BEYOND THE BLACK JET

by ScoobieD

Summary: Mac and Keeter return from the desert, but something has changed.

Note: This story overlaps slightly with then end of The Black Jet, and some of the dialogue is borrowed from that ep. Heck, I borrowed the characters - might as well borrow some of their lines.

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, the premise, or anything but the computer I'm typing this on.

Feedback (good, bad or otherwise) is always welcome at dcamp@wheelerandarey.com/

______________________________________________________________________________

"I told you to eject," Harm heard as the canopy raised on the simulator.

"I really thought I could make it," he admitted.

"No one could, Commander. Tell me, if that system had failed when you were landing two days ago, would you have stuck with it?"

"Probably," Harm admitted again.

"Then you learned a valuable lesson."

"I doubt it," they heard a voice behind them say.

Harm turned to see Bud escorting Mac and Keeter. His face broke into a large grin. "Mac! Keeter! "

"They landed early, sir," Bud explained.

"Hey, you weren't due for another twenty minutes," Harm said. Mac stepped into his embrace, and he pulled her close. He wanted to hold onto her forever. He'd been very worried he'd never see her again.

"Twenty-one minutes and fifteen seconds," Mac corrected as she pulled away.

"She's been doing that for two days," Keeter said. "What's your secret?" Harm couldn't help but note with surprise that Keeter's arm went familiarly around Mac's waist as he said this.

Mac spoke in Farsi, and Harm said, "In English, please."

"Nah," Mac said with a smile directed at Keeter. "It'll lose something in the translation."

Harm exchanged high fives with Keeter. As he did, he noticed that Keeter's arm remained snugly around Mac. He looked at the two of them, questions evident in his eyes. They didn't notice his confusion, though. They were too busy teasing each other about their exploits in the desert. Harm looked at Bud and raised his eyebrows. Bud shrugged. He'd noticed the way the Major and the Commander were acting with each other in the helicopter on the way here. If he didn't know better, he'd think they looked like two people who had slept together. He did know better, didn't he?

Harm watched Mac and Keeter, talking with their heads almost touching. What had happened out there?

______________________________________________________________________________

Harm sat working diligently at his desk. He'd been back from the desert for three days, but he still hadn't caught up with the paperwork that had accumulated while he'd been gone. He was interrupted by a knock on his door frame. He looked up to find Keeter, dressed in civilian clothes.

"Keeter! What are you doing here?!" Harm asked, delighted to see his friend again.

Keeter lifted his left arm, still hampered by a sling. "I earned a little R and R, I guess."

"You want to get some lunch?" Harm asked.

"Naw, can't. I was actually looking for the Major."

Harm tried not to show his surprise. "Mac? I saw her in the library earlier. Is she expecting you?" he asked without trying to appear that he was prying.

"Not this early," Keeter said. "Could you point me to the library? Maybe I'll surprise her."

"I'll take you there," Harm said, standing up. It would give him a chance to observe Mac and Keeter together and maybe figure out what was going on here.

He was stopped at the door by the appearance of Tiner. "Sir, the Admiral would like to see you right away."

Damn! "All right, Tiner. Could you show Commander Keeter the way to the library?"

"I'd be happy to, Commander. Please follow me," Tiner suggested.

Harm shook Keeter's hand. "Give me a call. If you're in town a few days, maybe we can get together."


"I'll see what I can do," Keeter promised with a grin. He waved and followed Tiner down the hall.

Still confused, Harm reported to the Admiral as he'd been ordered.

* * * * *

Harm had been surprised to learn that Mac had taken the afternoon off. He needed to discuss a case with her, and he took the chance she might be home and stopped at her apartment after leaving JAG. She opened the door and smiled at him.

"Harm! What are you doing here?"

"I need to discuss the Rideout file with you. I couldn't find you at the office all afternoon," he explained.

"You don't expect her to work all the time, do you, old buddy?" he heard a familiar voice ask as Keeter stepped into view.

Harm felt really awkward. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know you had company."

"He's not company, Harm. He's Keeter. Come on in," Mac invited.

"Nah. You guys have plans," Harm argued.

"No, we don't," Keeter countered. "We were just hanging out. Come in, come in. We were just about to order pizza."

"Are you sure I'm not interrupting?" Harm asked Mac, secretly hoping that he was.

"Would you just get in here?" Mac said playfully. She was enjoying the puzzled look on his face. She supposed she owed him an explanation, and she'd give him one eventually. But she did like to see him squirm!

"All right," Harm said, stepping into the apartment and shutting the door.

"What do you want on your pizza?" Mac asked.

"You know me," Harm said, trying to establish some bond with Mac that was stronger than this new one she'd apparently forged with one of his best friends.

"I do, don't I?" Mac asked knowingly.

Harm had the distinctly uncomfortable feeling that she was reading his mind.

They talked shop through dinner and cleared away the remains of their meal. Mac and Keeter sat on the couch, close but not touching. They'd done nothing overt since he'd been here that would confirm the suspicion that had been growing in his brain. It was more the subtle looks, the secretive smiles, and the casual touches that told him something was going on between them. They were looking pointedly at him, and he got the clear impression that they wanted him to leave. He didn't want to go, but he couldn't think of any legitimate reason to stay (other than to act as chaperone).

"Thanks for the pizza, guys. I'm gonna shove off now," he said.

"Do you have to go already?" Mac asked, but he could tell she was just being polite.

"Yeah. I've got a lot of... stuff to do tonight. I'll see you tomorrow," he said to Mac. Then to Keeter, "Call me. We'll go to a ballgame or something."

"Sounds good."

"Well, good night." Harm left, and as he walked away, he couldn't help but wonder what they were going to do now. He gave his head a shake. Best not to think about that.

After the door closed, Mac turned to Keeter and said, "We've got to tell him."

"I know," he said, putting his hands on her hips and pulling her closer. "We'll tell him tomorrow night. Or, I could show him."

"Show him what?" Mac asked.

"This," Keeter said, pinning her against the door and kissing her soundly. "Think he'd get the idea?"

"Oh, I don't know," Mac said. "Harm can be pretty dense. Maybe you'd better practice some more, to make it really convincing."

"I like the way you think, Major," Keeter growled, pressing her body to his and kissing her again.

______________________________________________________________________________

Mac sat between Harm and Keeter. They were seated in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mac hadn't been to a baseball game in years, and she was taken by the beauty of this ballpark.

She interrupted a discussion Harm and Keeter were having regarding the managerial style differences between the American and National Leagues. "I don't see why everyone thinks the double switch is so damn complicated."

Harm cocked an eyebrow at her. "Maybe could not simplify it for us, Ms. Baseball," he

suggested.

"All right," she said, accepting his challenge. "It's late in the game. Your pitcher is tiring, and you need to make a change. You see that the pitcher's spot is due up in the next half inning. You don't want to have to pinch hit for your new pitcher, so when you remove him, you also replace a position player, usually the guy who made the last out in the previous inning. The new position player hits in the old pitcher's spot in the order. Then you don't have to worry about your pitcher hitting again for a while. See? Simple."

"I didn't know you were a baseball fan," Harm said, impressed.

"My dad was," she explained. "For some reason I could never comprehend, he was a Red Sox fan. You know, I heard Ted Williams say once that the two things he was proudest of in his life was that he was a Marine and that he was in the Hall of Fame."

"Must make his family feel like crap," Keeter noted.

"Maybe," Mac admitted. "But my point is he was proudest of being a Marine, even before baseball. Anybody else hungry?"

"You just had some of Boog's ribs," Harm pointed out.

"So? I'm gonna go get a hot dog. You guys want anything?" Mac asked, standing up.

They both indicated they did not. Keeter stood up to let Mac pass. Harm noticed Mac squeeze Keeter's hand briefly as she brushed past. Once she was gone, he asked quietly," Is there something going on I should know about?"

"You noticed, huh? Harm, that is one amazing woman. I'm surprised you never noticed *that*," Keeter said.

"Oh, I've noticed," Harm assured him. "What happened in the desert?"

"Well, without going into too much detail, I'll just tell you that Mac and I shared a tent. One thing led to another and ... well, you know. I can't seem to get her off my mind."

Harm took a moment to absorb this. Keeter had never been reticent about sharing details of his liaisons with women, and Harm wondered why he was being that way now. Could it be he had actual feelings for Mac? "Keeter, I know you. Mac's a good friend. If you're just using her for a good time, you're gonna have to answer to me if she gets hurt."

Keeter smiled. "Don't worry, friend. I have never felt this way about a woman before. I know it's kind of soon, but I'm thinking the 'L' word here."

"Have you told her?" Harm asked.

"Nah. Didn't want to scare her away by moving too fast. She's worth taking my time."

Harm didn't answer, not sure how to take this stunning news. He knew one thing for sure if he'd known this would happen, he never would have left the two of them alone together in the desert!

Mac returned a short time later carrying a hot dog, a soda, and a pretzel. She looked at Keeter, questioning whether he'd told Harm, and he nodded. Relieved, she sat down.

"How do you eat like that and stay so thin?" Keeter asked.

"Oh, I work it off," Mac assured him.

Harm didn't want to think about what activities she'd be engaging in to burn those calories off.

Later, when Keeter had gone to visit the restroom, Harm looked sideways at Mac. "You probably don't want to hear this, but I feel I owe it to you," he said. "Keeter has a ... reputation with women. I've warned him that if he hurts you, he'll have to answer to me."

arm half expected her to be angry at him for interfering and presuming that she needed him to protect her, but instead she smiled warmly at him. "That's sweet, Harm. But I'm a big girl. I know what I'm doing."

"Just as long as you're happy," Harm said.

"I'm very happy," she assured him. "Why wouldn't I be? I've got a great guy and a great friend." She slipped her arm through his and laid her head briefly on his shoulder. When she lifted her head, she smiled and said, "Want some of my pretzel?"

He smiled back. "No, thanks. You enjoy."

Harm was doing anything but smiling on the inside. This couldn't be happening to him again! Once before, he'd secretly coveted his best friend's girl. With Annie Pendry, as with Mac, he'd waited too late to make his feelings known, and she'd become involved with his best friend without even knowing he had feelings for her. He'd had a second chance with Annie, and he'd blown that, too. What was wrong with him?

______________________________________________________________________________

Mac and Keeter has been seeing each other for four months. Well, "seeing" each other wasn't quite the way to describe their relationship. Mac was stationed at JAG, with regular trips away, and Keeter was off on regular missions for Clayton Webb. They'd actually only "seen" each other four times since they'd attended the baseball game with Harm.

Harm had to admit that he'd never seen Mac looking so happy. She was so radiant, she almost glowed. While he was happy for her on one level, another part of him couldn't help but regret that it wasn't him making her happy.

Mac joined him in the library. She looked happier than normal today as she sat at the table beside him. She surveyed the piles of books stacked on the table. "You've been busy," she noted.

"Some of us get to work on time," he replied.

She smiled at him as though she held the key to world happiness. "Why don't we pack up and move to the conference room. We can spread out a little more in there," she suggested.

Images of taking her on the conference room table popped unbidden into his head. He cleared his throat. "I'll find a cart to load this stuff on."

"I thought that's why the Navy had ensigns," she joked.

Harm smiled and retrieved a nearby cart. As he began to load books onto it, he asked, "Do you want to tell me what that constant smile plastered on your face is all about?"

"Keeter called this morning," she said, her smile widening. "He's coming home this weekend."

Home? Harm wondered to himself at her choice of words. Were they getting more serious about each other? Her next words confirmed that suspicion.

"He said he wants to have a talk about our future," she continued. "Harm, I think he's gonna ask me to marry him. Do you think it's too soon? We've only been dating for a few months."

Harm felt as though the bottom had fallen out of his world. He carefully controlled his feelings. "I guess that's for you to decide. You don't have to rush anything. Take your time. Now, do you suppose we could do some work this morning?"

Mac favored him with another huge grin. "I'll try! But I can't make any promises!"

______________________________________________________________________________

Two days later ...

Harm was at home, cleaning up after another lonely meal. He was surprised by the knock on his door - he wasn't expecting anyone. He opened the door and found Clayton Webb standing in the hallway. From the look on Clay's face, Harm knew immediately that something was wrong. He stood staring at Clay. Maybe if he didn't let Clay in, he wouldn't have to deal with whatever bad news he was bringing.

"Rabb? Can I come in?" Clay asked when Harm didn't speak.

Harm sighed and stepped aside to allow Clay to enter.

Webb paced nervously in Harm's living room. He obviously didn't want to tell Harm his news any more than Harm wanted to hear it.

"You might as well just spill it, Webb," Harm said. "Whatever it is, just say it and get it over with."

"It's Keeter."

"Keeter? What kind of trouble has he gotten himself into now?"

There was no easy way to say this. "Harm, he's dead."

Harm stared at Clayton, sure he'd misheard. Keeter couldn't be dead. There must be some mistake. He was one of Harm's best and oldest friends. It was impossible to comprehend that he might be gone. "Clay, are you sure?" he choked out. "Could there be some mistake?"

"No, Harm. There's no mistake. I'm sorry. I know the two of you were friends. That's why I came here myself."

"What happened?" Harm asked.

"Keeter was operating in Israel. A car bomb exploded outside a temple. Keeter happened to be walking by. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Three others were killed as well. No one's claimed responsibility for the bombing yet, but we expect someone to shortly. They always do."

"And there's no chance that there's been a mistake?" Harm asked, holding out for any shred of hope he could.

"No. I'm afraid not. The body had to be identified by dental records. But there's no doubt it was Keeter."

"Oh my God!" Harm said, suddenly remembering someone who would be devastated by this news. "Mac!"

Clay pulled an envelope from his inside coat pocket. "He left a letter for her. He told me before he left that this was his last assignment. He didn't tell me why, but with guys like Keeter, it's always a woman. I didn't know it was Mac until they forwarded this letter to me." Clay took a deep breath. "I guess I'd better go tell her now."

"Let me," Harm offered quickly. "I think she'll take it better coming from me."

Clay thought about it, but only briefly. "All right. Please tell her how sorry I am. And give her this," Clay handed him the envelope.

"Thanks for coming by, Clay. It's not your fault, you know."

Clay looked at Harm, surprised. He thought he was better at hiding his guilt. "I should get used to this, but I never do. I'll see you around, Harm."

Harm closed the door behind Clay. How was he going to tell Mac?

* * * * *

Harm tapped softly on Mac's door. When she didn't answer, he knocked a little louder. Finally, he heard the chain being removed from the door, and Mac opened it. She was dressed in a robe and looked as though she may have been sleeping. She gave him a sleepy smile, and his heart thudded in his chest.

"I'm sorry. Did I wake you?" he asked.

"I fell asleep on the couch," she explained. "Is something wrong?"

"Can I come in?"

"Sure."

Once he was inside, he turned to face her. "I have some bad news. Webb came to see me tonight. God, I wish I didn't have to tell you this. Mac, Keeter is dead. He was killed by a car bomb in Israel."

Mac's eyes widened as though to help her absorb what he'd told her. "What?" she whispered.

"I'm sorry," Harm said. "I didn't want to believe it either. But Clay said there's no mistake."

"When?" she asked.

"I don't know. Clay didn't say, and I forgot to ask. Maybe we can call him tomorrow and ask him."

"Keeter's gone?" Mac asked, her voice small and sad.

"I'm afraid so," Harm said.

Mac turned her back to him, struggling to retain her composure. She felt as though she

was going to lose control of herself very soon, and she didn't want to do that in front of Harm. She took a very deep breath and turned back to him. "I appreciate your telling me, Harm."

"You okay?" he asked, marveling not for the first time at her self-control.

"I'm fine. I just want to be alone."

"I don't think that's such a good idea," he said, remembering how she'd responded to Dalton's death.

Mac guessed the reason for his concern. "Harm, I'm not going to get drunk again."

"I know," he lied. "I just don't think you should be alone right now. And quite frankly, I don't want to be alone right now either."

It suddenly occurred to Mac that Harm must be grieving, too. "Oh my God, Harm! I'm so sorry! He was your friend, and I'm just thinking about myself."

"I just can't believe he's gone. First Luke, now Keeter," Harm said, his voice choked with emotion.

Mac noticed the tears in his eyes. "Oh, Harm, I'm so sorry!" She stepped into his embrace, and for several minutes, they clung to each other, allowing their grief to vent.

When they had both exhausted their tears, at least for now, Harm led Mac to the couch. "Mac, Clay gave me a letter that Keeter wrote to you." He took the letter out of his pocket, but he didn't give it to her. "Maybe you already know this, but Keeter told Clay that this was going to be his last mission. He was through doing Webb's dirty work."

Tears filled Mae's eyes again. She hadn't known that. Keeter hadn't told her, but she guessed it had something to do with the discussion about their future they were going to have this weekend. Now that would never happen. She had come so close!

Harm handed her the letter, and she took it from him as though it were hot to the touch. Wanting to give her space and privacy, Harm got up from the couch and went to stand by the window. He didn't turn to face her again until he heard her sobbing.

He went to her on the couch then and pulled her into his arms. "Why does this keep happening to me?" she sobbed into his chest. "Am I cursed? Am I meant to be alone for the rest of my life?"

"I don't know why these things happen, Mac," Harm said into her hair. "But you'll never be alone. You'll always have me."

She pulled away and looked up at him. "Thank you, Harm. I don't know what I'd do

without you. You're the very best friend I've ever had."

Harm brushed the tears off her cheeks. Even now, he wanted to be so much more than her friend. But now wasn't the time to tell her that. "Don't thank me," he said instead. "You've been there for me plenty of times."

"Would you like to read his letter?" she offered.

"Only if you want me to."

She handed him the letter and he began to read.

Sarah:

If you're reading this, it means that something has happened to me, and I won't be coming home to you. I'm very sorry about that because for the first time in my life, I feel like I actually have a home and a reason to return there.

I told Webb yesterday that I was through with his missions. When I came home this weekend, I was going to ask you to marry me. Make sure you tell Harm that - he probably won't believe it's possible. I'm not sure I entirely believe it myself.

I've known a lot of women in my life. I even thought I could have loved a couple of them. But I've never felt about anyone the way I feel about you. You are an amazing woman, Sarah Mackenzie, and I was looking forward to a lifetime of getting to know you better. I guess some things are not meant to be.

Please look out for Harm for me. There aren't many left from our class. Death always makes us question the decisions we've made. Tell him he made all the right ones and that I'll always value his friendship. Also tell him I'll say hello to his father if I run into him (assuming I go up, of course, and not down, which certainly isn't a foregone conclusion!).

Please try to move on with your life. You're a strong woman, and I have every faith in your ability to survive without me.

The time we had together was brief, but it meant everything to me. I love you, Sarah, and I always will. Hold onto that and let everything else go.

Yours for eternity, Jack

"He loved you very much," Harm said softly after he'd finished reading. The depths of his friend's feelings for Mac surprised him. The Keeter he'd known would not have given up his lifestyle for anything. He didn't like being tied down. Mac had obviously touched something inside Keeter that no one else had. He had no doubt that Mac had that power - he'd felt it himself

"So he said," Mac answered. "It was the weirdest thing. We'd known each other - really known each other - such a short time. In the desert, he insisted on sharing a tent. He said it was so that he could keep an eye on me. He didn't want to have to explain to you if something happened to me. We talked for a long time. His arm was bothering him, and I asked him to let me look at it. There really wasn't anything I could do, but I felt helpless doing nothing. After I rebandaged his arm, he took hold of my hand. There was something electric in his touch, and I couldn't pull away, even though I knew I should. Then he kissed me, or I kissed him, I'm not sure just how that happened. The rest of the night passed in kind of a blur. When I woke up the next morning, I felt like I'd found a missing piece of myself. Now it's gone again." She had tears in her eyes, but she willed herself not to lose control again.

"I'm very sorry, Mac."

"So am I. It's getting kind of late. You don't have to stay."

"I'd like to if you don't mind. I'll just crash on the couch. I just don't feel like being alone."

Mac smiled with understanding and reached over to squeeze his hand. "I don't mind. In fact, I think I'd like the company. Thank you again for being my friend."

______________________________________________________________________________

Harm sat staring at the top of his partner's head as she bent over several books, studiously taking notes. He was worried about her. It had been more than four months since Keeter's death, and she still seemed to be locked somewhere inside herself. To almost everyone else, she had seemed to recover from Keeter's death and was moving on with her life. But not to Harm. He knew her too well. The light in her eyes was gone, extinguished yet again by another personal tragedy. He'd done everything he could think of to get through to her, and she'd rebuffed him gently but firmly each time. She was spending all of her personal time alone in her apartment, and she never went out except to work.

Sensing that he was staring at her, Mac looked up at him. He smiled, hoping she'd smile in return. He hadn't seen her really smile since before Keeter's death. Instead, she said," Is something wrong?"

"No. Nothing's wrong," he said. "I was just wondering if you had dinner plans. I thought we might get a pizza."

"No, thanks," she said simply, returning her attention to the books.

"How about Chinese then?" Harm persisted.

Mac sighed. "Harm, let it go," she requested.

"I can't," he told her. "I can't bear to see you living like this."

"Like what?" she asked. "My life is just fine, thank you."

"No, it's not," he argued. "When's the last time you went out? You're sitting alone in your apartment every night. That's not life, Mac. That's prison. You're keeping yourself prisoner because you're afraid of getting hurt again. I don't blame you for feeling that way, but it's no way to live."

She didn't answer. Keeping herself together and performing her job adequately took all her strength. She didn't have any left to fight with Harm.

"I'll tell you what," he said. "I'll pick up a pizza and bring it by your place at 1900. If you're there, we'll eat it. If you're not, at least I'll know I got you out of your apartment for a while." He stood up, not giving her an opportunity to argue, not that she showed any sign of it. "See you at seven."

* * * * *

Harm was twenty minutes early, on purpose. He half believed that Mac would leave her apartment just to avoid seeing him, and he wanted to catch her if she tried. He really thought she needed to talk, and he intended to press her as far as he could tonight.

His plan paid off. Just as he was about to knock, Mac opened her apartment door. She was wearing her coat and holding her purse. It was clear - she was going out. She intended to be gone long before he arrived. Harm was never early. When she saw him in the hallway, she dropped her eyes and her shoulders drooped in defeat.

"Caught ya!" he teased.

"Harm, I ...

"Hey, Mac, pizza's getting cold," he said as he pushed by her into her apartment. She signed, knowing he would not be easily deterred from whatever he'd chosen to do here tonight. She closed the door and followed him in.

While they ate, Harm chatted continuously, trying to draw her out. He told every funny story he knew in a vain attempt to get her to smile. The closest he could get was a slight upturn of the corner of her mouth, which was more an acknowledgment of the effort he was making than any actual enjoyment of the conversation.

When the pizza was gone, Harm realized that he'd eaten most of it. He also realized that he was no closer to getting Mac to talk than he had been when he arrived. What now?

"Anything on TV tonight?" he asked, planting himself on the couch.

"You don't watch TV," she reminded him.

"I'll make an exception tonight."

"Harm, what are you doing?"

"I've decided that I'm not leaving here until you talk to me," he told her.

"I can call the cops and have you removed," she said.

"Yeah, you could," he agreed. "But you won't."

"Why can't you just leave me alone?!"

"Because I care about you, Mac," he said earnestly. "I want to help you."

"Thanks for your concern, but I don't need any help," she assured him.

"All right," he said. "But answer one question for me. Can you do that?"

She sighed. "Sure. I can do that." How tough could one question be? She perched on the arm of the couch, guardedly waiting for his question.

Harm sat silently. He'd back himself into a comer. She'd agreed to answer one question. Now what was he going to ask her?

"Well?" she prodded.

"I'm thinking," he said. "Just give me a minute."

She watched him thinking furiously. He chewed on his bottom lip, his consternation growing as time passed. He needed to ask her the one question that would open the flood gate to her feelings. But what was it? He felt very inadequate for this very important task. He opened his mouth to speak, but since his brain hadn't decided what to say, nothing come out.

For some reason she would never be able to explain, Mac found the sight of a speechless Harm funny beyond reason. For the first time in a long time, she smiled. Then she began to chuckle. Seconds later, she threw her head back and laughed uproariously.

Harm stared at her. Though he had no idea what she found so amusing, he had to smile,

relieved that somehow he'd gotten through to her.

Mac was laughing so hard, tears were streaming down her face and her sides were beginning to hurt. She wondered briefly if she was losing the tenuous grasp she had on her sanity, then decided she didn't care. She held her side and toppled over onto the couch, still laughing, where her head landed on Hann's lap.

He smiled down at her. "*What* is so funny?!"

"You!" she gasped. "You ... looked like ... a ... a fish!" she finally managed to choke out.

"Well, thank you," he said. "I'm glad I could make your day. Now you'd better stop laughing before you pee yourself."

Rather than make her stop, this statement also struck her as hilarious, and she went off once more into peals of laughter. Though she was finding it difficult to breath now, she couldn't seem to stop. Harm stroked her hair, trying to calm her as she attempted to get herself under control. She drew in large gulps of breath, which gave her hiccups, but which also helped her gain control, bit by bit. Before she could get complete control, the laughter turned into tears and Mac began to sob.

It took Harm a moment to realize she was no longer laughing. Mac covered her face with her hands and cried. Harm continued to stroke her hair, murmuring words of comfort until she was still.

Mac took her face from her hands. Her eyes were red and plainly showed the exhaustion she felt. She looked up at Harm and said, "Why do you have to be so. . ." she searched for the right word and finally found it. "Harm."

"I don't mean to be," he joked.

"I'm serious," she said, sitting up close to him on the couch. "You've ruined my plan."

"Oh? You had a plan? Did it involve men in white coats by any chance?"

"No, but maybe it should."

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"I feel ... cleansed."

"So tell me about this plan," Harm said softly.

Mac looked away. "My plan was to shut everyone out," she said simply. "If I didn't let

them in, it wouldn't hurt so much when they left. Because in the end, they all do, you know. Leave, I mean."

"Not everyone," she heard Harm whisper.

She looked at him and found herself lost in the deep pools that were his eyes.

"I'm not going anywhere, Sarah," he said. "Please don't shut me out."

"I'm afraid, Harm," she admitted. "I'm afraid to let myself feel. I'm afraid to let myself love again. I'm afraid I'm cursed and that any man that gets involved with me is doomed. If I lost you. . ." She couldn't finish the thought. It was too horrible to even consider.

Harm took her hand in his own. "I wish I could promise you the security that you need and so richly deserve, but you of all people know that life offers no guarantees. All I can really do is promise to make the most of what time we have. I've already wasted too much of it. Let me help you. Let me show you that it's okay to love again."

"Why do I feel like anything is possible with you here beside me?"

"Because I'm Superman?" he asked.

"You know something? I think you just might be." She turned serious. "Harm, this may take some time. I may need you to be patient. Do you think you can handle that?"

"I can handle anything," he assured her. "Except kryptonite, of course."

She smiled at him. For the first time in a long time, she felt like maybe it would really be all right.

"I never did get to ask my question," Harm pointed out.

"If you're going to ask about the future, I'd say that a wedding at some point is a definite possibility."

"Actually, I was going to ask if you had any ice cream, but I like your question better."

Her eyes sparkled as she said. "You want jimmies with that?"

THE END