This is Now
Summary: The sequel to That was Then. If you haven't read that, it would probably be helpful if you did.
Disclaimer: Still not mine.
Feedback is always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
One Friday afternoon at JAG . . .
Mac looked at her desk, proud of the progress she'd made in cleaning it off. Not that it was exactly *cleaned off*. Her desk never actually reached that point. But it was better than it had been this morning. She could actually *see* her desk in two places, and she was relieved to know that there was a desk under there and that all of these files weren't simply hovering over the floor. In another forty-two minutes, she'd cease to care about what was on her desk when she headed home to . . .
*To what*? Mac asked herself. *What exciting activities have I got planned for this weekend? Well, there's laundry that needs to be done. I think I'll run the car through the car wash. That should be good for a few laughs. I could clean out that closet I've been ignoring since I moved to my apartment. That's it!*" she thought, still filled with the motivation that had allowed her to get her desk as organized as it was. *"I'll clean that closet out! I'll do it tonight and get it over with!"*
"How pathetic is that?" she asked herself out loud, wondering about anybody who could get so excited about cleaning out a closet.
"How pathetic is what?" a familiar voice asked from the door.
"Harm! I didn't know you were standing there," Mac said, a bit embarrassed at being caught talking to herself. Another sign she was losing it, she guessed.
"What's so pathetic?" he repeated.
"Me. I was just sitting here thinking about what I'm doing this weekend."
"I'd hazard a guess and say nothing very exciting?" he asked, coming into her office and dropping into a chair in front of her desk.
"You'd be right on target," she confirmed. "I've decided to clean out my closet."
"Maybe you should stay here and clean off your desk."
"Hey!" she said, indignant. "What do you think I've been doing all day?!"
"That would be hard to say," Harm said with a serious face.
"Isn't it time for you to leave early?" she asked pointedly.
"Me? Leave early? I'd never dream of leaving early," he said piously. Besides, what did he have to go home to? His weekend didn't look any more promising than Mac's apparently did. Suddenly struck by inspiration, he said, "You want any help with that closet?"
She tilted her head and looked at him questioningly. "You want to help me clean out my closet?"
"It's either that or clean the tile in my bathroom."
"God, you're as pathetic as I am!" she said with a smile.
"So what do you say? We'll tackle it together?"
She looked at him dubiously. "I suppose so," she agreed. "If you really want to. I'm starting tonight. I suppose that means I'll have to help you with the tile in your bathroom."
"I'll bring supper."
Mac had changed into jeans and a t-shirt in preparation for the dusty job ahead of her. She opened her closet door and looked at the chaos within. Where to start? That decision was interrupted by a knock on the door. "Come on in!" she called. "It's open!"
Instead of the door opening, she heard what sounded like a foot kicking her door gently. Puzzled, Mac went to the door and looked through the peephole. All she could see was Harm's face looking at her.
She opened the door to find Harm with his hands filled with a large pizza box and a brown paper bag. His car keys were in his mouth.
"Here," she said. "Let me take those." She reached up, and he opened his mouth and dropped the car keys into her hand. She also took the brown paper bag, then closed the door after Harm entered.
"Did you get the biggest pizza they had?" she asked.
"I've seen you eat," Harm said in justification.
Harm set the pizza on the table as Mac emptied the bag of its contents – four root beers (her favorite brand) and a bag of potato chips. "These things cause cancer, you know," she said, holding up the bag.
"Everything causes cancer," he told her. "Might as well die happy."
Mac couldn't agree more.
After dinner, Harm said, "So where do we start?"
"I was just trying to figure that out when you got here." She led him into the bedroom, and he looked skeptically at her closet. "I never knew you were a pack rat, Mac."
"I'm not, really," she said. "It's just stuff that's accumulated. When I moved, I didn't even bother to open most of those boxes. It's probably all garbage. Why don't you take that trunk and start with that?"
Harm pulled the trunk out of the closet into the middle of her bedroom floor. Mac began to remove smaller boxes which were piled on the shelf.
"What do you want me to do with this?" Harm asked.
"Just dump it out. I'll have to sort through it."
"Okay," Harm said. He opened the lid of the trunk and flipped it over, spilling its contents over the floor.
"You're making things worse," Mac told him.
"You told me to dump it out! Besides, sometimes you have to make a mess to clean something up. Your office is living proof of that."
"Did you come here to help me or to harass me?"
Harm toed the stuff that had fallen out of the trunk gingerly. It looked like mostly old clothing. "What is this stuff?"
Mac looked over from her spot in the closet. "Looks like old clothes." The two boxes Mac was trying to get off the shelf in the closet had become stuck, and she gave a big tug. The top box began to slide off the bottom one, making straight for Mac's head.
Harm zipped over and grabbed the box before it could do any permanent damage. "Haven't you Marines ever heard the word finesse?" he asked.
"Doesn't that mean 'you can accomplish anything with brute force'?" Mac asked innocently.
Harm rolled his eyes at her and put the box on the floor.
"Why don't you put all that stuff on the bed," Mac suggested. "I'll go get a garbage bag and throw away what I don't want."
Harm picked up a large armful of clothing and dropped it onto the bed. Something that had been on the bottom of the trunk but was now on top of the pile caught his attention. He picked up a dark blue, large, mens t-shirt with a faded Dodgers emblem on it and stared at it.
Harm was no longer standing in Sarah Mackenzie's bedroom. He'd been transported back in time and clear across the country to a beach on the west coast twenty years ago. He'd been a student at the Academy at that time, home on break, partying with Keeter, when he'd met someone – someone he hadn't thought about for years, someone who bore a striking resemblance to someone he already knew, someone he'd thought at the time he'd never seen again.
How could he not have known? he asked himself. How could he not have put the pieces together when he'd met Mac six years ago outside the White House? Especially after he'd learned about her past. Had he become so accustomed to meeting women that looked alike that he could not differentiate between them? That seemed unlikely, but apparently it had happened. He'd never told Diane about meeting the young woman on the beach after he'd returned to school. It was a special memory that he hadn't shared with anyone. Even he and Keeter hadn't discussed it again.
"Harm?" he heard Mac ask him. "Is something wrong?"
He looked up at her and saw again the troubled and vulnerable teenager that she had been once. He remembered the passionate kiss they had shared and a shiver went down his spine.
"Harm?" Mac repeated. "What have you got there?" She was looking at him strangely, wondering what could have put him into this weird trance.
Suddenly, he snapped out of it. "You have to come with me!" he announced.
"Now?" she questioned. "I know I said I'd help you with your bathroom tile, but shouldn't we finish one job first?"
"We have to go now," Harm took her by the hand and led her out the door, ignoring her mild protestations.
Mac was beginning to think that Harm had lost his mind. He had ignored her questions about what was going on, and she finally gave up asking and just sat back in the passenger seat. He still held in his hand something he'd taken from the trunk in her closet. She could tell that it was a blue shirt, but other than that, she had no idea why it held any special significance to him.
He didn't speak when they climbed the stairs to his door or after they entered his apartment. He went straight to his bedroom, and she could hear him opening drawers, rummaging around in them, and shutting them again. "Where is it?" she heard him mutter.
She wandered towards what passed for a door to his bedroom to see what he was doing, all the time wondering if she was going to have to make a call to the men in the white coats. He opened a drawer, said "Aha!" and began flinging socks onto the floor.
"Harm, I'm starting to get really worried about you," Mac felt the need to point out.
He took something from the drawer and turned to look at her. Still, he didn't say anything.
"Harm, what is going on?!" Mac asked exasperated.
"I had to find this," he said, his voice low. "I needed to show it to you."
"What is it?"
He took one step toward her and held his hand up. Hanging from his closed fist was a silver medallion suspended on a silver chain. Mac wasn't close enough to see what it was, so she stepped closer to him. She took the medallion into her hand, though Harm didn't let go of the chain.
Mac turned the medallion over, and when she realized that it was a St. Christopher's medal, she realized also where it had come from and what Harm had found in her trunk. The memory washed over her, as clear as though it had happened last week. She'd been young, sixteen maybe, and she'd gone with her father to California while he served temporarily at Miramar. She'd been partying with strangers and had somehow ended up on a beach where she'd met a guy. She'd been so caught in the clutches of alcohol at that point that she would have done almost anything for her next drink. She'd made that fact plainly obvious to the guy she'd met, but he'd been too honorable to do anything other than soothe her while she cried, kiss her once, and hold her while she slept. She'd thought about that guy a lot in the year or two after she'd met him, but when her life had finally gotten on track, she'd been too busy to think about him. She'd tucked him away in a corner of her memory, not entirely convinced he hadn't been a dream. Apparently her dream was standing before her now and had been in her life for the past six years, alternately befriending her, annoying her, challenging her, and protecting her.
For some time, Mac was at a loss for words as she stared at the medallion. Finally, she looked up at Harm. "It was you," she whispered.
Harm nodded. "I wasn't sure you'd remember. You were pretty wasted," he said feebly, the enormity of this discovery still hitting him hard.
"I was not," Mac protested weakly. She hadn't been "wasted". She'd only been drinking, and there was a difference. She thanked God he'd never seen her actually wasted. That embarrassing little display after Dalton's death had been bad enough.
They looked at each other, not quite sure what to say now that the memory they hadn't realized they shared had been exhumed. They stood there, her holding the medallion and he holding the chain, for what seemed like minutes. Even Mac wasn't quite sure just how long it was. If someone on the street hadn't honked their horn, shattering the relative stillness of the evening, they might be that way still.
As it was, they both started, and both let go of the medallion. They stared at each other, wondering who would pick it up. That seemed terribly important, as though the person who picked it up had to begin the conversation that apparently needed help getting started.
Finally, Mac bent over and picked it up, but she didn't speak.
"Are you gonna say anything?" Harm asked softly.
"What do you want me to say? That wasn't exactly the time in my life I'm most proud of, Harm." She turned away from him, uncomfortable under his intense gaze.
Harm stopped her with a hand on her should. "Please don't," he said. He wanted to see her face, needed to be able to read in her eyes what she might not be willing or able to say in words.
She looked up at him. Okay, she'd start. He always was a chicken when it came to stuff like this. "I'd half convinced myself that you were a dream. Guys like you . . . well, most guys I knew then wanted something from me. And I was pretty willing to give it. But whenever I needed to be reminded that there were good people in this world, I'd wear your t-shirt. I wore it almost constantly when Uncle Matt took me up to Red Rock Mesa."
"That mustn't have been a pretty smell after a couple of days," Harm said, but then was immediately sorry. This wasn't the time for jokes.
"What I remember most about that night," he said, mentally backing up. "Was how incredibly hard you were to resist."
"You obviously managed," she pointed out.
"Not without a great deal of self-control," he told her. "Maybe I should be thankful to you. You gave me an early lesson on how to convince myself I didn't want you."
Mac looked down at her shoes. He'd just admitted that he'd been denying to himself that he wanted her. He'd also just admitted that he was thankful she'd taught him how to do that well. What exactly did that mean? Commander Ambiguity had struck again.
When Mac looked away from him, Harm knew he'd said the wrong thing, though he wasn't quite sure what it was. Hadn't he just told her he wanted her? Didn't she understand that he'd only been fooling himself and pretending that he didn't want her for a long time? It occurred to him that perhaps, maybe, she *didn't* understand and that maybe he should clarify.
"Mac? Didn't you just hear me? I said I want you."
Mac looked up again in surprise. That statement was pretty unambiguous, but she wasn't going to give him any more wriggle room. "Want me for what?"
"I want you in my life," he said lamely.
"In what way?" she pressed, looking at him intently, wondering if he'd actually be able to do it.
"In every way," he confessed. "I want you as my partner and co-worker, and I want you as my friend." By the look in Mac's eyes, he knew he was digging himself a deep hole. "And I want you as more than that, Mac. I want to explore with you what we started on a beach twenty years ago. That longing that I had for you then has never gone away. It's grown stronger as I've gotten to know the real you, not the screwed-up kid you were back then." He'd climbed about half-way out of the hole with those statements. "But it's not just about wanting you in my bed, Mac. Although that thought has kept me awake a lotta nights, I gotta tell you. It's about wanting you in my *life*, as my life's *partner*, and maybe, someday, if I play my cards right and don't screw this up too badly, as my wife."
The tears in her eyes told him he'd shot up out of the hole and hand landed on somewhat solid footing.
"Are you sure you're ready for this?" she asked.
He nodded. "I've been ready for a while. I just wasn't sure how to tell you."
"You know what I think?"
He shook his head in the negative.
"I think I should have cleaned that closet out a long time ago."