Title: Happiness Is...

Author: Shannon

Rating: PG
Category: V (vignette), R (romance)

Disclaimers: If they were mine, would I be writing fanfic? These characters belong to DPB, CBS, et al. Oh, and "I've Got You Under My Skin" is sung by the late, great Frank Sinatra.

Summary: AJ and Mac and a few quiet moments. To be considered AU, obviously.

Author's Notes: This is a series of six vignettes written for the ajmacfic group, in order to lighten the load of angst that had been posted there. Yes, it is AJ/Mac romance. If you don't like it, don't read it. I think that makes sense.

He looked down and smiled.

For the first time in his life, he liked where he had ended up.

Oh, he knew full well the consequences if they were caught, but it was at moments like this that he didn't care.

His heart felt full as he gazed at the sleeping woman in his arms. Her hair in disarray, half of her covered by his comforter, her arms clinging to his neck as if she never wanted to let go.

He lived for these stolen moments. From the time he awoke in the morning, to when he fell asleep in her arms, he dreamed of this. Of simply admiring her beauty, her quiet strength, as she lay within the circle of his arms.

Perhaps the old saying was right: forbidden fruit did taste the sweetest. If anyone found out about this, both their careers would be over, but that threat only made times like this all the sweeter.

He was still astonished that this beautiful woman wanted him. She had the choice of any number of young, handsome men vying for her attentions, yet she had chosen him. A man nearly twenty years her senior. A man who should have been labeled off-limits.

When he had opened his door that dark, rainy night, she was the first thing on his mind, and the last person he would have expected. She had looked so vulnerable, so... so... lost, that if his heart hadn't already been hers, she would have stolen it then.

"Sarah?" That was the only word he said all night. That single word seemingly bolstered her confidence. She placed one finger on his lips, signaling for silence. She then replaced her finger with her lips. He knew then that he was lost. The light brush of her lips against his became a passionate embrace. He swept her up into his arms, and carried her into his bedroom. There, for the first time, he felt it. That feeling of belonging, of loneliness forgotten. Looking into her beautiful, doe-like eyes, no words were needed. All that he needed to know, he could see in her eyes as they stared back at him.

Gazing at her now, he didn't feel fear, or anger, or regret. He felt, for the first time in a long, long time, love. Purely and simply, he felt love. His lips brushed her temple. His dark eyes shone as she smiled up at him drowsily. She snuggled further into his embrace. Nuzzling his chest, she murmured nonsensically.

He laughed softly, rubbing his cheek on her hair. She stretched up, kissing his chin. "I love you, AJ," she whispered.

Capturing her lips with his, he kissed her gently, with all the love in his heart. "I love you too, darlin'." Yes, he liked where he had ended up... in her arms.

It was the most beautiful sound in the world--at least, in her opinion.

It wasn't the sound of bells ringing, or birds chirping, or her favorite song on the radio... no, none of these came even close.

"Sarah," he whispered again, pulling her closer.

She smiled contentedly. That single word, whispered in his low baritone, always sent a mixture of feelings through her. Tenderness, desire, guilt, fear... love.

She loved him so deeply, so completely, that she couldn't remember a time that she didn't. And it scared her to think that it could all be taken away at any moment.

She knew, that night, that she shouldn't have been there; that if she went inside, something would happen to completely change the course of their relationship. She was right. She was still amazed that he hadn't just turned her away, backed off himself, when she had shown up on his doorstep.

Reaching out, she caressed his cheek, smiling as he turned into her touch.

Of course, now that she knew the man inside the uniform, she knew that he was as starved for love and companionship as she was.

The uniform. That brought up another aspect of their relationship... one that wasn't very far from their thoughts at any given time.

She didn't want to destroy his career. He had worked so hard to get where he was. But she didn't want to give him up, either. She didn't know if she could survive without him, having known his true and abiding love.

So what could she do? He had already said that he didn't want her giving up her career for him. She didn't want to hide anymore, though. She wanted to be able to hold his hand while walking through the park, to lean over and kiss him anywhere, anytime, to just spend time with him without being afraid that someone would come looking for one of them.

"Hon, you OK?" She jumped a bit, not expecting his voice. She looked at him. He was smiling a bit, and his eyes were gentle, but concerned.

She smiled a bit, gazing at him. Perhaps it was finally time.

"I'm fine, AJ... but I think we need to talk."

"No," he rumbled dangerously.

"But, sir..." she began to protest.

"No, Colonel. No buts. Request for terminal leave denied."

She clenched her jaw, beginning to get frustrated and upset. Not angry, per say, more like... nervous.

They had had a long talk a few nights ago, and she wasn't sure where it had left them. He didn't want her to resign; she didn't want him to retire.

Now, she didn't know what was happening. Did he not want to move their relationship forward? Was he happy with what they had now? Stolen moments. Cold days, hot nights. Well, damn it, she wanted more than that! She wanted someone who she could hold hands with in public, kiss whenever she wanted, shout from the rooftops how much she loved him. Now she started to get angry.

"May I ask why you are denying my request... sir?"

He looked up at her, his intense gaze meeting hers. She couldn't see any anger, or frustration, or anything, really... he could have such a poker face at times. He picked up a sheet of paper and handed it to her.

Her eyes widened, and she shot to her feet. "No!"

"It's already done, Sarah."

"But... but... why?"

He chuckled, the sound going through her like lightning. "Same reason as you, darlin'. I don't want to hide anymore, either. I went to SecNav earlier this week. He wasn't happy, but he had no reason to refuse."

"AJ... you love being the JAG."

"But I love you more," he replied simply. Her eyes welled with tears. He came around the desk and gathered her in his arms. "Sarah, sweetheart, why does it always come as a shock to you when I say that? It's true. I love you."

She smiled shakily. "I know, AJ. It's just that... well, no man in my life would have been willing to give everything up for me... well, Mic, but..."

He groaned. "Oh, no... Sarah, I'm sorry. I know you don't like surprises..." She laid a finger over his lips.

"AJ, don't worry. I was upset when Mic moved here because I wasn't truly in love with him. You know that. Although I would have appreciated it if you had discussed this with me," she said, smiling wryly, "You had to discuss it with your boss first. I understand, AJ."

"So, we're OK?"

"We're fine, AJ. When is your retirement date?"

"Two weeks from yesterday. Hopefully, they'll have found a replacement for me in that time. I've agreed to stay on until they do."

She sighed. "It'll be so strange, coming in here and not seeing you in your usual stance by the window."

"My usual stance? What do you mean?" he inquired.

"You know... ramrod straight, arms folded across your chest, scowling out the window at the guard shack."

"I do not scowl," he growled.

She giggled. "Oh, yes, you do!"

He laughed and released her. "You'd better get back to your duties."

"I suppose you're right," she sighed.

"Dismissed, Colonel."

"Aye, aye, sir." She winked impertinently at him and left.

"May I have this dance?"

A bright, happy smile was his answer, as she placed her hand in his. He led her out onto the dance floor. He chuckled, imagining her reaction to the next song.

"I've got you under my skin
I've got you deep in the heart of me
So deep in my heart, that you're really a part of me
I've got you under my skin..."

She jerked back, glaring at him playfully.

"What?" he asked innocently.

"Clown," she said, hiding her big, silly grin in the crook of his neck.

"I've tried so not to give in
I've said to myself this affair never will go so well
But why should I try to resist, when baby I know so well
That I've got you under my skin..."

"Why don't you just take out an ad in the Navy Times?" she whispered.

He cocked his head to the side, as if he were considering it. "Nah, I was thinking more along the lines of the Washington Post," he grinned. She slapped his chest.

"I'd sacrifice anything come what might
For the sake of having you near
In spite of a warning voice that comes in the night
And repeats, repeats in my ear..."

She sighed contentedly, hearing his low baritone singing in her ear. She snuggled closer to him as she felt his arms pulling her tighter against his chest.

"Don't you know you fool, you never can win
Use your mentality, wake up to reality
But each time I do, just the thought of you
Makes me stop before I begin
'Cause I've got you under my skin..."

"And I do, you know," he murmured.

"Do, what?"

"I've got you under my skin."

She smiled at his response.

As the song ended, he released his hold on her. He kissed her hand and led her back to her seat. One word was said.


She nodded, meeting his gaze briefly, then sat and joined in the conversation at the table.

He opened the small, black, velvet box again. Gazing at the sparkling gem inside, he could feel his heart rate speed up. He took a few deep, cleansing breaths.

God, he was nervous. Sometimes, it seemed to him that most of the niceties observed by society were just methods of torture.

The adrenaline raced through his veins. It was amazing how much power a simple little circle of metal could have over his faculties. It was turning him from an intelligent, powerful man into a quivering mass of nerves.

But then, it wasn't truly the ring that held the power. It was the woman it was meant for. He was so afraid that she would refuse him. Fear was not an emotion he was used to, and he didn't like it.

He glanced at the room one last time. Everything was in place. A fire blazed brightly in the fireplace. Candles were placed strategically around the room. A bottle of sparkling cider was chilling in a bucket of ice beside the sofa. Dinner was heating in the oven.

A car pulled into the driveway, momentarily illuminating the room with its bright headlights. He forced himself to walk calmly to the front door, not run to it and thrust it open.

She smiled up at him. He returned the smile, reaching out and pulling her into his arms.

He felt perfectly calm.

They sat in front of the muted television, enjoying each other's company. She planted a light kiss on his lips.

He smiled. "Well, that was nice. What was it for?"

"Felt like it." She smiled back, settling once more into his embrace.It had been a wonderful night. After a delicious dinner, they had retired to the living room, where they sometimes talked, sometimes touched, but mostly, just sat quietly and reveled in the other's presence.

She relaxed and allowed her thoughts to wander. Since AJ's retirement a few months ago, they had spent as much time as possible together. Dates were frequently canceled, and they weren't able to see each other every weekend, but she was happier than she could ever remember being.

They had attended the annual JAG Christmas party together, and their friends were so happy for them. Well, all except for Harm--he had looked like he was about to drop his teeth! Of course, that was nothing a weekend in AJ's arms couldn't fix. She grinned to herself. Lifting her champagne flute full of sparkling cider, she idly gazed at the bubbles fizzing up through the amber liquid. She yawned, covering her mouth with her free hand.

"You gonna make it, darlin'?" AJ asked tenderly.

"I'll make it, AJ. Midnight's only 4 minutes and 36 seconds away. Besides, there's nothing I'd like better than to ring in the New Year with you."

"You know, one of these days..." he chuckled quietly.

One minute before midnight, she reached for the remote on the table, pressing the mute button. Instantly, the room was filled with the shouts of thousands of excited people. Horns, bells, and whistles echoed throughout the house. She turned down the volume, smiling up at AJ.

"Glad we're not there."

He snorted. "Yeah, we'd never be able to hear again!"

She giggled, then shushed him. "Shhh, the countdown's starting!"

The voices emanating from the television set became higher in decibel and pitch as the ball began to drop. The couple in front of the TV joined in.

"Ten... nine... eight... seven..."

AJ started to slide off the couch, reaching into his pocket.

"Six... five... four..."

He knelt on one knee before her, pulling out a small box.

"Three... two... one..."

Her voice faded off, as shock and delight warred in her mind.


Amid the wild screaming and strains of 'Auld Lang Syne', she could hear only one thing: his voice.

"Sarah, I love you. I want to spend my life with you. Please, say yes. Become my wife."

Heart pounding, she opened and closed her mouth several times, but no sound came out. Finally, she found her voice. It came out as a near whisper.

"Yes, AJ. Yes, I will be your wife."

Beaming, AJ took her trembling hand in his own. He slid the diamond ring onto her left hand. She gazed at it for a few seconds, watching the candlelight fragment in the prism created by the stone. She looked at AJ, who was now standing. Smiling and laughing joyously, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply.