Disclaimer: Don't own them.
A/N: Last chapter! Thank you for reading and reviewing. Until next time... (Although, KristieM, if I had the time right now I'd write an epilogue just for you, to validate your psychic abilities).
Fresh Start 13
The next morning
"Hey, Harm," Mac greeted with him a grin as she opened her door to him. He was actually on time this morning. It wasn't that she found punctuality per say to be an attractive trait, but this was Harm and after discovering the music box last night, he could have shown up wearing a poncho with hot pink leggings and she still would have found him more appealing than usual. Not wanting to pay heed to the voice in her head warning that they still had much to sort through, and most definitely wanting to act on just how hot he looked this morning, Mac stepped into Harm. She wound her arms around his waist and stood up on her toes, tilting her face to his to deliver a thank you kiss. He responded by wrapping his arms around her and opening his mouth to hers. It took less than a second, by Mac's flawless count, for a thank you kiss to become a very heated session that was not suited for her front porch. She stopped keeping count after that.
"Mac," He murmured, pushing her against the wall beside her door. His hand slipped under her shirt. "Wait."
"Hm," She nodded against his lips, pulling his shirt out of his pants. "Inside," She agreed.
"I mean," He tore himself away from her, his breath uneven, and rested his forehead against hers. "Wait." His large, warm hand was still under her shirt, stroking her back. "We have to go for breakfast."
Mac deflated against him. Damn it. She'd forgotten about that. "Okay," She took a deep breath, rallying herself. Harm stepped back so that he was not touching her, but he kept his eyes fixed on hers. He gave her a tender smile and brushed her hair from her face.
"We keep doing that," His smile turned into a grin.
"Maybe we should continue doing it," She leaned against the wall, keeping her hands behind her to resist the urge to touch him.
He looked up from re-tucking his shift. His eyes darkened, she watched his chest rise and fall in quickened cadence. Mac clasped her hands tighter behind her back and looked away. Clearly they'd never make it to his parents' if she flirted with him.
"You said that," His voice was strangled. He cleared his throat, and Mac could see his restraint in his tightly controlled movements. "You said we should wait."
"You left the music box on my dresser," She explained.
He swallowed heavily. "I did." His eyes hadn't left hers, and she watched realization dawn over her meaning.
"Mac," He whispered. He took a step towards her, and then stopped himself. He looked out towards her street, taking three deep breaths. She watched him as he studied the tree-lined road, lost deep in thought, wondering what he was thinking. When he turned back to look at her, she knew he'd reached a resolution of some kind. What it was, she didn't know.
He offered her his hand. "Shall we? Breakfast awaits." He demeanour was back to normal and he was wearing a large smile. But the steely resolve in his eyes held fast, and so did the heat.
The sudden determination in his bearing was confusing, but she went along with it. As with everything else they needed to sift through, she would just have to wait until Harm was either ready to talk or willing to let her push him into talking.
Hours later, some thousands of feet in the air
Harm leaned back in his seat, staring ahead at the broad expanse of sky ahead of them.
"It's beautiful up here," Mac commented from the pilot's seat, her attention divided between the gorgeous view and flying the plane.
"It is," Harm agreed distractedly. He was trying - had been since this morning on her front porch when he'd promised himself they would talk before they did ... other things - to find a way to broach the topic of all they needed to talk about. He wanted to get it out of the way so they could move forward. Mac seemed ready, but he needed to know something first. It had nagged at him since long before she'd left for California.
The tricky issue was that he didn't know how to bring up the topic, or keep their discussion from devolving into a fight. Up here, he thought, was the best place. No escape for either of them. Or perhaps that made it the worst place.
"Yeah," She glanced at him with a smile, one that quickly faded at his expression. "What is it, Harm?"
"You remember last year, when you came by my apartment in the pregnancy suit?"
She nodded, her grip tightening on the control wheel. He reminded himself that this conversation was important for securing the rest of his life, as he wanted it. So he persevered despite his worries.
"Why did you accepted the mission," He looked away from her for a moment, because the distance between the rest of his life and the present suddenly seemed immense. "I don't get why you had to go so far away when I'd just ... When I wanted you to stay."
"Where is this coming from?" She asked, startled.
"C'mon, Mac. It's the elephant in the room. The longer we put it off," He remembered his mother's advice, "The harder it's going to get to deal with it."
She took a deep breath. It was a long time before she answered. "After all that had happened, I needed to get away from there."
"You mean away from me." It was exactly as he'd feared, and all those horrible feelings he'd felt while isolated in the brig returned.
She shrugged, and it didn't seem like she was going to answer.
"You didn't come to see me when I was in the brig. And the moment I got out, you left." They both knew admiral's orders were not her excuse.
"I just ... I was upset."
She nodded rather reluctantly, looking ashamed. "With you."
"I felt really isolated, Mac." He felt his own anger, his hurt at her abandonment start to rise. "I needed you."
"No," She shook her head, no longer shamefaced but resolute instead. "You didn't need me, Harm. If you'd needed me, you would've come to me when you first found out about Singer."
He didn't know how to respond to that. It was different, he wanted to say. It wasn't the same thing.
"It was just another nail in the coffin for me. You can't decide when you want a person in your life and when you don't. That's not how this is supposed to work. When things go well in your life, you're..." She trailed off, hesitated before forging ahead, "Nice to me. When things are hard for you, you shut everyone out. Me included. I just couldn't stand it anymore. Things had been going well, and I thought ... Well, regardless of what I thought, you still didn't talk to me when I could have helped you. Even if only by listening. And suddenly I was tired of it. I was tired of being so expendable in people's lives. Of being discarded. It seemed like every relationship I was in, anyone I was close to, it was always the other person setting the terms of engagement. My father did it with me. Never contacted me but still followed my career. My mother did it with me, is still doing it. Mic did it. Hell, even Uncle Matt did it. And then I realized it was the same with you. It was a terrible thing to realize and I just needed space."
"I'm sorry." He said, because he didn't know what else to say.
"Don't apologize. I learned this last year that I have to shoulder some of the blame too. I never tried to take control, not in any way that mattered. I never tried to reach my dad, I'm too afraid to track down my mother. I let Mic pull me along. I've never told Uncle Matt just how devastating his incarceration has been for me. And I sure as hell never told you what I wanted, never pushed for it after Mic left. I was just too afraid of rejection, of getting left behind again. Too afraid to have it confirmed that I really was expendable, unimportant in anyone's life."
"Mac," He stared, dumbfounded, his heart breaking. How little had he known this woman?
"Stop, Harm." She was stern and tough and exactly how he'd learned she acted when confronted by weakness. "I'm not looking for anything from you. I'm just answering your question."
He didn't know what to say. He thought he might just fall apart if he spoke. So he kept his silence.
"Why didn't you come to me about Singer?" She asked this in such a tiny voice, he felt like an ogre crushing the flowers in his path. And in her question he saw the woman behind the shield.
"I ... I don't know. I'm used to dealing with things on my own." Hardly an answer worth giving, but all he had. "I'm trying to change that." He looked down at his hands, "I'm starting to see what made you feel the way you did. Why you left."
She didn't say anything. He thought it best to continue the flying lesson. Something to anchor him.
"Was it so bad," He asked moments later, as he adjusted dials that didn't need adjusting, and read instruments that didn't need reading. "That you had to accept a covert op with the CIA?"
"The admiral would hardly grant me leave at such a time." Her voice was tight, just shy of defensive. "I needed to get away."
"But you still came to say goodbye." He didn't intend for it to sound so bitter.
She gave him an accusing look, full of hurt. "I'm not heartless. I have always cared for you, no matter how bad things were between us."
"And you still left." It sounded far more spiteful than he thought himself capable of. He felt the sand slip between his fingers as he waited for Mac's reaction.
"You're still angry about it." She apparently had a gift for stating the obvious. "You retaliate when you're angry. That's exactly what you did in Paraguay. You were angry and short-tempered with me there, too. And you're doing it again."
He bit back his irritation with her response. "Fine." He said, trying to school his tone to civility, but failing. "Let's start again. I didn't mean to get upset."
"You can't say that, Harm," She replied, "When it's clear you are upset."
"Can you blame me?" He countered, knowing even as he said it that he was screwing this up.
"Don't throw this back at me." She said firmly.
He didn't say anything.
"Was it because I left for Paraguay without your permission?" She pushed. "Or because I didn't contact you in the brig?"
He said nothing, knowing that if he did they'd only fight. All this anger was bubbling up inside him and he needed to cap it. He'd thought he'd dealt with it, but clearly he had not.
"Tell me why you're still angry." It was a challenge more than a request.
"I'm not." He busied himself with the flight instruments in an effort to distract. He was starting to realize where his anger came from, and "We should go over some manoeuvres. You'll need them to get your license."
"Harm." She definitely recognized when he was trying to change the subject. "Let me worry about flying the plane. I feel as though I'm the one doing all the soul baring."
He shook his head. "No. I ... give me a moment." He needed to recoup and wished he weren't in such close quarters with her. Her presence was filling the cabin and he didn't know how to tell her that part of his treatment of her in Paraguay stemmed from his anger towards her for not being supportive over the Singer affair and his time in the brig.
She nodded, her attention turning back to the plane. He wished he was the one flying right now, at the controls. It would give him some equilibrium, something to concentrate on besides his own anxieties about this topic of conversation. But instead of doing that, he had to settle for watching Mac as she flew. He had been right about one thing: she was a natural. It filled his heart to the brim, watching her in the pilot's seat. She seemed so at home, like she belonged.
And in that moment he knew exactly what to say.
"You look really good in that seat." He told her.
"You are a fantastic instructor." She glanced at him, her response was sincere and wary all at once.
"You know, what you told mom is true. I wanted to teach you to fly more for my benefit than yours." He saw her questioning look and elaborated, "To spend time with you. But the thing is I've learned more from this than I could ever hope to repay."
"What do you mean?" She frowned.
"My entire life, until this flight school, I've been the one doing the flying. Calling the shots, making sure everything went okay, no major mishaps. And you were right about that: I was always in control, always had to be"
She nodded, but she clearly didn't know where he was going with this.
"But then I started teaching other people to fly. And it didn't hit me until just now what that meant. I thought it was a job, maybe one I was settling for, but it is so much more."
She was still frowning, so he went ahead and shared his conclusion.
"Letting go isn't that bad," He explained. "Being in control, you said it yourself, is only something you need to do when you don't trust those around you. I forgot about that part. For all my great piloting skills, Chegwidden was right. I haven't been much of a team player. That's been my problem. It led me to mishandle the entire Singer affair, and completely screw up Paraguay."
Her confusion dissolved into realization. He watched her grip tighten on the controls. But she said nothing and only listened.
"When you left my apartment to go on the mission, I was upset. It hurt more than I thought it could. And that made me angry, which just added to my anger about you not visiting me in the brig. Then, while you were gone, the nightmares started."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "Nightmares?" She glanced at him uncertainly.
He nodded. "Yeah. Terrible ones. All the ways everything could go wrong, all the ways I wouldn't be able to stop you from getting killed. It upset me even more. That's me not being a team player: I didn't trust in your skills, nor in Webb. Hell, I didn't trust the CIA."
"With reason," She interrupted. "The shit did hit the fan."
"I still should have had more faith in you than I did," He countered, not willing to be budged on this point. "Then you went missing and AJ wouldn't let me go after you. And that downright pissed me off. I didn't trust him enough to ask his reasons, to dig deeper. I didn't even think to ask him if he had a plan. I just had to find you because no one else would do it right. So I resigned. Again, not being a team player. And then I found you, and I had to get us out of there. Me, not us. All I could do was see you as a distraction, and all I could be was angry with you for leaving in the first place, for making me lose control over the one thing that mattered to me more than anything," He took a breath, shook his head at his own convoluted thoughts. "Us," He elaborated. "Our relationship. I wasn't a team player, because I was trying to save us but I was doing it alone. Then I saw how you were with Webb and I didn't trust you, nor did I trust him. I just got increasingly angry. But I couldn't talk about it, I refused to because I could handle it on my own, like I handled everything else." He stopped, looked out at the expanse of sky in front of them. "Not a team player. And then AJ wouldn't take me back, even though I chose to leave. It just reinforced the downward spiral where I was losing everything. And maybe it started with Singer, when I should have come to you instead of trying to handle it by myself and ending up in the brig." He concluded, "All these things I had no control over just made me more and more angry. So I did what would put me in control. I ignored you and I signed up with the CIA. Two things I'd lost control over - our relationship and work - where instead of trusting anyone else, I just trusted no one but myself." He shrugged, and turned to look at Mac. "Not a team player. Never a team player."
There was a heavy silence in the cabin. He waited while she processed.
"Chegwidden was right, and you were right. But I'm doing a lot better on that front," He continued, "I was angry with you, but mostly with myself. I guess losing everything makes you realize how useless it is to choke the important things in your life to death, just because you want to keep an iron grip on them." He leaned back in his chair, "And I think I'm getting there, even if I do still get upset about what happened. I've learned the hard way that I don't have to do everything myself. After all, currently you're the one flying this thing and yet I'm feeling pretty great."
He turned to look at her, and found her with her head bowed, eyes closed.
"Sarah?" He asked carefully, concerned about her reaction.
"I just," She paused, took a breath. She was overwhelmed. "I just need a moment."
He smiled. "I'm not going anywhere," He teased, "I didn't pack a parachute."
She laughed, giving him a sideways glance. "We were almost having a Hallmark moment there," She replied, making him laugh too.
He put a hand out, "Come here," He offered.
She switched on the auto-pilot and took his hand in hers. He tugged her towards him, pulling her onto his lap and enveloping her in a hug.
"I am so sorry, Sarah, for always wanting to be in control, for hurting you."
She returned his hug. "I should have talked to you instead of leaving like I did." She tightened her hold on him, lightly nuzzling his neck. "I shouldn't have given up."
"I shouldn't have given you reason to," He replied, loosening his hold on her so he could see her eyes.
"What is it?" She asked, searching his face.
He shook his head. "Just ... happy."
"You look so serious."
"Remember that night at Mom's gallery," He began, after a moment's consideration, "When I said we could have a fresh start, the slate wiped clean, nothing in the way?"
He tucked her hair behind her ear, letting his thumb caress her jaw. She closed her eyes at this touch.
"Well," He continued, "It was a bit naive of me to offer you that. Nine years of history can't be wiped clean, and I wouldn't want it to be."
Her eyes slid open, dark and beautiful and so familiar his heart filled his chest.
"In those years," He continued, "I got to know you, fight with you ... fall in love with you." His smile was soft as he took her hand in his. "I hated this last year, and I regret so much about so many decisions I made where you had a stake. But I like having a history with you."
"I like that too," She agreed. Truth was, he loved that there was so much depth and breadth in their shared lives. That he could know what he thinking by looking at her face, that he knew what foods she liked, and what she did on rainy evenings when she wasn't in a mood to go out.
"I was worried things had changed," She said, "That you had changed to the point where I couldn't recognize you."
"Is that what held you back?" He asked, a shade of worry clouding his expression.
"Partly," She nodded. "I didn't understand you anymore, or at least not as well as I thought I used to. You were the same person, but yet you weren't. I just didn't know where the change came from, or what it was exactly, what it meant ... What if you hadn't really changed, and all this time I'd just never really known you."
"And?" He threaded his fingers through hers, steeling himself against her response. He knew he wasn't the same man he'd been a year ago; he just wasn't sure how she felt about that. "What's the verdict?"
"You let go," She replied, a smile softening her expression, "That was the difference. And it was only fair that I do the same, no matter how scary."
He tightened his grip on her hand, relief and elation spreading through his veins. He put his arms around her and held her close. It was all he wanted since they'd met again at the gallery.
"Harm?" She whispered in his ear. His attention immediately shifted from what she was telling him to how she felt against him, the way she felt on his lap, his hands stroking her back, hers resting on his chest.
"Hm?" He tried to focus on her voice, and not every part of her that was touching him.
"Let's go home," Her voice was deep and thick, her breath hot against his skin "We've waited long enough."
It was the final straw, an entire week of frustration and longing barrelled through his restraint. "Mac," He sought her lips for a fierce kiss. One hand was on her hip, the other cupped her chin as he explored her mouth.
She responded readily, curling her hands into fists and grabbing his shirt, pulling him even closer to her. "Mm, Harm,"
He pulled her body flush against his, enveloping her, surrounding her, telling himself they needed to stop. They were more than a mile up in the air, he told himself, they needed to get back on solid ground.
"We should land this thing," He mumbled, busy exploring her neck as he unbuttoned her shirt. Her hands raked through his hair. She straddled him, her knees on either side of his legs.
"Why?" She murmured in pleasure as he nipped her collarbone, his hand sliding up her waist.
He stopped, certain that either he'd misheard or that she had, and stared at her. "We have to find a bed," He clarified, trying to look her in the eye but unable to stop his glance from drifting down to her chest. "I can't wait anymore, Mac," His voice was hoarse with a desperation that was foreign to him.
"Would it be against the rules," She murmured, trailing a finger along his cheek, across his jaw, down his neck, "To save the bed," She leaned forward and touched her lips to his, "For next time?"
He was suddenly finding it very difficult to breathe. His large hands slipped from her waist to her back. He pulled her closer and poured his intent into a deep, searching kiss. He felt her fingers explore the curve of his neck, the line of his jaw. He could feel his heart beat in his throat. His own fingers entwined in her hair and he pulled back to look at her. Her eyes caught his and darkened. He could see it, how much she wanted him. It was an ache that echoed in his heart, beat for beat, one he felt stirring hot flickers of his desire for her. The very same desire for her, visceral and primal, that he'd tried to tame this last week. He wanted to see this look in her eyes and the feel this possession in her touch. The look he knew was mirrored in his eyes; the possession that was mirrored in his touch.
He kissed her once, "Are you sure?" And again. "Maybe we need a bed." His hands, of their own volition, found their way to the button on her jeans. "This is the first time, and we're in the air-"
She began unfastening his shirt, kissing his chest as she went. "We don't have to wait, Harm," She looked up at him through long, dark eyelashes, "I can't. I don't want to."
Oh, Christ. This was right out of the fantasies he'd had when she'd accepted taking flying lessons from him. "You don't have to wait," He managed a reply, just barely, as her hands slid down his abs and fastened onto his belt buckle. "Ever again."
They were the words he knew he should've given her a long time ago.
Some time later...
They were both breathing heavily, with her still firmly in his lap. He nibbled on her neck and shoulder as she tried to calm her racing heart. That was, without a single doubt, the most amazing experience of her life. Perhaps it was to be expected, given the years filled with tension, the previous week filled with expectation, and their current circumstance of being in a flying plane thousands of feet in the air - this last, she thought was perhaps the most significant. That and how irresistible he was to her. She'd told him he'd changed because he let go, but the truth was also that he'd grown up. He was mature with his feelings, even if he still guarded those same feelings carefully. And he'd opened up to her, making her see a whole new part of him, making her want to open up to him in return. That was what had changed about him, and this change made him so attractive to her ... In short, it could have been nothing short of hard, fast and explosive. And so damn satisfying she didn't know how to bring herself down from the high.
"Geez. That was amazing." Harm echoed her thoughts. She looked up at his face, stopping briefly to admire his firm, sweat-covered chest.
"Must the lower air pressure up here," She voiced her own conclusion out loud.
"You really know how to bring a guy down," He chuckled, his eyes alight with happiness.
She laughed, "You were incredible." She gave him a smacking kiss. "I am ruined for life."
"Damn straight," He replied with a smile. However, the seriousness in his eyes belied the attempt at humour.
"What are you thinking?" She asked, her breathing finally leveling out. She traced his eyebrow with a finger, trying to erase the slight frown on his brow.
"I'm wondering if it's too soon to tell you that I want to marry you."
Her jaw dropped. "What?" She whispered, trying to gauge if he was serious. He was looking her straight in the eye with that honesty she was hard-pressed to resist.
"If it is," He lifted one shoulder in a shrug, his fingers playing with her hair. "I can wait. Maybe another week if you like."
"You're serious." It was difficult to process - she hadn't spared a thought for that far in the future.
"I am." He nodded. "We agreed that we didn't want a clean slate. Which means we have nine years together - I know you better than I know myself, and you can say the same about knowing me. We love each other, which I hear is a good prerequisite for marriage. And as you said, we both let go. I mean, right now neither of us is flying this plane."
Her eyes darted towards the control panel, and then out the window. They were indeed not careening in a nose dive towards a spectacular crash.
"Is it too soon, Sarah?" He whispered.
She couldn't find a single reason to answer in the affirmative. The hardest part was reconciling what he was saying to her now, with what she'd thought he felt for her a year ago. If this was not a gift to her, she didn't know what could be.
"It's not," She cupped his face with her hands, "You can ask me anytime you want," She rested her forehead against his, closing her eyes against the tears of joy. She laughed, because the alternative would be to cry. "Anytime you want, Harm."