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1900hrs
12,000ft, 400nm SE of Norfolk

 

Harm put the conversation passed him, as he had put it past him when he’d left JAG. No, that’s not quite right, he thought. When you left JAG, you knew it was to take back something ripped from your soul years before. Before he could be whole again, before he could fully give himself to anyone in a relationship, he needed to mend the tears not just from childhood, but from that fateful night on the deck of a storm-tossed carrier. He needed to prove to himself, his peers and the ghosts of his father and grandfather that he really was an aviator.

And before you left, he thought, you made a promise. Five years.

Yeah, well, her needs differed to his. He wasn’t entirely sure why he’d backed off in Sydney, except that Mac was in vacation mode, looking for a little fun, and he wasn’t going to ruin something as important as their relationship on a fling. Yeah, it had been the Titanic. Except he’d hit an entirely unexpected iceberg, one that was destroying whatever it was they had.

He’d needed more time to get his head together. Good one, Rabb. And she’d obviously needed more than a fling. A good man and an engagement ring.

What in hell was wrong with him? Why was Mac, of all the women he had ever know, so damned important to him that he was terrified of losing her? So terrified, he’d stood idly by and let it happen. Ah, forget it. He might loath Brumby, but whatever it was the man gave Mac, it was making her happy. He himself couldn’t do that; therefore, he was not the right guy for her. Her look in the elevator had hurt, but once she was walking down that aisle, she’d forget all about it. And he’d be there, no reason to believe otherwise.

For the most part, Harm was damned thankful that his quals had been this weekend. He needed this time on the carrier to remind him what was really important to him. JAG, yeah, sure, but half of him still lived here, and nothing could ever take that away. It was like a drug. The smell of jet fuel and burning rubber, the scream of engines, the activity and camaraderie—even to an outsider like himself. The feel of the Tomcat in his hands. He missed it. Not enough to want to come back full time, but enough to feel it inject new life into him. Despite wrangling with Paddles, despite the fact that he was there only to prove himself to them, he thrived on the demands, because he knew he was good at this. Despite accusations from various girlfriends—including Jordan—he was not emotionally crippled. He felt. He hurt.

You’re a very interesting specimen, Commander. Does anyone ever get close?

Theresa’s words had struck home. Jordan had seen through him, but despite his claim to doing so, he’d never let her get too close, either, in case she saw how right she was. In fact, he’d never let the women that he dated get too close, because that part of his life was separate. It had to be. Annie knew that. Most Naval wives did.

Besides, Mac had always been there for him.

She’s good for you, she looks after you. Words that Mac had spoken about Jordan.

You both do, he’d replied.

Harm chuckled as he recalled the night she’d spent in his apartment, purportedly protecting him from Palmer, but in fact, needing his presence, needing comfort as much as she was giving it.

Ah, forget it. He had made his choices in life, and if he had not always gotten what he’d wanted, well, who ever did? He still got to ride fire inside one of the world’s finest fighting machines. He still got to fly, he still had the challenges of JAG, and he had friends, good friends. He and Mac would be okay once she was married, especially now he knew that he would be at the wedding on time.

And he could put that part of his life behind him and try to make a real go of it with Renée.

But such thoughts were only a subtext running through his mind as he watched the thunderheads. It would be a spectacular light show on the way home. Then things fell apart—fast. No thoughts for anything but the aircraft. Shit! He remembered listening to a dozen tapes of downed test pilots. Hearing them calling out, not in desperation, but in systematic detail, “I’ve tried A, I’ve tried B, I’ve tried C. And I’ve tried every known possible combination. Tell me what to do next?” as they augured into the ground.

In the seat behind him, Skates was doing that with him, trying every know combination, every sequence in the book, but this bird had serious issues about staying in the air. She wasn’t just sick, she was dead and Harm doubted that he could have nursed her home even without the thunderstorm. At least they’d had the time to run through everything, to know they weren’t screwing the pooch. The aging machine had failed them. Yet, he almost regretted the fact that they had time to consider the reality of punching out. Too much thinking about that could—

“Harm, I’m not a strong swimmer,” Skates finally broke past her professionalism to voice her fears.

“Just remember your survivor training. I’ll see you down there, Skates, you have my word on that!” He had also made a promise to another woman, a promise he was about to break. Mac would be even more pissed at him.

He waited for the shocking sensation to catapult him up into the storm, felt more than heard the canopy blow, the secondary explosive impact as Skates ejected. Seconds passed. Crap! Eject damn you! He could see glimpses of the waves, even from this height. This bird really was dead. He reached down and manually ejected himself, hoping there was sufficient height for the ‘chute to open.

A moment’s pain of shock and disorientation, slamming up, head smashed from side to side, lightning and cold, rain pounding him. But he reacted instantly. Short drop, almost too short—shroud lines entangled. Fuck! Once he hit, in these sea conditions the ‘chute would be like a drogue, dragging him under. Can’t orientate! Get the helmet off; get free of the damned thing! But the shock of impacting on the water had not been as bad as finding himself entangled.

Years of free diving in the Bahamas, and emergency training, kicked in. The taste of air. So sweet, despite the lashings of salt spray. But his leg, his knee wrenched agonizingly sideways, then pulled under before he could more than taste life. Cold. God it was cold! His ears and sinuses squeezing as the water pressure increased and the pain in his leg!

Dripping with water, his white blouse muddied and stained, Bud’s words captured their attention. “I’ve spent a lot of time this year tying to figure out why things happen the way they do—”

Cut the lines! Thank God he hadn’t dropped his knife. Harm felt the pressure change as he exploded through the surface of the ocean and inhaled life, crying aloud as he did—

“…yours, like any right union on this planet, was a matter of destiny.” Bud finished.

Mac tried to push the feelings aside as she raised her glass in a toast. Nerves, that’s all. Her wedding was tomorrow, and the practice ceremony was supposed to have settled her nerves! Yeah, okay, so why did Bud’s words about destiny sending a chill down her spine? Was it the courier bag that the Admiral had handed her just after he arrived? Whatever. It could wait. Her wedding was only hours away. She smiled and gently held Mic’s arm. This was her wedding, her time to get everything she had ever wanted.

Despite herself, she was still angry with Harm. Flying was his standard fallback position. Any excuse, but this one always worked so well. He had picked this weekend deliberately. Why? Because he wanted to punish her? He really had no idea how much his meant to her, how important it was to her to make this next step in her life.

She would not let him do this to her. This was her time and if he wanted to be an asshole, okay. Fine. And yet, as Bud spoke, Harm’s words struck home. Belittle his flying, then demand he give it up to watch her marry someone he barely tolerated? Fact is, he was right about losing her, and he knew it better than she had. Marriage wasn’t just about a ring, it was about giving up the single life—and that meant a large chunk of her life with him.

I don’t want to lose you.

He didn’t want to lose her, but not in that way, because in that way he wasn’t ready to have anyone, let alone lose them. So, why in hell had he kissed her? A momentary visceral need? A…carrot dangled? She shook her head in confusion. She had kissed him and after all, he was just a guy. Nice going, Sarah. What exactly was it that she wanted from Harmon Rabb? Was she trying to hard to cling to her life as a single woman? Was Mic right, was she just reluctant to put the past behind her and settle down to married life?

She couldn’t have it both ways. And she had made her decision. But it still troubled her, and her eyes kept returning to the courier bag, drawn like a moth to a flame. And why the hell do I feel so jittery?

It was just so damned cold! Harm tried to set his watch bezel. In these temperatures, four hours, tops, he figured. A countdown to what remained of his life. At least his leg would start to numb soon, but the freezing rain on his face just aggravated the bruises and gash he’d sustained from the ejection. And through it all, the constant fear for Skates. Jesus, they’d been through too much for him to let her down now! But the dark and cold. Constant battering of waves in his face. And she’d punched out at least sixty seconds before him. I’ll see you down there. He almost laughed at the arrogance of that statement. He was an ant on a heaving, angry, living mountain of icy cold. She could be a hundred feet or a hundred miles away, and he couldn’t do a damned thing to help her.

Another wave crashing over him. He could take that okay, take it indefinitely. Salt water in his face and a leg that shot white shafts of pain to the top of his skull every time he tried to use it…but jeez it would help if he could see the waves coming! Lightning. He rubbed the salt of the sea and blood from his eyes. The survival procedures sucked, damned near everything had gone wrong!

Skates! C’mon honey, you can do it. You’re stronger than you think, Skates.

How long? He tried to concentrate, work backwards. Half an hour was the best he could hope for. Half an hour to get used to the constant thrashing, the water he was gulping. Maybe if he counted the waves, it would give him an idea of their periodicity. Give him time to wipe his eyes, hope that lightning would illuminate the sky as he floated on the crest of a wave.

But the seas that night were erratic, as erratic as the damned storm.

Mac would have his balls.

“Would you like to add anything, Admiral?” Bud asked when Chegwidden walked back into the room. He’d been called away by the phone.

When Mac thought about it later, all that she’d heard of the Admiral’s reply, was, “Captain Ingles, Patrick Henry, bingo to Andrews,” and “went down at sea.”

Harm looked at his watch again, but the salt spray blurred his vision. He was shivering uncontrollably and getting tired, and the pain was taxing him, and he was trying to fight to keep his head out of the water. The first stages of hypothermia were setting in. Damned raft wasn’t helping, just hindered his ability to move and causing even more pain in his leg. He should know better. He should just sit back, stop trying to swim, conserve his energy, but if he could just let his leg lose in the water, it would support it. Instead, being in the raft just thrashed it around.

Thunder. Lights. Every sound was a chopper, every flash of light, a strobe imagined. The cloud base was getting lower. Shit. If he died out here, Mac would never forgive him. He’d ruin her wedding.

Time passed. Fight the waves…ah hell; let it go, stop confining me! The raft—abandoned. The cold becoming pain superseding the pain in his leg and head.

Pain. Cold.

Darkness
.

“Dammit! Stop fighting me!” he cried out. “I have to get you out of there!” He held him close as artillery fire exploded nearby. Fucking Germans. Six of them had ganged up on them, tearing their plane’s fabric-covered wings to shreds. They’d taken four out, two apiece, then the fifth had come out of the sun. He’d cut the bastard Hun’s tail plane to shreds, but then his gun had jammed. He’d got it going again, but the synch was all wrong and he’d blown his prop into shrapnel fragments that flew backwards, tearing half his cheek and one ear off. He’d hardly noticed in the bitter cold. Then he’d watched Murphy’s plane go down, oil and smoke erupting. He’d managed to half glide his own wrecked aircraft to land near where Murphy’s had cracked up, just avoiding the spotter balloons. He hadn’t realized until it was too late, that they had come down in the middle of the god-damdest biggest fucking battle of the whole fucking war!

He made it out in one piece—well, except that he could feel the wind whipping through his face and straight into his throat. He didn’t dare put his hand up to find what he already guessed, that half his face was missing. And his leg hurt like hell, but he couldn’t actually see anything wrong with it. All he could think of was getting to Murphy.

“C’mon buddy! You’re not gonna die on my. Jenny’d tear my heart out!”

Murphy cracked a smile, coughing on the blood. “She always had a soft spot for you, Jay. But that pretty boy face of yours isn’t looking too good about now.” The trickle of blood coming from his mouth had become a river.

Harm’s face began collapsing in tears. He was only eighteen and his best friend, the man that had taught him to fly, who in another lifetime he would come to know as AJ, was dying in his arms. He’d lost both of his sisters, woman in another time he would call Theresa and Diane, to the shocking horror of Swine Flu. While thousands had died in the trenches, tens of thousands had succumbed to a tiny killer back home. It wasn’t fair! None of it was fair!

Why God? Why must I live a hundred life times without her in it?

But the exploding shell had found its mark and sent him into oblivion…

…to wake with the soulful eyes of an angel watching over him. His face was on fire, his body frozen.

“Parlez-vous Français?”

He blinked through the pain and reached out to touch her face. “Mac,” he whispered. “I found you. I waited, God so many years I waited for you!”

“Anglaise?” she asked, frowning.

He blinked and took in her habit…and almost laughed in disbelief. A nun! A Belgian nun! Dear God, was this some sort of cosmic joke, to have come so far and—

Her head exploded in blood and gore, filling his mouth with salt, and his chest exploded in agony as the soldiers came and—

“Why would he be flying in this weather?” Renée cried.

AJ’s sympathetic eyes slid to Mac. “Harm was trying to get back in time for the ceremony.”

Mac felt the edges of her vision blur. Aren’t you going to wish me luck? But she drove the thoughts away as she stood and talked to the maitre d'. Moments later, he brought the telephone into the room, to be hooked up to the speaker ‘phone.

Words. Reassurances. Then Singer, “Now he has a better reason to come back. He has someone to come back to. ” Her eyes traveling to Renée.

Of course. For this is the way it was meant to be. Forever apart. Destiny. Snatching her bag, Mac escaped into a private room, and stood staring outside into the rain. A hundred miles away, Harm was out there, alone in an unforgiving ocean. Not even he could survive this. Hope might spring eternal for some, but she was too much of a realist. She knew how badly these operations could go even in the best of conditions. But tears would not come; for it seemed that destiny had once more played its cruel hand. Why? Why must it always end this way?

Her thoughts jumbled; then the white patch on the table caught her eyes. The courier envelope. Her hands moved before she could think. She tore it open and pulled out a note from McCabe attached to an enlarged photographic image of an old Daguerreotype. She took it over to the lamp…and her fingers clenched in disbelief.

No! It was not possible! A trick of the light as the lightning erupted around her.

But her fingers traced the face of Commander Alexander Mackenzie. The features, so sharp, rough contours and flat planes of the earliest photographic images. Take away the muttonchops and cut his hair and it could be… No! Then eyes had automatically sought his and her knees almost buckled in disbelief. A dream become reality.

The lightning flashed again and abruptly, the resemblance vanished.

She breathed again. It was just his eyes. Alight with intelligence and mischief. The eyes of a potential buccaneer? His uniform—could it be the Boson’s mate? Had she known that her letters would hang the one she loved so much?

The image slipped from Mac’s fingers as the tears finally came. What did it matter now? A hundred and fifty years later, that her words had killed him?

Had her words killed him…again?

She could not turn to face Mic when he walked into the room. “Come back out, Sarah. You should be with those who love and support you. Sarah?”

Had she killed him? Had Mackenzie really murder him back then? Oh God, what had they done?

“Aaaah!” He screamed, vomiting the ocean from his lungs, burning his throat. He had passed out. A nightmare—God; he could not fall asleep! Sleep was his mortal enemy. Harm spat out the bile and vomit and salt. Where in hell was the raft? If they spotted that first and found it empty, it was all over. He checked his watch again. Skates was closer to the ship. They would find Skates first and take her to safety. He rubbed his eyes. The cloud cover was alive with lightning strikes. One hell of a storm, Mac. I hope the weather clears in time for your wedding tomorrow, but hey, you know what they say about rain at weddings.

It had rained then, too. And he had hidden in the church nave. She thought that he would not know she was to be wed, but his father had told him. Of all the men she could have chosen. And yet, he understood. Mackenzie was not an unfair captain, not as bad as some, although the scars on his back might speak differently.

She was so beautiful; his heart was swollen with pride. So much like Dianna, and yet, so different. A headstrong girl who ran and played like a boy, but who had grown into a woman as beautiful as her dead sister. He clenched his jaw and held his tongue when Mackenzie took her hand. The way he looked at her. That Mackenzie would take her in such a manner that he had known of whores—it tore at his very soul. He would never touch her in that way, though such thoughts and desires had troubled him much on those nights he could not sleep, but held her oilskin wrapped letters close to his breast.

There had been other women, too. Not whores, but dark skinned exotics that knew nothing of his land. Islands in the South Seas where such pleasures as never dreamed of could be found in their arms. Sweet and clean. It would have been that way between them, the sweetness a thousand fold, for their love would fire a greater passion. He understood how hard it was to return to the streets of New York, where the dreaded pox and cholera raged. Where beauty was shrouded in filth and the laws of ‘civilized’ mankind.

Ah! Give him those uncivilized worlds in exchange for the pain of watching her kiss him. Such thoughts were not mere treason, but treachery. He turned his face aside and wept without tears. Perchance he might see her again, when next their ship sailed. She would come to the dock and he would take in her beauty and hold it in his heart, as he held her letters—all that remained of their once sweet, innocent love. The one possession he held now that his father was gone.

In the safety of her office back at JAG, Mac tried to inject some reason into her thoughts, grasping onto it like a life raft in the storm, as Mic had tried to grasp her hand. She could not go through with the wedding now, even if Harm was found alive and well, he’d be hospitalized with injuries and hypothermia. Too long had passed. Mac glanced at the courier bag she’d tossed on her desk. That mystery no longer mattered. The names of the hung bluecoats had been hidden from Elizabeth Mackenzie until after the court-martial. Had she but known then… She was as helpless now as she had been then to prevent his death.

“What!” Mac sat up, startled. God, she was losing her mind. She had to get a grip. Had to face the cold, hard facts.

“I asked, any luck yet?” Chloë said.

“Close the door,” Mac replied tiredly, and apologized for not paying her enough attention. No, Harm was not invincible. Heroes really did die. Over and over. Every time through countless years.

“I thought you would be trying to find him!” Chloë said, confused.

“Chloë, he’s in the middle of the ocean,” she replied despondently.

“No! I meant like when you found me, when I was thrown by my horse!”

A glimmer of hope, a crack in destiny. Maybe this time… “I…I’ll try. I was on a plane, dreaming. I saw lightning hit a tree.” But her fears washed the images away. “I can’t do this. I need your help!”

“We need your help, Mr. Cromwell, are you with us?” Spencer asked. “You are as good a man as the boson, we both know that! And the captain, I’ve seen it in his eyes. He has you in his sights, for reasons that I cannot fathom.”

Harm swallowed. His letters, gone, taken from him by Mackenzie as his shirt was stripped for a flogging. Another flogging for no reason other than he had been jostled and spilled some rum on the man’s boots! He had accepted his loss, for Elizabeth was not meant for one such as he. But since the morning after his lashing, he had caught Mackenzie watching him with eyes ablaze. Could the captain have intuited the truth?

“You speak of treachery, Sir,” Harm replied. “Something I cannot be a party to.”

But Spencer only smiled. “You have sailed on this ship many years. You know the places of which I speak, where a free man can have anything—anyone—that he desires, to do with as he pleases. Soft, tender flesh to taste the sweetness of! I have heard of your reputation amongst the men. You do not touch the whores of New York, but save yourself for the sweet pleasures of these exotic fair.”

Cromwell’s eyes darkened. But Spencer was a midshipman, the oldest of the midshipmen aboard. A man in his early twenties, whereas the others were little more than children. Something that Spencer found most amusing…and amused by. For Harm/Cromwell had seen how Spencer used two of them, as a man would a woman. Except Spencer exacted a cruel price, for each boy had been ordered flogged the next day for some petty offense. And Spencer had stood by, handling himself, ecstatic as the blood and flesh was flayed from their children’s’ backs. Then Spencer would demand from them again that night that they bend for him, while he took his pleasure from them once more, savoring their wounds, licking at them like a rabid dog.

Harm/Cromwell had heard talk, too, of money spent ashore, at places where boys and whores were known to disappear. Spencer had plied rum and money on his friends, encouraging them to such acts as were unnatural to man. But none would speak of such, except to acknowledge that Spencer had tastes that befitted those of buccaneers. Of rape and blood and pain and cruelty. As much as Harm/Cromwell might have hated Mackenzie, when the captain had ordered floggings, he had also ordered that the men’s wounds be tended to and the men given time to recover before being ordered back to duty.

And Elizabeth had found love in Mackenzie’s arms. Harm would not deny her that, no matter the cost.

But he also knew that if he spoke out against Spencer now, he might not learn of the man’s plans. Better to pretend to go along, then he could report it to the captain. “Perhaps you have my interest, Sir,” he replied. He would do this, to protect Elizabeth from pain.

“…an empty raft, I don’t have to tell you what that means,” Ingles said.

All hope lost. Again. Mac heard the next few words, but they were meaningless until Ingles added, “Blame it on timing.”

What kind of perverse hand had fate dealt her, to give her such a sense of time passed, then toss a giant spanner in the mechanism by the name of Harmon Rabb? “That’s one area of my life I never question, Sir.”

She wandered for a while, but she had been conditioned by the Marines to take hold of her life. She had to get out of her head, get back to her world. Find Mic, he was her anchor. Safe, solid, dependable in his devotion and love for her. She stood and went to him. It was not until much later that she realized what had so surprised him. She had kissed him. It was true, she never kissed him first, she had only ever responded to his passion.

The dropping flares caught Harm’s eye and instinct took over. But his hands her so cold, he could hardly inflate the SAR buoy. His lips, hardly able to move. His voice, torn with salt water. But the strobe, surely they could see the strobe! He checked his chronometer as he called, over and over...

“Time’s up, mate,” he could hear Brumby’s voice, see his sneer. “She’s all mine, now.”

No! Damn it, fire, damn you! He tossed the worthless flare aside and felt for his weapon. One last chance. He couldn’t do this to her, couldn’t go and ruin her wedding like this! He’d promised and he’d never made a promise yet that he hadn’t kept. Lift and squeeze, squeeze. The sound shattering the night, unheard just a few feet away. But they would see the muzzle; they had to! I’m coming home Mac. I might be a little late for the wedding, but I’ll be there. I promised. I just want you to be happy.

The sound of the approaching helicopter grew loud as the spotlight filled his vision. Good thing, too, otherwise Mac would really be pissed. He felt the man fall on top of him, the harness around his chest and waist, then the frightening bitterness as wind whipped through his wet clothes and if possible, made him even colder. Wind-chill, his mind supplied, then the coldness took him away.

He looked down at Rabb’s shattered leg. It reminded him of London. Buildings ablaze, sirens announcing the all clear. Yeah, clear all right. Clear to tear our hearts out, to find the limbs of children and loved ones, those that were not buried alive beneath the burning rubble. Clear to let the smoke and ashes burn our eyes. Clear to let me bury my wife and children—or what remained of them. Mac was gone again, as was Chloë and baby Theresa, for in this lifetime, they had been his daughters. His mother, Diane, also dead, along with his brother, who he would one day call AJ. All gone now.

Rabb had been a good buddy. Harm laughed without humor. Here he was, writing off his best buddy before the guy was even dead. Well, what the heck, he was dead, too. No way was anyone going to reach them in this hellhole.

“Sarah,” Rabb croaked.

“Hey, pal,” Harm replied, almost lost in his own delirium. Rabb would one day be his grandfather and Sarah, his grandmother, but he had to leave them now, just for a little while. Just a few years, this time.

“Harm…”

Harm frowned. That was not his name in this lifetime. This time he was Casey Winchester. Harm Senior was just a child, Rabb’s child…who would not be his father until years in the future. He shook his head; it was so confusing. This time, the man in the cell with him had a sister, Mac. They had come together in this life, this time, only to meet in passing. It is so heartbreaking to wait. Oh God, I miss you! For the last time we both died in a hail of German bullets.

He opened his eyes. He could see them running with him, a corpsman was talking. How could they have found them? A Japanese hospital? But Japs didn’t treat POW’s. Better to die. Next time, he promised. Next time it will be different Mac, I promise.

“I’m not getting through to him!” the corpsman said through gritted teeth. “C’mon,
Commander, stay with me!

Skates pulled herself across. She wasn’t going to let him go, not this time. Not again. She owed him more than that! “Can I try, doctor? He knows me.”

They all looked at her. It might help, hell, right now it was their only chance.

Skates leaned over him. “Harm, Harm! Hey, it’s cold down here and I need you. I can’t do this by myself. C’mon!” She refused to let him die. “You promised me you’d be there! I’m holding you to that! Now I don’t swim well,” she cried, tears choking her voice. She could almost sense his willingness to die, to leave them.

“Commander, you hear me?” she shouted. “Take that thing off!” Skates demanded, motioning to his oxygen mask. It would not breathe life into him, only his sense of duty could do that. She ignored her own screaming injuries as she climbed onto his bed and leaned in close, pulling her face to his, desperately trying to reach him. “Save me!” she whispered into his mouth.

“Uh..h..” He could hear his sister’s voice, calling, but it was so far away.

“Don’t let go…don’t let go!”

She needed him…he had promised. And a promise was a promise. “H…Hi…I can’t… breathe!” he croaked.

He heard her apology, her soft laugh, then the pressure from his chest was gone. “Have…we made it?”

“You’re going to be okay.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Wow,” Harm whispered. “What’s in that?” he asked as the nurse added something to his drip.

“The good stuff,” she grinned. “Take away the pain, Commander. And we need that swelling to go down so you’ll get your memories back.”

He closed his eyes. “Givin’ me some wild dreams.”

She chuckled; the commander was still flying. “That’s normal.”

He didn’t want to sleep again. The last time he’d woken, the producer had been standing over him, Renée. It was nice, but it didn’t…feel right. Mac and the others though, that was right. They’d always been there.

Every time. Souls traveling through time together, changing, but always together, throughout eternity, for that’s how long they had to wait.

He slept, but this time, there were no dreams.

And woke again, hungry. Things were a little less confused, and he began to remember. Only problem was, they were mixed up with some pretty bizarre images. About the fields over France, and a Japanese hellhole. He shook it off; he had a few bad experiences of his own in prison cells, with the Chinese playing mind games on him. Add a potent cocktail of drugs and it was no wonder he was loopy.

Over the following days, he recovered his memory completely, and the strange dreams were consigned to the fog of the past. Renée, he remembered. And the wedding. He wasn’t surprised that Mac hadn’t come to see him after that first day. She had every right to be madder than hell at him, despite her assurances that it didn’t matter.

But he couldn’t help feeling like he’d had a stay of execution, and that that’s why the strange dreams had left him. He was glad when Renée called by and said she had to go out of town for a week. He just wanted to concentrate on getting better, and the way Renée had fussed over him, her hurt looks and reminders to him about how he’d forgotten her but not Mac… Hell, what did she expect? He’d known Mac a lot longer.

Years longer. Traveling together for all eternity.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Hey, sailor,” Mac said, smiling as she came in the following morning.

“Hey yourself,” he said smiling, ridiculously pleased to see her. “Where’s Mic?”

A shadow passed her face. She replied, “At work.”

He rocked his head in understanding. Besides, he didn’t expect Brumby would fall over himself to come by, although he had appreciated that first visit, even from him. “Listen Mac, I’m real sorry I wrecked your wedding—”

“No! C’mon Harm, it’s not your fault,” she replied, going to him and sitting on his bed. His hand was nearby and she reached out and clasped it gently. She felt him squeeze it in reply. “They’ve found some of the wreckage. Looks like a major systems failure.”

“Yeah, I heard. Well, we’ll see,” he replied. But he wasn’t too worried. He’d been over it a dozen times in his mind. They’d followed everything by the book, and then some. He knew he might get flack over his post-ejection procedures, but dammit! Ejections rarely went by the book.

She smiled gently at him and said, “How’s your memory?”

“Yeah…it’s getting there,” he said with a grin, but it faded as he added, “Listen, about what I said before, about you thinkin’ twice about who your were marrying—”

“Harm,” she interrupted, squeezing his hand. “I…I should never have dismissed your flying like that. I know how much it means to you and your quals were scheduled before my wedding. I just, I wasn’t thinking about anyone but me right then, and that’s not fair to you, or anyone.”

He smiled. “Harriet did warn me.”

Mac grinned. “Yeah.”

“So, when’s the big day?”

H didn’t miss the look on her face, but she replied, “Let’s get you better first, okay? Maybe next month.”

Her eyes begged him not to ask anything more. “Okay,” he replied slowly. “I should be outta here in another week.”

They talked of other things, of ongoing cases and investigations until he asked, “What about the Somers? Anything break on that yet? I never did see the autopsy results.”

“Commander Coulter is dropping by this afternoon. She’ll go over it with you then.”

“All right.” He nodded; his eyes not leaving her face. “Mac, what is it? What else about the case is bothering you.”

“Apart from the obvious?” she replied with a stiff smile.

“Did you find out more about the letters?”

“Yeah Harm, I did. It looks like Elizabeth Mackenzie was the woman who wrote them. McCabe checked her background, and ran them against he handwriting of letters she was known to have written to her husband. The FBI agents ran a check, too. Their calligraphy experts confirmed it, and the paper, ink and sealing wax on the envelope came from the same source.”

“How come you involved the FBI?” He tried to keep the concern from his voice, but the strange dreams that haunted him patrolled the edges of his memory, like shadowy wraiths.

“Mulder kept calling me, chasing up the history of the Somers. For some reason,” she laughed nervously, “Agent Mulder seems to think there’s a connection to the current murders.”

He hadn’t been able to stop himself from grasping her hand.

Her eyes narrowed. “What is it, Harm?”

Taking measured breath, he replied, “What about the daguerreotypes, any luck there?” She blanched. Now it was he who frowned and asked, “Mac?”

She laughed nervously. “It’s nothing, just…yeah, McCabe dug up one of the ship’s crew. He’s chasing down a later daguerreotype, of Elizabeth Mackenzie.”

“And?”

Removing her hand from his, she stood and bent down to her briefcase. When she handed Harm the black and white photo, her fingers shook.

He sat examining it for a long time. He didn’t have to be told who Spencer and Cromwell were. He muttered, “I remember.”

“What?” she demanded, sitting on his bed again.

He looked up, his eyes haunted, but he tried to dismiss it with a shaky laugh. “I guess I’d been reading too many of those old newspaper reports. When I was in the water, I must have dreamed about it. About what happened.”

“Tell me.”

He handed her back the photo. “It’s nothing. It was the cold and a knock on the head.”

“Harm, please, don’t shut me out.”

Biting his lower lip, he held her eyes with his. Of all the people that he knew, Mac would probably be the one who most understood. “I can’t shake this feeling that I was there, like maybe I was seeing ghosts on the Somers.”

Swallowing, she nodded and asked, “What led you to the forecastle that night?”

Picking up the photo again, he pointed to Alexander Mackenzie.

“You…you saw him?”

“Not exactly, not like…”

She nodded. “Go on.”

“It was kind of like Mackenzie was trying to make amends. Like he had done something right, but also, a wrong, and he was trying to redeem himself.”

“By showing you the remains of some dead kids?”

Harm tossed the photo aside. “I don’t know Mac. It sounds crazy.”

But she brought her hand to his face, tenderness in her voice as she said, “It worked before, when you were trying to find your father.”

Angry with himself, now, he snapped, “Well then who am I trying to find this time?” Before he realized it, Mac had taken her in his arms as she had before, and held him close. He closed his eyes for a moment, taking sanctuary in the feel of her arms. But when he opened them again, he saw Mic Brumby standing at the door, watching them. Watching him.

Reluctantly, he withdrew from Mac and said, “Hey, Mic, how’s it going?”

Brumby swallowed and tried to compose his features. “Office told me you were here,” he said as Mac turned and stood.

“Yeah, come to take me to lunch?”

The Australian opened his mouth to reply when Theresa Coulter walked in.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

“That’s quite a story, Harm,” Theresa said.

Outside, the sky was darkening. The FBI agent, Mulder, had left a half-hour before, taking the reproduction of the Daguerreotype. He intended to have Spencer’s face enhanced and rendered. “Yeah, well.” Harm laughed in self-depreciation. “I was almost dead. Lot of weird things go through your head when you’re bobbing around the ocean in the middle of a storm, Tess.”

Theresa looked at him carefully. He knew that she had something of a crush on him, but was already too complicated to think much about it. “I didn’t see the FBI agent laughing,” she said.

“He might not have taken me so seriously if he’d heard the other stuff.”

“You’d just crashed your plane, Harm.”

“And that makes it okay to remember two previous lifetimes when I’d pranged up?”

“And Christ said in the church of Smyrna, Behold... the devil shall cast some of thee into prison that you may be tried... you'll have tribulation for ten days. Be thou faithful unto death and I'll give thee a crown of everlasting life.”

He rolled his eyes and looked at her, but she replied calmly, “You’ve had these sort of experiences before, Harm. And they’ve paid off. And Mac, she pinpointed your exact location.”

“My raft, not me,” he replied ruefully. Then he caught her eyes and asked, “What if it were true, Tess, that we’re all just souls, traveling in time, crossing paths at random, drawn to one another, only to lose our way each time? What’s the point if it all keeps ending the same way?”

“Maybe that is the point, Harm. Maybe we just have to keep trying, until we get it right.” She sighed, patted his hand once and stood to leave. “Get some rest. We’ll follow it up from here. And maybe, when you get out, we can do as Agent Mulder suggested. Go down to the Somers and you can tell us the rest of it.

 

0910EST
North of Union Station
Washington, D.C.

 

Harm couldn’t blame Renée for fussing, but he wished she’d settle down. The trip home from the hospital, she’d talked non-stop, about her latest projects, about her planned redecoration. About anything that would take her mind off his mishap. She had always thought of him as a lawyer. The aviator part was just decorative. She’d just been confronted by the fact that his occupation ranked as one of the most dangerous in the world.

Which was exactly why Skates was going back.

And it was exactly why he couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle.

Well, maybe another month or two, once he could walk without a damned cane. Still, if Chuck Yeager could break the sound barrier with a couple of busted ribs…. He looked around his apartment, Renée still chattering about carrying bags instead of caskets. It seemed a little weird somehow, as if he hadn’t been there for years, not just two weeks. As if he’d lived another lifetime in between. Then Renée started on this thing with Mac again, and he snapped something in reply.

“Renée, I’m not mad,” he said as she made for the door. “I’m not mad.” Just tired and sick and disorientated and just leave me a while to work through this.

“He just can’t get past this…thing….with us,” Mac said when she walked out of his door a few hours later.

While a part of Harm felt the burdens of a dozen lifetimes lifted from his soul, her words still didn’t make it right this time. “Maybe it’s because we can’t get past it,” he replied, holding her eyes. He wanted, needed to talk to her this time. The lifetime. No more dancing around the subject.

But she was gone. Again. And the damned painkillers and just getting readjusted to being back in his apartment had tired him out. He lay down on the bed, wondering when she would call.

If she would call. He started to fall asleep when the telephone rang, and her pain gushed out.

“Come to me,” he replied.

“Why?”

“Don’t argue with me.”

“I need a better reason!”

“You know the reason…I’m waiting.” He could no longer go through this lifetime without her in it.

But once more, duty dictated the terms of his life, as it so often had in the past. And when he got back from the funeral for Renée’s father, Mac had gone.

 

0900hrs EST
17the December 2001
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

 

Weeks passed. Renée finally settled for what she wanted—a man who would commit. That’s what Mac had wanted, too. He was batting one hundred percent here: Annie, Jordan, Renée…and Mac. Except that when he finally thought he might be able to get it right, Mac hadn’t been willing to listen. Yet equally, he understood why. Mac needed to find herself first, before she could deal with anything else. He knew that one all too well.

The events on board the Somers had long been forgotten, for the FBI had hunted down and caught their man. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you looked at it, Agent Mulder had blown the guy’s head off when he’d been cornered. The only photo of the deceased suspect was a decade old. But it was enough to shoe that the similarities were uncanny. Mulder had never revealed, at least not in any report that Harm saw, where he’d got an artist’s rendition of the suspect. But to Harm, it was as clear as the image on the Daguerreotype. The killer, Robert Edvard, could have been the reincarnation of Spencer, the disturbed son of a despotic, sadistic Secretary of the Navy back in 1842.

Mac had returned from Indonesia, then Harm managed to shove his foot half way down his throat with a conversation to Sturgis at the elevators. Shit, what was it about elevators and faux pas with Mac? He always ended up pressing her buttons instead. But they somehow got past that and at the end of the race that they’d tied, he’d suggested to Mac that they take their relationship back to the beginning.

It seemed a singularly adolescent thing to say, but after all they’d been through together, and separately, it also seemed to be the only thing that made sense. They needed to recapture the easygoing trust and camaraderie they had once had, before heading off into uncharted territories. At least now, he reasoned; they had acknowledged a deeper affection for one another than the normal bounds of partnership.

Then duty called and he’d been obliged to go to China. When he got back, they were both up to their eyeballs in work, but at least when they did see each other, the easygoing banter was there. Now he was back, Mac was in town, and their workload was lightening up because of the Christmas break. He figured the new year might give them time to work at this. In fact, with Chloë arriving in a few days, maybe he could suggest they do something together, something that would give Mac whatever space she needed, chaperoned by her little sister. He glanced outside at the snow. Maybe something as adolescent as his suggestion weeks before, something like…ice-skating in the park.

He glanced at his watch. Mac would be in anytime now. What the hell, he’d ask. If nothing came up in the meantime— His telephone rang.

“Commander,” said Tiner, “There’s a Joshua McCabe on the line. He asked to speak to the Colonel or you, sir.”

“Put him on, Tiner,” Harm said. He barely noticed that his grip on the telephone had tightened, and that his stomach muscles had started to clench.

“Commander,” McCabe began, “Colonel Mackenzie mentioned your interest in the Somers, and your name came up again when the FBI agent’s were doing a follow up with me on the Edvard case.”

“Yes, Mr. McCabe. The Colonel’s due in any time, can I take a message?”

“Well,” McCabe replied excitedly. “I’m sorry that it’s taken so long, but I finally managed to find a photograph of Elizabeth Mackenzie. Now, I know that the Colonel insists that she is not related, but the resemblance is…well, it’s uncanny! I’ve just couriered it across to her, but I wanted to tell her first.”

The G’s started hammering the edges of his vision. Harm sat back in his chair. “That’s very kind of you, Mr. McCabe. Did you find out anything more about Elizabeth Mackenzie that might indicate she was the author of the letters to Samuel Cromwell?”

“That’s what’s taken me so long. You see, this changes everything about the case!” he replied excitedly. “It changes history! She had a sister named Dianna, who died along with her mother, Theresa, when Elizabeth was just fourteen. Her father died a year after she married Commander Mackenzie, and she grew up on estate managed by a man named Cromwell. He had a son the same age as Dianna. Now records show that he enlisted in the Navy when he was just a boy. And yes, records also show it was Samuel Cromwell, the boson’s mate whom Alexander Mackenzie hung, along with Spencer and Elisha Small.”

But Harm was no longer listening. Between trying to quell the nauseating sense in his gut, and the memories blurring his vision, he barely noticed when a dark haired man and diminutive redhead walking across the bullpen. Mulder and Scully, the FBI agents, then walked in his office, trailed by Mac.


Taking a deep breath, Harm said, “Mr. McCabe, the Colonel has just arrived now, I’ll put her on.”

He stood and motioned Mac into his office, nodding in recognition. “McCabe,” he said to the agent, handed the ‘phone to Mac and motioned for Harriet to bring in another chair.

While Mac was talking to McCabe, Harm took the time to collect his thoughts. He’d dismissed the whole thing as a bad trip, an experience brought on by hypothermia and emotional issues. Dead kids and losing Mac to Brumby, things that had pressed his buttons, big time. But that’s all it was.

Wasn’t it?

His eyes turned to Mulder’s, and he saw in them someone haunted by a past more troubled than his own. But he also saw determination. What was it Walther’s had called him? An obsessive son of a bitch.

Mac was staring at him as she talked on the phone to McCabe, while Scully looked less than comfortable being there. Another story there, Harm thought, one he was not willing to probe.

When the call ended, Mac said to them, “He’s couriering the documents across now, but…you already have copies?”

Mulder’s glance flicked between them. Opening the file case he’d brought with him and lifted out the photographs. “Elizabeth Mackenzie,” he supplied as he dropped the enlargement on Harm’s desk.

Harm supposed that he’d been expecting it, but it was still like a punch in the groin. From somewhere, he heard Mulder’s voice.

“What?” he replied, absently, unable to take his eyes from the image.

“Commander, what else do you remember?” Mulder said.

“What do you mean by that, Agent?” Mac’s snapped, her voice, protective.

Mulder’s eyes never left Harm’s. “You found him using the Daguerreotype of Spencer, didn’t you?” Harm asked him.

“It was an artist’s impression of an enlargement. Any resemblance was purely—” Scully began.

But her partner turned on her. “You found the photo of Sullivan Biddle, Scully. You were there!”

“Mulder, that’s not proof of—”

“There never is, is there?” he replied tiredly. “But absence of proof is not proof of absence! You were there, you saw…and so did he.” His eyes moved to Harm’s and held them. “You saw something that night, more than what you told us in the hospital.”

Exasperated, Harm frowned.

“Look, Commander, this is off the record,” Mulder said, a desperate form of entreaty lacing his voice. “Wouldn’t you like to know what really happened on that voyage?”

“I would,” Mac’s voice was low but determined.

Okay, fine. Let’s get it out in the open, once and for all. “How do you propose we find out?” Harm asked, not breaking his gaze with Mulder.

“Hypnosis.”

Harm blinked and frowned at the agent.

“Regression hypnosis.”

“You mean, past lives,” Harm replied skeptically.

Mac reached across and gently tapped the back of his hand with her finger. “Harm, why is it that you always know where I am?”

He smiled at the memory. “Hey, you’re the one who found me in the middle of the Atlantic.”

“Well, your life-raft,” she replied, grinning.

“Then you agree?” Mulder said.

“Whoa, whoa! Power back there, Agent. I’m not agreeing to anything like that!” Finding out was one thing, but letting someone mess around with his head—not gonna happen.

 

2200hrs EST
21st December, 2001
USS Somers
Washington Naval Base

 

“I’m talking to Samuel. It is the year of our Lord 1842,” said the therapist.

The dark cabin of the Somers was lit by lanterns. After the bodies had been removed, the ship had been moved back to the Naval Base for security purposes. It would open to the public some time in the new year.

Harm’s initial antipathy to hypnotherapy had tempered when Mulder had admitted to having undergone the same regression technique. And that anything they learned would be kept strictly confidential. Only one tape would be made of the session, a tape that Harm alone would keep.

The therapist was contracted to the FBI and as much as she might liked to have published her findings on these cases, she admitted that she was content to apply what she learned, elsewhere. She had warned them at the outset that many sessions would be necessary, but as Harm had agreed to only one, suggested that doing so aboard the Somers might act as a catalyst.

Mac now sat in the shadows with Scully. She had no idea what this night would bring, but her own strange talent had prevented her from being skeptical at Harm’s past claims of seeing ghosts. Maybe Scully was right. Maybe as trained investigators they instead put a myriad of apparently unrelated pieces of information together and arrived at a perfectly rational explanation. Like the way Harm had known where to look for the bodies aboard the Somers that night.

Yeah, thought Mac. That would explain why Harm just happened to stumble across a well-hidden book in the middle of an aircraft carrier that just happened to have his father’s name listed. Or the way she just happened to know the exact location of Harm in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. No, in this, Harm was as curious as she—that’s why he had agreed.

Harm’s glove was off and his sleeve pushed back, despite the fact that it was snowing outside. The therapist had called it his anchor, a focal point he could concentrate on, from which his soul could wander. Whatever. But it had taken surprisingly little time for him to go under. Even the therapist was somewhat perturbed. Mac pulled her overcoat around her. It seemed colder down here than on the snow-covered deck.

“Tell me where we are, Samuel,” the therapist added.

Even with his eyes closed, a deeply saddened look crossed his face. “She is so beautiful,” Harm said. “Standing there in her bonnet and shawl. So like her sister in appearance, but oh, my love, so strong and headfast, so uniquely herself.”

“Who, Samuel?”

A flicker of a smile crossed Harm’s face, but it became burdened by years of sadness. “She is Sarah, but in this lifetime I know her as Elizabeth.”

Mac felt her skin crawl, but then she also felt her heart leap. The way he had used her name, like soft silk against the desert sand. But she shook it off. Sarah was also the name of his grandmother.

“Is Sarah watching you, Samuel?”

“No. Mac does not know that I was transferred aboard the Somers some two years past.”

Mac’s stomach clenched at that, but she said nothing when Mulder glanced at her.

Harm/Samuel continued, “I did not tell her such for fear she might inadvertently let slip to her husband something untoward. It is best she never sees me again, for that is what she has written in her last letter to me.”

Scully scribbled something on a note and handed it to the therapist. The woman frowned, but nodded and asked, “But if Sarah does not know you are there, how is it that she wrote you?”

“My elder brother, Steven. The man I now call Sergei.”

Mac stifled a gasp. Harm continued, “He lives in New York, having found a good life as a footman, with his wife, a second cook who works for the governor, no less. Elizabeth charged her staff to take messages to Steven’s wife, the woman I knew as Jordan.”

“Tell me of that day you left New York. Your last voyage,” asked the therapist.

Harm’s expressive face grew more troubled. “I watched her stand there until we were put to sea, hiding behind my cap drawn low over my brow. He watched her too, and I thought then that he did love her. But not as I had, never as I had, for he could not possibly know what it was like to wait so long, to love so deeply and yet, in each lifetime, to come so close, then lose her yet again. We have been lovers only twice in a hundred lifetimes, seeking each other out as only true lovers can. One day, one day,” he cried sadly, moisture filling his closed eyes.

“The voyage,” he continued after a moment, “was like any other. It was not uncommon for men to take men as women on such voyages. A privilege understood by the officers and older seamen, especially amongst the youngest and prettiest of boys, but a privilege not always taken. Mackenzie was one such man that denied himself this…dubious pleasure. As many of his officers also did. And for this, I admired the man even if I loathed him.

“But Spencer.” Harm’s face screwed up in distaste. “I have known men with tastes for boys whose pleasure was in their pain. To this foul creature, it was a sweetness to hear their squeals. But his tastes ran even more to the unnatural. Things he had honed while we were in Africa, no doubt. Such matters were brought to the attention of the captain as we made our way to the Caribbean. And he ordered them cease. But Spencer,” Harm shook his head. “He had made his position know since the day that he boarded. Currying favors with the men, given them his rum ration and cigars. His insolence knew no bounds and it was clear among the officers that he fostered this disrespect among the midshipmen, the men for whom this voyage should have taught temperance and discipline. Instead, they learned of nothing but debauchery and the promise of lofty lives if they took the Somers for themselves.

“Word had reached us in Africa, before we set sail, of certain crimes committed in the Washington just prior to our departure. Such things as men like Spencer might have claimed. And indeed, he boasted of his libertine ways and evil misdeeds as he fermented rebellion among the crew. I had thought them fantasy, such was his wont to fantasize of piracy, but it was now apparent that they were not.

“That eve, November eight, Spencer doled out his rum ration to some of the men—once more directly disobeying the Captain. As luck would have it, I was jostled by one now drunk men, who then dropped his cup and scattered the remains on to the boots of Captain Mackenzie. For this, he ordered twenty lashes for the guilty man—and four lashes to me for clumsiness. I was of a mind to warn him then of Spencer’s plans, but although I tried to speak out, he bade me hold my tongue lest he double the lashes. Still, I made to speak, but he had me bound and gagged and ordered eight hard strikes against me. And then,” Harm’s face took on an edge of such pain that Mac wanted to go to him, but the therapist held up her hand.

“Then, as they tore the shirt from my back, my packet fell to the deck. I had carried it from my things that eve, to sit and drink my rum and once more think of her, as was my wont on those winter eves. Seeing the packet there, the Captain swept it up in one hand and demanded what it was. But gagged, I had no reply. He tucked it into his waistcoat and ordered my flogging to begin.

The pain,” Harm said, “was nothing to the loss of her letters. Many times, I had thought to leave them in the safe hands of my brother, but I could not bear to part with them, as I had parted with her. As I recovered from my wounds three days later, Spencer came to me that very night and took it that I would join him. But as I went to see the captain to tell him of my concerns, I was arrested and thrown into irons on the deck.”

Harm’s fist clenched until his knuckles turned white, his face torn with frustration and bitterness. Mac had seen something of these emotions in the past, but never so raw. Harmon Rabb had tempered his feelings, but Samuel Cromwell had no mortal dignity to lose.

He was quiet for a time, then at the therapist’s urging, continued his story. “Elisha Small had freely admitted to being part of Spencer’s plan, as others too, saw reasoning in taking the ship for themselves. But the officers were to a man loyal to Mackenzie. Most had family and estates in Virginia and New York and few would have abandoned well-to-do lives for the unknown future of pirates.”

“But when I met the eyes of the captain, I knew that he had read Elizabeth’s letters. He took me aside and accused me of the same heinous crimes as Spencer. Not just of libertine ways and mutiny, but inhuman debauchery. For Spencer had admitted that I had indulged as such with him, in the whorehouses of New York and Washington, and street brothels of Africa. He had admitted—nee, boasted— of acts beyond that of civilized man, to indulge in the sweet, succulent pleasures of Africa, to mete out torture and death amongst the innocent. To Spencer, you see, such things were not considered vile or inhuman, but things his father knew of, and paid to cover up, in order to keep his son’s name from the newspapers. But this last occasion, even his father could not hide. I know the Captain determined to hang Spencer for many reasons, mutiny but one. For if he were returned to New York, Mackenzie knew that the truth would be revealed, and the Secretary’s good name besmirched as foully as his son’s.”

“That I had even known Elizabeth was an affront to Mackenzie. But that I might be considered in her past affections, when I had committed immortal sins against man and God… The captain had no choice but to see me hang with Spencer. For if I were to return and be placed on trial, the truth would be revealed and his wife’s good name dragged through the mud and filth of my reprehensible actions.”

“Had he let me speak then, I feel I may have swayed the man. But his hatred of me was beyond reasoning. And it was then that I suspected what Elizabeth feared; in a moment of passion she did not cry his name, but mine.”

The lanterns flickered and died for no reason. Mac hardly noticed, for her own cheeks burned red. It had never happened, but since that night, she had feared that it might. And she now wondered if perhaps, in her sleep, she had indeed called Harm’s name.

One small lantern remained burning, shedding just enough light to see Harm’s face in sharp silhouette. “When I was to be hung, the captain granted me one last word. But I said naught except that he was doing a grave wrong, one that we would all do penance for, throughout eternity. And at that moment I sent up a prayer, for one more chance that my life was blotted out not so completely, but scattered wrecks enough of it to remain dim memories… As now, when seems once more the goal in sight again. Oh, Mac… Sarah, I miss you!” he cried in soft despair. “It is so hard to wait!”

The darkened cabin was silent for some time. The therapist about to tell Harm to open his hand, but then Harm/Samuel added the final words. “Mackenzie died a shamed man, knowing the wrong he had committed against both his God and me that day. And he knew that his necessary restitution for his false judgment was to leave a fragment of his immortal soul in the place where he committed his sin.

“We travel,” Harm’s voice faded to a mere whisper as his head rocked forward and his fist slowly opened, drawing him back to the present. “Together once more in this lifetime. Each time Spencer takes fewer innocents, and one day, Mackenzie shall use me to stop him before he begins. On that day, his immortal soul will rest and Spencer’s soul be purged of evil. But it is too late for them, now, in this lifetime. I just pray it is not to late for us.”

 

North of Union Station
22nd December, 2001
1800hrs

 

Harmon Rabb sat back from the television and switched off the VCR. If a part of him wanted to dismiss what he’d seen as ninety percent suggestion and ten percent a compilation of research, all woven into a winter’s eve fairy tale told during a highly suggestive state of mind, equally, he could not entirely dismiss it.

The FBI agents had left the night before—without the tape. Mulder had seemed contented, less driven, while Scully dismissed it as, well, just that, a story based on known facts and a highly suggestive state. But there were too many details about that voyage that Harm knew he had no knowledge of. The brutal murders of children found around DC soon after the Somers set sail was something none of them had known. But he’d spent this morning researching newspaper archives. Then Mulder had called to confirm that the victims of a century and a half past, had been discovered near the modern dumping sites. Most of the deaths back then had been blamed on wild animals, only two had been considered murders.

Now, they both knew the truth.

Whether Harm’s present actions were in some way guided by fragments of his past soul, or fragments of Mackenzie’s, who could say for sure? But something more than mere respect took him to the Wall whenever he was troubled. He did not believe in ghosts, but he had silently saluted one. He knew that his father was dead, but Harm also knew that he protected him. He also knew that Mac had found him as he lay near death, adrift in the Atlantic. Unlike Mulder, Harm didn’t need to question the forces that guided him. Nor like Scully, did he need to rationalize them. He took them as a guide, and had learned to respect them, that’s all that mattered.

“I have to go,” Mac said, standing. “Chloë’s flight will be landing soon. You okay?” she asked, her eyes showing her concern.

He smiled lopsidedly and looked up at her. “Better than a high school séance.”

She smiled and squeezed his shoulder. “It was a beautiful story, Harm. Whether it was true or not, doesn’t matter, because even without it, there’s enough evidence to reopen the case and rewrite history.”

“Mackenzie wasn’t a…bad man, Mac,” he said reassuringly. “Just fallible.”

“That’s why we have due process,” she replied. “See you tomorrow?”

He nodded. “Count on it.”

 

Mac’s apartment
29th December, 2001
1900hrs

 

“What, no “’jammies?” Harm said as Mac opened her apartment door for him to come in. She was dressed in lose jeans and a lightweight, open-necked woolen sweater.

Mac tossed him. “Chlöe’s gone, Harm. And they weren’t pajamas exactly. Thanks,” she added as she took the bags of Chinese takeout.

“Ah,” he replied with a knowing grin. “A girl thing.”

“Well, you guys bond over a corvette,” Mac replied as she took the bags into her kitchen.

“I don’t mind bonding with girls in ‘jammies,” he replied innocently as he removed his overcoat and cover.

“Red light, Sailor.” She tossed a chiding look over her shoulder. “So how did it go with Jennifer?”

But he’d already caught the laughter in her eyes. He loosened his tie and undid his uniform jacket as he replied, “Lieutenant Singer didn’t seem to mind too much that PO Coates wasn’t tossed into Leavenworth for the next fifty years. I think deep under that ambitious scowl may rest a heart.”

“Don’t bank on it,” Mac replied as she brought back a tray and plates. “How’s Sergei settling in?”

“He’s doin’ okay,” Harm said, chuckling. “Getting addicted to America real fast. So,” he said, settling down on her couch. “What do you want to go over first?” They’d decided to work on a backlog of petty crimes tonight, freeing them up for more serious criminal cases in the new year.

Mac sat on the floor opposite and opened the food containers. “How about Sergeant Delmonico?”

“Let’s get started,” he replied.

They spent the next few hours going over mostly misdemeanors, coming to agreement on non-judicial punishment, when a phrase in one of the transcripts jolted Mac’s memory. “Hey,” she said, sitting back and stretching. “Want some coffee?”

Harm looked up and rolled his shoulder’s back. “Yeah.” Then he stood and followed her into the kitchen, more to stretch his legs that anything else.

Preparing the brew, she asked, “You ever think about taking up that therapist’s offer to regress you back to different time periods?”

He looked at her through lowered brows. “I have enough problems with this life, I ain’t going to collect the problems of a dozen past ones. Besides, I watched that tape, 1842 was all she could get out of me that night.”

“You did try again, didn’t you?” She grinned knowingly.

“Well…once,” he conceded. “In her office. She couldn’t even get me into a light trance, let alone full hypnotic state. I nearly fell asleep; I was so bored. Frankly, a part of me was surprised she got what she did on the Somers.”

“Why surprised?” Mac asked, handing him the coffee.

He turned and went back to the couch. “Jordan and I talked about hypnosis once, in a case I was prosecuting. I remember her saying then that no one, even nowadays, really knows what hypnosis is, and that I was the lousiest candidate she’d ever met.”

“Why?” Mac sat down.

He shrugged and grinned. “Temperament. I have control issues.”

She shot him a knowing look over her cup. “Is that why you agreed to try the first time, because you believed it wouldn’t work?”

Any amusement he felt vanished when met her gaze. “No,” he replied softly. “No, because a part of me was also sure it would work—that one time.”

“Mackenzie?” Mac prodded in a softer, knowing voice.

He nodded once and picked up the last file to work on. They’d been over this, it was time to get back to work. “Falconer. Did you read her statement?”

Nodding in understanding, she replied, “No. I’ve only gone over the charges. What have you got?”

“She states here that she put laxative in McClean’s hot chocolate to get back at him. Apparently, he was supposed to go to, of all things, to her daughter’s christening, because he was the godfather. But he was doing is quals that weekend and...” Harm’s voice trailed off as he caught her staring at him. “Hey!” he held up his hands defensively, “I didn’t ask the Admiral for this case. This is the sort of stuff Singer normally thrives on.”

Mac just looked at him. “Not a good reason for giving the guy stomach cramps that end up causing the loss of a ten million dollar helicopter.”

“No, no it isn’t.’ He glanced warily at her. “Not a good defense strategy, either.”

“In fact, I’d call it an indefensible position. I mean, McClean might be a reservist, but he is Navy and that comes first. Falconer’s a Marine, she should have known better.”

“Still,” Harm conceded. “She was stressed out. Difficult pregnancy, her own exams coming up. As her best friend, he should have been more sympathetic.”

“Yeah, but his quals had been arranged weeks before she had the baby. She could have rescheduled the Christening to the following weekend.”

“That doesn’t always work out so well,” he replied, maintaining her gaze.

“Well, in the long term, maybe it does,” she replied looking away. The she smiled and asked, “Do you remember how Bud met Harriet?”

“Yeah,” he chuckled. “Missed a game with his brother.” He looked down at the report. “Stomach cramps or not, he wouldn’t have been the first aviator who’s walked out of a machine needin’ a change of underwear; it was no excuse for ditching.”

“Then we go to court martial.”

He nodded. It wasn’t the first time they’d used someone else’s problems to dance around their own, and it wouldn’t be the last. But for two pig-headed people, it was the closest thing they could get to a mutual apology.

They continued until just past midnight. “That’s it, I think,” Harm said, sorting through the files on the desk.”

“Good,” she replied rocking her shoulders back, then rolling her head and grimacing. He immediately stood, sat on the couch behind her and began massaging her neck. “Mm…oh, that’s great, yeah, that’s the spot,” she mumbled.

“Right here?” he said, gently kneading the bunched muscles of her neck. It wasn’t the first time he’d done this for her. In fact, he’d done it a lot over the years, and she had reciprocated in kind. But he was suddenly aware that this was the first time since they’d acknowledged this…whatever…between them. The first time that neither one of them was involved with someone else.

The first time, Mac thought, since that night. The kiss under the mistletoe had been situational, and he’d been very sweet about it, removing any awkwardness. But she was sensitive to everything about him now. His jeans clad legs either side of her shoulders, the feel of masculine fingers on her skin. The firm, gentle kneading. His familiar aftershave—the same aftershave as that night, flooding her senses with disturbing memories. But his ministrations were so relaxing, she put such thoughts aside, allowing him to manipulate the tension from her shoulders until she rocked her head to one side, exposing more of her neck and shoulder as the oversized sweater drooped.

In the nearby fire, a piece of wood fell with a soft shower of firefly sparks. He looked up and considered stoking it, but then he felt her head rock against his knee. He looked down to see her eyes closed, a soft smile on her slightly parted lips, little sighs of pleasure escaping as he ran his fingers along the exposed tendons of her neck.

What do you see when you look at me like that?

I see a very desirable woman
.

He rolled his lips into his mouth, deciding to concentrate on the shape of the muscles and tendons, ignoring the soft, silky feel of her flesh. But it was impossible. Who was pleasuring whom, here, he wondered, his fingertips relaying the subtlest of tactile pleasures to other parts of his body. It was too easy to imagine that look on her face, those soft mews and secret smile, in other contexts. Did she have any idea how desirable she was? He swallowed and leaned forward a little more, running his hands across her shoulders, gently kneading the muscle between the tendons and around her collarbones. Then he allowed his palms to caress her flesh as he moved his hands behind her neck once more, his thumbs firmly massaging her trapezoid muscles.

Her open-necked sweater allowed him free access to most of her shoulders and neck. Only her bra straps offered any hindrance. But touching them, running his fingers beneath them, sent a schoolboy thrill through him. Forbidden territory, Rabb. He almost chuckled, almost tempted to see how far he could ‘go’. But then he frowned and stopped. This was no game, no adolescent backseat necking. The stakes here were very different.

“Mm…don’t stop now,” she said, rolling her head to the other size, unconsciously leaning back further until her head rested on his upper thigh.

Her proximity was more than disturbing; her invitation pressing every one of his male buttons—and some he wasn’t aware that he had. But he’d been housetrained, and refused to allow his thoughts to go there. Instead, he concentrated on using his right hand on her neck, while his left gently explored down either side of her spine, until the sweater prevented him further access.

A vague annoyance crossed her face. “Lower, just a bit lower,” she muttered. “Almost…”

“I can’t reach it from here, Mac.”

She leaned forward, allowing him to reach under the hem of her sweater; then she sat back upright as his hands climbed higher, past her bra fastener until he could feel the bunched muscles. “I think you’ve got a couple of stuck ribs,” he said. “Here, in the upper part of your back.” He gently edged his knee against the spot. “Lean back and I’ll pull your shoulders back until it clicks.” He moved his hands outside of her sweater again, then gently grasped her shoulders.

She allowed him to roll her shoulder back with his hands, but then she stiffened. “Ow! Damned clip,” she muttered. Before he realized what she was doing, she had reached behind with one hand and unclasped her bra. “Okay, try now.”

It was just a brassier clip. He hesitated, swallowing hard again. “Okay, breathe out as I pull.”

Two or three clicks rang out when the ribs rotated free of her spine. “Uh…oh yeah, that’s better. Wow, you’re pretty good at this.”

He smiled as she leaned forward. He slid his hands back under the hem of her sweater again, quickly, business-like, going straight to the now tender spot and gently kneading it. A dozen quips came to mind, but every one risked a red light—and the inevitable cessation of what was arguably more pleasurable for him than her. “I’m a mean hand at foot rubs, too.”

“Yeah?” she replied huskily. “What’s a girl gotta do to get one of those?”

“We…ell,” he replied thoughtfully, leaning down to speak into her ear. “Be nice to me?”

Mac could feel his breath on her neck, the magical touch of his fingers, the way his long legs framed her, but his ministrations were seducing her ability to think clearly. No red lights, not even a yellow one came to mind, because it was just a back rub. “I’m always nice to you.”

“Yeah…sometimes,” he replied equivocally, as his hands splayed wide, massaging the ribs across her back, moving out from her spine and around and down. “Why, you angling for a foot rub?”

“Mm.” She smiled dreamily. “Can never have too many good shoes—or foot-rubs.” Without realizing it, she was running her right hand up his calf.

At first, Harm thought it was just to brace herself, but as he was caressing her, so she was unconsciously responding in kind. Her soft moans increased, the look on her face… Christ, he thought, swallowing hard, he wasn’t a eunuch. He could feel where her bra had slipped forward, feel the loose straps brush his knuckles. Just an inch or two away and…his fingers tingled as he came into contact with the softer flesh beneath her arms. Too many adolescent summer nights, too may memories of unfastening girl’s bras with hopes of... Then, as he ran his hands forward again, she leaned back further and suddenly, he found them all but cupping her generous breasts. He tried to snatch his hands back, muttering an instant apology when her eyes flew open.

Mac realized two things at once. First, it had not been his fault, and second, a sensation of unfettered, erotic pleasure arced from her breasts to her groin, spreading out to her toes, even her fingertips. She had enjoyed sex with Mic but this…this was…my God, was this what people meant by electric?

He just couldn’t order his hands to move. God help me, he thought. He boasted some of the fastest reflexes in the world, but his hands hadn’t moved! He closed his eyes, sensations battling. The clearest one was of the charges being read against him. Copping a feel of your partner, despite six years together, was still sexual harassment. But it was going to get worse, much worse, because when she turned to confront him, despite his jeans, she was going to get an eyeful of that part of his body which had responded with those same, lightning fast reflexes.

He’s not moving, Mac thought. In a sudden epiphany she realized that his loss of control that night as he pulled her to him in an almost desperate kiss, had been because she had kissed him first. She had instigated it—not in words alone, but actions meant as affection. And like tonight, she had not meant it in a sexual way.

In my world, you lose control, you’re dead.

Mac had never considered herself a seductress. Her looks and endowments had been something she’d kept reasonably camouflaged by a short, military haircut and Marine greens. But equally, she was aware that she was attractive, and that out of uniform, she turned heads. It just wasn’t something she used in life, and certainly not something that she flaunted. Still, even if he flew Tomcats, Harm was just a guy.

What do you see when you look at me like that?

I see a very desirable woman
.

Harmon Rabb was losing control. Not moving his hands meant that he had, in fact, already lost it. Capitulating to her own shockingly intense arousal, Mac leaned back even further, until her back was against her sofa, encouraging his big hands to enclose her breasts fully, moaning softly as she did.

That was not, however, Harm’s undoing. His undoing was the way she turned to meet his eyes, her tongue tip barely darting out between her partially opened lips, and her eyes flickering to his groin. Then her nostrils flared at the bulge pressing painfully against his zipper, just a hand-span from her face. His imagination had long supplied him with more than a few fantasies about his partner. It now launched a frontal assault on his growing problem. The apology on his lips died stillborn. Then her hands came up, outside of her sweater, to press his hands firmly against her. Just the slightest pressure and she moaned softly. He sat, eyes wide, mesmerized by what he was doing—what she was doing as he lifted his thumbs to stroke her already engorged nipples.

She met his eyes again—and almost chuckled. He was way past the frozen deer in the headlights stage. Frozen deer didn’t have the look of raw, unadulterated lust in their eyes. She thought she knew what she was getting into, the way he teased and flirted with that flyboy grin and knowing look. But she now understood that had been all play-acting. This was for real. A shudder of anticipation shot through her. Three seconds. That’s all that had passed since his hands had slipped forward. Maybe four. Harmon Rabb was the only man she had ever met who played havoc with her sense of timing.

Only with you.

“Mac,” he said in a warning voice. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

She responded by leaning her head back further until it rested again his groin, her lips parted, a smile touching her lips as closed her eyes and said, “Lower.”

In his relief, Harm wanted to snatch her up off the floor and take her lips in his, but he had recovered from his initial shock and decided to wrest control again. Mac was not going to practice her Marine hand-to-hand combat skills against him. And then it hit him; after all this time, he was finally coming home.

He ignored her request and instead moved his hands higher, gently tracing patterns across the tops of her breasts, then bringing his hands back under them, memorizing their shape with his fingers, rubbing his thumbs against her nipples, alternately squeezing and caressing until her sighs became moans and her hips began to arch. He smiled as he brought his hands up under her arms, and lifted them, removing her sweater and bra in one movement. Then he leaned forward to admire her, fondling her as he did so.

The goose bumps on her flesh reminded him that the dying fire needed attention—or else they needed to take this elsewhere. He didn’t want that. He wanted to watch her, not just her body, but also her face. Here was just fine. “Fire needs stoking,” he whispered, then stood.

She said nothing as he moved away. She just watched him with liquid brown eyes. Despite her need to scream that her fires were burning her from the inside out, she was not about to concede her lack of control. She had every intention of paying him back.

Harm crouched and added the chopped timber to the flames, pushing the coals around as he did so, making sure the resulting blaze burned evenly. Then he stood and tossing her a boyish grin, turned out the lights, leaving only the orange glow of the fire as the dry timber began to blaze. His eyes never left hers as he returned, sitting exactly as he had before, bringing his hands around to cup her breasts once more. But this time, before she could rock her head back, he leaned forward and around, to kiss the hollow between her collarbone and neck. Simultaneously, his hands slid lower, caressing her abdomen, then around to her back, gently massaging.

Mac felt like screaming, tossing him onto the floor and taking him there and then. But equally, she wanted nothing more than to just lay there and let him continue with his exquisite torture. Then, his exploring mouth found the tender part just beneath her ear, and she groaned aloud, “Harm.”

His fingers had found the buttons on her jeans, but he ignored them and edged his fingers beneath the waste-band. Mac wore her jeans lose, and reclining like this made for easy access. But the feel of silky soft underwear, the hint of springy curls beneath, the way she writhed beneath him…his hand felt cramped, confined, and he wanted to time this exactly.

“Take them off,” he whispered the order as his lips and tongue slid across her jaw.

She almost rebelled at his command. The way he commanded everything. But her hands obeyed before she could stop them. It was too easy to succumb to his demands, to let him take first chair. His time would come. She used her toes to push first one, then the second woolen sock from her feet, then lifted her bottom as she unfastened her jeans and slid them off. Her simple silk panties remained, however. And she took pleasure in the sight of his fingers edging beneath them.

He, too, watched his hand move across the flat plains of her belly, bronzed in part by her naturally olive skin, and in part by the light of the fire. He watched as his hand moved beneath its narrow elastic, to touch the curls beneath. “Sarah,” he whispered as his tongue explored her ear. “You are beautiful.”

She moaned and turned her face to his. She had only heard him use her name like that once before, and again it was like soft silk flowing from his tongue. Then she felt his mouth open to hers, his tongue barely touching her lips, teasing her as his fingers teased her entrance. Her moans became groans as his fingers slid between damp and swollen folds, down, but not in, as his tongue slid across her lips, but refused to enter. She lifted her hips, pushing against his hand, curving upwards, begging him to enter her until finally, he slipped his tongue into her mouth as he slipped two fingers into her core.

Assaulted from both ends, sensations tore through her, sensations that compounded as he withdrew his tongue and fingers - then slid them in again, harder, as he slipped down off the couch and onto the floor behind her, to get better leverage. She turned in his arms, thrusting herself against his hand, demanding more, wrapping her hand around his, guiding his fingers and she pushed herself onto him as he used his tongue in perfect counterpoint.

She didn’t want it to end this way! Not so soon! But he moved his thumb and pushed just so until she cried out again and again, calling his name until the hard contractions around his fingers ceased.

He withdrew his hand gently and enfolded her into his arms, kissing her head softly, closing his eyes and smiling with a depth of contentment he could hardly credit. It didn’t matter to him that his own physical needs had not been attended to, his heart and soul had been nourished beyond measure.

Presently, she looked up, then frowned and blinked. He was fully clothed, right down to his boots. She caught the smug smile on his face, but couldn’t do anything more than grin and shake her head. “Think you’re pretty clever, huh?” she quipped.

“We…ell,” he replied, tossing her a knowing smile. And this time, the smile really was knowing. “Now that you mention it…” But his smile turned to an expression of alarm as she very deliberately ran her hand up the inside of his jeans legs, and cupped him. “Now Mac,” he said cautiously, “we can be reasonable about this.”

“You want to keep your clothes on? Fine,” she replied, lowering her head and mouthing him through the fabric of his jeans. She was glad that despite the snow, he’d worn an old pair. Soft and a little threadbare in places, the material was thin and faded almost to white where he bulged. She ran her tongue along the fabric over the zipper, watching him watch her, delighting in the lost, almost frantic look on his face.

“C’mon Mac, gimme a break here,” he begged, his voice rasping as she ran her tongue around the material-covered outer part of his swollen tip, while he fingers firmly kneaded his length.

She couldn’t quite make out all the details, of course, or reach all of him, but his mind was supplying most of it, and that’s what counted. She felt one of his hands caress her back and the other, cup her face, and an idea struck her. She reached down and drew his hand across her mouth, then licked between the joints of his fingers.

His eyes widened in shock and he held his breath. But worse was to come, as she took his index finger in her mouth and sucked firmly, wrapping his finger in folds of tight, warm, moist, flesh. Pulling on him. God help me, he thought, since when did one part of his anatomy instantly transmute into another? His breathing quickened and his eyes became even wider as she slowly lifted her lips away, wrapped his finger with her tongue – then immediately lowered her face to his groin and ran her tongue along his entire material clad length. Hard down again she pushed her face, using her nose and lips, not just her tongue, in counterpoint to her fingers, then back up, to thrust his fingers back into her mouth, sucking on them, until a tiny patch of damp, no bigger than her small fingernail, appeared near the waste-band of the soft denim.

“You want me to make you come in your trousers, Commander Rabb?” she whispered as she climbed on top of him, straddled him and rocked against him.

Ten minutes, even five minutes ago he would have said that was impossible. That hadn’t happened to him since…well, in fact, it had never happened to him. At least not while his trousers were fully zipped and fastened. But as she rocked against him, the way she spoke…the way she came out with it so…casually…he tried to get his breathing under control, tried to form a cohesive denial. Instead, he foolishly replied, “You can’t, Mac, you wouldn’t dare.” His eyes widened at her look and he fumbled for words in his panic, “I…m…nn…ah!”

But it was too late. That was one challenge she intended winning. She opened his zipper, reached in and grasping him firmly within his boxer shorts, lifted herself so that he could see her part the lips of her vagina, and wrap herself over his material shrouded length. Not inside her, but along her. Then she rocked hard against him, watching his face, watching him lose control. Still, it wasn’t enough, so she reached down, grasped his hand and rubbed it against herself, moaning as she did so, pleasuring herself against him and his fingers until he lost all hope and exploded in a gush of pleasure so strong that he cried out and pulled her mouth to his.

She felt the hot warmth flood against her, but most of it spread beneath his shorts. Before he could finish kissing her, she deftly reached down and zipped his jeans, making sure he was safely tucked inside. What the hell, she thought, it also saved her having to clean the rug before Jingo became embarrassingly curious.

“Low tactics, Marine,” he grumbled a few moments later. “Now what am I going to wear home?”

He could feel her chuckling as her held her close to his chest. He could also feel how cold she was. “Hey,” he added, “you’re freezing.” He looked around, then reached up for the rug on the sofa, and wrapped it around her as she snuggled against him.

Mac wasn’t sure if she wanted to see his eyes. She couldn’t believe what she’d just done. She was no prude, and certainly enjoyed a few sexual athletics, but that little stunt went way beyond anything she’d ever done before. But there was no way she could have allowed Harmon Rabb Jr. to claim the upper hand. She began to giggle.

Harm pulled his head back and looked down at her. Mac, giggling? Nah…but there it was, the evidence was all over her face. “You…giggled!” he said incredulously.

She rolled her lips into her mouth and pulled away from him, sitting back on his outstretched legs. “I’ve been known to, on occasion,” she replied, trying to control her mirth.

He tucked her hair behind her ear and considered her fondly. If he’d had any doubts about the direction their relationship might take, particularly in the bedroom, it was that sex might be too intense, too serious because the emotional stakes were so high. But again she had surprised him. Mac wasn’t just sensual in bed, she was fun. He smiled and holding her eyes with his, asked, “I don’t suppose you have pair of trousers that would fit me, do you?”

“That’s really bugging you, isn’t it?”

He rolled his eyes and looked away, but he couldn’t keep the grin off his face. “Okay, yeah, you got me. Happy now?”

“Mm,” she replied thoughtfully. “Maybe. Don’t you keep a change of clothes in your car?”

His eyes slid back to hers. “I suppose you expect me to go out into the freezing night to get them…like this,” he added as he glanced down to the growing dampness spreading through the fabric of his jeans. Her sitting on him didn’t help. “Especially when some of it is not attributable to just me.”

She climbed off him, pulling the rug around her. “I’ll put them in the wash, then get up early to dry them.”

His smile faded as he looked at her. “That means I’ll have to spend the night.” He saw a shadow of doubt cross her face. “Do you mind?”

“Do you?” she asked, her whole body going tense.

He stood and took her into his arms. “Hey, I didn’t mean it like that,” he said gently. “Listen, isn’t it time we stopped this crazy seesaw? If I didn’t want to be here with you, I would have backed off before this went too far. But I asked you not to make promises you couldn’t keep. Now I’m asking again.”

She reached up from the rug and cupped his face in her hand. “If you don’t know by now how much love you, then I’ll kick your sorry six clear across—”

But his kiss cut off her words. A tender kiss, one full of love and promise. “Y’know,” he whispered into her ear, “from a legal point of view, we haven’t made love yet.”

“What, you’re taking the Clinton defense?”

“Well,” he replied as they walked into her bedroom. “Under cross examination, we could truthfully declare that you never made direct tactile or oral contact with any of my intimate parts.”

“Yeah,” she replied cautiously. “But you did with mine.”

“Ah councilor, that wasn’t the question.”

“What was the question again, counselor?”

“Have you or have you not ever made direct physical contact with the defendant in a sexual manner?”

“No, but when he strips and showers in a few minutes, I have every intention of rectifying that.”

Harm tossed her a grin, then began pulling his clothes off. This time, in this lifetime, they were finally going to get it right.



The End

 

 

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