doing here.

Looking around the room, Harm decided the first thing he should probably do was find his pants. After all, the dog had already washed his thighs for him.

It was actually a very nice room, painted in a light sandy color and trimmed in white. Several beautiful paintings were strategically hanging around the room. An oriental rug lay in front of the fireplace by a couple of overstuffed pale green chintz chairs. Now why did he know that was chintz?

Shaking his head, and ignoring the pounding headache he suddenly became aware of, he continued his scan of the room in search for his clothes. At least he was wearing his t-shirt and boxers. He’d have hated being caught naked by someone else’s children. Ah ha! Pay dirt. On the opposite side of the bed, there was a Victorian chair in the corner of the room. His clothes were neatly draped along the back. His brows curled into a curious frown, for a night of drunken debauchery, he certainly had been awfully neat about caring for his clothes.

Walking around the bed towards the chair, he was suddenly struck by how quiet and well behaved the children were. The two boys were still standing in the same spot. If he remembered anything about AJ Roberts at that size, it was that standing still was not something he did often. The dog had followed him, tail wagging, over to the chair and sat at his side as Harm quickly put on his pants. He considered looking for his shoes, but discarded that idea. He’d better not waste anymore time. He needed to start looking for ‘mommy’.

“Did you get enough to eat?” Harm asked, his eyes still scanning for some sign of who this bedroom belonged to.

“Uh huh,” the two small voices echoed.

His eyes stumbled across a large 8 x 10 frame on one of the dressers. It was a recent photograph of the dark haired boy. His smile was somehow familiar. Then, as if on cue, just as Harm’s eyes fell to the smaller figure in the young boy’s lap, a loud wail filled the room.

“Soosee’s up,” the dark haired boy grinned.

Something about the young boy’s smile was very unsettling and yet disarming at the same time. Another wail pierced the room, forcing Harm into action.

“Susie?” Harm asked of the two boys.

They nodded in agreement.

“We’d better go get her.” It was almost more of a question than a statement. Silently, his mind kept screaming, where the hell is Fornia?

Briefly he wondered if maybe he should call Mac and beg for help. Mac! Oh heavens, that’s how all this started. Looking at his watch, it was almost 0700, he had to find a minute to call Mac, and soon.

Following the two boys, he ended up in a pretty room at the end of the hall. The room had obviously been decorated with loving detail. The walls were a pale yellow with Winnie the Pooh scenes painted on two sides of the room. The crib had pretty pink and peach linens and a very sad little girl whose arms shot out at Harm as soon as he came through the door. Well, at least it didn’t look like he was going to have to worry about scaring her half to death.

Picking the toddler up as though he were lifting a sack of potatoes, Harm glanced around the room. There probably wasn’t much hope of her mother appearing anytime soon, and something told him he just inherited diaper duty. To his relief, the dark haired boy came running up to him with a disposable diaper. Spotting the changing table where the boy had pulled the diaper from, Harm carefully deposited the child on the padded top and began struggling to remove her sleeping attire.

He really needed to find her mother. How could any woman who put this much love into a nice home, leave her three children alone with a total stranger? Something just wasn’t making sense.

Finally free of the one piece footed pajama, Harm slowly peeled off the diaper, very relieved to find it wet, but unsoiled. He’d watched Harriet and Mac change enough of AJ's diapers to know he was supposed to wash her bottom. Harriet had a white tub with a pink top she used. The oversized yellow tub must have been the brand this woman preferred. Pulling the top open, Harm retrieved a few wipes to clean the now quiet baby. Holding the wipe in his hand and steadying the child with the other, Harm froze. Somehow he felt almost indecent. It just didn’t seem right to be cleaning a strange little girl’s bottom. Glancing at the boys, he realized they were somewhat dismayed by his behavior, although still silent. Taking a deep breath, he barely wiped her and then struggled with the diaper.

Why didn’t it look so hard when Mac did this? Obviously, he’d taped one side too tight as the diaper barely covered the child’s right leg. Undoing the tape tabs, Harm recalculated the position of the diaper in an attempt to create a better balance and pressed the tabs closed again. This was definitely going to be a long day.

Struggling a little less than before, Harm attempted to put the pajama back on the little girl. Every time he went to put her foot in the pajama leg, she’d kick him lightly and giggled. Finally he caught on – this was some kind of ritual game for her. Maybe he’d be better off finding something else for her to wear. No, better stick to the pjs, he decided. Finally getting one foot in, he couldn’t resist the satisfied smile that crossed his face. As soon as the little girl saw him smile, she clapped her hands, laughing gleefully. Apparently, him smiling back was another part of the ritual. Once he’d caught onto the game plan, dressing her went more quickly.

Lifting Susie off the table, Harm was surprised at how tightly the little girl wrapped her arms around his neck. It had startled him at first, but in only a few seconds he was filled with an unexpected warmth. Without giving it any thought, he leaned down and kissed the top of her head, then smiled to himself when she snuggled her head against his shoulder.

By now the boys had lost patience with his less than skillful attempt at a morning routine and had gone off to do their own thing. Feeling the need for some caffeine, Harm ventured out on his own in search of the boys and breakfast, after all, how hard could it be to locate two little boys and a large dog? Harm just hoped wherever they were, it didn’t involve more marshmallow or burning the house down.

 

Chapter 2

 

Finding the kitchen was fairly easy. Harm just followed the dog, who had been patiently waiting for him outside the bedroom doorway. From where he was standing by the counter, he could see out the window at the two boys playing on the jungle gym in the yard. He suspected allowing them to play in their pajamas probably wouldn’t make their mother very happy, but then again, how particular could she be? At least they’d put on their jackets.

“I don’t suppose you want to tell me what you eat for breakfast?” Harm asked the little girl. “I didn’t think so,” he answered himself when she stared back at him blankly. “I know, I need some coffee, so what do you say we put you in the high chair while I figure out what to do next?”

Opening all the cabinets, Harm ignored the battle zone left behind by the boys’ attempt at breakfast, and managed to get everything together for a decent cup of coffee. Next step – what to eat? He considered calling Harriet and asking if eggs would be okay for a little girl in diapers, but somehow he wasn’t up to explaining why he was in a strange house, who knows where, alone with someone else’s children.

“Well, young lady, I can’t see that scrambled eggs will do you any harm. I think we’ll make some for everyone.”

When breakfast was all ready, Harm called out the back door, “Boys, I’ve made breakfast. Come and get it!”

“We had breakfast already,” the blonde haired boy called back.

“Well, I’ve made more. Come back inside.” Harm started to turn into the house, and then decided, maybe it was better if he waited for them by the door.

“Wipe your feet before you come in.” Gees, he sounded like his mother! “And wash your hands too.” In for a penny, in for a pound, he thought. His mother would be so proud of him.

“Do we have to eat again? David made us both breakfast,” the dark haired boy said.

Ah, so one of them is named David, Harm thought.

“Mommy lets me get my own breakfast sometimes. But Daddy says I’m not supposed to use the marshmallow sauce.” David looked down at his feet.

Well, apparently there’s a daddy somewhere too.

“Do you have a picture of your mommy and daddy?” Harm asked. He hadn’t had time to go looking for family photos yet.

“At my house,” David answered.

“Your house?” Good grief, not only did this woman leave him alone with her children, she’d left him with someone else’s child. How in the name of God was he going to explain that? Visions of explaining he wasn’t a pedophile to the local police were suddenly flashing through his mind. At least that explains why only one boy was in the photo upstairs with Susie. It also explains, why two children were dark haired and one was blonde.

“Do you know when your mom or dad are coming to get you?” Harm hoped the boy could help him out.

“Not till Aunt Sarah comes back. I’m supposed to help you with Matt,” the boy announced proudly.

Well, at least now Harm had a name for the other little boy, Matt, and he guessed Aunt Sarah would be Matt and Susie’s mom.

“How come you didn’t put Susie’s juice in a sippy cup?” the dark haired boy asked, pointing at his sister.

“In a what?” Harm looked over at the little girl just as she poured most of her juice down her front.

“Sippy cup. She doesn’t use big boy cups yet.” The little boy proudly held up his own juice glass.

Scrambling to his feet, Harm leapt to prevent what little juice was left in the glass from spilling further. Grabbing the nearest rag, he began wiping down what was now a teary eyed child with a quivering lower lip. If memory served him correctly, that lip meant she was most likely going to erupt any moment into ear-piercing sobs.

His memory was perfect. The two boys chuckled loudly in their seats. The dog, being ever helpful, jumped up on the high chair and began licking up the juice.

“What are you anyway, the designated garbage disposal?” Harm flustered a little more loudly than he’d intended.

“No! That’s Ginger,” Matt announced, as though it was something Harm should have known.

“Yes, Ginger.” Harm smiled back at the boy somewhat insincerely.

Harm didn’t notice the boys veer off into the mother’s bedroom while he headed into the nursery to clean up the baby. Searching for appropriate attire, he wondered how old she was. When he put her down, she remained standing and followed him around the room as he gathered clean clothes. Okay, she wasn’t extremely steady on her feet, but she seemed to have a firm grasp of the concept.

Successfully removing the soaked pajama, a task considerably easier when he remembered the earlier routine, Harm carried the now neat and clean toddler around the room, searching in earnest for some more information on this family.

He found several photos on her dresser of Susie as an infant, and some with her brother Matt. There was a lovely embroidered blanket he hadn’t noticed before, hanging on the wall with her name: Susan Patricia, her date of birth: November 17, 2003, her weight and size: 8lbs 1oz and 19 inches long. Nowhere was there mention, or photographs, of her parents.

Harm had tried to put the baby down to search the home in earnest for clues, but Susie would have none of it. Carrying her down the hall, he stepped into what must be Matt’s room. The first thing Harm spotted, similar to Susie’s room, was an embroidered blanket with his name and birth date: Mathew Harmon, March 15, 2001.

Wow, Mathew Harmon. It wasn’t often he ran into someone with the same name as him. At least Mathew left less room for teasing. Just like his sister’s room, the only photographs were of Matt as an infant, and a few with his new sister.

The only other rooms upstairs were a beautiful guestroom done in blue and peach, a hall bath shared by the children, and of course, the bedroom he’d woken up in.

Returning downstairs, Harm came to a screeching halt when he discovered the quilt that had been neatly in the master bedroom upstairs, was now draped across the kitchen table, over several chairs, some Rice Krispies, what was left of the juice glasses, and of course, eggs and toast.

Now, Susie squirmed happily, anxious to climb out of Harm’s arms. In only a few seconds she had scurried under the not so clean blanket and taken her place in the fort beside her brother and David.

Harm stood horrified, his head beginning to throb again. This was chaotic hell. How could two such innocent looking kids create such bedlam in only a few short minutes? Seeing no other options, he let them play happily while he cleaned the rest of the kitchen. If Mommy Dearest didn’t make her appearance by the time he was done, Harm was calling social services. They were cute children, but he had his own problems to deal with.

When he finally got out of this mess, he was going to have to remind himself never to mix beer and bourbon again.

Listening to the children having fun under the table while he wiped the countertops, Harm didn’t know what to do. They seemed like such nice kids. How could he turn them over to the social services system? His mind drifted back to the horrors of poor Annie and Darlyn. Of course, nothing as unseemly as that was guaranteed to happen to these kids, but still, the social services system was overloaded and he knew it.

No, tossing the dishrag across the counter, Harm went off through the rest of the house in search of names and information. Surely this Sarah had some bills with her name on it, a phone book with family, friends etc. Phone book?

“David, do you know your phone number?” Harm paused by the kitchen table.

“I’m only three.” Came his almost apologetic voice.

“Wow, that’s a big boy! I didn’t realize you were so old. Can you help Matt take care of Susie for me?” Harm hadn’t meant to upset the young boy.

“Sure!”

The family room was absolutely perfect. Large leather sofas, lots of bright colored cushions, sheer curtains under heavy winter drapes. The room was friendly and inviting, comfortable and sturdy, the perfect mix of masculine and feminine. None of it made sense. This wasn’t the home of a person who would just abandon her children to anyone.

Walking up to the mantle, Harm found himself frozen for the umpteenth time this morning. Aunt Sarah looked just like his Sarah. Taking a deep breath, he slowly reached out to pick up the photo of the smiling woman surrounded by her two children dumping fall leaves over her head. Who would have thought there could be three women in this world who looked so much alike? When he’d first met Mac, he had been more than speechless at her resemblance to Diane. Now, this Sarah, not only did she look like Diane, she had the same name as Mac. His Mac, his Sarah.

Maybe that would explain why his drunken alter ego had allowed himself to go home with a perfect stranger?

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

She looked so beautiful laughing with her children. This was what he had wanted for his life, his Sarah. Damn Sydney! Harm was still staring intently at the photo in his hand when the sound of the doorbell caught his attention.

Great, just what he needed, company. Harm was running through a variety of possible explanations on his way to the door. Somehow, long lost Uncle was the only thing that sounded workable, even if it wasn’t very believable.

Putting on his flyboy, naval officer stance, Harm swung the door open hoping his grin didn’t scream pedophile.

“Morning, Commander, uhm, I mean Harm,” Harriet Roberts grinned sheepishly as she shuffled past Harm with three children in tow.

“Harriet!” Oh brother, how was he going to explain this … wait a minute. Harriet? What was she doing here? She’d never mentioned knowing anyone else who looked like Mac. She also doesn’t look very surprised to see him. Closing the door behind her, Harm took a deep breath, his brain feeling like scrambled eggs, and cautiously followed Harriet into the family room.

“Mac did tell you that you’re helping Bud with the kids today?” Harriet asked on her way to the other room.

Mac! His brain was screaming at him again. What had been the mild pounding of an ordinary hangover was quickly beginning to feel like someone was taking a jackhammer to his head.

“Bud should be here any minute. I should be back by five o’clock, maybe. It’s too bad Mac had to go to California, she was looking forward to today too,” Harriet rambled as she began taking off the children’s coats.

Fornia is California. Okay, one mystery solved. Unconsciously rubbing one temple, all Harm had to do now was figure out everything else.

“Can we go play with David and Matt?” Five year old AJ asked practically bouncing in his pants.

“Me too!” Four year old Sarah added.

“Oh, mom! Does she have to? She’s a girl,” AJ whined.

“You know the rules. You all play nicely or you don’t play at all,” Harriet admonished working on extricating young Jimmy from his winter garb.

“Where are the boys? Mac said that David would be ‘helping’ while she was away,” Harriet chuckled, still struggling with a squirming Jimmy. Mac had a way of making every little boy feel very important.

“In the kitchen. Under the fort.” Harm pointed aimlessly in the right direction.

“Okay guys, you heard, everyone is in the kitchen, and be careful with Susie.” Harriet tapped Jimmy lightly on the bottom then gathered all the coats, hats, and scarves and piled them neatly on the sofa, still talking a mile a minute.

“Guess while the cat’s away, the rats will play. I can’t believe you’re letting them do that. Mac always blows a gasket when they take her good bedspread. You didn’t let them take the good spread did you?” Harriet stopped suddenly at the blanched look on Harm’s face.

“Are you okay? Do you not feel well? Maybe I should take the kids back to my house.”

Staring wide-eyed at the pretty little blonde girl trying to keep up with AJ, “Is that...Sarah?” Harm stuttered.

Harriet turned, her eyes following Sarah as she ran into the kitchen and then looked back at a pale Harm. “Yes. Maybe you should sit down, Commander.”

“I think I will, Harriet.” Harm walked over to the large sofa and flopped down heavily. His eyes flew open once again at the picture frame resting on the end table. On one side of the frame was his and Mac’s wedding photo, the two of them coming out of the chapel under the arch of swords. The other side of the frame held the invitation, May 20, 2000. They were married almost five years ago. Good God, he must be dreaming.

That’s it! This was all a dream. He hadn’t woken up yet. This was what his life would be like if he hadn’t screwed up royally in Sydney. A wave of contentment washed over him. Maybe his life hadn’t turned out this well, but he was going to enjoy the dream while it lasted.

“I’m sorry, Harriet. I didn’t get much sleep last night, but I’m okay. It will be fun spending the day with Bud and all the kids. You go off and have a good time. By the way, where are you going?”

“Today is our five hour lunch day.” Harriet took in the blank expression on Harm’s face. “You know, when some of us gals who used to work at JAG get together for lunch and probably dinner too, and laugh, and tell stories about all the stunts you men pulled.” Harriet was still a little worried about Harm. She, Mac, Jen, and a few other women got together almost once a month. How could Harm not remember?

Recognizing the concerned look in Harriet’s eyes, “Oh, was that this weekend? Don’t know how I could have forgotten.” Harm came back quickly, grinning widely when he saw the wave of relief wash over Harriet. “Why don’t you run along? I can handle the kids alone till Bud gets here.” Yeah, right. Six kids. Who was he kidding?

“Are you sure?” Harriet felt a little better but still...

“I’m sure, Harriet. You said yourself, Bud will be here any minute.”

“Yeah, he just stopped to rent a couple of movies and pick up some popcorn.” Harriet reached for her handbag.

“Okay, then, you go have a nice time and don’t worry about the kids.” Harm practically pushed Harriet out the front door. He was anxious to get back inside and start looking for more traces of history to fill in the blanks his dream didn’t seem to have seen fit to supply.

Returning eagerly to the family room, Harm started his search for information. Somewhere there had to be family photo albums that would fill him in on what he was missing.

Harm looked around the room again. Noticing some built in cabinets, he took three large strides, and opened the doors. It took several tries, but finally, the third set of doors hid the treasure he was seeking.

The first album he pulled out held the photos of Mathew’s birth. Harm was overwhelmed with a sense of pride and pain. How he wished this dream would allow him the memory of that. He tried to imagine his hand resting on his wife’s large tummy while their son squirmed inside, eager to be born. Turning slowly through the pages, he smiled at a photo of Mac on the easy chair in the family room, nursing the tiny baby. She looked positively radiant.

How could he have been so stupid? All they had missed because of one mistake in judgment, one moment of fear. How many other times could he have chosen differently and still salvaged some of this wonderful dream?

Harm’s smile grew wide with pride when he came to the photo of his grandmother Sarah holding Mathew. According to the detailed descriptions Mac had carefully placed throughout the album, it was taken the day of his christening. Flipping the page, there was a large photograph of the four generations of the Rabb family: Gramma Sarah, Trish, Harm, Sergei, and Mathew.

Closing the book, Harm wondered what was keeping Bud and decided maybe he should go check on the children. Turning towards the fireplace, his heart stopped when his eyes focused on the rest of the photographs on the mantle. He’d been so overwhelmed by the photo of Mac and the children, he hadn’t paid any attention to the other photos displayed.

Oh, dear God. No. It couldn’t be. This wouldn’t be a dream, it would be a nightmare. Harm took one frame in particular from the mantle and walked to the kitchen, where the kids were happily running around and under the table, occasionally taking a brief detour around the island and then running back again.

David was a good looking boy. Harm could see it now. He had the same unsettling smile that Matt had. Of course, they were cousins. Counting with his fingers, it didn’t add up. Something was different. Harm couldn’t help the deep sigh that escaped. If it meant having a chance to be with Mac, it probably wasn’t too steep a price to pay, that is, assuming Mac comes home before he wakes up.

Going back to the family room, Harm put the photo in its proper place and picked up another photo of him and Sergei. They were laughing, each carrying a young boy on their shoulders. He wished he could remember this world. There was another photo of Harm, Sergei and Trish laughing on the beach. It looked like it was taken near her home in La Jolla. Apparently, in his dream world, Sergei had never left for Russia. He had stayed and developed a close family relationship.

Then, Harm spotted it. There it sat, more evidence staring him in the face. Sergei’s wedding picture. Well, maybe in this world Lieutenant Witch wasn’t so bad.” Harm snickered. “Who was he kidding? Lauren Singer had to be a bitch in any world, dream or real.

 

Chapter 3

 

The sound of crashing thunder snapped Harm back to his current reality. Rushing to the kitchen, the blanket, along with what few dishes atop the table had been hidden underneath it, now lay scattered and broken on the floor.

“Nobody move,” Harm ordered. Scooping Susie and Jimmy up in each arm, “The rest of you, to the other room. March, carefully. Don’t go near the mess on the floor.”

“Don’t worry Uncle Harm, I’ll help,” little Sarah beamed. She looked just like her mother with golden locks, only she had a large red bow holding the hair off her face.

Harm couldn’t help the huge grin that spread across his face. She was beautiful, not only her face, all of her was beautiful.

“How old are you now?” he asked following the troops out of the kitchen.

“I’m four. Mommy says I’m a big girl. She doesn’t know what she’d do without me.” Waving her arms, guiding the boys into the family room, Sarah smiled up at Harm. “You can clean up, we’ll stay here.”

Ah, yes, a little Harriet in the making. Debating what to do with the two toddlers, Harm was saved by the doorbell. For just a few minutes, he’d forgotten Bud was coming.

Putting Susie down to open the door, Harm grinned widely at Bud, “Perfect timing.” Without further explanation, Harm dropped Jimmy into Bud’s arm, and grabbed the movies and popcorn and set them down on a nearby table.

“You’d better keep an eye on her too. I have a bit of a mess to clean up.” Harm pointed at Susie and headed for the kitchen, for whatever reason, he was delighted to have to pick up any mess made by HIS children.

“Yes, sir,” Bud replied out of habit. “Do you want me to dress them too?” Bud wasn’t sure why the Rabb kids were still in their pajamas at almost ten o’clock in the morning, but maybe Mac’s being away this time was more difficult for Harm than anyone had realized.

“Thanks, Bud. That would be a great help.” Damn it, he’d forgotten all about getting the kids dressed. If he was going to pull this day off, he was going to have to stop thinking like a sailor and start thinking like a father. Easier said than done. Thank God it was Saturday, he didn’t think he could handle work and the children. Where were those aspirin?

Now, he needed a broom. Nothing in the kitchen looked like a broom closet. Where would Mac, keep a broom and dustpan? Harm grabbed the blanket and searched for the basement door. Maybe he’d find the broom on his way to the washer downstairs, “that is if the washer is in the basement”, he mumbled out loud. Before he could move in any direction, the phone rang.

“Rabb,” Harm barked into the phone.

“One of those mornings, huh?”

“Mac!” Harm’s face lit up.

“Expecting someone else to call?” she teased.

“You sound great,” Harm practically hummed.

“You sound pretty good yourself, sailor.” Mac took a sip of her coffee.

“When are you coming home?” ‘If there’s a God, please let it be before I wake up,’ Harm prayed.

“Don’t know yet. If all goes well, we might wrap this up today.” Mac hated being away from the house. The whole reason she took the job with the Secretary of Defense was because of the limited need to travel. If the accident hadn’t involved so many dignitaries, she’d still be home with her family.

“I miss you.” It was a risk, but if they were married, surely he told her things like this all the time.

“I miss you too.” Mac’s heart swelled. They’d been married almost five years and it still felt like it was only yesterday.

“Hurry, home,” Harm sighed heavily into the phone.

“Is this going to be one of those phone calls?” Mac’s voice dropped a few octaves.

“I wish. Bud and the kids are here.” The last thing he needed now was to dwell on the things her voice did to him.

“How’s that going?” Mac’s voice was still sultry and low.

“Fiiine,” Harm squeaked out. Clearing his throat. “By the way, where’s the broom?”

“The broom?” Mac’s voice was back to normal.

“Yes the broom.” Hopefully she wouldn’t think he was completely nuts.

“It’s in the same place it always is, the hall closet by the back door.” Mac’s brow was curled deep in confusion. How could he not remember where they keep the broom? “Harm, is something wrong?”

“No, I just love you and want you home by my side, that’s all.” He’d always wanted to say that to her without fear of repercussions.

Mac still got goose bumps when he said things like that. She immediately forgot all about the broom. “I’ve got to be in the lobby in ten minutes. Tell the kids I love them. I’ll let you know when I’m coming home. Love you.” Softly, she blew a kiss into the phone.

“Love you too.” Harm continued holding the phone long after Mac had hung up.

Harm found the broom, and had cleared up the broken and spilled mess on the floor by the time Bud was back downstairs with the children.

When Bud announced the plan was to go to McDonald’s for lunch and wear the kids out, Harm was totally shocked. He literally cringed at the thought that the fatherly Harmon Rabb actually took his children to McDonald’s.

Slowly the concept of keeping small children moving in a confined safe place was beginning to sink in. Harm soon understood had they gone to a local park, it would have been too easy for any of the six children to sprint off in a different direction while he was catching David on the slide, pushing Matt on the swing, or changing Susie’s diaper.

Of course, this realization was brought to light when Bud ‘reminded’ him of just those same events happening on their monthly outings before they discovered the sanctity of McDonald’s.

“I had no idea how I was going to tell Harriet, I’d lost Jimmy.” Bud had a truly pained look on his face recounting the first time they’d lost one of the kids. “I was never so happy as when that lady came walking up to us carrying Jimmy on her hip, asking if we knew the little boy. I mean, well, maybe I wasn’t so happy when she said she thought he might belong to us, being dads out alone and all. What do you think she meant by that, sir?”

After having listened to Bud tell several stories about how both of them had, at least momentarily, lost every one of their children except Susie, Harm wondered how could Bud possibly ask such a thing?

“Has Harriet ever mentioned misplacing one of the children?” Harm asked calmly.

“Mm, I see what you mean.” Bud took a bite of his apple pie, then glanced up into the crawling tubes. “Do you see the boys?”

“No, but I’m sure Sarah’s keeping them in line,” Harm chuckled to himself. If there was one thing he was sure of after today, Sarah was another over achiever like her mother. He was so happy she survived in this world. Even if it was a dream, he felt he really knew Sarah Roberts now.

Harm took another bite of his salad and wished he’d brought a camera. Jimmy was a few months older than Susie and a little bigger, but the two toddlers played together happily. Watching them buried and laughing in the small cage of colored balls was the most priceless thing he’d ever seen. A pang of guilt swept through him. How many other priceless moments had he thrown away that night in Sydney without knowing? He wished he never had to wake up. This was about so much more than just wanting to be with Mac.

While Bud rambled on about the General’s reaction to his decoding the car salesman’s black book, Harm watched the children intently. David looked much like his mother, but he had the Rabb smile that he and Sergei shared. Mathew was ordered straight from the deal on the steps at headquarters, Sarah’s looks and his brains. Well, at least he looked like Mac, except for the green eyes. Both children had inherited his green eyes. Matt had his mother’s slightly darker complexion and rounded face. His eyes were wide as saucers like Mac’s. It was strange looking at her eyes in the wrong color, yet it was incredibly healing as well. He couldn’t remember a time in his life when he felt so full of peace.

Susie was adorable, if he did say so himself. She had fine curly light brown locks. He wasn’t sure where the curls came from. He’d have to ask Mac if she had curly hair as a child. She had the Rabb eyes, color, shape, and all. When she smiled the Rabb smile, her eyes twinkled and sent something inside Harm soaring higher than a tomcat. The best thing had to be when she wobbled over and said ‘Duh.’ It took a few times before Harm caught on, that was Daddy.

“Do you think I should be worried, I mean about the General?” Bud asked, oblivious to Harm’s wandering thoughts.

“Uh, no. He’s still getting a feel for everyone in the office and I think he’s just discovering what we’ve all known all along. You’re a man of many hidden talents.” Harm tried to nod assuringly at Bud.

There was one good thing about Bud’s willingness to carry on a monologue while Harm watched the children. He was easily able to discover that at least some things had not changed. Bud had still lost his leg in Afghanistan, both he and Bud still worked at HQ, and General Cresswell was the new JAG. Now if he could just get Bud to chat about a few other things…

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Harm sat across the bed, his back propped up against the wall, reading the children’s classic’s version of The Prince and the Pauper. Susie was snuggled sleepily in the crook of his arm, her head leaning against his chest as she watched him turning the pages. Mat and David were fighting heavy eyelids listening to Harm spin the tale.

He was thankful that somehow the children’s bedtime of eight o’clock had slipped into the conversation when Mac called to say she wouldn’t be home until tomorrow. David and Mat had made sure Dad remembered about continuing the story. He and Mac had apparently changed from picture books to children’s classics a few months ago, and Mat loved it. Even Susie didn’t mind not having any color pictures, she seemed perfectly content to lie in her dad’s arms and listen to his deep voice lull her to sleep.

Kissing the boys good night after they’d given up the good fight, Harm grudgingly kissed and tucked a sleeping Susie into her crib and closed the door behind him. A single tear made its way slowly down his cheek. His heart was breaking. Not only had he lost all these years with Mac, but because of their stubborn bullheadedness, and Mac’s endometriosis, having all this in his world might never be available.

Making himself comfortable in the family room, Harm sat surrounded by piles of photo albums. Before he woke up from this dream, he was going to know every inch of history he’d missed with Mac and his two children.

Somewhere in the middle of the night Harm had fallen asleep on the sofa looking at the photos from his and Mac’s honeymoon in St. Martin. He’d been dreaming of the sun, the beach, and Mac in his arms, when the sound of the doorbell dragged him forcibly from his wonderful dream world.

His eyes barely open, Harm stumbled across the room towards the door and pulled the heavy door open.

“Admiral!” Harm instinctively stood at attention. Any remnants of a sleepy haze vanished the instant the sound of pounding footsteps echoed behind him, followed by the loud cheering of small voices.

“Grandpa AJ!” David and Matt cried, bouncing around like Mexican jumping beans. Not wanting to be left out, Ginger barked and gave the admiral her paw. Hm, Harm hadn’t seen that trick yesterday.

“Good morning, sailors.” AJ bent over and hugged each kid. “Where’s your sister?” he asked Matt.

As if on cue, Susie made her voice heard, loudly.

“I’d better go get her,” Harm said without hesitating.

“I hope you don’t mind my coming early. I know you weren’t expecting me till dinnertime, but Sidney and I thought with Mac gone almost two weeks you could probably use the reprieve.” AJ followed Harm up the stairs as he spoke. “We thought I could take the kids to our house for breakfast and bring them back when we come for dinner.”

Sidney? Hm, now how did his and Mac getting married keep the Admiral and Sidney together?

“Well?” AJ asked a little sternly.

“Oh.” Harm hadn’t meant to ignore the admiral, he was just a little confused. First Sergei and Lauren, and now the admiral and Sidney. He really needed to find out what happened in this world. Obviously, if David was three, Sergei and Lauren got together long before Lauren’s stint on the Seahawk, if she ever had a stint on the Seahawk, and Sidney should have vanished from the scope years ago. “Sorry, sir.”

“Harm. I thought we broke you of that habit,” AJ scowled.

“Yes, sir. I mean, AJ,” Harm sighed in frustration, picking Susie up out of her crib. “If you don’t mind. I’d really like to keep the kids for the day, but if Sidney can spare you, I won’t complain if you want to stick around.” Harm tried for a casual smile, hoping he didn’t look too desperate. Apparently the admiral, or AJ, was a big part of their lives. Maybe he could fill in some of the holes.

“I’m sure she won’t mind,” AJ smiled. “You get her dressed, I’ll start KP duty.” A boy on either side of him, AJ took hold of each of their hands and left Harm with his daughter.

“Well, what do you think of that, young lady? Grandpa AJ.” Harm changed and dressed his little girl, “Grandpa…” he quietly chuckled, his head shaking in amusement the entire time.

AJ had pancakes mixed and cooking when Harm and Susie made their appearance downstairs.

“He doesn’t make the fun shapes like you do, Dad,” Matt fussed until he saw the reproving look in his father’s eye. “Do you think maybe you could teach Grandpa AJ how to do it?” The kid wasn’t quite four years old yet and he was already learning to master the Rabb smile.

Meanwhile, Harm’s heart was racing. Every time Matt said Dad, Harm’s heart took off as though he were doing nine Gs in a tomcat.

“Maybe,” Harm smiled, noticing the corners of AJ’s mouth fighting a smile of his own.

Breakfast went much more smoothly than the day before. Everything seemed to be going more smoothly than it had the day before. Harm stayed downstairs cleaning up the kitchen while AJ took charge of cleaning up and dressing the boys.

When Harm was done with the kitchen, he picked Susie up out of the high chair and returned to his spot on the sofa from the previous evening to continue perusing photographs. Every so often, he’d look down at his watch. He really had underestimated how much work went into parenting. He was going to have to remember to compliment moms more often when he woke up back in his world.

Looking at his watch once again and then towards the stairs, he contemplated if maybe he should go check and see if the admiral needed help. Susie had been playing happily in a corner of the room moving the contents of a large box filled with stuffed animals to one side of the box, and then lining them up by size again on the other side.

Thinking she should be okay for a few minutes, Harm quietly made his way up the stairs. The closer he got to the boy’s bedroom, the louder the giggles were becoming. When he reached the door, it took everything in him not to burst out laughing. The admiral was in the middle of a two sided pillow attack, rolling on the floor, laughing hilariously. No wonder the boys were so excited to see him this morning, a comrade in arms. Harm laughed to himself wondering how long it would be before AJ taught them all the ways to kill a man with their bare hands. He had to give the admiral some credit, at least the boys were dressed.

As he suspected, when Harm returned downstairs, he found Susie pretty much right where he’d left her, still playing with her stuffed animals.

The day went by too quickly. The ‘men’ had played a fun game of touch football in the back yard while Susie took her morning nap. After lunch and a little indoor playtime, all three kids took an afternoon nap, of course, neither AJ nor Harm would admit to snoozing during the ball game on TV. Having arrived a little earlier, Sidney had been tempted to find a recorder to tape the snoring serenade, but decided they looked so cute, she’d cut them some slack.

Making a little extra noise in the kitchen to help wake them up, Sidney placed the lasagna she’d brought into the fridge and joined the now awakened sailors in the family room.

“So, when is Mac coming home?” She asked, taking the empty spot on the sofa next to her husband.

“Originally, yesterday. When that didn’t pan out, she said she was going to try and catch a flight home tonight, but she hasn’t called yet, so I’m assuming it’s dragging on another day,” Harm shrugged.

“This is the first time she’s been away this long, isn’t it?” Sidney reached over and took AJ’s hand in hers.

“Uh…” Harm had absolutely no idea what to say. “It feels like it’s been forever,” he covered. If AJ hadn’t mentioned this morning that Mac had been gone two weeks, he wouldn’t even have known that much.

“Well, just be thankful that planes with foreign diplomats aren’t shot out of the sky every day,” AJ added.

“Mm, though, nothing surprises me anymore.” Harm’s mind was elsewhere, looking up the stairs, he was thinking it should be about time for the kids to be waking up.

“Accidents like this help remind us to be thankful for friends and family.” Sidney stood up and reached for the empty glass on the table. “Would anyone else like something to drink.”

“No, thanks, I’m thinking the kids are due to wake up. I’m going to go check on them.”

No sooner had Harm reached the top of the stairs then AJ noticed the lock turning on the front door. He could see the feminine frame outlined through the beveled glass. Quickly, he padded into the kitchen.

“Mac’s home,” he whispered. “I suspect she wanted to surprise Harm. I thought it might not be a bad idea to find something to do in here.” AJ stepped up behind Sidney at the sink and wrapped his arms around her.

“You’re such an old softy,” she smiled.

Meanwhile, Harm stood for a few minutes at the doorway of each child’s room to just watch them sleep. There really was something angelic about a sleeping child. Not wanting to neglect his company, Harm forced himself to return downstairs.

Dropping her bag to one side of the doorway, Mac slowly walked to the family room. She suspected from the overwhelming silence that father and children were undoubtedly napping. Though, she thought she’d seen both AJ and Sidney’s cars out front, she knew it was unlikely everyone would be napping.

Harm hadn’t even made it all the way down the stairs when he saw her back standing just inside the family room. In any world, he’d recognize the woman he loved from any angle. Rushing down the last few steps two at a time, Harm practically flew into the other room.

Swinging her around in a bone crushing hug, Harm kissed the top of her head, then slowly worked his way down her face until he captured her lips in a toe tingling kiss.

“God, I missed you,” Mac hissed softly when Harm finally stopped kissing her.

“You have no idea,” Harm whispered in her ear, unwilling to ever let go of her.

 

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
 
 
   

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