Disclaimer: Don't own'em
A/N: Last part!
Insights – Part 22/22
Two weeks later.
San Diego International Airport
She felt a hand on her shoulder, warm fingers along her forehead.
"Hmm." She mumbled, still half asleep.
"Wake up, the plane just landed."
She lazily rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and it took her a moment to remember where she was. She smiled up at Harm as she straightened in her seat, more than a little regretful that she had to abandon her rather comfortable position nestled into his side.
"I like this way of travelling," She informed him. "You're very comfortable. Thanks."
He grinned, and unbuckled his seat belt. She was busy smoothening wayward strands of hair, trying not to look like she'd spent the better half of an hour sleeping, when he reached over eagerly to unbuckle her seat belt as well.
"In a hurry?" She teased.
"Most definitely," He confessed as he stood up to remove their carry-on luggage from the overhead compartment.
She thought it was very sweet that he was so eager for her to meet his mother – it also made her feel slightly less ... nervous. Until his next words came.
"The sooner we're off the plane, the less likely we are to hit the late night rush out of the airport."
Ever the practical male, Mac thought.
He offered her his hand and a smile, adding, "And I can't wait for mom to meet you. I've been in her good books ever since Germany on account of you. This visit here is going to put me in the Sons Hall of Fame."
"I live to serve," Mac responded, happiness bursting inside her. It seemed Harm's family was embracing her more than her own ever had – the care packages Gram sent her once a month was proof enough of that. It claimed Mac's heart in ways she didn't understand. She took Harm's hand, and let him lead her off the plane all the while fighting down the worry that this was all too good to be true.
She reached to take her bag from his hand once they'd disembarked.
"Mac," He protested. "If Mom sees you carrying your own bag, I'll get into trouble."
She looked at him askance, convinced that couldn't be true.
"You will not." She said firmly. "I'll carry it: you are not my coolie."
"Fine," He shrugged. He removed the bag from his shoulder and handed it to her. "But I did warn you."
"I'm very excited, Frank," Trish informed her husband, searching the arrivals gate for her son and his partner.
"I know," He responded. The light teasing in his reply had her smiling. She'd said the same words at least four times in the car, and another two since they'd reached the airport.
She threw Frank a glance, and found him grinning merrily. She slipped her hand through his arm, craning her neck slightly to get a better view of the arrivals gate.
"I've never seen him like this over a woman before." She continued. "I really think she's the one." Trish added, just to keep talking. It wasn't that she was worried, per say, about meeting Sarah MacKenzie. It was just that she'd heard so much about this wonderful young woman from Harm, and had formed rather definite ideas about what she'd be like that Trish hoped her own anticipation didn't work against her. Mac was so important to her son.
"Then she must be something special." Frank responded. "You'll get along just fine, I'm sure."
"I know," Trish said, finding her sense of humour. "If she's stuck by that stubborn boy for so long, she can get along with pretty much anyone."
Just then, she saw the top of Harm's head as he walked through the gate. He was holding his carry-on in one hand, and a very stunning woman's hand in the other. That must be Mac. They looked so absolutely adorable together! Trish could not control her smile.
Until she saw that Mac was carrying her own luggage. Oh, for goodness sake: had she taught her son nothing?
"Mom," He exclaimed, grinning as they approached. He let go of his bag and Mac's hand, and pulled her in for a hug.
"Harm, it's so great to see you, dear." She returned his embrace, inordinately pleased to be holding her son after so long. He looked happy and healthy, so she was satisfied. "Now introduce me," She insisted.
Harm pulled back, laughing. He shook Frank's hand in greeting before wrapping an arm around Mac's waist.
"Mom, Frank, this is Mac," He said, and then thought to make his introduction slightly less sloppy by adding, "Sarah MacKenzie. Mac, meet Mom and Frank."
Trish stepped forward to hug the young woman.
"It's such a pleasure to finally meet you, Sarah dear!" She said, and pulled back with her hands lightly grasping Mac's shoulders.
"The pleasure is mine," Mac responded, smiling brightly. There was something else barely hidden behind the genuine delight in her eyes, Trish couldn't help but notice. A quiet depth and a guarded warmth that made Trish understand part of what had drawn her son to this beautiful woman.
Trish instantly liked her.
"Sir," Mac turned to Frank, hand outstretched, that wonderful dazzling grin in place.
"Call me Frank, Sarah." He took her hand in both of his, and offered a warm smile. "Let me take your bag for you."
"That's alright," Mac said quickly, "I can—"
"Nonsense, dear," Trish interrupted. She gave Harm a less than pleased look. "And why aren't you holding her bag?"
"I'm not her coolie, mom." He said, obviously amused at being told off by her. He gave Mac a pointed look, and Mac, for her part, looked slightly alarmed that Harm was getting in trouble.
"Harmon Rabb Jr., don't give Mac that look. Take her bag." Trish ordered, wondering what Harm could possibly have told Mac that had her looking so out of sorts.
Harm obediently picked up the bag, and winked at Mac.
"Told you so," He said, chuckling smugly. Some boys, Trish thought, never grew up.
"Ma'am," Mac began, apparently intent on defending her wayward son. But Trish cut her off.
"Call me Trish, darling." She linked arms through the younger woman's, and pulled her along as she set a course for the car. "You must be starving. We planned a late barbeque, if that suits you. Frank is quite the avid griller."
"That sounds wonderful, thank you."
"Good." Trish said, patting Mac's hand. "And you should let Harm carry your bags, dear; it'll keep him humble."
Mac laughed out loud at that, then turned to direct a teasing glance over her shoulder at Harm. "Somehow I don't think there are enough bags in the world for that."
Trish heard Harm's protest at the comment, and couldn't stop her grin. Oh yes, this girl was simply perfect for her son.
Trish stood by the counter in the kitchen, slicing a baguette and watching Harm and Mac as they stood together on the deck. They were laying out the place settings for a late dinner. She smiled as Harm's teasing voice drifted towards her. She looked up in time to catch Mac's conspiratorial glance full of longsuffering patience directed at Frank. Her reaction only caused Harm to double up on his teasing, until Mac replied with some pointed barb Trish couldn't hear. The sound of Frank's laughter burst through the night. Trish could only shake her head as Harm joined in with his stepfather.
She absolutely adored how cute her son and Mac were together.
Harm had told her that it was while Mac was assigned temporarily to Germany that he'd realized how much he cared for her, and in what way. They'd talked over the phone. It had been the most delightfully surprising, heart-warming news she'd heard in a long time, maybe ever.
She knew her son had no troubles when it came to women, could charm them easily. But there'd always been a layer of superficiality to his previous relationships. It had mostly been the physical attraction that he'd emphasized, had gone after. Admittedly, more recently, he'd seemed to want an emotional connection, but had never followed through – until now, she hoped. She knew emotional intimacy was hard for him. She couldn't help but wonder what she could've done differently by him...
Then again, he now considered his best friend to be Sarah MacKenzie. A woman. Would wonders never cease.
With Mac, even though the chemistry between them was obvious whenever they were in the same room, the respect and deep affection was equally evident. Friendship had come first; the emotional, intellectual connection had preceded any physical attachment. She'd been on a different continent when he'd realized that he loved her. Trish marvelled at it.
She knew how much faith Mac had in her son, and how much Mac affected him in such wonderful ways. She could see the changes in him – could see the changes even in his interactions with Frank since he'd arrived, in the way he was around Mac. It warmed her heart beyond anything she'd felt before. She wanted so badly for her boy to be happy.
"Mom," Harm walked through the patio doors, and gave her a wide smile. "What's taking so long? Need help?"
She shook her head, silencing her previous thoughts, and returned Harm's smile. She spread out aluminum foil on a baking tray, "Just preparing the garlic bread, darling. How's the grill coming?"
"Great." Harm said. He began drizzling olive oil on the slices of bread. "Except I think those two are eating half the meat before it even reaches the serving dish."
He was smiling, the bread forgotten as his eyes fixed on Mac who was tasting a piece of steak. Trish, with a tolerant smile of her own, divested a distracted Harm of the olive oil and finished his task. He remained oblivious, still admiring the woman on the deck. His smile turned into a full grin at the effusion in Mac's praise to Frank's skill on the grill.
"If only I could get her to go on about vegetables like that." He glanced at his mom. "Speaking of which, are you taking those vitamins on the list I sent you? And how's Frank cholesterol level doing?"
She chuckled at his mothering tone. She'd received an email from him, soon after that phone call where he'd poured his poor heart out about his fight with Mac. Trish figured it was his way of saying thank you. It warmed her, both that he'd sent the list, and that they'd had that heart-to-heart. God knows she'd been trying for years to get him to talk with her like that, to realize that he could talk with her like that. She'd definitely take what she could get.
"Yes, Harm." She said with playful indulgence. "I'm taking my vitamins." In truth, she'd just gone out and bought them this very morning, knowing that Harm would ask about them.
"And Frank just had his check-up. His level went down, and he's been sticking to his diet." She caught her husband tasting some meat right off the grill, and thought to add, "For the most part. When he found out Mac loved her meat too, I don't think he could contain his excitement. Went to the butcher's himself."
Harm laughed. They both looked towards the patio where Frank was grilling away, all the while giving step by step instructions to Mac. Trish could only smile at her husband.
"He's quite taken with her." She said to Harm. "Smitten is the word, I think."
"She has that effect on people." Harm replied, lost in some thought. His eyes held a softness she thought was very sweet.
"Gram said the same thing to me." Trish commented, remembering that she still had the garlic bread to make. She focused on her task.
"Gram went nuts." Harm turned to face her. "You know she packed enough food to feed a platoon, to take home with us."
"She always gives you food when you leave after a visit." Trish pointed out.
The expression on Harm's face was comical.
"Yeah: one casserole, one pie and some sandwiches for the drive back." He shook his head, laughing with amusement. "This time, she actually broke into her freezer stock, pretty much emptied it out and handed it all to Mac."
"My, that's high praise." They shared a warm laugh, both knowing that Gram's primary way of showering affection and caring was by feeding people.
"Tell me about it. She even gave Mac four jars of her famous jam. She's been sending Mac a box of cookies once a month ever since, too."
"Gram said Mac sent her a thank-you card and a bird feeder for the backyard after your visit." Trish secretly thought she was always full of good ideas, but her telling Harm to take Mac to his grandmother's just took the cake.
"Yeah. She's equally taken with Gram. Writes her a letter every time, to thank her for the cookies – you know how Gram loves handwritten letters. Wishes we had time for another visit."
"Work's been rough, has it?" She sympathized.
Harm nodded. "Just a lot of travel. Especially the first couple of months. Then things were getting back to normal, and we had that stupid fight."
Trish could hear his self-censure at that last part.
"The normal stresses of life, darling." She said, placing the garlic bread in the oven."There are ups and downs in any relationship."
"Yeah." Harm sighed.
His glance reverted to Mac, who was now seated on the porch banister, listening to Frank as he spoke. Harm broke into a slow smile. "But you know, for the first time, I think it's all worth it."
Trish couldn't help the swell of pride that started all the way down in her toes. And relief. Thank god. She sometimes worried Harm would become one of those bachelors for life, with a new woman on his arm every few months, letting none ever find their way into his heart. The kind of men that, well into their sixties, turned up at parties with a woman half their age in tow, wearing those suits with satin lapels and an ascot, smoking a cigar.
She began clearing up the counter, as the two of them settled into a comfortable silence, in which he admired Mac and she pictured what her grandkids would look like.
Trish's thoughts drifted to a phone conversation she'd had with Harm. She fixed him with an appraising glance.
"What?" Harm turned, catching her silent observation.
"I'm remembering what you said about always knowing where Sarah is."
"You can test me." A cocky grin appeared.
"I will." She challenged.
"You'll see," He said smugly.
"Food's ready," Frank called from the deck.
"C'mon, Mom." Harm grabbed the bread out of the oven, and slid the slices into the bread basket. He ushered his mother out the door, and pulled her chair out for her as Frank and Mac laid out the food.
Trish surveyed the table to make sure everything was there as the others took a seat.
"Oh," She said, noticing an absence. "I forgot the lemonade."
Mac put down the dish she was holding and headed towards the kitchen, "I'll get it, Trish."
"Don't trouble yourself, Sarah." Trish said. She was going to make Harm go and get it, but Mac was halfway through the deck doors.
"It's no trouble," She insisted. With a flash of her smile, she disappeared into the kitchen.
Trish turned back to the table in time to catch Frank give Harm a fatherly pat on the shoulder.
"Well done." He approved.
Trish shook her head in exasperation. Well done indeed. Her son had fought this tooth and nail since he'd met Mac. Before she could say anything, though, Harm grinned in acknowledgment at Frank. She thought he seemed to be hesitating about something - he was silent for a moment, exhibiting a degree of apparent self-consciousness that made Trish worry slightly – before he looked Frank in the eye.
"I've had good examples to follow." He said.
Trish's heart melted, and she felt faint tears in her eyes at the wealth of emotion that flickered over Frank's face. Mac exited back onto the deck at that moment, and both Frank and Harm stood up, waiting for her to take her seat at the table.
Trish took the opportunity to catch Harm's eye, and mouthed him a 'thank you'. He only shrugged in response, giving her that easy grin that had made her fall for his father all those years ago.
Harm entered their bedroom, and found Mac sitting on the bed, leaning against headboard. She was lost in some thought, and jumped when she realized he'd just come in.
"Didn't mean to startle you," He grinned, and began removing his clothing to prepare for bed.
He frowned as she didn't respond. He knew she was having a good time here, evidenced by the sparkle in her eye all through dinner, and her active participation in the conversation. But she'd become introspective after dessert.
"You look down, what's up?"
She shrugged, "Nothing."
He watched her for a moment, then joined her on the bed. He lay down, with his head on her lap.
She looked down at him, amused.
He winked at her, closed his eyes and clasped his hands over his chest. Based on the past couple of weeks, he had no idea when she wanted to be held, and when she wanted some space. Thank god this time it was the latter – the sleuth in him planned on getting better at reading her. He felt her fingers glide through his hair, and he sighed with contentment.
She was silent for a long time, but he'd learned the hard way not to push too hard so he was willing to go at her pace.
"It's good, you know, to have family that remembers." She finally said. "I never realized the importance of memory."
"What do you mean?" He opened his eyes and looked up at her, confused by the course of her thoughts.
She shrugged lightly. Her fingers traced the shell of his ear. "The stories your mom tells. And your grandmother had a ton too. Some of them stories even your mom has forgotten."
Her eyes were fixed on the opposite wall, but her mind was far away. He felt a sudden, indescribable sadness overcome him. When they'd visited Gram, she had a ready supply of anecdotes to share with Mac. His mother and even Frank had regaled Mac with stories about him over dinner. He knew they'd probably repeat them over and over without prompting in future.
But, he realized, he'd never hear stories about her childhood, at least not from her parents. So much history he would never know. There must've been good things for her, growing up. He hoped so. She rarely spoke about it, and there was no one else; Matt O'Hara was hardly the chatty type.
Her sudden, unexpected comment caught him off guard.
"What?" He looked up at her.
"Frank. He's great." She was smiling, her eyes warm. "Your mom, it goes without saying, is fantastic. But I never knew much about Frank … you're lucky."
He took her hand in his, and smiled as he remembered how well Mac and his stepfather had been getting along over dinner. He supposed it was a carnivore thing, bonding over grilling meat. What his mom had said was definitely true: Frank was completely taken with Mac. Unexpectedly, it warmed his heart, and he loved Frank for taking the effort to charm Mac as thoroughly as he had, for putting the smile she was now wearing on her face. This realization caught him so completely off guard, he had to pause to size it up.
"You have three parents who…" She looked down at him, the depth of feeling in her eyes captivating.
"I'm glad you had that kind of support growing up. It couldn't have been easy after your dad went MIA."
He sighed as he toyed with her fingers. This was his chance, he knew, to give her something of himself. No guts, no glory.
"I was five, but I still remember the darkness in the house, like this weight. It was suffocating. Then I remember going to the farm in Belleville for a few months, after we left the house, before mom was ready to … live without dad, I guess. I remember how clear everything was for those few months. Me, her, Gram. Nothing but fields and sky. Mom says I'm what got her through the first couple of years. Those were the hardest, always hoping he'd come back, yet trying not to expect it."
"She talked to you about it?" She sounded surprised.
He nodded, his attention focussed on their joined hands. "When I came back from Vietnam, when she thought I was old enough to understand the words for what grief was, is. But I'd already stopped listening. Something broke between us, then. When I went to Vietnam, that is. From then until my ramp strike … we were as distant as we'd been inseparable after dad went missing. That was my fault. I put this … chasm between us."
"You were a kid."
He smiled up at her, recognizing the same words he'd used with her.
"That's what she says. You know, I was pretty carefree before then. Relatively, at least. I went to good schools, had a generous allowance. Thanks to Frank. But I never acknowledged that part of it. I was too angry at him, and busy trying not to care. But not with my mom. It was my job to protect her – part of my resentment for Frank must've come from that."
"You thought he'd replaced you."
He shrugged. It was too terrible a thought to consider. "She tried really hard, and Frank did too, to make a family, the three of us."
He was silent, running his index finger over the lines on her palm.
"She told me not too far back that she thought I'd find a father figure in Frank. But I just wanted to be a fighter pilot. Sit in that cockpit with my dad looking over my shoulder. You know that picture I have in my apartment…"
"I think Tom Boone helped keep that dream alive, and Gram's stories. We also got a lot of support from dad's fighter pilot buddies, and their wives. I was always in awe of them. But when I hit my mid-teens and…" He sighed, absently marvelling at how delicate her hand looked next to his, not giving himself the chance to stop talking.
"I realized I'd stopped thinking he was coming back. I was getting too used to life with Mom and Frank, seeing that as normal, even if not great, and I was sure my mom barely even spared him a thought anymore. I had to connect with my dad. So I went looking for him. I really did think I was hot shit. In hindsight, it was pretty stupid."
"Vietnam, though, was just terrible. God, it was terrible. I came back and it took such a long while to get over the shock of it. Mom tried to help, but I was so angry, and I resented her for going on with her life when dad was stuck in some forsaken country. I guess that's the obsessive part of me you go on about. And I was immature about it, didn't understand her, didn't think of how she would blame herself for what I did." He paused to study her face. "I think I've been getting some perspective recently."
"Life's lessons hard learned." She responded quietly.
"The good ones always are, aren't they? It took me a long time to realize that." He had never said so much to anyone. He felt the bands around a dark part of his heart loosen their grip. He took a deep breath, and a part of him suddenly felt empty; he'd lost something in sharing this with her, some part of him that had always been his, his alone. He couldn't tell if that was a bad thing, although he didn't think it was. He thought maybe he felt light enough to float, hollow enough to disappear.
She only nodded in response. He watched her, as she traced his features. A thoughtfulness was softening her dark brown eyes. She smelled of summer and saltwater breeze. Her heart was the greatest gift he'd ever been offered. It was not a bad thing, he decided. It was a good thing; she already filled all the empty spaces.
"Harm?" Her fingers continued their soothing ministrations, and his eyes fell shut in simple enjoyment.
He looked her in the eye.
"I want to be good for you."
She was startled. Her fingers stilled. "What?"
He jumped in, before he lost his courage.
"I'm starting to realize that my decisions and actions affect more than me. I gave you such a hard time about not wanting to talk about your parents, but I never offered you anything. I want to be good for you," He repeated, emphatic.
Something dark and timeless was waiting for him in her eyes. She shifted to lie down beside him, facing him on the comforter, so close he could see every speck of gold in her irises.
"You are good for me. You're the best parts of me." She held his gaze with an honesty he treasured seeing in her. "Sometimes I think I don't deserve you."
He put an arm around her waist and pulled her close to him, resting his forehead against hers. "I love you, Sarah MacKenzie." He placed his hand over her heart. "Always."
Her hand slid up his chest, and came to rest over his heart.
"Always," she whispered.
Trish would admit to feeling more than just a bit sad that her son and Mac's weekend visit was coming to an end. This trip though, had been good. Good for her, good for Frank and Harm's relationship, just plain good. She could only hope that his son married the woman seated next to him, sooner rather than later. Then she could start planning for the grandkids. In fact, she had recently met a local artist who, as a means of supplementing her income, designed the most adorable, off-beat onesies. That kind of talent had to be supported.
She watched Harm carefully. That boy took the most convoluted routes to achieve the simplest goals. Too stubborn by far. She smiled as Harm added fruit to Mac's plate. Mac, for her part, rolled her eyes though she patiently moved aside her bacon to make room. She also threw Harm a cheeky, challenging grin as she helped herself to a couple more strips of bacon.
"Sarah, you'd mentioned your interest in palaeontology last night," Frank was saying. "And I remembered that the brother-in-law of a good friend of mine is on the Board of Trustees for the Smithsonian. I'll give him a call. I'm sure he could arrange for a tour of some kind for you, maybe a look behind the scenes."
Mac's eyes widened with excitement, "Thank you, Frank! That would be incredible."
She then launched into a story about her uncle taking her on hikes in the desert searching out dinosaur footprints, and Frank was more than happy to oblige by giving her his full attention.
Trish exchanged an amused grin with Harm. Frank was being so absolutely endearing with Mac. She'd bet he would give the girl investment tips next, if not offer to have his financial advisor take a look at her portfolio. She'd learned years ago that it was his own awkward way of saying he liked a person. She smiled inwardly in recollection: on their first date, he'd asked her how her 401(k) plan was getting along. As though she hadn't been nervous enough.
As Frank and Mac remained steeped in conversation – now about tectonic plates and meteorites, of all things – Trish excused herself to refill the platter of bacon. She was suitably impressed with Mac's ability to pack away meat. All this time, she'd thought Harm had been exaggerating.
Which made her wonder if there was some merit to Harm's claim that he always knew where Mac was. She hadn't had a chance to test him. Next time he visited, she decided, she'd make a point of it.
To her surprise, Harm followed her into the kitchen.
"Hey, Mom?" He kept his voice low enough to warrant Trish's full attention. She turned to face him, and was greeted by an excited, slightly self-conscious expression.
"You still have the engagement ring dad gave you?"
She held her breath. "Yes."
His grin was blinding.
"I think I'll take it back with me."