ūH geocities.com /jaghavenarchives/CLK_SecondDeg4.html geocities.com/jaghavenarchives/CLK_SecondDeg4.html delayed x >r‘J ˇˇˇˇ ˇˇˇˇˇˇˇˇˇˇˇˇˇˇˇˇ» źęö %– OK text/html pQŐ†" %– ˇˇˇˇ bČ.H Sun, 12 Mar 2006 02:09:39 GMT Mozilla/4.5 (compatible; HTTrack 3.0x; Windows 98) en, * =r‘J %–
Second Degree Part 4
Harm reported for duty at 1030 hours. Removing his cover, he stood waiting at Petty Officer Coatesí desk.
ďGood morning, sir. Itís good to see you,Ē she beamed.
ďGood morning, Jen.Ē
ďHow is the Colonel doing?Ē Jen stepped around her desk and started towards the Generalís door.
ďSheís doing much better, thank you.Ē
ďHeís been waiting for you.Ē Knocking on the door, Jen waited patiently for the General to call for her. Sheíd learned her lesson about entering his office too quickly. She didnít need a brick wall to fall on her.
ďSend him in, Petty Officer,Ē his voice resounded through the door.
ďGood luck, sir,Ē Jennifer whispered before opening the door to let Harm into the lionís den.
ďReporting as ordered, sir.Ē Harm stood stiffly at attention.
ďDo you have any idea how much flack Iím taking for your actions?Ē Cresswell spat from behind his desk.
ďNo, sir,Ē Harm answered, still standing at attention.
ďA senior JAG officer, who also happens to be a decorated Naval officer, attacks an unarmed prisoner without provocation. I have heard from so much brass in the last forty eight hours Iíve been blinded by the glare!Ē
ďYes, sir.Ē This wasnít going the way Harm had anticipated. He hadnít expected Cresswell to be annoyed enough to leave him standing at attention.
ďWant to tell me your side of the story?Ē Cresswell stood up and walked around to the front of his desk.
ďI was interrogating the prisoners that were reported to have been witness to the original complaint. Of the three witnesses Colonel MacKenzie found willing to state theyíd seen mistreatment, one recanted and the other twoís stories were so similar it was obvious theyíd been scripted.Ē
ďThat much I read in your report,Ē Cresswell interrupted, folding his arms across his chest.
ďYes, sir. We were interviewing the last prisoner. It was obvious, despite my lack of knowledge of Arabic, that he was being uncooperative. When I insisted the Sergeant translate, I was informed the prisoner had made disparaging remarks about Colonel MacKenzie.Ē
ďThatís when you attacked him?Ē
ďNo, sir. I approached him ratherÖ closely.Ē Harm chose his words carefully.
ďApproached him?Ē Cresswell repeated sarcastically.
ďYes, sir. The prisoner had his back against the wall when I informed him he was at no time to disrespect any officer in the United States military. After the Sergeant had successfully translated my message, I retrieved my belongings and left the room.Ē
ďYou did not strike the prisoner at any time?Ē Cresswell was beginning to consider the possibility that Commander Robertsí assessment of Rabbís behavior might be more accurate than heíd given Bud credit for.
ďDid you threaten him?Ē Cresswell dropped his arms to his side.
ďI informed him if he disrespected ANY United States military personnel he would answer to me personally, but I was not specific, sir.Ē
ďIn other words, you threatened him.Ē For a flash of an instant, Cresswellís voice bore a surprising resemblance to that of Admiral Chegwidden.
ďI prefer to think of it as Ďsharing information,í sir.Ē Harm tried to ignore the deep furrow that had just formed in the Generalís brow.
ďDid this prisoner strike you?Ē
ďDid he threaten you in any way?Ē
ďNot that I am aware of, sir. But I also was aware of the prisonerís previously violent outburst, and was cautious not to be caught off guard as Colonel MacKenzie had been.Ē
ďYou knew he was violent?Ē
ďI knew of his attack on the Colonel, yes, sir.Ē
ďAre you saying you were behaving in self-defense?Ē
ďNo, sir. Iím saying I was prepared to defend myself if necessary. It was not necessary. The prisoner did not dispute my information.Ē
ďYes, information.Ē Damn, Cresswell had to admit Rabb was good. ďYou clearly did not threaten him?Ē
ďNo, sir. If Iíd have threatened him, I would have made it crystal clear that I would snap his scrawny little neck in two if he ever gave any trouble to another marine, SIR.Ē Harm didnít realize he still had it in him, or his back, to remain at attention this long.
As if reading Rabbís mind, Cresswell ordered, ďAt ease,Ē biting back his own laughter. He never thought heíd see the day when a squid would defend a jarhead with so much fervor. ďI thought the Marines were supposed to be the Navyís ground support, Rabb. Not the other way around.Ē
ďYes, sir.Ē Harm wasnít sure, but it looked to him like Cresswell was turning the corner.
ďYou realize if Sergeant Kepo comes back with anything even minutely different from what you and Gunnery Sergeant Billings have reported, there is no way I can prevent HQ JAG involvement and most likely an article 32?Ē Cresswell was slowly making up his mind. Rabb was indeed an impassioned officer who was willing to push the envelope and bend the rules, but not break them. You didnít get the amount of medals this guy wore without being willing to push your limits.
ďHave a seat, Rabb.Ē Cresswell took a seat behind his desk.
Harm sat stiffly in the chair. He was confident heíd been accurate in his assessment of having swayed the General to his side, but he was apprehensive about what would be coming next.
ďThe only bright spot in this horrid mess is that Commander Manetti seems to be in your corner and for whatever reason, she has the SECNAVís ear.Ē
ďYou already know that?Ē
ďAbout the SECNAV? Yes, sir. It was he who recommended the Commander to our office a few years ago, and when a former colleague made some serious and erroneous accusations regarding Admiral Chegwidden and his command. Commander Manetti came to our rescue.Ē Harm couldnít help the smile that crept onto one side of his face.
ďI see.Ē This could be his ace in the hole. ďThe Commander seems to be unswerving in her support for you.Ē
ďThank you, sir.Ē
ďDonít thank me. Iím not the one singing your praises.Ē
ďYes, sir. Understood.Ē Thatís it Rabb, open mouth, insert foot.
ďTell me, Rabb, is it the cologne you wear? After shave maybe, shampoo? Perhaps a particular brand of deodorant or toothpaste?Ē
ďExcuse me, sir?Ē Harm had no idea what the General was rambling on about.
ďPetty Officer Coates, Commander Roberts, and now Commander Manetti. Is there anyone you work with who isnít at least a little fascinated by you?Ē
Harm sat completely speechless. Visions of Megan in California telling him he made women fall in love with him cluttered what was left of his mind.
ďCommander?Ē Cresswell was thoroughly amused by Harmís look of complete and total bewilderment.
ďNo disrespect intended, sir, but I believe you have overestimated my effect on people.Ē
ďYes. Well, Commander Manetti informs me that Sergeant Kepo is expected back at base in the next 72 hours. Once she gets his corroborating statement, Colonel Howell will forward the report to Colonel Thompson at the prison, and myself. I will then forward a copy to the remaining brass who want your ass on a skewer.Ē
ďYes, sir.Ē Harm tried not to flinch at that last mind picture.
ďIf Kepoís report varies even slightly with what we already have, I have no choice but to send your protťgť, Roberts, to investigate further. The brass wonít settle for anything less than senior staff from JAG headquarters.Ē
ďGood. Now tell me, exactly what is going on with you and my chief of staff?Ē
Harm felt every inch of his skin cringe. If only Cresswell understood what a loaded question that was!
ďWell, Commander?Ē Rabbís need for time to carefully form his thoughts only succeeded in fueling what Cresswell had already concluded.
ďThe Colonel is in no condition to care for herself completely without assistance, sir. I am her oldest, and most likely, closest friend. In a few more days, sheíll be able to tend to her injuries unassisted and Iíll be able to return to full duty.Ē ĎA few more days.í He hadnít really considered the truth in that. Mac was moving more easily now, and the doctor had told them from the beginning that her burns would only require special care for about three weeks. Harm was filled with a sudden surge of terror at no longer having an excuse to be with her, a horrible feeling of emptiness settling in its place.
Cresswell studied the man before him, his eyes a glass wall. Whatever was going through Harmís mind, Cresswell was unable to read it.
ďRabb, I like the Colonel. Sheís a good marine and a good lawyer, but Iím not going to risk my career over a nasty remark. Thatís the reaction of a man, not a colleague.Ē
ďIím occasionally overprotective where the Colonelís concerned, sir. Sheís been through a lot in her life.Ē
ďYes.Ē Cresswell paused to consider his next words. ďRabb, I donít particularly give a ratís ass what two grown adults do in their off-duty hours. I do, however, care if itís going to in any way affect this office.Ē Cresswell fell silent reading Harmís reaction.
ďI have been assured and reassured that your relationship with the Colonel, especially in this office, has always been nothing but professional. I myself have observed nothing that I could consider even remotely questionable behavior. I have, however, also concluded if you two are just friends, Iím Admiral Percy. Iím not accusing you of any impropriety, but thereís something else going on here and I want to know about it before it becomes my problem.Ē Cresswell sat back, his arms folded, prepared to hear a long story.
Harm took a deep breath and drew on his best skills as a litigator to present his closing arguments.
ďSir, the Colonel and I have run the gamut from an inexplicable life saving bond to barely speaking to each other. Weíve been shot at and shot down. Our friendship has survived oceans and continents, foreigners, blondes, and spies. I can only assure you that we have never crossed the line in an intimate sense, and if for some reason we ever reach a point in our lives where something changes and our relationship takes on a more permanent nature, I will most definitely give you a heads up.Ē Harm took a deep breath and prayed that would be enough for Cresswell. He had every intention of informing his commanding officer about his relationship with Mac. He just needed a little more time to get a handle on exactly what that relationship was going to be. For all he knew, things could turn out very differently when all returned to normal. It wouldnít be the first time things didnít work out the way heíd wanted with Mac once the dust had settled.
ďYou havenít told her, have you?Ē Cresswell asked, his arms still crossed in front of him.
ďExcuse me, sir?Ē Harmís face clearly showed his confusion.
ďYou havenít told her youíre in love with her.Ē Cresswell unfolded his arms and leaned forward. ďYou donít need to answer that. I have no right, nor any intention, of interfering in your personal life or the personal lives of any of my staff. I will, however, take the liberty of saying this much: you are most definitely in love with Colonel MacKenzie. Whether you know it, or admit it to yourself, or anyone else, I donít want to know, but I will give you this small piece of advice. Women like that do not come along every day, and if you donít tell her how you feel, and what you want soon, youíll wake up one day and find yourself too old for the dream.Ē Cresswell sat back in his chair.
ďIíll expect a report on MacKenzieís condition by Friday, along with when we can expect you back on full duty.Ē
ďAye, aye, sir.Ē
ďIs there any reason why you or she could not do some minor case review in the meantime?Ē
ďNo, sir. Weíve been playing a lot of scrabble. I think the Colonel would appreciate a chance to do some real work.Ē
ďVery well, Iíll have some cases delivered to the Colonelís apartment sometime this afternoon.Ē
ďYes, sir. Thank you, sir.Ē Harm was eternally grateful that this inquisition into his and Macís personal lives was over so quickly.
ďDismissed,Ē Cresswell ordered gruffly.
ďAye, sir.Ē Harm stood up and hurried to exit the room.
ďOh, and Commander?Ē
ďYes, sir?Ē Harm reluctantly turned to face the General.
ďRemember everything I told you. Give it some serious thought, and make sure Iím not the last to know when you figure it all out.Ē Cresswell looked back down at a stack of papers on his desk. He was sure he couldnít possibly be the only person to have given Rabb that particular advice. Almost losing the woman you love can sometimes be just the catalyst a stubborn man needs, along with a little prodding from his boss. Maybe this time Rabb was finally scared enough to do something about his feelings for MacKenzie. There was no doubt in Cresswellís mind that their feelings were a two-way street.
ďYes, sir.Ē Harm stood briefly at attention, then turned on his heel. He couldnít get out of the office, and home to Mac, fast enough. Home to Mac, now that was an incredible thought. He knew everything the General had said was correct. He had admitted he loved and needed Mac to himself a long time ago. He had tried in his own way to tell her at the admiralís dinner, but it was too much too soon. He could only hope things were finally changing.
So many things were racing through Harmís mind on the drive home. He hadnít really paid attention to schedules, but this was already day three since Mac had been released from the hospital. He was fairly sure the three weeks of treatment with antibiotic ointment would be finished in a few more days. Despite her lingering soreness, without the need to clean and dress the burns there was no reason for Harm to stay around. Deep down, he was terrified that when Mac was back in full marine mode, they would revert to the holding pattern theyíd been in since summer, washing away all the progress since Christmas and Iraq.
Now he was even more anxious to get home to Mac. In a few more days home would be an empty loft on the other side of town. Stepping more heavily on the gas pedal, Harm was determined not to waste any more time than necessary away from her side.
Harm let himself into the apartment. Glancing quickly into the room, he dropped his cover on top of the armoire and took off his coat.
ďMac, Iím back.Ē Draping his coat over the back of a chair, he resisted the urge to call out, ĎHoney, Iím home!í
ďIím in here,Ē Mac called from the kitchen.
ďWhat are you doing?Ē Coming up behind her, Harm wrapped his arms carefully around her waist.
ďFixing lunch. You havenít eaten yet have you?Ē Mac continued chopping peppers.
ďWhat are you making?Ē Resting his chin on her shoulder, he peeked over at the counter.
ďCheese and broccoli soup, and salad.Ē She smiled broadly, even though he couldnít see her face.
ďIt smells wonderful, and so do you.Ē His nose sniffed into her neck. She smelled like almonds and vanilla. Without thinking, his lips began nibbling at the exposed spot above her shirt collar.
When Mac dropped the knife in the sink with a loud clunk, Harm jumped back abruptly.
ďAre you okay? Iím sorry, I shouldnít have done that.Ē Searching her hands for any sign of blood, Harm finally looked up into her eyes.
ďWould you stop apologizing.Ē Mac picked up the knife again.
ďWhat happened?Ē Harm was completely confused.
ďThat felt nice, chopping vegetables didnít seem so important anymore,Ē she shrugged.
ďReally?Ē Harm wrapped his arms around her again. Maybe his fears were unfounded. There was no way he would have felt free to hold her this way a few weeks ago, and she most definitely was not pushing him away anymore.
ďI guess youíre growing on me,Ē Mac chuckled.
ďThen you wonít mind if I do this?Ē Taking the knife out of her hand and setting it down on the counter, he carefully turned her around and pulled her into his arms, his lips gravitating instinctively towards hers.
Without thinking, Mac raised her left arm to snake around Harmís neck and promptly let out a sharp whimper, pulling her arm back down to her side, simultaneously breaking the kiss.
ďOh, God, Iím sorry. Now what did I do?Ē Harm was afraid to touch her.
ďNot you, me. I forgot about my shoulder. I should have left my hands on your hips.Ē Her head dropped to rest on Harmís chest, her breathing heavy from the pain. ďGod, I hate this.Ē
ďWhat?Ē Drawing soothing circles on Macís back, Harm tried not to let himself think the worst; that he had been wrong in his previous assessment and something about this new, closer relationship might be upsetting her.
ďFeeling fine one minute and so broken the next.Ē
Harm didnít know what to say. He hated seeing her in pain, and he especially hated that his selfish desires had prompted this pain. He was simply going to have to stop thinking with his hormones. Somehow.
ďHowís your shoulder feeling now?Ē Harm asked between spoonfuls of soup.
ďBetter, thanks. It doesnít really bother me at all, so long as I donít lift it any higher than this.Ē Mac raised her arm straight out to show Harm.
ďI know you donít want me to say it, but I really am sorry.Ē
ďI told you it wasnít your fault. Why donít you tell me how it went with the General instead?Ē
ďNot quite what I expected. Manetti and the SECNAV are on my side. I think Howell is sitting on the fence, but leaning in my direction.Ē
ďHeís a good man, Harm. Heíll handle the situation fairly.Ē Mac took a sip of her soup, silently thankful for how much better her arm was feeling.
ďI got the impression heís what stopped this from going directly to an article 32.Ē Harm stabbed his fork at a piece of lettuce. ďKepo is out on special ops maneuvers. Heís expected back within 72 hours. If his story jives with the rest of ours, this whole thing will be behind us by Monday.Ē
ďIs there any reason his story wouldnít match?Ē Mac set her spoon down in the bowl and stared pointedly at Harm. She knew from their conversation the other night that he was holding something back.
ďNo, there shouldnít be.Ē Harm was playing mindlessly with his soup. Apparently Billings, like Harm, had neglected to mention in his report that the prisoner was not standing against the wall of his own accord, but held there with the aid of Harmís hand on his throat. If Kepo mentioned that little tidbit of information in his report, thereíd be no way to avoid an article 32.
ďThen whatís eating at you?Ē It was Macís turn to stab at the salad.
ďCresswell asked what was going on with us.Ē Harm caught her eyes without raising his head all the way.
ďWhat did you say?Ē
ďAs little as possible.Ē
ďMac, Iím not sure I understand whatís happening right now, or what will happen when you donít need me here anymore. I told him we were the best of friends, weíve never slept together, at least not in the biblical sense, and if that were to change Iíd let him know.Ē
All the color had drained from Macís face, and her eyes were bugging out of her head. ďYou said THAT?Ē
ďWell, not in those exact words, but that was more or less the drift of the conversation,Ē Harm shrugged. ďHeís also sending over some case files for us to work on. He wants an update on your status after you see the doctor on Friday.Ē Harm didnít want to discuss that aspect of their lives just yet.
ďHe went from our lack of sexual relations to working a case load, just like that?Ē Mac snapped her fingers. She couldnít believe Harm had actually discussed their personal lives so casually with their CO.
ďPretty much, yeah. What time is your appointment Friday?Ē Harm really, really didnít want to go there now. He needed to redirect this conversation, and quickly.
ďEleven hundred hours.Ē Still stunned, Mac was slowly resigning herself to the situation.
Harm flashed a quick smile. ďI have a question for you.Ē
ďShoot.Ē She was having a hard time shifting gears. How could Harm be so calm? How could he discuss their sex lives, or lack thereof, with their CO?
ďWhy do you smell so delicious?Ē
Mac blushed several different shades of red. ďHarm!Ē
ďIím serious. Yesterday you smelled like your shampoo, sour apples. Now you smell like almonds and vanilla.Ē
ďYou noticed?Ē Once again Macís spoon was resting still in the bowl. All concerns over the General were completely gone.
ďYes.Ē Harmís voice dropped lower than he intended. ďI notice everything about you.Ē
Positive the blush was rising in her cheeks again, Mac dropped her gaze and poked at her salad. ďI filled the tub with a few inches of warm water, poured in some almond vanilla bath oils, then I put the kitchen step stool in the tub and climbed in. I just wanted to feel really clean.Ē
ďMAC! Why didnít you wait until I was back? Youíre not that steady on your right leg, and you could have hurt yourself badly if youíd slipped and fallen.Ē
ďAnd what would you have done? Held my hand?Ē Mac stifled a laugh.
ďNo, but if anything had gone wrong at least I would have been here.Ē
ďThatís right, on the other side of a locked door. Iím okay. Nothing happened to me, but thank you for your concern.Ē Mac rolled her eyes and took another bite of salad.
It was futile arguing with a marine. Harm resolved simply to not leave her alone again, and finished the rest of his lunch buried in idle chitchat.
By mid-afternoon Petty Officer Coates had dropped off a mountain of paperwork. Harm and Mac spent the next two days watching TV and plowing through case files. Ever since the incident in the kitchen, Harm had refrained from even the most modest of pecks on the cheek. It was one thing knowing his advances were welcome, but it was entirely another thing having them cause her pain. They had developed a smooth morning and bedtime routine, any awkwardness or embarrassment had been left by the wayside days ago. Harm had waited all these years to be free to touch her at will. He could wait a little longer.
Every day Mac was moving with increasing agility. Even Harm had to admit in just the last five days, the burns on her leg seemed to have made as much progress as they had in the previous two weeks. The dark red color had faded, leaving a blotchy pink pattern in its stead. The blisters had almost completely disappeared, and even the scar from the shrapnel wound seemed less frightening.
Friday late morning
Sitting in the waiting room while Mac was inside with the doctor, Harmís mind kept drifting off to visions of Mac that morning. Heíd gone to sleep in his t-shirt and sweats, as heíd done every night for the last five days. Heíd noticed Mac had to be feeling better because she would wake up in slightly different positions from how sheíd fallen asleep the night before. The first two nights they were home she hadnít moved an inch. The next night, she bent her right knee towards Harm, and stretched her arm out between them. Then the following night, she had actually rolled slightly onto her right side, but this morning was the most startling. Mac had actually scooted only a few inches away from him, her left arm, bad shoulder and all, rested heavily on his chest.
He had, much to his own surprise, found himself waking up every morning in exactly the same position heíd fallen asleep in; on his back, hugging the edge of the bed. His fear of moving and somehow hurting Mac outweighed his bodyís tendency to toss and turn through the night.
Harm was flipping through another magazine, not paying any attention to what he was looking at, when he saw Mac coming through the door. Immediately he stood up, but stopped himself from approaching her. It was probably best if he let her come to him. He didnít want to crowd her, especially not now.
ďJudging by that grin on your face, all is well?Ē Harm placed his hand at the small of her back as she walked past him.
ďBurns are healing perfectly, according to Dr. Schmell. I can suspend the ointment and bandages but need to continue the oral antibiotics for another ten days. I can start physical therapy anytime, and lookÖĒ Mac held her cast free wrist, now wrapped in an ace bandage, up in the air. ďHe thought I might need an air cast for a couple more weeks, but the x-rays looked good, and best of all, Iím authorized to return to work on Monday if I want.Ē Mac was bubbling over with excitement like a kid in a candy store.
ďThat soon?Ē Harm still had his hand on her back as they entered the elevator.
ďWell, it wouldnít be full time. Iím only authorized for half days. Dr. Schmell is estimating three weeks of therapy before Iíll be able to return to full duty. Iíve got an appointment next Thursday to see how Iím progressing.Ē Mac was grinning from ear to ear as they stepped off the elevator. She was still sore, and had aches and pains, but she was so ready to have her life back.
ďWhat do you say to a celebratory lunch, anyplace you want?Ē Harm wasnít going to let Mac see how disappointed he was that this would be his last day staying in her apartment.
ďCafť Italia. I have a sudden urge for fettuccini alfredo.Ē Mac grinned up at Harm before climbing into the car.
ďAnd after lunch, you can call in the good news to Cresswell.Ē Harm closed the car door behind her, oblivious to the ashen look on her face.
ĎCresswell,í Mac sighed to herself. That was one conversation she was not looking forward to.
Harm had just taken the last bite of his chicken when the loud chirping of his cell phone echoed through the restaurant.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, sir, but the General wants you to report to his office ASAP," Petty Officer Coates informed Harm reluctantly.
ďDid he say what about?Ē
ďVery well, Iím having lunch. Iíll dash home for my uniform and be there within the hour.Ē
ďIíll tell the General to expect you shortly.Ē Coates hung up the phone with a sigh. The General was in a crusty mood.
Putting his phone back in his jacket pocket, Harm looked up at Mac. ďCresswell wants me in the office right away.Ē
ďSo I gathered. Any idea why?Ē
ďCoates didnít know.Ē
ďDo you think it has something to do with Kepo? Maybe heís back and has made his report.Ē Mac fiddled nervously with the food on her plate while Harm flagged down the waitress, signaling for the check.
ďCould be,Ē Harm shrugged.
ďSo, this should all be behind us soon?Ē Mac watched the waitress drop the check on the table
ďIf there arenít any more problems, yes.Ē Harm read the tab quickly, pulled a few bills from his wallet, and dropped them on the table.
ďWhy would there be any more problems?Ē Mac reached for her purse and slowly raised herself out of the chair.
ďNo reason.Ē Extending his hand, Harm stepped around to escort Mac out of the restaurant.
Stiffening her shoulders, Mac dug her heels into the floor. ďWhat arenít you telling me?Ē
ďWhat?Ē Harm was momentarily startled by her odd behavior before it dawned on him what she was implying. ďI was thinking about paying the bill, calculating how long itís going to take to drop you off at your place, get back to mine for a clean uniform, and then back to headquarters. Thereís nothing covert going on here. I promise.Ē He nudged her along.
ďYouíre right. Iím sorry. Why do you need to go home for a clean uniform?Ē Mac scolded herself silently for overreacting.
Looking at her a little oddly. ďAre you suggesting I show up in a dirty uniform, or perhaps in my jeans?Ē Holding the door, Harm watched Mac walk past. She really was moving more easily, he thought.
ďHarm, youíve got a uniform at my place.Ē Mac looked at him, truly astonished that he had forgotten that fact. Heíd just picked the uniform up with a few of her things from the dry cleaner yesterday.
ďGees, thatís right. Well, good, you just shaved about 40 minutes off my flight plan.Ē Harm flashed her a grin, hoping to relieve her concerns. If the huge smile on her face was any indication, he hadnít lost the old flyboy charm yet.
Twenty minutes later
Thoughts of what the General wanted that couldnít wait until Monday played back and forth in his mind. Heíd showered in record time, and was now shaving when he thought he heard sounds coming from the bedroom. Turning his lather-covered face, he noticed Mac frozen just inside the bedroom door.
ďIÖIím sorry. I just wanted to change out of these clothes. I thought you would still be in the shower.Ē She hadnít expected to find the bathroom door open. Although he was already dressed in his trousers and a t-shirt, Mac couldnít help but feel she had somehow invaded his privacy. Her brain shouted at her to move, but she couldnít. Fascinated, she stood watching Harm shave.
ďNo problem. Iíll be done in a minute.Ē Waving his razor in the air, he turned back towards the mirror.
Without any conscious effort, Mac found herself slowly moving closer to the bathroom door. Her eyes were drawn to Harmís bulging biceps, as though pulled by some unseen magnetic force. She couldnít have looked away if sheíd wanted to. It had been a long time since sheíd allowed herself the indulgence of just watching his exquisite form. Time had filled out what was once a lean frame, but he was still a magnificent sight. Leaning against the doorframe, she couldnít help but wish that she were that razor, gripped firmly between his long fingers and skillfully gliding across his rough skin.
ďDo you think the reason fewer men need facelifts has something to do with shaving?Ē Mac had no idea where that thought came from, but her mouth was open and the words had tumbled out before her brain could engage.
ďWhat?Ē Harm tapped the razor against the sink and glanced in her direction, obviously confused.
ďI mean, all the contortions you have to put your face through to shave. Maybe all that Ďexercisingí actually helps keep the facial muscles from sagging.Ē Not that she could picture anything of his ever sagging.
ďCould be.Ē A little confused by the odd conversation, Harm rinsed off the razor and set it down on the side of the sink.
ďIt looks good on you.Ē Macís mouth was engaging without her brain again.
ďThe shaving cream?Ē Harm grabbed a towel and wiped down his face.
ďMy bathroom. You look comfortable.Ē A bright red blush flushed her face.
ďMaybe too comfortable,Ē Harm mumbled.
ďWhat do you mean?Ē
ďNothing, Mac.Ē He turned around and grabbed his shirt off the hanger.
ďDonít, Harm. Weíre finally learning to really talk to each other, donít stop now. What did you mean?Ē
ďOkay.Ē Harm shrugged into his shirt. ďI like it here, very much. Maybe too much.Ē He moved closer to where Mac was standing as he buttoned his shirt. ďThe only problem is, according to your doctor, it doesnít look like youíll be needing me around here anymore.Ē
Macís breath caught in her throat. She hadnít thought about that. Sheíd been so happy to move forward in her treatment, it hadnít occurred to her that it might mean leaving Harm out of it. A cold chill shot through her. She didnít want to do this without him.
Stalling for time, she turned around by the bed and picked up Harmís tie. Spinning around slowly, she found him standing right in front of her. ďHereís your tie,Ē she whispered awkwardly, stretching her hand into his hard chest.
Mac was standing so close Harm could feel her breath against his chin. ďThanks.Ē He wanted desperately to sweep her into his arms and beg her to let him stay, now and forever, but he was going to have to deal with his feelings on his own. Even though theyíd become more comfortable with each other, pushing too hard, too fast was still something he had to be careful to avoid.
ďMaybe we should talk about this.Ē Mac bit lightly on her lower lip.
ďCresswellís waiting, thereís no time now.Ē Taking half a step back, giving himself some much-needed space, Harm let his hand momentarily caress her shoulder before abruptly pulling away.
ďShall we finish this conversation over dinner? Iíll cook.Ē Mac tried to smile.
ďIíd like that, but I donít want you cooking. If Iím not back in time to help with dinner, Iíll pick something up on the way home.Ē Tightening the knot on his tie, Harmís heart skipped a beat when Mac reached forward to straighten it for him.
ďWorks for me, sailor.Ē It took all her restraint not to run her fingers down the front of his shirt and undo all those little white buttons. Of course, it made more sense to try a bold move like that when she would actually be in physical shape to follow through.
Tugging slightly on the tie, Mac leaned up and kissed his lips as lightly and tenderly, as she could, hoping she could convey everything she couldnít find the words to tell him. ďIíll be waiting for you.Ē
ďI wonít be long.Ē Tingling from his head to his toes, Harm drew on all his years of military discipline to walk away.
General Cresswellís office
ďIt seems Commander James Gatling has decided to assist the Navy in retiring its F-14s. This morning he flew his tomcat and RIO into the Ďdrink,í as you Navy people like to say. While on target for approach to the Seahawk he lost radio contact, overshot the deck, and flew straight into the water. His RIO managed to eject but hasnít regained consciousness. I want you there when he does.Ē
ďAnd the pilot, sir?Ē
Cresswell shook his head no. ďPetty Officer Coates has some background information for you. Youíll be delivering a replacement bird thatís been ferried to Andrews from Oceana.Ē Noticing the twinkle in Harmís eyes. Cresswell almost growled, ďDonít look so unhappy.Ē then checked his watch, ďYouíre ride is waiting, Commander. Dismissed.Ē
ďAye, aye, sir.Ē Coming briefly to attention, Harm turned on his heel already working through a checklist of things to do.
Macís apartment building
A short while later
Debating with himself, Harm hesitated outside Macís door. Should he use the key as heíd been doing all week, or was it time to go back to ringing the bell? He hadnít moved out yet, though if he wanted to get technical about it, he had never really moved into her apartment either. He was more of a houseguest.
He hated that thought: being a guest in Macís life. He wanted to be a part of her life, a big part of it. He wanted to belong here. Pulling the key out of his pocket, he slid it into the lock and quickly turned the latch.
ďHoney, Iím home!Ē This time he couldnít resist teasing as he closed the door behind him.
ďDid you bring dinner?Ē Mac set the book she was reading down on the table, grinning inwardly at his bold announcement.
ďI didnít have time.Ē Walking very slowly across the room, Harm sat next to Mac.
Something was wrong, she could feel it.
ďNot planning on staying?Ē she tried to tease, pointing to the overcoat he was still wearing.
ďIÖ I have to catch a plane.Ē Stretching his hand out, he took hold of Macís. ďThereís been an incident with a tomcat. Iím being sent out to the Seahawk to investigate. I had to stop at my place to pack a bag. I know we were supposed to have dinner and talkÖ if you still want to, talk that is, when I get backÖ I ÖĒ
ďIíll be waiting for you,Ē Mac interrupted. The electricity surging between their hands was warming her entire body. Sheíd been a nervous wreck killing time waiting for Harm to get back from Ops. Part of her had worried about what the General wanted, while the other part was concerned over how this conversation was going to go. It looked like it didnít matter either way. Her worst fear was about to become her reality. She was going to have to get used to being alone again.
ďI took the liberty of speaking with Bud about your therapy. Now that he and Harriet have hired a nanny to help with the twins, sheíll be able to take you to your therapy appointments until I get back. That is, if you want me toÖ I meanÖ if you still needÖwell, help.Ē
ďThank you.Ē Mac didnít dare say anything else. This wasnít what she had prepared herself for, and she didnít think she could take dragging this conversation out any longer. She also didnít think she could let go of his hand. It had been her lifeline so often these last few weeks.
ďJen is also bringing over a pizza,Ē Harm tossed out at the last minute, letting go of her hand and getting up.
ďHarm?Ē Mac stood up beside him.
ďOkay, shoot me. I wanted to make sure you ate something and since I knew I wouldnít have time for an extra stop if I wanted to come say goodbye, I called Jen and asked her to bring a pizza over on her way home. It might be nice if you invited her in to eat.Ē A Rabb grin slowly crept up one side of his face.
Mac swung her arm to smack him playfully and unexpectedly lost her balance, landing squarely against Harmís chest with a thud.
Instinctively his arms snaked around her, helping with her balance and indulging in the sweet pleasure of her soft body pressed against his.
ďOh, Mac,Ē he groaned. Unable to help himself, he dragged her more tightly against him, their lips met in a clashing of desire. His heart racing frantically, his hands slid down her back lightly caressing her six, before swirling upward again. All the blood in his veins quickly flooded in another direction altogether.
A fleeting memory of needing to leave, of being late, and of his beloved tomcat waiting, had just begun to take hold of his thoughts when Mac let her hand drop to Harmís six and none too gently pushed his hips into hers. All coherent thought escaped with the gush of air that rushed from his lungs.
If it hadnít been for the sound of the doorbell, and the light knock that followed, Harm would have been willing to face any charges the Navy could think of to stay in this womanís arms.
ďColonel, are you there?Ē Jennifer Coates called through the door.
Mac pulled her lips away from Harmís and called over his shoulder, ďComing, Jen.Ē Straightening her clothing, and taking a deep breath, she backed away slowly. Harm turned and headed for the door, thankful for his winter coat.
ďOh, Commander, I didnít realize you were still here.Ē Jen wasnít sure exactly what to make of the delay. She knew the Colonel was convalescing, but still, what could possibly have taken them both so long to get to the door?
Harm immediately sensed her unease, ďSorry, we were just putting a few things together. I need to go, or Iíll be late. Make sure she eats something.Ē Harm waved a finger at Jen. Jen and Harriet had both promised to check up on the Colonel during his stay on the Seahawk, but he hadnít seen any need to mention that to Mac.
ďYes, sir. Iíll make sure sheís all tucked in safe and sound before I leave, sir.Ē Jen smiled broadly at Harm before shooting an apologetic glance in Macís direction.
ďWeíll pick up the other matters when I get back.Ē Harmís words were more of a question than mere commentary. They had so much to say before, and so much more to cover now.
ďIíll look forward to it.Ē More than he could possibly know, she smiled demurely. Not a single muscle, burn or stitch was hurting her at the moment. Oh, yesÖ she most definitely would be looking forward to his return.
ďCommander Rabb, I gather youíve given up landing transports on carriers?Ē Captain Johnson nodded. He was glad to see Rabb on his ship again, but not under the current circumstances.
ďYes, sir.Ē Harm stifled a chuckle.
ďItís good to see you in uniform this time.Ē
ďItís good to be back, sir.Ē
ďI want to know what happened, Commander.Ē Johnson got straight to the point
ďHas Lt. Benson regained consciousness yet?Ē
ďNo, and heís the only one with all the answers. We lost communication on final approach. Thereís no way we can retrieve any of the bird in these waters. It looks like youíll have your work cut out for you, Commander, but Iíve learned to expect the unexpected from you.Ē
ďIíll do my best, sir. Permission to leave the bridge?Ē
ďGranted.Ē Johnson watched Harm make his way out the hatch. He had been more than pleased to hear Rabb would be the one investigating this.
Harm made his first trip to sick bay to check on the RIOís progress.
ďWhatís the prognosis?Ē he asked the doctor.
ďPretty much what youíd expect from punching out. He wasnít in the water very long, so hypothermiaís not an issue. Heís pretty banged up, but nothingís broken. The bullet wound was minor. He could wake up any minute or in a few days. We just have to wait and see.Ē
ďBullet wound?Ē This wasnít what Harm had expected.
ďIt was minor,Ē the doctor shrugged.
ďWhy did he have a bullet wound?Ē Nothing in the report Coates had given him at Ops, or anything in Captain Johnsonís comments, had indicated that the RIO had suffered any non-crash related injuries.
ďDidnít anyone tell you? They took fire on that last run and were flying home in an injured bird.Ē The doctor seemed surprised that Harm hadnít been told, but not as surprised as Harm looked.
ďThanks, Doc. Looks like I need to talk with a few other people.Ē Harm nodded and turned down the hall. He had a long list of people to interview, starting with Gatlingís wingman.
The more people Harm spoke with, the more the possibilities were mounting. Radio communication was sketchy after theyíd taken fire. At the time both the pilot and the RIO reported being fine, but if the RIO had been shot, it was entirely possible that the pilot had been more seriously wounded as well.
The radio only working intermittently could have explained why the pilot didnít report all the pertinent facts. Either he reported only the information he considered priority, or maybe he had thought everything had been received.
During final approach, it appeared that all systems were working fine for landing, but when the radio went out permanently at the last minute, any other number of instruments could have gone out along with it. Gatling could have simply lost control and had no choice but to ditch.
Over the next couple of days Harm interviewed the wingman, the crew on the deck who watched the flyby, the mechanics who worked on the plane before take off, and anyone who ever shared so much as a smile with the two officers in the last six months. Harm had seen the computer re-enactments, and listened to the tapes of the mission over and over until he could recite them in his sleep. Heíd drawn his own conclusions, but the only one who could give him definitive answers showed no signs of waking up anytime soon.
Coates hung around to eat dinner and watch movies with Mac until late Friday night. When Jen refused to leave until she had climbed into bed, Mac couldnít help but laugh. ďI promised the Commander, and heís one person I donít plan on breaking my word to,Ē Jen insisted.
The weekend went by quickly, without any catches. Mac was moving around well by herself. Harriet and Bud had come by and picked her up so she could spend most of Saturday afternoon and evening at their house. Chloe called every morning to make sure she was doing well. Coates called Sunday to see if she wanted company, and of course Harm had called every day at least once to report in. Mac knew he was really checking up on her, but she didnít mind. She looked forward to it.
By Monday afternoon, Mac was sitting at her desk wishing the email icon would sound on her computer, when she was distracted by Jenniferís knock at the open door.
ďYes.Ē Mac nodded for Jen to come in.
ďI thought you might like to know maíam. The General just got his report from Iraq on the Commander. Based on further corroborating evidence, Commander Manetti is recommending the dismissal of all charges against Commander Rabb.Ē Jen tried to contain her own enthusiasm. Sheíd been on pins and needles over this one all week.
ďThank you, Jennifer. Has Commander Rabb been informed yet?Ē
ďI believe heís on the phone with the General now, maíam.Ē
General Cresswellís office
ďThere are a few ruffled feathers on this end, but the SECNAV knows how to deal with it. What have you got for me on Gatling and Benson?Ē
ďNothing new, sir. According to the audiotapes from the mission, they took quite a bit of fire, possibly much more than they had indicated in their initial transmissions. Lt. Benson was hit but made no mention of it when reporting to the ship. From what Iíve been able to put together, Iím leaning towards the theory that Gatling couldnít control the sick bird anymore and had no choice but to ditch her to save the deck crew and his RIO. The only way I can prove that, sir, is if Benson wakes up.Ē
ďI see. Well, with Colonel MacKenzie back I donít see any reason why we canít spare you a few more days. We owe Commander Gatling that much.Ē
ďAye, aye, sir.Ē Harm disconnected the call and took a deep breath. There was nothing harder for a pilot than knowing he couldnít keep his plane in the air and that emergency procedures would be unavoidable.
ďI really appreciate your doing this, Harriet.Ē Mac gathered a few files into her briefcase, but hesitated before picking it up. Sheíd been looking forward all day to starting therapy this afternoon. She was still walking rather slowly and with a heavy limp, the use of her left arm continued to be limited, and she was increasingly desperate to erase all the outward signs of her recent ordeal. She was especially desperate to be back to normal by the time Harm returned from the Seahawk. Sheíd done a lot of thinking over the weekend, and sheíd made up her mind: before anything, or anyone else, came between them, she was going to make it perfectly clear exactly what she wanted from her relationship with Harm.
ďWould you like some help with that, maíam?Ē
ďNo, itís not that heavy, thank you.Ē Mac heaved the case off her desk with her right hand and let out a short sigh of relief. Her entire day had been filled with new challenges that tested the limits of her recovery.
ďYouíre sure you donít need some help?Ē Harriet pushed just a little, extending her hand towards the briefcase in case Mac accepted her offer.
ďYou sound as bad as Harm, Harriet. Iím fine. Letís go, therapy awaits.Ē
ďIíve been called a lot of things in my life, but no one has ever compared me to a gorgeous navy pilot before.Ē Harriet couldnít help but giggle as she followed a chuckling Mac out of the office.
ďYou two sound like youíre having way too much fun to be going to physical therapy. Youíre not holding out on me, are you?Ē Bud questioned, pleased to see his wife and Mac enjoying their time together.
Harriet and Mac simply rolled their eyes and sauntered past him, leaving an amused but bewildered Bud in their wake.
Part 3 Home Part 5 Authors Titles