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Classification Adventure, Angst, Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 78,000 words; 145 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Spoilers Everything up to ‘Shifting Sands’
Rating GS
Author's Notes Disclaimer:  Song - Vertical Horizon “Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning)”
Summary After Paraguay, Mac’s life begins to unravel. As she tries to cope, she must also decide if her relationship with Harm is really over.

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

 

 

JAG Headquarters
0556 EST

 

Petty Officer Tiner strode through the halls of JAG headquarters, reveling in the silence. It had long ago become habit for Tiner to arrive first, preparing himself for what would surely be an eventful day. If there was one thing Tiner had learned over the years, life at JAG was rarely boring. So he was surprised to see a light trickling into the darkened bullpen. Slowing his steps, he looked around for the source of the faint glow. He found it seeping through the open blinds of Sarah Mackenzie’s office window. The colonel had returned a little less than a week ago and was already back to being the no nonsense, straight-laced Marine Chief of Staff. She came in early each morning, back straight, eyes ahead, focused on whatever tasks had been laid out for her since her return from her adventure in Paraguay. Normally, Tiner admired her for her ability to bounce back from anything. Today, he resented her for it. Because this particular adventure had cost them all more than they expected. It had cost them Commander Harmon Rabb.

When the Commander resigned his commission to go after the Colonel, everyone in the office felt a mixture of worry and relief. While they knew the mission was dangerous, they trusted Harm to find Mac and bring her home safely. And they trusted that the two would walk through the doors of JAG closer than ever, having faced and defeated death again. They trusted that the Admiral had known that Harm would be back and not process his resignation. They trusted that life would return to the way it was. And they were devastated to learn that their trust had been misplaced.

Harm had found Mac and he had brought her home. But instead of being closer, they were farther apart than anyone had ever seen them. They entered the Admiral’s office with stiff formality and closed off expressions. The entire staff had waited anxiously for the end of their meeting with the Admiral, hoping that when it was over the Commander and the Colonel would return to their respective offices and circle each other warily until time and proximity once again wore them down and mended their relationship. But when the two officers exited the office, Tiner knew that it wouldn’t be that easy this time. The look of shock and dismay on the Colonel’s face was worrisome, but it was the Commander’s expression that threw them all. For the first time since any of them had known him, Harmon Rabb looked defeated. He had walked quietly to his office, picked up a box that he hadn’t had a chance to unpack since his return to JAG after Lt. Singer’s murder, and just as quietly walked out of the bullpen. And the Colonel stood there without moving, without saying a word.

Tiner didn’t understand. No one understood. He had followed her across the world and she couldn’t even follow him across the bullpen. He had given up everything, his career and his wings and his life, and she never uttered a word. No “Are you O.K.?” or “I’m sorry”. But they could have understood that. They could have attributed that to shock, the same shock they felt at hearing that the Admiral had in fact processed the Commander’s resignation. But the next day, after Commander Turner had gone to see Harm and find out what had happened, all sympathy and understanding for the Colonel disappeared. The story spread from Turner to Roberts to Coates to the whole office. After everything that Harmon Rabb had done for her, everything he had given up to save her, Sarah Mackenzie never said thank you. That they could never understand. And that, Tiner thought now as his gazed hardened on the industriously working Colonel, he didn’t think any of them could ever forgive.



JAG Headquarters
0852 EST
 

If anyone were to look into Sarah Mackenzie’s office at that moment they would see the very image of a hardworking lawyer engrossed in a case. Only someone looking very closely, or who knew her very well, would notice that the white knuckled hands were not holding the file so much as clutching it like a life preserver. Or that her entire body was rigid with tension, and her eyes were actually fixed on some point far away. But no one at JAG was looking closely at Sarah Mackenzie these days and the only person who knew her well enough to see through her careful facade was gone from JAG. And from the looks of it, he wasn’t coming back.

‘Blood. There’s blood everywhere. Where is it coming from? Whose is it? Is it Clay’s? The missionaries? The terrorists?’ Mac’s eyes strayed from the blurred words in the file to her hands. Hands that were still covered in blood. Blood that had been there from the moment she had looked into the eyes of Saddiq Faad. She had thought it would wash away in the soothing bubbles of a hotel bathtub in Paraguay, under the burning gaze of the only man who mattered, who still thought she was beautiful. But even as she had grabbed the towel to cover herself when Hardy showed up, she had seen the blood lingering on her palms. It never left her sight for long. Most of the time there was only a trace, but there were moments she could practically see it dripping from her fingers. This was one of those moments. She perched on the edge of her chair, frozen, trying desperately to remind herself that her hands were clean, that she was free of Saddiq and that room with its metal cuffs and steel wool and Clayton Webb’s blood. But as the mere thought of Webb’s blood crossed her mind, the rest of her waking nightmare slammed through her in waves. Because now sound had been added to sight. Now she could hear the screams.

‘Not again! Please, Clay, please stop screaming. I promise I’ll do anything you want, just please stop. I’m sorry, I tried, I know it’s my fault but please, Please, PLEASE stop!’ But even as she begged the phantom Clay to be quiet, a more logical portion of her brain questioned what she was hearing. Slowly that portion of her mind took over, dampening the sound until she could bring her full mind to bear on the problem. ‘That doesn’t sound like Clay. I remember what Clay sounded like. I’ll never forget it. This is higher pitched. A woman. That’s it. A woman’s voice. A woman’s scream.’ Hers? No, she didn’t think so. Even in her thoughts she didn’t let herself show the kind of terror she heard in that voice. So whose voice was it? The missionary woman’s? Had she screamed when they pushed her to the ground? When the gun had been aimed at her head? Was that the voice she was hearing? Then suddenly, as her mind was still trying to put together the puzzle, the voice changed. It became louder once again. And now it was calling to her.

“Colonel?”

‘Why is she calling me Colonel? How does she even know I’m in the military? Clay only ever called me Sarah.’

“Colonel Mackenzie?’

‘Oh, God. How does she know my name? What else does she know? What’s happening? What’s happening to me?!

Where....’

“Colonel Mackenzie!”

Mac’s head snapped up as a familiar and most definitely masculine voice cut through the noise in her head. Her gaze immediately fixed on the stern, annoyed face of her commanding officer. As she leapt to attention she felt the slightest tremble begin in her hands and dropping the file, clenched them painfully in front of her. Forcing herself back into her stoic Marine facade, she focused herself on the Admiral.

“Sir, I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you come in.”

The Admiral’s gaze narrowed.

“And did you also not hear Petty Officer Coates calling your name for the past five minutes?”

At this Mac’s eyes registered the blur standing behind and slightly to the side as Jennifer Coates. Jen was looking at her with the same mixture of confusion and annoyance that everyone seemed to feel whenever they looked at JAG’s Chief of Staff. Mac’s eyes darted back to the Admiral as her face flushed with embarrassment.

“No, sir. I’m sorry but I didn’t,” Mac’s voice remained remarkably calm and even considering the current state of her nerves, “What can I do for you, sir?”

As the Admiral opened his mouth to answer her, she saw the look of annoyance slowly morphing into full-fledged anger. And her ragged nerves threatened to shred completely at his response.

“You can start by telling me what the hell is wrong with you!”
 

~~~~~~~~~~
 

Mac froze at her commanding officer’s demand. What should she say? Did he know something was wrong? Did he suspect that she was not as fine as she pretended? That underneath the cool, take no prisoners marine was a woman who felt herself slowly unraveling? No, he wasn’t looking any harder than the rest of them. He didn’t care to know what was wrong with her; he only cared to know why she didn’t snap to the minute he opened his mouth. Well, she could deal with that easily enough.

“There’s no excuse, sir. I was trying to catch up on my work and I guess I got distracted. I apologize, sir. It won’t happen again.”

She thought she had pulled herself together and handled that well, at least until the Admiral’s next question knocked her off balance again.

“Are you sure you’re O.K. Mac? Do you need more time?”

The concern in his voice and in his gaze nearly reduced her to tears. It felt like forever since someone in the office had shown any concern for her welfare. Why was he the only one who could see that this WAS hurting her, despite whatever her appearance maintained. Why couldn’t Harm...

Harm. Harm had come for her. Had given up his career to try and save her. He’d had to. Because the man standing in front of her had given him no other choice. Because the man standing in front of her was willing to leave her behind. To let her die. And now, now when she was here in front of him and not dead in a remote part of South America, he had the nerve to stand there and pretend to be concerned. He had abandoned her, had punished Harm for coming to find her. He had betrayed his own damn Seal code of never leaving a man behind. Was that why he had refused to take Harm back? So he wouldn’t be faced with his own failures? Well, if he thought firing Harm would make what had happened just go away, he was about to find out just how wrong he was. She knew what part she had to blame for all of this mess. She understood why these people were angry with her. And she knew that although they were just as angry with the Admiral, they would never show him that. As their C.O. he was protected from their wrath. Well she’d be damned if he’d be protected from hers.

“No, sir.” Her tone was coldly respectful as she drew herself up to stare him directly in the face. “I am perfectly capable of fulfilling my obligations at JAG. It was a momentary lapse that will not happen again. I won’t let the team down, sir.”

Her face and tone had remained impassive from the moment she opened her mouth to respond. It remained so as she delivered what they both knew was a deliberate slap in the face. And it was only beneath the respectful facade that Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Mackenzie, U.S.M.C., felt a vicious stab of vindictive pleasure as she watched former Navy Seal and current Judge Advocate General, Admiral A.J. Chegwidden, flinch from her blow. With a barely contained rage, she gazed at him as he drew himself up ramrod straight and tried to overwhelm her with his presence. She had seen him do it before, and it had worked before. Every single time it had worked. On everyone from Tiner to the SecNav. Even now, some part of her was registering the sudden nervous tension from Coates. The forgotten Petty Officer had drawn back instinctively from the Admiral’s anger. Then she looked from the Admiral to the Colonel and could barely suppress a gasp. The message in the Colonel’s eyes was clear and sharp as a dagger.

‘Bring it on, old man. I dare you.’

Coates wasn’t the only one to recognize the look in Mac’s eyes. It was all A.J. could do not to flinch again at the blatant challenge issuing forth from his Chief of Staff. Even as he began to respond, the officer in him took stock of the situation and realized this was not the place to continue this particular showdown. He would not give his people any more of a show, and he would not let Harmon Rabb’s ill-conceived resignation cause him to lose another officer. Because he knew what was behind Mac’s sudden rage and he was absolutely certain that no threat, no punishment would make her back down now. They would finish this confrontation later.

He answered her in a deathly quiet voice that still managed to carry across the entire bullpen, “I’m glad to hear that, Colonel. Staff meeting is in two minutes. I trust you will be on time.”

Without waiting for a response, he turned and strode out the door, leaving a shell-shocked Jen scurrying to catch up to him.

Mac sighed as she began to gather her files. She was somewhat disappointed that the Admiral had backed away from their verbal skirmish. She had been looking forward to telling him exactly what she thought of him. And then, when he booted her out of the service right behind Harm, she had been looking forward to knocking him flat on his two-starred ass. And afterwards maybe stepping on his face with one of her regulation heels. She let out a small giggle at that until she realized he’d be able to see past her regulation heels and right up her regulation skirt. He’d probably enjoy that. With another sigh, she gathered up the rest of her papers and her violent tendencies and headed into the conference room. It was going to be a long week.

 

Chapter 2
 

Mac’s anger carried her across the bullpen and into the conference room. It sustained her as she marched to her customary seat next to the admiral. It held on as she set her files on the table and gracefully lowered herself into her chair. But it faltered when she dared to glance up at the officers staring at her from across the table. She knew they were all shocked by her attitude towards the Admiral. They might have expected something like that from Harm, but not from Mac. Especially since they believed she didn’t really care that Harm was gone. Seeing her head rise, Sturgis immediately shifted his gaze to the door, too quickly for Mac to catch the flash of concern in his eyes. Bud, a man never known for tact and discretion, was still staring openly at her. He looked, Mac thought with amusement, like a gaping fish. She considered looking away again before he realized he was staring and became embarrassed, but quickly discarded the idea. It was the first time since Harm had been gone that he had really looked at her and she would not be the first to break the contact. As she sat with her eyes locked on his face, she felt the ache in her heart push a little harder in her chest. She had been so focused on controlling her emotions, locking out the disturbing echoes of her time in Paraguay, and trying desperately to pretend that her shattered relationship with Harm wasn’t tearing at her soul, that she had ignored her relationships with her friends. A sinking feeling settled in her gut as she realized that she wasn’t sure they still wanted to be considered her friends. The stabbing pain of that thought caused her breath to hitch and her heart to race. They were angry with her, so very angry. She had known that since the first day she reported to JAG without Harm, when she had overheard Jen and Tiner ranting to each other about how ungrateful she was after everything Harm had given up for her. She hadn’t said anything to them, slipping away before they noticed her, but she had seen the same sentiment expressed in the faces and voices of everyone she had come in contact with since. They didn’t understand why she was behaving so badly to Harm. They wanted an explanation. When they didn’t get it, they had turned away. And she had been so hurt, and so angry with them for refusing to consider her side of things, that she had pretended that she didn’t care. If she didn’t matter to them, she had decided, they wouldn’t matter to her. Now, sitting here across the table, the distance between them greater than when she had been on the other side of the world, she realized how very wrong she was.

They still mattered. They mattered so much. And it was devastating to realize that it wasn’t enough anymore. For any of them. The damage had been done and it looked to be irreparable. Realizing this, she tore her gaze from Bud before he noticed her returning his stare. She couldn’t take the chance that he would see her pain. Or the chance that he would reject it, reject her. Tears stung her eyes and she fought not to let them escape. She had lost them all, and each one had taken a piece of her with them. They had given her a better family than her parents ever could. But just like her parents, they had walked away. Or she had pushed them away. She just didn’t know anymore. She didn’t know anything. How could she explain her behavior to them, to Harm, when she couldn’t explain it herself. Damn it! Why the hell couldn’t she just figure out what was wrong? Why was she still trapped in Paraguay? Why was she acting like nothing had happened when every moment was still a struggle to breathe? Why hadn’t she been happy to see Harm when he burst through the door of that torture chamber to rescue her? Why had she been so damn angry with him? Why was a part of her still angry with him? Why couldn’t she just thank him for saving her?

Her swirling thoughts came to a standstill with the sound of the conference room door opening. Snapping to attention, she carefully avoided the Admiral’s gaze as he moved to sit at the head of the table. She didn’t want him to notice how precariously she was balanced on the edge of control. Her emotions were swinging erratically from one extreme to the other. She went from numbingly calm to completely enraged with little or no provocation. The scene with the Admiral had proven that. Even now, she knew that if she looked at him and saw the slightest emotion in his eyes, positive or negative, her anger would most likely explode. He was wrong. She maintained that conviction no matter what kind of emotions were filling her. He had made the wrong decision by denying Harm the right to go after her, and he had compounded it by refusing to let Harm back at JAG. But right or wrong, he was still her commanding officer, and she was forced by duty to show him respect. At the very least, she should keep her mouth shut and not make things worse. He could still end her career. And right now, her career was the only thing keeping her afloat. It was the only thing she had left.

Mac reached down to her core and summoned the discipline to lock down the words and emotions swamping her. She called upon all of her Marine Corps training and by the time the Admiral got around to discussing her cases, she knew she was once again presenting the image of the in control Colonel once again. She did her best to spend the meeting with her eyes and ears open. And her mouth shut, answering questions only when absolutely necessary. By the time the meeting ended and the Admiral had dismissed them, she felt in control once again. She was, after all, a Marine, and a Marine never showed weakness. That had been her motto the moment she joined the Corps. It had carried her this far and it would get her past her current obstacles. She would do her job so well that no one would have room to criticize. She would master these bizarre flashbacks and keep them from returning. She would move on alone, just as she had always known she would have to. And most importantly, she would get over Harmon Rabb.

She remained at the table waiting for the others to exit the room and let her newly recovered confidence flow through her. ‘I can do this. I will do this’ she vowed silently as she stood to exit the room. For herself and by herself, she would fix her life. And as she turned to the door and saw Bud and Sturgis talking to the Admiral, she swore that she would close off her heart to all of them. Her gaze fixed on them; she thought to herself that none of them would ever see her bleed again. However, even as she was making that promise to herself, all of her carefully constructed controls were swept away as the violent images once again took hold.

‘Blood. Blood everywhere. On the Admiral. On Sturgis and Bud. It was on their hands and their shirts. And the woman was screaming again. Her screams were echoing through the room. My name. Someone’s calling my name. A man. Clay? No, Clay calls me Sarah now. Whoever’s calling to me is calling me Mac. Who is it? Who’s calling me? What’s happening? Where is all of the blood coming from?’

She tore her mind away from the images flooding through her. Sucking in a deep breath, she forced herself under control and rushed out the door to the sanctuary of her office. Intent on reaching her destination before she broke down under the strain, she never noticed the man still standing near the conference room door. Even if she had noticed she wouldn’t have thought anything of it. She didn’t think anyone was paying any attention to her these days. As she hurried blindly passed, the puzzlement on the man’s face turned to concern. He had noticed something was wrong after the other two officers had left. He had watched her face take on an expression of blind terror, then watched it slide from her as she visibly forced herself to regain control over whatever she had just experienced. And he had watched as she dashed from the room like the hounds of hell were at her heels. Now alone in the conference room, he debated whether or not to follow her. He decided against it. He knew she reacted like a wounded animal when cornered. And considering the way she had been treated since her return, he knew she would greet any sign of concern with suspicion. He was concerned, though. Colonel Mackenzie was still his friend, he had just needed to see her obvious distress to be reminded of what a good friend she was. Now, he just needed to remind her of the same thing. And if he couldn’t convince her, he would go to Harm and force him to find out the truth even if he had to personally kick the man’s six from Union Station to Georgetown to do it. She might not realize it yet, but someone was now paying close attention to Sarah Mackenzie.

 

JAG Headquarters
1730 EST

 

Commander Sturgis Turner waved goodbye to the Roberts’ from his post behind his desk. He had rarely left his office since returning from the conference room this morning. When asked, he had told his co-workers that he simply had too much work to do. They had no reason to disbelieve him; the office had been playing catch-up since Harm’s arrest in the spring. However, Sturgis’ work for the day had nothing to do with the files massed on his desk and everything to do with the woman whose office he’d been observing all day. Since her sprint from the conference room this morning, Colonel Mackenzie had left her office exactly three times. Twice to use the ladies room and once to get a refill on her coffee from the break room. He was certain of this because he had only left his office three times. Twice to get a drink of water from the fountain located outside the ladies room and once to refill his coffee in the break room. Each time, he had tried to initiate a conversation with Mac. The first time, he had called her name three times before she realized he was speaking to her. She had turned to him and immediately tensed. Seeing her reaction, he quickly revised his hastily conceived intro into small talk and instead asked her if he could borrow one of her files as research. Mac had nodded quickly and rushed to retrieve it from her desk. She had handed it to him and warily asked if there was anything else. When she visibly relaxed at his quick “no thanks”, he had retreated back to his office feeling a small measure of unease at her obvious relief at his departure. The second time was easier. He had turned away from the water fountain when he heard the ladies room door open and had run right into Mac, who promptly dropped her purse. Apologizing to her for not looking where he was going, he had quickly helped her gather the contents of her purse off the floor. He had helped her up with a gentle hand and an easy smile. The smile became forced and the knot of unease tightened into guilt when he saw the genuine surprise on her face at his casual friendliness. He forced himself to remain casual, not pushing her, and had been rewarded with a shy smile and a quick thank you.

But it was their final meeting in the break room that stood out in his mind. He had watched her enter and waited a short time before following her in with his own cup. She was standing refilling her mug when entered, and he knew immediately something was wrong. Her entire body was pulled taut, her gaze was turned inward, and both hands trembled violently as they threatened to drop the pot and the mug. He quickly turned to see if anyone was nearby. Seeing that they were alone, he set his own mug down and started to move towards her. The moment his weight began to shift towards her, she had whirled toward him. Her hands trembled even more violently as coffee sloshed over the rim of her mug onto the floor. He had reached forward and quickly but gently plucked both mug and pot from her hand and set them next to his own empty cup. Looking at her with concern, he saw her eyes fill with tears. Flushing from a combination of embarrassment and adrenaline, she muttered an apology and darted for the door before he had a chance to say a word. He followed, but she was in her office with the door shut and blinds closed by the time he caught up. Unwilling to make a scene, he returned to his post at his desk and waited for her to reemerge.

Two and a half hours later he was still waiting. The only sign of life had been the darkening of her office lights. She had probably turned them off thinking that if anyone glanced over, they would think she had slipped out without being noticed. The knot in his stomach grew larger and heavier when he realized that it was working. The office had emptied without incident. If he hadn’t been sitting guard, he would have never noticed either. He would have simply left her to sit in the dark and never been the wiser. As he sat staring at her darkened windows, he wondered how long she would wait before deciding it was safe to emerge. He had the feeling that this was not the first time she had done this and imagined she had her internal clock timed to set off her own kind of “all clear” signal. The question now was whether to wait with her for that signal or barge into her office and demand to know what’s going on.

‘Yeah, that would work, Sturgis,’ he snorted to himself. ‘You storm in there and try to bully her into telling you what’s wrong and she’ll drop you on your six before you finish a sentence.’

‘Well, what am I supposed to do?’ He questioned himself. “I can’t just leave her in there forever. It’s obvious she’s not going to come to me on her own.’

‘Can you blame her?’ Sturgis recognized the soft, reproachful voice that answered. As a preacher’s son, he had learned very early what his conscience sounded like. Especially since his conscience had picked up the annoying habit over the years of sounding exactly like his father. And when Chaplain Turner spoke, his son listened. Even if the voice was coming from his own head.

‘No, I don’t blame her,’ he sighed. ‘But if she’s been having problems since she got back, why didn’t she say anything? Why did she try and pretend like nothing was wrong? If any of us had known...’

‘You would have known if you had bothered to look,’ the voice cut in sharply, ‘it only took you a few minutes’ observation this morning to recognize something was off. But you were too busy being mad at her for what happened with Harm.’

‘Wait a minute,’ Sturgis protested, ‘Harm is my oldest friend. You’re supposed to stick up for your friends. Whatever’s going on with Mac, she hurt Harm. Badly. Am I just supposed to ignore that?’

‘Of course not. You should never ignore a friend who’s hurting. You should stick up for them, protect them, listen and be there for them.’

‘Which is exactly what I did for Harm. And I don’t regret that at all.’

‘You shouldn’t regret it,’ his conscience responded, ‘Sticking up for people when they’re too hurt or upset to stick up for themselves is what has always made you a good friend.’

‘Then why am I the one fault at here?’

‘Because you never stopped to ask Mac what her side of the story was. You never sought her out like you did Harm. You never sat down and listened to what she had to say. You never checked to see if she needed someone to stick up for her because she was too hurt or upset to stick up for herself. You protected Harm at the expense of Mac. You sacrificed her in the name of friendship. You forgot that Mac is also your friend.’ With that last rebuke, the voice fell silent. Sturgis decided that he hated that voice. He especially hated when it was right.

A sudden movement at the corner of his eye caused him to look up. While he had been busy arguing with himself, Mac had managed to sneak out of her office without detection. She was almost to the elevator when she turned and saw that she had been spotted. Sturgis hurried up from behind his desk and rushed to catch up with her. Abandoning the elevator, she turned and shoved open the stairway door. By the time he reached the door, she was gone. He ran to a window overlooking the parking lot but didn’t see any sign of her. She had vanished from the office like a shadow. Or a ghost.

He debated going after her, but decided against it. It was obvious she wasn’t open to talking about whatever was bothering her, at least not with him. He wondered if she would talk to someone else. He ran through the list of Mac’s friends. Everyone currently at JAG was out. The only one who hadn’t shunned her was the Admiral. Sturgis was pretty sure Mac was still angry enough with him that she would just as soon hit him as talk to him. And eliminating the Admiral also eliminated Meredith. She was friends with her C.O.’s fiancée, but not close friends. As far as Sturgis knew, that only left two people: Harmon Rabb and Clayton Webb. Well, it was quite obvious from his talk with Harm last week that she wouldn’t be going to him anytime soon. If Mac hadn’t told him what was wrong in Paraguay when they were still talking to each other, she sure as hell wasn’t going to confide in him now. And while Harm had been adamant that she had started the bad blood between them, he admitted that he had aggravated the situation with his own words and actions. No, both Harm and Mac were too hurt and angry with each other to even attempt communication at this point.

That left Clayton Webb. Sturgis didn’t know exactly what happened between Mac and Webb in Paraguay; Harm would only say that they “got close”. Considering the level of sarcasm and bitterness in his voice when he said that, he knew it was possible that Mac and Webb were involved romantically. Of course, with his only source of information a man whose jealousy concerning Mac was damn near legendary, he had to consider the possibility that they were just friends who had been through hell together. Either way, at this point Clayton Webb was probably the only person Mac felt close enough to talk to. If anyone would know what was wrong, it would be him.

Sighing heavily, he retrieved his briefcase and his cover and headed to his car. It looked like he would be making a trip to the hospital.

 

North of Union Station
1805 EST
 

Just as Sturgis was leaving JAG, Bud and Harriet were exiting the antiquated elevator leading to Harm’s apartment with little A.J. in tow. It had been Harriet’s idea to bring their son along; she knew that the Commander would never turn away his own godson. It had also been Harriet’s idea not to inform him they were coming. She told her husband that it would be a nice surprise for Harm. She didn’t mention the part about it being a whole lot harder to turn them away once they were standing in front of them. Bud hadn’t agreed, but he had learned during his wife’s first pregnancy that if he wanted to sleep in his bedroom, Harriet was right. About anything and everything. So here they were, on their way to the Commander’s, praying he would let them in. Literally and figuratively.

Harmon Rabb, Jr., former Naval aviator and JAG lawyer, had spent the days since his return trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. He had known when he left for Paraguay that it was possible the Admiral wouldn’t take him back, but acknowledging the possibility and facing the reality were vastly different things. He had no idea where to go next. He knew there was a job waiting for him at the CIA, but the thought of being a spook left him cold. He got frustrated enough working for the Agency on TAD assignments for JAG; he didn’t think he could handle it every day for the rest of his life.

‘Although if you went to work for the Agency, maybe Mac would decide a relationship with you was worth a shot. After all, it seemed to work pretty well for Webb.’

Harm cursed loudly as the bitter thought popped into his head. As much time as he was spending trying to figure out his career, he had spent that much more trying to avoid all thought of Mac. Which was, of course, completely impossible. Even if he managed to avoid her in his waking hours, she stilled visited him every time he closed his eyes. It had actually gotten sadly predictable. He closed his eyes and one of two scenes immediately filled his mind. The first was of them standing in front of the cab in Paraguay. Over and over, like a skipping record, the conversation replayed itself in his mind. And each time he woke up in a cold sweat, angry and hurt and defeated all over again. And he would spend the next couple of hours trying to decide where it went wrong, at what point he could have said or done something that would have made a difference. And each time, the harsh words and painful glances would overwhelm him until he forcefully shoved it out of his mind.

As painful as the first dream was, it was nothing compared to the second. He could deal with the first dream, it was based in reality. The second dream was pure fantasy. It started out real enough. He would walk into the bathroom and see her, clad in nothing but frothy bubbles. He would gaze at her until she finally asked him what he was thinking. And he would tell her. ‘I forgot how beautiful you are.’ But that’s where reality would end. In his dream, she responded to his statement with a look of passion and desire, not confusion and surprise. In his dream, there was no Hardy, no Webb or Gunny. There was just Mac. Mac smiling at him as she lifted herself from the tub, bubbles sliding down her slick form. Mac gliding towards him and wrapping her arms around his neck. Mac pulling his head to hers in a kiss that put all other kisses to shame. Mac, on the bed, soft and warm and his. And she would look at him with eyes full of love and thank him for saving her. She would press herself against him and tell him that everything was going to be fine, that they could handle anything because they were together. And he would wake up, his body on fire and his eyes full of tears, her “I love you, Harm” still softly echoing through him. After that dream, he would head straight for the shower, stand under a blast of icy water, and let the tears flow for what might have been. What she had decided could never be.

The hell of it was, the more he thought about it, the more he understood why she felt that way. As awful as she had been to him down there, he had been just as bad. He made snide remarks about Clay. He had questioned her decisions. He had thrown Catherine Gale in her face instead of mentioning that he had resigned. Instead of being honest with her, he had constantly tried to gain the upper hand in their confrontations. And she had done the same. But, damn it, he just didn’t get it! He gave up everything to find her and she didn’t seem to care. He saved her from the same kind of torture she had watched Webb suffer through, and she wasn’t the least bit grateful. In fact, it seemed to have just pissed her off! He had tried, over and over in his mind, to figure out why she had acted the way she did and came up with nothing. Now it looked like it was too late. If he had been trying to be the one on top, he failed miserably. He didn’t think he could be any lower if he tried.

He shook his head and dragged himself over to the window. He couldn’t keep doing this to himself. It was over, she had made that clear. And he had to get past it if they were going to salvage even a small piece of their friendship. He briefly considered the thought that they would never get past it, that their friendship was over, and immediately felt ill. He couldn’t accept that. He couldn’t accept the thought of her being gone from his life completely. Somehow, he had to let this go. The bitter irony of that thought brought him up short. “But you just can’t let go, can you?” How many years had been since she said those words to him? She had wanted him to let go so they could have a future. And now he had to let go of that future if he had any hope of salvaging the present. What a damn fucking mess they had made of things.

A movement below drew his attention back to the window. A familiar minivan was pulling in front of his building. He watched Bud and Harriet get their son out of the car and head towards the door. Great. He didn’t know if he was up to facing the Roberts family right now. He was feeling pretty raw at the moment. He contemplated waiting until they were in the elevator and the heading down the fire escape, but found he really was looking forward to seeing little A.J. And even if he wasn’t, he knew better than to cross a pregnant Harriet Sims. Hell, he knew better than to cross Harriet Sims, period. So he quickly looked around his apartment, picked up a few scattered clothes, shoved the beer bottles into the recycling bin, and looked in the mirror to make sure he looked better than he felt. Deciding that he looked fine considering he was an unemployed ex-naval aviator/lawyer who had lost his best friend and all his dreams for the future, he pasted a smile on his face and went to welcome his friends.

He had barely gotten the door open when a small blond tornado blew into his apartment and ran straight into his knees. Wincing in pain, he hefted his godson into his arms and was rewarded with an enthusiastic hug and a shouted, “Hi, Unca Harm!”

“Hey, buddy! How’s my favorite sailor doing? Hey Bud, Harriet, come on in.”

Moving away from the door with A.J. still in his arms, he motioned for the Roberts’ to enter. Harriet beamed at him as she dragged her heavily pregnant body over to the sofa, stopping to lean up and kiss his cheek. Bud followed a little hesitantly, unsure of how to act around his friend now that he was out of the Navy. Harm noticed this and moved to set him at ease. He slid his godson onto his hip and reached out to clasp Bud’s hand.

“It’s O.K., Bud. I’m still the same person I was two weeks ago.”

“Of course you are, Commander. I mean, just because you’re not at JAG doesn’t mean you’re not still a lawyer. And you still fly planes. I mean not Tomcats, sir, but other planes. And, well Commander...I mean...well...”

“Bud!” Harriet glared at her husband from her perch on the sofa. “Quit babbling. The Commander’s still our friend. You don’t need to act any different with him,” turning to Harm, she smiled, “Sorry, sir. We’re still working on getting used to all of this.”

“You and me both, Harriet,” he smiled ruefully. For a moment, an awkward silence filled the room as Harm turned to gaze out the window again. Sighing once, he squared his shoulders and turned around, flyboy smile firmly in place. Looking at Harriet once again, he said, “Harriet, I think the first thing you both need to get used to is calling me Harm. No Commander, no Sir, Harm. Got it?”

“Yes, sir!” they chorused. And then both adults blushed profusely and began to stammer apologies. Unable to maintain his foul mood in the face of their obvious embarrassment, he shook his head and laughed. Motioning Bud to sit next to his wife, he slid to the floor and sat A.J. on his shoulders.

“How are you feeling these days, Harriet? Are your legs still bothering you?” Harm felt sure that if he could just keep the conversation focused on his friends, he could handle this visit without having to get into anything too painful. The last thing he wanted to talk about was anything related to Paraguay. Or anyone. Bud and Harriet sensed this and kept up a steady stream of chatter about her pregnancy, the house and little A.J. They discussed life at JAG while avoiding any mention of the Colonel, or the Admiral. Harm was grateful to them for that. They did ask him about his plans for work. He mentioned the offer from Kershaw.

“Are you really thinking about working there, sir? Sorry, Harm. I mean, what about private practice?” Bud was a little unnerved about his friend joining the Agency. After all, Harm got in enough trouble as a JAG. Harm as a C.I.A. agent just seemed to be courting disaster.

“Yeah, I guess I am. I mean, I thought about private practice, but I’m not sure I want to be a lawyer outside of JAG.”

“Yeah, you probably wouldn’t last any longer than the Colonel d...” Bud broke off, realizing what he had said. He and Harriet looked at Harm, not sure what to say or do now that the Colonel had been mentioned. Should they pretend it never happened and quickly change the topic or should they acknowledge what Bud said and try to get Harm to talk to them about whatever had happened between the two in Paraguay? They decided to let Harm take the lead and silence once again blanketed the room.

Harm wasn’t sure what to do him. He wasn’t sure he could handle talking about Mac. On the other hand, he felt like he was literally starving for news of her. Harm fought a quick, bloody war with himself and then turned back to his guests.

In a pathetic attempt at nonchalance, he looked out the window as he asked, “So how is the Colonel these days? Getting back into the swing of things O.K.?”

“She seems fine, sir,” Bud replied anxiously, not knowing what Harm wanted to hear. When he didn’t respond, Bud continued, “She’s back in the courtroom tomorrow, actually. Prosecuting a case against Commander Turner. Should be pretty easy for her. Well, unless something like today happens again. But I doubt it will. I mean, maybe if the Admiral was defending it would but he’s not going to do that so, really, I think it will be perfectly fine. She’ll be perfectly fine, today was just, and well it was nothing and....”

“Bud!” This time it was Harm interrupting Bud’s babbling. Bud stopped and looked at the Commander’s face. Realizing what he said, he paled and opened his mouth to backtrack. Before he could say a word, Harm raised his hand and said firmly, “Bud, what happened today?”

“Sir, it was nothing really...”

“If it was really nothing, you shouldn’t have any problem telling me about it, should you?” Seeing Bud hesitate again, he followed with, “Consider it an order, Lieutenant.”

“Well, sir, Harm, you know technically you can’t give me orders anymore...”

Realizing what he had just said, he trailed off and looked apprehensively at Harm. Harm waved him off. He didn’t really mind what Bud said. After all, he was correct. He looked from Bud to Harriet and quietly repeated, “What happened today?”

Seeing that her husband was tongue-tied, again, Harriet responded. She quickly relayed this morning’s confrontation between the Admiral and his Chief of Staff. She told him what she had seen herself and filled in the blanks with the details Jen had given her. Harm just sat there, stunned. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. In fact, if it were anyone else, he would have thought they were lying. But Harriet wouldn’t do that. She was probably understating what happened so he wouldn’t get concerned. If she was, she was too late.

‘What the hell was she thinking? She actually told the Admiral she wouldn’t let the team down? Was she trying to get court-marshaled?’ Harm’s thoughts raced as he tried to figure out why Mac would pick a fight with the Admiral. Harriet quickly broke into his musings.

“Sir, it’s really not that bad. I think everyone just wrote it off to the stress of everything that’s been happening. I don’t think the Admiral really blamed her, either. I overheard him talking to Meredith on their way to lunch today and he told her that the Colonel wasn’t dealing well with you being gone. I really think he understands, sir. I’m sure she won’t get in any trouble.”

“I’m sure you’re right, Harriet,” Harm tried to take comfort in her words. She probably was right. Even if the Admiral was mad now, he never managed to stay mad at Mac for too long. Harm had figured out long ago that Brumby was right. They all were a little bit in love with her. Some more than others. He turned his attention back to his friends right as they told him they needed to get A.J. home. He offered up the token protest, but they all knew he was ready to be alone for a while. He walked them to the door and gave them a sincere thank you for stopping by. Harriet smiled and hugged him again, brushing off her tears as pregnancy hormones. Bud just looked at him solemnly and shook his hand again.

“Call us if you need anything. Anytime. Don’t be a stranger, Harm.” And with that, Bud moved to the elevator. Waving one last goodbye, Harm shut his door and moved back to the window. Watching the Roberts’ pack up and leave, he thought again about what they had told him about Mac. He had thought that she was fine, that she had put her experiences with Saddiq, and with him, behind her and moved on. Now he was wondering if she hadn’t just been hiding from him again. For all her complaints about his running away, she was pretty good at herself. Maybe if he went to see her he could figure out what was going on. Even as he went to grab his keys, he stopped. Going to see her was the worst thing he could do. They were both still too raw from their previous confrontations. He would push her and she would either push back or retreat further. They would blow up at each other all over again until they were worn out. Then, they would move to the freezing each other out portion of the program. No, seeing Mac would be the worst thing for both of them. He sat down at his desk and sighed. His voice echoed through the empty apartment.

“I’m sorry, Mac. I just can’t do this again. I can’t let it go. Not yet.”

 

 
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