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Classification Angst, Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 45,000 words; 123 pages (8 ˝” x 11”)
Spoilers Anything up through "Hail and Farewell"
Rating GS
Author's Notes This tale is based on my own experiences with loved ones, and on the best research I could manage without getting paid for it. Everyone's experience with these issues is different, and I certainly am not an expert on either medical or military matters. Please forgive me if anything here is upsetting to you, and read no further. It is meant to be a hopeful story, for the shipper soul and for the human spirit
 
Summary I guessed wrong about the direction Season 10 would take, but here’s what might have happened if we had been allowed to see Mac working her way through her fears. In this universe, Harm helps Mac cope with a devastating illness. In the process, they find themselves bridging the divide.

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

 

 

 

Friday, 2200 Hours EDT
Officers Club, United States Naval Academy
Annapolis, Maryland

 

Between one breath and the next, your life changes forever.

It's never a big event -- a wedding, a funeral, a retirement party. Ceremonies that mark the passages may linger in the memory, but the real changes happen silently, in the flick of an eye. A smile catches your heart; someone says yes instead of no. Or the glass shatters, the aneurysm bursts, the car skids out of control on a patch of ice -- and just like that, everything is different.

For Harm, it was one word. Cancer.

In that one instant, everything froze. Time, heartbeat, sound. In that moment, there was only Mac. Her eyes, huge and black and fathomless.

Then her fingers tightened around his, and he started breathing again. He laid his right hand over hers and swallowed the icy ball of panic rising in his throat. "They're sure?"

She nodded slowly. "It wasn't my back at all." She tried a smile. "Thanks to you, they caught it very early. Most of the time, ovarian cancer has almost no early symptoms. It's really very lucky."

He felt a bright burst of anger and instantly got a leash on it. "My God, Mac," he breathed.

In his eagerness to comfort her, to offer hope, to waste no more time claiming the future, he had blundered into it, hurt her even more. He looked away and tightened his grip on her hand. "What will they do?" he asked after a moment.

"They said I need a hysterectomy. Then they'll decide about chemotherapy or radiation." Her matter of fact tone didn't deceive him.

Sounds from the party slowly began filtering back into his awareness. Music, laughter, the tinkle of crystal and silver, the chuckling sounds of the Severn River lapping at the pier where they sat. He watched her pale face as she turned and stared out at the lights sparkling on the water. Saw her give a tiny sigh, saw how tired she was. A million questions clamored at the back of his throat, but all that could wait. For now, he wanted only to shield her from any more, just for tonight. For now, he was certain of only one thing -- that he would give anything to spare her pain.

And that from this moment, nothing would ever be the same.

They sat quietly for a few more minutes, until the bagpipes started up again inside. With a brief smile, Harm stood and held out his hand. "Ready?"

Mac rose and slipped her arm through his, and he drew her close to his side. She was relieved that he didn't commiserate. Harm would always be more comfortable taking action than discussing feelings, and she was surprised and grateful for his steady control, for the warmth of his big hand wrapped around hers.

She felt his solid strength beside her, felt the warmth of hard muscle and bone beneath the fine fabric of his sleeve, and drew comfort from it. In a whirlwind of emotion, she found one thought that gave her a solid place to plant her feet. He would always be there. She knew it as she knew her own name.

The bright lights and noise of the party engulfed them as they stepped through the doors, and Harm blinked, feeling as if he had returned from another galaxy. Unconsciously he tucked Mac a little closer against his side.

Harriet was clinking on a glass, and gradually the room quieted. "Ladies, officers, and gentlemen," she called out. "The guest of honor sends his sincere thanks and regards. The mess is dismissed." The music started up again as the guests turned to each other in a polite clamor of surprise.

"You guys staying?" Sturgis inquired.

Harm looked at Mac and saw her quick nod. "No, I think we'll call it a night," he answered. "How about you?"

"I’m taking off. I'm a little surprised that the Admiral sneaked out like that, aren't you?" He fell into step with them as they moved toward the entrance.

"He didn't sneak out, Sturg. He just hates sentimental goodbyes."

"I guess. At least I had a chance to thank him when he signed my last fit rep. You?"

Harm nodded. "Yeah." He stuck out his hand. "Well, good night."

Sturgis looked keenly at them both, taking in the way they stood arm in arm, and nodded. "You too. Goodnight, Mac."

"Sturgis," she nodded, and waited while Harm gave his ticket to the midshipman on parking duty. "I can take a cab home," she said.

"You're kidding, right?"

She returned his smile. "Okay. Thank you."

The Corvette pulled up sharply, and the midshipman jumped out and snapped to attention. "Good evening, sir, ma'am. Nice ride, sir," the boy grinned.

Harm lifted his eyebrow as he held the door for Mac. "Next time you peel rubber in my car will be your last, midshipman."

"Aye, aye *sir*!"

Mac was actually grinning when he got in and gunned the engine. "Did you peel a strip off that poor kid, too?" she asked. Harm merely snorted.

They were cruising down Route 50 toward D.C. when he glanced over. "Mac. Is there going to be a service for Webb?"

She looked at him in surprise. "Tomorrow, 11 a.m., in Great Falls."

"You're going?"

"Of course."

"Want to go together?"

She turned to look at him. "Harm, I'll be okay."

"It's not that. I want to pay my respects. I owed him a lot."

She bit her lip. "I'd like to go with you, thanks."

When they got to Georgetown, he double parked and walked her to the door, leaving the Corvette's flashers on. "I'll pick you up at 0930, okay?" he said as she unlocked the door to the lobby.

"I'll be ready." She paused and looked up at him, taking in the veiled pain in his stern expression. "Harm. About what you said tonight -- about our deal." He winced, and she laid light fingers on his chest, above the rows of medals, above the gold wings. "You couldn't have known. And it meant a lot to me. Thank you."

He wondered which was worse -- her assumption that he was merely trying to be kind, or the realization that she was being kind in return. He brushed a quick kiss across her cheekbone, light as air. "Get some rest, okay?"

She gave him a tired smile and turned to go in, suddenly needing to be alone.

 

Saturday, 1320 EDT
Great Falls, Virginia

 

The house was enormous.

Mac leaned back, running her eyes over the beautiful half-timbered edifice that slumbered among the huge old trees and manicured grounds. "Wow," she said.

Harm took her hand as she stepped from the Corvette. The bright red sports car stood out like a flag among all the sedate SUVs and sedans parked along the shady, private street. "You've never been here?" he asked.

She shook her head, awash in the weird feeling of unreality that had floated around her all morning. The Anglican service at the quiet old church; the elegant men who spoke of Clayton at prep school, at Harvard, on the Olympic Team; the tent in the cemetery, surrounded by a well-bred throng of polite mourners. The mahogany casket with its brass handles, topped by a simple spray of orchids.

She saw no one from the Agency, at least no one she recognized, and nothing seemed to have anything to do with the Clay she knew.

And all the while, Harm had been beside her, steady as a rock, saying little. Now she took his arm and paced beside him along the mossy brick walk to the door. "When were you here?" she asked. Then she remembered. "Oh. That time."

He nodded and reached for the heavy paneled door, only to have it swing open. A butler bowed them inside, looking distant and correct. It wasn't the same Agency guy as five years ago, Harm noted.

Mac breathed in the smell of old polished wood in the lofty entrance hall. "Mrs. Webb is receiving in the drawing room, madam," the butler said, and she followed Harm, glad that he seemed to know the way.

She nearly sank up to her ankles in a vast Aubusson carpet. Groups of elegant people were gathered here and there, chatting quietly, holding drinks in crystal glasses. Harm led her to the line of visitors waiting to speak to the slim figure clad in black, who stood alone at the fireplace. An oil painting of the house hung over the mantel, and a concert Steinway stood to one side, covered with family photographs in silver frames. Mac felt a lump in her throat at a portrait of Clay wearing hunting pinks, caught at the apex of a jump on a big chestnut horse.

Porter Webb, regally composed, nodded to Mac with a gracious inclination of her head, but when she saw Harm, her eyes brightened. "Commander Rabb," she smiled, taking his hand. "It's good to see you again. Thank you for coming."

"I wish it could be under different circumstances, ma'am. This is Sarah Mackenzie."

Webb's mother had skin like delicate porcelain, cracked with a million tiny wrinkles where it stretched across her elegant bones. In the fiery intelligence of her deep set eyes, Mac recognized a glimmer of Clay.

"Ah. I see you found her, Commander," Porter said, extending her slender hand to Mac. There was no trace of recognition in her polite smile.

"How do you do, Mrs. Webb," Mac said, returning the delicate handshake.

Porter put her head on one side. "I believe you worked with Clayton a year ago, didn't you?"

Mac felt her lips go numb with shock, and she had to moisten them before she replied, "Yes, I did. Clay was a very special man, Mrs. Webb. I will always be glad I knew him."

"He was fortunate to have friends and colleagues like you and Commander Rabb," Porter said with a brittle smile, and turned to the next person in line.

The light touch of Harm's hand at her back steered Mac toward the dining room, where an imposing mahogany table was set with Spode and silver. Caterers were setting out platters of sliced beef tenderloin, chilled asparagus, and beaten biscuits. A silver coffee service gleamed on the massive sideboard.

"Hungry?" Harm asked.

"No," Mac said faintly. "You go ahead."

A uniformed maid wearing a crisp white apron stopped before them with a tray of Bloody Marys and Screwdrivers. Harm asked for ginger ale, and after a few minutes, another servant brought two glasses on a silver salver.

Ignoring the buffet, Harm gestured to the French doors and followed Mac outside to the terrace. It was cool and shady and surrounded by late-blooming azaleas in banks of magenta, salmon and white.

She sat on the low stone wall, grateful for the shade. Harm twitched the seam of his trousers and lowered himself beside her, taking her hand with a gesture that had already become automatic. She stared down at their entwined fingers, thinking that 24 hours ago this would have been awkward between them.

"You okay?" he asked again.

"I guess so," she replied, feeling hollow. "What did she mean, 'you found her?' "

He squinted, looking away. "I called her when you went to Paraguay. I thought she might be able to put me in touch with you."

They sat quietly for awhile, not talking. Mac watched the patterns of shade shifting across the flagstones and smoothed her skirt where it lay against the balustrade. Finally she said, "Webb and I dated for almost a year, and he never even mentioned it to her." She inclined her head toward the house.

Harm was silent.

After a moment she went on, speaking almost to herself. "We really cared for each other, you know. And a part of him wanted to come in from the cold. I think he thought I could help him with that." She swallowed the lump in her throat. "But Clay kept his life in little compartments. He couldn't bear to let anyone really know him."

"I'd say you had him pegged pretty well, Mac."

She looked around, taking in the elegant surroundings. "Well, I certainly would never fit into this compartment," she said. The familiar sense of not measuring up, of not being good enough, tugged at her, a hollow echo.

Harm frowned and said curtly, "You'd fit in anywhere, Mac." He hesitated before asking quietly, "Did you want to?"

She sighed, and felt some of the sadness go with it. "No," she said, relieved to know it was true.

His clear, expressive eyes studied her, whole and complete. Then he nodded once, decisively, and squeezed her hand.

She waited, then brushed a light fingertip across his cheekbone, noting with concern the blue shadows beneath his eyes, the faint lines of fatigue radiating from the corners. "Did you get any sleep at *all*?" she whispered.

"Not really. You didn't, either." It wasn't a question. His hand tightened on hers. "Mac, there's something I want to talk to you about."

"Okay," she said with caution, recognizing his tone. This was the Rabb full court press.

"I spent the night reading on the Internet," he began. "There are two NIH comprehensive cancer centers in the area, the Kimmel Center at Johns Hopkins and the Lombardi Center at Georgetown, right around the corner from your place. Mac, they're the best in the country. Navy doctors are good, but the equipment and procedures aren't state of the art. The doctor you saw was what, an internist? Georgetown has people who specialize in gynecological oncology." He frowned at her. "I want you to get a second opinion. It's only prudent."

"Now there's a word I never thought I'd hear coming from you," she stalled.

"Mac" –

"As a matter of fact, the doctor agrees with you. She consulted with the oncology people at Bethesda, and they arranged a referral to Georgetown."

"When?"

"I have an appointment on Monday at 1330."

"May I come with you?"

"Harm, you have to prepare to transition the new Admiral on Tuesday, and I won't be able to help. You won't have time" –

"I'll make time."

"I can take care of myself. I don't want you getting in any more hot water because of me!"

"I know you can cope, Mac. But nobody should have to go through what you're facing alone. *I* don't want to face it alone, and I'll be going through it too, every step of the way, whether you like it or not."

Her anger welled up, a familiar refuge. "Why? Nobody's asking you to be Superman this time, Harm!"

"Because you matter to me, God damn it!" His eyes flashed.

She opened her mouth to speak, and nothing came out. Somewhere a door opened and shut, and she realized more people were drifting onto the terrace, carrying plates and glasses and chatting quietly, sending a few incurious glances their way.

A firestorm of emotions had swept over them and departed, leaving them shaken and silent in the aftermath. Mac let out a tense breath.

"Okay," she whispered.

"Okay," he said, not making a big deal out of it. "So -- ready to go?" She nodded, and he hurried on, "Look, how about coming over for dinner tonight? I'll warn you, Mattie's cooking. I've been giving her lessons, but this is her first solo effort."

"Oh Harm. Don't you want to have some time with her, just the two of you?"

"Nah, she told me to ask you. Besides, I told her you'd eat anything."

She gave him a look as he offered her a hand and pulled her up. "Anything, huh? Just for that, I won't bring dessert."

"That's okay, I think she's baking a cake. The apartment may have burned down by the time we get back."

Together they went inside to make their farewells to Clay's mother.

 

That night, 1800 Hours EDT
North of Union Station

 

With her hand raised to knock, Mac paused and listened to the upbeat blues coming through the door. The lonesome sound of Harm's guitar was the only sound she had heard on this threshold for a long time – Eric Clapton made a nice change. The music was so loud it rattled the hinges. Things sure had gotten livelier around here.

How many times have I knocked on this door, she wondered. Every time trouble hits, this is where I turn, like a compass pointing north. And no matter how things have stood between us, Harm has been there for me. She wondered now, with a faint sense of unease, how often she been there for him.

She squared her shoulders and rapped smartly on the scarred metal, hoping they could hear it. Harm's voice called out, and a moment later the decibel level went down and he threw open the door. "Hey, Mac," he grinned. "Come on in."

"I brought ice cream," she said, holding up a brown paper sack.

"Excellent idea," Harm said sotto voce as he closed the door.

"Hey, Mac!" Mattie waved from behind the island.

"Hi, Mattie," Mac smiled. "Wow, looks like you've been working all day." Every pot and pan in the kitchen appeared to be stacked around the sink.

Mattie blew a curl out of her eyes and grinned. "Nope, just this afternoon. But everything's almost ready."

"So what are we having?" Mac asked with interest as she slipped onto one of the stools and leaned on her elbows. "It smells great." Harm pulled a bottle of tonic water from the fridge, filled a glass with ice, and added a slice of lemon, and she looked up with a quick smile of thanks as he handed it to her.

"Vegetarian lasagna," Mattie announced proudly. "It's Harm's favorite, but don't worry, there's meat sauce for us. And I made salad and garlic bread. And lemon meringue pie."

"Wow," Mac said, eyeing the splattered mess on the stove top. "I'm impressed. My idea of cooking is opening a can. Or for special occasions, I call Chez Louis."

"I know, I totally lived on pizza for about six months last year," Mattie confided. "Harm was really grossed out."

"So are you mostly a vegetarian, too?" Mac asked, catching Harm's raised eyebrow.

"Not really, I mean, not *all* the time. I like to eat healthy, but let's get real," Mattie grinned. "Kinda like with this music," she tossed over her shoulder as she edged her way toward the CD player. Mac laughed.

"Hey, Slowhand is the master," Harm said indignantly.

"Harm, he's like a hundred and ten," Mattie said disdainfully, popping out the tray and inserting another disc. "Now this" -- music pounded from the speakers, accompanied by a singer wailing -- "*this* is great. Come on, Mac, you think this is hot, don't you?" Mattie began dancing around the living room until Harm turned down the volume. "Oh, come on!" she teased, grabbing his arm. He held her away with one hand and she wrestled playfully for the CD he held up. "Not that old stuff, no way!" she giggled.

Soft jazz piano filled the loft with a cascade of silvery notes. "Not a chance, Mats," Harm grinned. "Marcus Roberts is *not* old, he's great."

"Ugh," Mattie announced with a theatrical sigh. "You are so hopelessly square."

"Hey, someone has to expose you to the finer things in life."

With a sly grin, Mattie tossed her head and gave him a hip check as she brushed by. Harm laughed, bumping back, and Mattie giggled and hugged him. "Okay, okay," Harm said, "we'd better get the table set or we'll have to eat with our fingers."

"Talk about your finer things in life," Mattie grinned, gathering up silverware and napkins. Carefully she straightened the vase of daisies in the center of the table and lighted the candles while Harm filled glasses with water and ice.

"May I help?" Mac asked, watching Harm and Mattie with a funny little pang. Somewhere along the line, these two had become a family.

"Nope, thanks, got it covered," Mattie said briskly. "Harm, would you get the salt and pepper shakers?” Mac watched in fascination as Mattie tossed greens in a large bowl and filled three salad plates. They even had a routine down.

Harm held Mac's chair, and Mattie pulled a baking dish from the oven and set it on a brass trivet on the table with a flourish.

"Don't forget the bread," Harm reminded her, and Mattie grabbed the potholders and pulled out a loaf wrapped in foil. "Ta da!" she announced as she slid it onto a plate and carried it to the table. Harm held her chair, then seated himself.

"Would the chef like to serve?" he asked.

Mattie waited tensely as they took the first taste. "This is wonderful, Mattie," Mac gave her a warm smile.

Mattie relaxed. "Thanks," she said shyly. "Harm helped me. I mean, he sort of coached."

"You did great," Harm smiled.

While they ate, Mac let her encompassing anxiety retreat as she watched the ebb and flow of quiet affection between Harm and Mattie, feeling herself enveloped in the quiet warmth around the candlelit table. He looks happy, she realized in wonder. Who would have thought? Then she remembered how soon this too would be taken from him, and felt her heart twist.

"So Mac, Harm says a Russian gypsy told his whole future," Mattie said, raising a skeptical eyebrow. "Is that really true?"

"Have you ever known Harm to lie?" Mac asked with a smile, but she was curious.

"No. Never," Mattie said staunchly, as if she thought Mac might be suggesting such a thing.

"Me neither. And I was there. Except it wasn't the future, it was the past."

Mattie looked skeptical. "Where were you guys, at a carnival or something?"

"Siberia," Mac began, watching Harm squirm. "The gypsies gave us a ride."

"Why?" Mattie asked warily, sure she was being set up.

"We were on leave," Harm said with a warning glare at Mac, whose eyes were sparkling with mischief, and he gave her a grin, glad to see her smile.

"But what *happened*?" Mattie demanded, looking from one to the other.

"That's classified," Mac laughed.

"Kind of like your tattoo," Harm teased.

"*You* have a tattoo?" Mattie turned to Mac, astonished.

"Don't let it give you any ideas," Harm said quickly.

"But" --

"Um, Mattie, is there something else in the oven?" Mac interrupted with an anxious glance at the stove.

"Oh, no!" Mattie cried, leaping up. When she opened the oven door, smoke poured into the kitchen and the alarm went off. "Harm!" she called.

He grabbed two oven mitts, pulled a dish from the oven, and set it on the stove. "Open the door to the fire escape, Mattie," he said in a calm voice, and she hurried to obey. Harm lifted the blackened pie and set it outside, and Mac hurried to open the door to the hall. Finally, Harm reached up and switched off the buzzer.

"Okay, no damage done," he said, waving a dish towel to help the smoke clear.

"Shit," Mattie muttered. "It's ruined. I'm sorry." She turned toward the door, obviously mortified, but Harm took two quick strides and caught her by the shoulders.

"Mattie, it's no big deal," he said.

"I fucked up," Mattie whispered furiously.

"Hey, hey."

"Sorry," she apologized, her face bright red.

Harm drew her aside, his arm around her shoulders, and Mac heard him say softly, "It's okay, honey."

"I'm so embarrassed."

"That oven always overheats, remember? And besides, what's the deal about mistakes?"

Mattie heaved a sigh. "They're the only way you learn anything." After a moment she gave Harm a tiny smile and turned to face Mac. "Guess it's a good thing you brought ice cream, huh?"

"Rum Raisin."

"Awesome," Mattie gave a grudging smile, and Harm closed the door.

Mac turned on the hot water in the sink. "I'm so full I couldn't eat dessert yet, anyway," she said. "How about if we clean up first?"

"Aw Mac, you don't have to wash the dishes," Harm began, reaching for a towel.

"Nope, no men allowed," she elbowed him aside. "Come on, Mattie, let's show him how it's done."

Mattie began rinsing plates, and Mac stacked them in the dishwasher. Harm cleared the table, and beneath the sound of the faucet Mattie asked, "Do you really have a tattoo?"

"Yes, I do. A souvenir of a seriously misspent youth. I'd get rid of it, but it's tiny."

"And well hidden?" Mattie said with a tiny smile.

Mac laughed. "Very."

Mattie began scraping gunk out of a pan. "A lot of kids are getting them now. But it's hard to picture you with one."

"I ran with a pretty rough crowd when I was your age," Mac said. "I was completely irresponsible."

"*You*?"

"Yes, me. It took both my uncle and the Marine Corps to straighten me out, and that didn't happen until I was out of high school." Mac said.

"I'm so lucky Harm came along," Mattie said. Mac nodded, listening. "I mean, it was great to have somebody help with money and school and stuff, but that's not what I mean. He was cool about it, you know? I love him a lot," she whispered fiercely.

"He loves you, too," Mac said.

"I know. That's why I'm so worried about him when I leave."

"Is that going to happen?" Mac asked cautiously.

Mattie sighed. "I don't know. My dad wants me to move back with him, and he needs me." She rinsed a dish and handed it to Mac to dry. "Harm says we can ask the judge to wait and decide about custody before school starts again. That way I can spend some time this summer with my dad, and see how it works out before I have to tell the judge what I want to do."

"That sounds like a good idea."

"I guess," Mattie said, sounding uncertain. "But Harm needs me, too."

"Harm wants what's best for you, Mattie," Mac said. "So does your dad. That's how you know if someone really loves you -- they put you first. And they tell you the truth." That stung. She thought of Webb, and abruptly she wondered if she had done any better herself.

"But I really love both of them," Mattie muttered.

"You can love more than one person, Mattie. You might love them in different ways, but there's plenty to go around." Mac began wiping down the counter.

"That's what Harm says, too," Mattie said. "You guys didn't talk about me, did you?"

"No, we didn't. He told me you and your dad are working it out, that's all."

Mattie rinsed the sink, glancing at Mac from the corner of her eye. "Harm's going to be pretty lonely when I leave," she said casually. "Maybe you could sort of, you know, keep him company sometimes."

"He's my best friend, Mattie. We'll keep each other company."

"Oh. Okay, then." Mattie shrugged, clearly at a loss, and made rather a business of hanging up the damp dishtowels.

"Anybody ready for ice cream?" Harm asked. He leaned against the island, his eyes warm on the two of them.

Mac smiled, "Okay, and how about some coffee?"

"Sounds good," Harm said, and switched on the coffee grinder. Mattie gave Mac a faint smile and reached for cups and spoons.

Mattie was oddly quiet while she ate her ice cream, and she excused herself as soon as she was finished. Mac settled back into the sofa cushions with her feet curled beneath her and sipped her coffee, and Harm dropped into the chair and leaned back with a sigh, legs stretched out.

"She's so special. I can see why you fell for her," Mac said. Harm was silent, staring at the fireplace, and she said softly, "And you're wonderful with her. She's a very lucky girl."

Harm shook his head. "I'm the lucky one, Mac."

"I'd forgotten how melodramatic teenage girls can be."

"Yeah, she has her moments. She hates to get anything wrong, and she's so driven to be super-responsible. I keep telling her it's okay to enjoy being a kid once in awhile."

"She's very bright. And mature for her age."

"She's something, isn't she?" he shook his head. "She really likes you."

Mac nodded. "She loves you, you know."

"And I love her."

"I never thought I'd hear you say that," she said without thinking, and looked up, stricken. "Harm, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it sounded."

"I know," he said quietly, his eyes somber. "I didn't think I'd ever say it, either. Then Mattie came along, and she was in the same boat. I thought I was helping her, but she helped me instead. Before I knew it, she was inside." He looked away with a wry smile.

"I don't think it was an accident, Harm. You let her in."

His eyes snapped up to meet hers. After a moment he said, "Look, Mattie and I are going out to Blacksburg tomorrow. I'd ask you to come along, but we're going to take Sarah up and then go see her father."

"I'll be fine. But thanks," she said.

He glanced away. "I didn't tell her about -- you know."

"I know. Thanks." She smiled and set down her cup. "I'm going to take off."

He started to argue and stopped, seeing how tired she was. He rose and walked her to the door.

She paused with a hand on the knob. "I had a good time tonight," she said, meeting his eyes. "It really helped take my mind off -- everything. Thank you."

"Hey, *you* brought the ice cream," he smiled. "Thank *you.*"

She rose on tiptoe and brushed a quick kiss on the side of his jaw. "Good night."

Harm stood in the lighted doorway looking after her.

 

Sunday, 2100 Hours EDT
Mac's apartment, Georgetown

 

She answered the phone on the first ring. "Hi," she grinned.

"When did you get caller ID?" Harm teased.

"I knew it would be you. How did it go today?" She snuggled deeper under the covers, listening to his voice.

"Pretty well, considering. Mattie's a natural in a plane, Mac, she's amazing. Must be in her genes or something. You should see her, she loves it."

"So you had a good time?"

"Yeah, we did. The new owner of the airstrip seems to be keeping Sarah in shape."

"Well, that's good." She hesitated. "How was Tom?"

Harm sighed. "Okay. Tense, but not as bad as the last time I saw him. He and Mattie seem to share a lot of stuff about AA and Alateen that I don't know anything about." He sighed. "She's moving out there on Saturday."

"Do you think he can handle it?"

"Hard to tell. But he's trying hard."

"Is the house all right?"

"He's been keeping up the payments, if that's what you mean. It needs a lot of work." She could almost see him run his hand through his hair. "I don't know whether this is good for Mattie or not, Mac. There doesn't seem to be much going on in that town in the summer." Now she could hear the worry in his voice. "She says there's a softball league, and a friend got her a job as a counselor at the church day camp. I told her she can come into DC to visit."

"That's all you can do."

"I know." He sighed, and she waited. "So what did you do today?" he asked.

"I went for a long run in Rock Creek Park," she said. "I figured it might be my last chance for awhile." He was silent, and she hurried on, "It was good. I needed some time to try to get my head around everything."

"Did it help?"

"Yeah. Yeah, it did. It's funny, I go along and everything seems just as usual, and then all of a sudden I remember, and it feels like a trapdoor falls open under me."

"I know what you mean. But we'll get through it, Mac."

"Not too many other options." Another long pause.

"Will you sleep tonight?"

"I'm sure going to try. You?"

"Planning on it. Well, look, sleep tight, okay? And Mac" –

"What, Harm?" she asked when he stopped.

"Thanks for listening," he said.

 

Monday, 1145 Hours EDT
JAG Headquarters, Falls Church, Virginia

 

Throughout the morning, time had expanded and contracted like taffy, the minutes dragging and the hours flying by. Short on sleep, strung up tight as a drum, Mac managed to keep her weird sense of unreality at bay by focusing on tasks at hand. She organized her current cases and reassigned them, cleaned up her files, and completed every scrap of paperwork. Now she sat staring at her strangely neat office, her sense of disconnection stronger than ever.

"Is that the top of your desk?" Harm asked from the doorway.

"Apparently," she looked up with a smile, glad to see him leaning against the doorjamb.

"Wow. I've never seen it before," he teased.

"Go ahead, laugh it up. I wanted to be organized in case I have to be out for a few days."

He nodded with a quick frown. "We have time for lunch before we have to be at your appointment."

"Harm, you don't have to keep trying to cheer me up" --

"I'm not trying to cheer you up," he snapped, and stopped. "Sorry. But let's leave now and get something to eat."

"Can we stop at Beltway Burgers?" She laughed at the expression on his face. "Wow, you must be desperate. Relax, I'm too nervous to eat, so let's stop at that sushi place you like."

 

That afternoon, 1330 Hours EDT
Lombardi Cancer Center, Georgetown University Hospital

 

Mac's fingers twisted in her lap. When he laid his hand over hers to still the fidgeting, they were ice cold.

"It's going to be okay, Mac," he told her firmly.

"For some reason, I feel like I have to take a final and I haven't studied," she said, looking jumpy as a cat. They had arrived 15 minute early, and she had already handed in the clipboard with her forms to the nurse behind the sliding glass panel.

"It'll be okay," he repeated, not knowing what else to say. "We'll find out what we have to deal with, and that will help."

She started to speak when the door opened abruptly, and she flinched and tightened her grip on his hand. "Mackenzie?" a nurse called out.

"Yes. Here," she gulped, and stood up, clutching her purse. Harm stood too, and the nurse raised an authoritarian hand. "Doctor will see Ms. Mackenzie first," she said. "Then he'll talk with both of you in his office. We'll call you," she said to Harm.

Harm bit back his impatience and gave Mac what he hoped was a reassuring smile. She tossed him a quick, meaningless nod and followed the nurse. The door shut with a click.

Doctor? Harm muttered to himself. Why do nurses always call them 'Doctor,' instead of 'the doctor'? As if it were an office instead of a noun?

He threw himself back into his seat in the row of uncomfortable chairs. They were covered in ugly brown fabric and bolted together, as if it were an airline terminal, for Chrissake. Now he remembered why he hated hospitals, hated doctors, and hated all the bullshit that accompanied them. Harm flung his arms across the seats on either side and crossed his legs restlessly. Take it easy, Hammer. You just hate feeling out of control.

Thirty minutes later, he flung down a month-old issue of Sports Illustrated and glared at the nurse's window. The hell with patience, he thought. I'm gonna kill someone.

"Commander Rabb?" a shrill voice called out. A different nurse stuck her head around the door.

He jumped to his feet and followed her down a hallway carpeted in industrial beige. She gestured to an open door, and he entered to find Mac seated in front of a utilitarian desk in a small office. A window filled one wall, and the others were crowded with diplomas and books.

"Hey," he smiled, and sat beside her in the other guest chair. "Doing okay?"

"Okay," she nodded. Every line of her body was tense.

He started to say something when the door boomed open and a figure in a white coat burst in. "Hi, I'm Dr. Levine," the man announced, pumping Harm's hand before he could get up and bustling swiftly behind the desk, where he dropped into the chair and opened the folder he carried. With his short, crisply curling light grey hair and beard, the doctor resembled a lean, fit, kosher Santa Claus.

Levine looked up, and Harm felt a shock as the man's intelligent, ice blue gaze focused first on Mac, then on himself, then back to Mac. "Colonel Mackenzie, from my preliminary examination and review of your records, there is no doubt that we are dealing with an early-stage ovarian cancer. I know that's frightening to hear, so I want to stress one thing, first and foremost." He gazed at her intently. "We have caught it early. The long-term prognosis for patients like you is excellent, and it's getting better all the time."

Mac nodded once. "What happens now?"

Harm felt Mac's slim fingers slip into his, and he gripped them firmly.

Levine folded his hands on the desk. "Visual examination is just the first step, and it's imprecise. I'll want to see for myself that your tumor hasn't spread to the surface of your ovary or to any surrounding organs, or to the pelvic wall. There are additional tests and biopsies we'll want to perform, to catch any tumors too small to see with the scope, and we'll want to inject fluid into the pelvic cavity and examine it for any stray cancer cells. If your tumor is Stage One, which I think it is, we'll remove only the affected ovary and fallopian tube, leaving your uterus and other ovary intact. Following chemotherapy, if all goes well, you would certainly have a chance for a normal pregnancy in the future."

Mac's grip on Harm's hand was becoming painful. "They said I might not need chemotherapy," she said. "Doesn’t it make you sterile?"

"Not necessarily. Patients’ reactions to the drugs are very individual. The best current opinion, which I subscribe to, is that chemotherapy is absolutely essential. Without it, the rate of recurrence increases and your survival rate drops significantly. Sterility is always a possibility, as is damage to other organs, but we’ve come a long way with reducing the side effects."

"What is the survival rate for this type of cancer?" Mac asked steadily.

Levine leaned forward and said with great deliberation, "In Stage One-A, when cancer has not spread beyond the interior of one ovary, five-year survival is 90 percent. That's very good, and the thing to remember is that it's an average. You're young, and you're strong -- you're in incredible physical shape. You don't drink or smoke, and you have no other condition that would affect treatment. Your outlook is excellent."

Harm felt the air go out of his lungs. He swallowed and discovered he didn't trust himself to speak. He was awed by Mac's composure.

She said, "What if it's worse than One-A?"

Levine's eyes sharpened. Gotcha, Harm thought. You won't underestimate her again, doc.

"If it's One-B, which means it has spread to the surface of your ovary or nearby organs, or One-C, where we find stray cancer cells in the pelvic fluid, then we will have to do a complete hysterectomy."

"And the survival rate?" Mac pressed relentlessly.

"Drops to 80 percent. That's still excellent for any cancer, Colonel, especially a virulent one that grows quickly. But I emphasize that you should focus on your specific situation, not averages."

Mac nodded once, decisively, and looked at Harm. "I agree. When do we start?"

Levine looked at her with respect. "I'd like to admit you this afternoon. We need to do a bunch of tests, including an MRI. We'll do the procedure first thing tomorrow morning. You'll have a full day to recover, then we'll give you the first course of chemo on Thursday. I'd like to keep you overnight the first time, until we see how you tolerate the drugs. After that, you'll get a treatment twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, for three weeks, and you'll have the fourth week off to let your body recover. We'll do six courses of treatment, 24 weeks. After that, we monitor you weekly for awhile, then monthly. If you're still cancer-free after six months, we'll declare you officially in remission, but we'll continue to check on you regularly." He leaned back. "I won't kid you, Colonel. This is a tough disease, and chemotherapy is no fun. But it's your best shot."

Mac had been watching Levine steadily. Now she turned to Harm. They didn't need words. After a moment, she said firmly, "Okay."

Levine nodded. "I'll have my nurse get the paperwork started."

 

 

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