Part 3

Several weeks had passed since their night in the desert. Mac inhaled the ocean air and leaned against the railing.

After they'd been rescued, they had resumed their search for Kabir and their behavior had been strictly professional, for the most part.

Lingering, knowing glances were natural in such a long-standing partnership, weren't they?

Just because their eyes searched for each other whenever they were in a room together didn't mean that they couldn't stand to be apart.

Driving all night so she could sleep didn't have to be an expression of his love, but it probably was.

And the fire that had coursed through her body as she'd watched him pour a canteen full of water over his head the morning they'd been found didn't have to mean that she was a hopeless lovesick woman, but it probably did.

Now she stood here waiting for him to come find her. She'd watched his plane land and then fled to the fantail. She hadn't trusted herself not to throw herself into his arms as soon as she saw him. She wouldn't embarrass him or herself with such a display. He had saved her life and the life of everyone on this ship at great risk to himself today. He was a hero and the debriefing would take awhile.

She had been outwardly calm from the moment they had told him he was one of the pilots going up. She'd watched passively as he had flown into the path of the missile and led it away from the carrier. She never doubted his ability as a pilot.

What she had doubted were the fates and whether they would finally be allowed to have their chance at happiness. This was no different than all the other life and death situations they'd faced except this time a promise hung between them. "When we get home…" he'd whispered that night. Maybe by waiting they had been tempting fate.

But he was back and he was safe and she could start to believe in tomorrows again.

She had only seen him for a moment before he took off. He had hung back until the others left the room so they could be alone.

"Good luck, Harm." She'd squeezed his arm quickly

"I don't need luck, Mac" He had already started to slip into arrogant fighter jock mode.

She had grinned at his cocky attitude. "What do you need?"

He had surprised her by grabbing her and kissing her soundly. "The love of a good woman," he had whispered and then he'd been gone.

Lost in the memory, she hadn't heard him come out onto the fantail. She turned to find him standing there watching her.

They stared at each other with out speaking but when he held out his arms, she flew into them.

"You were amazing up there." She couldn't seem to quit hugging him

"Thanks, Mac. I just did what I had to do." His hands were rubbing up and down her back, his touch greedy, and his need for her obvious. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine now that you're here." Not hiding her feelings from him was a new experience.

"Were you worried?" he teased.

"Not for a minute." She gave the expected answer then kissed him.

Raw desperate passion threatened to engulf them both. He claimed her as his due and she gladly surrendered. His hands were buried in her hair, as he seemed to find endless ways to explore her mouth, endless combinations of his lips on hers. His hands went to the front of her uniform and she knew she ought to slow things down.

She was his if he wanted her and the love on her face made that clear, but she didn't want him to do something he would regret. "Commander, are you trying to interest me in an adrenaline induced coupling?"

"Yes," he said while kissing her neck.

"I thought you wanted to wait," she sighed. His tongue was in her ear making clear thinking impossible. His hands were inching the hem of her skirt up and her thighs were thinking that waiting wasn't all it was cracked up to be. "Tell me again why that was such a good idea?" she asked

He stilled at her words and pulled away to look at her. Groaning, he leaned his forehead against hers as he fought for control. "Sorry, Mac. I guess I got a little carried away." His breath was ragged and he smiled ruefully as he pushed her skirt back down to its proper place.

He turned away, looked out over the water and spoke softly and seriously. "You know, everything was different when I was up there this time. You and I both know how it feels to lose people who are important to us, but if I hadn't stopped the missile and you'd been killed I don't know if I could've survived that. We have a good chance to have something special this time, Mac, and I want you to understand that the possibility of having a life with you is worth everything to me."

She smiled and covered his hand where it rested on the rail. "I feel the same way, Harm." Their eyes met and held as she quietly repeated his earlier promise to her. "When we get home…"

They stood together on the fantail as they had countless time in the past six years. Nothing had changed, but everything was different.

Nothing stays the same.