THURSDAY, 28 SEPTEMBER
Mac reached to open the door to enter the tavern, rented out just for the party, colliding with someone else reaching for the door at the same time.
"Excuse me, I should have been ... " Mac began, but stopped when she got a good look at the person she had just bumped into. "Keeter, sorry about that." She looked around, but didn't see Carolyn. "Carolyn didn't come with you?"
"I had a meeting with some people at Naval Intelligence," he explained, "and she had to finish up an interview for a case, so we agreed to meet each other here."
"You two have gotten very close the last few days," Mac pointed out.
"There's just something about her," he said, smiling. "I don't know how to explain it."
"I don't think love can be explained," Mac said, leaning against the door.
"True," Jack admitted. "Maybe that's what makes it so interesting. So where's Harm? I was expecting him to come with you."
"My back is bothering me, so he went to pick up my sister Chloe at the airport instead of me," she explained. "We didn't think I'd be able to take being in the stuck in the car for the amount of time it would take to get there and back."
"He really takes care of you," Jack stated. "I noticed that in the desert. It was really difficult for him to leave you behind. It just amazes me after what I saw in the desert that it took you two so long to admit your feelings."
"Do you know how many times I've heard that one?" she teased, raising an eyebrow at him.
"I can imagine," he replied. "I've known Harm for almost twenty years and I haven't seen him look at anyone the way he looks at you since ... well, in a long time." His voice trailed off hesitantly as he realized his mistake. He really liked Mac and thought she was perfect for Harm. He didn't want to risk upsetting her by bringing up the ghosts of past girlfriends.
"Since when?" she asked quietly. She then realized what, or rather who, he was talking about. "This is ... about her, isn't it?"
"Her?" he repeated nervously. "I don't know who ... "
"Diane," Mac said. "You were thinking about Diane Schonke. You haven't seen Harm look at a woman that way since her - that's what you were going to say, isn't it?"
"Mac ... " he began, shrugging. "I didn't mean to bring it up. I wasn't sure if you knew about her and ... well, I don't want you to think that I believe that Harm's love for you is based on the fact that you look like her."
"I've known about her for several years," she said, folding her arms across her chest. "From the moment we met, I knew that I reminded Harm of someone. He admitted as much himself. It was more than a year later, after I saw a picture of her at his apartment, that he told me about who she was and how she died. I'm sure you noticed the resemblance yourself the first time you saw me in Iran."
"Yeah," he admitted, "but you were wearing that scarf around your head, so I wasn't entirely sure. Then you took the head piece off and I realized that I wasn't seeing things, but I didn't want to bring up the subject. I'm sure you can understand why."
Mac looked down at the ground. Diane was a subject she and Harm had made their peace with already, but at a time like this, it stung just a bit to be reminded of the woman who had held Harm's heart for so long. "Yes, I do," she finally said, lifting her gaze to his. "Bud said pretty much the same thing when I asked him why he never mentioned the resemblance between us."
"Look, Mac, I'm really sorry that I opened this can of worms," Jack said. "Why don't we just forget about it and join the party? I'm sure your fiancé is missing you." When Mac made no move to go inside, he repeated, "I'm sorry I brought it up, I really am. I didn't mean to upset you less than two days before your wedding about something that's in the past."
"Apology accepted," Mac said softly. "I guess it would be natural for you - for anyone who knew Diane - to wonder about Harm's and my relationship."
"That's just it," he pointed out, "I don't wonder about it. I think I know Harm well enough to know that he would never base a relationship on the fact that you resemble his late college sweetheart. Besides, I don't think the kick ass jarhead that Harm has always described to me would let him get away with something like that. Do you want to hear my analysis of the situation?"
"Please," she said. "I'm curious."
"You challenge Harm," he explained. "You challenge his perceptions and make him a better person. You're his equal in every way and you accept him for what he is, the complete package, instead of trying to force him to live up to some image."
"He does the same for me. Harm has seen me through a lot of things that would send most people running in the opposite direction," she added. "He's never judged me or asked me to be something that I'm not."
"So are we okay?" he asked, giving her a flyboy grin similar to Harm's. She wondered if that was something that was taught to pilots in flight school.
"We're fine, Keeter," she replied, smiling. "And thank you for that last part."
"Come on, let's get inside before our significant others begin to wonder where we are," Jack suggested, reaching to open the door. As he grabbed the door handle, someone opened it from the inside.
"There you are, Jack," Carolyn said, seeing him first. "I was just coming out to see ... Mac, Harm's inside already and wondering where you are." She held the door open as they walked inside. She led them towards the bar, where Harm was standing, talking to Frank.
Before they reached the bar, they were waylaid by one very excited thirteen-year-old. "Mac!" Chloe cried out, throwing her arms around Mac's neck. "I missed you!"
"I missed you, too, sweetheart," Mac said, returning the hug. "How was your flight?"
"Too long," Chloe complained.
"Chloe, I want you to meet someone," Mac said, turning to Jack. "This is Commander Jack Keeter. He was Harm's roommate at the Academy. Keeter, this is my little sister Chloe."
"Hello, Chloe," Jack said. "It's very nice to meet you."
"So I bet you know some *really* good stories about Harm," she proclaimed with a grin while a look of mock horror crossed Harm's face.
"Chloe," Mac warned, drawing out her name. Chloe turned and just grinned at her.
"Hey, everyone!" Chloe called out loudly, trying to be heard over the noise in tavern. "Now that both the bride and groom are here, let the entertainment begin!"
"Entertainment?" Harm whispered to Mac. "I thought we were trying to avoid that kind of thing."
"It'd better not be *that* kind of entertainment," she whispered back. "There are minors present, remember?" She nodded towards Chloe, who had sat down at a table with Harm's mother and grandmother, and Josh Pendry, who was sitting with his mother next to Bud and Harriet.
"It had better not be anything that's going to get anyone arrested," Harm said, shaking his head.
As Harm and Mac took their seats, Sydney got up from her chair and went to stand in front of a large screen television which had been set up against the wall where everyone could see it. The tavern became quiet and everyone shifted in their seats, directing their attention towards Sydney.
"I have to admit that I have only known Harm and Mac for a few months," Sydney began, "so I feel a little odd standing up here talking to you about them, especially since I missed a lot of the *highlights* of their relationship."
Mac noted her emphasis on the word 'highlights' and turned to Harm. "You remember what Sydney said when she first heard how we met?" she asked.
"Oh, no," Harm muttered as Sydney picked up a remote control sitting on top of the television.
"When I first heard how these two met," Sydney continued, "I couldn't believe that it had taken these two four years to admit their feelings for each other. The best romance writer could not have written a better first meeting. Then I heard that there were more such stories, incidents which show why there are probably no two people in the world more perfect for each other than Harmon Rabb and Sarah Mackenzie.
"I thought this party would be the perfect opportunity for those of you who have had the pleasure of witnessing some of Harm and Mac's better - and worse - moments to tell those stories for the amusement of everyone except the bride and groom, both of whom are probably wishing that my fiancé was not their commanding officer so that they could both have their revenge for this at some later date." As laughter floated around the room, she grinned at Harm and Mac, who were both resisting the urge to bolt.
"Before we begin, I have a few people to thank who helped make this all possible," she said. "First, many thanks to Victor Galindez and Jason Tiner, who helped me refine my original storytelling idea into the video tape which you are about to see. They did much of the filming and all of the editing themselves. Thanks also to Clayton Webb, who obtained interviews from a few of our more difficult to reach participants and who is also guarding the original video, just in case Harm and Mac get any ideas about destroying it." Everyone laughed again.
"Oh, God," Harm muttered. "Webb's involved in this."
"And the biggest thanks to all of you who shared your stories and memories of Harm and Mac with us," she said, turning the television on. "Everyone sit back, enjoy and let's try not to be too hard on Harm and Mac. After all, they did eventually discover - or rather admit - to themselves what everyone else has known for the last four years."
More laughter was heard as Sydney sat down next to AJ and hit the play button on the remote. "Please wake me when this is over," Mac murmured as she leaned against Harm's shoulder.
"I insisted on being first to talk about Harm and Mac," Clay began, filmed standing next to the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives. "I was the one who brought them together. The Declaration of Independence was being transported to a company in California for restoration when it was stolen by a militia group made up of former and retired military members. It was requested that my investigation be coordinated with the Navy's JAG corps since the crime involved the military and took place on a military base.
"At the time, the big gun at JAG headquarters was a brash, arrogant former pilot who only became a lawyer when he was forced out of the cockpit for medical reasons," he continued. "But I wanted someone else in on the investigation. Unknown to just about everyone, the head of the militia group had a niece, a Marine, who went from admin assistant to lawyer. I arranged for her to be transferred to Washington to take part in the investigation, setting the stage for the first meeting between a cocky Navy Lieutenant Commander and a no-nonsense Marine Major."
Next, scenes played of Harm's first Distinguished Flying Cross ceremony at the White House with AJ providing the voice over. "Harm, in one of his first major cases at JAG, had landed a damaged Tomcat at night, saving the life of the CAG of the USS Sea Hawk. His actions earned him the first of two Distinguished Flying Crosses, which was awarded by the President at the White House. I had arranged for my newest officer to meet us at the White House after the ceremony and that's how Lieutenant Commander Harmon Rabb and Major Sarah Mackenzie first laid eyes on each other in the Rose Garden."
The video switched to scenes of the Rose Garden while AJ continued his narration. "From the moment they met, I knew there was something there, an electricity between them, just from the way they stared at each other. It was so obvious that I felt I had to add the warning 'Don't get too familiar, you'll be working together.' All I can say now is that it was hardly the last time either of them would not listen to me."
As nearly everyone laughed, Mac looked down at the table, remembering that first meeting and the reason she had later learned was behind Harm's shock at her appearance. On the table, Harm took her hand in his and squeezed it, knowing she was thinking of Diane. "I love you, Sarah," he whispered.
"I know," she whispered back as Matt continued the story of their first case together on the tape.
"The first time I met my future nephew," Matt said, filmed sitting in Harm and Mac's living room, "Sarah was holding a gun on him, pretending for the benefit of my militia group that she had been coming to join us and had captured the man who had been following her. For most people, this would have been reason enough to distrust her. So I was more than a little surprised when Harm offered to defend me in court and to stand up for Sarah if her actions threatened her career, despite the implications it might have on his own career. I was so surprised that I turned to her and asked her 'Where'd you find this Sailor, Sarah?'
"When she answered 'In a rose garden, Uncle Matt' and I saw the look in her eyes and the smile on her face, I knew that this man whom she barely knew had already become something special to her. Then when Harm, without a second thought, risked his own life to save mine and Sarah's, I knew the feeling was mutual," he continued.
"Of course, like most couples, they have had their fights," Bud, filmed in one of the JAG courtrooms, picked up the narration. "Their first big one involved the first case they opposed each other on. The whole thing started when the Major - "
From off camera, Sydney could be heard telling Bud, "This video is personal. I think it's okay to call them Mac and Harm."
That got a laugh out of everyone, even Mac and Harm. "How many times have we told him and Harriet that?" Harm whispered to her.
On screen, Bud continued, "Okay, Mac accused Harm of sandbagging her. To be honest, he did, but he expected what happened in court to stay in court while she, on the other hand, took it very personally. She took it so personally that she called him on it in front of JAG in the middle of the day where anyone walking by could witness it. I commented to Harm that it was like watching your parents fight. They kept going at each other throughout the trial. When Harm was having a good day, he'd walk around whistling 'Anchor's Aweigh'; if Mac was having a good day, 'The Marine Corps Hymn' could be heard. But when it was all over, they were best friends again. I'm not sure how it all worked out, but knowing Harm and Mac, I'm sure there's a story there, too."
Bud continued the narration on screen, but this time he was at the Leesburg airfield where 'Sarah' was kept. Apparently, one of the people at the airfield had cooperated with the taping, because Bud was actually in the hanger standing next to the yellow Stearman.
"For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of going up in her," Bud said, patting one of the plane's wings, "this is the Comman - sorry, Harm's Stearman 'Sarah'." Bud must have anticipated the knowing smiles on the people's faces when they heard the name of the plane, because he added, "It is just a coincidence. The plane is actually named after his grandmother."
"I don't think anyone's going to believe that anymore," Gram said, smiling at her grandson.
Bud's story continued on screen. "This plane - and a defective fuel line - nearly led to both Harm and Mac being declared UA. Of course, until they finally returned from their adventure in the mountains and the whole story of what happened came out, there was all kinds of speculation as to the reason why both of them had taken a personal day that Monday."
As everyone laughed, Mac said to Harm, "Too bad what they were thinking couldn't have actually happened."
"Doesn't mean we didn't think about it, remember?" he teased her, winking.
"Unfortunately, what really happened was not quite so pleasant," Bud explained. "The fuel line had split, forcing an emergency landing. While looking for help, they ran into poachers who had just murdered a game warden. By the time Harm managed to fix the plane, Mac had a fever from an infected buck shot wound in her leg and she ended up spending the next three days in the hospital. I'm sure no one has to guess who spent most of those three days by her side."
As more laughter floated around the room, AJ returned on screen, this time in front of Mercy Hospital in DC. "In the five years that I've know Harm and the four that I've known Mac, I've received many calls about one or the other - usually both of them - being in some kind of trouble," he said, standing in his usual pose with his arms folded across his chest. "This time, the call came from Mac informing me that Harm had gotten hit by a car and was in the emergency room at this hospital. And it did not surprise me to learn that the reason he was hit by the car was that he had pushed Mac out of the way of the car."
AJ sighed on screen as he added, "Of course, there is a lot more to the story, with terrorists taking over the hospital and Harm and Mac almost single-handedly resolving the situation. With Harm and Mac, there's always a lot more to the story. That's always been one of the hallmarks of their relationship."
Teresa Coulter, sitting at the table behind Harm and Mac with Bud, Harriet, Annie and Josh, leaned over to whisper to Harm, teasing, "Why haven't I ever heard any of this? No wonder you weren't interested."
Annie overheard the comment and asked, "Another member of the Harmon Rabb fan club who never stood a chance?"
"You, too?" Teresa asked, turning towards Annie.
"I actually broke it off with Harm for other reasons," she explained, "but I always knew that I wasn't number one. I even said so not long after I first met Mac."
"God, tell me this isn't happening," Harm muttered, soft enough that only Mac heard him.
"Maybe I should suggest that Kate come over here and join in," Mac teased him, louder so that Teresa and Annie could hear. "I'm sure she could add something to this discussion."
"Et tu, Brute?"
"Now there's woman confident in her man's love," Teresa pointed out while Mac laughed.
"I'm not really the jealous type," Mac said, smiling slyly at Harm. "After all, I've stood by and watched him with a Romanian princess, Annie, his dry cleaners' daughter, the shrink, the Video Princess and, of course, let's not forget Congresswoman ... oh, look who's on the tape now."
Bobbi was indeed giving her take on Harm and Mac, talking about when she had first met them and told Harm, "Mac likes you."
"I told her that you'd like to wring my neck," Harm told Mac, just as Bobbi was relating the same thing on screen.
"Believe me," Mac replied, "I've been tempted many times."
"Who hasn't been?" Annie asked.
"Why do we have to talk about all my other relationships?" Harm complained.
"Because you, my dear, are the jealous type and you don't like to talk about my past relationships, such as they were," Mac replied, a trace of sadness in her voice.
"Hey, that's over now, " he whispered to her, brushing a tear from her cheek as she smiled wanly at him.
Ironically, on the tape, Bud and Harriet were talking about the day that Mac had walked out of JAG, seemingly for the last time. "That was the first time you called me Sarah," Mac remembered.
AJ was back on screen again, this time talking about Harm's arrest and brig break a few weeks later. "I had called Mac's place, insisting that if she had seen him she was to let me know," he related. "Of course, I heard nothing from her, but I'll give everyone three guesses on where Harm was hiding out."
"I told you he was the jealous type," Mac teased as Bud related on the tape some of the incidents illustrating Harm's jealousy of Dalton. Her expression suddenly turned serious when the recollections turned to the more serious topic of Dalton's murder and her stalking.
"You survived," Harm reminded her, holding her closer to him.
"I couldn't have done it without you," she whispered.
"Yes, you could have," he insisted. "I just helped a little."
"You too, Mom?" Harm asked, while Trish was on tape talking about her 'quite the girl' comment just before Harm and Mac had gone to Russia.
Of course, that brought the recollections around to the subject of their trip to Russia. "Oh, my God," Mac exclaimed when she saw the next narrator on screen. "Alexei." Someone had gotten Alexei to talk about his experiences with Harm and Mac, filming him standing by his taxi on a Moscow street. Mac remembered what Sydney had said earlier about Clay getting some of the more difficult interviews.
She and Harm looked around the room, searching for Clay. Finally, Mac noticed him standing by himself at the back of the room and she pointed him out to Harm. At their questioning glance, Clay simply shrugged and turned his attention back to the television, where Clay was continuing the story of their experiences in Russia and moving into the story of the party at the Sudanese Embassy.
Jack was next up, talking about their adventure in Iran and the more than friendly hugs he witnessed. Harm shot him a dirty look across the table, but Jack smiled and shrugged. "Carolyn asked me if I knew any good stories about you two," he explained. "I figured the least I could do was share."
"Oh, this is nothing," Carolyn told everyone at the table. "We've got some *really* good stuff coming up in a few minutes."
"What really good stuff?" Mac demanded while Carolyn looked like the cat that had eaten the canary.
"You'll see," she simply said.
"Oh, no," Mac said, covering her eyes with her hand as Chloe appeared on the screen, repeating what she'd told Harm the first time she'd met him.
"Buddy, I would have thought it would be very obvious right there," Jack commented.
"Jack, trust me," Carolyn said mysteriously. "It gets even better."
Mac began shaking her head. "Don't tell me you talked about the wetting down," she said.
"Oh, well, yeah I did," Carolyn told her, "but that's not what I was talking about."
"I don't ... no, you didn't," Mac insisted even as Carolyn nodded her head.
"What is it?" Harm asked.
"I can't believe you did that!"
"Come on," Carolyn insisted. "That has got to be the best Harm and Mac story of all time."
"What?" Harm asked again.
"I don't believe this," Mac said softly, shaking her head. "Any of you ladies available to be a bridesmaid? One of mine is about to learn a hard lesson about messing with a Marine."
Trish leaned behind Frank to ask Carolyn, "That good?"
"Trust me," she replied. "This is better than anything you can possibly imagine."
Carolyn was on the screen, talking about Bud and Harriet's wetting down, when Mac had insisted to her and Jordan that nothing had ever happened between her and Harm. While everyone else turned their attention back to the television, Harm whispered, "Sarah?"
"It's about AJ," she said vaguely, confusing Harm.
"The Admiral? I don't ... "
"Wrong AJ," she whispered shortly as understanding dawned for Harm.
"How did she find out?" he whispered back.
"Well," Mac replied, diverting her eyes, "I told her. While you were testifying in the Johns tried, remember how she came into my office to keep me company? We were talking and the story just came out. And I should probably tell you that Sydney knows also."
"And how did she find out?"
"She saw the card that I had bought, to tell you that we are having a girl," she explained. "She asked if there was a story behind what I had written and I told her."
"I wonder if Josh could help us escape," he pondered. "That kid could evade a Marine Recon team."
"Too late," Mac muttered as both Carolyn and Sydney appeared on screen.
Carolyn spoke first. "Now, this story is so good, that it takes two of us to tell it," she said. "I guarantee this will be the best Harm and Mac story any of you have ever heard. It all started the day AJ Roberts made his appearance into the world. Harriet had gone into labor at work and Harm had called an ambulance, but I also had a client who had gone into labor and the ambulance took her away instead. Bud ended up stuck in an elevator, nearly missing his son's birth; the Admiral was pressed into the role of midwife; and Harriet gave birth on the floor of the Admiral's office with Harm and Mac playing labor coaches."
While everyone laughed, imagining the scene in the Admiral's office that day, Sydney picked up the story on screen. "Finally, another ambulance came and Harriet, Bud and baby AJ all went to the hospital," she continued. "After it was all over, Harm and Mac were standing together on the porch outside of JAG." Suddenly, on screen Carolyn and Sydney both broke into laughter.
Mac's eyes sought out Sydney, who was sitting next to AJ, trying to control her laughter. Mac fleetingly wondering if it would be possible to replace half the bridal party less than two days before the wedding.
On the television, Sydney and Carolyn managed to regain some semblance of control. Sydney continued the story. "Mac was feeling a little blue because Chloe, who had been visiting, had just left with her father. Both Harm and Mac were probably feeling a little euphoric after what they had just witnessed, so I'm sure that played a small part in what happened next."
Carolyn picked up the narration again. "Harm and Mac made a little deal, which I am very happy to report that they have kept, even if they didn't stick to the original timetable," she continued. "They agreed that if neither of them were involved in another relationship five years from that moment, then they would quote 'go halves on a kid' unquote. I believe those were the words that Mac said Harm used. Of course, I don't think either of them expected to get twins out of the deal."
"Oh, and we probably should mention that we tell you this story at great risk," Sydney joked. "Mac is probably wishing right now that she had gotten us to sign confidentiality agreements when she told us this story. Now, can't you all agree that this is the best Harm and Mac story?"
While the video continued, with various officers at JAG talking about Harm's last days there before returning to flying, Harm and Mac were dealing with a table of disbelieving family members.
"Frank, what happened to the son we raised?" Trish wondered. "I didn't think I had raised someone so dense. For four years, he won't admit that he's in love with Mac, but they'll agree to have a baby together."
"What about my niece?" Matt asked. "She's such a smart woman in most things, but sometimes I have wondered ... "
"Uncle Matt," Mac pleaded.
"Come on," Chloe insisted. "This is even better than what I said to Harm about your fantasies. Now, if you could just explain how you went from that to accepting another man's ring a few months later."
"Chloe, that's enough," Harm insisted firmly.
Carolyn stepped in to try and smooth the waters. "Like I said, they have kept their deal and fortunately, moved up the timetable. And most of you are getting two new family members out of the deal," she pointed out.
"I am so glad this night is over," Mac proclaimed after most of the guests had left, leaving just family and the members of the wedding party in the tavern with the McMurphy's staff. "I was almost wishing for the strip joints and bailing you guys out of jail."
"So was I," Harm admitted.
"Well, the rest of us had fun," Chloe pointed out, smiling widely.
"Speaking of fun," Mac began, "Sydney ... "
"Colonel," AJ said, trying to sound stern while he was resisting the urge to laugh.
"With all due respect, Sir," Harm said, "we don't care if you are the JAG and her fiancé."
"And Carolyn," Mac continued, "all I have to say is God help you." She smiled as she said it, leaving Carolyn to wonder just how serious she was.
"Don't worry," Jack said, pulling Carolyn against his side, "I'll protect you from the big, bad Marine."
"My hero," she teased.
"Okay, on another note," Mac said, changing the subject, "I intend to sleep in tomorrow after this late night ... "
"Late?" Chloe exclaimed. "It's barely ten o'clock."
"These days, that is late for me," Mac replied. "The point is, Harm and I are not planning on leaving for Annapolis until ten, so we'd like to meet at the chapel around eleven. I want to make sure there are no last minute details to worry about, we'll go to lunch then rehearsal begins at one. Does everyone have transportation? Mom and Frank rented a minivan plus we have our SUV, which Uncle Matt will be driving back home for us." She looked at Jack, a question in her eyes.
"I'm okay," he assured her. "Carolyn and I are riding with Bud, Harriet, Alan and Jackie in the Roberts' minivan."
Chloe's grandmother spoke up. "We've already spoken to Trish about riding with them tomorrow," Martha said.
"AJ and I are taking his SUV," Sydney explained, "since we'll have Francesca and my son Danny with us."
"Since we know that everyone has a ride to the chapel," Harm continued, "is there anything else before we all call it a night?" Everyone shook their heads. "Then good night and we'll see everyone tomorrow morning."
FRIDAY, 29 SEPTEMBER
"Harm, did Keeter give you his dress whites?" Mac called up the stairs. She was pulling the garment bags with everyone's dress uniforms and the bridal dresses out of the foyer closet, only to discover that she was missing one set of Navy dress whites.
"No, why?" Harm called back.
"Because they're not here is why," Mac called.
Harm came down the stairs and stood behind her. "He probably has them with him," he said, his hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure he will carry them to Annapolis."
"All dress uniforms were supposed to be given to me," Mac said, frustrated, "so that we don't have any missing uniforms like the last time." Pulling away from him, she turned and strode into the living room carrying the garment bags.
Sighing, Harm closed the closet door. "I would think if anything was going to happen, it would have happened by now," he muttered under his breath.
"Did you say something?" Frank asked as he, Trish and Matt came down the stairs with their luggage for their stay in Annapolis.
"Mac's a little ... concerned that she doesn't have Keeter's dress whites," he explained. "When Bud and Harriet got married, my dress whites kind of disappeared a few days before the wedding and I didn't find them until the night before."
"So she wanted everyone's dress uniforms so that no one's got lost," Trish concluded, remembering the story Mac had told her a few weeks earlier about some of the events leading up to Bud and Harriet's wedding.
"Something like that," Harm agreed with a shrug. "She's just getting a little more upset about it than is really necessary."
As Trish opened her mouth to suggest that probably wasn't the best thing to say, a throw pillow came flying out of the living room, hitting Harm squarely in the chest. "Uh, you might want to rethink what you just said," Trish said weakly as Frank and Matt struggled to keep straight faces.
Harm was about to reply when the doorbell rang. Still holding the pillow, he walked over and yanked open the door to find Carolyn and Jack standing on the porch, Jack holding a garment bag in his hand.
"Carolyn said that you guys were transporting all the uniforms and dresses for the wedding party," Jack explained, handing Harm the bag with a smirk, "something about a certain someone's dress whites ending up in the hands of a male stripper last time. Anyway, we thought we'd drop these off on our way to Bud and Harriet's."
"You couldn't have brought these by about five minutes ago?" Harm complained softly as he draped the bag over his arm. He opened his mouth to call to Mac, but Trish shook her head.
"You've probably said enough for right now," she suggested softly. Louder, she called out, "Mac, darling, Jack just brought his dress whites by if you want to put them with the rest of the uniforms."
Mac came out of the living room, a smile on her face, as she greeted Jack and Carolyn sweetly, "Good morning. That you for bringing your uniform by, Keeter. I was just going through the uniforms and realized that I didn't have yours." Shooting Harm a dirty look, she took the garment bag from him and carried it into the living room.
"Why don't I walk you to your car?" Harm suggested, tossing the pillow he was still holding in the general direction of the living room before leaving the house, closing the door behind him.
"Mac's a little stressed out this morning, I take it," Jack said with a laugh as they walked to the driveway at the side of the house.
"Of course she's stressed," Carolyn retorted. "Harm probably is too if he'd only admit it. They're getting married in less than twenty-five hours. I think they're supposed to be stressed. So, Harm, what did you say to get Mac to throw that pillow at you?" She smiled impishly at him.
"What makes you think a) that I said anything and b) that Mac threw a pillow at me?" he asked.
"Well, people don't normally walk around the house carrying a throw pillow from the living room," Carolyn pointed out, "and your mom did say that you'd said enough already."
Harm looked at Jack as he replied, expecting that another man would understand. "I just suggested that she was getting a little more upset than necessary," he said. Jack just shrugged. How was he supposed to understand the inner workings of the mind of a pregnant bride-to-be?
"No wonder she hit you," Carolyn said dryly as she unlocked the passenger door of her car for Jack. "Anyway, will you relax? In about twenty-six hours it will be all over and you'll be a married man."
"It'll be over all right," Jack joked as he rolled down his window and pulled the door closed.
As she got in on the driver's side, Carolyn reached over and smacked him lightly on the shoulder. "Harm, do you still have the phone number for the hotel we're all staying at tonight? I think we need to book another room," she said, shooting Jack a mock threatening glance.
Jack turned and mouthed, "Women" at Harm. Harm simply smiled and shrugged. "We'll see you guys later," he said as Carolyn started the car and pulled out of the driveway.
Harm was about to turn and walk back to the front door when he heard the garage door open behind him. He turned around to see Mac opening the rear door of their SUV and Matt and Frank coming out of the house carrying the garment bags.
The rear seats having already been removed from the car, Mac laid the garment bags flat, carefully stacking them to one side. "Will that be enough room for our luggage?" she asked Harm as he walked up behind her.
"You don't know how much luggage you're taking on your honeymoon?" Matt asked, confused.
"Harm is doing the packing for our honeymoon," she explained. "If he told me what kind of clothes to pack, then I might get an idea where we are going and it's supposed to be a surprise."
"Yes, it's enough," Harm replied. "And you'll like this surprise. Trust me."
"Pretty confident there," she teased, all traces of her earlier annoyance gone.
"You liked my surprise a few weeks ago," he reminded her, pulling her into his arms, "when we went to the Eastern Shore." Forgetting that they weren't alone, he brushed his lips against hers as his hands roamed over her back.
"I think that's our cue to leave," Frank whispered to Matt. The two men turned and walked back into the house.
"I'm so glad that Sarah is so happy and settled," Matt said. "I - and my wife when she was still alive - tried to do as much as we could for Sarah, to set a good example for her, but I think it always worried me that she wouldn't let herself find the kind of happiness and contentment that we tried to show her. She certainly didn't with her first marriage. Then when I saw her and Harm together in Arizona, I knew that she could have all that if she would only let herself."
"Harm has had much the same problem, but for different reasons," Frank said. "He practically grew up overnight when his father was shot down and that one event has pretty much defined his life. That's why I was so supportive when he and Mac went to Russia a few years ago to find out what had happened to his father. Not because of what it would mean to Trish - or to me - but because I wanted him to find some peace and to be able to move on with his life.
On top of that, I think Harm has always been afraid deep down that if he loves someone too much, they will leave him," Frank continued. "His father left and was shot down. He and Diane never could seem to connect with each other after Annapolis, but when they were ready to, she was murdered. And it's possible that he thinks that Trish left him, in a way, when she had his father declared dead and married me."
"And it took nearly losing Sarah before he was able to make himself take a chance and open up to her," Matt concluded, remembering Harm's confession at Leavenworth.
"Good morning, Frank, Uncle Matt," Chloe called out, bounding down the stairs. Matt had taken to Mac's little sister on sight and had insisted that she address him as 'Uncle Matt' also.
"Good morning, Chloe," Matt replied. "Where are your grandparents?"
"Packing," she replied merrily. "We're going to stay in Annapolis tomorrow night also then fly from there back to Vermont Sunday morning. Harm's grandmother is with them. She and Grandma have become very friendly."
"You have to get back to school," Matt stated.
"Yeah," Chloe replied glumly. The doorbell rang and Chloe was her usual perky self again. "I'll get it," she said, skipping to the door.
"She's quite the little bundle of energy," Frank commented.
"She is," Matt said, smiling. "She's been so good for Sarah and ... " he trailed off, the smile dropping from his face, when Chloe threw open the door and he saw the familiar face on the other side.
"Good morning," Chloe greeted the newcomer brightly. "Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for Sarah Mackenzie or Matt O'Hara," the woman standing on the porch said nervously.
"Uncle Matt's right here," Chloe replied, turning towards him as Matt walked up to the open door.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, a slight edge to his voice.
Deanne was silent for a moment as her mind processed the fact that she was seeing her brother for the first time in seventeen years. Finally, she managed, "Well, Sarah told me when Joe died that you were in Leavenworth, so I finally got the courage to go out there and pay you a visit. Only, they told me that you'd been furloughed for a few days so you could attend your niece's wedding. I got one of the people there to give me the address where you'd be staying and I spent the rest of the money I had on me to buy a plane ticket out here."
"I'm not sure this is a very good idea, Deanne," Matt said.
"Look, I know that things were strained when Sarah and I parted the last time," Deanne said, "and if she doesn't want me around, I'll understand. But I would like to see her if she's here."
"What is everyone doing just standing around?" Mac asked as she and Harm came back into the house. "We're supposed to be leaving for Annapolis in twenty-four minutes and thirty-five seconds. Why are you just standing there with the door open?" She stopped suddenly when she saw the woman standing on the other side of the door.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, her voice shaking. Harm put his hands on her shoulders, trying to offer comfort as he recognized the woman from a picture Mac had once shown him even as he wondered how she had gotten there. Since Mac had not mentioned her mother since their disagreement earlier in the week, Harm had given up hope that she would decide to contact her and Mac was obviously very surprised to see her mother.
"Well, honestly, I wanted to see you," Deanne answered nervously. "I went to Leavenworth to see Matt, because I was hoping that he could help, I don't know, maybe bridge the gap between us."
"This is only the second time I've seen you since my fifteenth birthday," Mac pointed out, her voice suddenly cold. She had to keep her voice cold, keep her emotions under control. She couldn't risk letting herself open up with her mother. She didn't want to deal with the pain. "Why now? Why not sixteen months ago when we were in California?"
"I thought you needed time," Deanne said lamely.
"Time?" Mac echoed with disbelief. "Just how much time did you think I needed? I'd already had sixteen years between the time you left me with an abusive, alcoholic father and the last time I saw you. How much more time did you think I needed?"
"Sarah, I know this probably isn't the best timing ... " Deanne began.
"The best timing?" Mac retorted angrily. "What makes you think ... "
"Harm," Trish broke in, "why don't you and Mac go upstairs and finish getting everything together? You did want to get on the road in about twenty minutes, right?"
"Mom, I don't think ... " he began.
"Harmon David Rabb," Trish said firmly, "Mac needs some time to collect herself. She's already stressed out and I don't want her to say something she might regret later." Mac opened her mouth, about to speak, but Trish shook her head. "Darling, stress isn't good for the babies and you need to think about all this before you react to it. Just go upstairs, take some deep breaths and calm down. Maybe lie down for a few minutes."
Reluctantly, Mac nodded, knowing Trish was right. She allowed Harm to lead her upstairs. Trish turned her attention to Chloe next. "Chloe, why don't you go help your grandparents finish packing?" she suggested. After seeing the way Trish had firmly sent Harm and Mac upstairs, Chloe wasn't about to argue with her and she also went back upstairs.
Trish turned to Deanne. "Would you like something to drink, Mrs. Mackenzie?" she asked.
"No, maybe I should go," Deanne replied, looking like she was ready to bolt. "Sarah's probably right; this isn't a good time."
"Nonsense," Trish insisted, closing the front door and leading Deanne into the living room, Frank and Matt trailing behind. She sat down on the couch and patted the cushion next to her. Deanne sat down nervously. "Just before you arrived, Mac was stressed out over dress uniforms. If you'd shown up any other day but today, I can't guarantee she wouldn't have had the same reaction, but today I don't want her to say or do something she may regret later when all the excitement's over and she has a chance to think about it."
"I don't know," Deanne said hesitantly. She felt out of place. She thought it was obvious that her daughter didn't want her around and Matt may be her brother, but she was under no illusions about where his loyalties lay and they weren't with her. As for the couple whom were obviously the parents of her daughter's fiancé - the husband had been quiet so far, seemingly content to let his wife take the lead. As for her, although she struck Deanne as a nice enough woman, what would a woman whose clothes looked like they cost more than Deanne made in a month understand about her problems?
"Deanne, Trish is probably right," Matt told his sister. He knew his sister well enough to know that she was probably feeling overwhelmed and felt the need to try and smooth the waters. After all, she had gone through the trouble, despite the time that had passed, to seek her daughter out. "Sarah's not herself today. Stay. Let's give her a chance to get settled a little bit and see if she feels any differently."
"I suppose," Deanne reluctantly agreed, taking a deep breath. She did want to try to make a new start with her daughter. That had been the main reason behind her trip to Leavenworth in the first place.
"Good," Trish declared. "You can ride to Annapolis with us. Mac and Harm are riding in their own car, so it will give both of you a chance to think about things."
"Annapolis?" Deanne asked, not remembering in all the excitement Mac's earlier statement about leaving for Annapolis. "Why there?"
"Harm's an Academy graduate," Trish explained. She paused, suddenly realizing. "I'm sorry, it just occurred to me that I've been going on and haven't even introduced myself. I'm Trish Burnett and this is my husband Frank. We're Harm's parents, your daughter's future in-laws."
"Deanne Mackenzie," Deanne replied automatically, if a bit hesitantly. She still wasn't quite sure what to make of the take charge Trish Burnett. "Nice to meet you."
"Likewise," Trish assured her. She continued the introductions. "The young girl you saw earlier is Chloe Madison. Mac met her through a mentoring program and Chloe's like a sister to her. She's going to be the flower girl tomorrow. Her father's on a destroyer deployed out in the Pacific, so she lives most of the time with her grandparents, Martha and David Anderson, in Vermont. I'll introduce you to them when they come back downstairs."
"If they come back downstairs," Frank said dryly. "You know you put the fear of God into Harm and Chloe. They'll probably call down to ask permission before showing their faces again."
"I am just trying to make sure everything runs smoothly," Trish reminded him. "Someone has to be the voice of reason. God knows, things are going to be crazy enough today as it is."
"You would have made a good Marine, Trish," Matt complimented her.
"Comes from being a military wife," she replied. She explained to Deanne, "My first husband, Harm's father, was a Navy pilot. He was away more than he was home, so I was the one who held everything together back home, even before he went MIA and I was left alone to raise a six-year-old."
"I remember what it was like being a military wife," Deanne commented quietly. Suddenly, she had a new appreciation for Trish. It took a strong person to be a single parent, even when she knew that her husband would eventually be coming through the front door. But it took an exceptional person to take on the role of single parent permanently. It was a role Deanne knew she was not cut out for.
"Of course you do," Trish said, smiling in an attempt to put Deanne at ease. The woman struck her as scared as a rabbit. Then again, Trish reflected, if she'd been in the same position of wanting to make peace with a child she'd barely spoke to in seventeen years, she'd probably be jittery, too. "I seem to recall it being mentioned that Mac's father was in the Marine Corps also."
Deanne didn't really want to think about Joseph Mackenzie, so she decided to change the subject. "So, Mrs. Burnett ... " she began, until stopped by a wave of Trish's hand.
"Please, call me Trish," she insisted. "We are practically going to be family."
"Okay ... Trish," she started again. Despite her first impression, she found herself liking Trish more and more every minute. "Why don't you tell me about your son? What kind of man is my daughter marrying tomorrow?"
Trish smiled brightly. Like any proud mother, her son was perhaps her favorite topic of conversation. "Hmmm," she began, "Harm was a normal enough child - at least for one whose father was gone for months at a time. Despite that, his father was his hero. He wanted to be just like him when he grew up. That feeling only intensified when we found out that Harmon had been shot down over Vietnam Christmas Eve 1969. He was just two months past his sixth birthday and it was as if he'd aged decades overnight."
She paused in her recollections, remembering the little boy who'd tried so hard to be strong for her. She smiled sadly as she continued, "Because Harmon was MIA, my son became obsessed with the idea that his father might still be alive somewhere. As a result, he took it very hard when his father was declared dead after seven years and I married Frank. For years, Harm was - now, I don't mean to sound harsh - resentful of Frank."
"Which was perfectly understandable given the circumstances," Frank interrupted. "He needed closure, just as much as you did. That's why I financed their trip to Russia a few years ago. Anyway, Deanne, Harm and I are long past that. I've always loved him like a son and although I'll never replace his father in his eyes, I'm not the wicked stepfather anymore. We've really come a long way, especially in the last few months."
Deanne had to admit to herself that she was impressed with Frank Burnett and his defense of his stepson. Not many men would have stayed in a situation with a resentful stepson, let alone think of him as his own son. Unlike her daughter, who had been betrayed by both her parents, Harm appeared to her to have been lucky in having not just two, but three parents who had loved him dearly.
"Anyway," Trish continued, "when he was sixteen, Harm ran away to Vietnam, trying to find information about his father. I'll admit, Frank took it a lot better than I did when he was brought home. The following year, Harm graduated high school and followed his father to the Naval Academy then to flight school. I thought that, having achieved his dream of following in his father's footsteps, he would finally be able to put his obsession with his father behind him. For a while, it seemed that he had. He loved the Navy and loved to fly. It scared me a little, I'll admit, every time I heard that there was some action somewhere. But then I'd hear from him and he'd be safe and sound."
She paused again, remembering the terror she'd felt when she'd received the call about her son's accident. Until she'd reached Landstuhl and had been able to see for herself that he was going to survive, she'd been terrified that he'd be just like his father in every way. "Then, just before the Gulf War started, Frank and I received word that Harm had been medevac'd to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany. He'd been coming in for a landing on a carrier at night in bad weather and had crashed into the deck. His RIO had been killed and Harm barely survived himself. It was determined that Harm suffered from night blindness and that had caused him to misjudge the landing. As a result, he was told he could never fly as part of an active squadron again."
Sensing how upset she was as she recalled Harm's accident, Frank patted his wife's knee and picked up the narration. "When Harm was finally released from the hospital, he went to his grandmother's farm in Pennsylvania to decide what he was going to do. For a while, we all thought he would decide to leave the Navy, but eventually he announced that he had applied and been accepted into the Navy's Law School Program, where they would pay for him to attend law school. After that, he was stationed at JAG headquarters where he's been ever since, except for a brief return to flying, which is another story in itself."
"I take it that's where he met Sarah?" Deanne inquired.
Trish nodded, taking up the story again, calmer now. "Little more than a year after he joined JAG, he received a medal in a ceremony at the White House. Afterwards, in the Rose Garden, he met his new partner just before they were sent to Arizona to investigate the theft of the Declaration of Independence."
"And I assume the new partner was Sarah," Deanne said. Deanne didn't really consider herself a romantic, but a couple meeting in a rose garden screamed 'Fate'. An expression of shock crossed her face as she remembered something Mac had told her in California. "Matt, didn't Sarah tell me you were in Leavenworth for stealing the Declaration of Independence?"
"Yes," he replied. "That was the case. Long story, but the short version is that Harm and Sarah convinced me to turn myself in and thanks to Harm, who served as my lawyer, I got a lighter sentence than I should have expected under the circumstances. In fact, I'm actually eligible for parole after the first of the year and Harm's pretty confident that I'll get it."
"As for the last four years," Trish said with a smile, "the best way for you to understand that is to show you the videotape that was shown last night at the engagement party. Basically, the people closest to Harm and Mac were filmed discussing their relationship. It's actually quite ... humorous." Trish broke at laughing on the last word.
"Yes, you should see the tape," Matt agreed, winking, "but I think maybe we should give you a little preview."
"The baby story!" Trish, Frank and Matt all exclaimed at once, laughing.
Trish turned her head to take a quick peek in the hallway as if checking for eavesdroppers, then began, "One of the things you have to understand about Harm and Mac is that for the longest time they refused to admit their feelings. They are the best of friends, they flirted with each other and have been to hell and back both with and for each other, but they never would admit that they were in love with each other. Which was the point behind the making of this videotape, since just about everyone who'd ever seen them together knew that they were made for each other.
"Anyway, two friends of theirs had a baby sixteen months ago. Harm and Mac had been best man and maid of honor at their wedding and are godparents to their son. Apparently, Harriet, the mother, went into labor at work and she delivered at JAG in the Admiral's office with no doctor, just her husband, Harm, Mac and the Admiral present. After it was all over, Harm and Mac made a little deal. In five years, if neither was in a relationship, they were going to have a baby together."
Deanne started laughing, "You can't be ... " She trailed off when she saw them nod. "You're serious," she exclaimed.
"Oh, yes," Trish insisted.
"So how did things progress from there to where they are now?" Deanne asked.
"Eventually they did admit their feelings and became involved," Trish replied. "Harm had invited Mac up to his grandmother's for the Fourth of July and they took Chloe, who was visiting at the time, with them. When my mother-in-law was first informed by Harm that he would be bringing Mac with him, she was ecstatic. By that time, I think just about everyone had given up hope on them getting together. She suggested that Frank and I come out to Pennsylvania to surprise Harm and Mac, whom we hadn't had a chance to meet yet although she was just about all our son ever talked about."
Frank continued, "The surprise, however, was on us. Mac had been tired more than usual recently, so we found out later, and Harm suggested that she might be pregnant. They'd apparently been talking about having a baby since they'd been together; I just think they didn't expect it to happen quite that soon. And we arrived just as they were finding out the results of a home pregnancy test."
"Now I haven't heard this story," Matt interjected. "When Harm came to see me in Leavenworth when he was about to propose, he just said she was pregnant. He didn't tell me the rest."
"Needless to say, we were shocked," Trish said. "We've waited for them to get together for four years and we find out that not only are they together, we're going to be grandparents. But we are thrilled - especially since we're getting two grandchildren."
Two? I don't ... wait, earlier you told Sarah that stress wasn't good for the babies," Deanne said. "She's going to have twins."
"Yes, a boy and a girl," Trish confirmed. She laughed for a moment, then explained, "There's a story there also, which you'll find out is usually the case with Harm and Mac. There's always a story and it's usually a good one. They've already picked out names. The boy is going to be named after Harm's father and Matt and the girl is going to be named after Harm's grandmother and me."
Deanne thought for moment. "You called your husband Harmon earlier," she realized. "So the boy will be Harmon Matthew."
"But he won't be named after Harm," Trish said, drawing a puzzled glance from Deanne. "He was quite insistent on that point. In fact, he had suggested going with Matthew Harmon, but Mac insisted, arguing that was the only way he was going to get his choice of name for their daughter."
"What my wife has forgotten to tell you," Frank explained, "is that Harm's grandmother's name is Sarah, so the girl will be Sarah Patricia."
"Let me guess," Deanne concluded, "she's not being named after her mother and Sarah was insistent on that point."
"Exactly," Trish proclaimed, "although I think they are going to call the boy Matt to avoid confusion. The girl, from what I understand, will remain Sarah since most everyone calls your daughter 'Mac' anyway."
"Mom?" Harm called out. Everyone turned to see him standing at the bottom of the stairs in the hallway, while Frank shot his wife a humorous 'I told you so' glance. "I've just been informed that we are now four minutes and thirty-seven seconds late in leaving and that it's time quote - to get our sixes in gear - unquote." He stepped out of the way as Chloe came racing down the stairs, followed by her grandparents and Harm's grandmother.
"Everyone, come here," Trish insisted. "There's someone I want you to meet. Everyone, this is Deanne Mackenzie, Mac's mother. Deanne, this is Chloe Madison, her grandparents Martha and David Anderson, my mother-in-law Sarah Rabb and my son Harm."
Everyone shook hands with Deanne, ending with Harm, who said, "It's nice to finally meet you, Ma'am."
Deanne was struck by how polite he was, considering what her daughter must have told him about her. Her daughter had obviously avoided her mother's mistakes and found herself a really good man. "It's a pleasure to meet you, too," she replied sincerely. "Your parents have just been telling me about you, Harm."
Harm turned suspicious eyes on his parents. "And what exactly have you told her?" he asked.
"Oh, we left out most of the good stories about you and Mac," Trish answered with a wide smile. "We did promise to show her the tape, but we did tell her one story about you two."
Harm would have bet a month's pay on which story that was. He made a mental note to help Mac kill Sydney and Carolyn. They were never going to hear the end of this one. "Mom," he complained.
"What's wrong?" Mac asked, walking up behind him. Any traces of her earlier anger appeared to be gone. In face, her expression appeared to be completely devoid of emotion.
"My parents have just been telling your mother stories," he explained, chagrined. "One story in particular, as a matter of fact."
"That's it," Mac declared, only half kidding. "After I kill Sydney and Carolyn and have to replace half my bridal party, I say we stage a covert op to steal the original of that tape from Clay."
Trish explained to Deanne, "The tape's that good. Sensing that they might be a bit embarrassed by some of the stories on the tape, Sydney - whose idea it was - gave the original to a friend of Harm and Mac's who works for the CIA. He's keeping the tape safe and secure."
"As fascinating as this is," Mac said, rolling her eyes, "we need to get the cars packed and get going. From upstairs, I saw the Admiral pull out. We don't need him getting to Annapolis and having to send out search parties."
"Then I guess I should get going," Deanne said, starting to stand.
Mac only hesitated a moment. "Stay," she said quietly.
Deanne looked at Mac, shocked, not quite sure she had heard her correctly. Mac repeated herself, "Stay - or rather, come with us to Annapolis. You should be at the wedding tomorrow."
Deanne nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, even if she wasn't entirely sure that Mac's motive didn't have more to do with not creating a scene in front of everyone by ordering her mother to leave rather than actually wanting her at the wedding.
They arrived at the chapel only a few minutes late, but the rest of the JAG staff was already there. Everyone was split into two groups, with some of them carrying things into the chapel while the other group was busy going in and out of the O Club.
Mac climbed out of the SUV and immediately began stretching, glad to be out of the car while Harm began unloading the uniforms and bridal gowns from the back. AJ walked up to him.
"I was beginning to think we were going to have to send a team after you," he commented, only half joking. He'd actually had visions of Harm and Mac getting tired of all the hoopla and deciding to run off and elope. "It's good that you're here now. The chapel wedding coordinator has been looking for you and Mac."
"Problems?" Harm asked, beginning to get a sinking feeling. Of course, with them, not everything could go off as planned.
"I'm sure it's nothing," AJ tried to reassure him as Mac joined them.
"What's nothing?" she asked.
"Mary, the wedding coordinator, just need to talk to you two," AJ informed her. "She just probably wants to go over some last-minute details."
Mac took off in the direction of the chapel doors, all kinds of scenarios running through her mind on what might be going wrong. She ran into Mary just short of the steps leading to the front door. "What exactly is the problem?" Mac demanded in her best no-nonsense Marine tone.
"It's nothing earth-shattering," Mary quickly tried to reassure her. She'd had years of experience dealing with last minute nerves from brides and grooms. "It's just that the chapel pianist had a family emergency and our back-up musician isn't available either."
"Are you trying to tell me that we aren't going to have any music during the ceremony tomorrow?" Mac asked, frustrated. Of course, things were going wrong. Sometimes she thought they lived their lives by Murphy's law.
"No, she's not saying that," Harm said soothingly, rubbing Mac shoulders. He had immediately taken off after her, hoping to prevent her from snapping someone's head off. "Mary, what can we do?"
"Well, I had thought that maybe we could ask one of the midshipmen to play," Mary replied, "but with the football game tomorrow, most of the students will be at the game and we can't exactly order one of them to play."
Harm considered the situation for a moment, trying to think of a solution. Surely, they had to know someone who played ... suddenly an idea struck. Looking around, he spotted Bud not far away and waved him over. "Bud, have you seen Webb this morning?" he asked.
"No, Sir," Bud replied, shifting baby AJ on his hip. "But I assume he will be here soon since he is doing one of the readings during the ceremony. Do you need him for something?"
"The chapel pianist had an emergency," Harm explained. Bud nodded in response, understanding what Harm was getting at.
"I don't understand," Mac said, still a little frustrated. What could Clay do in this situation?
"Clay is going to be our new pianist," Harm explained.
Mac vaguely recalled Harm telling her once that Clay played the piano. Satisfied that problem was solved, her mind latched onto a new one. "So where is he?" she asked, her arms folded across her chest. "He's supposed to be here for the rehearsal."
Harm wasn't about to argue that he was probably on his way or that the rehearsal wasn't scheduled to start for nearly two hours. "Bud, why don't you give Webb's cell phone a call and find out where he is?" he suggested. "Let him know that we have need of his skills as a musician."
"Yes, Sir," Bud said, rushing off to comply. Remembering how much Mac and Harm had helped ease frazzled nerves before his own wedding, he was more than willing to do everything he could to make sure everything ran smoothly over the next twenty-four hours.
"Is there anything else that requires our attention right now?" Harm asked Mary.
"Not at the moment," she replied, looking down at her checklist. "Everything else seems to be running pretty smoothly. Your friends all seem to have everything well in hand."
"They have been a Godsend getting everything put together this quickly," Harm pointed out.
"Then, I'll be around," Mary said. "Just give me a shout if you need anything."
"Thank you," Harm replied.
"Yes, thank you," Mac said. Mary smiled and, patting Mac's arm, headed into the chapel.
"Okay, why don't we check on everything, make sure it's running smoothly?" Harm suggested. "Would that make you feel better?"
"Until the next crisis arises," Mac muttered.
"Good morning, everyone," Sydney greeted Harm and Mac's families as she joined them and AJ. "We were beginning to get a little worried. We'd expected you guys to be the first ones here."
"We had a little excitement this morning," Trish explained. She motioned Deanne over. "AJ, Sydney, this is Deanne Mackenzie, Mac's mother. Deanne, this is Admiral AJ Chegwidden and his fiancée Dr. Sydney Walden."
"It's nice to meet you," AJ said, holding out his hand, which Deanne shook hesitantly. He sensed that she was a bit uncomfortable and tried to make her feel welcome. "Your daughter is one of my finest officers. I'm glad that you could make it for the wedding."
"Thank you," Deanne replied. Sydney held out her hand next.
"Yes, it's good to meet you," Sydney said as they shook hands. She probably knew a little more than AJ about the history between Mac and her mother, but if Deanne was here, there had to be some easing of tensions there.
"I just had an idea," Trish said. "Deanne, do you have a dress to wear tomorrow?"
"No, I hadn't expected to be coming out here to attend a wedding," she explained.
"We can take care of that," Trish insisted. "The rehearsal doesn't start until one, so why don't Sydney and I take you shopping and the three of us can grab some lunch."
"I don't know," Deanne said, "I don't have any money."
"Not a problem," Matt insisted. "Trish, just let me know how much the dress costs and I'll pay you back."
"Don't worry about it, Matt," she replied, waving him off. "I'm happy to do this. Frank, do you need the van for anything?"
"No," he replied, handing her the keys to their rental. "I'll just hang around here and help out where I can while you're gone."
"Is everything all right?" Sydney asked Trish while they were waiting for Deanne to emerge from the dressing room. Trish and Sydney had quickly helped her pick out several dresses to try on, brushing off her protests when she had worried about the prices. "Mac's mother doesn't seem like she's entirely sure she wants to be here."
"I don't think it's that so much as she's worried that Mac doesn't want her here," Trish replied. "When she first showed up this morning, Mac wasn't exactly in the best frame of mind."
"But she came with you to Annapolis, which I assume was okay with Mac," Sydney pointed out.
"Mac did agree," Trish confided softly, not wanting to risk hurting Deanne's feelings by her overhearing their conversation, "but I'm a little concerned that her agreement may have had more to do with not making a scene in front of everyone by kicking her mother out. Then again, she's been a little on edge today, so I don't think even Mac is sure what she is feeling."
"Is that why you're going out of your way to make Deanne feel welcome?" Sydney asked, picking up a fashion magazine and idly flipping through it.
"Deanne told us that she had gone to Leavenworth to see Matt," Trish explained, "hoping that he could help her reestablish a relationship with Mac. She found out there that he was here and spent the last of the money she had on her to buy a plane ticket out here."
"I guess that has to count for something," Sydney said.
"She does seem to be trying," Trish pointed out, "so I'd hate to see Mac push her mother away in the heat of the moment without taking the time to think about what she's doing. When we talked about it a few days ago, Mac did seem at least willing to consider the possibility of contacting her mother."
"So this topic has come up."
Trish took a deep breath and continued, "Harm asked Victor Galindez to track Deanne down a few weeks ago. He wanted Mac to have the option of contacting her and inviting her to the wedding. Initially, it didn't go over too well when Mac found out, but when I talked to her afterwards, she seemed to feel a little better about the idea."
"I hope it works out," Sydney said, not sounding too confident. "It would be great if it did, but I'd hate to see Mac get hurt again."
"You really care about her a lot," Trish commented.
Sydney shrugged. "She's always struck me as someone who could use someone to talk to," she explained. "When I first met her, she was going through a rough patch and she seemed a little ... lost, for lack of a better word. From what I later heard from AJ and from Mac herself, Harm and Mac were rather strained at the time and he was usually the one she turned to when she needed someone to talk to."
"Harm told me a little about that time. That's when she was considering marrying that Australian officer, wasn't it?" Trish asked.
Sydney nodded her confirmation. She was about to add something when Deanne came out of the dressing room. Trish and Sydney both smiled. "Deanne, that dress looks wonderful on you," Sydney enthused.
Trish agreed, "Yes, it does. Did you want to try on any of the other dresses?"
"Well, I picked this one to try on first because I thought I would look best in it," Deanne admitted, pleased with their positive reaction. "It's been a long time since I've had anything really nice like this."
"Then I'd say you have good taste," Trish said encouragingly, "and I'd say that you deserve to have nice clothes and pamper yourself."
Deanne got very quiet and sat down in an empty chair. "I don't understand why you're doing this for me," she said quietly. "You barely know me and I can't imagine that what you have been told about me is very flattering."
Trish and Sydney were silent for a moment, both pondering how best to phrase their responses. Finally, Trish spoke in a gentle tone, "True, but I don't consider myself a judgmental person. I've been very lucky to have two of the best husbands that a woman could ask for, but as I told Mac the other day, I can't say with absolute certainty that I wouldn't have done the same thing if I'd been in your situation."
"Agreed," Sydney added. "It's like that old saying about not really understanding someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes. We can't possibly understand what you've been through, so how can we possibly judge you?" She paused for a moment, pondering how to put what she wanted to say next. She decided just to say it outright, considering herself a pretty straight forward person. "Tell me something, Deanne. Do you love your daughter?"
"Yes, of course I do," she replied without hesitation, despite being startled by the question. "I know I have a strange way of showing it, but ... "
"Don't worry about that," Sydney insisted, waving her off. "The point I'm trying to make is we all love Mac and want to see her happy. And if you're as serious as you seem to be about making a new start with her, then how can we not encourage that? None of us can say with certainty that it will work out, but if it does, then both you and Mac will have gained something beyond measure."
"Not only will you regain a daughter," Trish pointed out, "you'll get two grandchildren out of the bargain and Mac will have gotten her mother back and a grandmother for her children."
"Everything seems to be going relatively well," Frank commented to Matt and AJ while they were standing in the aisle waiting for the rehearsal to start. Harm and Mac were going over some last-minute details on the format of the ceremony with Captain Duncan, the chaplain. The rest of the JAG staff was sitting in the front pews, going over Harriet's own checklist of things to do. Clay, having been cornered by Harm upon his arrival, was in the choir alcove, going over the sheet music he had been handed for the ceremony. Although Clay wasn't about to admit it, it hadn't taken too much arm twisting by Harm to get him to agree to play piano during the ceremony. Trish, Sydney and Deanne had just arrived back from their shopping expedition, Deanne looking more relaxed than she had since she had first shown up on Harm and Mac's doorstep.
"Agreed," AJ concurred. "Harm seems to have been able to keep Mac calm for the most part, the problem with the pianist was solved with little fuss, Mac's mother seems more at ease, nobody's uniforms are missing and no other problems seem to have developed."
"Here's hoping all continues to go well," Matt declared, watching his sister out of the corner of his eye. She seemed genuinely determined to try with Mac and while Matt did not condone what Deanne had done in the past, if she really could make it work, then he was determined to be happy for her and Mac. "By the way, Deanne and I spoke for a moment when they got back and she said Trish and Sydney have both made her feel very welcome here."
"I don't know if you're aware of this," Frank told Matt, "but the subject of whether or not to contact Deanne and invite her to the wedding came up a few days ago. Mac was initially resistant to the idea - in fact, she and Harm fought about it, but Trish was a big help in smoothing things over from Mac's end. I will admit that I thought Trish was being a bit optimistic in thinking there could be a new start with them, but Deanne showing up on her own the way she did this morning has made me rethink that."
"All Sarah has ever really wanted is to be loved," Matt revealed, knowing that probably wasn't news to the other men. "I think that Deanne making the choice to come here will go a ways in convincing Sarah to give her a chance." He noticed activity out of the corner of his eye and turned to see Deanne and Mac having an intense discussion with Harm, Trish and Sydney all hovering nearby. He was concerned that something was wrong when he noticed that Deanne appeared to be crying, but then he was shocked when Mac suddenly hugged her mother. Leaving AJ and Frank where they were, Matt headed for the front of the sanctuary to see what was going on.
"Looks like things are going to work out on that front after all," AJ commented, noting the relaxed expressions on Mac and Deanne's faces. But Frank wasn't paying attention. AJ turned to see what had caught his eye. Frank was looking at the eternal flame burning in the middle of the tenth pew with a thoughtful expression.
"The flame is to honor POWs and MIAs," AJ explained.
"I wonder ... " Frank began, pensive. He saw Captain Duncan heading in their direction and motioned the chaplain over. "Captain, I have a request," he said, briefly explaining the story of Harm's father and about his idea. The chaplain nodded in agreement when Frank was finished.
"I don't see why not, Mr. Burnett," he said. "I'll admit it's an unusual request, but I don't have a problem with it, especially under the circumstances. I'm sure your son will be pleased with the idea."
"Actually, I'd appreciate it if you didn't say anything," Frank said, "about it being my idea anyway."
"If that's how you want it," Duncan agreed as Matt rejoined them. "The candles that the mothers carry are lit before the ceremony actually begins, so that part won't be covered during the rehearsal and I can leave out the explanation when we get to the lighting of the unity candle until the actual ceremony tomorrow. I'll just have to remember to make a note to myself so I don't forget to mention it tomorrow."
"Thanks, Captain, I appreciate this," Frank said, shaking the chaplain's hand. Seeing the curiosity on Matt's face, he held up his hand, indicating for him to wait a moment. Frank then called Trish over.
Once she arrived, he explained his idea, bringing tears to his wife's eyes. "Oh, Frank," she said, blinking back the tears, "that's a beautiful gesture. Thank you, from both of us."
"Speaking of the candle lighting," Matt said, "that's what was going on over there. The original plan was that I would carry the candle to represent Sarah's family during the ceremony, but she just asked Deanne to do it."
"That's definitely a good sign," Frank commented, his hand on his wife's shoulder, offering comfort. "I wonder what brought that on."
"I spoke to Harm privately," Trish explained, "and he was as surprised as the rest of us. He said Mac hadn't said anything about it before she brought to subject up with Deanne."
"I'm feeling very good about this," Trish said. "Very good."
"Can I have everyone's attention please?" AJ announced, taping his fork against his water glass. All conversation around the table stopped and everyone looked at him expectantly.
"A few general announcements first," he continued. "For those of you who are not supposed to see each other after 2359 hours, there will be bed check at precisely midnight to ensure that everyone is where they are supposed to be." He paused, letting the laughter around the table run its course.
"Second, the limo to take the bridal party to the Yard will be out front at 0800 in the morning," he said. "The bride would appreciate everyone concerned being on time. Everyone else will be leaving from the hotel no later than 0845. Is there anything else?" He looked around the table before continuing, "Since no one has anything else, Lieutenant Sims would like to say something."
As AJ sat back down, Harriet stood, picking up a shopping bag off the floor and setting it on her chair. "First, I just wanted to say, on behalf of the staff at JAG ops, how happy we are that this day has finally arrived. Most of us, especially those who have been around since the beginning, wondered at times if this day would ever come. We just want to say how happy we all are that the Colonel and Commander have finally found each other and have created a family together."
"Harriet," Mac said, drawing out her name.
Harriet laughed. "I believe that is my cue to call them Harm and Mac," she joked. "Anyway, we all got together and got the two of you some gifts. A few of them are, well, not really gag gifts, but humorous. But we also did get you one gift which is your wedding gift from the entire JAG staff. Gunny, Tiner."
The two enlisted men got up and brought a large, flat wrapped package around the table to Harm and Mac. Tearing off the brown paper, they revealed a framed oil painting of the White House Rose Garden. "It's beautiful," Mac proclaimed. "Thank you, everyone."
"Yes, thank you," Harm echoed, kissing Mac's temple. "This is a very nice gift."
"Actually, Sir, you can thank your mother also," Harriet told him. "We all wanted to get you something, but we were having a hard time coming up with what we thought would be an appropriate gift. Dr. Walden mentioned it to your mother in passing once and she found this in a gallery and helped us get it for you."
"Thank you, Mom," Harm said, leaning over to kiss her cheek.
"I was happy to help out," she replied. "If Frank and I hadn't already gotten your gift, we might have picked the painting up ourselves."
"Now, the rest of the gifts are humorous," Harriet said, pulling two wrapped shirt boxes out of the shopping bag. She checked the tags on the boxes before handing them to Harm and Mac. "There's one for each of you - actually, two for you, Ma'am. One that you can wear during your pregnancy and one for when you're not."
Harm got his box opened first and laughed when he saw what was inside. He leaned over to watch while Mac got her gift opened. "Now you can stop stealing clothes from my drawers," he teased.
"As if any self respecting Marine would be caught dead wearing anything that says 'US Navy' across the front," Mac retorted, lifting a t-shirt out of her box. It was navy blue with 'Property of the United States Navy' emblazoned across the front in white lettering.
"Oh, then you won't mind returning my Navy sweatshirt that you've had ever since that incident with Webb at the Baltimore shipyards," he commented with a grin.
"Not on your life," she retorted as she leaned over to inspect his gift. "Oh, now this I like." She lifted a t-shirt similar to hers out of the box, his maroon with white letters. "'Property of the United States Marine Corps,' how cute," she teased him. "I've been thinking about getting you some stuff that says 'Marine Corps' on it."
"You would think so," he commented dryly. "So who do we have to thank for these?"
"That would be Gunny and Tiner, Sir," Harriet revealed while Mac sighed dramatically.
"Lieutenant, repeat after me," Mac ordered. "Harm, Mac. It's not that hard to remember."
"Sorry, Ma'am - I mean Mac," Harriet said, laughing. "And for those of you who haven't been around as long, my husband and I have been hearing that on and off for as long as we've known Harm and Mac. See, I can say it. Harm and Mac. Anyway, moving on, we have one more gift for each of you and since this was her idea, I'll let Jackie explain."
"This is based on a gift that was given to me by some of the other officers' wives when Alan and I got married," Jackie explained as Harriet handed the gifts across the table to Harm and Mac. "It was originally written with the Army wife in mind, so it's been modified slightly for the Navy. And since Harm is going to be a military spouse also, Harriet and I had a lot of fun modifying it for him."
"I'm afraid to ask," Mac said, shaking her head as she opened her gift, pulling out a framed document and studying it. "Military wedding vows," she read, skimming over the rest. Laughing, she leaned over to read Harm's. "Oh, this is cute, especially since someone, as his first duty as military liaison, somehow got roped into going to Russia as soon as we get back from our honeymoon and I get to experience married life without my husband after being married only two weeks."
"Oh, how did that happen?" Sydney asked. Being probably the least experienced person present as far as knowledge about how the military works, Sydney couldn't conceive that Harm would be sent away on assignment that soon.
"The International Institute for Military Jurisprudence was asked by someone in the Kremlin to send a liaison to Russia for a few weeks to study their military codes and offer suggestions for improvement in their laws and procedures," Harm explained. "Some of my new colleagues on the Hill thought that since their new military liaison is a lawyer that I would be the perfect person for this assignment. So I won't even be home long enough to get over my jet lag before I'm off to Moscow. Of course, the joke is that my wife is the one who is fluent in Russian."
"Oh, so we're going somewhere for our honeymoon that can cause jet lag?" Mac questioned, curious as she immediately picked up on his offhanded comment about their honeymoon. "Just how many time zones will we be crossing?"
Harm shook his head, grinning as he told everyone, "She's been trying to get the location out of me for weeks now. So far, I've been resisting all her efforts."
"Oh, you are bad," she teased, smacking his arm lightly. "Better watch it or the Admiral won't need to conduct bed check tonight."
"Ouch," Harm said, shooting her a dirty look as he pulled away from her.
"So what exactly are the 'Military Wedding Vows'?" Sydney asked. "I mean, from a practical standpoint, since I will be a military spouse soon, what is expected of me?"
"Does everyone want me to read it?" Mac asked. Seeing everyone's nods, she began, "Dear family and friends, we are gathered here today in the sight of God and the Department of the Navy, to witness this exchange of vows, and see the love that these two dedicated, loving people have for one another.
"Wilt thou, Harmon, take Sarah (who was once referred to as the 'dependent'), as your family member, to dwell together in so far as the Department of the Navy will permit? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, via the postal service or over the phone, make sure she knows where the commissary, exchange, and church are, and what time she is scheduled to use the laundry room the day she arrives, wherever you are stationed?"
"Of course, that last part assumes you live on base," Jackie pointed out. "Especially overseas. Stairwell living, ugh." She shuddered at the thought.
Mac continued, "Wilt thou attempt to tell her more than 24 hours in advance that you will be leaving for two weeks, beginning the next morning? This especially applies to the years you will live in a foreign country!
"Wilt thou Sarah, take this sailor as thy wedded husband, knowing that he is depending upon you to be the perfect (well almost) Navy wife, running the household as you see fit, and being nice to the commander's wife? Furthermore, you understand that your life with your husband (little that you may have together) will not be normal, that you may have to explain to your children, not once, but twice, and more often in the same day, that mothers do have husbands, and that children do have daddies, and that the picture of the man on the refrigerator is not the milkman, but the same individual who tucks them in at 2200 hours, long after they are asleep. This sailor is their daddy, who loves them very, very much.
"Wilt thou love, respect and wait for him, preparing his favorite cookies and pictures of yourself and the kids, so he can remember what you look like? And last but not least, put on the outside of your door his 'Welcome home' sign when he's due to arrive?
"I, Harmon, take thee Sarah, as my independent wife, from 1900 to 2200 hours or as long as allowed by my Commanding Officer (subject to change without notice), for better or worse, earlier or later, near or far, and I promise to look at the pictures you send me, maybe not when they get to me in the field, but before I turn the lights out. I will also send a letter, if time permits, and if not, to somehow, some way, make the time.
"I, Sarah, take thee, Harmon as my live-in/live-out husband, realizing that your comings and goings and 0330 staff meetings are normal (although absurd to me) and part of your life as a sailor. I promise not to be shocked or taken by surprise when you inform me that, although we've just arrived at our new duty station, we will be leaving within the month. Yes, I'll have you as my husband as long as you are away, my allotment comes through regularly, and that you leave me a current power of attorney and the checkbook at all times. I am a family member and proud of it, dependent upon myself and my resources. Although I miss you when you are away, I know I can handle whatever comes across my path.
"Now then, let no man or woman put asunder what God and the Department of the Navy have brought together. The Navy hereby issues you this lovely, dedicated, independent woman, knowing that she'll be an asset not only to your marriage, but also to the mission of the United States Navy, which is, as you all know, to remain in a state of 'Readiness.' By the authority vested in the Bible, elaborated in the regulation and subject to current directives concerning the aspects of marriage in the Navy, you are now a Sailor with a Family Member. Best Wishes and Good Luck," she concluded.
As everyone laughed, Sydney managed to say, "I'm almost afraid to ask how much of that is an accurate depiction of life as a military spouse."
Trish grinned as she replied, "Deanne and Jackie I'm sure will agree with this sentiment, but all we can say, Sydney, is 'Welcome to life with the military.' Of course, back in mine and Deanne's day, things were a bit different, especially if your husband was in a war zone half a world away. But as long as you could get to the exchange and commissary and the money was in the bank on the first and fifteenth of the month, life was considered to be pretty good. Of course, I imagine being an Admiral's wife will be quite different from what being the wife of an Ensign was like for me forty years ago."
"There's an old joke," Deanne added, "that I think also originated with the Army that quote - if the Army had wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one with your dog tags - unquote. That tells you how much empathy the military used to have for your situation when things started going wrong, especially if your spouse was half a world away and unreachable."
"Seriously, Dr. Walden," Jackie said, "it's not as bad as it used to be. Now, let's say something goes wrong with your spouse's pay and he's away. You go down to finance, wave a power of attorney in their face and hope that they have some time to even talk to you sometime before the next payday."
"All right, let's stop scaring Sydney," Trish insisted. "She'll probably have it easy since her husband will be an Admiral. People will be bending over backwards to help her out. After all, RHIP - Rank Hath Its Privileges."
"Everyone, these are hilarious," Mac said, bringing the conversation back to the original topic of the gifts. "Thanks a lot. And I would also like to say something on behalf of Harm and myself to all of you. The last two months have been really crazy with the shooting, the courts-martial, trying to put this wedding together in just six weeks, and everything else that's been going on. I doubt that we could have managed to pull off this wedding this quickly without all of your help and both of us are grateful for everything you've done, so thank you."
SATURDAY, 30 SEPTEMBER
"Is everyone ready to go?" AJ asked, looking over the bridal party assembled in the vestibule of the church. "It's about time to seat the mothers."
Deanne and Trish both looked at Mac, who was standing off to the side of the vestibule, taking some deep breaths. "Mac, darling," Trish said, walking over and placing her hand on Mac's arm, "it's almost time."
"Is it?" Mac asked distracted. "I lost track of the time."
"Sarah losing track of time?" Deanne said lightly in a teasing tone. "You can probably count on one hand the number of times that has happened. It will be fine, honey. In a few minutes you'll walk down that aisle and forget everything except for that man waiting for you at the other end." She walked over to a side table and carefully picked up the bridal bouquet, carrying it over to her daughter.
Mac took the offered flowers, lifting the bouquet to inhale the fragrant scent of the flowers. After a long moment, she lowered the arrangement, settling it in front of her and squaring her shoulders. "I'm ready," she said firmly.
"I love you, darling," Trish whispered, hugging Mac briefly. Releasing Mac, she picked up one of the two candles sitting on the side table and hooked her arm around AJ's.
Slowly, AJ escorted Trish up the aisle, stopping at the tenth pew from the front on the left side. Releasing Trish's arm, AJ waited patiently while Trish slid into the pew and made her way to the eternal flame burning brightly at the center of the pew.
Looking down at the flame, she closed her eyes and said a brief prayer. Opening her eyes again, she tipped the candle she held, touching the wick to the flame. Tears forming in her eyes, she whispered, "I know you're here watching over our son, Harmon." Holding the lit candle carefully in front of her, she made her way back to the aisle, linking her arm with AJ's once again.
Slowly, they completed the journey up the aisle, AJ releasing Trish's arm so she could sit in the front pew next to her husband. As AJ turned and walked back up the aisle for Deanne, Frank took his wife's hand and squeezed it comfortingly. "He's here," he whispered softly.
Trish turned and smiled at her husband through her tears. "I know," she whispered back. "I can feel him."
"Thank you, Sarah," Deanne said softly while she waited for AJ to return to escort her to her seat.
"Mom ... " Mac said hesitantly.
"I know I don't deserve to be here," she said. "But thank you for letting me stay. I do want to try and do better by you."
"I know, Mom," Mac said, her eyes tearing. "I want to try, too."
Deanne pulled her daughter into her arms, careful not to crush the bouquet. "I love you, honey," she whispered. She pulled away and looked at her daughter. "I don't expect you to say it. I know I have to earn that."
Mac nodded. "Thank you, Mom," she replied. She saw AJ standing by the door, allowing mother and daughter their moment. "It's time."
Deanne kissed Mac's forehead, then joined AJ at the door after picking up her own candle from the table. As they linked arms, she turned her head and look at her daughter. Mouthing "I love you," she allowed AJ to lead her into the sanctuary.
"Okay, it's almost time for the processional," Matt said, watching everyone line up for their walk down the aisle. Jackie would start down the aisle first, followed by Carolyn and then Sydney. Then would come Harriet as the matron of honor, followed by Josh as ring bearer. Chloe would then walk down the aisle, scattering rose pedals before Mac headed for the altar on her uncle's arm. Matt opened the door a crack to check on what was happening in the church. Deanne had just sat down and AJ was making his way to the side door where Captain Duncan would come out, followed by Harm and the groomsmen. Once they were in their places in front of the altar, the door would open again for the ladies' walk down the aisle.
"Uncle Matt?" Mac asked.
"Your mother just took her seat and the pastor is getting ready to come out, followed by the rest of the wedding party," he told her. After a few moments, he turned away from the door.
"It's time everyone," he said. "Josh, Chloe, do you have the ring pillow and flower basket?"
"Yes, Sir," Josh replied, holding up the pillow.
"Of course, Uncle Matt," Chloe said, letting a handful of rose pedals fall from her hand back into the basket.
"Good," Matt said, taking a deep breath. He couldn't imagine being more nervous if Sarah had been his own child. His eyes swept over the assembled party, making sure nothing was out of place.
"Uncle Matt, it's going to be fine," Mac insisted.
Everyone laughed a little. "This coming from the woman who lost track of time a few minutes ago," he pointed out. As the door opened and Jackie began her walk down the aisle, he joined Mac at the rear of the line, pulling her veil down over her face.
"Hold this for a second, will you?" she asked, handing Matt her bouquet. After he took it, she straightened the Medal of Honor that hung around his neck. "Your medal is a little crooked," she explained.
Finished, she took the bouquet back and stepped back to study him. "Perfect," she declared.
"So are you, Sarah," he said. As he heard the music change through the closed door, he held out his left arm to Mac. "Are you ready to go marry your Sailor?"
Mac nodded, smiling brightly at him through the veil as the door opened. Her breath caught in her throat as she caught sight of Harm, resplendent in his dress whites, waiting for her at the end of the aisle. Taking a deep breath, she began the long walk on her uncle's arm to the man she loved.
From his place at the altar, Harm watched with increasing nervousness as the women walked slowly down the aisle. He barely noticed how beautiful all the bridesmaids looked in their rose-colored dresses. The bodices were of velvet with form-fitting short sleeves. The satin skirts fell from a high waist to the floor. Harriet's dress was identical save the darker rose color and a fuller skirt to accommodate her pregnancy. All the women except Harriet wore satin gloves identical in color to their dresses.
He barely noticed Josh's grin as the young boy took his place next to the groomsmen or Chloe's satisfied smile as she took her place at the altar with the women, her dress nearly identical in design to the bridesmaids' dresses except that it was ivory in color.
The music changed and the doors at the back of the church opened to reveal Matt in his Marine dress blues, Mac on his arm. As they slowly walked down the aisle to the strains of the wedding march from "The Sound Of Music", Harm and Mac only had eyes for each other.
Even though he barely noticed her dress and had a hard time making out her face underneath the veil as she walked down the aisle, Harm didn't think he'd ever seen a more beautiful sight than that of his Marine as she came to join him at the altar.
Her gaze locked on Harm, Mac was only vaguely aware when Matt lifted her veil once they reached the altar to kiss her cheek or when he turned to Harm and whispered, "Take care of Sarah," or when he left them to take his seat beside his sister in the front row.
They were both still lost in each other, barely aware of the words when Captain Duncan began the ceremony. "Dearly beloved, we are assembled here, in the presence of God and these witnesses, to join together this man, Harmon David Rabb, Jr., and this woman, Sarah Catherine Mackenzie, in holy matrimony, which is blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, governed by God's commandments, and is to be held in high honor among all people. Therefore it is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, and in awe of God.
"Marriage is a supreme sharing of experience, and an adventure in the most intimate of human relationships. It is the joyous union of two people whose comradeship and mutual understanding have flowered in romance. Today Harmon and Sarah proclaim their love and commitment to the world, and we gather here to rejoice, with and for them, in the new life they now undertake together," he continued.
"The joy we feel now is a solemn joy, because the act of marriage has many consequences, both social and personal. Marriage requires 'love,' a word we often use with vagueness and sentimentality. We may assume that love is some rare and mystical event, when in fact it is our natural state of being. So what do we mean by love? When we love, we see things other people do not see. We see beneath the surface, to the qualities which make our beloved special and unique. To see with loving eyes, is to know inner beauty. And to be loved is to be seen, and known, as we are known to no other. One who loves us, gives us a unique gift: a piece of ourselves, but a piece that only they could give us.
We who love can look at each other's life and say, 'I touched his life,' or, 'I touched her life,' just as an artist might say, 'I touched this canvas. Those brushstrokes in the comer of this magnificent mural, those are mine. I was a part of this life, and it is a part of me.' Marriage is to belong to each other through a unique and diverse collaboration, like two threads crossing in different directions, yet weaving one tapestry together.
The secret of love and marriage is similar to that of religion itself. It is the emergence of the larger self. It is the finding of one's life by losing it. Such is the privilege of husband and wife - to be each himself, herself and yet another; to face the world strong, with the courage of two. To make this relationship work, therefore, takes more than love. It takes trust, to know in your hearts that you want only the best for each other. It takes dedication, to stay open to one another, to learn and grow, even when it is difficult to do so. And it takes faith, to go forward together without knowing what the future holds for you both. While love is our natural state of being, these other qualities are not as easy to come by. They are not a destination, but a journey. The true art of married life is in this an inner spiritual journey. It is a mutual enrichment, a give and take between two personalities, a mingling of two endowments which diminishes neither, but enhances both.
Harmon and Sarah, you have signified your desire to enter into the holy state of matrimony. If any here know of any lawful impediment why these two may not be joined in matrimony, I charge you now, before God, the Searcher of all hearts, to declare it or forever hold you peace." The church was silent. From his place with the groomsmen, AJ looked out over the congregation, prepared to bring the full wrath of a SEAL and two-star Admiral down on anyone who dared speak.
After what seemed like an eternity, Captain Duncan continued with the invocation, "Let us pray. Almighty and everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being - grant unto us purity of heart and strength of purpose, so that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will, and no weakness from doing it; that in your light we may see light, and in your service find perfect freedom through Jesus Christ our Lord. Be present at this hour and grant that what is said and done in this place may be blessed, both now and forevermore. Amen."
"Amen," the congregation echoed. Almost as an afterthought, Harm and Mac softly echoed, "Amen," a heartbeat after everyone else.
"Now, some of Harmon and Sarah's friends and family will offer their thoughts and prayers as they embark on their new life together," Duncan continued. "First, Mr. Clayton Webb will read from I Corinthians 13."
Clay came out from behind the piano and walked up to one of the podiums set up on either side of the altar. Opening the Bible sitting there to the book marked page, he looked at Harm and Mac as he read the verses, barely glancing at the page in front of him. "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." Clay looked over at Harm and Mac and nodded at them, offering a smile as he closed the Bible.
As Clay stepped back to the piano and sat down on the bench, Captain Duncan said, "And now reading 'Marriage Is A Promise Of Love' by Edmund O'Neill is Lieutenant j.g. Harriet Sims."
Harriet left her place beside Mac and walked around to the side of the altar to the other podium. As she read the short essay, her eyes found her husband's and Bud smiled at her warmly. "Marriage is a commitment to life," she read, her mind traveling back over two years to the day when she and Bud had been standing in front of the altar with Harm and Mac standing up for them, "to the best that two people can find and bring out in each other. It offers opportunities for sharing and growth no other human relationship can equal, a physical and emotional joining that is promised for a lifetime. Within the circle of its love, marriage encompasses all of life's most important relationships. A wife and a husband are each other's best friend, confidant, lover, teacher, listener, and critic. There may come times when one partner is heartbroken or ailing, and the love of the other may resemble the tender caring of a parent for a child. Marriage deepens and enriches every facet of life. Happiness is fuller; memories are fresher; commitment is stronger; even anger is felt more strongly, and passes away more quickly. Marriage understands and forgives the mistakes life is unable to avoid. It encourages and nurtures new life, new experiences, and new ways of expressing love through the seasons of life. When two people pledge to love and care for each other in marriage, they create a spirit unique to themselves, which binds them closer than any spoken or written words. Marriage is a promise, a potential, made in the hearts of two people who love, which takes a lifetime to fulfill."
As Harriet returned to her place in front of the altar, Captain Duncan once again spoke, "From John 15: The greatest gift of God we give and receive in marriage is love. Jesus spoke about love and about the obedience to God that preserves love, with these words - As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
Looking out over the sea of Navy dress whites and Marine dress blues, he continued, "Let us pray for Harmon and Sarah as they make their marriage vows - Almighty God who, from the beginning, hast made man and woman for each other, let your spirit rest upon these your servants, as in your name they pledge themselves to one another in vows of love and faithfulness. Let your love be upon them and theirs be in thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen"
"Amen," the congregation echoed.
"Now, let Harmon and Sarah declare their intent before God and this company," Duncan said. "Harmon, will you have Sarah to be your wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor her and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others remain loyal to her as long as you both shall live?"
"Yes, I will," Harm promised.
As he offered her one of his grins, Mac's thoughts drifted back over the many times he had already stood by her over the years, smiling at the memories of everything they had shared together.
"I'll get you through this. I promise."
"I understand. I may not like it, but I'm happy for you."
"Mac, look ... you fell off the wagon. You get back on."
"You are a lean, mean fighting Marine and you have me backing you up. What could be better?"
"Sarah, will you have Harmon to be your wedded husband, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love him, comfort him, honor him and keep him, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others remain loyal to him as long as you both shall live?"
She gazed at Harm through her veil, her eyes shining bright with unshed tears as she echoed his response, "Yes, I will."
Harm couldn't help thinking back over all the times she had already been there for him over the last four years. Even when everyone else had thought he was crazy or obsessed, her support for him had never wavered.
"If you let me in, you'll be harboring a fugitive."
"I speak the language, I can handle myself if things get rough and you need someone to watch your six."
"You've come with me farther than anyone I know, I'll never forget that."
"We will," they answered.
"Will the congregation please stand?" he continued. The rest of the congregation stood up. "Friends, Harmon and Sarah have invited you here because you are important people in their lives. Your love and support will be important always. Will all of you, by God's Grace, do everything in your power to preserve this marriage? Will you give them your love, your blessing, and your support?"
"We will," everyone answered before taking their seats again.
"Now, Harmon and Sarah will join hands and offer their vows to each other," Duncan announced.
Mac turned and handed Harriet her bouquet, the first time her eyes had left Harm's since she had entered the sanctuary. She turned back to him and held her hands out to him. As he took her hands in his, she was surprised to discover that his fingers were trembling as much as hers.
His fingers tightening around hers, he offered her an encouraging smile as he began, a slight catch in his voice, "I, Harmon, take you, Sarah, to be my wife, knowing in my heart that you will always be my friend, my partner in life and my one true love. I promise to love you without reservation, to honor and respect you, to provide for your needs the best that I can, to protect you from harm, to comfort you in times of distress, to laugh with you and cry with you, to grow with you in mind and spirit, to always be open and honest with you, and to cherish you for as long as we both shall live."
He paused as he finished the prepared vows, trying to gather his thoughts. He had never been very good at speaking from his heart, he knew, and now he had to try to express everything that she was to him in front of all their family and friends in a few brief sentences. He could see her offer her own encouraging smile beneath the veil and he continued, "When I first heard I was getting a new partner, I never imagined that it would lead to this. I can't find the words ... to express everything that I'm feeling at this moment." He paused for a moment, looking down at their joined hands. "Ever since the day I met you, whenever I would think about the future, you were always by my side. Even with everything that has happened - your leaving, my leaving, Australia, all the others in our lives along the way - the image of you by my side for the rest of my life was one I couldn't let go of. I just wish that I could have found the courage sooner ... to tell you how much I love you ... for eternity, Sarah Mackenzie."
"Oh, Harm," Mac whispered, her tears freely falling. She fought to keep her voice steady and strong as she told him, " I, Sarah, take you, Harmon, to be my husband, knowing in my heart that you will always be my friend, my partner in life and my one true love. I promise to love you without reservation, to honor and respect you, to provide for your needs the best that I can, to protect you from harm, to comfort you in times of distress, to laugh with you and cry with you, to grow with you in mind and spirit, to always be open and honest with you, and to cherish you for as long as we both shall live."
"When I first heard that I was being partnered with a former pilot," she continued with a grin, "well ... I don't think you want to know what I was thinking." The entire congregation laughed a little at that. "And on the surface, you appeared to be everything that I'd imagined. But when I got a chance to see beneath the brash, arrogant exterior, I found the kindest, most compassionate man I'd ever met. It was so easy to imagine spending the rest of my life with you, even when I tried to convince myself that I didn't deserve you. I've made so many mistakes, but that never mattered to you. You've always stood by me - supported me - no matter what and I'll always love you ... for eternity, Harmon Rabb."
"May I have the rings, please?" Captain Duncan requested. Harriet and Bud placed the wedding rings on the Captain's open Bible.
"The perfect circle of a ring symbolizes eternity, while gold is a symbol of all that is pure and holy. As you give these rings to each other, our prayer is that your love will be the same, pure and eternal. May the Lord God bless these rings, symbols of your marriage," he continued. Holding the Bible out, he turned to Harm. "Harmon, take this ring and place it on Sarah's finger."
Harm picked up the circle of white gold and slowly slid it onto the third finger of Mac's left hand. She laughed a little when he had trouble getting it past her knuckle. "Sorry, I guess my fingers are a little swollen," she whispered.
As he managed the slide the ring the rest of the way onto her finger, he said, "Sarah, I bring this ring, shaped in the symbol of completeness and eternity, and I give it to you to wear so that we will always remember our marriage vows." He squeezed her hand as she reached with her right hand for his ring.
Her hand shaking as she slid the ring easily onto his finger, she repeated his words, "Harmon, I bring this ring, shaped in the symbol of completeness and eternity, and I give it to you to wear so that we will always remember our marriage vows."
As they joined hands once again, Captain Duncan continued with the marriage blessing, "May God bless you with hope enough to keep the dawn in your love, and fear enough to keep you holding hands in the dark. Unity enough to keep your roots entwined, and separation enough to keep you reaching out for each other. Harmony enough to keep romance in your song, and discord enough to keep you tuning your love. Amen."
"Amen," Harm and Mac echoed, followed by the congregation.
"Now, let us participate in another symbolic act. Life is full of many such actions that speak to us of a deeper meaning that we cannot always put into words. You have used ancient symbols in this wedding service - the exchange of rings, the clasping of hands, the bearing of flowers. By such things you act instead of speak in regard to your promises. Now each of you will take a candle. And together you will light one larger candle. This is a vivid reminder that in true Christian marriage our lives are merged, even as we remain individuals. This is a symbolic prayer that God will enhance your own personhood and bless your uniqueness as individuals, but that God will also make of your hands one hand ... of your hearts one heart ... and of your lives one life."
Softly, Clay began playing "One Hand, One Heart" from West Side Story as Trish and Deanne rose from their seats and carried their candles forward and Duncan continued, "As Harmon and Sarah's mothers join us with the candles they lit before the start of the ceremony, I have been asked to mention someone who unfortunately could not be here with us today. Lieutenant Harmon Rabb, Sr. was shot down over Vietnam on Christmas Eve, 1969 and was MIA. In honor of his memory, the candle which Trish Burnett carries was lit from the eternal flame which burns in this chapel to honor those who went off in service to our country and never returned."
There were tears in his eyes as Harm took the candle that Trish held out to him. "Mom?" he asked softly, surprise in his voice.
"It was Frank's idea," she whispered as she squeezed her son's arm and stepped back. Harm looked up and met Frank's eyes, offering him a grateful smile.
As Deanne and Trish returned to their pews, Harm and Mac took the candles they had been given and stepped up to the altar. As they carefully lit the large unity candle sitting center front on the altar, Mac whispered, "Are you okay?"
Harm nodded, not trusting himself to speak. After lighting the unity candle and setting the other candles to the side, together they picked up the smaller pink candle sitting to one side of the unity candle and waited for Captain Duncan to continued.
"In Genesis chapter one, verse twenty-eight," he intoned, "it is said 'And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. Now, from the unity candle they just lit, Harmon and Sarah will light two smaller candles, representative of the two new lives they will be bringing into this world, products of the love they share."
Together, Harm and Mac lit the pink candle and set it back down. They then picked up a similar candle, this one blue in color, sitting on the other side of the unity candle and repeated the lighting. After setting the candle back down, they stepped back from the altar, taking their places again with the rest of the wedding party.
"Sometimes," Captain Duncan said, "a couple will chose to exchange a small gift during their wedding ceremony, a symbol of the love that they share and that will sustain them for the rest of their lives. Harmon and Sarah have chosen to honor this tradition, for the gift exchanged is not only a representation of their love, but also a reminder of their first meeting, which I am told took place in the White House Rose Garden."
Harm and Mac turned to Bud and Harriet, each being handed a small red rose. They turned back to each other as Captain Duncan continued, "Your gift to each other for your wedding today has been your wedding rings - which shall always be an outward demonstration of your vows of love and respect; and a public showing of your commitment to each other. You now have what remains the most honorable title which may exist between a man and a woman - the title of 'husband' and 'wife.' For your first gift as husband and wife, that gift will be a single rose. In the past, the rose was considered a symbol of love and a single rose always meant only one thing - it meant the words 'I love you.' So it is appropriate that for your first gift - as husband and wife - that gift would be a single rose."
As Harm and Mac exchanged their roses, their fingers brushing, Duncan said, "In some ways it seems like you have not done anything at all. Just a moment ago you were holding one small rose - and now you are holding one small rose. In some ways, a marriage ceremony is like this. In some ways, tomorrow is going to seem no different than yesterday. But in fact today, just now, you both have given and received one of the most valuable and precious gifts of life - the gift of true and abiding love within the devotion of marriage. Harmon and Sarah, I would ask that where ever you make your home in the future - that you both pick one very special location for roses; so that on each anniversary of this truly wonderful occasion you both may take a rose to that spot both as a recommitment to your marriage and a recommitment that this will be a marriage based upon love.
"In every marriage there are times where it is difficult to find the right words. It is easiest to hurt who we most love. It is easiest to be most hurt by who we most love. It might be difficult some day to find the words to say 'I am sorry' or 'I forgive you'; 'I need you' or 'I am hurting'. If this should happen, if you simply can not find these words, leave a rose at that spot which both of you have selected - for that rose then says what matters most of all and should overpower all other things and all other words. That rose says the words 'I still love you.' The other should accept this rose for the words which cannot be found, and remember the love and hope that you both share today. Harmon and Sarah, if there is anything you remember of this marriage ceremony, it is that it was love that brought you here today, it is only love which can make it a glorious union, and it is by love which your marriage shall endure."
"I love you," Mac mouthed the words as her fingers brushed over the soft, silky pedals of the rose in her hands.
Even through the veil, Harm had no trouble making out her words. Smiling, he mouthed "I love you" in return as Captain Duncan offered the prayer of intercession.
"Let us pray - O God, Lord of life and love eternal, author of all good and giver of all joy, we thank you for the gift of marriage. We bless thee for the joy that Harmon and Sarah have found in each other and for the covenant that they have made before thee. Grant, O Lord, that Harmon and Sarah may dwell together in unity and love all the days of their life. Give them health, prosperity and peace. Strengthen them to obey and serve thee, that they may walk in the steps of Jesus Christ and when the joys and sorrows and all the good and evil of this passing world are ended, inherit thy promises and share in thy eternal Glory. O God, look too in favor upon us and all our homes. Defend us from evil from within and without, and supply our needs according to the riches of thy grace - that directed by thy spirit, we may look to the good of others in word and deed and grow in grace as we advance in years. We ask it through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, saying together as one, the prayer he taught us - "
Everyone joined in reciting, "Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Captain Duncan offered the final prayer, "And now unto you - and all who present, may this blessing come upon you - that you be in love, grow in love, stand in love, and act by love - through the God of love - both now and forevermore. Amen."
"Amen," the congregation echoed.
"In Matthew 19, Jesus also said, 'Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh"? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.'
"I now pronounce that Harmon and Sarah are husband and wife. What God has joined together, let no person put asunder. Harmon, you may now kiss your bride."
Before the chaplain finished speaking, Harm lifted Mac's veil and pushed it back over her head. His hands on either side of her face, his thumbs brushed the tears from her cheeks as he lowed his head, brushing his lips against hers. Mac leaned forward slightly, deepening the kiss as she pressed one hand against his chest for balance, the fingers of her other hand tightening around the stem of the rose she held.
As the first notes of the wedding march from A Midsummer Night's Dream echoed through the chapel, Harm and Mac finally broke apart. "Think Clay is trying to tell us something?" Mac suggested softly.
Harm held his right arm out to her and grinned. "Shall we, Colonel Rabb?"
Linking her arm with his as Harriet handed her back her bouquet, she replied with a smile, "There's nothing I'd like more."
Arm in arm, Harm and Mac slowly made their way up the aisle to the back of the church, not even noticing the smiles and approving glances from their friends and family, each of them only having eyes for the other. As soon as they were through the door at the rear of the chapel, Harm pulled her into his arms again, his lips moving possessively over hers.
Mac leaned against him, her free hand clutching one of his shoulder boards as their tongues dueled frantically. As she lost herself to the powerful wave of emotions washing over her, she wondered at the newness of the feelings. They'd shared kisses before, kisses slow and gentle and tender mixed in with ones that were desperate and frantic and electric. So why did this one single kiss feel so different? They were the same people they had been yesterday, last week, last month. Nothing had changed at all, save the matching bands of white gold they both now wore on the third finger of their left hands.
Finally, a need for oxygen forced them apart and they leaned against each other, their foreheads touching, both breathing heavily. "Wow," Harm said unsteadily, fighting to control his breathing.
"I know," Mac said, her voice equally shaky. "That was ... something."
Before Harm could reply, Mac was tapped on the shoulder and they both turned their heads to find Harriet and Bud looking at them with something akin to amusement in their eyes.
"As a married woman," Harriet said, her eyes twinkling merrily, "I can certainly understand, but unless you'd like a rather large audience, I'd save it for later, Sir, Ma'am."
Harm and Mac both laughed as the rest of the wedding party filed into the vestibule in pairs. "Harriet, what would it cost us to get you and Bud to call us Harm and Mac for at least a few hours?" Mac teased.
"With all these uniforms around?" Carolyn jumped in, her arm wrapped around Jack's waist. "Not a chance that would happen."
"Fascinating as this all is," AJ said, "why don't we move this to a side room so that the guests can get out of the church? The men need to put on their swords for the arch."
"And I would love to sit down and get off my feet," Harriet admitted, "and I'm sure the Colonel would, too."
"I suppose," Mac replied as they all moved off into a side room. "I hadn't really thought about."
Everyone laughed as Carolyn pointed out, "Probably mesmerized by the dress whites and gold wings."
Mac treated her friend to a knowing smile. "And what's been your excuse all week?" she wondered. "Who is it that has nearly been late to work every day this week?"
"Well, at least I haven't been sneaking around pretending that everything is the same as usual between me and the man I love while all my friends are trying to play matchmaker," Carolyn retorted.
"But it was kind of fun watching Harriet try not to be obvious about playing matchmaker," Mac pointed out as Harm led her to a chair. She sat down with a sigh, carefully draping the train of her dress over her arm, and slipped her shoes off, wiggling her feet beneath the hem of her skirt. "Oh, it feels good to get out of these shoes," she sighed.
"Agreed," Harriet sighed as she sat down also, slipping her own shoes off. "You don't suppose anyone would notice if we went barefoot during the reception?"
"How long do we have to stay at the reception?" Mac whispered to Harm.
"We said about three hours, remember?" he replied softly. With a gleam in his eye, he leaned closer to whisper in her ear, "But if you play your cards right, maybe your husband will give you a foot rub on your way to your honeymoon."
"Hmmm, I'll be counting the minutes," she promised as he brushed his lips against her ear.
"Mac, why don't you let me put those flowers away?" Sydney suggested, interrupting the private moment. Mac blinked and stared at Sydney for a moment, as if just realizing that they were not alone in the room. Silently, she handed her bouquet and the single rose she still held over to Sydney. After getting Harm's rose from him, Sydney carefully laid the bouquet in the box they had come out of, also placing the roses in the box before replacing the lid.
"So, has anyone had to turn the hose on the newlyweds yet?" Chloe asked as she skipped into the room just ahead of Josh, who rolled his eyes at her question.
"Chloe," Mac said, drawing out her sister's name. "Behave."
"I am behaving," Chloe insisted, throwing her arms around Mac's neck. "So how's it feel to be married?"
Mac laughed. "Ask me again when I've been married for longer than nine minutes and twenty-seven seconds," she joked.
Chloe paused a beat, then asked again, "So how's it feel to be married?"
All the adults laughed at Chloe's exuberance as Matt entered the room, followed by three other Marine officers who would make up the Corps' half of the Arch of Swords. "What does the crowd look like out there?" AJ inquired.
"I'd say about half the congregation has left the church," Matt informed him. "We've probably got another five minutes at least before it's time to form the arch." He looked at his niece, who was resting her head against the wall behind her. "How are you feeling, Sarah?"
"Ask me later when I've come down from the adrenaline high," she joked as Harm pulled up a chair beside her and sat down. "I don't remember it taking this long for the arch at Bud and Harriet's wedding."
"That's because you weren't the one waiting to walk under the arch," Harriet pointed out. "Trust me, it seems like an eternity - especially when you're, ah, anxious to get on to some of the more enjoyable aspects of married life."
"Harriet!" Mac exclaimed, having a hard time remembering when she'd ever heard her friend sound so forward.
"As far as those 'more enjoyable aspects' are concerned," Carolyn teased, "I think it's obvious that they didn't wait for the wedding for that."
"Ugh, gross," Josh complained. He was still just young enough to think the idea of boys and girls together was yucky.
"Everyone, please remember there are children present," Mac suggested. "I don't think Annie would appreciate hearing how you guys are corrupting her son, although as far as my sister is concerned, I think she's already a lost cause." She looked at her uncle standing by the door. "What's it like out there?"
Matt cracked the door and looked out. "Looks like just about everyone's out," he replied, "so we should probably start putting our swords on and everyone else not in the arch should probably join the others outside." The bridal party filed out of the room along with Chloe and Josh while Bud started passing out swords and scabbards to the assembled officers.
Harm bent over and picked up Mac's shoes, slipping them back on her feet before straightening. "Ready to meet the public, Mrs. Rabb?"
"Hmmm, I like hearing you call me that," Mac murmured happily as Harm stood and helped her up. He helped her straighten her train as the honor guard filed out of the room, lining up in pairs in the vestibule as they donned their covers. A moment later, Harm and Mac joined them, taking up their place at the end of the line.
Bud, as best man, called the company to attention and gave the order to file out of the church, Bud leading the Navy officers on Harm and Mac's left and Matt leading the Marine contingent on the right. Giving Mac a quick kiss, Harm took her arm and they followed the guard out.
Harm and Mac stopped just outside the door as the guard came to a halt at the bottom of the steps in front of the church, turning with a snap to face center. Firmly, Bud called out, "Officers, draw swords." As one, the officers drew their swords from the scabbards, raising them up before bringing them back down to their sides.
Harm and Mac offered each other smiles as Bud continued, "Arch swords." Again as one, the swords were lifted to form the arch. "Blades to the wind." With a snap of their wrists, the blades were turned.
As Harm and Mac stepped forward, Bud continued in the same firm voice, "Presenting ... for the first time in public ... Commander and Mrs. Harmon David Rabb, Jr."
Slowly, Harm and Mac made their way down the church steps and under the arch, Mac's hand tightening on his arm as they neared the end of the arch. Although she understood the tradition, the idea of being swatted with a sword didn't really hold any appeal for her. As they fell even with Bud and Matt, Bud brought down his sword and gently swatted Mac's rear. "Go Navy," he called out.
Before they could step away, Matt surprised them by bringing down his sword and swatting Harm in similar fashion. "Welcome to the Corps," he called out with a grin.
As Mac struggled to contain her laughter at the chagrined look on her husband's face, Bud called for the officers to return the swords. After a moment, he called out, "Officers, dismissed."
With a grin, Harm pulled Mac into his arms, pressing his lips against hers in an ardent kiss as the assembled crowd cheered.
"Just a few more then we'll do some with the families and then the wedding party," the photographer announced as Mac groaned.
"You don't think I can sit for some of these pictures, do you?" Mac mused.
"Why don't you take your shoes off again?" Harm suggested. "Your feet are hidden under your dress."
"I already did," she said, lifting her skirt to show him. "Now I just need to sit down."
"How much longer do you think this will take?" Harm asked the photographer.
"If all your family members and the wedding party are ready," the photographer pondered, "I'd say ten to fifteen minutes max."
Mac and Harm looked over at the group waiting along the wall while the pictures of the bride and groom were taken. "Uncle Matt," Mac called out, "would you please find my mother? I don't see her. Also, Bud, I want you to go get the rest of the JAG staff. Since all of you have done so much to help plan this wedding, I'd like to get a picture of all of us from JAG together."
As Matt took off to find Deanne and Bud went to gather Gunny, Tiner, Lauren and Alfred, Mac turned back to the photographer. "Let's get these done, okay? What do you want next?"
"Why don't we get some candid shots of you two?" he suggested. "And you can use a chair for this one if you'd like."
A photographer's assistant brought over a chair, which Harm sat down in, pulling Mac into his lap as the assistant relieved her of her bouquet. As he wrapped his arms around her waist, the camera clicked away.
For the first time, Harm took a very good look at the dress his wife was wearing. Ivory in color, it looked like something out of the Regency era with short puffy sleeves and a high waist, perfect for accommodating her expanding waistline. The skirt was finished off by a five foot train. Harm looked down at the hem and it looked to him like roses were beaded along the edge. He looked back up at Mac and was about to comment on the dress when he noticed similar beadwork along the low neckline, but with a very noteworthy addition.
Tracing the beaded design at the center of her neckline with his finger, he commented, "Interesting design for a wedding dress."
Mac blushed as she met his eyes. "I thought you'd like it," she said softly. "I know they're not gold, but I thought it would be a nice tribute to my aviator husband if I had a pair of wings beaded on my dress."
"Your husband is very touched," he said with a grin as the photographer continued to click away. He was about to say something else when he noticed an odd look on her face and a hand pressed to her abdomen. "What is it?" he asked, concerned.
"I'm not sure," she said slowly, "I thought ... wait, there it is again. Harm, I think I just felt one of the babies move for the first time." Her voice rose in a rush of emotion as she grabbed one of his hands and pressed it against the side of her stomach where her hand had just been.
Unaware of all the eyes on them and the camera still clicking away, Harm pressed his hand against her, concentrating on trying to feel any hint of movement. After a few moments when he didn't feel anything, he was about to ask if she was sure when he felt it - a little fluttering movement against his the palm of his hand. He looked up at her, his eyes full of awe and wonder.
Pressing her hands against either side of his face, Mac leaned forward and kissed him, then rested her forehead against his as she covered his hand on her stomach with hers, overwhelmed at the rush of emotion she was feeling.
After another moment, the photographer cleared his throat. Harm and Mac both looked over at him, a little embarrassed. In the excitement, they had all but forgotten that they had an audience. Looking over at the family and friends, Mac was sure she saw more than one person with tears in their eyes. "Sorry," Mac began, but the photographer waved her off.
"Forget about it," he said. "These are going to turn out to be some very good pictures. And you can show your child a picture of what happened the first time you felt him or her move."
"Now if we could only figure out which child that was," Mac joked, everyone laughing.
"Okay, why don't we get the families over here?" the photographer suggested. He began talking them into position and an assistant pulled the chair out of the way after Harm and Mac stood and handed Mac back her bouquet. "Commander, Colonel, why don't you turn slightly towards each other. Okay, let's get the mothers next to each of their children, facing towards the center. Mrs. Burnett, can you come forward a little bit? We don't want you hidden behind your son. Mr. Burnett, next to your wife and Colonel O'Hara, next to your sister. Good, now Chloe, let's put you in front of Colonel O'Hara and Mrs. Mackenzie. Not quite balanced, but it will work."
He snapped a few pictures, then said, "Okay, let's get each family separately. Why don't we bring the chair back? Commander, sit down and let's get your parents behind you on either side. Okay, that looks good." A few more pictures were snapped.
"Let's get the Colonel and her family now," he continued as he changed the film in his camera. "Colonel, please sit. Let's get your uncle standing directly behind you and your mother and sister on either side of him."
After those pictures were taken, the wedding party was motioned over. "Let's everyone line up exactly as you were at the altar," he said. "Starting on my left with Chloe, then the three bridesmaids, the matron of honor, the bride and groom, best man, the groomsmen, then Josh." He looked everyone over once they were in position and frowned. "Do we have the ring pillow and flower basket around here somewhere?" Chloe and Josh nodded and broke the line to retrieve the items. Once they were back in position, the photographer nodded, satisfied. "Much better."
After those pictures were taken, Sydney, Jackie, Josh and Chloe moved off and the rest of the JAG staff stepped forward. The photographer looked over them for a moment, trying to figure out how best to assemble them. "Bride and groom center turned towards each other," he announced. "Admiral, why don't you stand next to Commander Rabb and then let's get Commander Mattoni next to him. Gunnery Sergeant, let's put you next to Colonel Rabb. That's good; now why don't we put the Petty Officer next to you?" He pondered for another moment, then added, "Let's have Lieutenant Sims standing in front of the Colonel and Gunny and Lieutenant Roberts in front of the Commander and Admiral. Lieutenant Roberts, scoot to your right just a hair so that you're not blocking the Commander. Good. Let's put Commander Imes next to Lieutenant Roberts and then our other Lieutenants next to Sims." He motioned to Alfred. "Sir, why don't you stand next to Lieutenant Sims and Ma'am," he motioned to Lauren, "you go on the other side of him. That's good, everyone."
"Let's everyone turn slightly towards center," he continued, "and everyone, hands in front as if you're at parade rest, except for Colonel Rabb, who's still holding her bouquet. Commander Rabb, why don't you put your arm around your wife and your other arm at your side? There we go."
After some more pictures were taken, he finally announced, "We're finished." With a grateful sigh from everyone, the group broke apart and Mac slipped back on her shoes.
"Okay, everyone can go on into the party," Mac announced, "but before you all do, Harm and I just wanted to tell you, in case we don't get a chance to later, how much we appreciate everything all of you have done for us both today and in the weeks leading up to it. It's meant a lot to us and we would never have been able to put this all together this quickly without help from all of you. So thank you from both of us."
As everyone filed into the reception room, Mac linked her arm around Harm's and said, "Okay, we mingle with the guests a little bit without doing the receiving line, sit down to eat, some dancing, cutting the cake, some more dancing, the bouquet and garter toss, then I change and we can get out of here. Just tell me this - will I get a chance to catch some sleep on our way to wherever we are going?"
"You'll have plenty of time to get some sleep," he replied as they moved to the door, waiting for Bud to announce them. "Tired already?"
"Not yet," she said. "I'm still on an emotional high. But give me a few hours and I think I'll definitely be ready to crash."
Inside the reception hall, the wedding party took their places at the long head table and Bud picked up a microphone. Expectantly, the crowd quieted and he announced as Harm and Mac stepped into the room, "Presenting Commander and Mrs. Harmon David Rabb, Jr."
"Can I please have everyone's attention?" Bud announced into the microphone. Around the room, people turned in their chairs and looked towards the head table expectantly. He looked over the crowd, making sure he had everyone's attention. After a moment, he continued, "In a few minutes, the bride and groom will take to the floor for the first dance. But first, a few people have a few words to say."
Bud paused a moment, then added, "We will *try* to keep the embarrassment to a minimum."
Harm leaned over and whispered against Mac's ear, "Right. They've done nothing but embarrass us the last three days. Why should today be any different?"
Mac shivered slightly at the feeling of his hot breath against her ear. The things this man could do to her without even touching her. But they still had at least an hour and forty-two minutes before they could make their escape. But still ...
"One hour, forty-two minutes and we can get out of here," she said softly, her fingers brushing the inside of his thigh. "Think you can hold out?"
Harm forced himself not to react. He couldn't, not here in front of all their friends and family. "If you stop doing that," he answered, biting back a groan.
"Can't take it, Sailor?"
"We have an audience," he reminded her. Reluctantly, she pulled her hand away and he resisted the strong urge to ask her to put it back.
"Later," she promised.
They managed to turn their attention back to Bud only to find that they had missed part of his toast. Harriet leaned towards Harm and whispered, "You didn't miss much. He was just talking about how the two of you were his mentors."
Harm turned and gave Harriet an embarrassed smile before turning his full attention back to Bud.
" ... and once," Bud continued, "a wise man told me that marriage is the greatest institution on the earth." He paused a moment, then grinned. "It's nice to see, Sir, that you're finally taking part in that 'greatest institution'. I guess you were more envious than not stupid."
Everyone laughed and Bud let the laughter run its course before continuing. "Of course in Harm and Mac's case, it was a matter of getting to the point where both of them at the same time were unattached and ready to pursue a relationship with each other. It's been a wild and crazy ride for them the last four years and all of us are so glad that you two finally got it right. At least we don't have to resort to locking you two in a room together until you admit your feelings."
More laughter, then Bud lifted his glass up and said, "After all that you have been through together and apart to get to this, I know that the two of you can face any obstacle that crosses your path with the same determination with which you have faced everything else. If anyone can build a long, happy and fulfilling life together with lots of love, laughter and children, it is the two of you. In closing, I want to quote a short verse which I believe is perfect for you two. I apologize that I couldn't find the name of the author.
"'That is the true season of love when we believe that we alone can love, that no one could have ever loved so before us and that no one will ever love in the same way after us.' To Harm and Mac - may your true season of love last for eternity."
"To Harm and Mac," everyone echoed as they lifted their own glasses in tribute. Their glasses of sparkling cider in hand, Harm having decided to forego the champagne in deference to his wife, Harm and Mac linked arms and sipped from their glasses, following up with a tender kiss to the delight of the assembly. As Bud sat down, AJ stood, his own glass in hand.
"Before Harm and Mac have their first dance as man and wife," AJ announced, "I asked if I would be permitted to say a few words, also. They agreed as long as I also promised to keep the embarrassment down to a minimum since we had enough of that Thursday night."
As everyone laughed, especially those who had been present at the party, AJ continued, "For those of you not lucky enough to be around on Thursday, just ask anyone who was. I'm sure they would be more than happy to fill you in on what you missed."
On Harm and Mac's dirty looks, he got serious and added, "Seriously, it has been my privilege to have Harm and Mac serve under my command for four years together. I've watched them grow into two of the finest officers I've ever had the privilege of commanding and two very good friends of mine. I've also watched them become better people because of each other. Mac has shown Harm that he isn't always right or the best, even if he still can't always admit it to anyone except maybe her. And Harm got Mac to open up and trust others. My greatest hope for them is that they will continue to challenge each other and grow as people and that their children learn from their example and become as fine a people as their parents are. To Harm and Mac."
"To Harm and Mac."
Harm and Mac linked arms again and took a small sip before setting their glasses down. Harm pushed his chair back and stood, then pulled Mac's chair back and took her hand as she stood. As they made their way out to the dance floor, Mac carefully fastened the train of her dress at her waist so that she wouldn't trip. Meanwhile, AJ continued, "Now, Harm and Mac will share their first dance as man and wife. For those of you who are familiar with their relationship and all its ups and downs, you will find this song very appropriate."
As the music began, the lights over the dance floor dimmed and Harm pulled Mac into his arms. She looked up at him and smiled as she recognized the song. "He's right," she whispered. "This is very appropriate."
I can't fight this feeling any longer
"Oh my, God," Mac exclaimed softly, her eyes filling with tears. "You're doing the singing!"
Harm nodded confirmation. "I went to one of those places where you can record yourself singing with full musical accompaniment. I wanted to do something special for our first dance. I thought this song was so perfect for us and I thought it would be even more perfect if I could sing it to you."
"It is perfect," she told him as they moved together across the floor. "I love you for this."
I tell myself that I can't hold out forever
Harm began singing the words softly in her ear as the song continued.
And even as I wander I'm keeping you in sight
And I can't fight this feeling anymore
My life has been such a whirlwind since I found you
And even as I wander I'm keeping you in sight
And I can't fight this feeling anymore
As the song ended, Harm and Mac danced on for a few more seconds, lost in each other. As they both realized that the music had ended, they stopped in the center of the dance floor and kissed. After a moment, Trish and Matt joined them on the dance floor and they reluctantly broke apart. Matt bowed and took Mac's hand as Harm bowed also and took his mother's hand.
It must have been cold there in my shadow
"That was very beautiful," Trish told Harm, having recognized his voice, "singing that song for Mac. You love her so much."
Harm shrugged. "It just seemed to say everything I've been feeling and I thought it would say it better if I sang it."
"I'm just happy that you've finally found someone to share your life with," Trish said. "All I've ever wanted is for you to be happy and I think that you finally are."
Did you ever know that you're my hero
It might have appeared to go unnoticed
"I don't think I've ever seen you this happy," Matt commented, brushing a tear from her cheek.
"I haven't been," Mac confirmed. "Harm has done so much for me, brought so much into my life. I never thought that I would find this kind of peace and happiness."
"You finally have all that I've ever wanted for you," he said.
"Thank you for always been there for me and supporting me," she said. "I don't think I would have made it this far without you."
Did you ever know that you're my hero
Did I ever tell you that you're my hero
'Cause you are the wind beneath my winds
As the song ended, Frank took Matt's place as Mac's partner and Deanne replaced Trish as Harm's. After their dance finished, the rest of the wedding party joined them out on the dance floor and Mac found herself back in Harm's embrace.
And I never thought I'd feel this way
And if I should ever go away
"We've got some very good friends," Harm said, watching them dance.
"And everyone's so happy," Mac added, smiling misty-eyed. "Bud and Harriet have each other as do Alan and Jackie. The Admiral has found Sydney and Carolyn and Keeter have really hit it off. After seeing those two this week, I wouldn't be surprised if we eventually hear wedding bells there, too."
"What's this?" he teased her. "You're happy so you want to see everyone else happy?"
"Something like that," she admitted, "or maybe it's just that I think turnabout's fair play. Carolyn was part of Harriet's matchmaking scheme a few months ago, so I think it's only fair that I return the favor. It was just pure luck that they managed to meet on their own before I had a chance to introduce them."
Harm laughed as they turned on the floor, "You're bad, you know that?"
Keep smiling, keep shining
Well, you came and opened me
And then for the times when we're apart
Keep smiling, keep shining
As the song ended, other guests joined the couples on the dance floor as the DJ launched into 'The Search Is Over'. Mac led Harm back towards the tables. "Do you mind if I sit this one out?" she asked. "Four dances and my feet are getting tired again."
"I don't have a problem," he replied, "since I don't want you overdoing it." They ran into Teresa Coulter on their way back to their table.
"Harm, Mac, congratulations," she said, offering them both hugs. "That was a very beautiful ceremony."
"Thank you, Teresa," Mac replied. "We're glad you could be here. Harm, why don't you take Teresa out for a spin on the dance floor?"
"Okay," he agreed, giving Mac a kiss. "Where will you be?"
She looked around and spotted Matt sitting by himself. "I'll go keep my uncle company," she replied. As Harm took Teresa's hand and let her out onto the floor, Mac sat down next to Matt.
"Where did Mom go?" she asked hesitantly.
"She'll be back in a few minutes," he assured her. "She just went to freshen up. She's been crying a lot today." He paused, then added, "I'm glad you let her stay, Sarah. I think this is good for both of you."
"I hope so," she replied, fiddling with a napkin laying on the table. "I'd call myself reserved and very cautiously optimistic at this point. So why aren't you out there with some pretty lady?"
Matt shrugged. "I just didn't feel like dancing after the dance with you then the one I had with Deanne."
"Uncle Matt," she said, considering how best to put what she was about to say, "are you still a little concerned about wearing your dress uniform after being in Leavenworth?"
"Maybe a little," he admitted. "I have noticed a few people, including the SecNav, staring every now and then."
"Uncle Matt, for all you know, those people could have been staring at that Medal of Honor around your neck," she pointed out. "How many people can say they've been to a wedding where they ran into a Medal of Honor recipient? And we've got two of you here. As for the SecNav, who I'm sure knows exactly who you are and what you've done, I would think after hearing most of my stories that you would have figured out that most of the time Harm and I don't really care what he thinks. He supposedly even calls Harm 'Harmful Rabb'."
Matt laughed a little at her last statement. "Okay, maybe you've got a point," he conceded. "I'll try not to be so self-conscious."
Mac spotted a familiar face nearby and waved him over. "Uncle Matt, I'd like you to meet someone," she said. "This is Lieutenant Curtis Rivers. Lieutenant, this is my uncle, Colonel Matthew O'Hara."
"It's an honor to meet you, Sir," Curtis said as the men shook hands. Curtis took a seat next to them.
"You, too, Lieutenant," Matt returned the greeting. "I heard about how you rescued that Undersecretary. Good job."
"Thank you, Sir," Curtis replied, more graciously than usual. He nodded to the medal around Matt's neck. "'Nam?"
As Matt nodded, Mac said, "You two have a lot in common, aside from your medals." As Matt looked at her questioningly, she added, "Let's put it this way. If we were civilians, the Lieutenant would be keeping Harm on retainer to represent him every time he gets into trouble. I have some people I want to see, so I'll leave you two. And please, if you must have any arguments about whether SEALs or Recon Marines are better, keep your voices down."
As she moved off, Mac was happy to see her uncle and Curtis slip easily into conversation. Making her way through the crowd, she ran into Skates.
"Congratulations, Colonel," Skates said. "It was a beautiful service and it's about time you got Hammer to settle down."
"Thank you, Skates," she said. "How is life aboard the Patrick Henry?"
"It was rough for a time after my court-martial," Skates replied, "but it's getting better. At least Captain Ingalls doesn't look like he'd like to hang me from the nearest yardarm every time he sees me anymore."
"That's good to hear," Mac said. "I'm glad everything has worked out. What about Boomer and Tuna? I haven't had a chance to say hello yet."
"Well, you know those flyboys, Ma'am," she replied with a laugh. "They think the world would stop spinning if they weren't there to protect it."
Mac laughed. "I definitely know those flyboys," she said with a grin. "I'll see you later. I see someone over with my mother-in-law that I need to say hi to."
She walked over to the edge of the dance floor where Trish was talking to Admiral Tom Boone. "Darling, why aren't you out there with your husband?" Trish asked as Mac joined them.
"Just taking a little break and saying hello to some people," she replied. "Admiral Boone, it's good to see you again."
"It's good to see you, too ... Colonel, isn't it?" Tom replied. "Congratulations. I'm just sorry that Hammer couldn't be here today, but that was a very nice touch with the candles."
"I thought so, too," Mac replied. "Harm's father is very important to him - to both of us - and it was nice to be able to make him a part of this day."
"Do you mind if I borrow my wife, Mom, Admiral Boone?" Harm asked as he joined them. "It's about time to cut the cake."
"Excuse us, please," Mac said, turning to follow Harm towards the table where the cake was set up. Lying on the table next to the cake was Harm's sword. Mac picked it up carefully as everyone gathered around as a new song began playing over the speakers.
From this moment life has begun
"Okay, just how do we go about cutting the cake with this?" Mac mused.
"Very carefully," Harm said with a grin as his hand closed over hers on the handle of the sword. Stepping back just a bit from the cake, they lowered the tip of the sword through the bottom layer of the cake, carefully cutting two thin slices.
From this moment I have been blessed
Carefully, the two slices were each transferred to a plate and Mac picked one plate up. Tearing off a piece with frosting, she lifted it to Harm's lips.
I give my hand to you with all my heart
Harm opened his mouth, letting Mac shove the small piece into his mouth. As she went to move her hand away, Harm grabbed it and took her fingers, one at a time, into his mouth, slowly sucking the butter cream frosting off her fingers. Mac had to remind herself to breath as his tongue swirled around each of her fingers in turn.
From this moment as long as I love
"Did that taste good?" she whispered huskily as he picked up his own cake slice.
"Delicious," he replied as he shoveled a small piece of cake between her waiting lips.
You're the reason I believe in love
Mac returned the favor, sucking on each of his fingers in turn. As she released his hand, he leaned over her and whispered, "You've got frosting on the corner of your mouth." He kissed the corner of her mouth, his tongue licking the frosting off her lips to cheers and catcalls from their watching friends.
From this moment as long as I live
As the caterers took away the cake to finish cutting it for the guests, Harm and Mac took their plates back to their seats and continued feeding each other bits of cake between kisses while the music continued in the background and couples danced while waiting for the cake to be brought back out.
Eventually, the music stopped and Bud called for quiet. "Okay, it's almost time to toss the bouquet and the garter," he announced, "and then the bride and groom will be taking off for their honeymoon in a top secret location. But before all that, we'd like to ask Harm and Mac out here for one more dance."
As Harm and Mac made their way back out to the dance floor, Bud continued, "Several of their friends got together and asked that we be allowed to chose the song that they dance to and they agreed once we assured them that the song would be very appropriate to their relationship and not embarrassing or anything like that.
"The song we chose is very important for two reasons. First, it brings to mind Harm and Mac's first meeting four years ago. Second, this particular song kind of marks the beginning of their romantic relationship," he concluded as the music began and the lights dimmed on the dance floor.
"Okay, I guess everyone had a good idea," Mac admitted as Harm took her into his embrace. "At least this time we don't have to worry about other people we're involved with seeing how tormented we are."
Some say love, it is a river
Harm got a far away look in his eyes as he remembered the first time they had danced to this song. "You have no idea how much I just wanted to sweep you into my arms and carry you away that night," he admitted.
"Probably as much as I wanted you to," she countered softly.
It's the heart, afraid of breaking
"That night was the start of a new beginning for us," Harm pointed out with a grin, "and at least we got it right this time."
When the night has been too lonely
As the song ended, Harm and Mac stopped in the middle of the dance floor and treated everyone to a show as they engaged into a dazzling, passionate kiss. As they broke apart, Bud made another announcement. "Can we please have all the single ladies out in the middle of the dance floor for the tossing of the bouquet?"
As the single females gathered, Harriet handed Mac the second bouquet purchased just for the toss. Mac climbed onto a small platform set up at the edge of the dance floor and looked back over her shoulder to make sure no one was missing. Satisfied that all the single women - and girl, in Chloe's case - were out there, she tossed the bouquet in a high arc over her head, the flowers landing squarely in Carolyn's waiting hands.
As a chair was brought for Mac to sit in, she leaned over and whispered to Harm, joking, "You throw that garter anywhere but directly at Keeter and you'll spend our wedding night out of our bed."
"Are you threatening me, Marine?" he teased with a grin as she sat down. Someone brought forward a small mat and set it in front of Mac so that Harm could kneel without dirtying his dress whites.
I've been meaning to tell you
As the single guys gathered, Harm knelt on one knee in front of Mac and slide his hands under her skirt. Lifting her right leg slightly, he let his hands slowly travel up her leg, his fingers teasing and massaging through her stockings. They were barely aware of the hoots and hollers behind them.
With these hungry eyes
Mac inhaled sharply as his fingers brushed a particularly sensitive area behind her knee. Her breathing unsteady, she managed to whisper, "I'd be careful, Sailor. I just may have to drag you out of here in front of all the people and have my way with you."
I want to hold you so hear me out
Harm grinned at her, the look in his eyes letting her know he had no intention of stopping. His fingers found the garter sitting mid-thigh, but his hands traveled up even further, teasing her for a moment before he hooked two fingers under the garter and slowly pulled it down her leg.
With these hungry eyes
Pulling it over her foot, Harm pulled his hands out from under her skirt and lifted one arm high above his head, holding the blue garter. As the men whistled, joking and teasing about how long it had taken to remove the garter, Harm climbed onto the platform and search the crowd of men for his old roommate. He saw Jack standing at one side of the knot of men, making it a little easier for Harm to aim the garter in his direction.
Now I've got you in my sights
Turning his back to the group, he imagined where everyone was in his mind and let the garter fly over his head. Looking down at Mac still seated in the chair, the satisfied smile on her face informed him that his aim had been good. He offered his hand to her, pulling her up as the DJ announced a dance for Carolyn and Jack.
"Nice work," she complimented him as they headed back for the main table, stopping to smile broadly at Jack and Carolyn, who nodded their thanks.
"You wouldn't happen to have planned that, would you?" Harriet teased as Harm and Mac sat down at their table, referring to Jack and Carolyn.
Mac smiled sweetly, a look of complete innocence on her face. "You mean like you did two and a half years ago?" she countered.
Harriet shrugged as she pointed out, "It may have taken two and a half years, but yours *was* the next wedding."
Mac thought about it for a moment, then started laughing. "I guess you're right about that," she admitted as Harm started laughing too, having just realized the same thing.
"Well, Marine, are you about ready to get out of here?" Harm asked, raising his eyebrows suggestively.
"Give me a few minutes to get changed and I'm ready to go," she promised, brushing his lips with hers. Taking a deep breath, she turned to Deanne. "Mom, would you like to come upstairs with me and help me change?"
Deanne looked startled and asked nervously, "Are you sure you don't want someone else to help you?"
Mac didn't hesitate before shaking her head. She replied, "No, Mom, I'm sure that I'd like you to come with me."
Tears in her eyes, Deanne rose from the table with Harm and Mac. "Bud, could you check outside and make sure the limo driver is ready for us and then get everyone to start moving outside?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir," Bud replied, rushing off to do as requested while Harm, Mac and Deanne slipped out of the hall through a side door.
Upstairs, Mac easily found the room that the club management said she could use to change in, her traveling outfit and a garment bag for her dress already laid out for her inside. "I'll wait out in the hall for you," Harm said, squeezing Mac's hand comfortingly. He leaned in to kiss her and whispered, "Good luck with your mother."
Mac smiled at him as she and Deanne entered the room, closing the door behind them. Mac went to stand in front of the mirror hanging on one wall and removed her veil, careful not to mess the curls in her hair too much. Deanne took the veil from her and carefully folded it and laid it in the box it had come out of that morning.
"Can you help me with these buttons?" Mac asked. Deanne stepped behind her and swiftly unfastened the buttons running down the back of the dress, then helped Mac lift the dress over her head. Deanne hung the dress neatly back on its hanger while Mac pulled on the tan knee-length skirt she was going to wear.
"Sarah, I want to thank you for letting me be a part of today," Deanne said as she pulled the garment bag over the wedding dress and closing it. "I know I don't deserve ... "
Pulling on her cream silk blouse, Mac turned to her mother and interrupted, "Mom, I'd like to say something. For very valid reasons, I've been very angry for the way you walked out, leaving me with Joe Mackenzie, and for the way we left things in Fresno when he died. But recently I've started to realize some things."
She sat down, kicking off her wedding shoes in favor of a pair of flats the same color as her skirt. Slipping her shoes on, she continued, "I've never been in your shoes, so I can't say that I understand why you did what you did and I can't say that if I hadn't been in your position, that I wouldn't have done the same thing. Another thing is that I could just as easily still become an alcoholic, married Chris - or someone like him - and made so many of the other mistakes that I made even if you had taken me with you. I can't say with any certainty that my life would have been better if you had taken me with you and I can actually think of some ways in which my life might have been worse."
"Sarah, I ... " Deanne began, tears falling from her eyes as she came over to stand beside Mac's chair.
"Please let me finish," Mac pleaded, her own tears falling. She took a deep breath, then continued, "I have a very good life right now - a wonderful husband whom I adore and who feels the same for me, two babies on the way, a great career. Yes, I've been through some pretty rough times to get to this place and some of that did stem from what happened when you left. But if my life had gone differently in the past, I probably wouldn't be where I am right now. Because of that, I can't blame you for ruining my life when I've managed to overcome my problems and build a very good life for myself.
"I can't say 'I love you' right now and it will probably be a long time before I can, but if you are really serious about trying to build a new relationship, then I'd like to try to." Crying freely as she finished, Mac felt herself being pulled into her mother's arms. She wrapped her arms around her mother's waist and held on, happy to be held for a few moments.
Finally, Mac pulled away and started wiping her eyes. "Hold on a minute," Deanne suggested, pulling some tissue from a box. "You'll smear your makeup doing that." She wiped Mac's face, careful not to ruin her makeup. Satisfied, she dabbed her own eyes with the bunched up tissue.
"I'll take your dress downstairs and make sure it gets back to your house," Deanne said, picking up the garment bag and the box with the veil.
"Mom, how long were you planning on staying in DC?" Mac asked as she picked up her wedding shoes and handed them to Deanne.
"I hadn't really thought about it," she replied. "I don't have a job to get back to, but I didn't want to make any firm plans in case things didn't work out with you."
"Well, Uncle Matt has to go back to Leavenworth on Monday," Mac explained, "and Harm's family will also be going home, so there won't be anyone at our house. Sydney and the Admiral were going to stop by, since they live across the street, to pick up the mail, newspapers and to take care of Jingo, our dog. If you'd like to stick around until we get back from our honeymoon, you're welcome to stay at our house. You'd be doing us a favor."
Deanne was stunned into silence, surprised that Mac would make such an offer. Finally, she replied, "If you don't mind, I'd love to."
Mac smiled and patted her arm. "Good," she said. "I'll talk to Sydney and the Admiral before we leave and I'm sure if you need anything you can call on them. Uncle Matt has the spare key to the house right now, so he can just give it to you before he goes back to Leavenworth instead of giving it to Sydney. I had written out Jingo's care instructions for Sydney and posted them on the refrigerator door. I don't know where we're going, but Harm will have his beeper in case of an emergency."
"Sarah, I'm sure I'll be fine," Deanne assure her as she pulled open the door and they stepped out into the hall. "Trish introduced me to Sydney and the Admiral yesterday morning and they seem like nice enough people. I'm sure they'll be willing to help if I need it."
"Good," Mac said, sighing with relief. As they started back downstairs, she told Harm, "Mom's going to stay at our place until we get back."
Harm smiled at her and pulled her against his side. "I'm glad," he said softly, kissing the top of her head.
As the reached the downstairs hallway, Deanne stopped and turned to them. "Thank you again for letting me be a part of today," she said, smiling.
"We're glad that you could be here, too," Harm told her. Releasing Mac, he hugged Deanne.
"Welcome to our family, Harm," Deanne said. "I know you'll take good care of my daughter."
"Well, she knows how to kick my six if I don't," Harm joked as he watched Mac hug her mother again.
"Don't worry," Mac said, "Harm has always been really good at taking care of me, even when I haven't needed him to."
"Have a good time on your honeymoon," Deanne said as she headed outside to join the rest of the guests, "and I'll see you when you get back."
"Looks like everyone's ready out there," Mac said quietly, looking out the door. "Are you ready to take me to paradise, Sailor?"
Harm laughed at the irony of Mac's terminology. When she shot him a puzzled glance, he calmed and said, "Definitely ready."
Holding hands, Harm and Mac stepped out the door into the sunlight and started walking swiftly towards the waiting limousine under a shower of rose pedals and to calls of 'Goodbye' and 'Good luck' from the crowd. They climbed into the back of the limousine, kissing as the driver closed the door behind them. The driver walked around and got behind the wheel, driving the newlyweds off to start their new life together.
FRIDAY, 26 JANUARY 2001
Sergei watched the passengers disembarking from the plane. He reflected that he felt a lot calmer and less nervous than the last time he had stood at the airport awaiting a flight from San Diego.
Stepping out of the jet way, Trish searched the crowd for a familiar face, finally spotting him standing off to one side out of the crush of the crowd. "There he is, Frank," she told her husband.
"Sergei!" she called out, walking towards her stepson. Sergei finally spotted Trish and Frank and started towards them.
"It's good to see you again," Trish said, hugging him warmly. She had spoken to Sergei several times on the phone after the younger man had moved to Washington and Harm had filled her in on Sergei's background. By the time they had met in person at Christmas, Trish had developed a warm and friendly relationship with her stepson.
"It is good to see you, Trish," Sergei returned her greeting. He then turned to Frank and offered his hand. "It is good to see you, Frank."
"Harm and Mac are at work?" Trish asked as Sergei took her carry-on bag and they started towards baggage claim.
"Yes," Sergei replied. "Harm is in court this afternoon and he did not want Mac to drive in this weather. I told Harm I would come to the airport."
"So how are they doing?" Frank asked. "Is everything okay with the babies?"
Sergei considered his answer, causing Trish to asked worriedly, "The babies are fine, right?"
"Yes, they are good," Sergei answered hurriedly. "I am sorry. I do not mean to concern you. Harm and Mac are, um, bespokoit'sya ... " he trailed off, trying to think of the proper word in English. As good as his English was, every so often he would draw a blank when trying to translate something.
Finally, it came to him and he continued, "Anxious, that is it. They are anxious because the babies have not been born yet. Mac is ystaly - weary ... "
Trish relaxed as she realized what he was trying to say. "She is tired from carrying the babies and they were expecting them to have been born by now," she concluded.
"Yes, that is it," Sergei agreed, thankful that he had gotten his point across on his own. There were times occasionally when he did need his sister-in-law to help him translate. "Harm told me the doctor said the babies would probably be born early and it is surprising that they are not born yet."
"If this pregnancy goes on much longer," Trish commented, "Mac may be ready to kill Harm." At Frank and Sergei's blank looks, Trish shook her head. Men. How could they ever truly understand about pregnancy?
"Colonel, here's that case file you requested," Tiner said, handing Mac a thick folder. Mac took it with a tired sigh.
"Thanks, Jason," she said wearily, rubbing her neck. "Is Commander Rabb still in court?"
"Yes, Ma'am," he replied. "The last time I checked, it sounded like it was still going to be a while. The defense attorney appeared to be objecting to everything the Commander asked."
"Welcome to the wonderful world of trial law, Jason," she said dryly. She got a thoughtful look on her face, taping her temple with her finger.
"Did you need anything else, Ma'am?" Tiner asked.
"I don't think so," she replied. "I'm just trying to think if there's anything else that I need to take care of before I start my leave. After all, you guys won't be seeing me at work for at least two months - probably more the rate this pregnancy is going." Mac had already planned to take two months off after the babies were born. Since twins tend to arrive early, even though these twins had not shown an inclination to do so as of yet, Dr. Calder had insisted that Mac's maternity leave begin no later than 29 January. Mac was looking forward to sitting at home just waiting for the babies to be born about as much as she was looking forward to having a root canal. The only thing so far that made the idea bearable was that she would have various family members around to help keep her from going crazy.
"Darling, sounds like your children already have their father's sense of timing," Trish commented, knocking on Mac's open office door. Mac looked up and smiled broadly at her in-laws.
"I'd definitely have to agree with that and I hope to do something about it once they're born. Mom, Frank, it's good to see you," she greeted them, pushing herself out of her chair by using her hands on her desk as leverage. "How was your flight?"
"It was pretty good," Trish replied, hugging Mac. "We ran into some bad weather over the center of the country. How are you doing or need I ask?"
Mac sighed dramatically. "Exhausted, aching," she replied. "I never thought I'd ever say this, but I wish I would give birth early. My back aches all the time, I feel like I weigh as much as an elephant and these babies are so active that I never seem to be able to get any sleep anymore."
"Well, as much as I wish I could say that I understand completely," Trish said, "I've never had twins. I know you're probably sick of hearing this, but they will get here eventually. Once they are, you'll find that all the aches and pains were worthwhile."
"I hope so," she said. She walked around the desk to hug Frank. "How are you doing, Frank?"
"I'm doing good," he replied simply. As a man, he thought it was better if he didn't try to commiserate about how she was feeling during the last days of her pregnancy.
"I'm sorry," Mac said, indicating Tiner. "Both of you remember Jason Tiner, don't you? Jason, you remember Harm's parents, Trish and Frank Burnett?"
"Yes, we do," Trish said, "although he was still a Petty Officer the last time when we saw you at the wedding. Harm and Mac said you have been at OCS. Congratulations on your commission."
"Thank you, Mrs. Burnett," Tiner replied. "Mr. Burnett, it's good to see you again. Colonel, if you don't need anything else, I'll go check on the Commander in court."
"Thank you, Jason," she said, dismissing him. "Would you guys like to take a walk around with me? I'm supposed to get up and walk around at least once every couple hours and I'm a little overdue."
"Sure," Trish agreed for all of them. "Do you just walk around the halls?"
"In weather like this, yes," Mac replied, referring to the light snow that was currently falling, adding to the four inches already on the ground. "Have you guys had anything to eat yet? We could go down to the cafeteria and pick something up."
They all picked up something to eat and took their food back to Mac's office, eating while Mac and Sergei caught Trish and Frank up on everything that had been going on since their visit at Christmas.
"So, are your friends planning a baby shower or have you already had one?" Trish asked.
"Baby shower?" Sergei asked. He had never heard the term before.
"It's a party usually held near the end of a pregnancy where the mother's friends will bring gifts for the new baby," Mac explained to him. "And to answer your question, Carolyn and Harriet have organized one to be held Sunday afternoon. It's going to be coed."
"Good, I was hoping that we wouldn't have missed it," Trish said. "You can count on Frank and I being there."
"Good," Mac said. "What about you Sergei? Can you be home for the party on Sunday?"
"Why would I not attend a party for my niece and nephew?" Sergei countered, confused.
"Because some *men* have the idea that baby showers are for women only," Mac replied, a hint of anger in her voice.
Trish, Frank and Sergei all exchanged looks, having the feeling that she was talking about one man in particular. Trish decided that it was probably best to change the subject. "What about your family? How are they doing?"
"Mom is doing good," Mac replied. "She likes the apartment we helped her find and she's been keeping busy with crafts, making a lot of things for the babies." Deanne had decided after Harm and Mac had returned from their honeymoon to stay in the DC area so that she could rebuild her relationship with her daughter and build a new one with her grandchildren. Since she was living on disability income, it was no problem for her to pack up and move across the country. "Uncle Matt's parole hearing is on Wednesday, so he should be here by Thursday or Friday depending on paperwork. Bud had been helping Harm with the prep work for the hearing, just in case Harm can't leave DC."
"That's good to hear," Frank said. "I'm sure you don't want to hear this from the perspective of the pregnancy lasting any longer, but your uncle is probably hoping that he'll get here before the babies are born."
"Yes, he is," Mac admitted. "I do have to admit that it would be nice if he can be here although that means holding out another week."
"What about you, Sergei?" Trish asked. "How are your classes and ROTC going?"
"It is good," he replied. "The ROTC is not as hard as my training in the Russian Army. Some of my classes are more difficult than others, but I have some friends at school who are helping in exchange for Russian language and history lessons. Many people are fascinated that I come from Russia."
"I imagine meeting someone from a former communist country would be fascinating," Trish commented. "And the car is working out for you?"
"Yes, it has been good to have a car," Sergei replied. "Thank you." Once he had gotten his US driver's license, Harm and Mac had discovered the problems of three people trying to share two cars, especially once winter arrived and made driving the Corvette problematic at times. Trish and Frank had solved the problem by getting Sergei a Jeep for Christmas. Although embarrassed at first by what he had thought to be an extravagant gift, they had insisted. Now, Frank got a delight out of teasing Harm and Mac that at least one member of the family drove a car made by Chrysler.
"Mom, Frank," Harm said as he entered Mac's crowded office. "Jason said you guys had gotten here."
"How are you?" Trish asked, standing to hug her son.
"I'm good," he replied, although Trish thought he looked a little tired. He probably wasn't getting much more sleep than Mac was. "How was your flight?"
"A little bumpy in the middle and long," Frank replied, "but we're glad to be here."
"Have you guys been home yet?" Harm asked.
Trish knew where this was going. They'd had almost the same discussion at Christmas. "Harm, we're staying at the Doubletree in Arlington," she told him. "You're going to have even more people around than you did at Christmas. You've got three bedrooms besides the master - the nursery takes up a room and your brother is occupying a room. You've only got one more bedroom and aside from us, you've got Mac's uncle and your grandmother coming for the birth. We can't all stay at your house."
"Mom, we have room," Mac insisted. "Uncle Matt has already said that he's going to stay with my mother once he's released. And Sergei has offered to sleep downstairs in the spare room in the basement and let Gram have his room. That leaves one spare bedroom that you two can use."
"We don't want Sergei to be put out either," Frank insisted, but Sergei shook his head.
"It was my idea," he said. "You should not come to visit and stay in a hotel."
Frank and Trish looked at each other and shrugged. "Okay, we'd be happy to stay at the house," Trish conceded.
SATURDAY, 27 JANUARY
Harm sifted through the hardware that came with the crib, looking for two tiny screws called for in the instructions. He was ready to throw his hands up in frustration when he heard his brother's voice from the doorway.
"You know how to fix furniture, big brother?" Sergei asked teasingly.
Harm almost smiled at the question, which echoed one he had been asked in Russia several months ago. He sighed as he replied, only half joking, "Let's hope so or these kids will be sleeping on the floor."
Sergei sat on the floor next to Harm and looked at the instructions and then at the pieces scattered over the floor. "You need some help, Harm?" he asked.
Harm nodded gratefully. "Right now, I'm looking for these screws," he said, pointing to the instructions. It only took a moment before Sergei held up the pieces in question.
"Guess I needed another pair of eyes," Harm commented as he took the screws. Picking up the two pieces he needed to fasten together, he positioned them then motioned to Sergei to hold them in place while he put in the screws.
With Sergei's help, the work went a lot faster and it wasn't long before they had one crib completely assembled. As they moved the crib into position along the wall Mac had designated earlier, Frank appeared in the doorway.
"I can't believe that you're just now getting around to putting the cribs together," Frank commented. "I would have thought that with the possibility of the twins arriving early you would have had the nursery finished already."
Harm shrugged as he stepped back to survey the placement of the crib. "There always seemed to be something going on," he explained. "One weekend I had to go out to the Sea Hawk, another weekend the new Congress had been seated and I had to meet with the new members of the Armed Services Committee."
"And he is having trouble putting the cribs together," Sergei teased, causing Harm to pull him into a headlock.
Frank watched the teasing, playful attitude between the brothers with amusement, reflecting on how relaxed and at ease Harm seemed to be. There had been so many changes in his life recently but they all appeared to be changes for the better. After watching them tussle for a few minutes, Frank cleared his throat and asked, "Could you use some help putting the second crib together?"
Harm and Sergei quickly pulled apart as if embarrassed to be caught goofing off. Harm shrugged sheepishly and replied, "Sure."
The three men working together, it took even less time to get the second crib assembled. Once the were finished and the crib moved to its place beside the first crib, Harm stepped back and looked at the cribs, a faraway look in his eyes.
"You okay?" Frank asked. Both he and Sergei looked at Harm with concern.
Harm shook his head as if to clear it and replied, "Yeah. I was just thinking about the babies. Now that they're almost here there's a lot of things to think about. I'm just wondering ... "
"What kind of father you're going to make?" Frank concluded.
Harm nodded. "I imagine it would be hard enough learning to deal with just one baby," he continued, "and we're getting two."
"Harm, let me tell you something," Frank suggested. "Now, obviously, I don't have any experience with babies since your mother and I decided not to have any of our own, but children in general do not come with instruction manuals. All that you can ever do is to do the best you possibly can and deal with any mistakes you make as best you can."
"It couldn't have been easy," Harm pointed out, "dealing with a resentful thirteen year old who wanted nothing to do with you."
Frank shrugged while Sergei watched them curiously. He hadn't seen or heard anything since he'd been in Washington to indicate that Harm and Frank's relationship had ever been anything less than warm.
"I knew what I was getting into when I married Trish," he pointed out. "All I ever wanted or tried to do was to be there for you, to be a friend if you needed one. Although I admit that it did hurt sometimes that I never could seem to do the right thing as far as you were concerned, I never thought of or loved you any less because of it. I understood that the circumstances made things difficult but I couldn't hold that against you."
"I'm sorry for that," Harm told him. "As I've said before, I was so wrapped up in the idea that my father was alive and maybe could come home that I didn't give you a chance. But I've realized some things, especially since Russia."
"You mean, because you found out our father had another family," Sergei realized.
"Exactly," Harm replied. "He moved on with his life. At that time he'd been a prisoner in the Soviet Union for eleven years and had no hope of ever returning home. But he found someone to love and he had another son. That doesn't mean that he loved Mom or me any less. But at least we can say that his last days were happy ones.
"Mom thought he was dead, so why shouldn't she move on with her life?" he continued. "Looking back, I realize that it wasn't fair to expect her to live her life in limbo waiting for someone who was never going to come home. She deserved to move on with her life and find happiness. It doesn't mean that she loved my father any less."
"I think that you're going to make an excellent father," Frank concluded.
"What makes you say that?"
"Because one of the most important things you learn in being a parent," he explained, "is how important it is to consider other people's feelings and what they need - in this case, your children. And... "
"I'm not as selfish as I used to be," Harm added quietly.
"I wasn't going to put it quite like that," Frank said with a smile.
"No, but I am saying that," Harm countered. "It was has always been about what I wanted or what I had to have. I never thought about what Mom wanted or what was best for her and I never cared about what you wanted and I've learned how wrong I was."
"Harm, I never thought that what you felt was wrong," Frank pointed out.
"I know that," Harm said. "And that's why you have been such a good father to me, even when I didn't deserve it. But you know what? Despite what I may have thought about our family situation in the past, I'm pretty lucky."
"How is that?" Sergei asked, the first time he had spoken in several minutes.
Harm smiled at Frank and Sergei. "Mom found a good man who makes her happy and not only did she get a great husband, I got a second father who had a lot to do with raising me into the man I am today," he explained. "Dad found a good woman to make him happy during the final two years of his life and I got a kid brother out of the deal."
"Thank you for that," Frank said, his eyes moist.
"No, I should be the one thanking you and apologizing for making you put up with me, Dad," Harm countered quietly. He made the statement so matter-of-factly that it took a moment before what Harm had said registered with Frank.
Frank turned and looked at Harm, stunned. Despite the fact that their relationship had been better in the last year than it ever had been, it still surprised Frank that Harm seemed to have completely and openly accepted him after nearly twenty-five years.
Harm shrugged at Frank's expression. "It's about time, don't you think?" he asked. "For most of my life, you've been the only father I've known."
"I don't know what to say ... I'm honored," Frank said. "As I've told you before, you're the only son I've ever had."
Sergei watched the interaction between Harm and Frank with interest. Harm noticed and asked, "What?"
"Do you realize how lucky you are?" Sergei asked. "I was less than two years old when our father died and just over two when my uncle died. For years, it was just my mother and me. I have wondered what it would be like to have a father."
Harm smiled. "It's scary how smart this kid is," he teased.
Frank laughed. "I think we all wish we could have been that smart at the age of nineteen," he remarked. Harm and Sergei both laughed.
SUNDAY, 28 JANUARY
"Okay, how do we do this?" Mac asked with a laugh. "Is there anyone whose present just has to be opened first or can we just start taking them off the top of the pile?" When no one answered, she added, "I guess that means I just start opening presents here. Harm, hand me one of those packages."
Harm handed her a shirt box off the top of the pile of present on the coffee table. Mac tore open the card, Harm reading it over her shoulder. "It's from Alfred Aldridge on the Patrick Henry," he announced. After Christmas, Alfred's time with JAG headquarters had ended when the Patrick Henry had gone back out on deployment. Mac carefully unwrapped the box and pulled out two infant t-shirts with the Patrick Henry logo on the front.
"Very appropriate since Daddy used to serve on the Patrick Henry," Mac said, smiling as she held up one of the t-shirts for everyone to see. Setting the shirt back in the box, she handed the box and card to Trish, who was writing down who gave them what, while Deanne was taking care of disposing of the wrapping paper. Harm handed Mac another box.
"This one's from Meg Austin," she said, reading the card. She added for the benefit of those who had never met Meg, "She's Harm's old JAG partner from years ago."
Opening the box, she squealed with delight when she saw Meg's gifts. "These are so cute," she exclaimed, tilting the box in Harm's direction so he could see. Meg's gift was also a pair of t-shirts, these ones Marine red with white lettering 'Don't mess with me, my mom's a Marine'.
"I guess our kids should have some Marine stuff," Harm said, shrugging as Mac showed one of the shirts around.
"Squid, if I were you, I'd remember that in our house right now, Navy is outnumbered two to one by Marines," Mac teased as he handed her the next box, this one rather large. As she opened the card, she looked at Sergei, who was standing on the other side of the room videotaping the shower, questioningly.
"That was in the box I received in the mail Thursday," Sergei said in response to her unasked question.
Mac read the card then told everyone, "This is from Sergei's mother in Russia." She lifted the lid off the box and gasped as she lifted out two baby quilts. "These are gorgeous," she exclaimed as she unfolded the first quilt. White in color, appliquéd on the quilt were scenes from a Russian folk tale 'The Snow Maiden'. The other quilt, brown in color, was similarly appliquéd with scenes from 'Peter and the Wolf'. "Your mother made these for us?"
"Yes," Sergei replied. "In the letter she wrote me, she said that she remembered you from when you were in Siberia. She said my brother was very lucky to have such a beautiful and strong woman. She wanted to make something for the babies because you are my family."
"And she would have said this about Harm being lucky to have Mac after they were in Svischevo two years ago?" Clay mused from his place at the back of the room. Rumor was that AJ had threatened Clay to get him to attend the shower, although many suspected that it actually hadn't taken too much convincing, given his seldom mentioned - or admitted to - soft spot for both Harm and Mac.
Mac started shaking her head. "We're *not* starting that again, are we?" she asked as Harm rolled his eyes and groaned. There were grins and chuckles from almost everyone else in the room.
"I do not understand," Sergei said.
Trish looked up from studying one of the quilts and said, smiling, "Your mother is a very smart woman, Sergei, which is more than I can say for your brother and his wife at times, especially back then." She folded the quilt and handed it back to Mac. "Anyway, these are beautiful. Your mother does very beautiful work, Sergei."
Harm surreptitiously watched the interaction between his mother and brother, still amazed at how well they got along. When he had first faced telling his mother about Sergei, he had been afraid the news that his father had another family would reopen old wounds. He'd been very surprised when Trish had calmly accepted the news. When she'd finally met Sergei at Christmas and had welcomed him into the family with open arms, he had finally worked up the courage to ask her how she had been able to accept the news so easily.
"How can I condemn your father for finding someone else when I did the same thing myself?" Trish had replied when he'd finally brought up the subject. "At least I have the comfort of knowing that your father had some happiness before he died - a woman who loved him, another son. Even if I did have a hard time dealing with it, I can't condemn Sergei for that. He's the innocent one in this entire situation."
"Harm?" Mac asked softly when she noted how distant he seemed. When he didn't acknowledge her, she gently shook his shoulder.
He finally turned and looked at her. "What?" he whispered.
"You okay?" she asked, concern evident in her eyes.
"Yeah," he replied. Louder, he added, grabbing another present and handing it to her, "Time for the next gift."
Mac studied him as she took the large box, resolving to mention it later in private. Opening the card, she told everyone, "This is from Chloe. She's on a school trip this weekend, so she couldn't come down for the party." Opening the box, she pulled out two teddy bears, one wearing a Navy flight suit and one wearing Marine cammies.
"Those are so cute," Jackie proclaimed. "Do they come in other uniforms?"
Harriet answered, "I've seen them in uniforms for all four services and for different specialties - drill sergeant, paratrooper, pilot ... Mac, are you okay?"
Mac was leaning forward slightly, a hand pressed to her side. The eyes of everyone in the room were on Mac as Harm put his arm around her and was ready to help her off the couch, but Mac pushed his arm away and straightened up. "I'm fine," she insisted. "It was just one of those Braxton-Hicks contractions."
"Are you sure?" Harm asked, concerned. "We can head to Bethesda ... "
"I said I'm fine," Mac snapped. "I've been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for three weeks now. I think I know what they feel like."
Harm was about to say something when he saw Trish out of the corner of his eye shaking her head. Forcing a smile, he picked up another gift and handed it to Mac.
Harm entered the bedroom to find Mac already in bed lying on her side, the covers pulled up under her chin. He disappeared into the bathroom, returning a few minutes later dressed only in his boxers. He climbed into bed and scooted over so that he was lying right behind her, her back against his chest. Harm draped an arm over her, his hand resting on her stomach. When he leaned over her to kiss her cheek, he was surprised to find it wet with tears.
"Hey, what is it?" he asked, brushing the tears from her cheek with his thumb.
"I'm horrible," she whispered.
"Why? Because you snapped at me earlier?" he asked. "I think everyone understands that you're feeling a little out of sorts at times these days. At your last appointment, Dr. Calder said that the babies look like they're about six pounds each now, right?"
"Yeah," Mac replied. "So?"
"So that's twelve pounds worth of baby," he pointed out. "I would think that would be enough to make anyone feel tired and out of sorts. And if you take it out on me from time to time, well, I've had worse things said."
"I can't believe you're being so nice," she said.
"I love you, Sarah," he countered, "even when you're snapping at me. After all, I'm the reason you're in this position in the first place, right?" When she didn't say anything, he added, "Come on, that was funny."
Mac slowly rolled over so that she was facing him and Harm could see that she was smiling just a little. "Better," he declared, causing her to smile even more. He rolled onto his back and Mac slid closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder while Harm rested one hand on her belly as they both tried to drift off to sleep.
WEDNESDAY, 14 FEBRUARY
Harm was in the walk-in closet buttoning up his uniform shirt when Mac came in on her way to the bathroom. "Still can't sleep?" he asked. She had been restless all night long, even waking him up several times, although he had tried to remain as still as possible so that she wouldn't get upset that she was causing him to lose sleep.
"Babies are restless," she replied. "I just ... "
"I know," he interrupted. "You wish the babies would get here."
Mac leaned back against the wall and said, "You know, every time someone tells me that I look about ready to deliver or that it will be any day now or that twins almost never go to term, I just want to shake them."
"I know," he reminded her, "I saw how you reacted to Dr. Calder, remember?" At her last appointment two days earlier, when Dr. Calder had said that she should deliver any time now, Mac had snapped that she'd been hearing that for nearly a month and that she still wasn't any closer to delivering than she had been then. Fortunately, Dr. Calder had been an obstetrician long enough to have seen pregnant women go through many different emotional states, especially as they got close to the time to deliver.
"So what's going on at JAG today?" she asked, changing the subject. She dwelled enough on her never-ending pregnancy without talking about it all the time.
"Not much," he replied, pulling on his uniform jacket. "I've mostly got some paperwork that I need to get caught up on before I go on leave, especially since I've been acting as Chief of Staff the last couple of weeks."
"So if you've been taking my place since I've been on leave," she mused, "who takes your place once you go on leave?"
"The Admiral hasn't said anything to me," he replied, "but I would think it would either be Imes or Mattoni. So are you going back to bed?"
"Would it do any good?" she mused. At his look, she sighed and said, "Eventually. My back is bothering me, so I thought I would take a bath, see if it would relax me."
Harm held out his arms and she stepped into them, resting her head against his chest. "I'd give you a back rub if I didn't have to go to work. You going to be okay?"
Mac pulled back a little to look up at him. "Harm, it's not like I'm going to be alone here," she reminded him. "Your grandmother's here, Sergei only has one class today so he'll probably be home most of the day and except for going out for brunch for Valentine's Day, your parents will be home most of the day, too. I'll be fine."
"Okay," he said, "but if you need anything, I've got my pager and cell phone ... "
"We go through this every day," she reminded him, laughing. "Harm, don't worry. If I do go into labor, you'll be the first to know."
Harm was about to respond when he felt one of the babies kick. Laughing, he put his hand on her stomach and said teasingly, "Hey, kids, how about putting your mom out of her misery soon? We're both pretty anxious to see you guys."
Mac smiled. Sometimes both of them would talk to the babies or Harm would get out his guitar and sing for them. It touched her to watch Harm act like that; Mac thought it showed just how wonderful a father he was going to be. She joked, "I'm going to have to work on them once they're born. They seem to have your sense of timing."
Harm kissed her. "Okay, I think on that note I'll head to work," he said, grinning. "Try to get some more sleep and let me know if you need anything."
Mac slowly pushed herself onto her other side, trying to get as comfortable as possible, despite her aching back, so that she could try and get some more sleep. She couldn't remember the last time when she had slept for more than a couple of hours at a time before waking up for one reason or another. Ever since her bath, all she'd been doing was sleeping in snatches and trying to get comfortable. Why the hell can't men go through this? she wondered as she closed her eyes, trying to force herself to fall back asleep.
After lying there for about ten minutes, she gave up and pushed the covers back. Taking a moment to gather her strength, she pushed herself out of bed and slowly headed towards the closet. Pulling on a pair of sweats, she decided to go downstairs for a while. Frank and Trish would be at their brunch date and Sergei would be at school, but she could spend some time with Harm's grandmother. Maybe she could also give her mother a call and ask her to come over.
Slowly making her way down the stairs, Mac was surprised to find Sarah and Sergei in the living room looking through a photo album together. "I thought you had a class this morning," she said as she slowly sank into an armchair.
"Class was cancelled," Sergei replied, confusion evident in his voice, "because of the weather."
"It's snowing?" Mac asked. "I haven't even looked outside today."
"Actually, the news says it's the beginning of a pretty strong Nor'easter according to the weather on TV," Sarah explained. She went over to the window and pulled back the curtain so that Mac could see the snow blowing outside.
"It is coming down pretty good," Mac commented. "Maybe I should call JAG and see what's going on there. The Admiral may secure for the day."
"I do not understand," Sergei said. "Why are school and work closed when it snows?"
"Because this isn't Siberia," Mac replied. "Around here, we don't get snow storms like this very often and when we do, the streets are a mess. I'd bet there's probably already been twenty accidents on the Beltway."
"Sergei, the problem with some American drivers is that they drive the same, no matter what the weather is like," Sarah added. "A lot of people don't have the sense to slow down when there's rain, snow or ice on the roads."
"I think ... " Sergei began, trailing off when the lights flickered for a moment then went out.
"Mac, honey, do you have some candles?" Sarah asked.
"They're in the kitchen," Mac replied, starting to get up. Sarah waved her back down.
"Just tell me where they are," she insisted. "I can get them. Sergei, why don't you bring some firewood in? With the heat off, it's going to get cold in here very quickly."
While Sergei was out bringing in firewood and Sarah was getting the candles, Mac picked up the phone, then remembered that a cordless phone would not work with the power off. She went into the office and brought the phone from there into the living room. The new phone connected to the phone line, she now got a dial tone. She dialed Harm's office number and was surprised when Gunny answered.
"Gunny, it's Colonel Rabb," Mac said. "I was looking for the Commander."
"The Admiral secured for the day," he informed her. "Commander Rabb left about ten minutes ago with the Admiral."
The news didn't surprise Mac. "Thanks, Gunny," she said. "You have a safe drive home." She hung up the phone as Sarah came back into the living room with an armful of candles.
"Did you just try to call Harm?" Sarah asked as she set the candles up around the living room.
"Yes, but he left JAG about ten minutes ago according to Gunny," Mac replied. "The Admiral secured for the day because of the weather. It usually takes about twenty minutes to get here from JAG, so I'd guess it'll take at least forty minutes, maybe more, today the way that snow is coming down."
"At least you know he's on his way," Sarah said, lighting the candles. "I hope Frank and Trish decide to cut their brunch short and get back here. Being from Southern California, they are definitely not used to this weather."
"Here is the firewood," Sergei said, entering with an armload of firewood, setting it in the basket next to the fireplace. "Do you want a fire upstairs?"
"Yeah, we probably should start one up there, too," Mac replied, crossing her arms and rubbing them. "There's no telling how long the power will be out and it's already getting cold in here."
"I will get more firewood," he said, heading towards the back door again while Sarah began stacking the wood in the fireplace.
Mac pushed herself out of her chair and said, "I'm going to put another layer of clothes on and get some blankets to use until it warms up in here. Do you want anything from upstairs, Gram?"
"A blanket would be nice, dear," Sarah replied.
"Okay, I'll be back down in a few minutes," Mac said. She headed upstairs, pausing on the landing halfway up when she felt a pain in her back. After a few seconds, the pain was gone and she continued up the stairs. But as soon as she reached the top of the stairs, she doubled over in extreme pain, crying out as the first contraction hit and her water broke, clutching the railing as she fell to her knees.
"All right, kids, when your father suggested putting me out of my misery by hurrying up and getting here, I don't think he meant arriving in the middle of a Nor'easter," she said aloud between gasps for breath. She leaned her head back against the wall and tried to focus on her Lamaze breathing while she waited for the contraction to pass.
Sergei was heading up the stairs with the wood for the fireplace in the master bedroom when he saw Mac collapsed at the top of the stairs. Dropping the wood on the floor, he fell to his knees next to her. "Mac, the babies are coming?" he asked.
Mac nodded as she continued breathing through the contraction, exhaling a long breath as the pain eased. She looked up at him and said, "This is definitely it. My water broke and that was no Braxton-Hicks contraction."
"I will help you to your room?" Sergei asked, putting his arm around her to help her up.
"No, let's go downstairs," Mac replied. "We need to figure out how to get to the hospital."
Sergei helped her back down the stairs and into the living room, calling for his grandmother. Sarah, who had gone to bring Jingo in from outside, came racing into the room as Sergei helped Mac onto the couch. She took one look and understood immediately what was going on.
"I'll call an ambulance," Sarah said. "I don't think we should even attempt to drive to the hospital ourselves in this weather." She picked up the phone and dialed 911.
"Yes, we need an ambulance," Sarah said once the operator came on the line, giving the address. "My granddaughter-in-law is in labor."
She listened for a minute, then said firmly, "Look, she's having twins. We need that ambulance as soon as possible." She was silent for another moment, then said, "Yes, that would be appreciated. Thank you."
As she hung up the phone, she looked at Mac sympathetically. "An ambulance will be sent," she said, "but there's no telling when it will arrive. All the ambulances are tied up right now with accidents and other emergencies so they're prioritizing other calls. Since you're not in a life-threatening situation, you'll have to wait. In the meantime, do you need anything?"
"Well, those blankets that I was going to get would be nice," Mac replied. "I'm still a little cold."
"Okay," Sarah said, patting Mac's shoulder. "I'll be right back. Sergei, you want to come help me?"
Sergei nodded and followed his grandmother upstairs. Once they were out of Mac's hearing, Sarah said, "I didn't want to worry Mac by telling her this, but I don't think an ambulance will get here, not in this weather. We may have to deliver the babies ourselves."
Sergei paled slightly, but didn't argue with her conclusion. "Have you delivered babies before, Gram?" he asked.
"Well, your father was born at home," she replied as she grabbed several blankets from the hall closet and handed them to Sergei. "Back then, a lot of babies were born at home. Of course, that was also over sixty years ago. It's been a long time since I was around babies being born. We just have to hope there are no complications."
"Complications?" Sergei echoed nervously.
"There is always the possibility of complications when giving birth," Sarah explained calmly, "even more so when there is more than one baby. We just need to stay calm. If complications arise, we'll deal with them when they do. There is a good possibility that everything will be just fine."
They went back downstairs with the blankets, finding Mac in the middle of another contraction. Sarah glanced at her watch, estimating the time since the previous contraction. As the contraction ended, Mac looked up at Sarah and answered her unasked question, "Just under four minutes between contractions."
Sarah handed her a blanket and said, "It could still be hours yet. That will give the ambulance time to get here."
"But it may not get here because of the weather," Mac concluded.
Sarah reluctantly nodded. Since Mac had brought the possibility up, Sarah didn't want to lie to her. "We just need to have faith that everything will work out fine," she said encouragingly.
Mac smiled and said, "I could really use Harm and the Admiral here right now."
"I can understand wanting your husband here," Sarah said, slightly confused, "but what can the Admiral do?"
Mac laughed at the memories. "Let's just say that for a lawyer, the Admiral makes a very good midwife," she said. "The Admiral delivered Bud and Harriet's first child on the floor of his office. Wait a minute. You know, I didn't even think of Sydney." She picked up the phone and dialed the Admiral's home number.
After three rings, the answering machine picked up. "Sydney, it's Mac," she said. "If you come home early from work, could you come over to my house? I went into labor and we called for an ambulance, which may or may not get here in time in this weather."
She hung up the phone and looked at Sarah and Sergei. "Hopefully, she'll make it home and can get over here," Mac said. "With twins, I would feel better at least having a doctor present."
She picked up the phone again and dialed another number. "I'm trying Harm's cell phone," she explained. After a moment, she hung up. "I was getting a 'no service' message. It's possible the storm is causing interference."
"Do you want to go upstairs and lie down?" Sarah asked. "It may be several hours, so you could try to get some rest while you can."
Mac considered for a moment, then nodded. "Will you guys come upstairs and keep me company?" she asked. "We could tell stories or something."
"Of course," Sarah replied. "Earlier, Sergei and I were going through one of my old photo albums and I was telling him stories about his father." She paused, noticing Mac tense with another contraction. She sat down next to Mac and rubbed her back soothingly while Mac breathed through the pain. Once Mac relaxed, Sarah and Sergei helped her get to her feet.
"Sergei, grab some of those candles," Sarah instructed, picking up the photo album that she and Sergei had been looking at earlier and handing it to Mac. "Here, carry this upstairs and I'll grab some more candles."
"The fire!" Sergei exclaimed. "I did not light the fire upstairs." He quickly took off upstairs to pick up the wood he had dropped earlier and to get the fire started in the master bedroom.
Mac looked at Sarah and shrugged. "He was carrying the firewood upstairs when he found me at the top of the stairs when my labor started. He just dropped the wood on the floor and forgot about it," she explained.
Sarah laughed. "You know, if Harm was home he would have done the same thing," she pointed out.
"It must be genetic," Mac added.
"You know, neither of them really knew their father all that long," Sarah pointed out, "but both of them are so much like him. Watching them is like getting to see my son again." She brushed a tear from her cheek and smiled. "You don't need to listen to an old woman ramble on. The phone upstairs, is it cordless?"
"Yes, it is," Mac replied, unplugging the phone she had earlier gotten out of the office. "I'll take this one upstairs with us."
Sarah and Mac went upstairs to find Sergei already had a good fire going in the fireplace. Mac climbed into bed and pulled the covers up around her, shivering slightly in the still chilly air. "Mac, do you want another blanket?" Sarah asked.
"That would be nice," she replied. Just after Sarah left to get another blanket, the phone rang.
"Hello?" Mac said into the phone.
"Sarah, it's Mom," Deanne said. "I wanted to check in and see how you're doing in this storm."
"Power went out about half an hour ago," Mac replied. "Sergei's here because his class got cancelled and he has lit a fire in both fireplaces. Harm's grandmother is getting some blankets for us to bundle up in until it warms up in here."
"What about Harm?" Deanne asked. "Have you spoken to him?"
"I tried calling JAG, but he had left about ten minutes earlier," Mac told her. "The storm looks like it's getting worse, so there's no telling how long it will take him to get here. Trish and Frank aren't here either. They had gone out for brunch for Valentine's Day."
"Sarah, are you okay?" Deanne asked. "I don't know, you just sound a little funny."
Mac took a deep breath and replied quietly, "Mom, my water broke just after the power went out."
"Oh my, baby," Deanne exclaimed. "Can you get to the hospital?"
"We decided not to risk trying to drive on our own, so Gram called for an ambulance," she explained, forcing herself to sound normal as another contraction hit. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sergei watching her with concern. "We don't know when it will get here. There's apparently a lot of accidents so those take priority."
"I'll see if Matt can drive me over there," Deanne suggested. "I think ... "
"Mom, don't even risk it," Mac insisted. "I don't want you and Uncle Matt to go out and get into an accident trying to get here. The best thing you can do is sit at home and pray that everything goes well."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Mom," Mac said firmly. "Look, I'll have Gram or Sergei call you when anything happens. Just stay at home, try to stay warm and think good thoughts."
"You're right," Deanne said. "You've got enough to worry about without worrying about Matt and I being out on the roads. I love you, honey."
"I know, Mom and thanks," Mac said, hanging up the phone.
Sarah came back into the room with a stack of blankets in time to hear the tail end of Mac's conversation with her mother. "She wanted to try and come over here?" she asked.
Mac nodded. "She suggested that Uncle Matt try to drive her over here. I told her to stay put and that we would call her when ... " she trailed off.
"Honey, relax and try to think good thoughts yourself," Sarah said, taking Mac's hands in hers. "I know this is a little scary. Hell, I'd expect you to be scared even if you were sitting in a hospital room right now with a full team of doctors around. All we can do is believe that everything will be okay. After all, women used to give birth at home all the time."
"I just wish Harm was here," Mac said quietly.
Mac's eyes fluttered open and she was surprised that a check of her internal clock showed that she'd slept for nearly two hours despite being in labor. A quick glance around the room showed lit candles scattered around the room, so she surmised that the power must still be out.
She pushed herself up into a sitting position and noted that she was alone in the room. She started to get out of bed, but stopped when another contraction hit, this one the strongest yet.
As she struggled to breathe through the pain, Harm entered the room and raced to her side, pulling her into his arms and comforting her. Gasping for breath as the contraction ended, Mac look up at him and smiled. "When did you get home?" she asked.
"About an hour ago," he replied, his hand moving over her back in small circles. "You had fallen asleep, so we didn't want to disturb you. How do you feel?"
"Better now that you're here," she said, resting her head against his chest. "What's the weather like outside?"
"Getting worse, if anything," he replied. "The snow is falling faster than it can be plowed off the streets. Mom and Dad did call and said they're getting a room at a hotel near the restaurant they were at."
"Good, I don't want them to take any unnecessary risks trying to get back here," Mac said, pulling out of his arms and lying back against her pillows. "What about the Admiral? Is he here?"
"Yes, and so is Sydney," Harm told her. "She got home, got your message and came over here just before the Admiral and I arrived. Do you ... Sarah, what is it? Another contraction?"
Mutely, Mac nodded, gripping his hand tightly. Harm glanced at his watch and calculated that the contractions were now just over two minutes apart. He looked up to see Sydney standing in the doorway.
"How are we doing in here?" Sydney asked.
"Her contractions are just over two minutes apart," Harm replied. He breathed a sigh of relief when Mac relaxed as the contraction ended. "How much longer do you think it will be?"
"That's hard to say," Sydney replied, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Could be within the next hour or two, could be a lot longer than that. Harm, why don't you help Mac get changed into a nightgown and I'll examine her. Looking at how much she's dilated will give us an idea how long this will be."
Harm put an arm around Mac's waist and helped pull her to her feet, supporting her as they walked into the closet. He watched her carefully as she changed, ready to help if she needed it. But there was something in her expression that concerned him. "Sarah?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she insisted to his unasked question. Finished changing, she let him help her back out to the bed, where Sydney examined her.
"You're about eight or nine centimeters," Sydney announced.
"Close, but not quite," Mac said flatly.
"Mac, you are close," Sydney tried to reassure her. "Your contractions are just over two minutes apart and you're almost fully dilated. Try to relax as much as possible because I promise you won't have much opportunity in an hour or two. I'm going to go downstairs and have AJ and Sergei get some more wood for the fire."
As Sydney left the room, Harm followed and stopped her in the hall. "Sydney, is everything really okay?" he asked. "Sarah seems, I don't know, maybe a little worried or maybe anxious is a better word."
"Everything looks fine," Sydney insisted, realizing that he needed to be reassured as much as Mac did. "But this is her first delivery and we can't get her to the hospital, so she's bound to be a little anxious. The best you can do is to comfort her as much as possible. If she sees that you're calm, then that will help her tremendously."
Harm went back into the room as Mac was coming out of another contraction. He sat down on the edge of the bed and brushed a strand of hair off her forehead. "I won't ask how you're doing," he said.
"Good, 'cause I'd have to kick your six," Mac retorted. Harm grinned at her statement.
"That sounds like my kick-ass jarhead," he teased.
"Harm," she said hesitantly, taking his left hand in hers and twisting the wedding ring on his finger, "do you think everything's going to be okay?"
"Of course I do," he replied, perhaps a little stronger than he should have. Taking a deep breath, he continued in a more even tone of voice, "Harriet managed to give birth to AJ in the Admiral's office with no problems. At least you've got a doctor here. Anyway, you've been in worse situations - the Appalachians, Coster, the Watertown, the shooting."
"Will you lay down with me?" she asked, patting the space beside her. "I want you to hold me."
"Anytime," he promised, lying down beside her on his side. Mac rolled over onto her side and slid back so that she was pressed against his chest. Harm draped an arm over her and took one of her hands in his, squeezing it comfortingly.
"I hate to sound like a broken record," Mac ground out between pants as she breathed through another contraction, "but when is this going to be over?" Her contractions were so long and so close together that nearly as soon as one was over, the next one began.
"You're fully dilated now," Sydney reported, "but the first baby hasn't crowned yet."
"They'll be here soon," Harm tried to reassure her. "It's ... "
"Don't you dare tell me that it's going well and they'll be here soon," Mac retorted. "Why don't you try doing this next time?"
"I don't think that's possible," Harm said lightly. Mac just glared at him. "Just think about those beautiful babies that you'll be holding in your arms soon."
"Harm's right," Sydney agreed. "Soon your babies will be here and trust me as a mother when I say that nothing else will matter."
Mac nodded wearily as she leaned back against Harm's chest. She knew it had only been four hours since her water had broken, but it felt like she'd been in labor forever.
"I just want the babies to get here," Mac said softly.
"I know," Harm whispered, wrapping his arms around her. He pressed a kiss to her damp temple.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," Sydney said. "Give a shout if you need anything, okay?"
Mac and Harm nodded as Sydney left the room. Harm rose from the bed as well. "I'll be right back," he said, going into the bathroom. Mac heard water running and Harm returned a minute later with a wet washcloth.
Gently, he wiped her face. Mac smiled as she remembered a similar show of concern in the past. "Are you going to promise to get me out of this?" she asked lightly.
Harm remembered the same incident. "It's good that you can joke," he commented as he set the washcloth aside. "What if I promise never to put you in this situation again?"
She laughed, realizing that he was teasing her. "Okay, you know how hard it is to laugh when I'm supposed to be breathing?" she asked between gasps of breath. "Harm, if you ... get Sydney, now. I need to push."
"No, don't push," he insisted as he ran into the hall. "Sydney, we need you now!" he called down the stairs.
"Sarah, honey, don't push yet," he encouraged her as Sydney rushed into the room followed by AJ. Harm could see his grandmother and brother hovering in the hall just outside the room, anxiously awaiting news.
"Okay, the first baby is crowning," Sydney said. "Mac, on the next contraction, I want you to push as hard as you can. Harm, do you guys have a baby bath?"
When Harm nodded, Sydney turned to Sarah. "Mrs. Rabb, can you get it for us? We'll need to clean up both of the babies. We'll also need diapers and sleepers for each of them and some baby blankets."
Sarah nodded, heading for the nursery with Sergei in tow. Mac tensed as she felt another contraction beginning, pushing as Harm held her, whispering words of encouragement. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from crying out.
"You're doing good," Harm told her as the contraction ended as she relaxed against him. "It's almost over."
"Don't tell me it's almost over," Mac insisted wearily. "I've got to do this twice, remember?"
"This baby is almost here," Sydney pointed out. "Now give me another good push." As Mac pushed, the baby's head emerged and Sydney instantly realized there was a problem. "Stop pushing, Mac!" she cried out.
"Sydney, what's wrong?" Mac asked, terrified. Harm tried to look and see what Sydney was doing, but AJ shook his head. Every prayer he'd ever said in his life flashed through his mind as Mac gripped his hand tighter than she had during any of the contractions.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to Harm and Mac, Sydney breathed a sigh of relief and told Mac, "It's okay. You can push now."
As she pushed, a prayer that everything be okay kept repeating itself in her head. Relaxing as the contraction ended, she burst into tears when she heard the hearty cry of a baby. Sydney held up a screaming, red infant. "Mom, Dad, here's your daughter," she announced, tears in her eyes.
Harm remembered the look of wonder on Bud's face when he'd first laid eyes on baby AJ and he finally understood the feeling as he looked at his daughter for the first time. "She's beautiful," he whispered, brushing her tiny foot with a finger as Sydney tied off the cord.
"Dad, would you like to do the honors?" Sydney asked, holding out a pair of medical scissors. His hand shaking slightly, Harm took the scissors and cut the cord. Sydney wrapped the baby in a towel and handed her to Harm, who found himself uncharacteristically tongue tied as he held his daughter for the first time. Tears were falling freely as he showed her to Mac.
"Hello, Sarah Patricia Rabb," Mac whispered through her tears, pressing a kiss to her daughter's head.
"I hate to break up this family moment," Sydney said, "but Sarah's brother is still waiting to join us. Harm, why don't you give Sarah to your grandmother and let her give the baby a sponge bath?"
Harm motioned his grandmother and brother into the room, Sergei carrying the baby bath. Carefully, Harm placed Sarah in her great-grandmother's arms. "Gram, meet your namesake, Sarah Patricia Rabb," Harm said.
"Aren't you a beautiful one, Sarah?" she remarked quietly. "I do believe you're going to look like your mother."
"Then she'll definitely be beautiful," Harm declared. He looked at Sergei, who looked a little nervous. "Sergei, would you like to hold your niece?"
Sergei looked even more nervous when he set the bath down and Sarah placed the baby in his arms, gently instructing him on the proper way to hold her. After a moment, he visibly relaxed. "She is beautiful," he agreed. "I have not been around babies much before."
"You'll have plenty of time to be around babies now," Harm pointed out. He turned and looked at Mac as Sarah and Sergei took the baby into the bathroom. "Speaking of babies, how are you doing?"
"Your son seems to be in no great hurry to join his sister," Mac declared.
Harm quirked an eyebrow at her. "My son?" he echoed.
Mac smiled despite the pain of another contraction. "We've already established these kids have your sense of timing," she joked.
"There's no telling with twins how long it will be between babies," Sydney told them. "It could be a few minutes; it could be half an hour."
"Half an hour?!" Mac exclaimed, panting. "I didn't want to hear that."
"The baby's not crowning yet, so it will be some time," Sydney said.
"Sydney, what happened with Sarah?" Mac asked hesitantly. Despite the fact that Sarah was obviously fine, she had to know what had happened earlier.
Sydney hesitated, but a look at both Harm's and Mac's faces told her they were not going to let it go. "The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck," she replied. "When you pushed, it caused the cord to tighten, so I needed you to stop pushing while I loosened the cord."
"But she will be fine?" Harm asked.
"Yes," Sydney replied without hesitation. "It's not an everyday occurrence, but it's not unheard of for the cord to get wrapped around the baby."
"What about Matt?" Mac asked. "Will the same thing happen to him?"
"Probably not," Sydney replied. "Try not to worry. Everything is going well so far, the scare with the umbilical cord notwithstanding."
Almost half an hour later with the other baby still not born, Mac was just about convinced that it was some kind of male conspiracy to torment her. Harm couldn't even open his mouth at this point without her snapping at him, so he just kept his mouth shut. She had even snapped at AJ, who had been shocked at her uncharacteristic behavior. Sergei had disappeared before she could bite his head off too, ostensibly to get more wood for the fires.
"Mac, come on," Sydney tried to encourage her. "Your son's almost here."
"He's been almost here for half an hour," she retorted weakly. "When is he actually going to be here?"
"How does a few minutes sound?" Sydney asked. "The baby's crowning, so give me a good push on the next contraction."
"Come on, Sarah," Harm said. "Do you want to see our little boy?"
Mac nodded weakly even as she said, "I'm so tired now."
"I know," Sydney said. "You've worked hard already to give birth to one baby. We just need a little bit more and then you'll have your son." Encouragement from another woman who was also a mother was just what Mac needed to push.
"That's good, Mac," Sydney said encouragingly. "The baby's almost here. Just one more push and he should be here."
'Just one more', Mac repeated in her head. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on bringing her son into the world. She opened her eyes when she heard a baby cry and saw Sydney tying off her son's cord.
"How is he?" she asked.
"He's perfect," Harm declared as he cut the cord and took the baby into his arms. He placed the baby in Mac's arms and put his arm around her shoulder as they both looked down at their son.
"He is perfect," Mac agreed. She kissed the tiny hand wrapped around her finger. "Hello, Harmon Matthew Rabb."
"I love you, Sarah," Harm whispered as he rested his cheek against the top of her head. "Thank you for our beautiful children."
Mac smiled, more tears falling. "No, thank you for creating with me the family I've always wanted."
Harm raced down the hallway, looking for the flower shop. He finally found it at the end of the hall, but the lights were out and the door was being locked by a store employee.
"Excuse me, ma'am?" he asked. "Would it be possible to buy some flowers real quick before you leave?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but the flower shop closes at six," the clerk replied, "which was a few minutes ago."
"My wife was just brought in by ambulance," Harm explained, giving her his best flyboy grin. "She gave birth to twins at home a few hours ago and I wanted to get her some roses for Valentine's Day. The ones I had ordered for her a few days ago weren't delivered to our home because of the weather."
The clerk relented and unlocked the shop door. "I'd say a woman who just gave birth to twins definitely deserves flowers," she remarked as she flipped on the light, "especially on Valentine's Day."
"Thank you," Harm said gratefully. "I'd like two dozen roses."
The clerk got the roses out of the refrigerated case and arranged them in a vase. "What did she have?" she asked.
"Your wife, did she have boys or girls?" she asked.
"One of each," Harm replied. The clerk grabbed three balloons and inflated them, attaching them with ribbon to the vase. One was a red heart proclaiming 'Happy Valentine's Day' and the other two proclaimed 'It's a boy' and 'It's a girl'. "Free of charge," she explained. "I'm a sucker for romance."
Harm handed over his credit card to pay for the roses and a card to go with them. While the clerk ran his credit card, Harm wrote a short message in the card and sealed it in its envelope. "Thank you," he repeated. "I appreciate you letting me get these flowers."
"I hope your wife enjoys them," she remarked as she slid the credit card slip across the counter for him to sign.
"They're roses," he replied, "so I don't think I have to worry about whether or not she'll like them."
"Her favorite flower?"
"Yes but that's not the only reason she'll like them," Harm explained as he picked up the vase. "We met in a rose garden."
Mac turned on the television and started flipping through the channels. Harm had gone to admissions to fill out her paperwork and as soon as she had been settled in her room, the twins had been whisked away to be examined and their measurements taken.
Finding nothing on, she turned the television off and tossed the remote onto the bed. She was about to pick up the phone when Harm entered the room, carrying the vase of roses in front of him.
"Happy Valentine's Day," he proclaimed, setting the flowers on the nightstand and sitting down on the edge of the bed.
"Thank you," she said, her hands on either side of his face. "They're beautiful." She leaned forward and brushed her lips against his, wrapping her arms around his neck as she deepened the kiss.
"I love you," he whispered as they broke off the kiss. "We've come a long way from where we were a year ago."
Mac was puzzled for a moment, then she remembered. "Yeah, we have come a long way since Australia," she agreed.
"If someone had told me a year ago that you and I would finally be together and that we would be celebrating the birth of our son and daughter, I would have said they were crazy," he remarked.
"After the ferry, I would have thought the same thing," she said. "But we don't have to worry about any of that anymore, do we?"
Harm smiled and kissed her forehead, pulling away when he heard the door open. Dr. Calder walked in followed by two nurses bringing in the babies.
"Well, Mom, Dad," Dr. Calder said. "I think in my fifteen year medical career, these have got to be the healthiest twins I've seen. All those extra calories you consumed during your pregnancy really paid off. Sarah Patricia weighed in at six pounds four ounces and Harmon Matthew is six pounds seven."
"So they're fine? No ill effects from not being delivered in the hospital?" Mac asked.
"They're perfectly healthy," Dr. Calder reiterated. "In fact, there's no reason why all three of you can't go home on Friday just as if they'd been born here."
"Thank you," Mac said, tears forming as a nurse placed Sarah in her arms. She ran a finger over her daughter's features, marveling as tiny fingers wrapped around her finger.
"We'll just leave the four of you alone to get acquainted," Dr. Calder said. "I'll stop back in later to check on you."
Mac barely noticed when the doctor and nurses left, so enthralled in her babies was she. She looked over at Harm, who was holding Matt and looking down at him with a similar expression of awe and wonder. "I think he's going to look like his Daddy," she commented, watching Harm as he watched Matt wiggle in his arms.
"Does that mean he'll have Mommy wrapped around his little finger?" he teased.
"You're horrible," Mac proclaimed, laughing. "What, do you think you just flash that flyboy grin at me and I melt?"
"I know you do," he retorted confidently. He looked down at the baby in her arms. "She looks like you, so I know she'll have me wrapped around her finger."
"Yeah, but she's got your eyes," she pointed out. They both smiled as Sarah yawned, waving her little arms around.
"We did good here, didn't we?" Mac mused softly, her voice full of wonder.
"Yes, we did," Harm replied softly, tears in his eyes.
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