Chapter 7 – I Didn't Know.
Harm shifted from foot to foot, his fingers digging into his collar as he tried to create a little breathing space. He smoothed the front of his jacket and then adjusted his bowtie before knocking on Mac's door. Seconds later, she pulled the door open. "You're early." Mac said with a smile and pulled back the door to allow him to step inside. "Come on in. I still have to put on the jewelry."
But, he couldn't move, instead Harm stood rooted in place, staring at her as if he'd never seen her in a dress. Then again, this wasn't just any dress. The gown Mac was wearing was olive green, with a low v-neck accentuated by sparkling jewels that ran along the neckline. When she turned from him, Mac revealed the back side of the gown with it's sexy open back and intricate, beaded, butterfly design that swept just to where her hips were. The material caressed her backside as she walked and left him wondering if he was meant to live a cursed life forever. He had the most rotten luck when it came to her.
"What is it?" She asked, returning with two long, velvet boxes. "Something wrong with the dress?" She fingered the material self consciously and looked over her shoulder as if to see that something was out of place.
"You look. . . .stunning." He stammered and finally felt his brain engage long enough to move him into her apartment.
"Thanks but, this isn't the first time you've seen me in a dress." Mac said as she walked past Harm and closed the door behind him. He looked damn good in formal wear. The jacket accentuated his chest and broad shoulders.
"True. . .But, it's the first time you've dressed up for. . ." Harm stopped himself from saying something incredibly stupid. ". . .to go out with me." And he still managed to say something idiotic. His date for the night wasn't the woman standing across from him. "At least for the moment."
Mac sighed and her disappointment showed. Had he taken the initiative she would have been available and been his date. She'd dropped hints that he didn't pick up on and finally decided to ask him herself. She was a modern woman that knew what she wanted. Unfortunately, the day she brought up the courage to wear her heart on her sleeve again another woman had gotten in the way – a woman that the Admiral had forced onto him - flirty, beautiful and blonde – all of the facets that described his former girlfriends. "I'm not your date Harm. You know that I'm meeting Andy at the ball."
He knew yet, he hoped that it wasn't true. Lt. Col Andrew 'Andy' Jorde was a genuinely good guy. Harm and Andy, while not on the same squadron, had bumped into each other during several tours, bantering back and forth as aviators do. As much as Harm wanted to hate the other man, there wasn't much too hate, except the fact that Andy had asked Mac to the Navy/Marine Corps Ball. The two had met in Bosnia and held a platonic relationship. It was a deposition at JAG Ops and a new billet with the Pentagon that caused Andy to bump into Mac again – much to Harm's dismay.
So, he was stuck taxing the woman that he loved so that she could meet another man. Life really was depressing and he had to be the biggest moron in the world. Harm had a chance to ask her to the ball but, it just never seemed like the right time or place. In reality, part of him figured that she would just go with him – as she had several times before when they were both without a significant other. And then the Admiral had shoved him with Cynthia - flirty, beautiful and blonde – the daughter of a three star, recent divorcee and absolutely annoying. In truth, he really couldn't blame Mac for being someone else's date. "Why isn't he picking you up again?"
Mac shrugged. "He's going to be late getting there. Late request from his CO."
Harm hoped the other man wouldn't show and that, for some reason, his own date wouldn't make the ball either. "Let's get going, Mac. We're going to be late." At least he didn't have to pick up Cynthia, she was traveling to the ball with her father.
"Wait, help me with the necklace." She handed him the box and turned her back to him.. It gave Harm a moment to gaze at her form and just how good she looked that night. Yes, he had seen her in a dress before but, there was something different. He knew what he felt for her now and detested the thought of another mans hand's on her body.
Harm tried to calm his thoughts as his fingers brushed her skin. This close to her, he could smell a seductive scent; a mixture of shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, perfume and Mac. It was spicy and sweet at the same time and would likely bring Andy to his knees. "All set." He said, clasping the delicate piece in place. He resisted the urge to kiss the curve of her neck which was exposed and so damned tantalizing.
"One more piece." She turned to him with a smile and handed a smaller box with the matching bracelet. "I can never get this damned thing clasped." She held the bracelet as he fumbled with the clasp; the touch making her shiver. "Thanks." Mac said and snatched her hand back as soon as he was done. "Let's go."
The ride to the banquet hall was very silent and tense. Neither of them wanted to speak about much of anything and both of them were hoping the evening would end sooner than later. Almost immediately upon arrival, Mac was whisked by Andy who was showing her off to his squadron buddies. Harm had his hands full trying to evade Cynthia's advancements. ."Soooo, you're a Lieutenant? That's nice."
Inwardly, he was screaming.. "Commander. Lieutenant has two bars." Though she'd been raised in a military home and was formerly married to a Marine Captain, the woman didn't understand an inkling of any type of rank much less the different branches of the military.
"Daddy says you're a pilot for the Coast Gaurds?" She'd been attracted to Harm right off the bat and had been trying, for the last hour, to cozy up to him as much as possible – aka: throw herself on him like a cheap suit.
"Navy. Actually, I'm a lawyer for the JAG Corps. I don't fly as much as I used to." He admitted, hoping to make some sort of chit chat as he was sharing a table with Chegwidden, Meredith and Cynthia's parents.
"I'm sure I can help you fly." She whispered as she snuck a hand under the table cloth and placed it on Harm's thigh. "I'll put in a good word."
"I don't need help, thanks." As much as he enjoyed female companionship and, perhaps, make Mac jealous in the long run, the tradeoff wasn't worth this kind of torture. He brushed her hand away and moved his chair enough to get an inch or two between them. From his table, he could see Mac, seated no more than twenty feet away along with Andy and his squadron buddies. Her back was to him and from this vantage he could see Andy getting close, whispering things that were making her laugh.
It was a requirement to sit through dinner and hear speech after boring speech before being allowed to escape. After dancing one waltz with Cynthia, he made himself scarce, choosing to make himself busy by chatting with other officers. At the edge of the dance floor, an interesting conversation between himself, Bud, Sturgis and Chegwidden, dissolved into background fodder as Mac and Andy caught his attention. They were dancing to a slow number, swaying back and forth in unison. Mac's head rested on his shoulder as Andy's arms encircled her frame. The scene was too much for him to bear and Harm stepped out of the French doors and onto the balcony, nursing a double shot of bourbon.
He leaned against the balustrade, staring out into the distance where he could see the top of Washington's Monument - the bright spotlights from below illuminating its marble. Harm wanted out of this disastrous night but knew he could not disappear without a good explanation that he did not have. After all, the party had only been going on for a little more than two hours. Sighing, he took a drink of his bourbon, savoring the liquid as it ran down his throat. He hoped to hide out there until someone came looking for him.
The sound of heels clicking on the brick below stilled him. No doubt Cynthia had followed with the intent of continuing to woo him. "You don't seem to be enjoying yourself." He heard a familiar voice say and turned to find Mac standing behind him. The clicking of her heels echoed in his head as she came to stand by his side. Mac turned around and leaned against the railing, facing the festivities. She could clearly see the look on his face now and noted how one of his fingers ran around the brim of a half-full glass of bourbon. "If you didn't want to come, you could have said so. I would have just driven myself."
He glanced over his shoulder, eyeing the party with trepidation and still hoping that Cynthia would not send out a search party. "It's not like I had a choice. . .Where's Andy?"
"Gone. One of the men under his command got into trouble. He's hoping to bail the kid out before things get more serious." She said, waiting for a reaction – a sigh, a groan – something that would tell her that it mattered to him; that she mattered to him. "Harm, what's going on with you?"
Harm took a breath, partially grateful that, at the very least, he wouldn't have to see them dancing together anymore. "I was hoping our dates wouldn't have shown and I'd have you to myself."
Mac was upset by his admission. In the weeks leading up to the event, she'd hinted – not so subtlety – that a date would not be in the works. "Or, you could have asked me to be your date."
He felt like a total moron now that she verbalized the same thing that passed through his mind. "You're right, I should have." After downing what was left of the bourbon, he placed the empty glass on a table nearby. "I figured we'd wind up going together anyway. Like we usually do."
She couldn't believe the assumptions that he continued to make in her regard. Yes, they had driven together to several events but, they were hardly what one would consider a 'date.' Most of the time he was busy schmoozing with other women and she spent the functions dancing with anyone who asked. They'd had fun and he'd always driven her home but, that's all it was, transportation. "You know what, Harm? I'm still sick of this dance between the two of us."
"Then why is it still going on?" She asked, her tone demanding. Mac was beyond tired and the past few weeks have served nothing more than to stoke the flames that she'd tried so hard to bury. It was clear to her that they weren't meant to be with anyone else. But, why did they keep fighting each other? She could no longer live with their constant banter. The looks and innuendos were akin to junk food – a pleasure that was somewhat filling but, never healthy.
"I don't know." Harm huffed and rested against the railing, arms folded across his chest. "The night that Mic left, I thought everything would finally be right between us. I mean, you knew how I feel about you, then. . .And still." He trailed off, stopping to gather his thoughts before he said something stupid. He gripped the railing, knuckles turning white from the force. Why the hell did this woman have the right to throw him so far off kilter? "You left. We agreed to talk it out and you left. Went to the middle of nowhere and then refused to speak to me." There were things that they needed to say, issues to clear up. But, for the last year, he felt as if he were treading water – wrestling down these deep feelings in order not to rock the boat too much. "I know I've done some stupid things in regards to you but, you knew how I felt. . .You know how I feel." Finally, he whirled, facing her with a steely, unrecognizable look.
Mac could only stare back, wondering if he'd lost this mind. Men, she thought, could be so dense when it came to women. She figured that, in the time that they'd known each other, he'd have inkling as to how she operated. "No, Harm. I don't know how you feel." She hoped and prayed but, there was no definitive way of knowing. Not when he spoke in codes and riddles, or when his actions dictated something else. "No woman wants to be a mind reader and my decoder ring has, long since, stopped working in regards to you." She tried to joke, hoping to soften the blow, if it ever came to another all out battle between them. Mac had resigned herself to not having him as a lover but, if she lost him as a friend, it was a weight too big to bear.
"Didn't we say enough the night of your engagement party?" He took a few steps, stopping just inches in front of her. Harm was scared, knowing that he was delivering his heart on a platter. The last time he'd admitted his feelings, she still went on to marry Mic. Fate had saved him then and hoped it would save him now. "I love you, Mac. And you love me too, I think. . .Why we can't make this work is beyond me." She said softly and then turned away from her, weighing an option that he didn't want to commit to. "Maybe we should just stop this and save what's left of our friendship."
Her heart was beating out a staccato so hard that it made her shake. Harm's words were echoing in her ears. The realization that he'd finally given her all she ever wanted, struck home with the force of an atom bomb. Harm loved her and, obviously, had for quite some time. The concept made her feel alive for the first time in months. She was elated, scared and expectant all at the same time. Her world, which had been spinning uncontrollably since they first met at the Rose Garden, had finally ceased its rotation. He loved her. Harm loved her. And he was right, she loved him. She'd loved him for years.
The lack in response, made all of his expectations disappear in the wind. He'd overstepped a boundary that was never meant to be crossed. This was the reason why either of them were to anxious to admit their feelings. Deep inside, they both feared rejection and what it would do to their friendship. Backpedaling, he began trying to salvage whatever was left. "Maybe we should dance, or something. It might help me get rid of Cynthia . . .mmmm." He was on the verge of rambling uncontrollably when he felt Mac's lips on his own.
It was a soft kiss, gentle and painfully sweet. She broke it first, leaving him wanting more and hoping the encounter would last just a little longer. "I do love you, Harm. I've loved you for years. . . In Australia, when you pushed me away, I thought it was unrequited. From that time on, I guess I gave up on us." She needed him to know what had happened that night in Sydney harbor. On that ferry ride he'd crushed her heart into a zillion pieces and left them scattered in the bay. Accepting Mic's offer had seemed like a sensible thing for a woman who couldn't have the man she loved. In a way, Mic had taken advantage of her raw feelings. Then again, she hadn't put up much of a fight. "I still want you though. I wanna give this a chance."
For the first time in his life, Harm felt a deep happiness, elation close to what I was like to be a child on Christmas morning. "I'm glad you said that, Mac." With that, he pulled her to him, his hands snaking around her waist as they kissed. Mac wrapped her arms around his neck, holding them so tightly together that she could feel the hard planes of his body against her. Her soft moans sent waves of joy crashing over him as her body molded to his own. They kissed unabashed, forgetting the open doors which lead to the party. So oblivious were they that neither Harm nor Mac noticed the figure by the door.
Always one to make his presence known, Chegwidden cleared his throat as he stepped closer to the pair. "Beautiful night, isn't it?" He didn't glance at the two officers, merely stared out into the night. From the corner of his eye he found that they'd separated like children who'd been caught with their hands in a cookie jar. When neither responded to his comment, he merely turned on his heal and said, "Carry on."
The pair watched as their commanding officer walked away to the open arms of Meredith who'd also been privy to their interaction. "Did our commanding officer just give us the OK to make out?" Harm asked. He'd always assumed that Chegwidden would not be the happiest of sorts had he and Mac ever crossed that line.
"Yep." Mac sighed, relieved that there was one less bridge to cross in terms of a relationship. She licked her lips and smiled at the warm look in Harm's eyes. "C'mon sailor, it's time to take me home." She kissed him once more and then took his hand, motioning for him to follow.
Harm stood still, pulling her back to him. "Home? Dontcha think we're moving a little fast?"
"After six years of foreplay? No, I don't. . .Besides, I said you could take me home, I didn't say you could stay over." She teased, making him chuckle. Harm watched her walk away amused at how easily a horrible night could turn into the best one of his life.