All right guys, here's the next part. I didn't expect the party to take this long, but the story seems to have a mind of it's own!!

Thanks to everyone for the great feedback. You guys are wonderful!! Thanks for sticking with the story, especially since it's taking forever!! Disclaimers are in Chapter 1.


Charity Benefit Ball

Carter Center Ballroom


After producing their invitation for the security guards at the door, Harm leaned over and whispered in Mac's ear, "I never understood why they thought people would want to sneak into these things. They should be more worried about people sneaking out."

Mac went to give him a playful slap on the arm, but he easily caught her hand and brought it to his lips. After placing a gentle kiss on the top of it, Harm placed her hand in the crook of his arm to escort her into the ballroom. He once again whispered in her ear, "Now Mac, we are in public so you'll have to play nice." Mac was prepared to deliver a suitably sarcastic rejoinder but found herself at a loss for words when Harm lingered near her ear for a moment more than was actually necessary. She could feel his warm breath tickle her ear and even caught a faint sniff of his aftershave before he pulled away. She could already tell it was going to be a long night, and she for one planned on thoroughly enjoying it.

The ballroom itself was stunning, if a little over done. There were beautiful scenes painted on the ceilings, including reproductions of Michelangelo's famous frescos. There were old, polished mirrors hanging along the walls and more paintings hung among them. Tables with ornate centerpieces had been set up in the room, clumped in groups around the edges to allow plenty of room to dance. And of course, what ball would be complete without Washington's own version of the rich and famous. Senators mingled with CEOs in an attempt to secure campaign funding while senators' wives mingled with any handsome man they could find. Mac noticed a few of these women eyeing the Naval Commander at her side and quickly pulled him further into the room in search of a familiar face. Harm, of course, found the familiar face first.

"Sturgis, buddy. What are you doing here?" Harm asked as he walked up to his co-worker and academy friend.

Sturgis paused a moment before answering as he took in the scene before him. Harm and Mac had walked in together, her arm in his, and they seemed rather cozy with one another. Mac looked amazing, and Harm had even managed to clean himself up and look presentable. This in itself gave Sturgis something to think about. He knew how much his old friend disliked this type of get together. In fact, he could still remember how many times Harm had gotten into hot water during their academy days for skipping out on some of the more formal affairs. 'Of course,' Sturgis thought to himself, 'he did take a bullet for Mac so I shouldn't really be that surprised. Maybe he'll finally get his head out of his six and see what's right in front of his face.'

"Hello, Harm. Colonel."

"We're off duty Sturgis. You can call me Mac," Mac interrupted.

"Right, Mac." Sturgis didn't know if he'd ever get comfortable with how close the rest of the office staff was. He was certainly willing to try though. "Well, I'm her with Congresswoman Latham. She asked if I knew anyone who would be interested in escorting her and I was more than happy to offer my services." Harm could just imagine Bobbi "asking" if Sturgis would escort her. Harm was familiar with her authoritative methods and could tell by the twinkle of amusement in Sturgis' eye that his friend was familiar with them too.

Bobbi approached the small group and placed her arm on Sturgis's. "Mac I'm so glad you made it," Bobbi said. She leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, "Just between you and me, these people are driving me crazy! Just once I want to go to one of these things and not have to talk politics."

"Oh, you know you love it. That's what makes you such a great politician," Mac replied. "You've just been bored since Senator Fairebourn retired because there's no one else here who could talk politics and sound like he's talking about anything but."

Bobbi nodded her head in agreement. "You're probably right. I still remember the time we argued about women in the military for an hour without the words 'woman' or 'military' even appearing in the conversation. That was a man who understood the subtlety of politics." Bobbi sighed. "Who knows, maybe I'm just getting old."

"I don't know, you certainly aren't looking old to me," Sturgis quipped. Both Mac and Harm looked at their colleague with surprise on their faces. That wasn't the kind of comment they expected from the straight-laced Sturgis. It sounded more like something Harm would say. A sheepish grin appeared on Sturgis's face, who seemed just as surprised.

Oblivious to the stares of Harm and Mac, Bobbi turned to Sturgis and replied, "and don't you forget it."

"Don't think I could even if I tried."

Harm and Mac began to feel as if they were intruding, so they quietly excused themselves and made their way out to the dance floor. The band had just struck up a slow waltz as Harm offered his hand to Mac. She placed her other hand on his shoulder while he placed his other hand lightly against her back. The pair swayed slowly in time with the music, completely oblivious to the other couples on the dance floor. Harm soon found himself wishing he wasn't wearing his gloves, as they put a barrier between his hand and Mac's smooth back. Only a small barrier of course, but a barrier nonetheless.

As the dance continued, Mac's hand slowly slid up until it rested behind Harm's head. She even found herself playing with the hair at the nape of his neck. Harm, on the other hand, began pulling Mac closer and lightly running his hand over her back. When Mac was close enough, Harm leaned his cheek gently against the top of her head, savoring the lovely scent of her shampoo. 'Definitely some type of fruit. Strawberries maybe. Yeah, it definitely smells like strawberries.'

Harm couldn't get over the feel of finally having his Marine in his arms. She was so beautiful and intelligent and caring and…well Harm could go on forever about her. But it was more than that. Dancing with her like this felt right. It felt like……home. 'Whoa, that's a little much. Maybe I should be taking this slower. And when did I start thinking of Mac as my Marine?' Harm questioned himself. 'Besides,' he rationalized, 'that ship sailed out of Sydney Harbor a long time ago. Didn't it?' Harm knew he told himself this all the time, and ninety-eight percent of the time he believed it. But that other two percent of the time he didn't believe a word of his excuses. It could have been his flyboy ego, his Rabb stubbornness, or just his basic need for human hope, but sometimes Harm couldn't bear the thought of a life without Mac.

And during that two percent of the time, when he allowed himself to entertain these thoughts, Harm figured that if he played his cards right he might actually be happy. 'Yeah, the only problem with that is I never seem to play the cards right,' Harm berated himself. 'I'm too busy getting my foot stuck in my mouth to notice the game has even started.' Harm grimaced as he remembered all the times an off-hand comment about Mac had come back to bite him in the six. He considered himself lucky that she hadn't tried to keelhaul him yet.

"Harm, is something wrong?" Mac asked.

Harm quickly shook off his negative thoughts to notice that the music had stopped. Mac had pulled back slightly when it did, just in time to notice Harm's face as he contemplated all the mistakes he had made in his relationship with her. "No, I'm fine," he quickly replied.

Mac, however, wasn't convinced. "Are you sure, Flyboy? That look you were wearing a few seconds ago was anything but fine." Mac recalled the incidents at the office earlier that day and once again began to worry about her partner.

Knowing he had to come up with some excuse before Mac started feeling his forehead and taking his temperature, Harm recalled their earlier conversation. "Oh, was I making a face? I can't imagine why. I was just thinking about all the fun we'll have here tonight. I can't imagine why the idea of spending hours mingling with D.C. bigwigs would put a look like that on my face."

Make tried to keep a straight face as she replied, "Well, at least you have me."

"I know," Harm answered. He then leaned in closer to whisper, "And I thank the man upstairs for that every day." Mac was surprised by the revelation, but very pleased by it also.

She felt herself beginning to blush and quickly turned away. Turning back, however, she found Harm was still leaning in and that their faces were mere inches apart. Involuntarily, her glance flickered down to Harm's lips before locking with her partner's. She felt herself getting closer and closer to Harm as he himself also moved to close the small distance that separated them. 'This is it,' Harm thought to himself. 'I'm finally gonna kiss her and tell her exactly how I feel.' Harm closed his eyes and prepared himself for a kiss he knew he'd never forget.