She Made Me See



Rating: NC-17 (sexual references/situation)

Disclaimer: Graduating from college didn’t change the fact that I don’t own the characters in this. Not a single one was given to me as a gift, and that’s the only way I could afford one. But just because they aren’t mine, that doesn’t mean I won’t play with them for a little while and have some fun. I only hope DPB, Belisarius Productions, Paramount Pictures, and CBS Television don’t mind.

Spoilers: Everything up through “Fighting Words.”

Big thanks to Nikki for letting me use her idea. She came up with this idea, I just wrote it. I’ve also got to thank her for being patient with me while I worked on this, since it took far longer than I think either of us expected. Also, another big thanks goes out to CRene for her encouragement on parts of this when I hit minor road (or mental) blocks.

Feedback: Always welcome and appreciated. Can be sent to c.digges@verizon.net.

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Harm’s Apartment Building
North of Union Station
Washington, D.C.
Friday, June 4, 2004
1807 Hours (local)

As he unlocks the door to his apartment, he says to me, “If you want to change first, you can.”

“Sure,” I say. I leave my purse and cell phone on the bar, drop my briefcase to the floor next to the bar, and shift my bag from my left hand to my right before heading towards the bathroom. Shutting the door behind me, I lean against it and look around the spacious bathroom. Some things never change. Harm is a tidy man, and probably always will be. Except for his bed, because the sheets are almost always messy, as he doesn’t make it until he gets home from work in the evenings, if he makes it at all. But in the bathroom, his towel is neatly hung on the bar by the shower, the washcloth is hanging beside it, his toothbrush and toothpaste are on one side of the sink, his comb and a bottle of soap on the other side. I know that in his medicine cabinet he has his razor, some extra blades, shaving gel, mouthwash, a bottle Tylenol, a bottle of Tums, a small box of band-aids and a tube of Neosporin, some gauze in case of emergency, and a box of condoms. There is a bathmat in front of the shower, which is where it stays. And Harm must be the only man I know who puts the toilet lid down, and that’s without a wife nagging him. His bathrobe is hanging on a hook behind the door, cushioning my back from the wood. His heavenly scent drifts lightly out of it, surrounding me, and pulling me into memories I don’t have the time for right now, or the desire to indulge in at the present moment. Those are best left for another time and another place, namely my apartment when I am alone and no one can see my tears for all that we have lost.

Pushing myself off the door, I move across the bathroom and place my bag on the toilet lid. Sometimes, being a prepared Marine has its advantages. I always have a few things in my car: a sea bag in case we get sent out on a case, a set of civvies for days like this, an unread book for those rare occasions where I find myself stuck and need something to keep myself occupied. The space in a Corvette is limited, but having traveled a lot, I’ve learned to pack lightly, and pack well. I’ve also learned to change what I have packed based on the season. Standing in front of the mirror, I step out of my heels and quickly undo the buttons on my uniform top. After pulling it off, I pull a hanger out of my bag and hang the top on it. Always prepared, that’s me. Unzipping the skirt takes only a moment, and it quickly joins the top on the hanger. After pulling my pantyhose off, balling them up, and shoving them in the bag, I stand in nothing but my underwear in front of Harm’s mirror in his bathroom. If only this were for different reasons…

Some days, like today, I think one of man’s greatest inventions has to be the facial cleansing clothes that have become so popular lately. They’re convenient to carry, easy to use, and you can throw them away when you’re done. All you need is water. Finding the small plastic container in my bag, I pull one out and proceed to wash my face, cleansing the sweat and dirt that has had all day to accumulate. It’s June, but the heat and humidity that is so typical of summer in Washington, D.C. has yet to set in. It’s hot outside during the day, but not unbearable, and when I leave in the evenings, I can drive with the top down. Tossing the cloth in the trashcan beside his sink, I use the towel beside the shower to dry my face off, drowning myself in the scent of Harm. The scent of men used to fascinate me, as they all smell differently. Some men have a natural musky smell, others a woodsy smell, still others smell sweet, some have a clean and crisp scent, like Clay, and some, like Harm, just smell manly. There is no other way to describe it than manly. It’s a scent that will make any woman go weak in her knees, make her warm and wet with desire. I am no exception when it comes to this, especially when it comes to Harm in particular. Pulling away from the towel, I pull a light-weight cotton summer dress out of the bag. The sleeves are rather short, but they are long enough so that I can still wear a normal bra underneath. It’s red, with small blue and white flower things on it, a low-cut v-neck, and comes to just above my knees. It’s comfortable, just slightly dressy enough to be okay to go out in, but also casual enough to be worn on an evening in. That’s why I like to keep it in my car during the warmer months- it’s good for almost anything. As I pull it on over my head, it settles about me, hanging naturally and wrinkle free.

Putting my heels in the bag, I pull a pair of white sandals out, but I chose to not put them on my feet just yet, but carry them in my hand instead. Slinging my uniform over my arm, picking up my bag with the other hand, I exit the bathroom and head back towards the living area of the loft.

When I enter the room, Harm is sorting through the mail, opening envelopes and tossing them back down on the bar. “You done?” he asks, smiling slightly, his eyes looking me over.

“Yeah,” I answer, nodding. I move close to the door and drop my bag. After hanging my uniform up on the coat rack, I turn around and face Harm, feeling oddly uncomfortable. I’ve been here numerous times over the past eight or nine years, and Harm has always done everything to make me feel comfortable, but it’s been so long since I’ve spent any time here and I feel like I no longer belong in this part of his life.

Depositing the rest of the mail on the bar without looking at it, he says, “I’ll go change, then. Make yourself at home.”

“Thanks,” I respond politely, feeling my lips widen slightly into a small smile. I watch him as he goes into the bedroom before I move to the refrigerator to get a bottle of water. Opening the refrigerator door and reaching in to the shelf to grab a bottle, I can’t help but to remember the first time I opened the door to a cooler full of ice and drinks. There were a lot of things about Harm that surprised me at first, especially how much I found myself liking him. Take his cigars, for example. Our first case together and he was taking Cuban cigars with him. He pretty much flaunted his habit with the illegal cigars in my face, but he wasn’t worried about me turning him in. I figured then that he would be a cocky, arrogant, smart-ass, and I was right. But he’s also good at what he does, he’s good with people, and good at seeing what is beneath the surface. Usually. When it comes to seeing how much I want him in my life, how much I care about him, he’s as blind as the man begging for change on the corner who lost his eyes years ago.

Shaking my head, I pull myself out of my memories and wander around the large empty space that is his loft. Wandering to his bookshelves, I notice a few more framed pictures than there used to be. There is one of little AJ with Jimmy. After AJ ran away when we were in the Netherlands, he seems to be handling his little brother better. Of course, I think Bud and Harriet are trying a little harder to make sure he feels loved. I guess that just goes to show you that even people who seem like they have everything still make mistakes. Maybe there’s hope for the rest of us. There’s a picture of the Admiral, Sturgis, Bud, Harriet, Jennifer Coates, Harm, and myself, all smiling with arms slung over each other’s shoulders. Mattie had taken the picture at little AJ’s fifth birthday party, wanting to get a picture of the “JAG Crew” while we were all having fun, smiling, and laughing. The last new picture I see is one shelf higher in a golden frame, not wood like the others, obviously important. In the picture, Mattie is standing next to Harm’s biplane, the wind blowing her hair, the biggest smile I have ever seen on the young girl’s face, radiating youthful energy and happiness outward.

“She looks really happy in that picture, doesn’t she?” Harm asks from behind me.

I jump slightly as I hear his voice. I didn’t know he was done changing already. “She does.”

“That was in March. You remember that really nice weekend we had where it was in the 70s outside?”

I nod.

“We went flying. We had just landed, Mattie doing a lot of it herself. I was proud of her and she’d had a lot of fun. It was a great day,” he finishes, a tone of sadness in his voice.

Moving away from the shelves, I say, “I like the one of all of us at AJ’s party. That turned out real well.”

Reaching out, Harm picks the picture up and studies it for a moment before he says, “It did.” He continues to look at it for another moment before he looks over at me and asks, “You want one? I’ve got another print.”

“Sure,” I say. It is a nice picture of the whole family, so to speak.

Harm brushes past me and back into the bedroom. Meandering over to the bar, I lean against it and wait for his return. It doesn’t take long before he comes back with the picture held delicately in his long fingers. “Here you go,” he says as he hands it over to me.

“You sure?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he nods. “Pictures are meant to be shared.”

“Thanks,” I say, smiling in return. I bend over and gently place it in a front pocket on my briefcase. I’ll have to buy a frame for it and find somewhere to put it, but it will give me something to do.

When I straighten back up, Harm asks me, “You ready?”

“Yup,” I answer. Bottle of water in hand, I follow him to the door, feet still bare. He doesn’t have his shoes on, either, and he looks very good in his form-fitting ribbed black shirt and dark blue jeans. It’s not like we’re going very far. Opening the door, he lets me out in front of him, and pulls the door shut behind him without locking it. As we walk down the hallway toward Mattie and Jennifer’s apartment, I ask him, “What happened to that house you were trying to buy?” I know he was trying to buy a house, and even though I never saw it, he definitely had one picked out and he had been excited about getting it.

“The deal fell through before we made it to closing. The owners decided not to sell. The paperwork turned into a royal mess,” he explains.

“So, are you still looking?”

“No,” he answers curtly.

“You’re not?” I’m surprised by this. He wanted that house, and I don’t think of Harm as the type to give up when something doesn’t go his way, so I expected him to still be looking.

“No. There’s no need for me to get a house.”

We’ve reached the door, and as Harm raises his fist to knock, I put my hand on his arm and ask, “Why not?’

For a moment, he doesn’t answer me, and I think that he might just ignore my question. Then, he lowers his fist and turns his sad eyes towards me. “She’s leaving, that’s why.”

I’m stunned. Mattie’s leaving? To go where? The only place I know that she could go is with… her father. “Is she going to live with her dad?”

Harm nods, averting his eyes. I can see the pain in them just as clearly as I can see the sun pouring in through the window at the far end of the hall.

Thoughts are swirling through my head. I know that Harm tried his best to make a good home for Mattie, be a good father-figure to her. In the last six months he had helped to guide her through the rough spots of life, encouraged her to get involved with Alateen, encouraged her to do well in school, disciplined her when she needed it and always taking the time to make sure she understood why she was being punished, made sure she was well taken care of when he had to leave town, and called her every day when he was gone. He had done everything he felt he needed to in order to give her a good home, everything that was in his power. And I’m just surprised that she’s going to give it all up so soon, that she’s giving up her life with Harm at all. “Why?” I ask, my one hand still on his arm, now more as a gesture of support than as a means to get his attention.

Before Harm can answer, the door to the apartment is pulled open and Mattie says to us, “Are you guys going to stand out there all night, or were you going to come in?”

In an instant, the mask of normal life falls over Harm’s face and he straightens, his eyes brightening and clearing, and a smile forming on his face. “We were going to come in, of course,” he says.

I follow him into the apartment as Mattie holds the door open for us. I smile at her as I pass. She’s in a tight-fitting t-shirt, her hair pulled up and out of her face, except for a few pieces that have managed to escape, and a pair of loose shorts, rolled at the waist. Her feet are bare, her toes painted purple, and the smile on her face indicates a genuine happiness at our arrival.

“I didn’t know you were coming, Mac,” she says to me.

“Harm and I were assigned a large case the other day and we have a lot of work to do on it over the weekend,” I explain. The Admiral had assigned Harm and I to defend a Gunnery Sergeant accused of murder, and Bud and Sturgis had been assigned the prosecution. Had this case come up six or eight months ago and we had been assigned these roles, I would have sworn that the Admiral did it as a team-building exercise. These days, we all seem to be getting along a little bit better. Although, there are still awkward moments between Harm and I that I once thought would never be there. That was years ago, though, before Mattie, Clay, the CIA, Paraguay, Afghanistan, the Guadalcanal, Mic… It’s all in the past. “It’s not a problem that I’m here, is it?” I ask. Suddenly, I’m not so sure about hanging out with Harm and Mattie for a while.

“Nah, it’s not a problem,” Mattie grins. “Maybe you and I can rope Harm into springing for pizza, the good stuff from Luigi’s.”

I smile at the young girl’s enthusiasm. And her choice of food. Glancing up at Harm, I see the life dancing in his eyes, “Maybe we can. Two against one, how hard can it be?”

Mattie laughs lightly as Harm just shakes his head, a smile playing at his lips. He probably wouldn’t admit it, but he loves being teased by her like this. “We’ll have to see about that,” he warns.

“Piece of cake,” Mattie grins, turning away from us and crossing the room to plop down in a beanbag chair.

Smiling at Harm as I pass him, I can’t help but to agree. Between the two of us, he doesn’t stand a chance. I take a seat on the far end of the couch, leaving Harm a spot on the couch near Mattie.

Shaking his head, Harm sits on the couch. He knows he’s already lost the battle.

Leaning over, I pick up a magazine off the floor, scanning the cover and its promises of articles about the best sex tips ever. “Yours or Jennifer’s?” I ask.

“Jen’s,” Mattie answers quickly.

“Right answer,” Harm smiles.

I shrug my shoulders and toss the magazine back on the floor. If I could make a bet right now, I’d bet that it was Jennifer’s magazine, but Mattie reads it, too.

“School go okay today?” Harm asks.

“Yeah,” Mattie responds.

“How’d you do on the math test?” he asks.

“I dunno,” Mattie answers, shrugging her shoulders. “It hasn’t been graded yet.”

“Smart-alek,” Harm smiles. “Do you think you did okay?”

“Yeah,” Mattie sighs. “I just hate math.”

“I know you do,” Harm says reassuringly. “But you’re not as horrible at it as you think.”

“I hated math,” I speak up.

“What did you do about it?” Mattie asks, turning to me.

“Got a job where I don’t use much math,” I grin.

Mattie laughs lightly. “Some help you are! You’ve got to know math if you want to fly planes.”

“I leave the plane flying to Harm,” I tell her.

Rolling her eyes, Mattie shakes her head, grinning. “I just can’t wait until this whole year is done.”

When she says this, Harm loses his smile and looks away.

“Been a rough year?” I ask.

“I missed the first half of it, so making up all that work wasn’t fun. And then there was the dragon-lady…”

“What about volleyball?” I question. “I heard you guys had a pretty good season.”

“Yeah,” Mattie says somewhat bitterly, “Once they let me play every once in a while.”

“High school wasn’t the best time of my life, either,” I console her. “Although, I think you’re handling it a lot better than I did.” After this statement, I feel Harm’s eyes on me, burning a hole through my skin. I turn to meet his gaze, but I’m not sure what I see in it. As well as I know him, this time I can’t read him.

Rising out of her chair, Mattie gets up and walks towards her room. “Hey, Harm,” she calls back out. “I got that history paper back that you helped me write.”

“How did you do?” Harm asks her, his eyes once again lighting up. He loves interacting with her like this. The longer I sit here with the two of them, the more I realize that he is really going to miss her when she goes.

“Here,” she says as she returns from her room, the arm holding the paper outstretched towards Harm. “Take a look.” I can see her fighting a smile, so it must have been good. After handing the paper over, she lowers herself back into the beanbag chair.

As Harm looks at the paper, a huge smile forms on his lips. “This is great, Mattie!” Flipping through the paper, his grin continues to grow. “I’m so proud of you!”

“You helped me a lot, Harm.”

“You wrote it on your own. I just gave you a few things to think about and read over it.”

“Mr. Waters said I had the best paper in the class,” Mattie says quietly, almost as if she is embarrassed by this.

Harm continues to grin as he hands the paper back to Mattie. “I’m proud of you, Mattie. You did a great job writing this. You should be proud of it.”

“I am, I guess,” she says, shrugging her shoulders.

“What was the paper about?” I ask.

Mattie hands me the paper as she answers, “How the Treaty of Versailles after WWI contributed to the start of WWII.”

“Ouch. Tough topic,” I say, grimacing. There was a lot that could be said took place in WWI that led to WWII, a very broad topic, and a tough one for a high school history class. Looking at the paper in my hands, I can see the red 100 circled at the top, along with the word ‘Excellent’ below it. Skimming the paper, I can tell that Mattie put a lot of thought into it, and a lot of effort. There are a few comments scattered about by her teacher, all positive. The paper was impressive. “This is amazing, Mattie.” In all honesty, I’m not sure I could have written a paper like this on the topic.

“Thanks,” she grins, averting her gaze, almost blushing.

“Really,” I continue. “This is a great paper.”

Shaking her head, Mattie looks down at her feet. “Hey, Harm? I’m hungry. How about that pizza?”

“If it were up to you, I think you would eat nothing but pizza,” he says.

“Probably,” she admits. “But that’s why I have you around to make me eat fruits and vegetables and all of that,” she grins.

“Is that all I’m good for?” Harm asks, struggling to hold back a smile.

“Pretty much,” Mattie grins and nods, teasing him.

Harm sighs. “I guess we could do pizza…” he trails off. “It is Friday…”

“Pizza sounds good to me,” I add.

“Do you know what time Jennifer is going to be back?” Harm asks Mattie.

“Not until late.”

“Do you know who she’s going out with?” Harm asks.

“Some guy. I’m not her keeper, Harm. I just know she was looking forward to it,” Mattie answers.

“Okay,” Harm shrugs. “I just didn’t know if I should order for her, too.”

Shaking her head, Mattie answers, “Nah. She won’t be back.”

Nodding, Harm says, “Okay. What do you ladies want?”

“I’m flexible,” I say. There are days when I crave one thing more than another, but today is not one of those days. Today I’m open to anything.

Turning his head, Harm looks at Mattie. “You?”

“Cheese and pepperoni.”

Turning back to me, he asks, “Is that okay with you?”

I nod.

Rising off the couch, Harm says, “I’ll go call it in. Either of you want to come with me while I go to pick it up?”

That’s the problem with Luigi’s: they make the best pizzas, but they don’t deliver. I glance towards Mattie. If she wants to go, I guess I’ll go, too, but if she wants to stay and doesn’t mind me sticking around, I’d rather stay. I am pretty comfortable on this couch.

“Nah,” Mattie says.

“You, Mac?” Harm asks.

I look back towards him. “If it’s okay with Mattie, I’d like to stay.”

“That’s fine,” Mattie says.

Harm sighs, and for a moment I consider changing my mind and going with him. He looks rather sad. “Okay. I’ll be back in a little while. You two stay out of trouble,” he says as he heads for the door.

“Hey, Harm,” Mattie calls after him.

Pausing, he turns back around and asks, “Yeah?”

“Could you get some of the breadsticks, too? Please?” Mattie asks.

Smiling sweetly, Harm nods. “I was going to anyway.” He turns to open the door again.

“Do you want some money?” I call behind him. I didn’t want him to feel like he had to pay for my share.

Glancing back over his shoulder, still smiling, he says, “It’s my treat, Mac. You can get the next one.”

“Okay,” I smile, agreeing to the deal. I like the sound of there being a next one.

Harm leaves quickly before we can bug him again, and for a minute, 63 seconds to be exact, Mattie and I sit in silence. The sounds of music coming from the stereo in her room drift out to us, but other than that, the apartment is silent.

“How come you don’t have any plans on a Friday night?” Mattie finally asks, breaking the silence.

“I dunno,” I shrug my shoulders. “I guess I just don’t have much of a social life right now.”

“What about that Webb guy? Weren’t you dating him?”

Webb. Just the mention of his name brings up a flood of memories, ranging from the extremely unpleasant to the extremely pleasant. And the extremely confusing. Clay and I… in another time and another place, we could have worked. Maybe the time for us was years ago, but after Paraguay, that was a relationship doomed from the beginning. That’s not to say it didn’t have its high points. It was nice to be wanted again, wanted as a woman. And Clay was an amazing lover, one of the best I’ve ever had. But sex isn’t everything in a relationship. Trust is important, as is honesty, and it’s hard to build a trusting and honest relationship with someone who is never around and can’t tell you where he is going. “Clay and I, ah,” I say to Mattie, trying to give her an answer, “we’re not together anymore.”

For a moment, Mattie studies me, as if she’s trying to see if I’m telling the truth. I am. “What happened?”

“Just weren’t meant to be,” I say simply. I’m not getting into this discussion with a fifteen-year-old.

“Does Harm know?”

“I don’t think I ever told him…” I trail off. There’s a lot about my relationship with Clay that Harm didn’t know about. I think we both preferred it that way. It kept things simpler, and less painful. “But he probably found out through scuttlebutt. Harriet knew.” Come to think of it, Harm hasn’t mentioned Webb in any capacity in the last few weeks. He wasn’t even surprised when I agreed to come over tonight.

“Do you miss him?”

“Clay?”

“Yeah.”

“Sometimes,” I admit softly. “But not as much as I probably should. My life is… simpler… without trying to have a relationship with him.”

Smiling softly at me, Mattie shifts in her beanbag chair, tucking her long legs up under her. “Isn’t that true with all men, though?” she asks. “Isn’t life simpler without them?”

Startled by her question, I hesitate to answer. How can she sound so cynical so young? “Not always,” I say. “In Clay’s case, yes. He wasn’t around, always off doing things God knows where, and he couldn’t tell me. He and I… we went through some pretty ugly stuff in South America last spring,” I begin.

“Harm told me a little bit,” she interrupts. “That he went to get you and him and that’s why he lost his job in the Navy.”

Nodding, I say, “Yeah. Neither Clay nor I was in a good place to start a relationship when we did, and being with each other was probably the worst thing we could have done after the things that happened in South America. But,” I pause for a moment, “sometimes life isn’t simpler with men, but better. There are good men out there, men who are kind, loving, men who are honest and can be trusted, men who are worth loving, worth sharing a life with.”

What she asks me next doesn’t surprise me. “Is Harm one of those men?”

Hesitating for a moment, I answer, “He is.”

Smiling sweetly, Mattie says, “I figured. He’s done a lot for me, you know?”

I nod, smiling as well. Of all the things I was afraid she would say, the huge can of worms I was afraid she would open, I am glad she went in this direction. “I know. And I’m glad he was able to do so much for you.” Pausing for a moment, I watch Mattie as I say, “You mean a lot to him.”

Mattie mumbles, “He has a funny way of showing it.”

Confused, I ask her, “What do you mean?”

Mattie leans forward slightly, her shoulders hunched. The few ringlets that aren’t pulled back fall out from behind her ears, slightly obstructing her face from my view. She begins to pull nervously at her cuticles, unable to sit still. “Did he tell you that I was leaving?” she asks quietly.

“Yeah,” I answer softly. “Just before we got here.”

“I’m going back to live with my dad after I finish final exams. He’s looking for a house down in Roanoke, someplace to start over,” she explains.

Nodding, I say, “That’s good. I guess the Alateen group helped?”

“Yeah,” Mattie nods. “It did. I mean, I knew alcoholism was a disease, that he didn’t mean to kill my mom, but I just needed to, I don’t know…” she pauses. “It was nice to know that I’m not alone. This isn’t something that Harm can understand.” She pauses again, almost as if she expects me to say something. Continuing when I am silent, she says, “But if my dad has done all of this work to fight it, the least I can do is give him a second chance.”

“It sounds like you’ve put some thought into this,” I say.

“I don’t want to be mad at him for the rest of my life. That’s a lot to carry around with me.”

Thinking about my own father, I can’t help but to agree. It wasn’t until he turned up in my life again that I realized how heavy the burden of hate and anger can be. Forgiving him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but the weight that was lifted off my shoulders made the battle worth it. I know he loved me the best that he knew how, and I suspect it is much the same for Mattie’s dad. I think that the sooner that she realizes this, the sooner she can truly forgive him, the better off they’ll both be. I’d hate for her to have to go through a death-bed scene like I did.

Interrupting my thoughts, Mattie says, “I want to give him another chance, but I’m not real happy about leaving Harm. At least I wasn’t…” she trails off.

“What changed?” I ask as gently as I can.

Thinking for a moment, Mattie says, “I told him I was thinking about going back to my dad and he said it was my choice.”

“It is,” I say softly, nodding.

“I know,” Mattie agrees. “I expected that. But I also thought he’d say something more than, ‘It’s your choice.’”

“He wanted it to be your choice, Mattie. If he tried to influence you in any way, he’s afraid it would take away from you making that decision for yourself. That’s just who Harm is,” I try to explain.

Mattie pauses in playing with her cuticles and looks at me for a moment. When she turns away, she says, “Makes sense, I guess.” She’s quiet for another moment and I know that there is more on her mind. “But even when I told him what I wanted to do, he still didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look sad.”

I don’t know what to say. On one hand, part of that behavior is typical Harm, but on the other hand, I know that Mattie means a lot to Harm, and for him to not say something is surprising to me.

“He just looked like I told him that I wanted to go hang out with a friend on a Friday night. Like it was nothing. I don’t think he’s sorry to see me go,” she says sadly.

“That’s not true,” I respond quickly. “Harm loves having you in his life,” I start.

Mattie interrupts me by saying, “But he didn’t even argue with me or tell me that he wanted me to stay with him!” Her tone is angry, and I am momentarily surprised by this outburst.

“Harm wouldn’t fight you over it if he knew it was what you wanted,” I say softly. “That’s just who he is. If he cares about somebody, he lets them make their own decisions.”

Still angry, Mattie responds by saying, “Harm never told me that he loved me, never told me how he felt. How am I supposed to know what I mean to him?”

“Harm is better at showing his feelings than expressing them,” I tell her.

Mattie jerks her head up, her eyes flashing. “That’s a funny statement coming from you.”

Caught off-guard, I ask, “What do you mean?”

Shaking her head, Mattie looks away and mumbles, “Forget it. It’s none of my business.”

Puzzled, I wonder for a moment what set her off against me. After sitting in silence for several minutes that seemed to draw on longer than their allotted 60 seconds, I ask hesitantly, “Mattie?”

“Sorry, Mac,” she apologizes quietly.

“For what?”

“It’s none of my business,” she says softly. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Still confused, I gently prod, “What isn’t any of your business?”

“Your relationship with Harm.”

“My relationship with Harm?” I respond, startled.

“There are things I know I don’t know, so I shouldn’t judge,” she says softly.

I still have no idea what she’s talking about. This came out of left field for me. “Mattie,” I begin, “how did we go from you and Harm to me and Harm?”

For a moment, Mattie continues to pick at her nails. When she looks up at me, she asks, “You honestly don’t know, do you?”

“No,” I answer, shaking my head. What is it that she sees that I don’t?

For a moment, Mattie’s expression turns sad, and I’m afraid she’ll cry. “It’s what you said,” she finally says, her voice low and quiet. “About Harm being better at showing his emotions than expressing them.”

For a moment, I allow myself to think about what Mattie is telling me. I’m still not making the connection. How did she go from us talking about how Harm felt about her leaving to my relationship with Harm? Yes, Harm is better at showing his emotions than verbally stating them. I’ve known that for years. That’s why he was wiling to do so much for Mattie. He cares about her, and even though he can’t say so, he’d go to the ends of the earth for her. But how does that get to me?

Looking up at Mattie, I can’t quite read the expression on her face. There’s sadness there, maybe a little hope, and something else, something I can’t put a name to. The longer I look at her, the sadder her expression becomes, until I think she might break. “Forget it,” she says, looking away suddenly.

Still confused, I ask, “Forget what, Mattie?”

“If you can’t see it,” she begins sadly, “then maybe it’s not there at all.”

I feel like screaming, What am I not seeing?! What is it that she sees that I can’t? The silence between us lingers, growing fat with seconds, minutes that have fallen into history. Closing my eyes and leaning back into the couch, the vision that dances across the backs of my eyelids is one I had not thought of in a long time, from a time I had hoped to forget forever. For just a moment, I can freeze the movie reel in my head and see the look on Harm’s face when he found me in Paraguay, seconds away from being tortured. It was relief, and… something more. The movie in my head keeps playing on to the hotel room, to us in bed, and my asking him why he came after me. “You know the reason,” was all he said. In that moment, I hadn’t known the reason. I never have. I know what I’d like to believe, but I don’t know if that explains any of his behavior. If he would just say what he means, I would understand. But he can’t. Because he’s Harm.

And suddenly, I understand. I see what Mattie sees.

Jerking forward, I open my eyes and meet Mattie’s gaze. “You see something there? Between me and Harm?” I ask, my words rolling out in one big breathless rush.

Slowly, a smile grows on Mattie’s face. “Harm gave up the Navy for you. He gave up his entire life for you, to come and get you out of South America, leaving everything he had known behind.”

Nodding, I realize how it looks to her. “I’m his friend, Mattie. We’ve known each other for about nine years now…” I trail off. “It’s not the same thing as it is with you.”

“Yes it is,” Mattie insists, her voice firm.

“No, Harm has had his chance to say something. He never has because it isn’t there.”

Mattie smiles, as if she knows something I don’t. “It’s what you said, Mac. It’s his actions. He wouldn’t have given up his career in the Navy for just anyone.”

“He was willing to do it for his brother,” I point out.

“That’s because he loves his brother!” Mattie practically shouts.

“Sergei’s family,” I remind her.

“So are you,” Mattie answers, her voice calm, but slightly exasperated. “You are a part of his family.”

I want to say something, anything to tell her she is wrong, to show her that this is different. I’m different. I’m not Sergei. I’m not family, not his family. But my mouth is hanging open, wordless. There are no words for me to say. Closing my mouth, I sit in a numb silence. I’m afraid to admit it to myself, but… she’s right. Somewhere along the way, she put the puzzle pieces together, the pieces I could never even get organized. But if it was this easy for her, how come I’ve never been able to see it? How come it’s been so complicated all these years? Why have I made it this complicated for all these years?

Is it even there at all?

“Mattie,” I finally choke out.

“Don’t tell me I’m wrong,” she says. “I’m right. I mean,” she begins, “you’re right, Harm can’t just say it, but it’s in his actions. He took me in under his wing, gave up his lifestyle to have me live with him, he’s teaching me how to fly, he’s made sure that I’ve been able to get involved with things to help me get through things with my dad, and he’s willing to let me go. For my own benefit. You’re right when you say that he cares about me. He loves me, and deep down, I know that. It still hurts to not hear the words, but it’s there. And it’s there for you, too.”

“How do you know?” I whisper. I can’t believe I am hearing this from her, that she is the one telling me all about this. A child. Okay, a very mature, intelligent fifteen-year-old, but still a child. Out of the mouths of babes…

Shaking her head, Mattie grins sweetly. “It’s in the way he smiles when he sees you, the way he talks about you when you aren’t here, it’s in the way he looks at you. He’d do anything for you. He’d give up his job again, if he thought that’s what you wanted. He crashed a plane trying to get back for your wedding to another man.”

So she knows about that…

“It’s in the way that he looks to you for advice, for support. You didn’t see how worried he was about you when you left to go after Sadik. He had no idea what was going to happen and it was driving him crazy to not go after you. He knows that you can take care of yourself, he respects you enough to let you do it, but he still wants to be there.” For a moment Mattie is silent, but what she says next drives the point home. “Harm loves you enough to let you go.”

I’m in shock. She’s absolutely right. How come I’ve never seen it before? How could I have been so blind? He’s done so much for me because he cares, because he loves me. He’s even let me go to live my own life, even if that life turns out to not be with him. Grinning slightly, feeling almost childish, almost giddy with the sudden realization, I say, “You make it sound like a fairytale.”

“Nah,” Mattie grins back. “Just calling it as I see it.” Sobering for a moment, she asks me, “So, what are you going to do about this?”

“I don’t know,” I answer honestly. Does this change anything? I love Harm, and apparently, he loves me, too, but is that enough? We’ve been through a lot together, but along the way there have been countless misunderstandings, arguments, and a whole lot of pain. Can we overcome it all? And if we can, how do I get the ball rolling? I guess the ball is in my court. “I don’t know,” I repeat.

“You’ll figure it out,” Mattie says, a smile of satisfaction on her lips.

Once again, the silence lingers heavily between us, the music coming from Mattie’s room unaware of the loss of conversation. When the silence is broken, it is Mattie that breaks it once more. “So, you think Harm doesn’t want me to go?” Her voice is soft and uncertain. Her face, too, indicates a lack of confidence that is rare in this young woman.

“I know he doesn’t want you to go. If you asked him, he’d say so, but he won’t say it without asking,” I tell her.

“Should I ask him?”

“Maybe,” I suggest. Remembering the sadness Harm displayed just before entering Mattie’s apartment, I think the conversation might be good for both of them. I’m not sure Harm understands why Mattie is leaving. “I don’t think Harm is even sure of why you’re leaving. You’re going through something he never went through. I think he might think that you’re leaving because you’d rather be anywhere other than here.”

“That’s not it at all!” Mattie insists loudly. “I love living here with Harm. I know he felt guilty every time he had to leave town, but it wasn’t his fault. I sometimes got mad at him for it, but I always knew it wasn’t his fault. He gave me the chance to be a normal kid, something I haven’t felt like in a long time. He made me feel like the most important person in his life.”

“I think you need to tell him that, not me,” I say gently. I can’t help but to smile. It seems that Harm has turned out to be the father I always knew he was capable of being.

Watching me, Mattie smiles as well. “You’re glowing.”

“What?”

“You’re glowing,” she repeats.

“I’m glowing?” I ask.

“Yup,” Mattie nods. “You were thinking about Harm, weren’t you?”

Why should I deny it? “I was thinking about how he’s been such an excellent father figure to you these last few months. I always knew he’d be a good father.”

Laughing lightly, Mattie says, “You just had that look…”

“What look?”

“The look of a woman thinking about her man,” she grins.

“And what would you know about that?” I ask, unable to hide my grin.

Shaking her head, Mattie continues to smile.

Watching her, it dawns on me. “Who is he?”

“I didn’t say anything!” Mattie squeals.

“You didn’t have to!” I insist. Two can play at this game. “You had that look.”

Sighing heavily, Mattie said, “Steve.”

“Tell me more…”

“He’s new to the school, too, so I hung out with him and Andre,” she begins.

“Andre is the guy that wants to go to the Naval Academy, right?” I ask. I want to be sure I know who she’s talking about.

“Yeah,” Mattie nods. “Anyway, Steve is cute. And nice. But we were just friends. The three of us went to the last dance of the school year the other week and… well…” she trails off, shrugging her shoulders.

“Well? Well?” I say, leaning forward excitedly. “What happened?!”

“Steve and I were dancing, it was a slow song, and…” she trails off again, biting her lower lip nervously.

Grinning, I ask, “Harm doesn’t know about this, does he?”

Mattie shakes her head.

“I’m not going to tell him,” I tell Mattie.

“You won’t?” she asks, incredulous.

I shake my head. “Promise.” Unless I think Mattie’s getting involved in something dangerous, like thinking about having sex. She’s too young for that, and she has plenty of other things going on in her life right now.

Slowly, Mattie’s lips form a smile. “He kissed me.”

I smile back at Mattie. “And?” I urge.

“And what?” she asks.

“Did you like it?” I ask. “How was it? What’s going on between you and Steve now?”

Mattie laughs. “Jeez, Mac, you sound just like every other girl at school.”

“I’m interested,” I claim, defending myself. “You never outgrow this sort of stuff.”

“I liked it. It was my first kiss. We’re not going out or anything, because I’m leaving, but if I wasn’t…” she trails off.

“Is this your decision?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she admits.

“Go out with him,” I insist. “Get to know him. Have fun. Don’t shut yourself off from the experience just because you’re moving in a few weeks.”

“How do I tell Harm?” she asks.

There’s the real problem here. Harm. “Let me handle that,” I tell her.

“What are you going to do?” she asks.

“Talk to him.” For a moment, Mattie looks upset, but I go on and say, “I won’t tell him about the kiss. But I’ll talk to him, get him open to the idea.”

“He’s never going to let me go,” Mattie says sullenly. “He thinks boys are just bad news, only wanting to have sex, and teenage girls feel pressured to say yes in order to be liked.”

“But you don’t, do you?” I ask.

“I wouldn’t have sex with Steve, if that’s what you mean.”

“You wouldn’t?” I ask, trying not to glare at her.

“No…” she trails off. “Maybe if… I don’t know. I wouldn’t, not now.”

“And why wouldn’t you?”

“Are you interrogating me?” she throws back at me.

“Yes,” I admit. “If I’m going to talk Harm into letting you go out on a date, I have to know that I can trust you. If I think you’re going to go out and do something stupid, like have sex, I’m not going to say anything to Harm.”

“I’m not going to have sex, Mac. Not now. I’m too young. At school, this girl, Gina, she’s younger than me and six months pregnant. I don’t want to be like that, I don’t want to be that girl. I’ll admit I’m curious. I’d like to know why it’s such a big deal, but I’m not going to do something stupid and end up with a kid or a disease to satisfy that curiosity. I’ll wait.”

Leaning back into the couch, I smile slightly at her outburst. “What about if he pressures you into it?”

“I wouldn’t do it. I know who I am and what I want, and that’s more important to me than somebody else’s opinion.”

When did she get so smart? She is so far ahead of the game, ahead of her peers, ahead of me. I still have trouble with that concept sometimes. “Harm has nothing to worry about by letting you go on a date with Steve,” I tell her.

“So you’ll talk to him?” Mattie asks.

I nod. I feel like I can trust Mattie. She’s not me, not who I was at fifteen. When she says she won’t do it, she won’t do it.

“Thanks,” she says calmly.

I smile and say, “You’re welcome.” Silence is ticking out between us once again. The CD that was playing in Mattie’s stereo has switched to another one, something with more of a punk flavor. When the silence is broken, it is not by speaking. My stomach growls.

Mattie laughs. “I was just thinking the same thing. Where is Harm with our pizza?”

“He should be back soon,” I say, rising off the couch. Wandering to the window, I gaze outside. The window is open, but there is almost no breeze outside. The apartment faces the back of the building, so I can’t see if Harm is coming or not.

“I like your dress,” Mattie says from behind me.

“Thanks,” I answer automatically. It’s so quiet and still behind the building. There are no birds back here, not even pigeons. Any squirrels that might be in the area are apparently lying low this evening. It’s still light outside and the sun will be up for a while longer. Closing my eyes, I lean forward and place my forehead on the woodwork surrounding the window. This is one of those days where, if I had a house, I’d be out on the front porch in a rocking chair, a glass of ice water at my side, and a good book in my hand. Why has this been so hard to achieve?

The deal on the house Harm wanted didn’t go through. I never even saw the house. But now, he’s not interested in one. I can understand that. We’re both single, living by ourselves, why do we need all of that space? There would just be empty rooms to collect dust. But still, a house to call my own with a porch and a little piece of land… that sounds nice.

Beside me, Mattie asks, her voice concerned, “You okay?”

Opening my eyes, I see her standing next to me, looking out the window. “Yeah,” I answer. “I was just thinking.”

“About what?” she asks.

She’s curious. She wants to know everything. I hope Mattie never loses that. “Just that this is such a beautiful day.”

“When we were looking at houses,” Mattie begins, “Harm insisted on getting one with a front porch. He said he wanted to sit out there and read when it was nice outside.”

Can she read minds? “I was just thinking that,” I say softly.

“The house we wanted was taken off the market,” she says sadly.

“I know. Harm told me.”

“I still think he should get his own place. He wants one, but…” she trails off.

“It’s a lot of space for just one person,” I finish.

“Yeah,” she agrees.

We both jump when Harm opens the door behind us, bearing two boxes of pizza and a bag of breadsticks. “You guys okay?” he asks as he notices us standing by the window, both wearing startled expressions.

“Yeah,” Mattie answers, recovering quickly from his arrival. “We’ve just been talking.”

Harm smiles to us as he sets the pizza boxes and breadsticks down on the table. When I move to get plates and glasses from the cupboards, he asks me, “You okay, Mac? You’re being awfully quiet.”

“Sure,” I answer, giving him a weak smile. “I’m fine. I’ve just been thinking, that’s all.”

For a moment, a frown crosses his face before it melts back into a smile. “Happy thoughts, I hope.”

Placing the glasses and plates around the table, I shrug my shoulders. “I guess.”

Harm moves behind me and fills the glasses, Mattie’s with soda and his and mine with water.

Mattie has been watching us, perhaps expecting me to say something to Harm about our discussion in his absence, but if that was the case, she will be disappointed. I’m not sure of what I want to say to Harm, if I want to say anything at all. Now is certainly not the time, nor is Mattie’s apartment the place. Now is the time for food.

As if reading my mind again, Mattie says, “Let’s eat.”

-----

Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station
Washington, D.C.
Saturday, June 5, 2004
0008 Hours (local)

I lean back into the couch and sigh. We’ve been at this for hours and I’m not sure it’s done any of us any good. My back hurts from sitting on the couch and hunching over the coffee table. Harm turns to look at me and says, “There’s no hope, is there?” as if he had been reading my thoughts.

“No,” I answer quickly. “We’re not getting anywhere on this tonight.”

Sighing heavily, Harm leans back into the couch as well, closing his eyes.

Rising off the couch, I say, “I’m going to grab a slice of pizza. You want one?”

“Nah,” he replies.

“Suit yourself.” We had taken a few slices from the left over pizza when we left Mattie’s earlier, just for an occasion like this. Some slices still remained in the refrigerator over there for Mattie and Jennifer to eat later. Grabbing a slice, I also grab a paper towel and head back to the couch without heating it up.

“You’re eating it cold?” Harm asks as I take a seat next to him.

“Brain food,” I reply, taking a bite. “Why do you think it is the staple of a college student’s diet?”

“I thought that was cheap beer?” he shoots back at me.

“The two of them do go together very nicely…” I trail off, smiling slightly as I take another bite.

Harm smiles as well, shaking his head.

“When I finish this, I’ll go home,” I say. Leaning forward, I take a few swallows of the glass of water on the table. As I chew on another bite, I watch Harm. He looks like he’s a million miles away. “Where was it? The house?”

“Out in Fairfax County. I liked the school system, thought it would be good for Mattie.”

“What did it look like?”

“It was nice,” he begins, sounding wistful. “Small yard, but most new houses in this area don’t have much land. It had a small front porch, three bedrooms, a nice kitchen, beautiful living room. The backyard was fenced, so we were going to get a dog.”

“You? With a dog?” Okay, I admit, I can picture Harmon Rabb with a dog. A nice golden retriever. But while I can picture it, his life just never seemed to allow for one.

“Yeah,” he says, opening his eyes and grinning at me. “I figure if I can’t have the wife and I’ve only got one of the 2.3 kids, I might as well get the dog, shoot for having 4.5 of the nine yards.”

I can’t help but to laugh, and Harm joins in. As hurt as he is by Mattie’s impending departure, he’s handling it well. Right now. Still has the Rabb sense of humor. When our laughter dies down, the words fly out of my mouth before I can choke them down. “We should get one.”

“A dog?”

“No. Well, maybe. A house.”

Harm’s eyes must have tripled in size in the last two seconds, and he’s looking at me like I’ve grown an extra head. “A house?” he repeats.

“Yeah,” I answer. “We’re both single, we both want a house, we have established careers, why can’t we get one? We can even get a dog.”

“I just think we’re a little too… old… for roommates,” he says seriously.

Shrugging my shoulders, I say, “It was just a suggestion.” But if it was just a suggestion, then how come my heart started beating faster as soon as I mentioned it? How come I feel so disappointed because he shot the idea down?

For a long moment, 44 seconds to be exact, he is silent. “You think we could stay just roommates?” he finally asks quietly.

Is he considering it? Is he actually thinking about it?

“What about Webb?” he asks. He’s staring up at the ceiling now, as if that holds the answers.

“Webb is gone,” I say. “He’s been gone. It was never going to work and it was stupid to even try.”

Turning to look at me, he asks, “Do you think we could make it work?”

“Maybe. If we want it bad enough.”

“As roommates?”

“Is that what you want?”

“Is that what you want?” he echoes.

Is it? Honestly, I just want to be with him. If that means being his roommate, I’ll settle. But I want more, I want another chance with him, a chance I’m afraid I threw away thousands of miles south in a foreign country. Averting my gaze from his eyes, I turn my head towards the door. “I should go,” I whisper, swallowing heavily, the half-eaten slice of cold pizza still in my hand.

“Mac,” he says quietly.

I still can’t look at him. Why am I so afraid to tell him? Why can I do so many things, but I can’t be honest with Harm? Even after everything we’ve been through, all the places we’ve been and the pain we’ve caused, after all that Mattie said to me, why can’t I face him?

Placing his hand on my chin, he turns my head to face him.

I move my eyes downward, still unable to look at him.

“Mac,” he says again, his voice a little more firm. “Look at me,” he commands.

Staring at his chest, I watch him breath. One breath… two… three… Inside his chest, is his heart beating as hard as mine? Slowly raising my head, I look up at him.

“What is it that you want?”

What kind of a question is that? What kind of an answer is he expecting?

“Tell me what you want,” he says gently. “Not what you think I want, but what you want.”

What is it with the mind-reading thing tonight? Am I that transparent? “I don’t know,” I whisper. “I want the same things I’ve always wanted… a good man, a good career, lots of comfortable shoes.”

“Do you want a big closet for all those shoes?”

I nod. I guess a lot of shoes would require a big closet.

“I think that can be arranged.” Smiling slightly, he asks, “And are you happy with your career right now?”

Once again, I nod.

“So I guess the good man is the hardest part of that equation, huh?”

“Yeah,” I answer, averting my eyes. He’s still holding on to my chin, and I’m not sure I have the strength to move my head against it. I’m afraid that he is that good man, but that I’ve thrown him away. Despite Mattie’s words earlier and my own self-confidence, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that this has the potential to go horribly wrong.

He is silent as if he doesn’t know what to say. Where do we go from here?

“Mac?”

How many times can he say my name within a two minute time period? Looking up, I meet his gaze, searching his eyes for some clue.

He looks just as scared as I feel.

“I knew about you and Clay,” he says, maintaining eye contact.

“I figured.”

“Why did it end?”

“It never should have gotten started,” I answer honestly.

For a long moment, we merely look at each other. I’m trying to read his eyes, see into his soul, figure him out, and I suspect he is doing the same. Finally he asks the question that got this started. “Do you think we could make this work?”

I don’t think he’s talking about being roommates. I give him the same answer I gave him earlier. “If we want it bad enough.”

“Is that what you want?”

Haven’t we been here before? I nod slightly. I do want this. “Is that what you want?”

Slowly, his head moves up and down, mimicking the nod I gave him.

God, why is this so hard? Stubborn people shouldn’t be allowed to fall in love with other stubborn people. It would be a whole lot easier if we could just say what we mean, if we could have said it all years ago, instead of sitting here on his couch late at night, asking vague questions and giving slight answers. If we could just voice our feelings, attach words to these-

His lips are on mine, softly pressing into my flesh, kissing me. His eyes are closed, his head tilted… and I shouldn’t know this! Closing my eyes, I feel myself relax with his kiss. Maybe these aren’t words, but I know what this answer means.

After a moment, he pulls away, and as I open my eyes, I can see his are open as well, watching me. “Do you want this bad enough, Mac?”

“It’s what I’ve always wanted, Harm. I just… didn’t know I could have it.” Idiot that I am, I look away again, afraid to see his reaction. I swear I can hear the seconds falling off into history as he looks at me and I look downward. I know he’s looking at me. I always know.

“Are you going to finish that slice of pizza?”

Jerking my head up, I meet his gaze, and see the smile on his lips. I guess this is a good thing. And I had entirely forgotten about the pizza. Smiling as well, I take another bite, chewing thoroughly. After swallowing it down, I ask him, “Answer your question?”

He nods, and continues to watch me as I take another bite. I don’t really want it anymore. My stomach is in knots, surrounded by dancing butterflies. Is it really this simple? Is this all we ever needed? Finishing the last bite, I ask him, “Is it this simple, Harm?”

“Is what this simple?”

“Is this how it happens? We ask a few simple questions, kiss, and go from here?”

“Would you rather not go from here?” he asks, concern in his eyes.

“Is this all we ever needed? This whole time, could we have gotten here simply by talking?”

Shaking his head, he says, “I don’t think so, Mac. I think we’ve always been more complicated than that. But I think it’s about wanting something bad enough, and finally knowing what you want.”

I have to know. “What do you want?”

“I want a family,” he answers simply. “I wish Mattie could stay, but I want what’s best for her, even if that means she goes back to her dad. I want a wife. I’m tired of waking up alone.”

“You don’t have to have a wife in order to not wake up alone,” I remind him. I’m sure he’s woken up just as many times as I have, found someone in bed next to him, and wondered how it happened.

“No,” he agrees. “But I want to wake up next to someone I care about. I want to wake up to the same woman everyday, a woman that will be with me for life.”

“You think that’s still possible? Staying married for life?”

“Sure,” he grins. “You just have to find the right person. And want it bad enough.”

Smiling, I can see the honesty sparkling in his eyes. “So,” I begin, “is this it?”

The grin slides off his face, seeming to melt away. “What do you want?”

“Asked and answered,” I remind him.

“I’m not satisfied with that answer,” he shrugs.

What does he want? Does he want me to tell him about all the nights with Clay, when I wished it was him? Or does he want to hear about the lonely nights in my bathtub, imagining my hand was his? Does he want to hear about my discussion with Mattie? Or how I cried on little AJ’s birthday, knowing that the child I wanted with him was out of reach?

Suddenly, I cock my head to the side and smile. I don’t think he’s looking for any of that, merely some reassurance. “That good man I’ve always wanted,” I pause for a moment before I go on, “I think he’s been right under my nose the whole time.”

The smile grows slowly, but it involves his whole face, his whole body. “I want you, Mac. I want you to be that woman, the one I wake up next to every morning for the rest of my life.”

“Mattie was right,” I say quietly, still smiling.

“Mattie?” he questions, his smile fading once more.

“Yeah,” I nod. “She knew about you… and me.”

“She’s a smart kid.”

“Perceptive, too,” I add. I’ll have to thank her for this one day.

“What did she tell you?” he asks.

Shaking my head, I say, “It isn’t what she told me. It’s what she made me see.”

“And what did she make you see?”

“She made me see that you’ve cared about me for a long time,” I say softly.

“Of course. Didn’t you know that?”

I shake my head.

“I have, Mac. So long that I don’t remember ever not caring.”

“It’s a scary feeling, isn’t it?” I ask him.

A puzzled expression on his face, he looks at me as if he’s trying to figure me out.

“It’s the same for me,” I whisper.

Silence reigns supreme for three minutes and seven seconds. Has all of this really happened? Have we really covered so much territory in so short a conversation? Have we really moved to where I think we both have always wanted to go? Is he okay with this? Am I okay with this?

“Mac?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s late.”

“I know. I should go home.”

“Don’t. Stay with me.”

“Don’t you think you’re jumping the gun a little?” I ask, startled that he would be so forward.

“That’s not what I meant,” he begins. “Just stay with me. I want you to be here tonight. I want to be with you tonight. I want to wake up to you in the morning.”

Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind waking up with him in the morning. I wouldn’t mind it all. But still… “Harm…” I trail off.

“I’m not asking for sex, Mac,” he says, spelling it all out in plain terms.

“I know,” I reassure him. How to explain this? It still feels like we’d be moving too fast given all that’s happened tonight.

“The couch, then? What if I sleep out here? I want to have coffee in the morning, eat breakfast with you.”

“Harm…” I can’t help but to smile. I don’t think I have ever had a man make me feel like this, want me like this, want me for me. How can I refuse? Smiling, I look at him and nod.

-----

Harm and Mac’s House
Clifton, Virginia
Friday, September 17, 2004
2013 Hours (local)

Stretching up on my toes, I put the last dried plate away in the cabinet. I close the cabinet and before I can move to hang the towel up, I can feel him gently push my hair aside and lower his lips to the back of my neck, sending a shiver up my spine. Placing my hands on the counter, the towel clutched in my grasp, I melt into his hands as they move down my sides, around my front, pulling me close to him. Gently leaning back, I can feel his arousal, and I tilt my head back as his lips move to the sides. Within moments, his lips are on mine, his tongue in my mouth. My eyes have closed of their own volition, and my hands, also out of my control, are pulling his head still closer to mine. I’m drowning in his scent.

I knew this dinner was a seduction. I knew it was coming as soon as I walked in the door and saw him hard at work in the kitchen. There was a gleam in Harm’s eyes, almost predatory, as he ushered me out. I knew then that he was feeling the same thing I’ve been feeling for a few days. It’s time to give in to what we’ve been fighting for the last two months since we moved into this house, and longer. While I was sitting on the front porch, reading and sipping the lemonade he brought out to me, I wasn’t really paying attention to the words on the page. My mind was on him, in the kitchen, and what this night could bring, what these last few months had brought.

After Mattie left, Harm and I went house hunting. We both wanted a house, but felt it would be a waste of space if only one person lived in it. But we weren’t going to be just roommates, because we were already something more. I transferred down to Quantico shortly after we moved in. Living together and working together probably wasn’t a good idea. And even though we’ve been living together, and occasionally sleeping together, we decided to wait for a while before we had sex because we wanted to take things slow, savor this new relationship. But walking in the door tonight, I could feel the electricity in the air.

As his hands slip up under my shirt and cup my breast, I can’t keep the moan in my throat silent. It tumbles out from between my lips and right into Harm’s mouth. This causes him to tighten his hand around my breast, squeezing gently, and pull me closer to him, pressing my rear end into his arousal.

Growling into my ear, his hot breath tickles my nerves, traveling all the way down to my core, increasing the moisture already pooling between my legs. As it is, I fear this pair of underwear will never be the same after tonight. Harm whispers four words to me, four simple, tiny words, but they cause my knees to melt, and if he weren’t holding me up, even my arms on the counter wouldn’t have been enough to hold me up. “I want you. Now.”

Slowly, too slowly, Harm moves his hand down from my breast, trailing it down my torso, down my stomach, easily slipping under the elastic waistband of my shorts. Thank God I opted for these shorts earlier instead of jeans; no need to waste time with a zipper. He pauses once inside my shorts, and instead of continuing on under my underwear, his hand glides lightly over the nylon fabric, creating friction, teasing me.

My whimper of disappointment and frustration slips out before I can even think about stopping it. His mouth still around my ear, I can feel the air change as he grins. I am so glad my frustration pleases him, that he’s getting enjoyment out of this. Time for me to do something. Shifting my hips slightly, I move so that his hand is where I want it to be, right on my core.

“God, Mac,” he breathes heavily into my ear. Once again, his breath is making me melt still further. “You are so wet.”

“Yeah,” I grin, turning my head slightly to the side so I can kiss him. “I guess I have you to thank for that.” Planting my lips on his, I reach up to pull his head closer to me, trusting him to support me. Parting his lips with my tongue, I get his mouth open and slip my tongue in, tangling it with his.

Pulling his hands out of my shorts, he places both hands on my hips and slips my shorts and underwear down, letting them go in one easy movement so they puddle at my feet. My back is still to him, and he pulls me close to him once more. The harshness of his jeans and the hardness of his arousal only excite me further. One hand on my waist, supporting me, Harm lowers his other hand, bringing it close to me without touching me. I can feel his hand hovering near me, the heat in the air between his hand and my core. The air is heavy with anticipation, thick with desire, and pregnant with expectations.

A successful attempt at seduction is like foreplay; when he touches me, it’s almost enough to make me come.

He does nothing more than lay his hand flat against my core, the pressure light, but the anticipation of this moment has been building for nine years. Calling his name, I lean forward into his hand, wanting more from him.

As he kisses the back of my neck, he shifts his hand, parting my lower lips with two fingers, a third slipping up to trace my opening and brush my clit. And that’s all it takes. I can feel my body shudder, my thighs tighten around his hand. My eyes clenched tightly shut, I grip the counter until it passes.

When my body relaxes and when I think I can control my legs again, I turn around in Harm’s arms, his hand falling out from between my thighs. Pressing myself to him, I tease him with light kisses along his jaw, moving to his ear, before I whisper a repeat his earlier statement. “I want you. Now.”

And it breaks. Whatever moment that was between us, the softness and gentleness of it is gone, shattered by four words. Control is gone as we move, pulling off the remaining clothes between us. I don’t protest about location as we sink to the cool linoleum floor beneath our feet. Moving upstairs to a bed, or even into the living room to use the couch would simply take too long. We have the rest of our lives for slow and gentle. Right now is all about getting what we’ve wanted all along, getting what we’ve worked so hard for, something we almost threw away.

Hovering above me, his weight not yet on top of me, Harm looks into my eyes before he enters me. In his eyes, I see a reflection of my own thoughts, the anticipation, the release, the wanting of this, and knowing that this is it, there will never again be another first time for either of us. From this point on there is no going back, but there is no doubt in his gaze, or in my heart.

Entering slowly, I gasp as I take him. It isn’t that he is especially large, but rather, he is well proportioned, but it is the feeling of this joining, the feeling of all the puzzle pieces falling into place. Still looking into his eyes, it’s like looking into his soul, and what I see reflected there is something I never thought I would see from him. Love.

Moving slowly, my back slides on the floor, creating an uncomfortable sensation on my skin. The pain contrasts with the pleasure, the purity of this moment, and I welcome the feeling. This is real; imperfect, but real. Kissing his lips, I wrap my arms around him and soak it all up, soak him up, drown in him.

The pace increases as we both become more desperate for the end. The sliding of my back on the floor creates a squeaking sound, and looking down at me, Harm says, “Sorry.” But he doesn’t stop. He needs this as much as I do.

Wrapping my legs around him, I twist my ankles together, holding him close. Squeezing my inner muscles, I feel him inside of me. He moans as I squeeze him and increases the pace. Within moments, that spring that has been tightly coiled inside me and getting still tighter, snaps, sending me over the edge once more. Moments later, I can feel him as he follows, emptying himself into me.

We lay together, a sweaty, tangled mass of human beings for many minutes, reveling in the haze. I will never look at this kitchen floor the same way. Gently kissing Harm, I feel completely content, completely satisfied. I’m not just satisfied sexually, though I am that for the moment, but it is more than that, deeper.

This is life. My life, our life, the life I’ve always wanted. Lying here on the kitchen floor, sore spots on my back, sticky sweat clinging to my body, viewing the cracks in the yellow ceiling of this old house, everything is beautiful.

-----

Mattie’s House
Roanoke, Virginia
Friday, December 24, 2004
2023 Hours (local)

Harm knocks on the door in front of us and tightens his grip around my waist, turning to smile down at me. “It’s nice, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I smile. We were allowed to leave work early today because it’s Christmas Eve, and we had made plans to drive down here to Roanoke to spend the holiday weekend with Mattie and her dad. We talk to Mattie on the phone on a weekly basis, but we haven’t seen her since she came to visit us for a long weekend in October.

Kissing the top of my head, he says, “I’m glad we were able to do this.”

“So am I,” I answer, resting my head against his shoulder. I do miss Mattie, even though I was never as close to her as Harm.

We can hear her footsteps before she opens the door. Smiling, she launches herself at us, first at Harm, and then at me, swallowing us in large hugs. “You made it!” she squeals.

“Did you think we wouldn’t?” Harm asks, grinning.

“I knew you would,” Mattie smiles. “But it’s cold outside, and I was worried about you guys driving on some slippery roads.”

Coming to the door behind Mattie, Mr. Johnson steps into the light. “Harm, Mac,” he smiles as he extends his hand. We each take it in turn. “Glad you could make it. Come on in.”

We follow them inside and look around the foyer of the house. It is open, airy, and the walls are lined with pictures. It feels like a good home and I’m proud of all that Mattie’s dad has overcome, all that they have both overcome.

“Mmm… It smells good in here…” Harm states.

He’s right. It does smell good in here, like cookies.

Laughing, Mattie shakes her head. “It’s not what you think, Harm. I didn’t make cookies. It’s a candle.”

Pulling Mattie in for another hug, he asks, “Why am I not surprised?”

“But we can make some,” Mattie suggests, looking up at Harm. “If you want to…” she trails off.

“I am all for making some cookies,” I say, grinning.

“Of course you would,” Mattie teases, smiling.

For a moment, we are all silent. Mattie has grown up so much in the last year. We sent her birthday cards a few weeks ago, and we brought some Christmas gifts with us, as well as a belated birthday gift. She never asked about not getting anything more than the cards, and she has yet to mention our lack of packages at this moment. Like our bags, they are still in the car. And though she may be a mature sixteen-year-old, I can’t help but to wonder how much longer she can hold off.

“Is your stuff in the car?” Mr. Johnson asks us.

“We can get it later,” Harm says, still holding Mattie to his side.

“Of course,” Mr. Johnson smiles. “Why don’t you guys take your coats off, then?”

Pulling his arm off Mattie’s shoulders, Harm steps to me and helps me out of my coat. Once free of the heavy material, I slip my gloves off and put them into a pocket. Mr. Johnson takes the bundle from my arms and waits for Harm to take his coat off as well.

Mattie is quick to see it. Not that I can blame her. It does sparkle well in the light. “Ohmygod!!” she squeals, grabbing my hand. “Is this…?”

Unable to hide my smile, I grin, nodding my head. “He asked me before we left to come down here. We wanted you to be the first to know.”

Inspecting the ring closely, Mattie holds it up to the light. It was the ring his father gave to his mother, but Harm had two more smaller stones placed around the large, original stone, before he asked me to marry him. “It’s beautiful…” she trails off. “Congratulations!” she squeals again, this time pulling me into a big hug. “Have you set a date yet?”

“No,” I answer, shaking my head. We talked about it a little bit, but we haven’t made any definite plans.

Stepping away from me, Mattie looks at the two of us, grinning, and says, “I’m so happy for the two of you. This is… good.”

Harm and I turn and look at each other, and without a word being said, I move to his side and he hugs me close, one arm around my waist. Yeah, this is good.

Later, after dinner and cookies, from a fresh package apparently purchased earlier in the week, Mattie has gone to bed and Mr. Johnson is upstairs somewhere, Harm and I are dancing to softly playing Christmas songs in the glow of the Christmas tree. My head is on his chest and I can hear his heart beat, strong and steady, and comforting. His arms are around me, holding me close, his chin resting upon my head. “What about April?” he asks suddenly, his voice still soft.

“For the wedding?”

“Yeah.”

I ponder this in silence for a moment. We had talked about a date earlier, but hadn’t mentioned anything specific. We both agreed that soon would be good, summer at the latest. We aren’t getting any younger, and we have had nine and a half years to get to know each other. “Why April?”

“Mattie will be on Spring Break.”

“I see…” I grin, teasing him. “It’s our wedding, but it’s all about Mattie.”

“Mac…” he begins. I can hear the smile in his voice. He knows I’m teasing him and he’s teasing me as well.

“I want her there, too, Harm.”

“So is April okay?”

“Can you promise me that it will be a warm and sunny April day?”

“No,” he answers sadly. “I can’t. I wish I could.”

“That’s okay,” I smile, pulling my head out from under his chin to look up at him. “I think I could handle a little rain on my wedding day.”

“So is April good?”

“April is fine.”

His eyes are sparkling, reflecting the white lights on the tree and his inner happiness. Lowering his head, he kisses me, slowly, softly, sweetly, and with more love and passion than I ever thought I would get.

********

The End

********

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