Title: He's Baaaack! (aka Are those BALLS In Your briefs or …?)

Author's Notes: Not your typical shipper fare

By LizD (aka Shipless … The Anti-Shipper, The Ex-shipper, Shipper-No-More, The Late Shipper, Bereft of Shipperness, Devoid Of Shipperhood, Ship-aground, Shipped Off)

Spoilers: Prior to but with Spoilers from "4 Percent Solution"

MacKenzie Residence

The Day After Christmas

Harm brought Mac home from the hospital after her accident. He had stayed with her through that crisis too. Unlike all the other men that had passed through her life, Harm would always be there – but in what capacity? In what capacity would she allow him and in what capacity would he accept? The latest crisis could have finally brought them together – or at least get them started down the same path, but she again kept him at bay. This time she used her therapy and the need to find herself again as her excuse. She coupled that with the fact that she didn't want to lose the working relationship they had just recovered. These were the reasons that she did not 'fall into his arms' when he told her that he loved her that Christmas Eve. He wasn't expecting her to melt and become pliable to his wishes – as she had for all the other men in her life – but he was hoping that it would make a difference. It didn't.

It was time Harm made a change. And change he did – rather change back.

"Is there anything I can do … anything I can get for you?" He asked as she settled herself on the couch still in a great deal of physical and emotional pain.

"You have done too much already." She said with a softness in her voice – a platonic, humble, I'm-not-worthy softness that she had been using of late.

Harm hated that voice. It was worse than fingernails on a blackboard to him. The last thing he wanted from her was gratitude. "Coates did some shopping for you." He continued. "You shouldn't need to leave the house for anything. And your car will be fixed in a in a couple of days."

"I can't thank you enough."

"Mac –" He almost snapped, but he held himself back. "You have thanked me … and it's more than enough." He stood by the door wondering if he should say what was on his mind or if he should just leave it unsaid.

"Well, thank you." She said again. She will never know that a simply 'thank you' pushed him past the point of no return.

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He had to speak what was on his mind. He needed to say it and Mac needed to hear it – just so there were no more misunderstandings. "Mac, about what we talked about … in the hospital."

At the hospital the doctor had told them that she would be all right. Harm was so relieved that he told her he loved her. It was a simple declaration, something that both already knew but hadn't actually been stated in so many words. He would have followed it with a marriage proposal or at least a proposal that they work toward that end, but he wisely waited for her response. A simple 'I love you too' was all he was looking for – it could have been platonic love – he didn't care.

Mac could do it – not really. She said it. She said 'I love you too' but she couched it. She hedged it. She said "BUT."

"I love you too, Harm." She whined. "But I am in no place right now to start a relationship with anyone … sometimes I wonder if I ever will be."

Those were the terms she used this time – albeit less than certain terms. It was not a statement of "never," just an "I don't know when - if ever." From "never" to "if ever" in the space of eighteen months, some would argue that that was progress. Harm wouldn't be one of the some.

What really got to him was that she went on and admitted it was not fair to him; he had been so good, kind and generous toward her. Harm didn't want her to love him because he was 'good' and 'kind'. He didn't want her to choose him because it was his time, his turn, or for any practical reason like his 'generosity'. He deserved more than that. He had earned more than that.

This time she took the blame on herself and chided herself for the number of bad decisions that she made. That was also progress – but more than a day late and at least a buck seventy-five short. She finished him off with a request that he not wait for her. She could not and would not expect him to continue to put his life on hold. Again, progress. She admitted that he had put his life on hold. It was more pushing, shoving and mea culpa-ing than Harm could stand. He wasn't going to take it any more.

At the time he took it in stride … two days after --- Harm had a response. "Mac, about what we talked about … in the hospital."

"Harm, I'm sorry ---." She had known that she had hurt him - again; she saw in his eyes that she had. She just hoped he wasn't going to try to pressure her.

Harm stopped her. "No, no, please … you don't need to apologize. I just want you to know that you are very important to me and that I will always be there for you whenever you need me."

Mac was silent and nervous. He just wasn't getting it. She could not be to him what he wanted her to be.

"And I think you are right." He stated clearly. "We were destined to be friends … special friends … but only friends."

Mac was at a loss; she had no idea what to make of what he was saying. Maybe he did get it. Maybe he was going to back off. Maybe he would no longer wait for her – as per her request.

"And I want you to know that as we each move on with our lives." He continued un-mercilessly. "That my …" He looked for the right word that would say enough but not too much. "my … my care … my concern … my interest in you and our friendship will continue to be important to me."

"As it will be to me." She croaked the words out, still not quite believing what was happening. Harm was backing off – really backing off. Not just stepping back and waiting, but backing off. Or was this just some new tactic of his to get her to follow him? Time would tell.

"Good." He nodded and smiled slightly. "Call if you need anything, and I will stop by and check up on you in the next couple of days."

"You don't need to do that." The words slipped out before she even knew what she was saying. The final slap in the face …she would not accept his friendship.

"Well, if you need anything ..." His smile faded and he let himself out of the apartment.

Mac sat on the couch unclear as to what happened, but feeling a profound loss. A part of her couldn't shake the idea that she had just lost something that she would never be able to recover and she had no one to blame but herself, but another part felt that it was just rhetoric and nothing between them had really changed at all. Again, time would tell.

As Harm left the building he felt a loss too, but for him it was coupled with a great sense of relief … a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He had been forcing himself into a mold for so long he had forgotten who he was, what was important in HIS life and how he was to get it. He walked into that cold December night, shedding the bonds that had been holding him back, feeling as if he had been let out of jail. He felt free. Free to be himself. The world was full of possibilities. He had choices, he had options, he could be and do whatever he wanted. He was responsible to no one but himself. For the first time in months – nay YEARS – he felt a spring to his step. He wanted to go flying.

Rabb Residence

Late December (Five Days After Christmas)

Lana Carlton stood in Harm's doorway. She was a very attractive lawyer friend of his that he had not seen in years. They met during an investigation, but for the life of him he could not remember when. They had run into each other up on The Hill the day before and quickly fell into a nice conversation. She was easy to be with and had a quick wit. She made him laugh which he sorely needed. She made him feel attractive and responded well to his smiles and attention. It had been a long time since Harm enjoyed a woman noticing him. For the past several years when a woman noticed him he was on high alert not to send the wrong message. But more than that, it had been a long time since Harm had noticed a woman. Well, noticed and felt free enough to act on it they way a single man in his forties would.

He asked her to dinner which she readily accepted. After a quick discussion about how 'dining out' in Washington was more for show than for the food or the company, it was decided that he would cook for her. It was the most natural thing in the world – cooking dinner for a date (not just a platonic bowl of pasta). He had forgotten how much he liked it.

"Lana, please come in." He stepped back to allow her to enter. "Let me take your coat."

She handed him the bottle of wine she had brought and shrugged out of her coat. She was dressed casually but very datish and her perfume was very exotic. She had a very nice body. Softer and rounder than Mac's but he reminded himself that she wasn't a marine and probably didn't know 10 ways to kill a man with her bare hands (after all, how many ways does a woman really need?).

Harm was impressed with her selection of wine, but he had already opened a very nice bottle and had it breathing. He nodded his approval anyway. "Can I get you a glass?"

"Please, thank you." She smiled easily with him. "Great place … you did it yourself I imagine."

Lana had been immediately attracted to him when they had met years before and was sorry that he had been involved with someone or at least appeared unavailable. When they met the previous day, she had seen how much he had changed. Not only physically but he had matured emotionally as well. His invitation to dinner was confident and sincere with no agenda – the younger Harm would have been more obvious about his intentions and ultimate goals for the evening. If this older version had an agenda, he had learned to hide it better. She liked this new Harm; she liked him almost more than she was attracted to him.

They caught up over a glass of wine and appetizers. It was nice to talk to someone who was not at JAG and not in the military. Lana was a little left wing, but she was not so far out there that she couldn't appreciate the right's point of view. Harm, being in the service of the administration, took no outward stance on the state of the world other than to say that things were complicated and very serious. Lana accused him of polishing up his political skills. Harm took that as a compliment.

For Harm the evening was going well. It felt good to have her there. He was a little nervous. He was not sure how much interest he should show, and was a little out of practice gauging her interest level. But it was just dinner and it was great conversation. If it ended right then, it would have been marked down as a successful evening.

A knock at the door interrupted them. Mac had come by to discuss a case with Harm. It had been his case, but when she came back to work after the accident, the General passed it on to her. Mac had no idea that he would be in the middle of dinner. How many times did Mac need to get caught in that situation, before it registered that she should pick up a phone first? A part of Harm was slightly embarrassed by her sudden appearance – for her, for him and for Lana. The larger part thought that she would need to accept that he was no longer available to her 24/7. Their relationship was changing.

Mac excused herself quickly and he made no effort to keep her there or arrange a time when they could talk. The only thing that Mac noticed (other than the woman and the candle light) was that Harm did not look caught. It reminded her of his days with Renee or Jordan when Mac was nothing more than a friend to him.

Lana was very intrigued by the interaction between the two. "How long were you two involved?" She asked directly as Harm finished off the salad.

"Were weren't." He answered truthfully but evasively. On second thought a more detailed response was in order. "Not really. There was a time that I thought we could have more than a friendship, but I was wrong." He explained. "We are friends and colleagues and we have seen each other through some pretty tough times."

"I see." She was not wholly satisfied with his answer.

He turned to her and leaned back against the counter. He did not want to play games anymore. He had played them and been played with in the past and he had lost. "What do you see?" He asked pointedly.

"Did you expect her to come by tonight?" Her tone was not accusatory; rather it was simple and direct.


"Does she do that a lot?" She pressed her point. "Just drop by without calling?"

"We work together."

"I caught that." She ran her tongue over her teeth. She wasn't up for games either and she wasn't about to be used to make another woman jealous. "Are you glad that she did, so that she can see that you have moved on?" She pursed her lips. "Have you … moved on?"

Harm watched her for a long moment deciding if the night was over or it could be salvaged. He chose that latter. "Lana … you and I don't know each other that well … I was hoping to change that … but you need to know something." He paused trying to find the right words.

"Go on." She prompted.

"What you see is what you get." He said simply. "I won't lie to you; I won't mislead you and I certainly would never use you."

"What did you expect to happen here tonight?"

"I expected that we would have good conversation over a great dinner." He said honestly.

"Beyond that?" Lana challenged.

"Beyond that I had no expectations."

Lana took him at his word. She smiled nicely. "Well the conversation so far has been good, so let's see if your dinner can hold up its end of the deal." She grabbed a cucumber from the salad.

The only thought in Harm's head was 'nice save.' The evening would continue. He liked Lana; she didn't play games. He liked being direct with her and he liked her being direct with him.

They went back to the conversation they were having before they were interrupted.

Through the course of dinner, Lana relaxed and felt comfortable enough to disclose certain things about her self. The biggest disclosure was that she was not looking for a relationship; she didn't want a husband, boyfriend or a date for major holidays. There were a dozen or so men that she saw socially and a subgroup of that were men that she would ask to escort her to events (men she would be seen with in public), and only one or two that she knew intimately. She was career minded and had discovered years ago that public relationships in Washington should be limited to political alliances and personal relationship should be limited period. Knowledge is power.

Harm was heartened by her disclosure about relationships. He was not looking for one either, in fact he felt very much like he had just gotten out of a very unsatisfying one. As for the rest of her disclosure, it sadden him to know how jaded she was about the environment she chose to work in. Harm was again grateful for the Navy and its rules and regulations. Yes there were Naval politics, and often they were very hard to take, but for the most part there was honor and integrity.

After dinner was done and the dishes were cleaned up, they adjourned to the living room. The conversation became very flirty and very fun. They had shared a bottle of wine at dinner and were now sipping cognac and coffee over dessert. Both were probably a little loose. She got him talking about flying and what he loved about it. He told her what he could and shared some of his best 'war stories'. He offered to take her up one weekend. She naturally thought it would be an F14 or F/A 18, but he had to nix that idea as he told her about SARAH and SARAH's history.

Lana watched his eyes as he talked about flying. She was reminded of that younger man she met. She kissed him, lightly at first, but then with a little more intensity. Harm had to admit he was very drawn to her and the kisses only intensified that. He had no intention of taking Lana to bed when he invited her for dinner – at least not on the first date. The kiss was her idea and he was reluctant to take it further. It wasn't until she assured him that there were no strings attached.

"I don't want to change your life or mine." She told him. "But it is so rare in this town that I find someone that I trust … and …" She smiled. "Is so damn sexy."

His grin spread across his face and he leaned into whisper in her ear. "You don't want to change my life?" His lips brushed lightly against her ear.

She sighed. "Maybe just rock your world … a little."

The experience was sensual and gratifying, not frantic and desperate. That could be due to age or the fact that they really didn't know each other that well and were a little reserved. Or it could have been because it had been a long time for Harm and Lana (being a true lady) allowed him to lead and set the pace. Something – in all Harm's fantasies – Mac never would have done. Making love with Lana was – as they say – like falling off a bicycle but it felt so much better. There was some awkwardness and some ineffective moves, but they were comfortable enough with each other to laugh. In the end they fit together well. He had forgotten what it was like to give and receive that kind of physical pleasure. He felt taller, stronger, more alive, more in tune with his wants and desires than he had in years. His stamina shocked him. His libido had been reawakened. He wasn't insatiable, but after all that time there was a lot to be sated. Lana took it as a great compliment and enjoyed being the object of his pleasure.

In the hours before dawn Harm was savoring the night's activities and stroking Lana's curves, relishing the softness of her skin, and reminding himself how natural it felt to have her there – to have a woman in his bed. His gentle stroking became caressing, Lana again responded to his touch. Blood started pumping and Harm again needed to give and receive.

She left after a nice breakfast and securing a second date. When he was finally alone, he had to really think to remember the last time he had been with someone. It was nearly three and a half years since Renee. Three and a half years of sleeping in an empty bed and thinking about a woman who didn't want him. It had been a lonely time. Harm never had erotic sexual fantasies about Mac. He was attempting to secure her love and share her life, not get her into his bed. So he had stuffed all his good male feelings down and away. Put them on hold in hopes of a more profound payoff – a payoff that never came. The result was emasculation that affected his professional and personal life. He didn't blame Mac – truly he didn't. He blamed himself. But all it took to find his way back to himself was a major shift in thinking and one night with a woman who wanted him. Lana may not have wanted to change his life – but she did.

Pre-Mac Harm was back! And Harm would never lose sight of him again.