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Chapter 7
Track Seven is the End of The Line
Train in Vain

1530 ZULU – Friday, May 14, 2004
JAG Headquarters
Fall Church, VA

 


Mac was on her way out to her final appointment with Dr. Madden, when she noticed Harm in his office. She hadn’t spoken with Harm since he left for Norfolk and didn’t know that he was back. She called his cell several times, but he had not returned any of them. It was odd, but Mac didn’t think much more about it. She had a few minutes so she went to check in with him.

“Hey, stranger.” She called to him from the doorway.

“Colonel,” was his cool response.

She felt the chill in the room. “When did you get back?”

“My report was on your desk this morning.” He didn’t look up.

“How did it go?” She stepped into the office. Somehow she knew that this ‘check in’ was not going to go well, and didn’t want voices to be raised.

“You saw from the report, I am recommending that we go to an Article 32.” He only barely made eye contact with her.

“What is going on, Harm?” She had closed the door and was no longer interested in his evasive answers or the case.

“You tell me, Colonel.” He snapped back.

She shook her head; she had no idea what was wrong. “Are you feeling all right?”

“I feel fine. Great in fact.” He fixed her with a stare. “Like I got a 130 pound monkey off my back.”

“Meaning?”

“I am sure you can appreciate the feeling having just voided yourself – AGAIN – of –.”

“Don’t -,” she cut him off quickly before he could stick his whole foot in his mouth. She realized that he was ‘upset’ that she hadn’t updated him about her change in status with Webb, but she didn’t think it would be this big a deal. The problem facing her now was that she had no intention of discussing it with him – not then, not ever, but he clearly had some shots to fire.

“We are not going to talk about this now.” She stated firmly. The ‘now’ was to soften the blow; ‘later’ would be ignored … at a later time. “I have an appointment.”

“Whenever you can pencil me in, Colonel.” He snapped back. “It’s not like we are friends or anything.”

“Commander,” she warned. “I have to go.”

“Fine, walk away.” He sneered. “That is what you are best at.”

Harm couldn’t believe the words coming out of his mouth. He thought he was over his … annoyance – his raging annoyance - but the sight of her brought it all back up instantly. He had spent the better part of his time in Norfolk convincing himself that it was no big deal. That Mac’s personal life – rather her LOVE life – was clearly none of his business. She had made that clear – perfectly clear - on a number of occasions. This thing with Webb – this last cold slap in the face – from the ‘hook up’ to the ‘break up’ – shouldn’t be any different. Rather she should be applauded for finally being consistent. He didn’t feel like applauding; he didn’t feel like rationalizing his irrational rage. Truth be told he couldn’t even be bothered to understand what he was really angry about. Mac was the subject – so right or wrong – she was the target.

“Gotten pretty familiar with your backside over the years, Colonel.” He called after her almost too loudly.

“What did you say to me?” She turned to face him.

“Walk away, Colonel.” He held his ground. “That is your M.O. Is there anyone you haven’t walked away from?”

“How dare you?”

“How dare I?” He laughed. “I am the current record holder. You have walked away from me more times than --”

“That’s enough.” Mac stated. She decided the direct approach was the best. “Do you really want to know why I didn’t tell you about Clay?” She challenged.

“I already know,” was his triumphant retort.

“Of all the arrogant, self-absorbed, egotistical -.” Her rage was building. “I can only imagine what it is you think you know.”

“You have made it perfectly clear where I stand in your life.” He lobbed back at her.

“Have I?”

He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “I am the idiot that keeps trying to believe that we are friends.” He looked back up at her. “I won’t make that mistake again.”

“Well, you have it all figured out, don’t you Commander?”

“It ain’t rocket science, Colonel.”

“Some day you’ll figure out that the world does not revolve around you, Harm.”

“Yours certainly doesn’t.”

She fixed him with a glare. “You’ll never change, Harm, and that – more than anything – was the death of … anything that could have happened...”

“Between us?” He asked with sarcasm oozing from every poor.

With that she slammed out of his office and out of JAG.

Harm was left with his irritation – his raging irritation – and a nagging feeling like he was wrong. That feeling quickly got stowed.

 

1606 ZULU – Friday, May 14, 2004
Dr. Gates Madden’s Office
Central Intelligence Agency

 


Mac was staring out the window waiting for the doctor to show up. She was clearly agitated.

“Hello, Mac.” The doctor said as she entered. “I am sorry to keep you waiting.”

“That’s fine.” Mac said quickly. “I just came today to thank you for your help.”

“Well this is our last session, are there things you need to go over?”

“Nope, I am good to go.” She flashed a nervous smile.

The doctor sat down and turned away from Mac and waited.

“So, anyway, thank you for your time.” She said moving toward the door. “I won’t take up any more.”

“Colonel, sit down.” She commanded.

Mac looked back at her with a shocked expression on her face. “I’m sorry.”

“You like orders – I am giving you one.” She looked pretty pleased with herself. “Sit down.”

Mac did as she was told.

“What is going on?” The doctor asked.

Mac shook her head and looked away. “Nothing.”

“Does this ‘nothing’ have a name? Clayton Webb, perhaps?”

“No, Webb and I are fine.” Mac brushed the question aside.

The doctor waited.

Mac exhaled and tried to say as little as possible without actually lying. “I just had a bit of a run in with a co-worker – that’s all.”

Not enough for the doctor.

“It just happened, right before I left the office and I am still …” her explanation ran out.

“Processing it?”

“Fine – processing it.”

“Who was the co-worker?”

Mac looked away.

“Let me guess, Harmon Rabb.”

Mac shook her head in disgust, not to imply that the doctor was wrong – rather to imply that she was right. “It is nothing, this is what we do. We fight.”

“You fight?”

Mac nodded. “Banter – whatever. We will work through it – we always do.”

“So was this a fight or a banter session?”

Mac did not answer. What she just had with Harm very well could have been their last fight.

“Was it work-related? … Something to do with a case? … Or work procedures? … He dissed you in court?” The doctor was trying to get anything she could out of Mac.

“No, nothing … it was nothing.” She looked away. “It is really no big deal, we’ll work it out in a day or two.” Or a month or two … or three or six, Mac thought. “We always do.”

The doctor waited for her to continue. When it was clear that she wasn’t going to, she proceeded. “Ok, Mac. I asked you this before and you never answered. We have one session left, let’s use it wisely.”

Mac did not answer.

“Tell me.” The doctor prodded.

“Tell you what?” She was annoyed that she had to deal with this. Damn him. These sessions were not about Harm, they were about Mac, and now she was going to have to waste the last one dealing with him. If only he had come back after her appointment or if she hadn’t stopped by, she would have been safe.

“Mac, who is Harmon Rabb to you?”

“No one.” Mac said coolly. “And that is his decision.”

“That is not what I asked. I asked who he was to you.”

Mac shifted her position and found something to say to appease the doctor. “Harm is … He is …. He is an arrogant, self-absorbed, adolescent male who loves to play hero and be the center of attention. He is never more alive than when he puts his life or his career on the line to save … anyone … everyone … whether it be in court or using an F-14.”

“Or an AK-47.” The doctor offered. “Like he did with you in Paraguay.”

Mac shook her head.

“So Harmon Rabb is your hero.” The doctor offered again.

“No.” Mac was adamant.

“Don’t you feel indebted to him for saving your life?”

“I have saved his life on a number of occasions.” She defended.

“So his was just payback for what he owed you.”

Mac shook her head as if to say ‘no.’

“OK. So why did he resign his job, and travel three thousand miles, without back up from the US Government or the CIA to find you and bring you home, Mac?”

“You’ll have to ask him.” She snapped.

The doctor waited.

“I told you.” Mac continued. “He likes to play hero.”

“Is that all there is to it?”

“Yes.” Mac was taking a position.

“He is not … maybe … a little bit … in love with you?” She asked coyly.

Mac got up and moved back to her position by the window.

“Oh, so he is in love with you.” She stated as the obvious option. “But you aren’t in love with him.”

“I have no idea what he feels.” Mac explained without actually answering. “It doesn’t matter. We would never work.”

“Have you tried? I thought you told me that you weren’t lovers.”

“We weren’t.”

“So you know it won’t work – how?

“We can’t agree about the day of the week or the color of the sky.” Mac continued. “His goal in life is to show me up. To make me look bad. To be on top.”

“Top of what?” The doctor was amused.

Mac was not. “I can’t tell you how many times he has baited me both in and out of the courtroom to make me look like a fool.”

“Baited you how?”

Mac clearly did not want to answer but she had opened that line of questioning. She thought for a moment. “Ok, here is a good example. About two years ago, at my engagement party he told me he loved me – of course not in so many words – Harm never actually says anything that can be used against him in a court of law.”

“Is that where you want to take him, to court?”

Mac didn’t like hearing that. “He covers his butt – says enough to imply a lot but lets other people interpret what they want so he doesn’t have to take responsibility.”

“Other people?”

“Me.” She owned. “Regardless, he made this statement – this left-handed comment and then he kissed me.”

“To bait you? To make you look like a fool?” The doctor prodded.

Mac did not respond to the doc, she just kept talking. “He mealy-mouthed a statement of his feelings and then he kissed me. AT MY ENGAGEMENT PARTY … My fiancée and his girlfriend were on the other side of the door – not ten feet away – and he …”

“He what?” She waited. “He made you think? Second-guess yourself? He baited you?”

Mac did not respond.

“Did you take the bait, Mac?” The doctor asked. “Is that what made you look like a fool?”

Mac did not respond.

“What happened at the wedding?”

“There was no wedding.” Mac shook her head. “The day before – hell the night before – Harm dropped his plane into the ocean – there is a part of me that thinks he did it on purpose.”

“On purpose?”

“To stop the wedding.” She shook her head. “And I saved his life that night and lost my husband.”

The doc laughed. “OK, you will need to explain that.”

“I told the searchers where to look -.”

“You told them where to look in the middle of the ocean when you were --- how many miles away?”

“I was in Washington at my rehearsal dinner.” It sounded silly even to Mac. “I picked the coordinates out on a map.”

“How?” The doctor was confused.

“I can’t explain it. It doesn’t matter, he was found. Anyway my fiancée thought that I because was worried about Harm and wanted to put off the wedding until I knew – until we knew – that he was going to be OK, that I felt more than I did for Harm and he left me.”

“Seems odd that your fiancée would just walk away.”

“Well he did.” Mac’s only response was the facts.

“Had he seen the kiss? … Did your fiancée hear this Harm person state his feelings for you? … How long did you want to postpone the wedding for?”

“No, it wasn’t – Mic thought he knew something.” Mac stated. “Whatever Harm said, didn’t say or did or didn’t do didn’t change anything – not for me.”

“But it did for … Mic?”

“I just needed a little more time.”

“It was you who wanted to postpone the wedding? Because …?”

Nothing from Mac.

“Are you sure that Harm’s kiss and statement of his feelings – however ‘mealy-mouthed’ – didn’t change anything? You weren’t in love with him?”

Mac looked away.

The doctor felt the need to get off this non-wedding issue. “Well one thing is clear – you have feelings for this Harm or he would not be able to get under your skin like he does.”

“He claims to be my friend – to care about me AS A FRIEND – and then he does something like that? Like all the other stunts he has done.”

“Like what? Like chase you down to a foreign country and save your life?” She smiled. “I don’t have too many friends that would do that for me and no one would call that a ‘stunt’.”

Mac wiped her hands across her face and sat down in a chair on the other side of the room.

“What happened today?”

Mac paused for a moment to get the right words. “He is upset because I didn’t tell him about the break up with Webb.”

The doctor nodded slowly.

“I didn’t tell him because it is none of his business.” Mac explained before the doctor could ask. “It has no effect on my relationship with Harm. We are friends.”

“If you two are friends, if it has no effect, why not tell him?”

Mac shook her head. She did not want to answer.

“Would he gloat or otherwise rub your nose in your choice – your failed choice? To bait you? To make you look like a fool?”

“Yes.” She shook her head and softly added. “And because he would get the wrong idea.”

“That being?”

“That I was available.” It was out before Mac could check it. If she could have reeled the words back in she would have.

“Interesting.”

Mac snapped back at her. “Why is that interesting?”

“Why can’t you appear available to a man you have known for years who you consider a friend?”

“Because ....” Mac didn’t finish her thought

“Because you aren’t available for him?” The doctor again was amused.

“I don’t know what you are looking for.”

“What happened after the wedding that didn’t take place?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing happened? You didn’t talk about the kiss or your fiancé leaving?”

“No, well sort of … he needed to be with his girlfriend, her father had died – but they broke up later – not that he was going to tell me that they broke up.”

“Is that why you didn’t tell him about Clay?”

Mac wanted to end this. “It just never worked out.”

“You two never addressed it.”

“We agreed it wouldn’t work and agreed to go back to being friends.”

“Why?”

“A number of reasons.”

“In spite of the fact that you were both suddenly available and obviously attracted to each other …”

“You see that is just it – we are attracted to each other but that is not enough. It would never work between us. We work together. It is complicated.” The fact that Mac was using Harm’s argument from Sydney did not escape her notice.

“Complicated yes, impossible no … not if you love each other.”

Mac looked away.

“Are you in love with him, Colonel?”

“No.” She blurted out too quickly. “I mean, yes, fine – I love him … I may have even been in love with him at one time, but not anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Because – it wouldn’t work out.”

“Why?”

“Harm –.” Mac was frustrated. “Harm is the kind of guy who can’t deal with his feelings. He can never come out and say something straight and stand by it.”

“You might be suffering from that syndrome too.”

She shook her head. “Harm either has to ram it down your throat or withhold it an make you beg for it.”

“Is he making you beg for it?”

“I want to stop this now.” Mac stood up and glared at the doctor. “Harm is not at issue. Neither are his feelings – past and present – for me or mine for him. We are fine and we will be fine. All we need is a little time to work it all out.”

“Don’t fool yourself into believing that there is always going to be more time, Colonel.” The doctor warned.

 

1300 ZULU – Tuesday, May 18, 2004
JAG Headquarters
Fall Church, VA

 


Harm had been called into the Admiral’s office. Harm assumed it was something to do with Mac or rather his behavior toward Mac while the Admiral was away. He didn’t know why he thought that; maybe he was feeling guilty. They had done their best to avoid each other the rest of Friday and Monday but there was business to take care of. Mac was nothing if not professional; sadly the same could not be said for Harm. He was snippy, short, condescending and rude to her. Mac took it all with cold hard stare that told him she was not about to break in spite of his nastiness. She had done nothing wrong; she was not going to apologize. Several people in the office witnessed his behavior and were made to feel uncomfortable - again. Mac would not have said anything to the Admiral, but Sturgis or Bud might have. It was probably Coates. Anyway, when Harm got the summons to the Admiral’s office for earlier than normal office hours, he assumed he was getting called on the carpet. That was what was on his mind; he was totally unprepared for what came next.

“Commander, please sit down.” The Admiral started. “Thank you for coming in so early.”

“Yes, sir.” Harm wanted to start the conversation, to say something quickly to defend himself before the Admiral had a chance but could think of nothing to say.

“You are aware of the position that the United States has with respect to the ICC.”

“The International Criminal Court? Yes sir.”

“Well, as much as this administration has no intention of acknowledging the authority of the ICC over the U.S. or its citizens, there is a need to … respect the world’s opinion and to … be involved in the writing and trying the laws.”

“As we found out when the ICC brought charges against the SecNav.”

“Exactly.” The Admiral stood and moved to the window. “A position has been created by the current administration to that end.”

“A position, sir?”

“An ambassadorship, attaché if you will – to the ICC from the U.S.” The Admiral turned toward Harm. “I have been asked to fill that position.”

“That is quite an honor, sir.” Harm stood up. “Does that mean you will need to leave JAG?”

“I am afraid it does. It is a full-time, two-year position – that could, of course, be dissolved at any time – particularly considering that there may be a change in the administration in six months or extended indefinitely.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Still, with all of that, this is too high a profile position for me to not consider seriously.” He smiled at Harm. “It will net me another star.”

Harm nodded. “Have you, sir? Have you considered it seriously?”

“I have, I have been sitting with this decision for a couple of months.”

“Months, sir?”

“I have been on the short list since that incident in January. A decision was finally made and I was offered the job a week ago and just last night I have decided to accept the position.”

“They could not have found a better litigator or representative, sir.”

“Thank you Commander.”

“You will be missed at JAG.” He continued. “It will be very hard to find someone to fill your shoes.”

“I didn’t ask you here to suck up, Commander.”

“No, sir.” Harm got a puzzled expression on his face. He felt that some shoe was about to drop.

“Rabb, you and I have not always seen eye to eye.”

“No sir.” He added quickly. “But I have always respected you, sir as both a commanding officer and a lawyer.”

“Rabb, if you don’t shut up, I am going to change my mind.”

“Sir?”

“I need a second, Commander. I need someone who will challenge me; someone who thinks outside the box.” He smiled at him. “No one thinks further outside the box than you do.”

“Sir?”

“I get to take two people with me. The first is Carroll O’Lahey – hand picked by the president.”

“I know her by reputation, sir. She is considered to be top in international law.”

“Exactly. The second person has been left for me to choose. I need someone who also knows military law.”

“Sir?”

“You were not the SecNav’s first choice – in spite of your recent victory at The Hague, but I would like you to consider going with me.”

“Thank you, sir.” Harm still was a little taken back. “Why me, sir and not--.”

“Not the Colonel or Turner?”

“Both fine choices, sir.”

“They are, and would serve with distinction. However this position would take the Colonel and the Commander off their career paths.” He looked at him.

“Whereas I need something big to get me back on mine.” Harm added.

“As you say Commander. You have shot yourself in the foot more than twice – career wise, but for the right cause. So you see we could help each other out. I need some of that passion, that ‘damn the torpedoes’ attitude. I would welcome your kind of input to this effort.”

Harm smiled. “Thank you sir, that is high praise indeed – in light of our history, and my record.”

The Admiral nodded. He was fully aware of what he was getting himself into. Rabb was not an easy choice to make, but in the end the Admiral knew that Harm was actually the only person for this new area of law. He was not someone who was afraid of going into uncharted waters and he had an annoying habit of surviving fates worse than death. That is exactly how he presented it to the SecNav.

“Take a day to consider, Commander.” The Admiral said.

“A day?”

“I know it is not much time. I would have asked you sooner but as you see, I was not sure what I was going to do myself.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I have to tell you Rabb, the odds of you dropping your six into the pilot seat of an F-14 again are slim if you take this position.”

“I would still be in the Navy, correct?”

“Correct.”

“There will always be quals sir.” He smiled at his boss.

“If anyone could find a way you would, son.” The Admiral – at times – admired Harm’s unwillingness to give up anything for anything else. “It would also involve transferring to the Neitherlands. We report at 0900 on the 24th.”

“Of May, sir?” It was all happening a little too quickly.

“Yes. There are meetings we need to prepare for starting June 1 and with the transfer of power in Iraq set for June 30, we need to be up to speed.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Harm said. “You will have my answer by the end of the day. And again sir, let me say how much I appreciate the confidence you have in me and your support.”

The Admiral nodded. “Dismissed.”

Harm snapped to attention, nodded and left.

Harm sought council from no one and weighed only the effect this move would have on his career. With Mattie gone there was nothing personal to consider. It took him all of fifteen minutes to make up his mind, but another sixty to show that he took the opportunity and the responsibility seriously. It took him another four hours before he could get back in to see the Admiral.

 

2345 ZULU – Friday, May 21, 2004
Rabb Residence
North of Union Station

 


Mac paced in front of Harm’s building trying to decide if she was actually going to go in and if so, what it was she wanted to say. They had barely spoken in the past week and in light of recent events – all the recent events – events that had taken place over the last month – hell twelve months – Mac knew that Harm would not come to her. It was her turn to initiate the discussion. But a discussion to what end? To get them back on track? And if so which track?

The dream she had the night before pushed her to go to see him. In her dream, she was again at the controls of an aircraft with Harm in the other seat. This time, however, it was not an F-14, it was SARAH, Harm’s Stearman. Again, she was expected to fly and land the plane with no help from Harm. In her dream she was asking – nay pleading for him to do something, give her instructions, take the controls, do something to get them to ground safely. She was not worried about crashing or surviving the crash, she wanted to make a good landing, to impress him, to show him that she cared enough to do it right. He was silent. His silence demonstrated his refusal; a refusal to help, refusal to guide, refusal to say anything at all other than that it was her call. She woke in a cold sweat. It was her call, as it had been since Brumby left, but was it too late to make that call? Harm had made a major decision that would impact them both. Could her call get him to change his mind? And if it could, how much would she have to give up?

All these questions had been spinning around in her head since the Admiral made the announcement – dropped the bomb (in Mac’s mind) – at the Wednesday staff meeting. Not only was JAG to lose a fine commanding officer, with no replacement named as yet, but also one of the top litigators (also replacement yet to be named). Mac was about to lose her mentor and her surrogate father. That would be hard enough to deal with, but she was also to lose a man she still believed was her friend – her best friend – in spite of his current feelings for her. She was devastated – actually no, she wasn’t devastated, she was feeling a loss – a profound loss – and she was uncertain about the future both professionally and personally, but she would survive. She had survived worse in her life. Mac couldn’t shake the feeling, the desire, the belief that at her age survival was the least she could expect. Wasn’t there more to hope for? Somehow she had thought there would be more. That ‘something more’ forced her to make her way to the outside of Harm’s building. What was it going to take to get her to climb the stairs and knock on the door?

Too much, it was all too much. She was going to walk away. There was a send off for the Admiral and the Commander on Saturday night; they could talk there. They would make nice before he left and in a few months of e-mails and phone calls, they were be back were they were – but with an ocean between them. Mac climbed in her car and turned the engine over. She could not bring herself to put the car in gear and drive away. ‘Make nice’? E-mails and phone calls? That was clearly not enough. Nothing good could come if she waited until Saturday night to try to set things right with Harm. Some things needed to be straightened out – in private. She turned off the car, and with Marine resolve she marched up the stairs.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Harm was organizing and packing, cleaning out his apartment for his departure. He actually thought about giving up the apartment altogether – making a clean break. He assumed that he would not be back in Washington even if his current assignment terminated early. Washington no longer felt like home. He had no reason to stay and no reason to come back. He came across the paper work for the house he was planning on buying. A wave of regret washed over him as he again realized that he lost something big when Mattie left – he lost a future that he desperately wanted. He had gotten so close to having a home and roots and more than a reason to stay or come back, but it all went up in smoke. How sad that a forty year-old man still felt like he had no home and that he had hung his hopes on a fifteen year-old girl who he had known for less than a year. It was time to move on.

It was that feeling that led him to accept the Admiral’s offer. 99% of the decision was based on career goals and living up to his commanding officer’s expectations, but the other 1% was personal.

Fact: Mattie was gone and that domestic father-daughter goal was gone with her.

Fact: He was single and unencumbered – now was the time to make that kind of move. A few weeks prior, he would have given the Admiral a different answer. A few weeks prior and the Admiral probably would not have asked.

Fact: Mac would never look at him as anything other than a friend – worse a friend to be kept at arm’s length. At the moment – and for the last two years – no other woman was ‘desirable’ to him. In order to move on, he needed to physically move away, to get her out of his system.

He was no longer angry with Mac and only slightly angry with himself. In a rare moment of clarity and honesty, he had to admit to himself that Mac needed to keep him at arm’s length because his boundaries were messy. In other words it was not her fault; it was his. For all his protestations of friendship and support, he had been holding out hope that she would eventually turn to him; that her statement of ‘never’ was not true. He was wrong. The break up with Webb – rather her non-disclosure of the break up with Webb – was proof of that. She couldn’t tell him because that would mean that her door was open again – but it wasn’t, at least not to him. Ultimately that was the insult Harm felt and took out on her; her door was open but not to him – never to him. He was angry – at first - that she didn’t know how to say ‘no’ but the reality was he did not know how to hear it. When that revelation came, he knew it was time to leave before any more damage could be done – to them and to him, rather his ego. They could be friends again – in time – so long as they had an ocean between them. When and how would the ‘make up’ occur? Harm figured it would be via e-mail months from then. He was OK with that. If he could just slip out of town without another altercation with her, he would be safe – rather his ego would be safe, and their relationship might actually survive.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

A knock came on the door. He was half-expecting it and half-fearing it. He knew that Mac would have something to say, but hoped that she would be wise enough not to push it. That she would let time heal this latest wound too, and eventually all would be well.

The knock came again. He resolved to not fight with her. It was Mac’s turn to have the final word and frankly he was going to let her have it. Not ‘let her have it’ but let her have the last word. He had made his share of mistakes in the course of the time they had known each other, and God knows he had hurt her too. How could he be angry with her for not wanting the same thing he wanted? How could he ever really fault her for backing away from him? How could he be angry with her for not loving him the way he loved her? Wow … he had loved her. He actually – in his head – used the word and it meant more than friendship. No, he couldn’t and shouldn’t be angry with her – but he damn sure wasn’t going to stick around to be come nothing to her.

The knock came again. The third knock revived his irritation. He would not have sought her out at this time. He hoped he could keep his anger in check, because if he couldn’t it would be directed at Mac whether he wanted it or not. There were times when Harm’s passionate, egotistical, condescending side really got in the way of his better judgment.

“It’s open.” He called from behind the desk.

Mac entered. It took her a moment to find him sorting through papers on the floor.

“What brings you by?” He said casually.

“I thought we needed to talk.” She said slowly.

“Did you?”

“Didn’t you?”

He exhaled and resigned the fate of the meeting. “Why not?” He pulled himself to standing. “Can I get you something? Water? Tea?” He walked past her to the kitchen and mumbled under his breath, “Another knife for my back?”

She heard him. She had no idea which Harm she was going to see that night when she climbed the stairs, but she had a pretty good idea with that comment. “Water is fine.”

He pulled two bottles of water out of the fridge and roughly tossed her one. “So?” He said snidely.

“Congratulations on your new assignment.” She started tentatively. “Quite the coup.”

“Yours too.” Mac was going to be acting JAG until the Admiral was replaced.

“Yes, but yours will bring your name up to some very influential people.” She nodded. “You’ll make captain in no time.”

He laughed. “Is that a good thing?”

“For you, yes it is.” She laughed.

Harm chuckled, “Times they are a-changing.”

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” She offered gently.

“I have never understood that concept.” He said.

“Bumper sticker philosophy.” She stated.

“I guess.” He smirked at her. “But regardless of what changes and what stays the same, you will always come out on top, Colonel.”

She felt the sting, and thought about just ending the interview then, but something made her stay. “You and I both know how to land on our feet, Commander.”

“Yes we do.” He looked down. “Like a couple of alley cats.”

She paused for a moment before she made her next statement. “Can we stop this?”

“Stop what?”

“Stop ignoring the elephant in the room and address it.”

“Which elephant is that, Mac?” It was a valid question in Harm’s mind. There were a whole herd of elephants in the room.

“How about we start with the reason why you are so angry with me.” She tossed back to him.

“I am not angry, Mac.” He leaned on a barstool. “Just disappointed.”

“Why?”

“Disappointed with myself.” He shook his head. “My bad, my mistake, mea culpa. I’ll figure it out.”

“Don’t do that Harm.” She asked nicely, “talk to me.”

He shook his head and smiled. “It was totally my misunderstanding, Mac. I overreacted.”

“But you won’t tell me the what and why.”

“You know the what and why, Mac.” He pleaded. “Don’t make me look like a bigger fool for trying to explain it.”

“But you are willing to toss away a friendship – a hard-won friendship over YOUR misunderstanding.”

“I am not throwing anything away.” He said. “I’m sorry. Ok?”

She felt the sand slipping from under her feet. “So you still consider me a friend.”

“More than – you are family.”

“Essential.” She added quickly. “You told me that I was essential in your life.”

He nodded. “And you are.”

She knew she was getting nowhere. He was going to pretend that nothing was wrong – at least nothing permanently wrong. “But you would walk away without one glance backward.”

“I am taking a position that will make or break my career – that had nothing to do with you or us.” He explained.

“But you are walking away – you must own that – and walking away angry.”

“Not forever.” He looked away. “Just until I get some perspective. We’ll always be friends, Mac.”

“With an ocean separating us?”

“What does an ocean have on friendship – as good a friendship as we have had?” He asked.

She looked away.

“Come on Mac. In no time we would have been filling each other’s e-mail boxes and taxing those long distance air waves.” He smiled.

“Damn it, Harm.” She snapped at him. “Don’t do this.”

“What? Don’t do what?”

His feigned ignorance had finally gotten to her. She looked away. “Fine.”

“Fine?” He asked. “What is fine?”

“So we are friends, and you will leave to fulfill a career goal, and we will talk on the phone and send e-mails and maybe – if luck would have it – we would be in the same town at the same time and do lunch or dinner … every couple of years or so.”

“You make it sound so cold and dry.” He said.

She nodded. That was how it felt – cold and dry.

“Who knows what tomorrow will bring, Mac?”

“More bumper sicker philosophy.” She shook her head. She was not going to let his cavalier, unaffected, casual attitude shake her from the one thing she wanted to say. “I will miss you, Harm.” She said with tears in her voice. “I have missed you for a long time.”

He didn’t say anything, but could not look her in the eye.

“I thought we were finally getting back to the point where we were.”

“Yeah, well…”

“And I am sorry that we will lose that.”

He thought for a long moment before he spoke. “Too much has changed.” He said sadly. “Too much has stayed the same.”

She nodded her agreement. “I guess so.” She moved toward the door.

“Mac, you know that if you need anything, I am a phone call away.”

She nodded. “Same goes for you.”

He nodded and moved toward the door to show her out.

Mac opened the door and looked around the apartment. “Still no plants you need watering, huh?”

“Mattie left me a Chia Pet, but it is still in the box.” He flashed her that grin.

“Right.” She turned to leave.

“Mac.” He stopped her. “Take care of yourself, huh?”

“Yeah.” She nodded; the tears were streaming down. “You too.”

“Hey.” He wiped them gently away. “No way for a Marine to behave.”

“I am more than a Marine, Harm.”

“I know.”

He pulled her to him in a friendly embrace. He could no longer look in her eyes. His eyes closed and he ordered the muscles in his arms tense to pull her closer, but they disobeyed. She returned the embrace. A moment longer and he would have not been able to fight the desire to kiss her.

She pulled back. “One more ‘goodbye’, eh Harm?”

“How about good luck?” He gave her a weak smile.

“Yeah.” She walked away from him without looking back.

He stood listening to her footfalls going down the stairs and he heard the door close on the first floor. In the distance her heard her car start, and drive away.

“Go after her.” He heard a voice say.

“Don’t do it,” said another. He stepped back into his apartment and closed the door.

 

0356 ZULU – Saturday, May 22, 2004
McMurphy’s Tavern

 

The send-off for AJ and Harm was restricted to JAG personnel only. There were speeches and well wishes, but on the whole it looked like any other Saturday night with the JAG crew. Everyone showed, but Harm lost track of Mac very early. Harm was reluctant to leave the party; he was hoping she would come back and that they would have one more opportunity to speak. But as time wore on, he was glad he could slip away without another … test – a test he had no intention of failing, but one that he did not want to take.

He skipped his goodbyes and goodnights and left quietly convincing himself that they would all see each other again soon.

Mac was leaning against Harm’s car; he spotted her immediately. He approached tentatively. She was stunning in her summer dress. Her hair was perfect and her makeup was understated as usual. She took his breath away.

“Mac.” He said tentatively. “Thought you left.”

“No you didn’t.” She said slowly with no quiver or shake in her voice at all. She was confident and strong.

“Thank you for coming.” He looked away to unlock his car.

She stepped into the street to allow him the freedom to leave, if that was what he wanted to do.

“Zero Six Hundred is going to come awful early.” He said.

She said nothing but was looking at him intently.

“Take care of yourself, Colonel.” He said to finish this last tête-à-tête.

She made no reply.

“All right.” He was disappointed that she had nothing to say and started to get into his car.

“Don’t go.” She said softly.

He turned back to look at her and cocked his head to wait for her to say what she had said again.

“Don’t go.” She repeated with more force.

“A little late for this now, don’t you think?” He was not impressed that she waited to make her feelings known, if that was indeed what she was doing then.

“Not too late, not yet.” She said again, “Don’t go.”

He leaned against his car and took her in. A beautiful woman, whom he had loved more than his words or his mind would let him acknowledge was asking him not to leave. Was it for the moment, for the night, or for good? That was the question. It would have been so easy to step into her and take what she was offering – what he assumed she was offering – with no words exchanged, no explanations, nothing defined. It should have been so easy – an embrace, a kiss and … giving up his career again – for what, exactly? Nope, he was not going to do that again – not for no reason.

“I’ve got to go.” He said.

“Don’t go.” She said one more time.

“Give me a reason.” He heard himself say with not as much cock as the words alone would appear.

Mac’s mouth went dry. The words stuck in her throat. She could not force them out. She could not move her legs or wave her arms to let him know that she was trying to speak. She was caught like a deer in headlights. She didn’t expect that he would demand a reason. He should know the reason.

He nodded sadly. “That’s what I thought.” He turned again to climb into his car.

“Don’t go.” The words came as clear as a bell with the force of an order.

“Mac.” He shook his head and looked away. It was not enough.

“We had a deal, Commander.” She said before he had a chance to get in. “You aren’t going to welch on a promise, are you?”

Harm turned back to Mac, the keys fell from his hand. Their eyes locked. His expression was unreadable; hers was intent. Had she found her voice? Was he still open to hear what she had to say?

 

 

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