Lives Unlocked

Author: SMKLegacy

Rating: R
Category: Story, Romance

Disclaimer: If I owned the ensemble and the concept, I wouldn't be in debt. If I were making money from them, I would be in a lot less debt. If DPB and TPTB would like to sell them to me on an installment plan, show me where to sign. Until then, consider them borrowed with love and the story and any new characters mine.

Archive: On FanFiction.net and at Shannon's phenomenal site.

Feedback: Always, but please spare the flames. Life is tough enough without a hobby being stressful, too.

Author's Note and Spoilers: Sequel to the companion pieces "A Prisoner Set Free", "She Who Holds the Key", and "The Keymaster". Not related to my previous stories "With Prejudice" or "Lady Sarah". Anything is fair game up to season 8 through "Favorite Son"; set in alternating voices.


30 March 2003--Harm

She's here in my arms and she just told me she loves me. I don't give a damn that we're standing on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base or that if anyone saw us we could be in big trouble. My Marine--my Mac--my Sarah--just said, "Harmon Rabb, I love you."

I still can't breathe right after the kiss we just shared, and it's not because it was of record-setting length. No, this was simply the kiss of a lifetime. No mistletoe, no Diane haunting me, no Bugme waiting to marry her, just the pure, unadulterated love that has lain between us and surrounded us since the day we met in the Rose Garden. This was beyond desire, beyond passion; this kiss went right to my core and has left me shaken and lightheaded in the night.

Sarah is still playing with the hair on the nape of my neck; I think it's the most loving thing any woman has ever done to me. "Harm, take me home." Her sultry voice against my ear makes me exquisitely aware that, like my soul and my mind, my body has not been immune from the power of these past few minutes.

"I am home," I return, leaning in to kiss her again, to explore for real what I have imagined investigating every night for more than six years.

That's the crime of it and maybe all the others, Annie, Jordan, Bobbi, Renee, knew instinctively that already I belonged heart and soul to this magnificent woman in my arms. I should have set myself free that very first day, the first instant I saw Mac for who she is instead of as Diane's doppelganger.

I pour my apology for our six years of agony into this second kiss, praying for Sarah's forgiveness as our lips and tongues collide. I am home, indeed, and need nothing more than the shelter of Sarah's arms to be fulfilled.


30 March--Mac

"I am home," he says as his lips crash onto mine again. My Flyboy--my Sailor--my Harm, at home here in the circle of my embrace. I am overcome with joy and sorrow simultaneously, joy for the future that this night has given us, sorrow for all the heartbreak and pain that came before.

I give myself over to his ravaging kiss, allowing my conflicting emotions to surge through us both as we stand on the tarmac in the cold spring wind. Whatever physical addresses we might occupy during our life together will be houses, for I, too, am home and am fulfilled in the sanctuary of Harm's strong arms.


30 March--Harm

We finally break apart, just enough to breathe and to laugh a little, a sound of sheer happiness that echoes across the tarmac even above the hubbub of the loading crew that works in the cargo bay of the C-5 behind us. "Sarah, sweetheart, we really ought to take this someplace else," I say reluctantly. I don't want to leave the arms that hold me so lovingly, but I know that my time with her is limited as it is and it's a 2-hour drive to either of our apartments. If she thinks we're not sharing a bed tonight, she's got another thing coming--and I'll be just fine with simply sleeping with her spooned against me.

"Yeah, I suppose," she mumbles as she lays her head against my shoulder.

I can do this. I shift my Marine until she's wrapped securely in one arm, then bend my knees to lift her sea bag to my other shoulder. It's not easy, but I'm not letting go until I have to and so we make our way awkwardly to the parking lot beyond the hangar.

As we stand at the back of my Lexus loading her bag into the cargo area, Major Caldwell, the chaplain on duty, approaches, apparently headed home for the night. If he's the slightest bit fazed to see two senior officers almost necking in public, he doesn't show it.

"I see what you meant about having a nice night, sir," the flying minister says with a nod at the woman in my one-armed embrace. "Lt. Colonel, welcome home." He almost salutes, but recognizing that Mac is uncovered, simply comes to attention before her.

"Thank you, Major," my Sarah says, standing up straight. "What's this about a nice night?"

Caldwell's smile broadens as he relaxes; he's just realized that Mac is senior to me by the tone in her voice. How does she do that? "Just something Commander Rabb said as he waited for you to deplane, ma'am. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say he's pretty sure that you love him almost as much as he loves you."

He watched the whole thing, I realize. Before either Mac or I can say anything, he holds up both hands in a calming gesture. "Believe me, ma'am, sir, I'd rather watch reunions like yours, regardless of uniforms, than the three that happened before. Someday, I'd like to think I'll have someone to meet like that at the end of a deployment." He starts to come to attention again, then snaps the fingers on his right hand and reaches into his dress uniform coat. "Before I forget, sir, this was left on my desk for you a few minutes ago."

He hands me a standard business envelope, comes to attention, salutes this time--which Mac acknowledges with a nod--and leaves, headed off for his own car and an apparently lonely life.


30 March--Mac

The envelope in Harm's hand is addressed to him, but neither of us recognizes the handwriting. It becomes obvious why in a moment when my soul mate opens it and extracts the contents.

"It's a fax," Harm says as he unfolds the single sheet, somewhat confused. "Let's see..."

I want him to read it to me, but he takes the time to peruse it carefully before he breaks into a broad grin and lifts an eyebrow at me. "I think I should just let you wonder, like you let us wonder about you," he says.

I hear the reproach and worry in his words, even though his tone is light. Now isn't the time to remind him that I worried just as much about him while I was incommunicado. "I can take you down, Sailor," I say instead with a grin of my own, reaching for the page.

"I'd enjoy that." He raises his arm over his head; no way can I jump that high and he knows it.

"Not the way I'd do it," I counter, and his grin wavers.

"Kiss me first?" he pleads.

I shake my head and hold out my hand. "I'll owe you."

He's beaten and he knows it, so he hands the paper over and rocks gleefully from his heels to his toes and back while I read the plain paper fax copy.

It's a copy of a handwritten note from Admiral Chegwidden. Harm, Webb just called to tell me that he sent you to pick Mac up at Dover. He also muttered something about getting coerced out of sending Mac to GITMO on Tuesday, for which I will thank Mac in person. Mac thinks she has to be at Langley at 10 Monday morning; I convinced Clayton that it was unnecessary. Both of you take the day off--and you have a room reserved for you at the Harbor Head Inn on Main Street in Kitts Hummock. Tonight's on us but you have the option of tomorrow night, as well; I expect you at noon on Tuesday. Wow. I guess the man I plan to have give me away--to the right man this time around--is ready to cope with a relationship that technically violates military regulations.

The admiral goes on, and I think maybe this is the part Harm isn't quite ready for me to see. Get your priorities straight, Harm. She's the only woman you've ever loved and it has been obvious since the day you met her. I will work out the details on the career end--trust me, I do not intend to lose either of you because of some regulation that ought to have a common sense component to it. Tell Mac I'm happy she's home and where she belongs. AJ.

AJ Chegwidden has no illusions about where my home is. Man, oh man, oh man. We have our commanding officer's blessings--hell, his orders, really, even though he signed it as a friend--to get this right this time.

"How about I pay you twice?" I say to Harm, who stops rolling on his feet and sweeps me into his arms before the sentence is completely out of my mouth. His answer arrives on my lips with a tenderness that awakens every nerve in my body.

I want nothing more than to spend the night wrapped in his arms, but I don't think I have the self-restraint to leave it at that. Maybe I can work on that between here and Kitts Hummock, because there's something powerfully appealing in the idea of waiting until we're married to consummate our relationship, of making that sacrifice for this unique intertwining of souls that we have between us.


30 March 2003--Harm

Even as I'm kissing my Sarah, the thought crosses my mind that what we have fought so hard for, this precious gift we're only now unwrapping after over six years of looking, is sacred. I can't believe that I, who have fallen asleep with her name on my lips and awakened sweating and aroused from dreams of her for nights on end since the day I met her, am seriously considering waiting to make love to her for the first time until we are legally married. This is unlike any other relationship I've ever had; what we have together is so far beyond physical attraction that for the first time in my life I can understand how a man can say that the right one may be a hag to any other man yet is the most alluring woman on the planet to him.

I mean, objectively, Mac is beautiful and there isn't a man alive who would say otherwise. But to me, who she is inside makes her singularly stunning outside. No other woman compares.

Nor has any other woman had me quite as ready to chuck my career and everything else of import in my life just so I can continue to kiss her. Some part of my brain is telling me that the inn will be much more comfortable for the expedition that my hands really need to begin and I struggle to keep my arms around her rather than to allow them to wander to her breasts or to other parts of her svelte form. Another part screams at me that if we want to have a choice about waiting, Sarah and I have to talk before we get to that room the admiral and Meredith reserved for us.

The admiral. He's entrusting Sarah, whom he thinks of as his daughter, to me, despite everything he knows about me. He's going out of his way to make it possible for me to worship this woman as my wife for the rest of my life without giving up my place at JAG--because if either of us went, it would not be Admiral Chegwidden's Chief of Staff.

That decides it for me. We will honor this relationship with all the dignity such a sacred union requires and will consecrate it in the eyes of God and man before we consecrate and consummate it between us.

You just keep telling yourself that, Rabb. And it might help if you aren't kissing her when you make such statements.


30 March 2003--Mac

My blood burns through my arteries and veins and it hurts when Harm pulls away from the kiss we just shared. My legs are rubbery and it has nothing to do with the long flight home; I'm surprised I don't melt into his arms like so much liquid chocolate as he loosens his hold on me and tucks my head under his chin. I really wish the shirt and tie were gone--I'd love to nibble at the taut skin that I know lies beneath.

"Let's go find our inn," he says into my hair. His breath tickles my scalp, but before I can giggle at the sensation, he speaks again. "After all, a charge of disobeying a direct order wouldn't do my service record any good. And I think under these circumstances, not flattering to you at all."

Now I do laugh, because he remembers my warning from Monday morning and because there's a certain absurd logic to his answer; I think we're both in awe that AJ Chegwidden, hard-bitten SEAL and Judge Advocate General of the United States Navy, would actually reveal so much of his marshmallow heart in one incredibly gracious act.

That or he decided he's had enough of our not-quite-ever-on relationship and opted to force the issue for us.

Either way, I'm giving him a hug on Tuesday at noon and I don't care who sees me.

"Okay," I whisper to my Flyboy.

With one hand, he pushes the back hatch of the Lexus closed while with the other he musses my hair. Then I'm swept up in his arms and we're both laughing at this whirlwind culmination of more than six years of denial, frustration, and confusion. He carries me to the passenger side door and manages to open it with one hand, then places me in the front seat and wraps the seat belt across me. As he does so, he leans in for another hungry kiss.

Harm smiles at me with his Flyboy grin after that long, toe curling kiss. "I love you."

I have died and gone to heaven. "I love you."


30 March 2003--Harm

I consult the map for a few minutes to make sure that I know where Kitts Hummock is, which also gives me a chance to still my pounding heart. Putting the map away and starting the car, I calculate the distance and the time of night to arrive at 20 minutes of conversation time that won't--or at least shouldn't--be interrupted by kissing and hugging.

Handholding, however, is definitely in order once I've driven us off-base. Sarah's left hand lies in my right, our fingers intertwined; this feels so right. It's time to speak my mind and heart about waiting, though.

"Sarah, I--"

"Harm, I..." she starts at the same time I do; I tip my head to her with a quick grin in her direction and she resumes after a shaky deep breath. I can sympathize. "Harm, my love, I do not want to screw this up."

"Neither do I," I assure her. "This is for eternity." I hope I've just redeemed that word for us with a squeeze of our hands.

"I agree." Another heaving breath, this one less shaky. "I never want to spend another night alone in my bed, but... but..." her courage falters a bit before the next words come out in a rush, "can we wait to make love until..."

When she doesn't finish that sentence after a long pause, I venture to finish it with my own thoughts. "Until we're married?"

Tension I hadn't even realized she carried in her body eases as she sags in relief against the seat. "Pretty silly, huh?"

I shake my head as emphatically as I can while I'm driving. "Not at all. What we have together is holy and unique, and I think we should honor its sacredness by acknowledging that to God and the world. I want this," I wave our joined hands between our bodies, "to be pure and blessed."

I see one lovely, slender eyebrow go up out of the corner of my eye. "Now who's the psychic one?"

"What?"

"That wasn't exactly the sentence structure I was planning to use, but all the same words were there."

We should have had at least two kids by now. I have been an idiot of the highest order. "That's because we're finally dropping the walls so we can be whole, Sarah."


30 March 2003--Mac

Whole. Holy. What an incredible connection those two words have. I shouldn't be at all surprised that we're thinking alike about waiting; although I'll admit that a small piece of my desire to wait stems directly from the fear that if we made this too easy, it would wind up like all our other relationships. I truly believe, however, that since sex isn't the centerpiece of this relationship, we will be fine with doing this the traditional way.

Not that waiting will be easy. I meant what I said a few minutes ago--I never want to spend another night alone in my bed; actually sleeping with Harm without "sleeping with" Harm will test my patience and resolve even more than my daily struggle to stay sober.

"You know that the reasons I want to wait have nothing to do with my attraction to you, right?" Harm says beside me.

I thought we just covered that. "Since what you just said matched my own feelings, I'd have to say yes to that," I answer, letting go of his hand long enough to run my fingers along his jaw. I am rewarded with a low groan.

Harm captures my hand to nibble at each sensitive pad of my fingertips; it's my turn to moan at the erotic bolts that shoot through my body as he shows me that making love means far more than intercourse. I think we'd better set some limits, which makes me think of high school and the limits I didn't set in my quest to find the man who would love all of me, not just my body.

Right at the moment, however, I can't make a coherent syllable come out of my mouth, never mind a sentence. I never knew that being fully in love with someone could make the physical expression of that love this intense; I am more aroused from just this little act of intimacy than I have ever been from any other man's sexual activities. Only when he's kissed and sucked at each tip twice does he lower my hand and it takes me 34 seconds to gain control of my breathing again.

Damn him, he's grinning from ear to ear because he knows what he just did. If he weren't driving, I'd retaliate now. On second thought, we just passed the Kitts Hummock town line, so the inn can't be too far away. I'll take a little risk.

"I think we need some rules," I manage, turning my hand in his so I can stroke his palm with my middle finger. An irrelevant stray memory creeps through my head: Mic never responded to anything this subtle.

Harm, however, does. His breathing changes and he sits up straighter in his seat. "Rules?" he squeaks. I've only heard him squeak once before, back a couple of months ago when he was so obsessed with my mistaken line about Little AJ's fifth birthday.

"Rules," I affirm, increasing the pressure of my strokes a fraction. We stop at a flashing red light. How droll that this should happen now. "Like that we won't be naked together at the same time until our wedding night."

He turns in his seat to face me.


30 March 2003--Harm

"Like that we won't be naked together at the same time until our wedding night," she says as her finger moves salaciously along my palm. I didn't know I possessed this much self-control, frankly.

We're stopped at a flashing red light with no other traffic to be seen; the inn is just up the road and appears to be the only place open along the entire street. I turn in my seat to face the woman I love. "So that would mean that you can be naked as long as I'm not, and vice versa?" I don't think I can keep the hopefulness out of my voice as I ask; I really want to see what this exquisite creature who is torturing me with her caresses looks like in only what God gave her.

Sarah smiles and the world around me lights up. "I believe that's what I said. And I don't agree with Bill Clinton, by the way."

That takes me a moment; I'm not exactly firing on all cylinders here because of what she's doing to my palm and a few other choice pieces of my anatomy. Two of which, I realize, are under discussion in a very specific context. "Umm…that means no..." I cannot believe that I am too embarrassed to say the word "oral" out loud in proximity to the word "sex".

Apparently, so is she. "Yeah."

"I can live with that." I will have to be extraordinarily creative, it seems. "Anything else?"

She's thinking; I can hear her mind clicking along until she shakes her head and grins at me. "No, I think that's enough rules. The more we make, the more we'd risk breaking."

I'll cop to being a guy's guy with my next comment. "So you're saying that third base is okay but sliding toward home isn't?"

Mac crosses her eyes and sticks her tongue out at me. "Men. If it weren't for your inherently entertaining stupidity, I'd have sworn your entire gender off years ago."


31 March 2003--Mac

It's just after midnight now and we're all checked in at our quaint bed and breakfast. I'd be willing to bet that Meredith brought the admiral here while he was recuperating from his untimely exit from Harm's Tomcat back in February; it's a place she would enjoy sharing with him.

Harm and I can't fault the choice, either. Our room--and it's a room with only one bed, which I am sure our commanding officer and the woman I hope he marries knew when they made the last minute reservation--is beautifully done in forest green walls with ivory wainscoting and ceiling; a maroon/ivory/gold/green bed suite, curtains, and throw rugs in florals and stripes; and a polished hardwood floor that would make any Marine Corps Drill Instructor proud. The motif continues in the luxurious bathroom; the tile floor is the same deep green of the bedroom walls and is veined with ivory, while the cabinetry is the same wood as the floor. A fabulous clear glass shower stall occupies one corner of the room while along one entire wall stretches the longest and deepest Jacuzzi tub I've ever seen in a private room or house.

We will be exploring that tub at length. What a nice coincidence that I happened to pack my infamous blue bikini in that sea bag of mine...


31 March 2003--Harm

I hear Sarah inhale from the bathroom and move to see inside.

Yeah, baby.

Damn that provision about being naked...

"Harm?" she asks from six feet away in the middle of the cavernous room.

"Sarah?"

"I'll start the water if you'll get my swimsuit out of my bag for me."

Swimsuit. That's a devastating thought. Not, mind you, that she doesn't look absolutely ravishing in her black racer-back one-piece, but that she's the one to keep the rules the first time...

I hear her chuckle and look up to face her, but I must not be focused because she takes the two steps necessary to be within smacking distance and knocks her open palm against my arm twice. "Harm! Swimsuit!"

"Uh, yeah, baby," I manage, turning to begin my mission.

I should do this neatly, but right now the only thing I can really think about is submerging myself into that tub with Sarah's curvaceous body tucked in with me, so I open her sea bag and dump the contents on the floor inside the closet, thankful for the light on the wall. Marines pack their bags funny; us squids aren't required to stack them any particular way, just to fold and roll things appropriately. Marines, on the other hand, have taken uniformity to such absurd lengths that the pile before me maintains the two halves of its neatly rolled and folded shape around the laptop and phone; I can see the demarcations between sections. I have to guess that swimming gear would be considered skivvies, so I dive into that section of appropriately dull white and black undergarments. And come up empty.

Hmm...

Socks? Nah, but I check anyway. Uniform gear? Possibly, I suppose, but again I come up empty and by now the pile is in shambles. I paw through the small collection of toiletries--deciding that she might need her toothbrush, comb, and the body mist tonight, I set them to the side to take with me when I finish my quest--and move on to the personal preference section. There I find my two t-shirts (now bearing her scent and mine, which makes them all the more precious to me now) and…eureka! The blue bikini of my dreams.

Tomorrow, we're going shopping for a black Speedo.


31 March 2003--Mac

"Um, yeah, baby," Harm says, his eyes far away even though he's looking right at me. I know where he went when I said swimsuit. He's reliving that conversation we had last week about the blue bikini and the black Speedo; I will take to my grave the fact that the reason I mentioned my bikini was because I knew I had it with me. Not that I expected to be here to use it, but I'm not bypassing the opportunity.

I turn on the hot water tap and let the water work its way through the pipes before I set the plug in place. I know, it's wasteful, but after a week of cold, one-minute rainwater showers in the desert, I'm going to take advantage of the creature comforts.

And speaking of creature comforts, Harm has showered today--okay, technically yesterday--but I barely had time to rinse off and change into my dress uniform in the women's head at Centcom HQ before my flight left Doha at 0710 East Coast time yesterday. I've been in combat since my last cold shower. I need to shower or I'll leave sand scum in the tub.

I strip off my uniform blouse and skirt--the jacket hit the hanger in the closet before I even looked at the bed, never mind the bathroom--and roll off the pantyhose gingerly because I don't want to buy a new pair for Tuesday and the pair I wore on the flight over to Qatar went into tying down a recalcitrant canvas awning during the last of the sandstorms outside Baghdad. The sensible black bra needs to be washed, too, so I reach into the shower to turn the spray on and step into the pure bliss of a pulsating hot massage.

I'm surprised a moment later to realize that I'm being somewhat cruel to Harm, and that it may actually be subconsciously intentional. He's going to come in here with my bikini to find me nude in the shower, and then he'll have to watch me get dressed before I allow him to strip down. So the question becomes, do I let him touch, or make him just look?


31 March 2003--Harm

The glass stall is fogged from Mac's shower and steam rises from the slowly filling tub as I close the door behind me. "Sarah, I have your, um, swimsuit."

"Thank you," her voice comes back, rich with laughter she hasn't let out. "Just hand it in." The stall door opens a fraction and two exquisite fingers extend through the gap.

Damn, I was so hoping for a first look.

Okay, and a chance to touch.

I'm a guy. Sue me.

I'm a lawyer in love with the most beautiful woman in the universe. I'd win. With as dramatic a sigh as I can manage, I take the three strides necessary to reach the shower and lay the two pieces of the bikini of my dreams on the still digits; I can't help the whimper that escapes when those same fingers disappear into the mist.

And then it dawns on me that this incredible woman has manipulated me into this situation. She caught me out last week on the phone. "No, you'd rather see me wipe out," she said to my comment about seeing her surf. "More precisely, you'd rather see me all wet in my blue bikini, right, Commander?"

Well, duh. My mind reels even now at the thought of what I'm about to see. The water in the shower stops running; the door swings open wide. Five long toes emerge first, followed by one elegant foot and the accompanying long, sculpted leg that swings the toes and foot to the plush ivory bathmat as gracefully as the pilot of that C-5 landed the behemoth that brought my Sarah home to me.

I have to remind myself to breathe as I wait an eternity (that's a good word now) for the rest of her to materialize; when she does, I'm really glad I breathed before because I certainly can't now.

Until this moment, I had thought of myself as a man with a vivid imagination. But "breathtaking" is so insufficient a description as to be inane when it comes to the glorious vision in flesh and blue before me. Sarah's chocolate eyes dance over me; I see the thought form in her mind but am powerless to stop her when she closes the distance between us and begins to loosen my Navy-issue black tie as the steam gathers around her glistening, moisture-beaded body.

Yeah, I'm a dolt; I got as far as taking the jacket and shoes off but nothing else.

On second thought, she's standing here undressing me, obviously relishing the task as her hands move down my chest, unbuttoning my dress shirt as she keeps her eyes locked on mine. I gasp when she slides her hands down into my pants, but she's only being gentle with my shirt because she knows that I, like she, has only the one uniform to wear on Tuesday--and neither of us has any interest in spending any of our precious time together obtaining different ones.

Mac has my shirt undone; she walks around behind me and slides it off my shoulders with the gentlest of caresses. Then her hands delve into my pants again but with less control; she whips my t-shirt off my torso in one swift, smooth motion that has my arms moving without my conscious participation.

I expect her to move back in front of me to continue her work, but my Sarah is more creative than that. Her left arm wraps around my chest and she splays her hand on my breastbone, stroking the sensitive hair and skin in small circles. This hypnotizing motion holds me in thrall until the warm, humid air hits my legs and I realize that she's managed to unbuckle, unbutton, and unzip my trousers (no, officers don't wear dress pants with 13 buttons, in case you're wondering) without me noticing.

Even had the air on my bare legs not gotten my attention, her next move would have. Her hands move to the waistband of my briefs and she hooks her fingers at either hip. With a delicacy I won't be able to duplicate when our positions are reversed, she slides my remaining garment down my legs until it rests on top of the puddle at my ankles that is my trousers.

My reaction is instinctive when she runs one short, smooth fingernail up my right leg from my mid-calf to my mid-thigh; I lift my leg and her right foot slips into view for a second when she twirls my clothes out from under my foot. She repeats this on my left leg; when I am unencumbered and back on both legs she does something I've never experienced before but will remember for my turn.

Mac runs one of her hands up each of my legs from ankle to thigh, spinning her touch around as she goes until her palms rest in the crease of my hips and her thumbs rest just above the part of me that hasn't gotten the message that we're on leave and at ease.

Not that I can find fault with that; Sarah has pressed herself against my back and her tongue is tracing lazy patterns on my shoulder blades between nips and nibbles.

I deserve a medal for the amount of self-control I am currently exercising.


31 March 2003--Mac

There are times when I really wish that Harm and I weren't honorable people with integrity. Very few, of course, but one of them is happening right now. My head and my heart know that waiting is the right thing to do, but my body isn't convinced at all.

Neither, I realize when I step around Harm, is his body. I'm impressed.

And it may be just because my soul mate is the one standing before me, but Adonis has nothing on Harmon Rabb, Jr. His pink and white scars form a map of his misadventures along his tanned skin; I don't know how he manages to stay so tanned even in a winter as bad as this one has been. He's sculpted but not bulky and although he's closer to 40 than 39, he still has washboard abs. He has just the right amount of hair in the right places; I reach out to run my fingers through the black strands on his stomach and find it silken rather than rough as men's body hair often can be.

I can see in his face the effort he's making to stand still. His eyes are a sapphire blue I've never seen before and his desire snaps in them as he meets my gaze. I want to kiss him, but I don't trust myself to stop there; instead, without dropping my eyes from his I take his hands and bring them to my lips, repeating for him what he did to me in the car.

His eyes close and he growls in the back of his throat. For that sound, I'll do this all night.

But the tub is finally full to the 2-person mark, so instead I lead him to the Jacuzzi and let him help me step over the side before he climbs in. Harm situates himself against the back of the oblong bath and then guides me down to sit between his outstretched legs. Then he wraps his arms around me and coaxes me to relax against his strong chest.

We haven't said anything out loud since I sent Harm out to find my bikini, but here in the warmth of his embrace with the evidence of his attraction unmistakable against my backside, we don't need the words that have so often gotten in our way before.

We sit like this for 23 minutes, letting the jets of hot water soothe away all the fears and obstacles between us, before Harm pushes me forward a little and begins to massage my back and neck.

"I had nightmares," he says, his voice low and velvety in my ear. "I was in the war zone with you but I couldn't fire my weapon to protect you. And I watched you throw yourself on a grenade."

"I had nightmares, too, Harm," I answer, stroking his legs with as much assurance as I can. "Your COD went down on the way to a carrier and Iraqi fighters got through air defenses when you were flying BARCAP and shot you down."

His arms encircle me again and he pulls me tightly against his body. "I'm sorry, Sarah." He sighs. "I'm so sorry for all the nightmares I've given you over the years."

"I know, Harm. And if I could change every instance that I've caused you nightmares, I would."

We're silent for another 4 minutes as he resumes his ministrations along my spine. I yawn contentedly and reach for his arms, wrapping myself in them and snuggling back against him. He tucks my head under his chin and reaches out with one long, muscular leg to turn on the hot water just to refresh the temperature a little.

"I love you," I say.

"I love you."

"You kind of asked me a question earlier that I never answered." I am getting so drowsy.

"I did?"

I'm too comfortable and I feel too secure to be upset that he doesn't remember; besides, I don't think that was the speech he had planned. "You did," I confirm. "Well, it was more of a demand. You said, ‘Marry me, have my children, grow old with me, just say you'll always be with me, please.'"

I feel him grin above me. "Wow. That was amazingly articulate of me. Will you? Will you ma..."


31 March 2003--Harm

"...rry me, have my children, and grow old with me?" I ask, but I feel her sag before I finish. When I turn to look down into her face, she's sleeping peacefully with the most beatific smile I've ever seen gracing her features.

I shake her gently and call her name, but she doesn't stir except to sigh a little in her sleep. I've seen her do this before; that night in Afghanistan--once we finally got settled after the decidedly unfriendly friendly fire nearly killed us--she fell asleep in mid-conversation and I couldn't wake her with a whisper, a kiss (on the cheek; I wasn't quite brave enough to try kissing her on her lips), or my best imitation of a Marine Corps Drill Instructor.

Under these circumstances, I can be a bit bolder; I spend five minutes nuzzling and kissing her lips before I give up on the idea of waking her up that way. This is going to be interesting. We can't sleep here in the tub, she can't sleep in her wet bikini, and I am not about to break the rules by having both of us nude at the same time, even if she would never know.

My first concern is where to put her once I get her out of the tub so that I can put on the one pair of boxers I have with me. I know I can't leave her in the tub while she's asleep, even for a few seconds, but I also don't want to lay her on the marble floor. The luxurious shag bathmat would work if it were longer, but more of her would be off than on.

I never really looked at this bathroom, so it takes me two full reconnaissance sweeps before I catch sight of the maroon robes hanging from the hooks on the back of the door. They look to be terry cloth, which will solve two problems at once--Sarah will be warm as the water that beads so gently on her smooth skin is absorbed.

I can think of other, more interesting things that could happen to those beads of water.

The trick to getting us both out of the tub safely, I discover as I'm learning by experimentation, is to drape her head and shoulders over the side of the tub until I can stand up and step out. Then I can reach down and lift my Marine as though she were a child--albeit a very well-developed one--and carry her the seven steps to the door so I can wrap a robe around us both.

She's so funny, this woman I intend to marry. As I pull the thick material around her shoulders, she stirs and snuggles into my neck with a sleepy sigh; it's not even worth checking to see if she's more awake now because she'll do this several times throughout the night.

Yes, I confess that I stayed awake to watch her sleep that night in Afghanistan. At least most of the night.

I carry her to the bed and lay her on the comforter. It takes me only a minute to put on my boxers and grab another one of my t-shirts for Sarah and return to her side. I'm not taking any chances here; she didn't step out of the shower earlier so she's going to sleep in something, too.

I sit down on the bed and sit her up against me, studying the closures on her bikini top. I think I can do this without seeing anything, even though there's not much I'd like to do more than to see her gloriously nude form in my arms.

I hook the neck straps, then do as she taught me when I was completely helpless trying to dress Little AJ as a baby and roll the t-shirt up into my fingers before I drop the neck over her head. Right arm, left arm, then up the back to unhook the back closure and pull the soggy blue bikini bra off.

The bottom piece is going to present a bit more of a challenge, I realize as I move myself down the bed. I ponder this as I study her svelte, toned legs, then decide on a course of action. I pull her (my) shirt down as far as it will go--which, given the difference in our heights, is almost to her knees--and slide my arms up her outer thighs until fingers on each hand grasp the hip band. Then I try as best I can to pull the bottom off without disturbing the t-shirt.

It worked, amazingly enough, which is both a relief and a disappointment. The fulfillment of that dream will have to wait; on the other hand, my Sarah will be sleeping in my arms in a real bed tonight. I am a very happy man.


31 March 2003--Mac

I have no memory of getting into bed. Which makes my current location and state of dress a very interesting puzzle to ponder as I lie here in the early morning sun against Harm's sleeping form.

Eight hours and 27 minutes ago, Harmon Rabb, Jr., told me he loved me and asked me to marry him. I tried to answer him 5 hours and 49 minutes ago--after which I remember nothing, so part of the puzzle is that I obviously fell asleep in the Jacuzzi.

Hmm...

So Harm managed to get me out of the tub, take my bikini off, and put his t-shirt on me so I wouldn't have to sleep in my wet blue swimsuit. The question is, did he peek or was he creative enough to undress me and put the shirt on without looking?

I won't be upset if he did peek; reversed circumstances and I doubt that I'd have been able to resist the temptation. On the other hand, I really want to be able to see his face when he gets his first look at me--I mean, he couldn't have missed the awe on my face earlier this morning when he stood before me, more beautiful and human than any fantasy my imagination ever summoned.

I think I'll do something about proving his fantasies sadly lacking.

Later.


31 March 2003--Harm

I'm sorely tempted not to open my eyes. I'm afraid of two things: one, that this is just a very realistic fantasy that will go away if I open my eyes, and two, that if it is real and I open my eyes, Mac will stop what she's doing to me.

The exquisite sensation, real or imagined, has me aware of every nerve in my body. She must have started at my toes, but I was awake before she reached my knees with my her butterfly kisses and caresses. She's alternated between sides of my body and skipped everything covered by my boxers on her way up to her current target, my clavicles.

My eyes pop open involuntarily a moment later, however, when she stretches out on top of me and I realize that she's not wearing the t-shirt I so lovingly put on her last night. Or anything else, for that matter.

"Good morning," she laughs in her sexy, sultry voice, and now I know that this is no fantasy.

My other fear is alleviated when she resumes her ministrations on my neck. I can't help but put my arms around her now, feeling the silky skin slide under my fingertips as I stroke her back. I will spend the rest of my life exploring the sleek body above mine and finding every way I can imagine to satiate the hunger that permeates the atmosphere of our room.

"Good morning," I answer in a growling voice that telegraphs my desire to her.

Sarah sits up, straddling my hips and pulling my arms in to cradle my hands in hers at my waist. "I never did answer that demand you made last night," she teases with a gleam in her eyes and a lopsided smile.

"No, I guess you never did." The view, by the way, is captivating. I really don't know why my Marine wears underwire bras.

"Remind me what it was again?" Only a great lawyer can make a statement like that a question. No wonder she's the judge and I'm not.

I grin as slyly as I can manage with the woman of my dreams sitting astride me. "Do you really need the reminder?"

She shakes her head and the smile broadens. "Need? No. Want? Every day of my life."

"Will you answer me this time?" I'm not giving in to this fantasy of hers unless I know I'm getting an answer. I think I know what it will be, but even if I'm wrong, her answer will define our relationship.

"If you don't take so long that I fall asleep again."

I slide and sit up against the headboard, careful to disturb her as little as possible as I do so, and she ends up sitting in my lap cuddled against my chest and looking up into my eyes. "I've been holding myself prisoner for so long and now if I don't let myself out I'll wither and die. Marry me, have my children, grow old with me, just say you'll always be with me, please."


March 31 2003--Mac

I wasn't expecting the whole heart-wrenching speech; I also wasn't expecting tears to come to my eyes on hearing it again.

"There's more," Harm says, lifting my chin with one gentle thumb. "I love you, Sarah Mackenzie. I will give up anything you want me to just to have the chance to make you happy for the rest of your life."

When he said it last night, I trembled with joy and relief that he truly feels about me the same way I do about him. Hearing it this morning, after a night in his arms--and confirmation in his expression that he didn't look when he changed my clothes--I am newly touched by the power of his words. But I have to make him sweat a little.

"Blondes?" I ask, trying to be serious.

Obviously, I failed; he answers me with a cocky raised eyebrow and insufferably smug grin. "Unless by some freak of genetics our children are blondes, absolutely."

"Hiding your feelings?"

"You'll hear about every little event that tweaks my heart."

"We'll see," I counter. "Arguing with the judge?"

"Only when it's you."

"Arguing with the admiral?"

This one makes him think. "I can try," he agrees. "But if it involves your safety..."

I was going there next anyway. "Trusting me to make decisions about the missions I accept when I'm given a choice?"

Harm squirms a bit before he exhales and gives me his answer. "Okay. But I'm not giving up my right to have nightmares whenever you're gone."

"I wouldn't ask you to," I assuage, "because there's no way I can, either."

After I'm silent for 42 seconds, he reaches up with one hand to stroke my cheek. "Anything else you want me to give up, Sarah?"

He's wondering if I'm going to ask him to give up his wings. "No, Harm, there's not. I can't ask you to give up anything that makes you who you are, even if it means that I'll run the risk of the Rabb curse."

"Really?"

"Really."

"So?"

"So what?" God, I could torture this man all morning like this.

"So, Sarah, marry me, have my children, grow old with me, just say you'll always be with me, please."

"Oh. That." His eyes are that sapphire blue again; he's getting antsy and suddenly I want nothing more than to have his hands and lips make my body sing as I know only he can.

I guess I'd better answer his question. "Yes, Harm, I will marry you, I will have your children, I will grow old with you, and I will always be with you."


31 March 2003--Harm

"Really?" I'm not sure I've heard it correctly. She said yes.

I knew she would. At least I hoped she would.

Okay, I prayed she would and wasn't really all that sure.

I'm a bit insecure when it comes to my relationship with Sarah Mackenzie.

"Harm, I've been waiting my whole life to answer that question from you."

Suddenly, I know it's true. Just as I've known--however much I've tried to deny it--that she was the one I've been waiting for since the day I met her, Sarah has known that we belong together. Everything we did to keep ourselves apart has only made this moment sweeter.

"You said yes. You said yes!" I bend in to kiss her, and know in the power of that kiss the commitment we have just made to unlock our love and to make our life together fulfill every prophesy and fantasy and promise we've ever experienced.


1 April 2003--AJ

It's 1158; the colonel and the commander have just walked off the elevator. I know this not because I saw them but because I can hear the entire staff clapping and cheering in the bullpen in recognition of the colonel's safe return.

I'd be out there too except that I have an aversion to crying in public; only a few select members of my staff over the years have seen tears in my eyes and the two most likely to cause them are coming into my office in a minute anyway. If things went as I hoped, I'll have even more reason to show my softer side than the safe return of my Chief of Staff to my fold.

If they didn't, we'll all be attending the funeral of one Naval Aviator and lawyer.

Yes, I know, Mac could be the one at fault if my plan didn't work--but only because Harm waited too long, which would ultimately make it his fault and thus necessitate his slow, agonizing death by deep freeze.

Tiner raps sharply on my open door and sticks his head around to announce my appointment. "Shall I bring lunch in now, sir, or wait until you ask?"

I ponder this for a few seconds. If I need to kill Rabb--or his career--it will be better not to do so over lunch. "I'll buzz when we're ready, Tiner. Send them in."

"Aye, sir."

I wonder if he knows that I have been working on a recommendation to Officer Candidate School for him, assuming he passes his final law classes. Probably; Jason Tiner is a lot more aware of things than people--often, I'll admit, including me--give him credit for. I smile at that before I mentally wipe my face of all expression as the door pushes open under Rabb's long reach.

The first thing I notice as Mac enters the room ahead of Harm is the sparkle in her eyes. It matches, I realize with a barely internalized "Hallelujah", the sparkle of the diamond on her left hand. So much for the stern look; I can't keep the grin from erupting on my face as my two senior officers come to attention in front of my desk.

"Colonel Mackenzie and Commander Rabb reporting as ordered, sir!" they bark in practiced unison, and I wonder absently how they're going to deal with the last name issue. If I get a vote, they'll both be Mackenzie-Rabb. The paperwork has to be done in triplicate anyway.

"Have a seat, Colonel, Commander."

"Thank you, sir," they say, again in unison, and this time there's no undercurrent of nervous tension between them at the coincidence.

"It's good to have you home, Mac," I say as she's settling in her accustomed chair at my left hand. Her left hand lays over her right in her lap, as though she can't quite believe that there's actually a ring on her fourth finger.

She smiles that Mona Lisa smile that has all of us--as much as it pains me to admit that Brumby was right way back when--a little bit in love with her. "It's good to be home, sir."

I nod and look to her partner, whose distressingly handsome face radiates his happiness. "Commander, I trust that things will return to normal with the colonel back to keep you in line?"

Before Rabb can answer, Mac raises an eyebrow at me and turns to him. "Harm?"

I've seen it before, how she can communicate so much to this man who worships the ground on which she walks with one simple word; it always bemuses me because she's usually asking him a question he'd rather not answer.

"I, uh, um... I kind of had a hard time focusing while you were gone."

"There aren't any more bullet holes in a courtroom ceiling or junior officers running around with broken jaws, are there?" she asks, and it's all I can do to stifle a loud guffaw as the memories of those incidents come flooding back into my mind.

"No, Mac, no bullet holes and no broken jaws. I came close to breaking Clay's nose, though."

"Webb doesn't count," Mac and I say together, and we all laugh.

I am still chuckling as I reach to buzz Tiner for lunch. Rabb will live to see another day since that ring on Mac's finger sparkles just like their eyes as they look at me with identical ecstatic grins. "Besides, another break will straighten it out and save me a rhinoplasty bill." Webb keeps telling me he's going to get his deviated septum fixed at my expense, but thus far he hasn't carried through on his threat. He's already back in Tierra del Fuego, anyway.

Lunch appears with admirable alacrity; roast beef on multi-grain for myself and the colonel and a large garden salad for the commander. I still don't get that; she eats a diet that should, by all rights, land her in the Coronary Care Unit any day now without gaining an ounce or raising her cholesterol a single point but the near-vegetarian has had to watch his waistline constantly of late and confided to me that the doctors are watching his cholesterol level carefully after his last physical.

Mac and Harm are doing that silent communication thing that so baffles everybody right now; if I had to guess, they're trying to decide how to broach the subject on which I really want to focus. I could put them out of their misery, but I'm too fascinated by what's taking place in front of me to interrupt.

Her head is tilted toward him and everything she's saying to him is coming from the widening and narrowing of her eyes and the angle of her mouth. Apparently, she just said something shocking; he's sitting back in his chair, wide-eyed and fish-mouthed as he looks at her. I'm going to guess that I'll be the only man other than Harm to ever see this particular expression on her face, albeit from an oblique angle; I'll also confess that it will take me a while to rid my fantasies of the raw sensuality she's displaying for him, Meredith notwithstanding. I may think of her as another daughter, but the reality is that she isn't my daughter in any way, shape, or form. Just a junior officer.

"Sorry, sir. We were just..."

That's Mac speaking; I pull myself back from the primrose path of my imagination and focus on her. "Having a conversation?" I supply with a smirk.

She blushes a little but nods. "We wanted to say thank you for everything you did for us, um..."

The colonel obviously isn't sure how to proceed; we're in that murky territory between command and friendship that is unique to our small group of JAG intimates. Only I can help her. "Pretend we're not in uniform, Mac."

"Okay, si--AJ. The Harbor Head Inn is really quite exquisite."

Harm is fidgeting beside her; I think he's suffering from withdrawal since he hasn't been able to touch her in about half an hour. "Mac..."

"I'm getting there, Harm." That look again; it subdues him a little and she turns her attention back to me. "We needed the time to be alone together because we had a lot of things to talk about."

"I know, Mac," I reply, taking a bite of my sandwich that I chew and swallow thoughtfully before I continue. "Believe me, I know. I'm guessing that the time away came to a comfortable conclusion."

Harm is up out of his chair and standing beside Mac, his right hand intertwined in her left, faster than I can react to the interruption to protocol. "I asked her to marry me, AJ. She said yes."

As dryly as I can manage, I wave to their joined hands. "I was praying that the diamond didn't belong to someone else this time, Harm." Why I didn't interfere to prevent that miscarriage of romance I'll never know; never once did I see Sarah Mackenzie look at Mic Brumby the way she's looked at Harmon Rabb since the day they met in the Rose Garden.

"Not a chance," Harm grinned. "I asked her before I even got your note."

Now, I'm genuinely surprised. "Really?" I ask Mac.

"Really, AJ. Before we even left the tarmac."

Damn. I didn't think Rabb had it in him to work that fast. Hell, I hadn't expected an engagement today, never mind Sunday night.

"I didn't answer him until yesterday, though."

Good girl. She made him sweat a little. "Torturing him, Mac?"

"Nope. We just got caught up in... other things before I could actually say yes."

From the look on Harm's face, those "other things" were almost as good as an affirmative answer to his proposal. I think I can understand that, given what I'm going to do later this week. "So, I assume that you both want to stay at JAG."

"Absolutely," they say together again.

"Okay." This is easy; I've been waiting two years for this. "Mac, you'll be TAD to the judiciary until we can make that appointment permanent. There are two other judge/attorney couples within the military law community, so this won't be a first to make sure that you never appear before her, Harm. I will make sure, of course, that I retain access to your investigative skills, Mac - and you'll still be based here, probably in the same office because it's highly unlikely that I'll be getting anyone to replace you now that Bud's back."

That's good news to them on two counts; better that they can be together as much as possible without having to leave the floor and better that Bud is regaining most of his pre-injury status. "Thank you, AJ," Harm murmurs, perching now on the arm of Mac's chair.

"You're most welcome." I smile at them; I've never seen either of them this content before. "Set a date yet?"

Mac answers, smiling broadly. "We're looking at the end of June. And we were thinking..."

"Yes?" I prompt after a moment. The suspense of this is killing me.

"Would you let us use your backyard and your house for the reception, AJ?"

I would have thought the Roberts' home a better choice, but then I think back to a night nearly two years ago when I saw something that I've never mentioned to a soul because of what happened two weeks later.

"You two have an affinity for my back porch, don't you?" There's no guilt, just a little shock on the faces across my desk. "I never told anyone," I go on, "but I wanted to talk to each of you back then to tell you... I don't know... maybe Sunday night was the way I've been waiting to assuage my guilt over not stepping in after that kiss."

"Why guilt, sir--AJ?" Harm asks.

I sigh and sit back in my chair. "Because I think if I had said something two years ago, we'd have had a wedding last summer to help us all focus on something other than Bud's recovery."

Mac, who had been somehow eating her sandwich all along while the two of us men ignored our meals, finishes her sandwich while my words hang in the air. "AJ," she begins after what feels like five minutes but is probably more like 90 seconds, "I don't think interfering would have done any good between Harm and me back then. We really had to walk our own twisted, torturous path to get where we are today."

"I agree. We've literally been through hell and back since then and now we know what our priorities are and how we can put those priorities center stage in our lives. And we are each other's first priority."

"Hallelujah!" This time, I can't keep it in. But I also owe them an answer to their question. "I would be honored to host your reception. Where will the ceremony be?"

"Hopefully at the base chapel at Washington Navy Yard. We want Chaplain Turner to officiate."

"I think he would be as honored as I am, Harm."

"There's one more thing, AJ," Mac adds. I think I know what's coming--at least I hope it's what's coming. "Will you walk me down the aisle?"

There's no nervousness in her request this time; she meets my eyes with a smile that dances with joy. "Absolutely."

She springs out of her chair and rushes behind my desk, leaving Harm holding empty air with a bemused look on his face. "Fair warning, AJ," she says as she leans down to me, "you're about to be hugged."

I stand up into her embrace. It's nice to be hugging my friends--my family, really--for happy reasons. And if we're really, really blessed, there will be plenty of hugs for a long time to come, with Harriet expecting again, me proposing soon to Meredith, and now that Mac and Harm have unlocked their lives to allow themselves to love each other fully.


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