Disclaimers in Part 1
Tuesday, 24 December 2002
AJ covertly eyed Mac over his water glass. She looked stunning. She had arrived late, "emergency at the office," she had explained hastily, so AJ hadn't escorted her to the party that the Roberts were hosting. 'A good thing, too; if she hadn't, we never would've made it past the driveway!' She was wearing a deep burgundy dress with black faux-fur trim. It was high-necked, but clung to her like a second skin. He noticed when she walked over to greet him that it fit smoothly everywhere--she wasn't wearing any underwear. He groaned inaudibly at the memory.
Mac smirked. She knew the effect she was having on him...especially the articles she had "forgotten" to put on. From the time she left Sunday evening until that morning, she had been teasing AJ with long phone calls, messages on his answering machine, and erotic e-mails. Both of them were in a heightened state of arousal by this time, but she wasn't giving up. Mac was determined to make him crack. She knew what AJ's Christmas present was going to be: her. She planned on slipping away early from the midnight service, going to AJ's, and planting herself under his Christmas tree until he came home. She smirked, and would've snickered aloud, but she was in the middle of a conversation with Harriet, who was trying to pump her for information about how her and AJ's relationship was going.
"Come on, Mac. You can tell me! Please, even just the bare bones!"
"Alright, Harriet, I'll tell you--but later. The walls have ears," she murmured, gesturing to Harm and his date, who were talking nearby.
She and Harm had come to a mutual agreement earlier in the evening; they would rather ignore each other whenever possible and be civil when forced to interact, than antagonize each other all night. It worked pretty well.
She and Harriet worked their way back into the living room, where Bud was holding court, telling Harm stories. It was good to see that the young lawyer didn't hold his mentor on a pedestal anymore. He didn't play all of his actions down, but he didn't edit all of the stories so that Harm came out perfect, either. Mac, who had been present for most of the events being recounted, worked her way over to the corner where AJ stood.
AJ smiled. "Hi. Crazy here tonight, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Harriet certainly goes all out for her parties, doesn't she?"
"She pulls it off well, though." They stood in comfortable silence. AJ reached into his pants pocket, fingering the box that resided there. He hoped he could get up the courage to give it to Mac tonight. He wanted to wait for just the right moment... 'Oh, hell, admit it, Chegwidden; you're afraid she'll reject you!'
Mac watched the play of emotions on AJ's face. "AJ? Something wrong?"
AJ glanced at Mac, and grinned to cover his thoughts. "No, nothing's wrong; just thinking."
Mac smiled. She wasn't fully convinced, but she let the subject drop.
An hour later, AJ finally made the decision. 'Suck it up, Chegwidden; just do it! It's not like you're facing a firing squad!' He walked over to Harriet. "Lieutenant, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Certainly, sir!" Leaning over to Bud, she said, "Be right back." She walked out of the living room and into the empty kitchen.
Mac watched the two leave the room, but didn't follow. She decided that she didn't want to know what they were plotting this time.
They came back. Harriet walked over to the CD player and cut the music. "If I can have everyone's attention, please?" The conversations began to die down, and eventually petered out. "Thank you. Admiral Chegwidden has something he'd like to say."
AJ stepped forward and thanked Harriet. "Sarah? Would you come over here, please?" Most of the staff was expecting something like this; after all, scuttlebutt did get around. However, they were amazed by the amount of tenderness in their CO's voice, which was loud and commanding most of the time.
Mac walked over to AJ, who stood in the center of the room. Both smiled as AJ took Mac's hands in his. He began to speak, and Mac tried to regulate her breathing before she began to hyperventilate. 'Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod,' was the only thought in her head."Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out e'en to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved."
As he finished the sonnet, AJ bent down on one knee. Mac's eyes got very wide. She felt faint, and began to tremble. 'Pull it together, Marine!' she screamed silently at herself.
"Sarah, I love you like I've loved no one else in my life. When we almost lost you, I didn't know what I would do. Then when I hurt you--I felt like I had cut out my own heart." His voice got thick, and he continued. "Sarah, I've made some mistakes in my life; I've had some bad luck with women; but this doesn't feel like a mistake." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring box. Mac gasped as he opened the box. The ring sparkled as it caught the light. "Sarah, I'm not trying to rush you into a decision, but I do want you to know my intentions. I don't want you for a brief fling, or even a short-term relationship. I want you forever, Sarah Mackenzie. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
The entire room held its collective breath, awaiting Mac's decision. Most of the women had tears streaming down their faces from hearing the eloquent proposal.
Mac held a brief struggle in her mind. The independent Marine, Colonel Mackenzie, said, 'This could wreak havoc on your careers! You know how people talk! Besides, haven't you had enough of men trying to run your life?'
Sarah, the woman, said, 'Shut up! AJ loves me, and I love him. I don't care about my career as much as I care about him. AJ doesn't want to run my life. He will wait; I'm sure of it...not that I'm going to make him.' For once, the woman made the right decision.
She smiled at AJ. It was tender, passionate, and loving all at once. Her nerves were now calm. "Yes," she whispered. She raised her voice. "Yes, AJ, I will marry you." Her reward was a beautiful grin, as AJ slipped the diamond engagement ring onto her left ring finger. She looked at it, then back at him. When AJ stood, she flung her arms around his neck, kissing him passionately. Their friends cheered and applauded. At the first wolf-whistle, they broke apart. They were almost embarrassed, but it was impossible to be embarrassed with how happy they both were.
They stood through the rounds of congratulations. It seemed like everyone at JAG had congratulated them sometime during the course of the evening. Finally, before they left to attend the midnight service, Bud raised his glass. "A toast to friends," he gazed at the JAG Ops team assembled in his living room, "family," he looked over to Harriet, who had a happy smile on her face, "and love, old and new. Here's to Sarah and the Admiral--"
AJ interrupted with, "Son, call me AJ! We're in an informal setting; I just proposed to my fiancée in your living room, for god's sake!" Everyone laughed.
Bud smiled, and started again. "Here's to Sarah...and AJ..." AJ nodded. "And the best Christmas present you could give to your friends--your happiness. Best wishes from all of us at JAG."
"Here, here!" the group called.
AJ looked down at Mac... 'My fiancée,' he thought proudly. She had a strange look on her face. It was a mixture of happiness and sorrow, as if she were reliving a memory. He leaned down and murmured, "Sarah? You OK, darlin'?"
She looked up and smiled at AJ. "Just thinking of the last time Bud gave a toast with all of us in one room."
AJ thought back to just over a year ago...to Sarah's rehearsal dinner. He recalled the beautiful toast Bud gave when he finally arrived. He also remembered Sarah's apprehension and mixed feelings about her impending nuptials to that damned Australian. He felt his heart constrict. 'Oh, god...did I push her into this too quickly?'
Mac saw the look on AJ's face. Her eyes widened, and she put her hand on AJ's cheek. "No, AJ. Look at me. You did not rush me into anything I didn't want. I am not the same woman I was when I accepted Mic's proposal. I'll have to tell you the circumstances surrounding that...event...later, but for now, know this: I love you, AJ Chegwidden. I want to be by your side forever. Don't ever doubt that."
AJ smiled, relieved. He turned his head and planted a kiss in the palm of Mac's hand. "I love you too, darlin'." Mac shivered at his slightly husky tone of voice. "So, shall we go?"
Mac leaned up and planted a hasty kiss on AJ's lips. "Just a minute." She disappeared upstairs.
Harriet walked over. "Congratulations again, sir. You both look very happy."
AJ smiled softly at the lieutenant. "Oh, we are, Harriet. And I'd like to thank you."
"For what, sir?" Harriet asked innocently.
"For everything. For convincing Sarah not to give up when she was in the hospital, for giving me a swift kick in the six when I couldn't see the light, for arranging all of those deliveries..." He stopped as Bud walked up to them. "Your wife is a very special woman, Bud."
"That she is, sir, that she is." Bud smiled at his beautiful young wife, who smiled radiantly in return.
Mac returned, in a green wool pantsuit, bag in hand. "Sarah? Where's your dress?"
She laughed. "Well, as nice as it was, I couldn't see myself attending a religious service in it." She leaned over and whispered in AJ's ear, "Especially with what I had on--or didn't have on--underneath." She grinned wickedly at AJ's groan.
"Don't remind me; it's going to be hard enough sitting through the service." Mac laughed at his unintentional pun. "Don't make me accost you in the middle of the church!" he rumbled threateningly.
"Later, AJ, later...and if you don't, I'll probably accost you!"
Chuckling, they made their way out to their cars.
Author's notes: Thanks to all my reviewers! I hope you enjoyed my story! Yes, this only goes through part 17a; part 17b is rated NC-17, so I can't post it here. For anyone who wants to read the last chapter of the story, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for the link.