Title: Old Friends

Chapter One: What's Up With Mac?

By: LizD

Spoilers: Through End of Season 9

Notes: Picks up at the retirement party for Adm Chegwidden, after Mac has told Harm there is something he needs to know about her Medical Condition

Written: June/July 2004

Disclaimers: No disrespect to JAG's cast, crew or creators. With love and thanks.

Old Friends - Chapter One

What's Up With Mac?

2145 EST – May 21, 2004

Officer's Club, Annapolis

"Men just seem to pass through my life." She paused before she looked up at him. "Except for you." She got serious. "Will you always be there?" She knew he would be.

"Yes." He answered with a simple sincerity that he had rarely shown with her.

She turned toward him and clasped her hands together tightly in her lap. "Then you need to know what the doctor told me." The words were full of a profound sadness that was near to breaking Harm's heart.

She wasn't prepared to report the news she had received that day to anyone else - yet. She wasn't prepared to hear the words confirmed in her ears by her own voice. She had barely understood what she had learned that afternoon herself. There was so much more she needed to do, needed to know, needed to understand before acceptance set in and then there would be a myriad of decisions that she needed to make. This information was hours old. So she took a moment to gather her thoughts.

He waited … he waited more patiently than she thought he would have. He took her hand, thread his fingers through hers and held on tightly. He gave her the time she needed.

Who was this man who sat before her with love and concern in his eyes? This man who had just offered to be the father of her child – albeit a little presumptuous considering their past year and ill timed considering the recent death of her latest … well just considering.

Could he really be Harmon Rabb Jr.; the same Harmon Rabb she met eight years prior? Was he the same young hotshot pilot, lawyer, righter of wrongs, tenacious defender of truth and honor who would sandbag her in court to win his case or shoot him self in the foot to see justice done? Was this the same man who would tease her, mock her, ridicule her when he did not get his way? Was he the same man who would give her the shirt off his back and every last drop of blood in his veins all the while making her believe that she was nothing more than a friend? Was this the same man to whom she gave her friendship, her loyalty, her scorn, who was her ally, adversary, the thorn in her side, the bane of her existence? Could this man be the same man who backed away from her every time they got close? Could the man who held her hand so tightly be the very same arrogant, self-centered, self-indulgent, conceited, jealous, sarcastic, noncommittal, dedicated, generous, moral, honest, good, trustworthy man she fell in love with so many years ago?

No, this man was not that man. He had the same eyes. At the very least he was eight years older – but as they say it was not the years but the miles. Harm and she had put on a lot of miles together and separately. No, this man was the newest iteration – version of that man. This version would not only always be there for her, this edition was immobile and unmovable. He would not back away – not this time, and not ever again. The man before her would see it through with her – whatever "it" was. Hell, he would probably confess his feelings for her if she asked. Had he really changed that much? Was the change too subtle to see yet inescapable to feel? She felt it. Was she in love with this man – this version of Harmon Rabb – in love as much she had been with the man she met years ago in spite of the horrible things they had said and done to each other over the years?

Yes, she was in love with him - still.

Funny, he had never asked her that. He had asked her about Dalton and Brumby and Webb, but he never asked about himself, probably because he was not prepared to offer up an answer if she had returned the question. Could she have lied if he asked her directly? No, probably not. Would he have lied? More than likely he would have evaded the answer like she had done with Dalton, Brumby and Webb. Would it have surprised him to know that she loved him through all those other men? She even convinced herself that her feelings for him were separate and apart from her feelings for the others so that she could indulge both. Of course neither Dalton nor Brumby thought it was possible for her to have both and Webb would have come to the same conclusion - - - if he had lived.

Still he waited.

Should she tell him what she was told? Should burden him with her problem? What if he couldn't deal with it? What if he wanted to take back his offer? He would always be there, but in what capacity? Could she take a chance on coming clean with him only to lose him with too much information or by shutting a door to a future that they both had wanted? That answer was 'yes'. She owed it to herself to bring him into the loop; she owed it to him to tell him what she knew – if anyone else had a right to know about this new development it was Harm. He had always been there for her and he just reaffirmed her belief that he always would be – as for the capacity of how there he really would be…? She knew the answer to that – as close as she would let him.

"I'm sorry." She said by way of explaining what was taking her so long. "I was not prepared to talk about this tonight."

He paused for a moment to consider what he should say. "You don't have to tell me … tonight, if you would rather not." He said gently. "But I want you to know, whatever it is – I'm not going to let you deal with it by yourself."

'He meant that.' She thought. She knew he meant that. Before her sat a man who had been in integral part of her life for that past eight years but it felt like forever. Integral hell, he had been essential, vital, crucial … fundamental. Not a day had gone by that Harm was not thought of, considered or bemoaned. He was waiting for her to tell him something that was bad. He had no idea how bad, but he knew it was something he could not fix. Harm was helpless – not a good color for him. There was nothing that Mighty Mouse could do this time. That alone must be frustrating him to no end. His imagination was probably taking him to the worst possible case scenario as he waited for her to find the words. Yet, he was willing to blindly accept whatever fate had dealt them – note: not 'her' – 'them'. Could he make that commitment without having all the facts? Yes.

Mac felt safe enough to tell him what she knew. She took a deep breath, winced a little at that residual pain from the procedure and calmly, rationally and with her best lawyerlike detachment she told him all that she understood from the doctor and what she had gleaned from the handful of pamphlets that she has been sent home with.

"I have endometriosis." She stated clearly. "According to the doctor it is a pretty severe case."

She felt his grip on her hand tighten ever so slightly as he nodded for her to continue. She did.

She explained that endometriosis was a condition where the lining of the uterus (endometrium) was found in locations outside the uterus (ovaries, bowel, bladder etc). No one knew exactly what caused endometriosis but it was not an uncommon disease. It effected 10 - 15 of women in their child bearing years. If the disease was not treated the problems tended to get worse – as in her case. She must have had it for years and wrote the pain off as 'normal.' If diagnosed early it could usually be treated effectively, but it could come back. It could not be cured.

"Some women with endometriosis have had difficulty getting pregnant." She stopped to check in with him. "Are you with me so far?"

He smiled at her attempt to make him comfortable talking about a women's issue. "I am." He said. "Go on." He wanted all the facts before he would make any kind of comment but he did hear and understand that what she was telling him was that she might not be able to have a baby – his or anyone else's.

She continued.

The symptoms of endometriosis were pain with period, during ovulation, in the bowel during menstruation, when passing urine, during or after intercourse and in the lower back region. Her recent physical relationship with Clay must have exacerbated the problem, she thought, but did not share that with Harm. Other symptoms may include diarrhea or constipation, abdominal bloating, heavy or irregular bleeding, constant tiredness or increasing PMT. If a woman had pelvic pain the most probable cause would be endometriosis

Diagnosis – definite diagnosis – of endometriosis was only possible by the direct observation of the misplaced endometrium. That required a laparoscopy (the procedure that Mac had that afternoon), where a fine telescope was inserted into the abdominal cavity through a tiny incision to allow inspection of the pelvic organs. Sometimes tissue samples were taken to confirm the diagnosis as they were in her case.

There were three different ways the doctor suggested to treat the endometriosis: surgery, drugs and natural therapies. Historically doctors had recommended a hysterectomy, but thankfully there were other methods now. Surgery to remove the endometrium was an effective way to control endometriosis. However, many women have undergone a surgery a year for over 10 years and still fail to find relief from their pain. It was important that ALL the endometriosis was removed at the time of surgery for good results. The endometriosis was removed by excision, laser ablation, vaporization, or coagulation. The least invasive kind of surgery, and therefore the most preferred, was a laparoscopy (a similar procedure to the one she had, but with a different goal). This surgery was performed on an outpatient basis. Expert surgeons were able to perform very complicated surgeries using laparoscopies. A more invasive kind of surgery was called laparotomy, which requires hospitalization. It was considered major abdominal surgery.

After surgery the doctor would recommend drug or hormone therapy to prevent any return. In general, the hormonal treatments for endometriosis attempt to mimic the state of pregnancy, that was, postpone ovulation and thereby control the production of estrogen in the body. Many women experience significant side effects while taking these hormones, some of which may be irreversible. In addition, many of these treatments can only be taken for a short period of time, to eliminate other significant health problems.

Another treatment of strategy was to actually get pregnant, but again that only lasted for a short period of time.

"There is no cure for endometriosis," Mac finished. "But there are methods of treatment."

Harm was stilled. He had listened to every word, but he was still processing it all.

"And that is all I know at this moment." She continued.

"Is it cancer?" He asked fearing the worse.

"No." She squeezed his hand back. "And it is not life threatening. Though I have read that for some women the pain can be so bad they wish they were dead."

"Don't say that." He took his hand away and wrapped his arm around her and pulled her into a tight embrace. In his head, he was thanking the powers that be that it was not life threatening.

She winced in pain. Between recovering from the laparoscopy and the pain that she had been living with for the past several months, it was hard to know what was real pain and what was just discomfort.

"I'm sorry." He let her go quickly sorry to be the one to cause her pain.

"It's really ok." She smiled at him weakly. She would have preferred he continue to hold her.

He took her hand again. "How are you with all of this?" He asked gently.

"I don't know yet." She smiled weakly. "I am still numb."

He nodded. A lot had been thrown at her – at them – in the past week after a very rough year.

"What did the doctor recommend?" He asked.

Mac kind of smirked. "She made an appointment with me for next week to give me her final recommendations. She told me to go home, take it easy, do a little research and discuss my options … with my significant other."

Harm squirmed. Up until a few days ago, Harm believed that he was not in that category. He got it by default or an act of God or some thing. He felt like a stand in for the man she really wanted. He nodded and looked down.

"Harm?" She touched his face so he would look at her. "Harm." She lost her voice for a moment. "Harm, I need you to know something else."

He smiled weakly and Mac saw the consternation behind his eyes. How much more could he take? Here he was trying to fill a seat – which he would argue he earned ten times over – but by belonged to another man, a man he had called a friend, a comrade, a rival; a man that Mac had chosen over him; a man who had just died. The body wasn't even cold yet. Well actually it was cold and he was not coming back, but he was far from forgotten. Harm felt like a heel. But what was he supposed to do? She needed someone and Harm needed to be that someone. Did it really matter that he was second string or the nice safe back up? Was he going to let his ego get in the way again? The answer – this time – was a resounding NO.

"Harm, you need to know that I wouldn't have been able to discuss this with Clay."

He shook his head slightly. He didn't want her to say that either.

"Clay and I did not have that type of relationship." She looked away. "Oh, he would have been supportive and understanding – at least when he was in town."

"Mac, don't." Harm didn't want her to speak ill of the dead – of a man she had loved (or at least cared for very deeply), just to soothe his poor ego.

"No, let me finish. Clay would have listened and discussed this with me, but in the end it would be my decision, my decision alone. He would not have made it with me. His work came first, that was a given from the beginning. I was trying to learn how to deal with that."

Harm nodded.

"If I had said that I wanted to have a baby as soon as possible because I was terrified that if I waited I wouldn't be able to – he would not have stepped up to the plate."

"Mac, you don't know that." Harm said gently.

"I know that I would have had to raise that child by myself regardless of whether or not Clay had lived."

"Mac." He didn't know what to say. He didn't want her to diss Clay or some how regret her choice. He didn't want to thrust himself any further into the mix by telling her that he would never have let her raise Clay's or anyone else's baby by herself. However, he still didn't want to be the fall back guy.

"Harm it is true. Clay was not willing to make that kind of commitment to our relationship – and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do about that. I assumed I had more time." She looked away. "Now I don't get to make a choice – about him or about when I want to start a family."

Harm's first thought was to add – 'or with who.' But it felt mean and nasty to accuse her of choosing him to father her children because he was available and willing and for no other reason. So that was not what he said. Looks like our boy Harm is growing up.

Instead he said, "There are choices Mac. There are options still open to you. What you have is not terminal. As long as you are a live there are choices. You can have everything you want in life – you may just need to change some of your expectations."

Damn, now he was making a case for her to pick him cause he was the only one still standing. That was not what he meant; he was talking about having a family.

"You may be right." She knew what he meant and didn't truly believe it. It hadn't occurred to her to think anything else.

Harm heaved a heavy sigh worried that he said too much or not enough. "Whatever happens tomorrow, we don't need to make a decision tonight." He smiled at her tentatively. "You look exhausted, come on, I will take you home." He stood, put out his hand and waited for her.

She followed him with her eyes but did not make an attempt to move.

"Mac?"

"Thank you." She said simply and easily but very sincerely.

"Welcome."

"No," she continued. "I mean it. Thank you for listening to me, for taking care of me, for being here." She shook her head and struggled to her feet. "I have so much to thank you for."

"No, you don't."

"I do." She continued. "This last year – you and I have been in such a bad place. I know that that was mostly my fault."

"Not all your fault."

"Not all – but more than half. As bad as things got between us … I have always known that …" Mac swallowed hard. She was going to confess her love for him and going to claim that she knew that he loved her, but words failed her. Maybe that was too much honesty for one night. "I don't know what I would have done if I got this news in the middle of all that. I don't know how I would have managed without you."

"Mac, please." He was trying to dismiss her, to push her gratitude aside. In his gut he still felt like the first runner up who won because the winner was unable to carry out the duties – like Miss America. He was second – always second with Mac, the back up, the stand in. He would learn to live with it, but one thing he did not want was her gratitude. "You would never have been alone."

"Will you shut up for a minute?" she said playfully. "I owe you so much – from saving my life to … saving my life." She was talking literally as well as figuratively. She took his hand in both of hers.

Harm was the first person she thought of when the doctor had given her the news. Harm was one – the only one – she needed to talk to about this turn of events. Harm was always the first one she thought of or turned to whenever anything happened in her life – if indeed she turned to anyone. The moment she got information about Webb, Harm was the one she needed to tell. When Sadik was stalking her, Harm was the one she needed to process with. When Brumby left her to go back to Australia – Harm was the one who would have seen her through it if it were not for seriously bad timing and Mac's hurt pride. There was so many other times – too many to count. This past year when they were so far apart emotionally, Harm's position as first was made painfully clear to her – painfully. Harm was always first with Mac – she just never felt like she had done enough to earn the first prize. And now she felt like it was being offered to her without merit. She told herself to take him, hang on, and do everything in her power to earn his love – earn it for the rest of her life.

"Thank you." She said again. Again she wanted to tell him that she loved him but something in his eyes said he would not hear it then.

He smiled at her softly. "Let me take you home."

She nodded, slunk her arm around him and tucked herself into his embrace and allowed him to take care of her.

As they left the party quietly, people took note. Sturgis, Bud, Harriet and Jennifer all saw them together and breathed a sigh of relief. Finally it looked as if they had put their differences aside to be together. Sturgis had an idea of what brought about this change, but he could not share it with anyone. Jennifer also had information that she thought had a bearing on this newfound closeness, and was heartened to see that the colonel would help the commander through this time. Harriet and Bud didn't care what had brought it on, they were just happy to see their friends and mentors together.

The night for them would have been a good start down a path that they both had wanted to tread for a long time. Nothing had changed other than the acceptance that they would meet what came next together. There was still too much reality that needed to be sifted through.

For Mac, her future weighed more heavily on her mind than her past. Since she had never pictured Webb there, the fact that he would not be there was not painful. She was sorry that he was gone. She was sorry that she would not get to finish with him appropriately. But selfish or not – Mac was more concerned that the only thing she had ever known for sure in her life – that she wanted to be a mother – may not be an option for her. It comforted her to know that she was going to meet this problem with Harm by her side. Harm was the only one she could have gone through this with. No matter the future, no matter what path – Harm was the one she wanted beside her. And he was right – there were options.

For Harm, he was still reeling from the knowledge that he would lose Mattie soon – albeit lose her in the name of family reconciliation, his original goal. He was still tentative about the admiral leaving JAG and what that would mean for them all. And now the dream of being a father to Mac's baby may also have been lost to him. It was a lot to deal with, but his mind was not on himself or what he had lost – it was on her. Mac was still dealing with Webb's death and now she had some health issues that needed to be tended to. He could not push any Mac agenda of his own – not any time soon. He wanted to chide himself for bring up the baby deal, but in the end it got Mac to open up to him. So he resolved to take it slowly. He had waited too long to rush this part. He had loved her too long and too much to ruin it by asking for too much too soon.

He took her home and waited as she showered and changed. She told him she would not sleep, so he built a fire, made tea, held her gently and let her talk or be silent as she needed. He was nearly everything she needed him to be. She felt so comforted, so attended to, so completely loved – that she felt brazen enough to ask for that last thing she needed. It was a mistake.

Why ask for something more? That night, that perfect space of hours where the world seemed like an unfamiliar place, she had finally known, accepted and returned unconditional love – something she had never known in her life. It was a love that was not shrouded in sex but it was the kind of love that partners in life share. It lifted her up – lifted he up so high – she had to get down before she fell. She got scared.

So, she shot herself in the foot – hell she emptied her clip into her foot, reloaded and emptied another one.

She ruined it.