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Classification Romance (H/M), Adventure, JAG Story
Length Approximately 835,000 words, 450 pages (8 x 11)
Spoilers Through "Surface Warfare" and "Legacy"
Rating AO


Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5



1145 ZULU

Harm felt his breath catch in his chest when he heard the familiar Australian accent.  Barely noticing Renee's gentle tug on his arm, he turned and saw Mic Brumby greet Mac.  Harm noticed Mac smile in surprise and delight as she asked Brumby what he was doing at the ball.  Mic's answer to the question chilled Harm and everything around him seemed to move in slow motion as he had a mental flash of his partner and friend slipping away from him, perhaps forever.

"I've reserved my commission," Brumby replied to Mac's question.  "I've moved to Washington to be nearer the woman I love."

As he watched Mac and Brumby link arms to enter the ballroom, Harm had to admit to himself that it had been easier to deal with--rather, not deal with--Mac's relationship with Brumby when the man was on the other side of the world.  It was easy to forget that Mac was involved with someone else when Harm was not confronted with that fact every day.  No, that wasn't entirely true.  He had to deal with it every time he saw that damn ring on her finger.  So far, however, she had shown no inclination to move it from her right to her left hand.  Now that Brumby was back in town, Harm was afraid that it was only a matter of time ...  

As Brumby walked beside her, exchanging greetings with Bud and Harriet Roberts, Mac couldn't help but seek out her partner with her eyes.  Unable to make sense of the feelings swirling around inside her head, she instinctively sought out Harm's comforting, rock-steady gaze without thinking about why she was looking to another man for reassurance, trying not to think about why the sudden reappearance of the man who had asked her to marry him had her so shaken.

Still lost in thought, Harm allowed Renee to guide him towards to ballroom.  Stealing a glance back, Harm found Mac staring at him and he noticed that the smile on her face did not quite reach her eyes.  Rather, the look in her eyes spoke of being uncomfortable with Brumby's sudden move and of something else, something Harm couldn't quite put his finger on.

As Lt. Singer walked up beside them with her date to say hello to Brumby, Harriet Roberts took the opportunity to look at Mac, who had seemed distracted to her ever since Mic's surprise announcement.  Seeing Mac staring off into the distance, Harriet followed her gaze and saw Harm looking back, an unreadable expression on his face.  Noticing Harriet's scrutiny, Harm broke off eye contact with Mac and turned to walk into the ballroom with Renee, while Mac closed her eyes for a moment and sighed sadly.


Mac stood off to the side of the dance floor, watching couples move gracefully across the room with a faraway look on her face, a forgotten cup of punch in her hand.  Mic was out there somewhere; Sydney had asked him for a dance, saying that she was anxious to get to know everyone better.  The Admiral had promptly turned around and asked Mac to dance, but she had begged off, claiming thirst as an excuse.  She had moved off to the refreshment table while the Admiral had been cornered by the SecNav to discuss their recent case in Florida.

She caught sight of Harm out of the corner of her eye; he had somehow shaken off the Video Princess and was partnered with Harriet for the current dance.  Mac's heart skipped a beat as she studied him in his mess dress, medals neatly lined up across his left jacket front, gold wings gleaming under the ballroom lights.  Her pulse quickened as she recalled snippets of a conversation in Colombia several years past ...

"You know, what they say about dress whites and gold wings... ?" she had started.

"Yeah?" Harm had asked her, a gleam in his eyes.

"Highly overrated," she had teased, even as she had found herself mesmerized by the sight of Harm in his. So mesmerized that she had nearly kissed him ...

But Mac had to admit, at least to herself, that they weren't overrated, not to her, not when worn by a certain aviator-turned-lawyer.  If only he had been able to open up to her on the ferry in Australia, maybe they wouldn't be trapped in this place and time, further apart than they had ever been, even further apart than they had been in the beginning, when their partnership was new.

But Harm's inability to express his deepest feelings to her was just a part of the problem.  The easy camaraderie that they had shared for most of their partnership, the friendship that had sustained them both through some of their darkest hours, had been strained when Harm had left her to return to flying.  Although he had come back to JAG, back to her, nothing was the same.  They remained friendly, but Mac couldn't really characterize their current relationship as that of best friends.  Occasionally, there were flashes of the old spark, such as the way he had teased her a few days earlier about not having a date for the ball.  But such moments were too few and too far between.  Mac desperately wanted more of those moments.  She wanted their old relationship back.  And until that night on the ferry, she would have admitted that she wanted more.

And what about Mic?  Sometimes, when she couldn't stop herself from thinking about it too much, she wondered if she would have been so quick to wear Mic's ring, so quick to agree to consider his proposal, if she and Harm hadn't already been strained to the breaking point, even before Australia.  Yes, he had hurt her that night in Sydney when she had all but admitted she loved him and he had pushed her away, but would the moment have been easier to get past if she could have been sure that the bonds of a deep and abiding friendship were still there?

Maybe if their friendship had been the same as before, then it would have been easier for her to hope for a future, to wait for him to come to his senses and admit his feelings.  But his rejection on top of their already stretched-thin friendship had been more than any woman, even a strong Marine, could take.  He didn't want her as a lover and sometimes it appeared that they couldn't be friends anymore, not like before.  It had sent her running into Mic's arms.  And it was slowly tearing her apart inside.

Mac didn't even notice when the song ended and couples began moving off the dance floor to take a break or to grab some refreshments.  She was lost in her own little world of lost friendships and rejected feelings until a warm, familiar voice in front of her brought her crashing back to reality.

"You know, we still haven't had a dance, Colonel."

Mac snapped her gaze to the man in front of her, praying that her voice wouldn't shake and betray what she had been thinking.  "Well, maybe it's because you haven't asked me," she replied, trying to keep her tone light and teasing.  So why did her response sound so flat to her ears?

Harm noticed her tone and the flyboy grin that he flashed her didn't quite have the usual warmth behind it.  While he had been dancing with Harriet, he had seen her standing off to the side and had seen the faraway look, the sad expression in her deep chocolate eyes.  He wanted so much to cheer her up, to see even a flash of his favorite 'kick-ass' jarhead, but he was lost on how to salvage their relationship.  He missed her, but he didn't know how to make it better.  Maybe a dance was a small step in the right direction.  Holding out his hand to her and bowing slightly at the waist, he asked, "May I have this dance, Sarah?"

Oh God, he called her 'Sarah'.  She could count on her fingers the number of times he had called her that and each one of them had been special.  Mac didn't trust herself to speak as she turned to set her cup of punch on a nearby table and then turned back to hold her hand out for him to take.  She held her breath and tried not to shake too much as his fingers curled stiffly around hers, as he wrapped his other arm around her, pulling her closer to him as they moved out onto the dance floor.  She rested her left hand lightly on his shoulder, trying to resist the urge to hold onto him and never let go.  As she stared at a point just over his right shoulder, she fought the desire to forget everything--their careers, the man whose ring she now wore on her right hand--and to lose herself in his embrace.

Harm noticed how still and unyielding Mac seemed in his arms.  How had they arrived at this point?  Nothing had been the same since Australia.  No, he had to admit to himself, it had begun before that, ever since he had returned from the USS Patrick Henry to resume his duties at JAG.  She had been warm and friendly when he had seen her on the carrier for Lieutenant Buxton's court martial, but the old spark had seemed to disappear from their friendship once he returned to JAG.  Australia had just been another nail in the coffin that was their friendship.  And the move of Brumby's ring from right to left would possibly be the final nail.

Shivering slightly as that terrifying thought crossed his mind, Harm unconsciously tightened his hold on Mac, drawing her even closer to him until their bodies were intimately pressed together, as if by holding on to her physically he could hang onto their deteriorating relationship.  God, he didn't want to let her go, couldn't let her go.  His soul depended on it.

Without thinking about it, Mac found herself relaxing and settled into his tight embrace, tilting her head so that their cheeks were touching.  Mac lost herself in his touch, his scent as their bodies swayed to the music.  Tears formed in Mac's eyes as she listened to the words.

Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love, it is a hunger
An endless aching need
I say love, it is a flower
And you it's only seed

Mac closed her eyes against the tears as she reflected on how true the words were when applied to her life.  Her soul was bleeding and her heart was aching, torn between the man she didn't love who offered her the world and the man she did who couldn't let go and let her in.

It's the heart, afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
t's the dream, afraid of waking
That never takes a chance
It's the one who won't be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learned to live

As Harm listened to the second verse, his mind turned back to that awful night in Australia, when Mac had opened up to him and he had shut down and shut her out, retreating behind an impenetrable shield of duty, not knowing at the time how much that decision would cost him, how much it would tear him up inside.

When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong
Just remember, in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the sun's love
In the spring becomes the rose

As the song faded, both of their minds turned back to their first meeting in the Rose Garden, the day Harm had received his first Distinguished Flying Cross, when the Admiral had warned them, "Don't get involved, you'll be working together."  But they both realized in the deepest reaches of their hearts, even if they could not or would not admit it aloud, that the feelings churning inside them both were more powerful than any order from a two-star.


Renee returned from the ladies' room just as Harm and Mac had started dancing and her eyes had immediately found them on the dance floor.  As she watched, she could tell how uncomfortable Mac had appeared at first in Harm's embrace, how stiffly Harm had been holding her, and she could pinpoint the exact second when they both had relaxed and lost themselves in each other, the music and the feelings in their tortured hearts.

She had no illusions about her and Harm's relationship.  Harm was sexy as hell and incredible in bed, but Renee knew it wasn't meant to be forever. She was realistic.  Men may date and sleep with women like her, but as someone had once said 'I'm not the marrying kind.'  And deep down she had always known that even if she had been marriage-minded, Harm's heart would never truly belong to her, for that little piece of him had been locked up tight by a certain Marine Lieutenant Colonel long before she had ever entered the picture and would remain so long after she was gone.

She didn't notice anyone approach her until she heard a soft "Damn!" coming from just behind her right shoulder.  Renee turned to find Mic Brumby standing just behind her, an angry look settling in his eyes as he watched the couple swaying together on the dance floor.  Obviously, he wasn't as realistic as she was.

"Has it ever occurred to you that you're fighting a losing battle?" Renee asked softly, hoping to prevent a scene.  She may not have been military, but she was sure that those who were would appreciate proper decorum being maintained.

"He doesn't deserve her," Mic said with conviction.  "She's too good for him."

Renee almost laughed, but she knew that the angry man beside her wouldn't appreciate that reaction.  "You know, Harm says the same thing about you," she responded.  "And I would not be surprised if Colonel Mackenzie has made a comment or two about my relationship with Harm behind my back."

That was true, Mic admitted to himself.  Mac called her the 'Video Princess' and thought her shallow and superficial.  But Mic was very much the gentleman with members of the opposite sex and was not about to admit such a thing to her face.  He turned the conversation back to the couple lost in their own little world on the dance floor.  "And you can accept being at the losing end of this battle?" Mic asked.  Maybe she wasn't shallow as she appeared to be.

Renee shrugged.  "It's kind of hard to lose a battle if there never really has been one to begin with," she replied matter-of-factly.  "Even if I was interested in a commitment, his heart's not mine.  It never has been.  And if that is any indication, it never could be."

Mic was surprised.  She had obviously put a lot of thought into this.  "So what are you going to do, just walk away?"

"I have my pride," she stated.  "What's so proud about hanging onto a man who is so obviously in love with someone else that a blind man could see it?"  She paused for a moment, watching Mic's eyes as he processed what she was saying.  He knew the truth, Renee thought, even if he wasn't as willing as her to admit it.  Maybe the Australian wasn't as arrogant and full of himself as Harm had always claimed.

"Let me ask you something," Renee said.  "And believe me when I say that I am not saying this to upset you.  Call it a little something for you to think about."  She took a deep breath, then dove in, "Is this about loving Mac or beating Harm?"

Mic stared at her, stunned, even as he debated with himself over the answer, not that he would admit aloud that there was any such debate.  "Of course, I love Mac," he responded firmly.  "What kind of question is that?"

"Maybe the most important one of all," she countered, her eyes full of sympathy.  "If you love her so much, and if you know her feelings aren't as strong as yours, do you think you can love her enough to let her go?  Even if it means letting her go to Harm?"

Mic was about to respond when Renee shook her head.  "No," she said softly. "Just something for you to think about, remember?"  With one more glance at the couple on the dance floor, she started to leave, but turned back after a couple of steps and told Mic, "Good luck.  I hope you find your answers and that you can live with them when you do."

Forgetting for a moment about the couple on the dance floor, Mic watched her leave, thoughtful and intrigued.  He never would have thought that Renee could even take into consideration anyone's feelings but her own.  Just as he had never thought that anyone or anything would cause him to question whether or not marrying Mac was the right thing to do.


On the sidelines, Harriet had found a chair to sit in while she rested her tired and swollen feet for a few minutes while Bud went for some refreshments.  Harriet searched the dance floor with her eyes for the rest of the group from JAG.  It took only a moment for her eyes to light on Harm and Mac as they melted into each other's arms and Harriet lost all interest in finding anyone else.  A small, satisfied smile crossed her face as she watched Mac, who was facing her direction, close her eyes and lose herself in the moment and in her partner's embrace.

Harriet had had her suspicions about the look that she had witnessed between Harm and Mac in the hallway and it was becoming very apparent to her that she was right.  Harriet wanted her friends to be happy and she knew that they had belonged together, just as Harm and Mac had known the same about her and Bud a few years earlier.  Not that she didn't like Mic; she did.  And Renee was not that bad either; after all, she had been nice enough to arrange for the stunning dress that Harriet was currently wearing.  She just didn't think that they belonged with Mac and Harm.

"What's up with those two?" asked a voice beside her.  Harriet looked up to find the Admiral's date, Dr. Sydney Walden, standing beside her watching the couple on the dance floor.  Harriet smiled.  Happily married and expecting her second child, Harriet thought the world would be perfect if everyone else around her was as happy as she was.  She thought it was wonderful that the Admiral, whom she looked up to and who had done so much for her and her family, had found a woman as nice as Dr. Walden appeared to be. Harriet was looking forward to getting to know her better.

Before Harriet could respond, Bud, who had just returned and overheard the question, piped in as he handed a cup of punch to his wife, "The Commander and Colonel have been good friends for years."

Harriet let out an exasperated sigh and shook her head as she took the offered punch.  "Oh, Bud," she retorted, but with a small smile to soften her words.  "I don't know about you sometimes."

"What?" Bud complained.  "They care about each other, but the Commander is with Ms. Peterson and the Colonel is practically engaged to Commander Brumby."

"This from the man whose jaw was wired shut for weeks because of Commander Rabb's feelings for the Colonel?"  Harriet reminded him.

"Yeah, well ... " Bud trailed off, remembering the agony of that particular incident and not especially anxious to relieve it.

"Wait a minute," Sydney interjected, widely curious.  "What does Bud having his jaw wired have to do with Commander Rabb and Colonel Mackenzie?"

"Nothing!" Bud exclaimed.  "When a witness picked a fight with a defendant in a case the Commanders were adversaries on, Commanders Rabb and Brumby got in the middle of it and were going to exchange blows themselves when I got in between them.  Result, one jaw broken in two places."

"They both hit you!?"

Harriet nodded, adding, "There's a little more to the story than what my husband is revealing ... "

"Harriet, you were nine thousand miles away," Bud pointed out, as Sydney looked at both of them, her curiosity growing.

Noticing the questioning look on Sydney's face, Harriet explained Bud's last comment.  "Bud, the Commanders and the Colonel were in Australia when all this happened." Harriet turned to pat her husband on the arm.  "Now, Bud, I may have been back in frozen D.C., but I heard enough to read between the lines."

Turning her attention back to Sydney, Harriet continued, "The Commanders have always been adversarial in court, that is true.  But Commander Brumby has almost always been chasing after Colonel Mackenzie ... "

"And Commander Rabb doesn't like it," Sydney interrupted, understanding dawning.  Harriet was confirming some of what Sydney had guessed based on offhand comments that AJ had made about his officers.

"To say the least," Harriet remarked.  "And then Colonel Mackenzie returned from Australia wearing Commander Brumby's ring -- on her right hand."

"Hmmm," Sydney murmured.  It explained a lot.  When Sydney had first met Mac at the airport as the younger woman had been preparing to board a flight to Australia, she had thought that Mac did not quite have that glow of a woman in love.  AJ hadn't said much when asked about it, not being one to gossip about his officers, but a stray comment here and there had drawn a partial picture for Sydney of a triangle glaringly apparent to anyone and everyone, except maybe for two of the principle players.

"I don't mean to go on," Harriet added, hoping she wasn't giving the impression of being a gossip herself, but she didn't think it could hurt for someone else to see how much Harm and Mac were meant to be, "but Commander Rabb and Colonel Mackenzie are so perfect for each other.  I just wish they could see what everyone else does."

The Admiral had finally managed to shake off the SecNav and made his way over to the trio, carrying two cups of punch.  He handed one to Sydney, which she took with bright smile directed at him.

"Enjoying yourselves, Lieutenants?" AJ asked Bud and Harriet.

"Absolutely, sir," Bud responded enthusiastically while Harriet continued to stare at the couple out on the dance floor, having not quite heard the question.

AJ noticed and followed her gaze.  Oh, hell, he thought as he noticed what exactly had Harriet's undivided attention, things are going to be very interesting around here.  "Lieutenant Sims?" AJ prompted, a little more firmly this time.

Harriet finally registered the Admiral's presence and tore her gaze away from the dance floor.  "Sorry, sir," she said, her cheeks turning pink at her embarrassment that she hadn't even realized her CO standing right in front of her.

"Having a good time, Lieutenant?" he asked again.

"Oh, yes, sir," she responded.  "Just taking a break.  I am a little tired."

AJ nodded.  "That's understandable, Lieutenant.  Try not to overdo it tonight."

"No, sir," Harriet said, smiling at the concern evident in his voice.  "I am going to relax for a bit and enjoy getting to know Dr. Walden."

"Please," Sydney insisted, "call me Sydney." She couldn't help but like the bright, bubbly young woman.

AJ chuckled.  "These two can't remember to call their best friends by their names most of the time when away from work," he explained to Sydney.  Bud and Harriet both smiled at the comment; even after years of friendship, it was still hard for the junior officers to think of Commander Rabb and Colonel Mackenzie as Harm and Mac.

Sydney was about to respond when Renee joined them, a folded piece of paper in her hand.  "Since Harm is busy right now, could one of you make sure he gets this?" she asked, holding out the note she had written quickly after walking away from Mic.  AJ took the note, a questioning look in his eyes.

"I just got notified of this problem out in LA that I need to take care of," Renee explained hurriedly.  "It's still early out there, so I really need to go someplace where I can call there and handle whatever has gone wrong now.  Just make sure Harm gets this and let him know that I will call him tomorrow."  Without a further word, Renee turned and made her way towards the door they had entered through earlier, leaving two puzzled couples in her wake.

"I wonder what that was all about?" Sydney asked while Harriet turned her gaze back to the dance floor as the song was ending, wondering if what was happening out there had anything to do with Renee's retreat.


Back on the dance floor, as the last notes of the song drifted away, Harm and Mac remained swaying in each other's arms for a few seconds before they became aware of the silence around them.  Breaking apart hastily, they stared at each other for a long moment, overwhelmed by everything they were feeling, not quite ready for the moment to end.

"Ummm ... " they both began.  They both broke off, smiling to cover the awkwardness of the moment, both wondering if the other could hear the pounding of their hearts.

Taking a steadying breath, Mac began again, "Thank you for the dance, Harm. I enjoyed it."

Harm's blue-green eyes studied her for a moment as he held onto the memory of the moment, the feel of her warm body in his arms, the warm spot on his shoulder where her hand had rested as they danced, the tingly feeling where his cheek had rested against the top of her head.  "I'm glad you enjoyed it, Sarah," he replied softly.

Mac's heart skipped a beat as he called her 'Sarah' for the second time in a matter of minutes and she wondered briefly if everyone could see how much her knees were shaking.  But any response she might have made was lost as Harm's attention was diverted to something behind her.  "Brumby's heading this way," Harm whispered to her, taking a step back.

Oh, God, Mac thought as she fought an internal battle for control of her raging emotions, don't let him see me like this.  Don't let him see ...

"Hello, Mic," Harm said, his voice carefully neutral.  With one dance, he felt that just a little bit of the old Harm and Mac had been recaptured and the last thing he wanted was to ruin it by fighting with the smug Australian in front of Mac.

"Hello, mate," Mic responded, his voice equally neutral.  If Harm wasn't going to start anything, then neither was he.  "Sarah?"

Mac slowly turned around, a smile plastered on her face, hoping that her face didn't betray the turmoil raging in her heart and soul.  "Hello, Mic," she answered, hoping he couldn't hear the slight tremor in her voice, couldn't see the trembling of her hands.

"May I have this dance, luv?" Mic asked, holding out his hand.  If he noticed that the smile on her face didn't quite reach her eyes, he didn't comment on it.

Mac placed her hand in his and turned back slightly to catch Harm's gaze. "Thank you again for the dance," she said softly as Mic started to lead her away.

"Anytime, Sarah," Harm whispered once they were out of earshot, trying not to think about it, of the other half of his soul in the arms of another man.  "Anytime."


Harm mingled among the other guests for the rest of the evening after he read the note left for him by Renee, not thinking about why it didn't bother him that his girlfriend had left the ball with only a brief note as explanation, trying not to think about the vision in red out on the dance floor, Mic stuck to her side like glue since Harm had left them.

He partnered with Harriet again, also with Carolyn Imes and Sydney, spending the rest of the time conversing politely with various JAG officers on the sidelines.  But his responses were short, one- or two-word comments.  Everyone noticed the distance, the faraway look in his eyes, but no one commented on it.  And they pretended not to notice when his gaze would periodically fall on Mac out on the dance floor with Mic.

Currently, Harm was standing on the sidelines with Bud and Harriet, half-listening as Bud filled his wife in on his younger brother Mikey and his recent trouble.  Harm's eyes again found Mac as she waltzed with Mic, her gaze meeting Harm's every time she turned in his direction.  Harm didn't even notice that Bud and Harriet were speaking to him until he felt Harriet's hand on his arm.

"Commander?" Harriet asked, the concern obvious in her voice as she saw what he was seeing.

Harm managed to tear his gaze away and turned to Harriet.  "Yes, Harriet?" he asked.

"Well," Harriet said brightly, "Bud and I were just talking.  You've been busy recently, with Commander Coulter's father's case and with Mikey's troubles, that you haven't really had a chance recently to spend any time with little AJ."

"I'm sorry," he responded.  He did enjoy spending time with little AJ and had missed that recently.  "It has been kind of hectic lately."  It was the longest answer anyone had gotten out of him in the last hour.

"Of course," Harriet responded, growing more excited about her idea.  "What are you doing on Sunday, sir?"  Bud, just out of Harm's line of sight, shook his head.  He wasn't sure that Harriet should be doing what she was about to do.  At least, not for the reasons that she was doing it for.

Harm pondered for a moment, then answered, "I don't have any plans right now.  What do you have in mind?"

"Well," she explained.  "We are planning a family day at Rock Creek Park on Sunday, pack a picnic lunch, maybe take a side trip to the zoo.  Anyway, so that you can spend some time with your godson, Bud and I thought you and the Colonel would like to join us."

"I see," Harm replied carefully, trying not to show his excitement about the possibility of spending some leisure time with Mac, even if it was in the company of the Roberts family.  "Have you spoken to Mac about this yet?"

"Not yet, sir," Bud replied.  "I mean, Commander Brumby has, well ... " He trailed off, not sure if it was a good idea to mention Brumby in Harm's presence.

Harm smiled at Bud's obvious discomfort.  "Understood, Bud," he replied, trying to place Bud at ease.  "You haven't had the opportunity to approach Mac about your idea yet."

"No, but I'm sure she would also appreciate the chance to spend some time with AJ, sir," Harriet explained.

"I'm sure she would, Harriet," Harm answered, chuckling.  Harriet was a bit transparent, but he didn't mind.  Any chance to see Mac outside of work -- and away from Brumby - was fine with him.  "Anyway, count me in regardless," he added.  No need for them to know how much he wanted to spend time with Mac.

"Well, thank you, sir," Harriet responded, a bit surprised that he had agreed so easily.  She hadn't been entirely sure when she came up with the idea of including her son's godparents in on their family day at the park that either of them would agree.

She had imagined one, or perhaps both, of them suggesting that their presence would be an intrusion on family time.  Or maybe they would claim to have plans already.  It didn't matter.  Now that Harm had agreed, Harriet didn't think she would have any problem getting Mac to agree also. Everything was coming together.  The only thing left was for a certain Navy Commander and Marine Lieutenant Colonel to figure out what was right in front of them.  But Harriet couldn't help but wonder if that wasn't the tallest order of all.

 0413 ZULU

Mic parked his rental car in front of Mac's building and turned off the engine.  In the passenger seat, Mac sat unmoving, staring out the window. Mac had been quiet most of the night, ever since her dance with Harm.  No, Mic had to admit, it had started before that, started when they had entered the ballroom.  Or after he had made his announcement.  He wasn't sure that he wanted to think about the reason behind Mac's mood.

Sighing heavily, Mic asked, "Are you all right, luv?"

Startled out of her thoughts, Mac turned to him and shrugged.  "I'm just tired," she replied, rubbing the bridge of her nose as if to emphasize her point.  "This case we were just on was a crazy one and we just made it back from Florida in time to change for the ball and race over there."  Her excuse sounded lame, even to her own ears, but how could she explain this to him?  The man she was practically engaged to had just moved halfway around the world for her, but her thoughts were consumed by one Harmon Rabb, Jr.

"Are you sure?" he pressed gently.  "You seemed happy to see me, but then ... " he trailed off.

"Of course, I was -- am glad to see you," she retorted, perhaps a bit more strongly than she had intended.  She sighed before continuing in a more even tone of voice, "It's always good to see you.  You just caught me off-guard."

"I'm sorry, luv," Mic said, hoping to smooth things over, praying that Renee wasn't right about everything, hoping that this wasn't a losing battle that his heart was waging.  "I just wanted to surprise you."

"Oh, Mic," Mac responded, smiling in an effort to easy the tension in the car.  He was being so sweet; it wasn't his fault that her heart was in such a quandary.  "I was definitely surprised."  How true those words were, she thought.

"Good," Mic answered, although he wasn't so sure that it was a good thing.  He tried to close his mind to the memory of her in the arms of another man, but the image of Harm and Mac together on the dance floor haunted him.  Time to try to think about something else.  "So what are your plans for this weekend?"

Mac was grateful for the change of subject.  She just didn't want to think anymore about his sudden appearance back in her life and what it was doing to her.  "Nothing really tomorrow, family day at the park on Sunday with Bud, Harriet and my godson," she replied.  Mic had been partnered with Sydney again on the dance floor when Harriet had approached her about the picnic and Mac had readily agreed to attend.  She didn't see the point in mentioning Harm's planned presence at the gathering to Mic.

But Mic knew.  Harm was little AJ's other godparent.  It would make sense for Harm to be included in Sunday's 'family day'.  But Mic didn't want to start a fight, decided that there were some things he was better off not asking, not knowing.  At least not right now.

"How about we grab some lunch tomorrow, maybe go to a movie?" he suggested.

Mac nodded, pleasantly surprised.  She had half expected, based on past experience, that Mic would want to try to monopolize her leisure time now that he was back in the States.  She didn't think she'd have a problem with lunch and a movie.  "Okay, I think I would like that," she replied, a genuine smile on her face.

Mic was pleased that she agreed.  Maybe Renee was just being paranoid; maybe he still did have a chance with Mac.  "What do you say I pick you up at noon?" he asked.

"Works for me.  How should I dress?"

"Casual is fine, luv," he answered, feeling more confident with each passing moment.  "I was thinking about the Hard Rock Café for lunch.  How about you pick the movie?"

"Okay.  Do you have a particular type of movie in mind?" she asked.

"Whatever makes you happy, luv," he answered as he leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.  "Good night, Sarah."

Again, he managed to surprise her.  Maybe his presence in Washington wasn't meant to put pressure on her for a decision, as she had feared.  She got out of the car and headed for the front door of her building, turning back to wave as he drove off.

Once inside her apartment, Mac leaned back against the closed door and closed her eyes.  Whatever makes you happy, luv, he had said.  But just what would make Sarah Mackenzie happy?

0413 ZULU

Harm pushed the door closed behind him and removed the jacket of his mess dress uniform, tossing it on the couch with a heavy sigh.  He had been distracted all evening, ever since Mic had dropped his little bombshell.  And then he had held Mac in his arms for a few moments as they danced and it was as if time had stood still for the two of them, as if all their problems and fears had disappeared for a few stolen moments on the dance floor.

He walked over to the window and looked out into the dark night, trying to sort through his thoughts.  When Brumby had been recalled back to Australia, it had been so easy to forget that he had ever intruded on their lives.  When they had traveled to Australia earlier in the year and everything had fallen apart.  First, that night on the ferry, when he couldn't let go.  Then, Mic had asked Mac to marry him.  Seeing her at the airport, wearing Mic's ring, kissing him in front of everyone, had cut through Harm's soul like a knife.

Then they had come back to the States, Brumby had stayed behind in Australia, and Harm had retreated even further away, throwing himself into his work and his relationship with Renee.  Most of all, he tried to follow the Admiral's advice to 'never look back'.

And he failed miserably.  How many times a day would a steal a glance at Mac's hands, just to make sure that she hadn't moved the ring from right to left?  How often had he nearly slipped and called Renee 'Mac'?  How many times, in the darkest depths of the night, would he wish that he could find the strength and courage to undo the mistakes he had made, most importantly the mistake that he knew in his heart had pushed Mac into Brumby's arms in the first place, the one he had made under the stars on a warm summer night in Sydney Harbor.

But now Brumby was back and was apparently going to be a permanent fixture in their lives.  And the normally self-assured, confident Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr. had to admit, even if only to himself, that he could not deal with the pain in his heart.

Turning from the window, his eyes fell on his guitar resting on a chair in the corner of the dining area.  Picking it up and sitting down, he strummed a few random cords with a heavy heart.  Without even realizing it, he began playing "What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?", the same song that he, Mac and Bud had all sung together in the bar a few years earlier at the time that Mac had broken up with Dalton Lowne and he and Bud were having problems with Annie and Harriet, respectively.

As the last notes of the song faded away, Harm set the guitar down carefully and rose from the chair.  'I know I've got to find some kind of peace of mind.'  The line from the song echoed in his head as he changed out of the rest of his uniform and climbed into bed.  He laid there for a while, staring at the ceiling, trying not to think about the possibility of Brumby going home with Mac, sharing her bed.

When that didn't work, he tried reminding himself that he had a girlfriend, but his mind stubbornly kept drifting back to Mac.  He could see her clearly, her red dress hugging every curve.  He could feel her as if they were still out on the dance floor, wrapped in each other's arms as the music reflected the tortured feelings in his heart.

Even after he drifted off to sleep, his dreams were haunted by lost chances and broken dreams and a piece of his soul drifting away like a wisp of smoke on the wind.

1000 ZULU

After only a few hours of restless sleep, Harm had finally gotten frustrated enough to crawl out of bed.  Looking to burn off some of his excess energy and hoping to wear himself out enough to get some more sleep, Harm had dressed in a pair of blue shorts, a Naval Academy t-shirt and cap, and headed for the early morning peace and solitude of Rock Creek Park.

When he arrived at the park, Harm found himself in luck.  Since it was a Saturday and most people were still in bed at this hour, the jogging trails were nearly deserted.  Harm figured to spend a few hours wearing himself out on the trails before heading back to his apartment for what he hoped would be several hours of sound sleep.

Keeping up a steady, brisk pace around the park, Harm tried to clear his mind, but it remained stubbornly fixed on Mac and the reaction he had seen in her eyes when Brumby had made his announcement.  For someone who was practically engaged to the man, she sure had not looked happy to have him back in D.C. on a permanent basis.  But there had been something else, almost a look of pleading in her eyes when their eyes had met in the hallway, as if she had been silently begging for his help.  But help with what?  Help to make a decision about Brumby?

And then he had held her in his arms and for a few moments, he had been able to forget that Brumby existed, that Renee was in his life, that the night in Sydney had ever happened.  For a few magical minutes, no one else had existed but the two of them.

All too soon, reality had intruded on his fantasy world and everything had gone on as before.  Brumby was still there and so was Renee.  And the stress and strain of the past year between him and Mac was still there.  And it was all tearing him apart.

As Harm rounded a corner on the path, he was brought up short by the sight of his favorite jarhead jogging in his direction, the red headband holding her hair off her face matching the red of her USMC t-shirt.  He leaned casually against a tree and watched her approach his position, while she remained unaware that he was there.  As he waited for her to reach him, he thought in passing that Brumby wasn't with her.

Caught up in her own tortured thoughts, Mac had almost passed Harm by before she noticed him out of the corner of her eye.  Pulling up, she turned and headed for him.  "Hi, Flyboy," she said, almost self-consciously, as if she wasn't entirely comfortable seeing him.  And her voice was missing the usual teasing tone she used when employing her favorite nickname for him.

"Hi, yourself," he replied pleasantly, his usual 'flyboy' grin on his face as he studied her.  As if nothing was wrong.  "Nice place for a morning jog."

"It is," she agreed, then added impishly, "At least we're not that far from Bethesda if you have another accident."

Despite the tension of the last twelve hours, of the last twelve months, Harm couldn't help laughing at the comment, remembering how he had gotten hit by a car while jogging with her a few years back and they had found themselves in the middle of a hostage situation at the naval hospital.  "As long as there aren't any terrorists in residence this time," he teased back.

Mac found herself laughing, too.  Even when she was feeling her bluest, Harm had this charming way of saying exactly the right thing to cheer her up. She found herself voicing the thought, "How is it that you know exactly the thing to say to make me laugh?"

Harm contemplated her for a moment before asking, a serious note to his voice, "Do you need to be cheered up?"

Without a word, Mac sat down on the ground in front of him, looking off into the distance.  It was a few minutes before she replied quietly, "Yes, maybe ...  I don't know.  I should be happy, shouldn't I?"

Harm sat cross-legged next to her and looked at her, but she continued to look away.  In her voice, he had heard a reflection of his own tortured thoughts.  "I don't know," he replied honestly.  "I think the only person who can answer that question is Sarah Mackenzie."

Mac sighed heavily.  "That's the problem," she said sadly.  "Sarah doesn't know how to answer the question."  She stopped suddenly and laughed bitterly.  "How did we get to this point anyway?"

Harm stared at her as he recalled saying those exact same words to her on the USS Watertown over a year ago.  "I don't know," he answered quietly, "but this is definitely a little more than a bump in the road."

"Yeah, it is," she admitted.  God, she thought, I can't discuss this now. I can't deal with it right now.  Mac quickly stood and brushed dirt and stray blades of grass off her shorts.  She looked down, but avoided looking directly at him.  That would have been too hard.  "I've got things I need to do today," she said.  "I really need to get going.  I'll see you here tomorrow, okay?"  She turned and started to walk away.

Harm jumped up and started after her.  "Wait, Mac," he called after her. She stopped, but didn't turn to face him.

"Harm, please don't," she begged, not even trying to hide the shakiness in her voice.  "Not now."  She took off again down the path, leaving Harm standing in the middle of the path, staring after her helplessly.

Chapter Two -- Can't Hold Out Forever


...I tell myself that I can't hold out forever
I say there is no reason for my fear
'Cause I feel so secure when we're together
You give my life direction, you make everything so clear

"Can't Fight This Feeling" performed by REO Speedwagon, copyright 1984.


1135 ZULU

Mac tossed her keys onto the coffee table and threw herself onto the couch with a heavy sigh.  How had everything gotten so complicated?  She felt as if she were drowning and there wasn't a life preserver or rescue boat in sight.

First there was Mic.  He was sweet and charming and he could make her laugh.  She cared for him.  A lot.  But he had thrown her into a tailspin the instant he had made his surprise announcement that he was back in Washington to stay.  How could she be practically engaged to the man, yet feel that it was such an intrusion on her carefully constructed life that he had given up his career in the Royal Australian Navy to move nine thousand miles to be with her?  Twisting the ring on her right hand, she studied the diamond as it sparkled in the sunlight streaming through the window.  It was so beautiful, so clear.  Would that her feelings could be that clear.

And those feelings were all muddled because of one Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr.  After that night on the ferry, when he hadn't been able to let go, she had been the one to let go.  She had convinced herself to let go of every hope and dream she had ever had about the two of them, hopes and dreams that she had been nurturing in her soul ever since the day they had first laid eyes on each other among the roses.  She had shut herself off, tried to maintain a professional distance between the two of them.  She thought she had been succeeding ... until last night.

For a few magical moments, as they had held each other on the dance floor, it had been as if no one else existed.  They had just been a man and a woman lost in the sight and feel of each other.  For a brief time, there were no military rules and regulations, no ring sparkling on her hand, no Mic Brumby, no Renee Peterson, no ferry ride in Australia.  Mac had felt all of the walls that she had carefully built up around her heart for the past three months begin to crumble and her hopes begin to soar.

But then the moment was over and reality had intruded once again.  Mic had shown up on the dance floor to claim her, sticking close to her side for most of the rest of the evening.  Every now and then, as she and Mic had danced, she would find her eyes meeting Harm's and she thought that she had seen her own tortured soul mirrored in his eyes.

Mac had spent a restless night haunted by those eyes, eyes that had seemed to finally tell her everything that he hadn't been able to under the stars a few months earlier.  She had tossed and turned as she remembered the feeling of being in his arms, remembered wanting so much more.

And then, by some strange twist of fate, who should she run into at the park that morning but the one man who had the power to turn her knees to jelly and to shake her to her core?  And irony of ironies, he had acted as if he had been ready to listen to her, ready to open up himself and she had been the one unable to let go of the walls, to let herself finally be free to love him.

Mac jumped up from the couch and began to wander restlessly around the living room, trying to sort through her feelings.  What was she supposed to do?  Build a safe, comfortable life with a wonderful man who loved her above all else but whom she wasn't sure she loved?  Or throw all that away for the one man she loved and who ignited a fire within her soul, but whom she still wasn't sure was ever going to be ready to love her with an equal passion?

She was shaken out of her reverie by the insistent ringing of her phone.  Holding her breath, she glanced at the caller ID, then exhaled sharply.  It wasn't Harm.  After her restless night, after the scene in the park, she didn't think she could face talking to him.

Feeling safe because she didn't recognize the number, she picked up the phone and answered in a slightly shaky voice, "Hello?"

If the person on the other end noticed the tremor in her voice, he didn't let on.  "Good morning, luv," Mic said cheerfully.  A bit too cheerfully for Mac.

She took a few breaths to calm herself.  She could do this.  She just had to keep repeating that to herself.  Then maybe she would start believing it. "Good morning, yourself," she replied.  "What can I do for you?"

Mic heard.  He heard the slight catch in her voice, the hesitation before she returned his greeting.  Mic tried to convince himself that it didn't mean a thing, even as he knew deep down in his heart that he was wrong.  It meant everything.  "Nothing.  I just wanted to hear the voice of the woman I love."  It couldn't hurt to remind her what she meant to him.

"That's so sweet, Mic," she answered with a cheerfulness she didn't really feel.  "However, you caught me heading into the shower.  I just came back from a run."

"You want me to join you, luv?" he teased.

"Mic ..."

"Relax, luv,"  Mic said soothingly.  "I just got up myself and thought I'd call and confirm our lunch date."  And remind her that he was the one who loved her.

"I'm looking forward to it," she answered with forced gaiety.  "What time do you want to meet?"

"Why don't I pick you up, say around 1130?"

"That would be fine," Mac replied.  "I'll see you then."

"I love you, Sarah," Mic said gently.

Mac tried to say the words, but they stuck in her throat.  Instead, she hung up the phone with a whispered goodbye.  Throwing herself back onto the couch, she didn't try to hold back the tears that were beginning to fall.

1205 ZULU

Mic set down the phone in its cradle with a heavy heart.  He had heard it in her voice.  She was slipping away from him.  Sitting down on the bed, he flipped on the radio, leaving it on the station it was set to, only half listening to the music as he turned over the events of the past 24 hours in his mind.

He had been full of hopes and dreams when he had landed in Washington the previous morning.  He had truly believed that he was doing the right thing, packing up and moving back to Washington.  Sarah was taking her time to make a decision, so he had thought that by being there everyday, by showing her how much he loved her, that he could tip the scales in his favor.  But then one dance threatened to destroy all his plans.

Had Renee been right after all?  Was this one battle that he could never win, no matter how hard he fought?  He had spent the previous night trying not to think about that very possibility, trying to convince himself that Renee was being paranoid, that the looks that had passed between the woman he loved and another man during and after their dance had meant nothing.

Sarah probably thought he hadn't seen how her gaze would wander every so often to a distant point over his shoulder.  Rabb probably never realized that Mic noticed how he would suddenly avert his gaze every time it had been Mic facing his direction instead of Sarah.  But he had seen, out of the corner of his eye, each tender look, every longing gaze.  And each one drove another knife into his heart.

He shook his head, as if that could shake his tortured thoughts away.  But he couldn't shake away the pain in his heart.  Deciding he needed a distraction, he turned up the radio as the cheerful DJ announced, "All oldies, all the time.  Here's another one from Gene Pitney."

My arms reach out for you
I kiss you tenderly
But when you touch my lips
You're kissing him not me
Why must it be

Half heaven, half heartache
My loving you darling
Can't you forget that other love you knew

Within your angel eyes
A world of dreams are there
Yet I keep wondering
If they are mine to share
Oh, it's just not fair

Half heaven, half heartache
My loving you darling
Oh let my love be strong enough
To take away the heartache
And make my life a heaven on earth with you

Half heaven, half heartache
My loving you darling
Oh let my love be strong enough
To take away the heartache
And make my life a heaven on earth with you

With a disgusted sigh, Mic slapped the switch on the radio, turning it off. It was almost as if the fates were conspiring against him, telling him that what he wanted most in life was not meant to be.

1210 ZULU

After Mac's abrupt departure from Rock Creek Park, Harm had lost interest in jogging out his frustrations and had returned to his apartment feeling even more lost and confused.  For just a moment, he thought he had been ready.  Ready to listen, ready to talk, ready to reveal everything that he had been holding in his heart for four long years.  But when he felt he was finally ready, Mac had been the one to turn away.

Harm wandered over to the window and stared out through the open blinds, his hand clenched tight in a fist.  He had thought that nothing could hurt him as bad as it had in Russia, when he had finally found out that his father was lost to him forever.  Now, for the second time in his life, he was losing one of the people he loved most in the world and he didn't know if he could go through it a second time.

Turning away from the window, his eyes fell on a picture on his shelf, one of him and Mac, baby AJ cradled in her arms, taken by Harriet at the baby's christening.  His arm had been around Mac's shoulders and they had both been looking down at the little angel in her arms.  For a moment, his mind drifted back to the day AJ had been born, when he had promised to go halves with her on a child if neither of them were otherwise involved.

For not the first time since that day, Harm found himself wondering just what a child of theirs would be like.  Would he have his father's charm and love of flying?  Or would she have her mother's beauty and feisty spirit? And he thought about the joy and anticipation of expecting a child with Mac, imagined her growing large with their child, feeling the baby moving inside of her.

Harm had to admit to himself that he didn't want to wait five years, didn't want to risk them growing further apart, moving on to other people.  Harm was ready to admit, to himself and to her, that he wanted her.  Wanted her in his life, wanted to wake up beside her every morning, wanted to fall asleep holding her every night.

He was ready to admit that he had been so wrong in Australia.  How could he not let go, especially when the cost was his very soul?

The phone rang, shaking him out of his thoughts.  He picked up the phone as he glanced at the caller ID.  It wasn't Mac.  "Hello, Renee," he said.

"Good morning, Harm," she answered.  "I was wondering if you are free for lunch."

Harm considered.  He had thought about calling Mac, but after this morning, he wasn't sure that was such a good idea.  He decided that he needed a distraction and Renee was definitely that.  "I think I can manage it," he replied.  "Where did you have in mind?"

"A member of my film crew told me about a vegetarian restaurant in Rockville called The Vegetable Garden," she said, hoping he would be happy with her thoughtfulness.  "I thought you might like to try it."

"I'm familiar with the place," he said, a bit surprised.  It wasn't exactly Renee's usual style of restaurant.  "That would be nice.  What time?"

"Why don't I meet you there about noon?" she asked.

Again, he was surprised.  "You don't want me to pick you up?"

"No," she responded.  "I think it will be better this way.  Goodbye, Harm." Renee hung up the phone before he could question her further.

Harm looked at his phone for a long moment, puzzled, before he hung it up. What had she meant by her last statement?

Across town, Renee smiled.  Oh well, it had been fun while it had lasted. But it was time that Harmon Rabb was shown that it was time to move on, time to move on to what he really wanted.

1555 ZULU

Harm entered the restaurant to find Renee already inside and seated, running a finger around the rim of her water glass, a thoughtful look on her face. With a gesture to the hostess to indicate that his lunch companion was already seated, he made his way towards the rear of the restaurant.  He had to admit that she looked beautiful, her blond hair perfectly styled, her blue silk pants suit looking fresh and neat despite the humid late spring air.  There was only one thing wrong that Harm could see; she wasn't Mac.

Renee was so deep in thought that she did not even notice he was in the restaurant until he was standing in front of her, clearing his throat. Renee looked up, startled, as Harm sat down and picked up the menu on the table and began perusing it.  "Have you already decided what you want?" Harm asked.

If only you knew, Renee thought.  But she forced a smile on her face and answered, "I'm not that hungry.  I'm just going to order a salad."

Harm glanced up from his menu, a surprised look in his eyes.  Renee had called him, asked him to go out to lunch and she wasn't hungry?  Come to think of it, Harm thought, she had been acting strange ever since last night, when she had abruptly left the Surface Warfare Ball with only a vague note as explanation.  And then her comment on the phone this morning, when he had wondered why she didn't want him to pick her up, what had that been all about?  "Are you okay?" he asked, concerned.

Renee waved her hand as if to brush aside his concern.  "Fine," she answered briskly.  "I just had a late night."

Harm nodded slowly.  Maybe he could draw her out and get to the bottom of whatever seemed to be troubling her.  "Did you get your problem taken care of?" he asked.

"Problem?" Renee asked back, confused.

"Your problem," Harm said slowly, more convinced than ever that something was off with Renee.  "The one that you left the ball to take care of, that you had to call LA to fix."

Renee laughed, a bit of nervousness evident.  "Oh, that problem.  It wasn't the big deal my assistant made it out to be."

"So you ... " Harm began, but he was cut off by the approach of their waitress.

"Are you people ready to order?" the woman asked them, opening her pad and preparing to take down their order.

"I'll just have a Caesar salad and iced tea," Renee answered.

The waitress wrote it down, then asked, "Sweetened or unsweetened?"

"Unsweetened is fine."

"And you, sir?" the waitress asked as she turned her attention to Harm.

Harm closed the menu as he replied, "I'll have the Triple Delight Pasta, a side salad and unsweetened iced tea."  He held the menu out.

The waitress took the menu and closed her pad.  "Good choice," she said brightly.  "I'll be back in just a moment with your drinks."  She walked off towards another table, leaving Harm and Renee alone again.

"It's a beautiful day," Renee commented idly.

"It is," Harm replied, "but why do I get the feeling something's on your mind, something that you wanted to discuss with me over lunch?"

Renee shrugged.  "Am I really that transparent?"

"Today, yes," he answered.  "You aren't usually, which leads me to think that whatever is on your mind, it's bothering you a lot.  Do you want to talk about it?"

Renee looked down at her hands and studied her fingernail polish for a long moment before musing, "Do I want to talk about it?  No, not really.  But I think I need to."

The waitress chose that moment to return with their iced teas.  Harm and Renee both murmured their thanks as the waitress moved off again.  Harm took a long sip of his tea before continuing, "Renee, you know you can tell me what's bothering you.  I'd like to help."

"You would, wouldn't you?" she commented sadly.  "You're so noble that way."

For a brief moment, his mind flashed back to another conversation, another comment, one said in a drunken haze.  'Harmon Rabb, so righteous, so pure.' Why was he thinking of that now?

Some part of what he was thinking must have been apparent on his face, because Renee quickly added, "I don't mean that in a bad way.  I just mean that you're always so considerate to the people you care about."

"Renee," Harm insisted, the confusion evident in his voice and eyes, "just tell me what this is about."

She leaned back in her chair and sighed.  This was harder than she had thought it was going to be.  But it had to be done.  For her own peace of mind, but most of all for his.  "Well ... " she began.

Harm suddenly interrupted as something occurred to him.  "Are you trying to tell me it's over?"  he asked.

Renee breathed a sigh of relief.  He had just made it so much easier for her by saying what she was thinking.  She could do this.  "Actually, I am," she admitted.

"Do you mind if I ask why?"

"Please, believe me when I say that I care for you," Renee urged.  "It's just... " she trailed off, searching for the right words.

"Just what?" Harm encouraged.

She looked him in the eye as she answered softly, "I'm not her."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Harm asked, incredulous, even as he knew deep down who she was talking about.  Where the heck is this coming from? he thought.

"Everyone sees it," she explained.  "Everyone but you.  Sometimes I wonder how someone so smart could be so blind.  I'm just a substitute.  How does that song go?  'If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with.'"

"What, do you think I've just been using you?" he demanded, his voice raising slightly in volume.

"Not intentionally," she answered in a soothing voice.  "Look, Harm, I'm not saying this to upset you, but you and I both know that you don't love me.  It's been fun.  But that's all it ever was, all it ever would be.  We could never last forever ... but you and the Colonel could."

"Renee, where is all this coming from?" Harm asked, desperate to understand. "Mac is practically engaged to Brumby."

She paused as the waitress returned with their food.  Renee picked her fork up and immediately began to push her salad around on her plate.  Once the waitress was gone, she answered his question with a sigh, "It's been coming for a while now.  I may be blond, but I'm not dumb."

"I know that... " Harm began, but she cut him off.

"I know you don't think that," she interjected, "but can you honestly say that your friends feel the same way?"

"Since when is this about my friends?"

Renee shrugged as she took a bite of her salad.  She swallowed, then continued, "It's not, really, except for one in particular."  She sipped her tea, then added, "And practically engaged is not the same thing as being engaged, now is it?  Has it never occurred to you that maybe by wearing another man's ring, she was hoping that you would wake up and see what is right in front of you?  And what did you do?  You ran straight to me.  So, to repeat my answer to your earlier question, you have not done it intentionally, but you have been using me.  I know that ... perhaps I always have."

Harm found himself unable to respond.  He had spent most of the last day thinking of nothing but what was right in front of him and here was his own girlfriend voicing some of those same thoughts that had been tormenting him ever since one magical dance.  Harm took a deep breath and asked, "If you've always known this, then why now?"

"Why now?" she repeated.  "Maybe because I was hoping that we could both pretend there was more between us than was really there.  But I can't pretend, not after last night."

Harm didn't even protest that he didn't know what she was talking about.  He did know.  "It was just one dance," he stated.  He looked thunderstruck as understanding finally dawned.  "It was not long afterwards that the Admiral gave me your note.  That's why you left the ball.  There was no problem in LA, was there?  You were upset because of that dance."

Renee smiled sadly.  Sometimes, she thought, he could be so dense.  No wonder he didn't have what he really wanted.  "Do I sound upset, Harm?" she countered, a smile on her face.  "Because I'm not.  I just needed to think about some things.  That's why I wanted to get together today.  So I could tell you that ... and give you some advice."

"Advice?" he questioned.

"Yes," she answered.  "You and I were fun, but you could have something really special, if you would only reach out and grab it before it gets away.  Don't let it get away."  Renee pushed her chair back from the table, ready to leave him to discover the truth now that she had said her piece.

Harm grabbed her hand to stop her.  "Please stay and finish your lunch," he encouraged.

Renee shook her head as she said, "I really shouldn't ... "

"For old times' sake," he insisted.  "Call it a final goodbye between friends."

Renee pulled back up to the table as she smiled.  "Between friends," she said.  "I think I can do that."

They finished their lunch as they chatted like old friends.  To his surprise, Renee encouraged him to open up about Mac.  There were things he would never tell her; he wouldn't betray Mac's confidence like that.  He wouldn't mention how Mac had first confided in him about her alcoholism, about the accident that had killed her friend Eddie, how ashamed she had been the day she had fallen off the wagon and had turned on him.

But he did talk about how they had been stranded in the Appalachian mountains, chased by poachers.  How she had stood by him through his obsession with finding his father, even following him to Russia and nearly getting herself killed.  He told Renee how she had cried in his arms the day he had left JAG to return to the air.  He even talked about that night in Australia, something he had never done with anyone, how she had talked of what could be between them and how he had turned away, too wrapped up in duty and regulation.

If Renee had harbored any doubts about what she had just done, they dissipated as she listened to him.  Maybe someday she could be lucky enough to find a love like that.  She smiled to herself.

Harm noticed and stopped in the middle of an anecdote about the time he had gone undercover with a Marine force recon team.  "What are you smiling about?" he asked.

"Nothing really," she shrugged.  "I just hope that someday I can find someone to love and cherish me as you do Colonel Mackenzie.  I just hope you're ready to admit what you feel."

Harm didn't answer.  Renee had been understanding, but she wasn't the one that he needed to discuss his feelings with.  But Renee didn't need an answer.

She saw it in his eyes.  Leaning across the table, she brushed his cheek with her lips.  "Good luck, Harmon Rabb," she whispered.  "I hope you find what you're looking for."  She stood and opened her purse, ready to give him some money for her lunch when he waved her off.

"No, let me," he insisted.  "Consider it a thank you for the advice.  And for being a friend."

She nodded as she slung her purse over her shoulder.  "I really do care about you.  The biggest thanks you could give me would be to be happy.  Goodbye, Harm."  Without a backward glance, Renee walked out of the restaurant and out of his life.

Harm in his chair towards the door and watched her leave, his expression thoughtful.  How ironic that it had taken his girlfriend, of all people, to give him the final push he needed, to help him decide that he was finally ready to let go.  Now he just had to hope that it wasn't too late to convince a certain jarhead that he was ready.

1625 ZULU

Mic held Mac's chair for her as she sat down.  She smiled at him as he sat down himself.  He could be so sweet and considerate, she thought with a trace of sadness.  But was it enough?  Could everything that was good about him ever be enough to make up for the fact that he wasn't Harm?

Mic watched her as she studied the menu, worried.  She had been quiet on the ride from Georgetown, barely saying two words in the car.  He hadn't pushed, hoping that she would appreciate his consideration.  But his mind kept stubbornly drifting back to his conversation with Renee Peterson the night before as he wondered just what, or who, she had been thinking of.

'Has it ever occurred to you that you're fighting a losing battle?' Renee had asked him as they had watched their significant others find a few moments of contentment in each other's arms.  Mic didn't want to see it that way, but he felt her silence putting a greater distance between them than nine thousand miles had ever been able to do.

As he looked down as his own menu, he started to listened to the song just beginning to play over the restaurant's sound system to distract himself from his tortured thoughts.  Bloody hell, he thought as he heard the words, was the whole world conspiring against him?

I can see you're slipping away from me
And you're so afraid
I'll be with you to stay
But I'm gonna be strong
And let you go your way

Our love is gone
There's no sense in holding on
'Cause your pity now
Would be too much to bear
So I'm gonna be strong
And pretend I don't care

I'm gonna be strong
And stand as tall as I can
Yes, I'm gonna be strong
And let you run along
And take it like a man

When you say it's the end
I'll just hand you a line
I'll smile and say
Don't you worry, I'm fine
And you'll never know
Darling, after you kiss me goodbye
How I'll break down and cry

"Mic? Mic?" Mac was insistently calling him back down to earth.

He looked up, startled.  While he had been lost in the song, the waitress had approached their table, ready to take their order.  He looked at Mac and saw the concern in her dark eyes.

"Sorry, luv," he apologized.  "I guess I'm still tired from the long flight."

"Can you give us a few more minutes?" Mac asked the waitress, who nodded and moved off to check on the patrons at the next table.  Mac looked at Mic for a long moment before she asked, "Are you sure you're okay?  You seem distracted."

"I think that's supposed to be my line," he pointed out.  She thought he was distracted?  He wasn't the one who had been off in his own little world for more than twelve hours.

"What do you mean?"  she countered.

"You've been lost in your own little world ever since I returned," he explained.  "I'm just wondering ... " he trailed off, still not quite ready to admit the truth.

Mac played with the ring on her hand.  "Wondering what?"

Mic shook his head.  No, he wasn't going to do this.  "Nothing, luv," he insisted.  "Let's order."  Before she could protest, Mic motioned the waitress back to their table.

After the waitress left with their orders, Mac looked him straight in the eye and urged, "Please, Mic, just tell me what is bothering you."

He took a deep breath.  She wasn't going to make this easy for him.  Maybe he wasn't ready to love her enough to let her go.  But he thought he could love her enough to tell her the truth.  "Do you think you could really be happy with a knocker like me?"

"What kind of question is that?" she asked, confused.  Hadn't he made a similar comment the night he had asked her to marry him?  She had no idea where he was going with this and that puzzled her.  Usually, Mic was so easy to read.  Harm would have said that he was normally very transparent.  Mac shook her head.  She was out with Mic; why was she thinking of Harm now?

"One that needs to be answered, I think," he responded.  "Can you honestly say you love me or are you just settling?"

"Settling?  Mic, where is this coming from?"  she countered as she began to have a sinking feeling that he was talking about Harm.  Again.  God, after last night and this morning, she didn't need this, least of all from Mic.

"Do you love him, Sarah?" he asked.  There, he had gotten it out in the open.  Now, could he live with the consequences if her answer wasn't the one that he wanted to hear?

"Why are you asking me this?"  Could he really see deep down to discover the thoughts that were torture for her day and night?

Mic heart sank.  It was becoming more apparent that Renee was right. Otherwise, she would have been able to deny it without a second thought. Nor would she have had such a hard time saying 'I love you' to him that morning.  "You're not denying it," he said sadly.

"Maybe I don't know what I want," she blurted out.  Oh God, had she really said that? she thought.  Just blurted out the crux of what had been tormenting her down to the bottom of her soul?  And to Mic of all people?

He didn't want to do this.  But he didn't think he could really live with her like that, always wondering if all he held was second place in her heart.  For his own peace of mind, maybe he had to let her find out.  Anything else would be torture.  But would it be an even worse torture to let her go?

"Maybe it's time you found out," he countered, speaking quickly before he lost his courage.  "To be honest, I think you've been avoiding this very issue for months.  It was easy to do while I was half a world away, wasn't it?"  He held up his hand before she could protest his last statement.  "Let me finish.  I love you, Sarah Mackenzie, but I want you to feel the same for me, without reservations.  Right now, I can't be sure that you do.  I need to be sure."

"Mic ... " she began as tears filled her eyes.  Why, after all these months, was he doing this to her?

He reached out and brushed a falling tear from her cheek with his thumb.  Renee had been right.  He could see the truth in her eyes, even if he wasn't quite noble enough to just let her go free and clear because of it.  "Mac, for the woman I love, find out how you really feel," he insisted quietly. "And when you've figured it out, I'll be here waiting."

Before she could say anything in response, Mic got up quickly walked away, still not convinced that he was doing the right thing.  But he did know one thing.  He did need to know where he stood.

Mac watched him leave, a hand clasped over her mouth, stunned.  What had just happened?  After moving nine thousand miles to be with her, had Mic Brumby just encouraged her to discover the truth of her feelings, in spite of the fact that it was very likely not to come out in his favor?

Their waitress had seen Mic leave and rushed over to their table.  "Is your friend going to be returning?" she asked.  "Or should I have the kitchen cancel his order?"

Mac just stared at the door for a long moment, before she jumped up from her chair.  "Please, just cancel both our orders," she said brokenly before rushing out herself.

Outside, Mac leaned against the wall of the restaurant, ignoring the stares of diners waiting to get in, trying desperately to get a handle on her ragged emotions.  Could she do what he asked?  Could she risk opening herself up again to the man who held her heart, if it meant being shot down as she had been that awful night in February?

1425 ZULU

Mac took one last look at herself in the mirror in her bedroom and brushed a stray lock of hair off her forehead with her fingers.  What is the big deal? she thought as she admired herself.  Nobody is going to care if you look perfect.  This is just a day at the park with Bud, Harriet and baby AJ ...

And him, she added silently.  He will be there.  She was doing all this because of him, choosing the perfect clothes, the perfect makeup, the perfect hairstyle.  All because she wanted to be admired by one Navy Commander.  Trying to impress someone who probably didn't want to notice her, not like that.  What was it Mic had once told her?  That Harm had told him that he didn't see Mac as a woman?  At the time, Mac had known that Mic was just saying that because he had been trying to knock Harm down a peg or two in her eyes.  Which Mac had taken then with a grain of salt since she had still been pissed at Mic for his treatment of her at her murder trial. But then Australia ...

No, she admonished herself, Harm has never said anything to make you think that he doesn't see you as a woman.  In fact, when she had suggested that dancing with her was like dancing with a sister at the NATO ball a few years back, he had been the one to say 'I don't think of you as a sister.'  And he had said nothing in Australia to indicate he didn't see her as a woman.  Really, he hadn't said much of anything on the ferry.  She had done most of the talking.  She had been the one who had accused him of not being able to let go, not that he had disagreed with her.  He was just too damn wrapped up in duty and honor and rules and regulations that he had effectively closed his heart off to her.  He may see her as a woman, but he would never let himself treat her as a woman, his woman.

"Why the hell am I even thinking about this?" she said aloud, then laughed bitterly.  Now he had her talking to herself.  She was so tied up in knots it hurt.  First a few stolen moments on the dance floor on Friday, then on Saturday Mic, who had been the one pushing for a commitment in the first place, suggested that she find out what she really felt.  With a heavy sigh, she looked down to find Jingo looking up at her with adoring dog eyes.  She knelt beside him and buried her face in his neck.

"Why do men have to be so damn complicated?" she whispered.  Jingo answered by giving her a comforting lick on her arm.  Lifting her head, she smiled.  Rubbing his head, she told him, "At least someone can make me feel better."

Standing, she whistled for him to follow her as she walked to the kitchen counter to grab Jingo's leash.  He whimpered as he rubbed himself against her leg, but he let her put the leash on.  "Sorry," she said.  "We're going to the park and D.C. has a leash law."  Taking the end of the leash in her left hand, she grabbed her car keys and left the apartment, praying silently that she could get through the day without falling apart.

Down on the street in front of her apartment building, she let out an exasperated groan.  Of all the things to happen.  There was her beloved Corvette sitting at the curb as normal, but for a flat rear passenger-side tire.  Kneeling down beside the car, she examined the tire closely, finding a nail imbedded in it.  She hadn't driven it since she had returned from Florida and had barely paid attention to it in her comings and goings the last two days so she hadn't noticed.

She opened the passenger door and let Jingo jump in the car before she opened the trunk to retrieve the spare tire and jack.  Only she was in for more frustration when she opened the trunk.  Her spare tire was there all right, only it was nearly as flat as the tire already on her car.  Deciding that it wouldn't hurt to leave Jingo sitting inside her car for a few moments while she ran back inside the apartment, she headed back in to call Bud and Harriet.

Mac picked up her phone and sighed.  Bud and Harriet lived in Rosslyn and had probably already left so that they could make the park in time for the agreed upon meeting time of 1100 hours.  Taking a deep breath, she clicked on the phone and pressed one of the speed dial buttons.  She bet herself that someone else hadn't already left for the park.

She was right.  After the second ring, the phone was picked up on the other end.  "I thought you would have already left for the park, Mac," Harm said.  He had known it was her without hearing her voice thanks to the modern invention of caller ID.

Mac took a deep breath, trying to ease the tension of the past two days. "My car has a flat and the spare is no good," she told him, trying to remain brief and to the point.  "Can you pick me up?"

"No problem," he replied, a smile on his face.  Of course, he had no problem picking her up.  It would give him a some time alone with her, he thought, just the two of them. "I'd be happy to give you a ride.  I was just getting ready to leave when you called, so I'll be there in about fifteen, twenty minutes."

"Fine," she said.  "Jingo and I will be waiting outside for you."  She was reaching with her thumb to click off the phone, but then she heard his voice, husky and soft.

"I'm looking forward to it, Ninja Girl," he said before he hung up from his end.  Mac stood there staring at the phone for a long moment before she finally clicked it off and returned it to its cradle.  Why had he gone and spoken like that?  With one sentence, he had managed to turn her knees to jelly and set her heart racing in anticipation.

In his apartment, Harm grabbed the keys to his SUV and headed out, the smile still on his face.  He was determined to spend today beginning to put things right with the woman who held his heart and soul prisoner.  He was ready to show her that he was ready to let go, for her.  Only for her.

1450 ZULU

Harm turned his SUV onto Mac's street and saw her sitting on the hood of her car, Jingo's leash in her hand.  She was staring off into the distance and did not even realize that he had pulled up beside her until he honked his horn.

Mac jumped slightly at the sound and turned to find Harm looking at her, flyboy grin firmly in place.  She didn't return the smile, getting down off her car and walking the short distance to his vehicle, pausing to put Jingo into the back seat before climbing up into the front passenger seat.  As she fastened her seatbelt, she stole a glance at him out of the corner of her eye.  He looked incredible as usual, she thought.  He was dressed in a navy blue button-down shirt which he didn't have tucked into the waistband of his denim shorts.  Unconsciously, she licked her lips as she imagined unbuttoning his shirt, running her hands over the muscles of his chest and stomach ...  Down girl, she warned herself as she averted her gaze before her thoughts traveled any further down that particular closed-off road.  She forced herself to look out the window as he drove off.

Her face turned away from him, she didn't notice how Harm would glance her way every so often, his gaze traveling over every curve and contour of her body.  She was dressed similarly to him, in denim shorts and a button-down shirt, hers in a maroon color.

He wanted so much to talk to her, had so many things to tell her, to explain.  But where to begin?  What to say so that everything didn't come out all wrong, pushing her even further away when all that he wanted was to finally bring her closer?

1510 ZULU

Harm pulled into the parking lot near the main entrance to the park and managed to find a parking spot just a few spaces down from the Roberts' minivan.  He could see Bud and Harriet seated on a bench just outside the entrance to the park, a picnic basket beside the bench, little AJ, dressed in a sailor suit and cap, in his stroller in front of them, entranced by the set of plastic keys Bud dangled in front of him.  Harm pulled into the spot and turned off the engine.  He then reached over and took Mac's hand in his.  "We're here," he said as he clasped his hand gently around hers, startling her.

She pulled her hand away from his as if she had been burned.  She had been.  She could still feel the heat from his touch, the tingling sensation that was spreading throughout her body.  If he could do this with just a simple touch, she thought, then shook her head, trying to banish the thought from her mind.  No.  Not now.  She had to be strong.  If she wasn't, it wouldn't take much more than a touch to send her tumbling into his arms.

Harm was saddened when she pulled her hand away, but he tried to remain philosophical about it.  Her life was probably in an uproar right now, he thought, with Mic's sudden return.  He wished he could say something, anything, to put her at ease, to make her feel better.  But he didn't know what to say.  Didn't know how to say it.

From the park bench, Harriet looked up to see Harm's car pulling into the parking space, then she smiled broadly as she realized that Mac was with him.  Elbowing her husband gently in the ribs, she pointed out Harm and Mac in the SUV.  Bud shrugged, unimpressed.

"They were both coming anyway," Bud said.  "It makes sense for them to only bring one car."

Harriet sighed.  She loved the man dearly, but sometimes he could be so obtuse.  "When they live in opposite directions from the park?"  she pointed out then shook her head.  It didn't matter what Bud thought.  In Harriet's matchmaking mind, it was a sign.

Harm got out of the car and let Jingo out on his side while Mac was still climbing out of the car herself.  The three of them walked over to the bench, Mac careful to keep her distance from Harm.  Harriet and Bud both smiled up at them as they reached the bench while Jingo immediately sat down beside the stroller and pressed his cold, wet nose to AJ's cheek, eliciting giggles from the little boy.  After a moment, all four adults joined in the laughter.

"Thank you for coming, Sir, Ma'am," Bud said, standing up before turning to help his pregnant wife up from the bench.  "AJ's been so excited about spending time with Aunt Mac and Uncle Harm."

Hearing his father mention their names, AJ lost interest in Jingo and held out his arms in Harm and Mac's direction.  "Aun Mac, Unca Harm," he called out happily as Mac reached down and lifted him from the stroller, holding him against her as she kissed his forehead.  AJ wrapped his arms around her neck and kissed her back on the nose.

Harm watched the little scene, imagining Mac holding their child at some point in the future.  A smile lit his face as the thought warmed his heart.

While he was watching Mac, Harriet was watching him, noting the faraway expression in his eyes.  How sweet, she thought happily, it's obvious he is so in love with her.  That would just make her job that much easier.

After a moment cuddling AJ, Mac reluctantly handed him over to his godfather while Harm handed her Jingo's leash.  Harm lifted the little boy above his head and spun him around in a slow circle, making little airplane engine noises.  Mac tried to look away from the beautiful scene, but couldn't help but stare.  He was going to make a wonderful father someday, she thought.

When Mac had handed AJ over, Harriet had turned her attention to the other woman, curious about how she would react while watching Harm and AJ.  Harriet noted the longing look in Mac's eyes with satisfaction.  Perfect, Harriet thought.  All that was left was to make sure that her friends could finally learn to read the truth of their feelings in each others' eyes.

1822 ZULU

Harriet, seated on a blanket next to her husband, his hand gently massaging her aching back, let out a contented sigh as she watched Harm and Mac taking turns pushing AJ on the baby swings a few yards away, while Jingo stretched out in the grass at their feet.  It's going well, she thought as she saw Harm laugh at something Mac said.  Harriet had been a little concerned.  After they had settled down for their picnic, she had noticed a bit of tension between Harm and Mac, mostly from Mac.  Every time Harm had gotten a little too close, brushing against her accidentally, Mac would step back as if burned and put some distance between them.  Harriet had seen the sadness and frustration in Harm's eyes every time it happened and had thought at the time that maybe this wasn't going to be as easy as she had thought.

Eventually, however, Mac had relaxed and instead of jumping back, she smiled when Harm looked at her or when their hands made contact when both had been reaching into the picnic basket for something.  And she had happily accepted his invitation when Harm had suggested the two of them taking AJ over to the swings so Bud and Harriet could have some time alone.  Now it was time to set the next phase of her plan in motion, Harriet decided, and let them see what they were missing out on.

"Bud, honey," she said, patting her pregnant belly.  "I need to get up and move around.  And we should take some of this stuff back to the car.  Can we walk around a little bit?"

Bud, still rubbing her back, smiled down at her.  "Whatever you want, dear," he replied.  "I'll go get AJ ... "

Harriet interrupted, "AJ's having too much fun over there with the Commander and the Colonel," she pointed out.  "Do you really think he would be happy going into the stroller?  I'm sure they wouldn't mind staying here with him while we wander around."

Bud considered for a moment.  With one child still an infant and another one on the way, they didn't get too much time alone together, either due to demands on their time or because they were tired.  It would be nice to walk around the park, just the two of them.  Still, he felt a twinge of guilt about imposing on his friends.  "Are you sure Commander Rabb and Colonel Mackenzie wouldn't mind keeping an eye on him?"

"Bud, just look at them," Harriet insisted, waving her hand in their direction.  "They're having fun.  Of course, they won't mind."  She started to push herself up off the ground, Bud quickly jumping up to help her up. Harriet smiled as she glanced at the threesome at the swings again.  They looked just like a little family out there.  Now to give them a chance to see that the two of them could be a family together.

Harriet and Bud wandered over to the swings, Bud's arm around his wife's shoulders.  As they got closer, they could hear their son urging Harm to push him higher, while Mac teased that apparently they had another flyboy on their hands.  The look that Harm gave Mac warmed Harriet's heart.  Perhaps he's imagining them having a little 'flyboy' of their own, she told herself.

Not surprisingly, the sharp-eyed Harriet was right on target.  Harm's mind turned back to their promise to go halves on a kid together.  What he could do with a son, passing on his love of flying.  Or with his daughter.  No reason why his daughter couldn't fall in love with the feeling of the wind in her hair, the freedom of the air, too.  It would be in her blood.

Harm and Mac noticed Bud and Harriet approach at the same time and Harm pulled the swing to a stop, much to AJ's disappointment.  He pouted for a moment before he saw his parents coming.  "Mama, Da," he called out happily.

"Hi, baby," Harriet called back.  They stopped just in front of the swing and Harriet began, "Sir, Ma'am ... "

Harm and Mac both immediately interrupted, "Harriet!"

Harriet laughed and started again, "Mac, Harm -- Bud and I are going to put the basket and AJ's stroller back in the car then we were thinking of taking a walk around the park, just the two of us.  Do you mind staying with AJ while we're gone?"

They looked at each other and shrugged.  Harm wasn't about to object to spending time alone with Mac, even if they weren't really going to be by themselves.  Mac, despite her earlier hesitancy, found herself thinking the exact same thing.  Anyway, their friends deserved a break together.  They both nodded.

"Of course we don't mind," Mac answered for both of them.  "Go on, enjoy yourselves, take as much time as you'd like.  We'll be around here when you get back."

"Thank you, Sir... Harm, Mac," Harriet replied enthusiastically.  "Bud and I really appreciate this."  She leaned over and kissed the top of her son's head.  "Be a good boy for Aunt Mac and Uncle Harm," she told him.

"Good, Unca Harm, Aun Mac," he repeated, nodding.

Bud reached out and ran his hand over AJ's fine hair.  "That's right, son," he said.  "Be good for Uncle Harm and Aunt Mac."

"Get going, you two," Harm said as he and Mac shooed them away.  Bud and Harriet turned to leave, giving Harm and Mac just a glimpse of the self-satisfied smile on Harriet's face before they walked away.

Harm and Mac looked at each other for a long moment, not saying a word, both having the suspicion that they were being set up after that look on Harriet's face, until AJ tugged insistently on Harm's hand.  "San," he said, pointing at the nearby sandbox where a few other children were already playing.

Harm unfastened the straps and lifted the boy out of the infant swing. "Want to play in the sandbox, huh?" Harm asked as he held AJ close.  "That was one of my favorite things to do when I was little, too."  Of course, his childhood sandbox had been an entire beach at La Jolla, but the concept was the same.

They walked over to the sandbox with Harm carrying AJ with his left arm while Mac held Jingo's leash in her right hand. After a few steps, Harm reached over and took Mac's hand with his right hand.  Mac considered pulling away, knew she probably should pull away, but she enjoyed the heat, the tingling of his touch.  After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity to Harm, she wrapped her fingers around his hand, squeezing gently.

When they reached the sandbox, Harm set AJ down in an unoccupied corner of the sandbox and he and Mac sat down cross legged on the sandy grass just outside the box while Jingo settled in to Mac's right.  AJ began picking up fistfuls of sand, letting it stream back to the ground through his fingers as he stretched his hands out wide, babbling delightedly all the while.

"Too bad Bud and Harriet didn't think to bring a shovel and pail," Harm commented softly as they watched AJ enjoy himself playing with the sand. "We could build a little castle."

Mac smiled at him.  This was a side of Harmon Rabb she didn't get to see much.  Not many would have thought that the cocky, self-assured officer could have been a marshmallow when it came to kids.  She had seen him before with AJ, with Josh Pendry, with Dar-lin Lewis and again she thought what a wonderful father he was going to be someday.

Another little boy close to AJ's age rolled a ball in AJ's direction, looking for a playmate.  Delighted, AJ rolled the ball back and soon the two boys were passing the ball back and forth while Harm and Mac watched, smiling.

A young woman they assumed to be the mother of AJ's new friend turned to them and commented, "That's a beautiful little boy you've got there.  How old is he?"

Both realized that she assumed they were AJ's parents, but neither jumped in to correct that assumption.  "He just turned a year old last week," Mac answered.  Bud and Harriet had held a birthday party for their son, attended by most of the JAG office, just two days before Bud had headed to Florida.  The sailor suit AJ wore had been one of Harm's presents, while one of Mac's had been the matching cap he wore.  A week before the party, they had gone shopping together, wanting to get something for their godson that was from both of them.

"Alex here turned a year old last month," the woman said proudly, indicating her son.  She then laughed, slightly embarrassed.  "How silly of me not to introduce myself.  I'm Sandy and like I just said, this is Alex."

"I'm Mac," she returned before indicating the others.  "This is Harm and this little angel is AJ."  Harm nodded and smiled at Sandy while AJ ignored them, continuing to roll the ball back and forth with Alex.

"What does AJ stand for?" Sandy asked as she watched the boys play.

"Albert Jethro," Harm replied, then added quickly.  "He's named after our commanding officer."

"You're military?" Sandy questioned, not really surprised.  Generally, people who lived or worked in the D.C. area were associated with either the federal government or the military.

"I'm Navy and Mac is a Marine," Harm said, smiling at his partner.

"My younger brother is in Navy boot camp right now.  He wants to work sonar on a submarine," Sandy told them.  "I think he's seen 'The Hunt For Red October' one too many times.  Anyway, I thought Navy and Marines didn't get along?  At least, that's what John says."

Mac turned to Harm with a mock glare.  "Don't tell me they teach you squids to hate Marines in boot camp!" she teased, getting a laugh from both Harm and Sandy.

"And they don't teach you jarheads the reverse at Parris Island?" Harm shot back as he reached over to push Mac's falling bangs out of her eyes.  "Anyway, this Marine is pretty special," Harm added quietly as his eyes locked with hers and he read the longing in their chocolate depths.

Oblivious to the look passing between them, Sandy looked down at her watch with a sigh.  "Come on, Alex," she called to her son.  "We've got to go pick up Daddy. Say bye bye."

"Bye bye," Alex said as he stretched out his arms in his mother's direction. Sandy stood and swooped up her son, telling them, "It was nice to meet you both," before walking away.

AJ frowned at losing his playmate and decided to turn his attention to his godparents, tossing a handful of sand in their direction.  Harm got a gleam in his eyes as he teased AJ, "You want to play with the big guys, huh? Better watch out."  Harm began pushing handfuls of sand over AJ's outstretched legs, burying them.

"Harm," Mac laughed, "I hope you realize that you're going to have to get all that sand out of his clothes."

"Me?!" Harm shot back in mock indignation.  "That's what he has parents for!"

Mac reached over and playfully swatted him, prompting him to reach over to tickle her side.  Mac returned the favor, tickling his stomach as AJ and Jingo both watched them curiously.

After a few moments of their play, oblivious to the other children and adults around, Mac became aware of the fact that she had somehow ended up in his arms, leaning her head against his chest.  Pulling back slightly, she looked up at him, breathing heavily from her laughter, trying to decipher the expression on his face.

"Have dinner with me tonight, at my place," Harm suggested impulsively, figuring it was a good idea to ask while she was so relaxed and comfortable in his company.

Mac hesitated.  She wanted to, oh, how she wanted to.  She just didn't think she could take getting her heart trampled on again.  "I really do need to take Jingo home and get him fed when we leave here," she said lamely.

"I understand," Harm said quietly.  She didn't want to have dinner with him.  He could read between the lines of her tone of voice.  He would just have to live with it.

Mac saw the crestfallen look on his face and she felt her resolve weakening.  She hated that she had caused the hurt expression on his face, even though he had hurt her first, months ago.  "Why don't we have dinner at my place?" she suggested.  "Since we were out of town, I don't have much in my fridge, but we can order a pizza."

Harm felt a surge of hope in his heart as he pulled Mac into his warm embrace, her head resting on his chest, him tilting his head to rest his cheek on top of her head.  After a long moment, Mac wrapped her arms around him and closed her eyes, breathing in deeply his scent.  For just a moment, she found herself forgetting everything that had come between them, the hurt and pain of the last year.  She could admit to herself that she was finally right where she wanted to be.  And then he spoke and her heart surged with happiness. "I'd like nothing more, Sarah."

Across the grassy meadow, Mic Brumby watched them with a heavy heart.  He had not gone to the park to spy on them, not really.  But he had needed to see them together.  Now he finally saw what had been in front of him all along.  The dance at the Surface Warfare Ball, everything Renee had said, it all crystallized in his mind in a bitter truth.  He could never, would never, hold any higher than second place in Sarah Mackenzie's heart.

2257 ZULU

Mac entered her apartment and flipped on a light switch, Harm and Jingo trailing behind her.  Mac tossed her keys on the coffee table as Jingo went immediately into the kitchen to stand expectantly beside his food bowl. "Why don't you turn on the stereo?" she suggested as she followed Jingo into the kitchen.

Harm went over and flipped the stereo on, glancing at Mac's CD collection before deciding to leave the radio on.  Mac came out of the kitchen and was about to pick up the phone to call for their pizza when they both stopped and stared at each other as they heard the song that was beginning to play.

For Mac, everything seemed to move in slow motion as Harm walked over to her and pulled her into his arms, Mac resting her ear against his chest, listening to the steady thump thump of his heart, the two of them swaying gently to the music drifting out over the room and into their hearts.

What would you think if I told you
I've always wanted to hold you
I don't know what we're afraid of
Nothing would change if we made love

So I'll be your friend
And I'll be your lover
'Cause I know in our hearts we agree
We don't have to be one or the other
Oh, no, we could be both to each other

Harm closed his eyes as he held Mac as if he was never going to let her go. He had agonized over how to tell her, how to avoid the mistakes he had made before.  Now fate had stepped in.  As they continued swaying together in her living room, Harm began singing softly in her ear along with the song.

Yes, it's a chance that we're taking
And somebody's heart may be breaking
But we can't stop what's inside us
Our love for each other will guide us

So I'll be your friend
And I'll be your lover
'Cause I know in our hearts we agree
We don't have to be one or the other
Oh, no, we could be both to each other

Tears began to form in Mac's eyes as she finally made the decision that she had been agonizing over for months.  She hated that someone was going to get hurt, but she couldn't feel regret about grabbing hold of everything she had wanted ever since the Rose Garden.

Now I've been through you
And you've been through me
Sometimes a friend is the hardest to see
We've always known when it's laid on the line
Nobody else is as easy to find

So I'll be your friend
And I'll be your lover
I'll be your friend
And I'll be your lover
'Cause I know in our hearts we agree
We don't have to be one or the other
Oh, no, we could be both to each other

As the song ended, Mac stepped out of Harm's embrace and looked up at him, finally seeing everything she had ever longed for etched in his eyes, everything she had desperately wanted him to feel and tell her that night under the stars.  Raising her right hand so he could see, her gaze locked with his, she slipped Mic's ring off her finger and dropped it into the front pocket of her shorts.  Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the tears forming in his eyes and she reached up to brush a stray tear off his cheek with her thumb, her fingers tracing the contours of his face, memorizing every angle and curve.

"Sarah ... " he began, his voice hoarse with emotion.  She pressed her fingertips to his lips, silencing him, shivering when he pressed a soft kiss to her fingers.

She felt her heart racing as she knew that he was finally ready to let go. "I know," she whispered softly as he removed her hand from his face, pressing it to his chest, where she could feel his heart racing at the same frantic pace as hers.  Finally confident in her feelings, his feelings, in the reality now in front of them, she took the final figurative step to everything her heart desired.  "Stay with me tonight," she whispered.

"Yes," Harm groaned as he pulled her hard against him, releasing the denied feelings of four long years in one devastating kiss that left them breathless and desperately wanting more.

Mac lost all track of time as she lost herself to the fire that Harm's kiss was lighting inside of her.  This was not like their bittersweet kiss on the docks in Norfolk.  This was raw and searing.  God, if he could do this to her with just a kiss, she thought.  Anxious to taste more, to feel more, her hands moved between them up the front of his shirt, grasping the top button.  She started to undo it, but Harm placed one of his hands on top of hers, stilling them.

Reluctantly breaking off their kiss, Harm rested his forehead against hers, his breathing ragged as he put his hands on her shoulders to steady himself. How could he have denied himself, the two of them, this for the last four years?  Just one kiss with Sarah Mackenzie had ignited an inferno within him that no other woman ever had.  He wanted, needed her as he had wanted and needed nothing before in his life, but he also wanted, needed to give her everything that it was within him to give.

"Harm?" Mac asked, her own breathing harsh and unsteady.  Why did he pull away from her?  Had he suddenly decided that this, that they weren't a good idea?  "Why... ?" she began before losing her nerve, afraid to hear his reply.

"God, Sarah, I ... "  How could he possibly find the words, explain how she was creating all these new and exciting, yet terrifying feelings in him?  How could he explain something that he couldn't yet comprehend himself?  "I don't know ... how ... to say ... "

"Then don't tell me, just show me," Mac encouraged gently.  "Please, just show me."

Harm pulled her against him again, covering her mouth with his again, his tongue probing and insistent as he drank in the sweet taste of her.  Without breaking the kiss, he pulled her firmly against him and began leading her back towards her bedroom, his hands moving over her, boldly caressing.

In the bedroom, Harm broke off the kiss and gently pushed Mac back onto the bed and stood over her at the foot of the bed, taking in the sight of her lithe frame sprawled on top of the covers.  He stretched out on his side beside her, propped up on one elbow, his other hand caressing her stomach through her shirt.

"Harm," Mac pleaded, reaching for the button of his shorts, her fingers brushing his arousal through the denim, eliciting a hoarse moan from him.  "I need you so much.  Now.  I need you now."

"We have all night, Sarah," he told her, slowly pulling her shirt out of the waistband of her shorts, his hand disappearing underneath to caress her bare skin.  "We have the rest of our lives."

The rest of their lives.  How sweet those words sounded coming from his lips, how she had longed to hear them for so long.  How desperately she wanted to believe them.  "Make love to me," she quietly pleaded, tears in her eyes.

Harm's hand moved from under her shirt and slowly undid the bottom button, his fingers leaving a feather-light trail over her newly exposed skin.  Then he shifted on the bed, his mouth following the trail his fingers had blazed over her stomach. Mac inhaled sharply at the sensation, her fingers clutching at the bed covers as she stifled a harsh cry of pure pleasure.

He repeated the ritual with the next button, first his fingers then his mouth moving lightly over her heated skin, his tongue tracing the outline of her ribs.  The next button was released and she did cry out as his tongue brushed the bottom of her red lace-covered breasts.  How long is he planning on keeping up this torture? she thought dimly as another button came free and his hand slowly moved over first one breast then the other, causing the peaks to harden beneath the lace.

Then his mouth was on her left breast, his tongue slowly circling the taunt peak through the fabric as his hand continued to gently knead the other breast.  She tossed her head from side to side as his mouth moved to her other breast, repeating the same torturous movements.  Another button gone and his hand and mouth were laving attention on the sensitive skin above the lace cups of her bra.  The final button came free and he pushed the shirt open with his hand, his fingers and tongue tracing the outline of her collar bone before moving back down to dip between her breasts then back up to caress her throat.

Sitting up beside her, Harm slid his arms under her and lifted her to him, his mouth finding hers again as his hands moved under the back of her shirt, his fingertips tracing a path up and down her spine, eliciting shivers of delight from Mac as she wove her fingers through his hair, holding him against her.  His fingers found and opened the clasp of her bra before his hands moved back to her front and up, pausing for an all too brief moment over her breasts before moving up to her shoulders.  Mac slid her hands from his hair as he pushed her shirt off her shoulders and down her arms before tossing it aside, his hands returning to her shoulders to do the same to the fire-red lace cupping her heaving breasts.

He looked at her for a long moment, his gaze traveling up and down her naked skin, searing her with his look before lowering his head to fasten his mouth to one breast, his tongue swirling around the hard peak, his teeth gently nipping her skin.

Mac would never have believed that anything could feel so deliciously delightful until now, as the fire created by his touch blazed so searingly hot that she was surprised her body had not combusted.  God, she thought as she arched towards him, if he could do this to her with his hands and mouth, what would it feel like to finally take him inside of her?  Could she survive the experience?

Harm lowered her back down to the bed, his hands moving lower on her torso as his mouth continued its assault on her breasts, his tongue tracing circles over the sensitized skin.  Mac was vaguely aware of his hands on the waistband of her shorts, his fingers dipping beneath the denim to move slowly, torturously over the skin underneath.  Just a little lower, she thought.  Or had she said it aloud?  Because he undid the button at her waist and slowly slid the zipper downward, exposing the red lace of her panties, his hand caressing her through the fabric before sliding underneath to caress her curls, torturing her by stopping just above the place where she most wanted to feel his touch.

She arched her hips towards him, encouraging him to continue on.  But his hand slid back up to her stomach, leaving her whimpering for more.  His mouth moved from her breasts to travel back down her stomach as he lifted her hips and slid her shorts down her legs.  He slid off the bed and pulled off her shoes and socks before pulling her shorts off, leaving her sprawled on the bed wearing only the red lace panties.  Harm drank his fill of her with his eyes for a long moment before he reached up to slowly slide her panties off her, leaving her fully exposed to the heat of his gaze, his searing touch.

He climbed back on the bed, still fully clothed, kneeling between her parted legs as his hands moved over her calves, kneading the firm muscles, pausing to brush against the sensitive skin behind her knees.  Then his fingers were trailing up and down the insides of her thighs, Mac desperate for what she knew was to come next.

Then his fingers were brushing her swollen folds and she nearly screamed at the exquisite torture as Harm watched the passion blazing in her eyes, heady with the thought that he was the one bringing forth this reaction in her. Finally, his fingers found the little bundle of nerves and she cried out his name hoarsely as his thumb gently manipulated her clit while his fingers slipped between her folds, probing the slick heat of her core.  He slid one finger inside her and shivered as her muscles tightened around the digit, her breathing labored as she teetered dangerously close to the edge.

She whimpered as he slid his finger out of her, then cried out harshly in ecstasy as his mouth replaced his fingers at her center, his tongue tasting her sweet stickiness as his thumb continued its assault.  She was so aroused that it was just seconds later that she cried out, "Harm!" as she climaxed hard against his mouth, her body visibly shaking with the intensity as the waves of absolute pleasure washed over her.

Harm reluctantly pulled himself away from her and stretched out beside her, gathering her into his arms and rolling onto his back so that she was half-resting on top of him, her head pressed against his racing heart, her eyes closed.  He groaned as her hand brushed against his groin.  He was so aroused that he knew it would not take much to bring him to climax, but he wanted to give her a few moments to recover before he started anew his pleasurable assault on her body.

Hearing his groan, Mac slowly moved her hand up and down his swollen shaft, caressing him through his denim shorts.  She opened her eyes to watch his reaction to her touch, wanting to give him back some of what he had given her.  A mischievous gleam in her deep brown eyes, she moved over him, commenting seductively, "I think one of us is a bit overdressed."  She straddled his thighs as her fingers swiftly undid the buttons of his shirt and pushed it off him, sensing that he didn't have much time, while thinking that someday she would return the favor by doing to him what he had just done to her, someday soon.

As her hands roamed over the firm muscles of his chest, her eyes remained locked with his.  She reveled in the passion and arousal she saw there, the knowledge that she was causing this reaction like a narcotic.  How had they denied themselves this for all these years? she wondering in amazement as her mouth followed her hands over his chest, tracing the outlines of his muscles, teasing his nipples with her teeth.  "Sarah," he said on a gasp of air, close to losing control.

Mac moved off him and made short work of the rest of his clothes, inhaling sharply as she got her first look at his rock hard shaft.  How many times had she imagined what he looked like? she wondered idly.  He definitely did not disappoint, and she was quickly becoming aroused again just by the thought of taking him inside of her.  Smiling softly at the thought, she ran her fingers up the underside of his penis, gently caressing, as she lowered her head to take the tip of him in her mouth, her tongue circling around him as she tasted his saltiness.

Harm bit off a groan as her tongue assaulted him.  Another time, he would very much enjoy lying back while she worked her magic on him, but he was so close to coming and he wanted to be inside her.  Now.  Lifting her off him, he pushed her onto her back and rolled over on top, positioning himself to enter her as he locked his gaze with hers.  He wanted to watch her, he realized.  He needed to see the look in her eyes.

Mac gently grasped his penis in her hands and guided him into her, gasping at the incredible sensation as her muscles stretched to accommodate his size. She kept her eyes on his as he began to move slowly inside her, trying to stave off his own climax so that she could come with him.

She couldn't take any more of this.  Grasping his hips, she encouraged him to move faster and deeper within her as she rapidly built again towards her own climax.  As if through a haze, she dimly heard him call out, "Sarah!" as he emptied himself into her, watched as his eyes went dark with the intensity of it.  Then she cried out his name again as she fell over the edge a second time.

After a long moment when the only sound to be heard was their labored breathing, the frantic beat of their hearts, Harm rolled over onto his back, pulling her on top of him.  As they drifted off to sleep, their last conscious thought was to promise themselves silently that they would never let go -- of each other.

0911 ZULU

Mac, sprawled on her stomach, slowly drifted towards wakefulness, reluctant to leave the fantasy world that she was in.  She had the most wonderful dream last night and wasn't ready to face the harsh reality of a new day. "I don't want to wake up," she murmured as she buried her face in her pillow.

"Why not?" a voice asked, a very familiar one that had spent the night in her heart and mind.  She smiled at the sound.

"Wonderful dream," was the lazy reply as she tried to force herself back into a deep sleep and her world of dreams and fantasy.  But she was shocked fully awake when she felt a hand moving slowly over her back and hips.  That was no dream.  She turned from the pillow and found herself looking up into a familiar pair of blue-green eyes.

"I don't know whether to be insulted that you thought last night was just a dream or flattered that you were dreaming of me," Harm teased, the grin she loved so much on his face, his hand moving in slow, lazy circles over her back.

"What time is it?"  Mac asked without thinking about what she was saying.

"Isn't that supposed to be my line?" he shot back.

"You made my internal clock go all haywire," she pouted.  Right now, she didn't think she could even pinpoint what day it was.  Hell, after last night, who cares?

"Oh, really," Harm said, a gleam in his eyes.  "I did that to you?"

Giggling, Mac turned suddenly and pulled her pillow out from under her head, playfully swatting him with it.  "Just what I need," she retorted, "you with an even more swelled head than usual."

Harm laughed playfully as he grabbed his own pillow and hit her back.  It quickly escalated into a full fledged pillow fight which came to an equally abrupt end when Mac found herself trapped under him, his growing arousal pressed against her thigh.  He was lowering his head to kiss her when they were both startled by a loud bark from the doorway.  Jingo stood there, patiently waiting for some attention.

Mac glanced at the clock on the dresser and saw that it was 0521.  "Okay, okay," Mac told the dog, reluctantly climbing out from under Harm and out of bed.  "I know.  Time for breakfast."

Harm watched with an appreciative gleam as she walked over to her closet and grabbed the robe hanging on the door.  As she fastened it around her, she saw his expression and, grabbing his shirt and shorts off the floor, she tossed them at him.  "You may as well get dressed," she told him.  "After breakfast comes the morning walk."  Harm sighed with disappointment as she disappeared into the other room.

0945 ZULU

Harm and Mac walked with Jingo through Georgetown's streets, hand in hand in the pre-dawn hours, her head resting on his shoulder.  They had said very little as they walked, instead reveling in the simple joy of each other's company.  As they turned the corner back onto her street, she suddenly commented, "Today's Memorial Day.  What time were you planning on going to the Wall?"

Harm shrugged.  "I usually go about early, about 0800, 0900.  Today tends to attract a lot of visitors, so I like to go early to beat the crowds."

"Spend some time alone with your Dad?" she asked quietly in understanding.

"Something like that," he answered as he stared off into the distance.  He turned to her as inspiration struck.  "Come with me today," he pleaded. "Come to the Wall with me."

"Oh, Harm," she said, squeezing his hand.  She was thrilled that he would ask her to share this with him.  "I'd be honored."

"We'll need to go back by my place so I can get into uniform," he told her.


"Hmmm?" he replied, lost in thought.

Mac lifted their joined hands and kissed the back of his hand.  "Thank you for asking me," she said, tears in her eyes.

1225 ZULU

After a leisurely breakfast and a quick shower, Mac changed into her uniform then the two of them drove to Harm's place so he could change into his own uniform.  They then drove to the Mall, parking near the Washington Monument and walking silently the length of the reflecting pool to the Vietnam Memorial.

Stopping in front of the black slab with his father's name, Mac gave his hand a quick squeeze then stepped back to the edge of the grass to give him some privacy.

"Hi, Dad," Harm said quietly, tracing his father's name with his fingers.  "I have so much to tell you this time.  I brought someone with me this time. You've heard me talk about her before.  She's always been there for me, even going with me to Russia to find you.  She's so special.  I was so afraid to let her know, but now that I have, I can't believe we wasted so much time. She's a Marine, but she's my jarhead and I love her.  Dad, did you hear me?  I said I love her."

Mac, who couldn't hear Harm's whispered conversation with his father, was slightly surprised when he turned and motioned for her to join him.  Not caring that they were in uniform or who might be watching, Harm slipped his arm around her waist.  "Dad, this is Sarah, the woman I love."

Mac tilted her head up to look at him, shocked at the public declaration.  If there had been one regret she had harbored about the previous twelve hours, it was that she had not once heard him utter the three words she most wanted to hear, the ones she needed to hear.  Her vision blurred as her eyes filled with tears.

Harm looked down at her, brushing the tears from her cheeks.  "That's right," he confirmed quietly.  "I love you, Sarah Mackenzie."

Mac wrapped her arms around his waist and held him.  "I love you, too, Harmon Rabb, Jr.," she replied softly through her tears.

After a long moment spent just holding each other, they let go and snapped to attention, saluting the name engraved on the Wall.  As they turned to walk away, Mac brushed her fingers over the name of the father of the man she loved and whispered, "Thank you for the wonderful gift of your son."



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