As they watched the coin flip into the air, Harm and Mac stood in each other's arms, letting Fate make a decision that would change their lives.
At this moment, with Mac so close and holding onto him as if she'd never let go, Harm wasn't sure that he would mind giving up his promotion and the Navy if the toss went against him. Yes, he'd miss the Navy, but he'd have Mac. And Mattie. Taking care of her was going to be a full time job until she recovered - and he firmly believed that she *would* recover and be able to do all the things she'd planned to do with her life.
And San Diego would give him a chance to reconnect with his mom again - maybe work through the coolness in their relationship. Who knows, he thought, she'd probably enjoy having a granddaughter to spoil. Not to mention any children that he and Mac would have. He could feel how tense she was as the coin fell back to the floor at last.
Unwilling to look at the result, Harm waited for Bud to make the call. His old friend's eyes were filled with a mixture of sorrow and delight as he announced, "It's tails."
"Guess that means we're going to San Diego, then," Harm said, keeping his tone light and pulling Mac closer.
"I guess so," Mac agreed, looking up at him with uncertain eyes. "You okay with that?"
"Sure. I'm not really Captain material anyway," he said with a lift of his shoulders. Looking at General Cresswell, Harm said, "The paperwork will be on your desk tomorrow morning, sir."
Cresswell gave a sharp nod of acknowledgement. "You're sure about this, Captain?" he asked.
Harm looked down into Mac's eyes and smiled at her before answering. "Yes, sir. More sure than I've ever been in my life."
"Very well, then. I won't try to dissuade you. I can try to find you a billet in the San Diego area for a Lt. Commander, if you'd rather stay in the Navy. It won't be with JAG, but since you have a background in aviation -"
Harm considered the offer, knowing that if he stayed in the Navy, he'd risk their being separated again. He'd given it up once to save her life - now, he was willing to give it up to have her *in* his life. "I think I'll just take my retirement, General. And I know this is leaving you in the lurch as far as the billet goes-"
"Let me handle it, Captain - and you *are* still a Captain until that paperwork is approved, by the way. I'm sure I'll find someone else to take that billet."
Once the General moved away, Mac looked at Harm. "You're willing to give it up?"
"For you, yes," Harm said, taking her hand in his. "It won't be the first time, after all." He grinned. "And *this* time, I got the girl."
"Yes." Mac smiled at him, her eyes glittering. "Thank you," she said as she touched her lips to his. He could see that those words were for far more than this evening. It was amazing how he'd been afraid to trust what he saw in her eyes for so long, but now it seemed like the easiest thing in the world to do.
"So," Harriet asked as she and Jen Coates appeared, "When's the wedding?"
"It will have to be soon. I have to leave for San Diego tomorrow morning," Mac said.
"That doesn't leave much time," Harriet noted.
"Have you talked to Mattie about this, sir?" Jen asked.
"We called her before we called Bud and Harriet," Harm told her. "She was delighted."
"I'm sure she was, sir." Jen looked a little embarrassed. "I know it doesn't matter now, sir, but - I want to explain why I wanted to go to San Diego with the Colonel and not to London with you."
"Let me guess," Mac said, drawing Jen's attention. "Lt. Vukovic?"
Jen's cheeks reddened with embarrassment. "A little, ma'am," she confirmed. "I mean, I know he's an officer and I'm enlisted, but, well, there's something about him - and once I finish college, I could always go to OCS -"
"Yes, you could," Mac agreed. "But Vic isn't going to San Diego."
Harm smiled at Jen's surprise. He'd been surprised as well when Mac had told him that she'd turned Vic down flat when he'd come to request that she take him with her - and then had explained her reasons for the decision.
"He's - not, ma'am?"
"No. He'll be staying here in Washington with the General, I assume."
"If you'd known that before the coin toss, Jen, would it have made a difference in your decision?" Mac wanted to know.
Wincing, Jen answered. "Probably, ma'am. May I ask - why you turned him down?"
"Why don't we sit down, Jennifer, and I'll try to explain." She gave Harm a smile. "Be right back."
Harm drifted over to where Bud, Sturgis, and the General were talking over their drinks. "When are you getting married, sir?" Bud asked.
"I'm not sure yet," Harm said. "If I can get Mac away, we'll probably find a Justice of the Peace tomorrow morning before she has to leave for San Diego. Mattie and I will follow her out in a week or so, once the custody matter is resolved."
"That's not much time to arrange a wedding," Sturgis said.
"Leave it to Harriet," Bud said. "She loves arranging things."
Harm looked at the man. "Everything okay, Bud?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't it be? The two people I admire most in the world are finally getting married after nine years. Everything's great!"
Harm thought he heard a tiny undercurrent of discontent in Bud's voice, but didn't pursue it as the General asked, "What were the Colonel and Coates discussing before you came over here? If you - don't mind my asking."
"She told Coates that she hadn't offered a position on her staff to Lt. Vukovic. I think that Coates was expecting to see him there."
Cresswell frowned. "She's not taking him with her?"
"Did she tell you her reasons?"
"She did, General, but - I think it might be best if you speak to her about it."
"I'll do that," Cresswell nodded, watching Jen and Mac talking as they sat at a table across the bar while Harriet joined Bud and Sturgis. "What about - Mattie, isn't it? How is she?"
"She's going to need some physical therapy, but the doctors are hopeful. They gave me some recommendations for good places in London. I guess I'll have to get some for the San Diego area, now."
"Are you certain about resigning, Captain?"
Harm looked across the room just as Mac looked up and their eyes met. "I think the reward is worth it, General."
Jen looked at Mac, and then turned around to see Harm looking in their direction. With a deep sigh, she said, "You're so lucky, ma'am."
"I know, Jennifer," Mac said. "Believe me. It's taken us nine years to get this far."
"I'm glad that you got things right with Capt. Rabb - I mean Commander Rabb. Too bad he can't keep the rank. I think it suits him."
"So do I," Mac murmured softly, watching Harm as he spoke with Bud and Harriet before coming across the room toward them. It was still hard for Mac to believe that he was finally going to be hers. That he *was* hers, she corrected.
"Bud and Harriet have an idea about the wedding, Mac," Harm said, moving to stand beside Mac, his hand on her shoulder.
"You don't have to agree, Mac," Harriet began, "but since I'm sure Mattie would love to be present at your wedding, and we all have just enough time to drive out to Blacksburg tomorrow morning so that you could have the ceremony in her room."
Mac looked up at Harm. "Would the doctors allow that?"
"I think so. I think it would be good for her to be there when we become a family."
"Oh my," Mac said, blinking. "I just realized that I'm not just getting a husband. I'm getting a teenage daughter, too."
"You're just now realizing that, ma'am?" Jen asked.
Harm squeezed her shoulder. "I don't make promises I don't keep," he reminded her. "I know it's not quite the way we planned, but -"
"It works," she told him. "And who knows? We might still get lucky."
"Parenting a teenage girl isn't an easy task, as I'm sure you know, Captain," the General said as he joined them. "But I have a feeling that you're both up to the task at hand. Don't worry about meeting any time deadlines as far as your billet, Colonel," he said. "I think you can take care of business here first."
"Thank you, sir," she said.
"You're welcome. I have to go. I'll see both of you tomorrow morning. Congratulations, Captain. Colonel."
"Thank you, sir," Harm said. "For everything."
"I haven't done anything."
"You gave us a deadline that we couldn't overlook this time," Mac explained, reaching up to cover Harm's hand on her shoulder with one of her own.
"If I were you, Captain Rabb, I'd get that lady a ring ASAP."
"That reminds me," Harm said, reaching into the pocket of his mess dress uniform and pulling something out. "I guess I should make this official, shouldn't I?"
Mac stared at the marquis cut diamond ring in his hand. "Harm. Where -?"
"It belonged to my Grandma Sarah," he explained. It seemed for a moment that everything had stopped in the bar.
The jukebox fell silent as a song ended. The patrons seemed to sense something important was taking place in their midst and focused their attention on the table where a stunningly beautiful woman wearing a sexy red dress and a Navy Captain wearing mess dress were surrounded by their friends.
"Will you marry me, Sarah Mackenzie?" Harm asked, his eyes locked with hers. "I love you. I have for longer than I can tell."
She drew a shuddering breath as her eyes filled with moisture and felt Harm's fingers touch her left hand. "I love you, too, Harmon Rabb," she confirmed. "Yes. I'll marry you."
Harm gave a pretend sigh of relief and grinned as he slipped the ring onto her finger. "It's a perfect fit," he noted, leaning forward to kiss the back of her hand before kissing her mouth.
Behind him, he heard Harriet and Jen both sniffling, and rested his forehead against Mac's as they both looked at the ring on her finger. "Those Captain's stripes look good on you," she whispered.
"But this looks better on you," he replied, touching the ring.
"I'll see everyone tomorrow," Cresswell said again, and was gone.
"We have to go, too," Harriet said apologetically. "Mike's staying with the kids."
"I'll see you first thing tomorrow?" Mac said to Harriet.
"I'll be ready," Harriet agreed with a smile before she leaned over to give Mac another hug and looked at Harm. "I'm so happy for both of you."
"So am I," Bud agreed, shaking Harm's hand again. "Congratulations again, sir."
"Better get used to calling me 'Harm'," Bud," Harm suggested, and felt Mac look at him as she stood with his arm around her.
Sturgis and Jen left a few moments later, leaving Harm and Mac sitting alone at the table. "How long have you been carrying this ring around, Harm?" she asked as his fingers touched the circlet of metal and diamond on her finger.
"I've had it for a year," he confessed. "Ever since the dining out. I almost packed it away, though. I wasn't sure we'd get this far. There's a wedding ring that goes with it."
"I wish I'd met her," Mac told Harm with a long sigh. Sarah Jarrett Rabb had died while he'd been working for the CIA - and he'd been unable to attend her funeral as a result.
"She would have liked you," Harm replied. "I know we've agreed to be married tomorrow morning, but once we're settled in San Diego, maybe we could have a wedding with all the trimmings - you deserve better than a hurried ceremony in a hospital room."
"Harm, I don't care where we get married," Mac insisted. "I didn't want the major event that Mic planned, remember?"
Harm smiled. "If I recall correctly, you said something about a field and goats."
"Maybe not quite that rustic, but as long as you're there, that's all that matters. You were right. If I needed you there, then I was marrying the wrong man."
Harm sighed this time. "I thought we agreed to leave the past in the past?" he said. "What's important now is our future together." He brought her hand to his lips. "You know, we'd better get out of here. We have a lot to do tomorrow."
"Your place or mine?" Mac asked, giving him a smile that Harm wondered how he'd managed to ignore for so many years.
"Not this time," she said, shaking her head. "I made the important one. You get to decide where we spend our last night in DC."
"Fair enough," he agreed. "Your place. It's closer," he explained with a grin of his own. Seeing the way Mac's breath caught, he knew it had worked.
"Then let's go, sailor," she told him.
Harm rose and extended his arm for her to take before leading her out of the bar. Their first time together had been far more hurried than either of them had wanted it to be due to the necessity of contacting Mattie, and then the Roberts to get everything set up for their meeting. Then here had been Coates and Sturgis to call . . .
Now, they had more time - not all night, exactly, considering that it was past midnight - and they both had things to take care of the next morning before they could have the small ceremony in Blacksburg. They had to go to JAG HQ so that Mac could get her final transfer papers, and Harm had to turn in his request for retirement - then they still had to meet with the JP in Blacksburg and then Mac was going to meet Harriet to find a dress - "You sure we can get everything done in time?" he asked her as they moved toward their vehicles.
"We'll manage," Mac said firmly as she unlocked the Vette.
"Are you having this shipped to San Diego?" he asked.
"Yeah. I thought about driving it, but decided it was too long a trip. What about yours? Were you going to have it sent to London?"
"No. I was going to have the Pontiac shipped over. I put the Vette into storage a few months ago," he explained. "I'd planned to give it to Mattie once she got her driver's license -" his voice trailed off.
Mac put a hand on his arm as she looked up at him. "She'll be okay, Harm," she said. "And she'll walk again."
"I hope you're right," he said, leaning down to give her a quick kiss that threatened to get out of hand. "You know, it's a good thing we never did this before now."
"Why is that?" she asked, her arms linked around his neck to keep him close.
"Because I'm not sure we'd have been able to keep our hands off each other working in the same office."
"Get a room," someone muttered as they walked by.
"We're going to do that," Harm told the man, winking at Mac before opening the door to her car. "I'll follow you to your place."
"Sounds like a plan." She started the car's engine and Harm stepped back, turning toward the Pontiac he'd traded the Lexus for. He'd never really liked the SUV - and once he and Sturgis had finished rebuilding the Vette, he seldom drove it unless he had to. But deciding to give Mattie the Vette had necessitated his finding alternative transport - and driving the Lexus hadn't been an option. So he'd gone back to "Senator" Jim and gotten a good trade in for this one.
Watching the tail lights of the Vette in front of him, Harm's mind drifted back to those earlier, stolen moments in his apartment after he had proposed to Mac - and she had accepted. He hadn't even explained his idea before they'd ended up in his bed - half undressed and making love. It had been in the wondrous afterglow that he'd explained what he'd meant about 'fate keeping them together', and Mac had agreed to accept whatever the toss of the coin sent their way.
He pulled his car into the curb behind Mac's and got out - opening the back door and reaching into the back seat to retrieve the sea bag he'd packed before leaving his own apartment earlier. Arming the security system, he turned to find Mac standing near the front door of the building, waiting.
"Pretty sure of yourself, weren't you, sailor?" she teased upon seeing the bag in his hand.
"I took a chance."
"Life on the edge," she replied, smiling up at him as she took out the key to the front doors and unlocked them.
"You know how flyboys are," he said in return. "Always looking for the next thrill." Inside the front doors, Harm pulled Mac fully into his arms. "But I think I've found all the thrills I need for the rest of my life right here."
"Keep talking like that, and we might never get to Blacksburg tomorrow."
"Oh no. We're going to do this." He gave her a light, teasing kiss, enjoying the way her eyes became dazed just from that brief contact. "I fully intend to spend the rest of my life with you, Sarah Mackenzie. And we're going to have a family - no matter what it takes."
"We already have a family," she pointed out. "Mattie, you, me. I'll be happy with that if we can't -"
Harm stopped her before she unlocked the door to her apartment and turned her to face him. "I don't break my promises, Mac. And I fully intend to keep that one, especially. One way or the other."
"I love you, Harm," she said in a quiet voice, her dark eyes filled with tears.
"That's good to know." He took the key from her and unlocked the door, opening it and ushering her inside.
As he followed her, he closed the door and reached out to pull her back into his arms, picking up where they'd left off earlier in the evening . . .
0500 Hours Local
Harm frowned when the alarm went off and reached over to turn it off - but found himself confused when the clock wasn't where it was supposed to be. Opening his eyes, it took a second for him to realize that he was in Mac's bed - and that he was alone.
Silencing the alarm, he listened to the quiet apartment. "Mac?" he called, his frown deepening as there was no reply. In reaching across the other side of the bed to silence the alarm, Harm's gaze fell on a piece of paper with his name on it in Mac's handwriting. Cautiously, he picked it up and opened it, smiling as he saw the heart with the initials "S.M. + H. R." inside.
"Harm," the note began, "Sorry to have left you alone, but I have a million and one things to do before we meet in Blacksburg. I have to get my papers from JAG, and find a dress - and get my hair done - I'll meet you as agreed at the courthouse in Blacksburg to get the license before we go to the hospital to get married. That sounds strange, doesn't it?" He could almost hear her soft laughter as she wrote the words. "I love you, Mac."
Taking a deep breath, Harm rolled out of the bed and went toward the bathroom to take a shower and change into his uniform. He had to get his retirement request written and submitted to the General. It was probably a good thing that Bud had turned him down - although Harm privately wondered why he'd done so. He had a feeling that there was more to that decision than met the eye . . .
Falls Church, VA
Capt. Harmon Rabb, Jr. noted the increased attention as he entered JAG Ops, and figured that the rumor mill had already spread the word about him and Mac. Carrying the manila folder in his left hand, he entered Jennifer's office, only to stop as he found Lt. Vukovic already there, standing *very* close to the Petty Officer.
Neither of them saw him there, and Harm clearly heard Vukovic say, "You're kidding, right? They're getting *married*?"
"This morning. I think they're going to have a bigger wedding once they get settled, but -"
"Get settled where? Mac's going to San Diego and Capt. Rabb's headed toward London."
"As long as they're happy, I don't think it matters to them," Jen said.
"Well, maybe with them gone, I'll get some good cases -"
"You'll still have Commander Turner and Lt. Commander Roberts to answer to," Jen reminded him.
"But I have an *in* with the General," Vic said, and Harm's skin crawled at the slimy tone of his voice. "Don't I, Jen?"
"Not for much longer," Jen told him. "I'm leaving Washington."
"I asked the Colonel to take me with her. She agreed."
"She's taking you but not - me?" Vic's voice trailed off as Jen caught sight of Harm standing just outside of the doorway. She rose to her feet in attention.
"Captain Rabb, sir."
"Coates. Lieutenant," Harm said, waiting until Vic went to attention as well. "Is there a problem here, Petty Officer?" he asked, giving Vic a pointed look.
"No, sir," she said. "Lt. Vukovic was just leaving."
"Don't let me keep you, Lieutenant," Harm said. "Dismissed." Vic looked as if he might say something, but apparently the expression on Harm's face made him reconsider that idea, because he passed Harm and left the office, heading toward his desk. "I take it that he isn't happy that Mac turned him down?"
"Maybe if he grows up a little -" Jen said, and then gave Harm a smile. "You look happy, sir."
"That's because I am," he replied, lifting the folder in his hand toward the closed door into Cresswell's office. "I think he's expecting me."
"He said to send you right in, sir."
"Has Mac been here?"
"Come and gone, sir," she answered, and Harm wondered for a moment about the strange look in her eye. "She said that she had a lot to do before meeting you in Blacksburg."
Harm nodded and turned toward the door, knocking on the frame out of habit, waiting for the occupant to call out, "Come in!"
General Cresswell was sitting behind his desk, files and papers scattered across it, a pair of reading glasses on his nose, over which he looked up as Harm came to attention before his desk.
"Captain Rabb reporting as promised, sir."
"At ease, Captain," Cresswell said. "I believe you have something for me?"
Harm held out the folder. "My request for retirement and terminal leave, sir."
Cresswell took the folder and glanced at the paper before handing it back. "I can't accept it, Captain."
Harm blinked in surprise. "Sir?"
Cresswell stood and picked up another paper that he held out to Harm. "Lt. Col. Mackenzie gave me this when she was here earlier."
Taking the paper, Harm saw that it was notice of her decision not to take the billet in San Diego, recommending that it be given to Commander Sturgis Turner instead, and requesting a transfer to London ASAP - with her husband, Capt. Harmon Rabb, Jr.
"Mac refused the assignment?"
"She did. With my blessing, by the way. And before you say that you can't allow her to do that, I should tell you that I'm not going to go against a fellow Marine."
"But - General, -"
Cresswell lifted his hand to silence Harm. "I think this is something you and she need to discuss. As for her future, I have something in mind - but I need a little more time to get things set up and approved. I should know something by the time I get out to Blacksburg for your wedding. That is - if I'm invited," he hinted broadly.
Still in shock, Harm said, "Of course you are, sir."
"Your travel orders have been changed to tomorrow - you'll report to the JAG office in London day after that. Coates has your paperwork on her desk. And having said that, Captain, I will say that I regret not having taken the time to get to know you since taking over as JAG. But I tend to place my attention where I feel that it's needed most - those who do their jobs well and efficiently I tend to overlook - rightly or wrongly. If I had it to do over again - I would change that."
"Thank you, General," Harm said as he realized what Cresswell meant.
"Now get out of here. As of now, you're officially no longer in my office. But I'll be in touch."
"It's been an honor, General," Harm said, coming to attention.
Harm turned on his heel and left the office, meeting Jennifer Coates' knowing eyes. "You knew?"
"That Col. Mackenzie turned down the slot in San Diego?" she asked. "Yes." She held out some papers. "Your travel orders, Captain."
Harm glanced over them before looking toward the bullpen to see Lt. Vukovic talking to a blonde Ensign. "You told him that you were going to San Diego with Mac."
"Only because I didn't think it was his business," Jen said. Her face took on an uncertain look. "Captain, I know that I'm probably being forward, and after I asked to go with the Colonel instead of you, I wouldn't blame you for saying 'no', but -"
"You were wondering if you could go with me instead?"
"You *and* the Colonel, actually. I can't even begin to explain why I wanted to go to San Diego -"
"I think we both know the reason for that, Jen," Harm said, looking toward Vic again.
"Yeah, I guess we do," she agreed. "Can you forgive me for being so silly and immature?"
"I don't think you were being either. Your - focus slipped a little, that's all. I'd be honored to have you as my yeoman, Jen." Glancing at his watch, he said, "I have to get going - you'll be in Blacksburg?"
"I wouldn't miss it, sir. The General's trying to figure out who he's going to leave in charge while we're gone."
"As long as it's not Vic, I don't think there'll be a problem," Harm said with a wry grin. "I'll see you later."
He was crossing the bullpen as Bud appeared. "Captain!" Bud said, smiling broadly. "I can still call you that, right?" he asked. "I mean, I'm assuming you're here to turn in your retirement papers?"
"The General refused to accept them, Bud," Harm said. "Mac beat me to the punch. Only she's asked for a transfer to London instead of resigning."
"Really? Then you're going to London after all?"
"Looks that way - unless I can convince Mac to abide by the results of the toss."
"Well, technically, sir, she is," Bud pointed out as they moved toward the elevators. When Harm lifted an eyebrow in silent surprise, Bud continued. "She won the toss, so it's her decision where you and she end up. She's decided that it's going to London. That way, neither of you *has* to give up your career, and depending on what her detailer and the General find for her there, hers won't take as big a hit as yours would have by refusing the promotion and the assignment as FJA."
It made sense, Harm decided, in a strangely convoluted sort of fashion. "Thank you, Bud. You know, I wish you were going with us."
Bud looked sad as the doors opened. "So do I, sir. But Harriet -"
"Think about it. If you change your mind - you know where to find me."
"I doubt that will happen, but thank you anyway."
"I'll see you in three hours," Harm reminded him. "Can't get married without my best man, can I?"
Bud's smile appeared again. "N-no sir. I'll be there."
The elevator doors closed behind Harm, leaving Bud alone in the corridor. London would have been great, he thought, and then put the idea out of his mind. Harriet had made it more than clear that she wanted to stay where they were. Turning around, he found General Cresswell watching him from the bullpen, and moved back toward the glass doors. "General."
"Could I see you in my office, Commander?" Cresswell asked, but it wasn't a question as he turned and headed in that direction without waiting for Bud's answer.
Once in the office, Cresswell went to the window and looked out. "May I ask why you turned down Capt. Rabb's offer of a position on his staff?"
"There were a - number of factors, General. Harriet's put a lot of time into our house here. She doesn't really want to leave it or uproot four children to move them to England. And then there's my leg -"
"You're completely recovered from that, aren't you?"
"Yes, sir. But I still need to see doctors and therapists occasionally -"
"There are excellent places to live in England - and doctors there as well. The military hospital there is very good. Not as good as Bethesda, but I think they can handle just about anything they're given." Cresswell turned to look at Bud. "Is your wife aware of just how *good* this would look on your record? Assistant to the FJA of Naval Forces Europe? That would be quite a feather in your cap, Commander. And it would make it that much more likely that you'll be able to retire as at least a full Commander rather than having to leave before your twenty is up when you're passed over."
"I know all of that, sir. And I'm sure Harriet does as well. She was in the Navy -"
"If you had gotten orders to a new duty station - what would she do then? Suggest you leave the Navy or follow you wherever your career took you?"
"I think - I'm sure she'd follow me if I were ordered to go, General. But it wasn't an order - it was my choice about whether to take the billet."
"For the moment," Cresswell said, and Bud saw the smile in the man's eyes. "I think Capt. Rabb will have need of an assistant who knows his way around, Commander Roberts. Someone he's comfortable with. Don't you?"
"By all means, General," Bud agreed.
"And since you would no longer be in my command, that might possibly resolve some of the - difficulty between my daughter and your brother, don't you think?"
"Uh, yes sir," Bud said, surprised at the turn of the conversation as Jen Coates knocked on the door.
"Excuse me, General, but - if Commander Roberts doesn't leave soon, he'll be late meeting with Capt. Rabb in Blacksburg."
"Then you're dismissed, Commander. Petty Officer Coates, we'll be leaving within half an hour as well. Requisition transportation."
"We, sir?" Jen asked.
"I'm invited to the wedding, too," he informed them.
1045 Hours Local
Harm paced back and forth in front of the entrance, occasionally checking his watch. Mac was supposed to have been here fifteen minutes ago. They had agreed to meet here at 1030, get the license, and then go to the hospital. But she was late.
He still couldn't quite believe that she had done what she had. Giving up something she'd been so pleased about - something that would have looked wonderful on her record - for him. He needed to talk to her, find out if this was what she really wanted. He still remembered his 'daydream' or whatever it had been at Jen's promotion dinner. Mac had been so resentful of his star rising while hers had fallen that it had driven them apart until they had almost lost each other.
He didn't want it to happen in real life. He wasn't sure he'd be able to survive if it did. Not now.
He saw her come out of a shop down the street and move toward him - her dark hair curling around her shoulders. She looked so lovely, and Harm couldn't help but notice the looks she got from men on the street. He felt a tiny thrill of pride that he was the only one she was looking back at, and smiled as she approached. "Hi there," he said, pulling her close and giving her a kiss. "You're late."
"I know. I was at the beauty parlor down the street - and it took longer than I thought it would. I'm sorry."
"I tried to call your cell -" he began, and she gave him an embarrassed grin.
"I forgot to charge it last night. I was - otherwise occupied, I think."
"Really?" Harm questioned, knowing exactly what - or rather, who - had occupied her. "Or was it that you didn't want to talk to me after I'd been to see General Cresswell?"
"He told you?"
"He didn't have much choice. Mac, are you sure about this?"
"Very sure, Harm. You gave everything up for me a couple of years ago. I'm only giving up a post - I'll still be in the Corps. And we'll be together. You've worked too long and too hard not to take this promotion and assignment that goes with it."
"I have to know that you're doing this for the right reasons, Mac," he insisted. "I don't want - I just couldn't handle it if you wake up one day down the road and resent me because you gave up something because of me."
"No one is forcing me to do this," she assured him. "It's my choice. After all, I won the toss - so I get to decide where we go, don't I?"
"That's what Bud said," Harm informed her, touching her cheek with his fingers. "I have to be sure, Mac."
"I'm doing what I want to do, Harm. I want to be with you. London or San Diego or Washington, DC, it doesn't matter where. Just as long as we're together." She smiled up at him. "We'd better get going if we're not going to be late for our own wedding, sailor. It's 1050. And there's no way of telling how long it's going to take to get the license."
He turned them toward the building, keeping his arm around her. "Is that what you're wearing?" he asked, noting the jeans and top.
"No. I have the dress that Harriet and I picked out in the car. I'll change at the hospital."
"Jen asked to go with us to London."
"Did you say yes?"
"Of course I did." He opened the front door of the building and stepped aside for her to enter before following her inside.
1130 Hours Local
Mattie was surprised when they walked into her room. She accepted Harm's embrace and smiled at them both. "You look really happy," she told them.
"It's traditional to be happy on one's wedding day, isn't it?" Harm asked Mac.
"Wedding day?" Mattie questioned, looking from Harm to Mac and back again before Mac held up her left hand to show Mattie the ring. "You're not already married, are you?"
"No," Mac answered. "But we will be before long. Once the Justice of the Peace gets here, and our friends."
Harm took her hand, relieved when he felt her squeeze back slightly. "We decided that we couldn't get married without you there," he explained. "So I talked to your doctor and the nurses, and they agreed to let us hold the ceremony here."
"Really," Mac repeated with a smile for the young woman. "We're going to be a family, Mattie. And that means starting now, we're together. In everything. Once we're in London -"
"London? You won the coin toss, Harm?"
"Actually, Mac won it," he told her, putting his arm around Mac again. "And it was all set that I'd retire and we'd move to San Diego. But when I went in to turn in my retirement papers this morning, I found out that Mac had refused the assignment to San Diego."
"Can you do that?" Mattie asked Mac. "Are you leaving the Marines?"
"Yes, I can do that. And no, I'm not leaving the Marines. I'll be transferred to London as soon as they find a post for me there. It won't be as a lawyer, but I'm still a Marine. I can do other things. Maybe I'll be posted to the Embassy there. There's no way of telling what I'll end up doing. But the important thing is that we'll be together." She reached out to cover Harm's hand that was holding Mattie's. "A family."
"You know what you're getting into?" Mattie asked. "I can't walk. I might never be able to-"
"I don't believe that, Mattie," Harm said in a firm tone. "And I don't want you to believe it either. You *will* walk again. I'm *sure* of it."
"I know what I'm getting into, Mattie," Mac said in answer to the girl's question as Bud and Harriet arrived.
"Hey, you two, it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding," Harriet declared, giving Mattie a wink that caused the girl to laugh for the first time in what seemed like forever to Harm. "Come on, Mac. Let's go find someplace where you can change into your dress." She laughed. "At least you don't have to worry about them ending up in jail like they did the night before Bud and I got married."
"In jail?" Mattie asked, curious now. "I gotta hear this."
"Thanks, Harriet," Harm called out after her in a quiet voice.
"Anytime, sir," she replied airily.
"Now, what's this about jail?" Mattie wanted to know.
Harm and Bud spent the next few minutes recounting the bachelor party from Hell before Sturgis, Jen and General Cresswell arrived. After being introduced to the General, Mattie told Harm, "He's nicer than the Admiral was."
Cresswell chuckled, seeming more at ease than Harm had ever seen him. "I'm not sure that my daughters would agree with you. Petty Officer Coates tells me that you're planning on attending the Academy."
Harm felt Mattie's fingers on his again as she answered. "I was," she said. "Before the accident."
"I'm sure you'll find your sea legs again and be as good as new," Cresswell said with confidence. "Have you considered the Marines as a career path?" he asked, and Mattie gave Harm a wide grin.
"Not really. But that might change."
"Spending all your time around Navy personnel, you tend to fall into bad habits," he said, and Harm heard the teasing in the other man's tone. "Don't let them blind you to other options."
"I won't, General," she told him. Another man entered the room, looking around.
"Can I help you?" Bud asked.
"I'm Roy Morgan. Justice of the Peace. I'm looking for Harmon Rabb, Jr.?"
"That's me," Harm said, releasing Mattie's hand to approach the older man, his hand out in greeting.
Morgan took it and shook Harm's hand with a firm grip. "Where's the bride?" he asked, looking toward Jen, since she was the only other female in the room other than Mattie.
"Not me," Jen said quickly. "I'm just a friend of the family."
"She's changing into something appropriate, Mr. Morgan," Harm said. "She should be back any minute."
"We might as well get the particulars out of the way, then," Morgan said, taking a pair of glasses out of his pocket. "Do you have the license?"
"Right here," Harm said, handing it to him.
"And the ring?" Morgan asked as he scanned the document in his hands.
He patted his jacket pocket. "Here."
"One ring or two?"
"Two," Bud answered, surprising Harm. "Harriet told me that she and Mac went shopping for a ring while they were looking for a dress."
"I see. I guess a double ring ceremony, Mr. Morgan," Harm said, removing his Academy ring over to his right hand. It felt strange and heavy there - and his left hand felt curiously bare.
Harriet's head appeared in the doorway. "Are we ready?" she asked, her expression revealing how much she was loving all of this.
"I'm ready," Harm answered, and felt a calm fall over him that he hadn't expected. This was the most right thing he'd done since his original decision to get custody of Mattie.
"Very well," Morgan said, moving to stand near the bed where Mattie lay and indicating that Harm should stand in front of him to his left. "Who's your best man?" he asked.
"Come on, Bud," Harm said, and Bud moved to stand beside him as Harriet entered the room, carrying a rose and wearing a dress in a pale shade of pink.
Mac appeared in the doorway, a vision in a dress made of ivory silk, form fitting and knee-length. The thin straps that held up the bodice were trimmed with beading that continued along the top of the dress and was repeated at the hem. She was carrying another rose and Harm thought she looked a little nervous. But when she joined him, he saw that her eyes were as clear and as certain as his no doubt were.
"We're here today to witness the joining of these two people in wedlock," Roy Morgan began . . .
Harm slipped the ring onto Mac's finger, and watched as she placed one onto his - a simple white-gold band that surprisingly nearly matched the one he'd just given her. Glancing away from Mac for a moment, he saw the nurses on the floor gathered beyond the glass windows into the room, smiling.
"By the authority vested in me by the commonwealth of Virginia, I hereby declare that these two are husband and wife. You can kiss the bride," he told Harm.
Harm gave Mac a long kiss, hearing Mattie's giggle before they came up for air.
"Wow," Harriet said.
They signed the marriage license, along with Bud and Harriet as witnesses, and then Mr. Morgan left them to celebrate after commenting, "I've performed quite a few weddings in my time, but I think I'll remember this one for a long time. Good luck to you both."
"Thank you," Harm said, seeing him to the door.
One of the nurses appeared with a tray. "We can't offer you champagne, but we have some apple juice to toast the marriage with - if that's okay?"
"More than okay, Carol," he assured her. He'd gotten to know most of the nurses here since Mattie had been admitted. Carol was a motherly type who had fussed over Harm during his visits with Mattie, insisting that he should be getting some rest instead of haunting the hospital.
Once everyone had a cup of the juice, Bud lifted his glass. "I guess as best man, I should make the first toast. To Harm and Mac. Happiness."
"Happiness," the toast was repeated around the room.
Sturgis was next. "Almost from the moment I arrived at JAG, I could tell these two were meant to be together. I'm just glad you finally got it right. Godspeed."
"My toast is a little different," Cresswell said. "It's a combination wedding gift and toast combined, I suppose. Maybe more of the former --- I've been trying to figure out how I could keep closer tabs on the various JAG offices around the globe - and after a discussion with SecNav, I think I've come up with a pilot plan that we'll be testing in the London offices. Effective her arrival in London, Lt. Colonel Sarah Mackenzie will become the JAG Liaison Officer between myself and the FJA of Naval Forces Europe, answerable directly to me, and not in the FJA's chain of command. You'll be my eyes and ears in that area of operation, sending weekly reports back to my office about what's going on - giving me a heads up in case there's a problem that I need to know about before it becomes a problem. Congratulations, Captain, Colonel. Fair winds and following seas, I believe the saying goes?"
"Fair winds and following seas," everyone repeated.
"Thank you, General," Mac said. "I didn't expect -"
"You'll also have some time to work on a case here and there, I'm sure. We'll discuss your duties tomorrow, since you'll be staying in DC until Mattie's able to travel?"
"That's the plan," Mac agreed, surprising Harm, who looked down at her. "It makes sense. You have to report for duty. I can stay here with Mattie for a week or so, until the custody agreement is finalized and you find a place for us to stay."
"I'm certain that the two of you will come to some kind of agreement," Cresswell said, moving away from them to talk to Sturgis about his new assignment to San Diego.
"I'm so happy for you two," Harriet told them, giving them each a hug. "I'm sure you'll be so happy together."
"I don't think there's any doubt about that, Harriet," Mac agreed as General Cresswell appeared again.
Cresswell was across the room, talking to Bud, and Harm noticed him handing some papers to the junior officer. Bud looked at the papers, then over to where Harriet was still talking to Mac about her plan to remain in her apartment for the next couple of weeks until Mattie was ready to travel - and asking Mattie how she thought she would like London.
Bud remained where he was, studying the papers while Cresswell approached them again. "We have to get back to the office," he explained. "I'll see you tomorrow, Colonel. And I'm sure we'll be in touch, Captain. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mattie."
"Same here, General," Mattie replied.
"Petty Officer Coates? Cmdr. Turner? With me."
Sturgis and Jen each took their leave of the gathering, with Jen assuring Mattie that they'd be spending a lot of time together in London once she got her final orders.
"I'll see you later this afternoon, Cmdr. Roberts," Cresswell said as they left, and Bud, still studying the papers, nodded in acknowledgement.
"What is *so* interesting Bud?" Harriet asked once the others had gone.
"I - I've been transferred out of DC," he told her, giving her an uncertain look.
"Transferred?" Harriet repeated in disbelief. "To where?"
"London," Bud answered, and Harriet immediately turned to look at Harm.
"Did you have something to do with this, Captain?"
Harm lifted his hands in a defensive gesture, shaking his head. "No, Harriet. The last I knew, Bud had turned me down about the move. Apparently Gen. Cresswell felt differently about it and forced the issue by making it an official transfer."
"Do you have to take it?" Harriet asked Bud. "Can't you - turn it down, like Mac did her transfer?"
"He could, Harriet," Mac said. "But unless the General is willing to find another billet for him or let him stay here, he would have no choice but to resign from the Navy."
"Without a pension other than disability," Bud finished. "And I really don't want to do that."
He put his hands on her shoulders. "Harriet, I love you. And our children. But I love the Navy, too. It's all I ever wanted to do. Even if I were able to stay here, there's no way I'd be able to get my twenty years in to retire with full benefits. The only reason I got my last promotion was because the Admiral moved Heaven and Earth to get it. This move would look *very* good on my record - and might even give me what I need to be able to retire as a Commander."
"What about your doctors and therapists at Bethesda, Bud?" Harriet said.
"I don't need to see a doctor all the time, Harriet. I'm fine. And if I *do* need a doctor there are some good ones in London. I know it won't be easy, packing up four kids and moving across the ocean, but isn't it worth the trouble to insure a good future for all of us?"
"Look at it this way, Harriet," Mac chimed in. "We'll still all be together. You, Bud, Jen, Mattie, Harm, and me."
"Now *that's* what I call a 'dream team'," Harm noted, causing him, Bud and Mac to smile as they remembered the last time that phrase had been used.
"What about the house?" Harriet wanted to know.
"We can find someone to rent it. Or sell it - but I think renting it out might be better. That way, we could come back here some day and settle."
Harriet looked around the room, seeing all of the hopeful expressions. "You really think this is a good idea, Mac?" she asked her friend.
"Only if you can live with it, Harriet," Bud answered.
"Then let's do it," she decided. "You're right. I was being selfish and not thinking about what you might want to do."
"It looks like we're going to London after all, sir," Bud told Harm.
"You know, I think this could be a continuation of a wonderful friendship," Mac said as they all laughed.