Clay pulled up outside of the converted warehouse north of Union Station and looked up at the dark windows of Jen's apartment. Turning the key, he opened the door.
"What are you doing?"
"Walking you up to your door," he said. "This isn't exactly the safest area of DC."
"You don't have to -"
"I know. But I want to." He got out and came out to open the door for her, closing it and activating the alarm system. Inside, he glanced at the freight elevator. "Is that thing working?"
"Not very well," she said. "I usually just take the stairs. Harm told me that he got caught in it between floors once."
"Wouldn't be so bad if the company was right," Clay told her, smiling as he took her arm. "But with Harm's luck, he was probably alone."
She laughed. "He was. And he said the same thing. About the right company." At her door, she stopped and dug out the key. "Thank you. For bringing me home and walking me up."
"My pleasure," he said as she unlocked the door.
"My roommate's on night duty," Jen told him. "Would you - like to come in for a cup of coffee or something?" When Clay didn't respond immediately, she sighed. "I guess I shouldn't have asked. Thanks again." She said, turning toward the partially open door.
"I'd love to," Clay finished.
Inside the apartment, Jen noticed him looking around. "I know it's not much -"
"It's fine. I was expecting sometime similar to Harm's old place," he told her, sitting on a stool at the bar while she started the coffee maker. Seeing her give him an uncertain look, he asked, "What?"
"I guess I'm just having problems figuring out how you and he can be friends again after -"
"Because of Sarah?" Clay finished, and Jen nodded, turning her attention to finding two cups. "I don't have an answer. Except that Harm's a lot more forgiving than I would have been in his place. Besides, I *do* owe him for saving my - six down there. If he hadn't shown up, I wouldn't be here now."
"He's good at saving people," Jen agreed. "If it hadn't been for him, I'd have ended up in the brig and probably in prison."
Jen poured the coffee. "Cream or sugar?"
"I'll take it black," he told her. "You want to explain that statement about prison?"
As they drank the coffee, Jen filled him in on how she and Harm had first met and how he had inspired her to stay in the Navy and get her act together. "So I did my brig time and after I got out, I became a legalman."
"And transferred to JAG after Roberts was injured," Clay recalled. "And then took Jason Tiner's job as the Admiral's yeoman. Fast move up the ranks."
"I just saw a need and decided to fill it. I - like helping people."
Clay sighed as he looked into his cup. "Too bad you can't help me with my problems."
"No. That was a - mistake on my part," he told her. "If things had happened like I had expected them to, it wouldn't have been a problem."
"How did you expect them to go?" Jen asked, refilling their cups.
"I didn't expect to make it out," he admitted. "I wanted her to know how I felt - never thought I'd have to back it up later."
"Don't get me wrong. I don't hold it against Harm for saving me. But this last year has been a manic nightmare. Either down in the lowest points or at the very top. No in betweens. Guess that means I'm burned out and need a break. A *long* break." He glanced up at Jen. "Sorry. I don't usually talk so much."
"I don't mind. Sometimes people *need* to talk. And I try to force them to do it. It's nice that I didn't have to do that with you. The Admiral hates it when I do that."
"I bet. AJ doesn't confide much in people," Clay told her, recalling how much it had taken for the ex-SEAL to tell him what had happened between himself and Tim Fawkes in Vietnam. "Keeps his own counsel."
"But that's not always a good thing, is it?" Jen questioned. "Shouldn't you let people who care about you help?"
"For some people that's an answer. But some people have trouble talking about their problems."
"Like you?" Jen asked. "I always got the impression that you were a pretty private person."
"Comes with the job," Clay told her.
"The job you're thinking about quitting?"
"What would you do instead?" Jen asked.
"I don't know. I'm forty years old. Probably too old to think about starting a new career. I really wouldn't *have* to work. My mother would be more than happy to have me help her with her charity work."
Jen scowled. "Sounds boring."
Clay grinned. "You're right. Mother wanted me to be a teacher -"
"You could be."
"I've considered it. Had an offer once to teach at a local college -," he recalled. "Wanted someone to teach a course entitled -" his eyes narrowed as he thought. "Geopolitics and the Post 9-11 World." He shook his head.
"I bet you'd be a good teacher," Jen said.
"You know the subject," she pointed out. "And it would mean that you wouldn't have to travel so much. I'm sure your mother would appreciate that."
"I'll think about it," he promised. "Jennifer, would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow evening?"
"I'm not sure if that's a good idea. I mean - I'd like to, but -"
"As friends?" he clarified. "For now, anyway?"
"I'd like that very much," Jen agreed, giving him a huge smile.
"You're *kidding*!" Mattie said into the phone, causing both Mac and Harm to exchange a look. "He did? That is *so* cool! So, what's she like? A real dragon-lady, or . . . Wow!"
When Mattie continued out of earshot to take the phone upstairs to her room, Harm asked, "Who is she talking to?"
Mac, who had answered the telephone as they worked on plans for the wedding, "Jen."
A few minutes later, Mattie returned to place the cordless phone into its cradle. "How's Jen?" Mac asked.
"She's doing great. You two gotten any farther on the wedding planning?"
"A little," Harm said. "Who's the 'dragon lady'?" he asked, pretending to study the papers in his hand.
"Oh, uh - she's not. I just figured she would be -"
"*She*?" Harm asked, looking up at her.
"Clay's mother," Mattie clarified. "Jen went to dinner with him last night, and he invited her out to ride with him and his mother today."
Mac blinked. "*Jen* was invited to go riding with Clay and Porter Webb?"
"Yeah," Mattie nodded. "Jen said that Mrs. Webb was pretty friendly."
"Jen and Clay went to dinner," Harm repeated slowly.
"She says they're just friends," Mattie told them. "Uh, I think I'm going to go get ready for bed. See you two tomorrow morning," she added, giving each a quick hug before making a hasty retreat.
"They're *not* just friends," Mac told Harm.
"What makes you say that?"
"Because in all the time I was dating Clay, I was never invited to ride. In fact, Porter Webb seemed to barely tolerate me for the most part whenever we had dinner out there."
"She's too young for him."
"If they're happy, Harm, we can't interfere."
He turned to look at her. "You don't have a problem with Clay moving on so quickly?"
"I'm glad he has. I felt guilty about ending it, knowing how he felt."
"That's my point, Mac," Harm said, standing up to pace the room. "Clay was so much in love with you that he made some huge mistakes that nearly cost both of your lives. If he still feels that way - then Jen's just going to end up being hurt."
"Jen's a big girl, Harm," Mac pointed out, watching him. "You're acting that she's Mattie. She's not. I really think that Jen knows the score, Harm. Maybe she's what Clay needs right now. Someone to help him through his problems and come out stronger. Jen knows how tough that can be."
"Yeah. I guess she does. She certainly turned it around, didn't she?"
About mid-morning on Monday, Harm watched a deliveryman enter the bullpen and speak to Harriet. Harriet pointed toward the back of the office, and the man headed in that direction.
Curious, Harm rose from his chair and went out to see the man enter Coates' office. When the man left, he approached her office, indicating the vase filled with a dozen red roses sitting on the corner of her desk. "What's this, Jen?" he asked.
"Flowers, sir," she answered evenly, looking at the card that had been included. "Roses."
"You have a secret admirer?"
She smiled, putting the card back into its envelope. "Not so secret, Commander."
"Clayton Webb?" he asked.
Her smile was bright. "Yes, sir." The smile never faltered, "Before you say anything, Commander, I know that he's not in love with me. We're just - friends."
"Friends? I don't recall ever sending a 'friend' a dozen red roses. I just don't want to see you hurt, Jen. Clay's not in a good place right now -"
"Then he needs all the friends he can get, doesn't he, sir?" Jen asked, her brown eyes clear and wide. "I appreciate that you're concerned, but I know what I'm doing. Don't worry, Harm."
"I hope so, Jen," he told her.
During their lunch hour, Harm and Mac hammered out still more of the wedding plans, including the need for Mac, Harriet, Jen, and Mattie to go for fittings for the dresses they would be wearing. Chloe, who wouldn't be arriving until Wednesday afternoon, had sent her measurements for the dress, and would have any alterations done at the last minute. The only unknowns for Harm's attendants would be the white tuxedos for Sturgis and Clay, and Clay's would only be needed if Jack Keeter wasn't able to make it back to town.
"I guess Clay needs to have a tux ready just in case," Mac told Harm.
"I'm sure Keeter will get here, Mac," he said, and immediately Mac sensed something amiss.
"You haven't asked Clay to be part of the wedding party, have you?"
"Mac, there's no need. I still think it would be cruel -"
"I saw those roses that he sent to Jen, Harm," Mac pointed out. "I don't think he would be too hurt by the question. In fact, it might even help him get over things. If you don't call him and ask him, I will," she threatened.
"Okay. I'll call him after lunch," Harm promised.
"You'll call him now," Mac said, picking up the phone and holding it out toward him.
"You don't trust me." Harm stated, looking hurt.
"I trust in your ability to put things off until the last minute," she said with a knowing smile. "Dial."
Giving a loud sigh designed to make her realize how put upon he felt, Harm took the phone and dialed Clay's number. After the third ring, he said, "There's no answer - I guess -"
"Clay. It's Harm. I was about to give up on your being home."
"I just came in from having lunch with Mother," Clay explained. "What's up?"
Harm looked at Mac, his eyes begging once more not to force this issue. But she stood there, arms across her chest, a resolute and determined look on her face. "Actually, there's something I need to ask - You don't have to agree if you'd rather not do it, but -"
"Just ask, Harm," Clay said.
"I've asked Jack Keeter to be one of my groomsmen, but we're not sure he's going to be able to get here - so would you be willing to be kind of an - alternate groomsman?" he asked quickly. "Like I said, if you don't think you can do it -"
"I'll understand. It's just -"
"Harm, I'd be honored."
"I said I would, didn't I?"
"Thanks. Since Sturgis isn't in the Navy anymore, he's wearing a white tux -"
"No problem. As long as I don't have to do honor guard duty, that is."
Harm laughed. "I think Bud's taking care of that as best man."
Mac was waiting at the gate when Chloe came off of her flight and embraced her 'little sister' eagerly. "I've missed you," she said.
"I missed you," Chloe replied. "So you and Harm are finally going to do this?"
Chloe looked up at her. "He's not going to be flying anytime this week, is he?" she wondered, no doubt remembering the last time she had come down for Mac's wedding to Mic Brumby and Harm going down in the Atlantic while flying back from his quals had caused a ripple effect that had ended with Mic returning to Australia.
"Nope. The only flying he does these days is in his Stearman. And he's banned from her for the week. Mattie even went so far as to call the hangar and tell them that he's not allowed to fly before Saturday," Mac explained with a laugh.
"I think I'm going to like Mattie," Chloe told her, laughing as well.
Mac gave her another hug. "I'm sure you will. Have you grown some?"
Mac was right: the two teenagers bonded almost instantly, after Chloe gave Harm a piece of her mind for making Mac and everyone wait for so long before he finally made a move. After she'd done so, Harm gave the girl one of his patented grins and asked, "So am I forgiven?" and had promptly been the recipient of a huge hug from Chloe.
Chloe's next question wasn't entirely unexpected, either. "So. When are you two going to have a baby?"
"That's the question we've *all* been asking," Mattie answered. "They're not talking."
"Well, neither one of you is getting any younger," Chloe pointed out.
"Why don't you take Chloe and show her around the house, Mattie?" Harm suggested, smiling. "Dinner will be ready in about an hour. And try to stay out of trouble."
"Trouble? Me?" Mattie replied, giggling as she and Chloe left the room.
"This should be interesting," he sighed as Mac started cutting vegetables for a salad.
"Don't think you can handle it, Flyboy?" she asked, giving him a teasing grin.
Harm turned the fire down under the pan on the stove before moving to slide his arms around her waist, watching over her shoulder as she worked. "I can handle anything you care to send my way, Sarah," he assured her.
"Are you sure about that?" she wondered, putting the knife down and turning into his embrace.
"You have something in mind?"
"Dr. McCool and I discussed whether or not I think I'm ready to become a mother during our session on Monday," she told him.
"Really? And what did you decide?"
"I think I've done really well with Mattie - I know there haven't been any real crises yet, but - Chloe's right. I don't want to wait too long -" she was looking at the buttons on his shirt as she spoke.
Harm gently lifted her chin with his fingers. "Sarah, are you sure? No one's pressuring you to -"
"No one except me and my damned biological clock. I keep hitting that snooze button, and one of these days it's not going to go off again."
"So you don't want to wait?"
"No. I'm ready. Terrified, but ready."
"We'll go through it together, Sarah," he promised, pulling her close.
Harm was in the middle of going over case reports on Thursday afternoon when a familiar voice spoke from the doorway. "Sad way for a jet jockey to end up - flying a desk all day instead of going supersonic, Hammer."
A wide grin appeared on Harm's face as he rose from his desk. "Keeter!" His voice attracted the attention of several people in the bullpen.
The two men exchanged a brief hug before Harm indicated the chair in front of his desk. "Sit down. I wasn't sure you were going to make it."
"Neither was I until yesterday. Took some fast-talking with Blaisdell, let me tell you. He sends his regards by the way."
"Excuse me, sir -" Bud said as he appeared in the doorway. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize that you had company -"
Keeter rose from his chair. "I'm not company."
"Commander Keeter!" Bud said with a smile on his face. "How are you, sir?"
"Tired. But I wasn't about to miss Harm's wedding for the world. How's the wife?"
"Harriet's fine, sir."
"And your son?"
"Sons, sir," Bud corrected. "We have two now."
"Whoa!" Keeter sighed, glancing at Harm, who nodded in silent agreement.
"Did you need me for something, Bud?" Harm asked.
"I just wanted to discuss the Maynard court martial, but I can come back -"
"No," Keeter said. "I need to go check into my hotel and take a shower. I'll talk to you later, Harm."
"You're having dinner with us this evening," Harm informed him, hurriedly writing the address and telephone number down. "1800 hours. And I won't take no for answer."
"Okay. I'll call once I get settled and get some rack time," Keeter agreed, taking the paper. "Nice seeing you again, Bud."
Once he and Bud finished discussing the case, Harm left a voice message for Mac that Keeter was in town, and then dialed another number. "Ms. Gale's office."
"Is Ms. Gale in?"
"Yes. May I say who's calling?"
"Just a moment."
"Harm. How goes the wedding plans? Just a couple of days left, right?"
"Yeah. Saturday's the big day," Harm confirmed. "You *will* be there, won't you?"
"I'm not sure I'll be in town," she told him, but Harm knew her well enough to know she was lying.
"Well, then, you're having dinner with Mac and me and the girls tonight."
"I can't get a sitter that quickly, Harm," she insisted.
"Bring him with you. Mattie loves babies." He gave her the address. "Be there at 1830."
"Okay. We'll be there."
"Good. I'll see you then." Harm hung up the phone before dialing the house to ask Mattie to get some chicken breasts out of the freezer so they could begin thawing. He also asked her to make sure the house was clean, since they were having company for dinner.
Keeter gave Mac a hug when he saw her. "You look wonderful, Mac," he told her. "You know, no one would blame you if you decided to run away with me instead of staying around to marry this guy," he said, winking at Harm.
"Sorry, Keeter," she told him, laughing. "It's a done deal."
Keeter sighed deeply in mock regret. "Oh, well. I guess I'll just have to spend the rest of my life nursing a broken heart." He looked up as Mattie and Chloe came down the stairs together, and grinned. "On the other hand - who are these lovely young ladies?"
"Mattie Grace, and Chloe Madison. This is Jack Keeter," Harm told the girls.
"Well, at least I'll have company this evening to take my mind off my broken heart," Jack teased and grinned as the girls giggled.
Harm excused himself to return to the kitchen for a moment, warning Keeter not to tell the girls any stories about the old days. "Now you've taken all the fun out of it, Harm," Keeter whined.
"Hey, I have a reputation to maintain," Harm shot back.
"His reps already in tatters," Mattie said, winking at Keeter. "So spill. I want the dirt."
Mac followed Harm into the kitchen. "You're really sure this is a good idea?" she asked him. "What if you're wrong?"
"I don't think I am. Catherine had some reason for not wanting to tell me anything about who her son's father was. The only reason I can come up with is that it was someone I knew. She wasn't surprised that I knew Keeter when I called to see if she could locate him for me."
"It's still a long-shot," Mac pointed out.
"I know. For a short while, I thought it might have been Clay," he said. "But then I realized that with both of them working at Langley, she wouldn't be able to hide her pregnancy from him."
The doorbell rang, and they looked at each other as Mac said, "I think we're about to find out if you're right."
They got to the front door quickly, opening it to reveal a harried looking Catherine Gale holding her son, Johnny and a diaper bag. "Hi," Harm said. "Come in." Taking the diaper bag from her, he smiled. "You remember Mac."
"Colonel," Catherine said.
"Mac, please," she said giving the baby a smile. "He's adorable," she sighed. "May I?"
But Catherine's eyes were no long focused on Mac, but were looking behind her, toward the living room doorway, where Jack Keeter was standing. "J-Jack." Her face had gone pale upon seeing him.
"Cathy," he said, "You're looking good." His eyes moved to the baby in Mac's arms. "And who is this?" he asked, reaching out to touch the baby's chubby fist.
"Johnny," Catherine told him. "My son."
"How old is he?"
"Al-almost six months." All three adults could see Keeter doing the math in his head. "J-Jack, I -"
"Excuse me," Keeter said, turning away toward the kitchen.
"Keeter," Harm said, but he heard the back door closing a moment later.
"Harm, why?" Catherine asked. "Why did you have to -"
"Keeter's Johnny's father, isn't he?" he asked the blonde woman.
"Yes," she sighed. "We dated a few times when he was in town, it was never really serious - at least, not on his part. Just before you came to see me last year wanting my help in finding Mac, I had to meet him in Florida to deliver some papers to him. I haven't seen him since."
"You could have gotten in touch with him, let him know -"
"I didn't want him to feel trapped into marriage, Harm," Catherine told him. "Look, maybe I should just go -"
Harm's voice was firm. "No." Looking at Mac, Mattie, and Chloe, he said, "Keep her here. Sit on her if you have to, but don't let her leave." That said, he turned on his heel toward the kitchen and the back door through which one of his oldest friends had gone.
Still holding Johnny, Mac turned toward the living room. "We might as well sit down," she told Catherine. "Would you like something to drink?" she asked.
Keeter was standing inside the pool fence, hands in his pockets. "You need to talk to her, Keeter."
"Talk? I think the time to talk was oh, say, over six months ago. Oh, that's right. We *did* talk before that. About ten months ago. I called and suggested she fly out to spend a few days with me but she said she was snowed under with work and couldn't get away."
"Look, she made a mistake. But that little boy is your son, Jack. You can't ignore that."
"Did you know?"
"All Catherine told me was that the father was someone she'd known before we got to know each other."
"You never thought it might be yours?"
"Catherine and I never - How much do you know about Clayton Webb's operation in Paraguay?"
"Not a lot. I know that he and his partner nearly bought the farm down there. And if it hadn't been for you, they would have."
"Clay's partner was Mac," Harm told him.
"I'm still not sure what he was thinking when he set it up, but after they left, I started having nightmares in which the two of them were killed. So I started trying to find out where they'd gone. I'd met Catherine through work a few months before and arranged to run into her at dinner one evening. While I was trying to charm some information out of her, she got a call that her mother was ill. Seeing how upset she was, I offered to drive her to the hospital. Somehow, her mother mistook me for Catherine's boyfriend and one thing led to another - before either of us realized what was happening, we agreed to a fake marriage to make her mother happy before she died."
"Her mother's dead?"
"No," Harm told him. "Thinking that Catherine was settled seemed to give her reason to keep going. Catherine put me through to Harrison Kershaw, who promised to keep me in the loop. Then they went missing and I asked for leave to go down and find Mac, to bring her home. Only the Admiral refused to let me go. So I resigned my commission."
Keeter's eyes were huge. "*You*?"
"To save Mac," Harm nodded. "And I'd do it again."
"So you were the one who saved Webb's bacon. Damn. How'd you end up flying for the CIA?"
"The Admiral put my paperwork through. By the time Mac and I returned to DC, I was a civilian and Kershaw offered me a job. Catherine was my sponsor. We went to dinner a few times when I was in town - which wasn't often."
"You wouldn't be - 37 missions in six months, wasn't it?"
"Hey, buddy, you're a legend."
"I guess there was a stretch of four, maybe five months before I saw her again - and she was about seven months along when I did."
"She should have called, Harm. She knew how to find me."
"She didn't want to trap you into anything, Jack. Let's face it, you're not *exactly* 'Mr. Stability', pal."
Mattie and Chloe took Johnny upstairs with them so that Mac and Catherine could talk privately. "I can't believe that Harm did this," Catherine said.
"You had to know it could happen if Keeter came back for the wedding."
"I wasn't going to come to the wedding," Catherine informed her. "That's why Harm decided to invite me to dinner this evening, I suppose. To make sure that I saw Jack."
"Are you in love with him?" Mac asked.
"Yes. I should have told him about Johnny. But - Jack's never shown any sign of wanting to settle down. I'm sure you know what I mean. He flirts almost as much as Harm does." She smiled. "As Harm *did*."
"Oh, he still flirts," Mac said, smiling. "It's like breathing with him. He doesn't mean anything by it."
Catherine exhaled loudly. "I wish I could be that sure of Jack. I envy you. It's not every man who would be willing to go through a fake marriage to a woman he barely knows just to get information about the woman he loves."
"Harm's one of a kind," Mac agreed. "But I spent almost a week in the desert with Jack Keeter. And I know that beneath that fun loving, flirting, flyboy exterior, he's a good man."
"I know. I kept hoping that he'd decide to settle down and make a commitment, but he never did. Getting pregnant was so stupid. I don't regret it, because I love Johnny. But I was worried about my mother, and I - forgot. I wasn't trying to trap him, and I didn't want him to feel like I was. Am I making *any* sense?" she wondered.
"It made a lot of sense to me, Cathy," Jack Keeter said from the doorway.
Catherine stood up from the sofa, watching him uncertainly. Mac slipped out of the room, leaving them alone to work things out without any further interference as she heard Catherine say, "I'm sorry, Jack."
Harm was in the kitchen, finishing dinner. "Think they'll be able to work it out?" she asked.
"I hope so. For Johnny's sake more than anything else."
Once dinner was on the table, Harm asked Mac to go let the girls know while he went to check on Catherine and Keeter. He found them sitting on the sofa, holding each other, Catherine's blonde head resting against Keeter's shoulder.
"You two about ready for dinner?" he asked, smiling as they looked at him as Mattie and Chloe came downstairs with Mac and Johnny.
Catherine rose gracefully to take her son, carrying him over to Jack. "I think it's time you met your son."
Trish and Frank arrived the next day, but a telephone call from Sturgis sent everyone scrambling. He was stuck in Paris due to bad weather, and didn't expect to be able to get to DC in time for the wedding after all.
So Clay graciously stepped into the breech, taking Sturgis' place as a groomsman.
After the rehearsal dinner, Bud had arranged for the men to spend a couple of hours at McMurphy's Tavern, but promised Mac that he'd keep Harm clear of any strippers, causing laughter all around.
Harriet dragged Mac, Jen, Mattie, Chloe and Trish back to her place for the night, insisting that it was bad luck for Mac to see Harm before the ceremony the next afternoon.
"So, where are you and Harm going on your honeymoon?" Harriet asked.
"He hasn't told me," Mac said.
"Then how do you pack?" Jen wondered. "How do you know what clothes to take?"
"She probably won't need many clothes, if I know my son," Trish explained, causing Mac to blush at the comment.
"I hope there are a *few* things in that suitcase you packed, Trish," Mac said.
The others turned to Harm's mother. "*You* packed her suitcase, Mrs. Rabb?" Jen asked.
"Harm asked me to do it. Since *I* know where they're going," Trish told them with a knowing smile.
"So do I," Mattie confirmed, tossing some popcorn into her mouth.
Chloe turned to look at her. "No you don't."
"Yes, I do. I overheard Harm talking the other day. But my lips are sealed," she declared.
Chloe stood up, grabbing her new friend by the arm. "We'll see about that. Come on."
"I won't talk," Mattie declared, letting Chloe pull her to the other side of the room.
"Come on, spill!" Chloe insisted, and Mattie leaned over to whisper something in her ear.
Chloe's face revealed her delighted surprise. "You're kidding! Oooh, that's so romantic!"
Mac's attention was caught. "Someone let *me* in on this?"
"It's a surprise," Mattie told her, returning.
"You're going to *love* it," Chloe declared.
At that moment, Trish stood up. "Why don't we go see if we can't find more popcorn, girls?" she suggested.
"Right behind you, Grandma," Mattie said with a grin, pulling Chloe along as well.
"You look so beautiful, ma'am," Jen sighed, looking at Mac's reflection in the full-length mirror.
Mac's eyes found Harriet's in the mirror as they both shared a moment of déjà vu from another dress, another wedding. "She's right, Mac," Harriet agreed, helping Mattie with her hair. "I like this dress even better."
Mac looked down at her dress. "Where's my veil?" she asked.
"Right here," Chloe said, bringing it over. She, like the others, were already dressed, wearing matching lime green dresses with darker "Marine green" trim.
"Thank you, Chloe," Mac said, taking it from her and placing it onto her head as Jen helped to place it.
"Are you nervous, ma'am?" Jen asked.
In the other dressing room, Bud was asking Harm the same question. "I thought I would be. But for the first time in my life, I'm not. This feels - right. I'm doing what I should do."
"Never thought of you as having ice water in your veins, Harm," AJ noted with a grin.
"I've seen this guy face down an entire bar of drunken Jarheads," Keeter told AJ. "Now SEALs, on the other hand -" Everyone, including Harm, laughed. "Where are you taking her for a honeymoon?" Keeter asked. "Better be someplace special, since Mac's one hell of a special lady."
"It's handled, Keeter," Harm assured his old friend. "Remember the first leave we got after graduation?"
A slow grin spread across Keeter's face. "Oh, yeah. Nice."
Clay looked from one to the other. "Would that be the time you were both thrown in jail for public intoxication?" he asked.
"That's not on our records," Keeter asked. "Is it?"
"Not the record that *I've* seen," AJ agreed.
"Harm's stepfather bailed them out and smoothed the waters," Clay explained.
Harm shook his head. "I'm not going to ask how you know about that, Clay, but to answer your question - yeah."
"Mac'll like it." Somewhere during the past week, Clay had fallen back into the habit of calling Mac by her nickname instead of "Sarah". No one had mentioned it, they had just accepted it as proof that he'd moved on.
There was a tap on the door, and Chaplin Turner appeared. "Is everyone ready in here?"
"Ready and willing, sir," Harm told him.
"I think that's my cue to leave," AJ said. But he paused for a moment to face Harm. "Good luck. And you take damn good care of her, son. Or I'll come back from Italy and kick your sorry ass."
The ceremony was brief and simple, traditional vows given and accepted, rings exchanged - matching yellow gold bands each inscribed with "S.M.+H.R." and the date. After a kiss, which had most of the guests wishing they were either the bride or the groom - the couple walked back down the aisle behind the honor guard that Bud had assembled.
As best man, it fell to Bud to give the orders to draw swords and form the arch. "Blades to the wind!" he said. "Presenting for the first time in public, Commander and Mrs. Harmon Rabb, Jr."
Harm and Mac walked arm in arm through the arch, smiling at each other. Even though she was expecting it, Mac was still surprised when Bud slapped her six with the flat of his sword as he said, "Go Navy."
"I guess this is the end of the road," Mac told Harm as they lay wrapped in each other's arms later that night in the master bedroom of his stepfather's beach house in the Bahamas.
"End?" Harm asked, looking down into her face.
"Of the road not taken," she explained.
Harm rolled over so that she was laying on top of his body. "Oh, no, Marine. It's not the end. It's only the beginning . . ."