The Night the Dancing Stopped and the Music Started

By LizD

AU to the Season Nine Season Finale

With Love and Thanks to the Cast, Crew and Creators of JAG, no disrespect intended

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1935 EST

Lucky Dream Palace

Falls Church, Virginia

Harm and Mac sat across from each other at a table set for six at the Chinese restaurant close to JAG HQ. They were the only two left as the food started to arrive. They had barely spoken to each other since they returned from the Wake Island over two weeks prior. Not because they were avoiding each other, they just hadn't gone out of their way to 'chat.' Mac's reasons for that were different than Harm's. Mac had had some personal stuff to deal with along with a pretty heavy caseload. The same could be said for Harm – however his caseload was not as heavy as the personal stuff was – to him anyway.

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That morning, however, the admiral announced that he was retiring and Mac and Harm found themselves in a position where they had to say something about the news to each other – rather they felt the need to zing each other. They did actually agree that things would be changing with the admiral gone, but Mac took it a little further.

"A new JAG is not going to put up with ..." Mac started.

"With our crap," Harm finished harshly. He was angry about some thing; it might have even been about the admiral's leaving but probably not. "No, he won't."

"You assume the new JAG will be a HE," she lobbed back at him.

"Figure of speech, colonel," he was tired of the fight even though he started it. "Hell, who knows maybe they will give it to you." He wanted to add that since HER career hadn't suffered a major set back in the past twelve months she would be in line for the promotion – unlike him – but left that to be implied. He started to walk away.

"And if it is?" she taunted wondering how he would behave under her command.

He shrugged. "Well, I guess I'd be expecting my orders to Alaska the day after," he walked toward his office.

"You think I am that vindictive," she trailed along after him keeping her voice low.

"A woman scorned, Mac?" he smirked that all-knowing, arrogant smirk that gave an otherwise rational woman homicidal thoughts.

"Who says that I am scorned?" she spit back at him.

"What would you call it?" he challenged.

"Get over yourself, Hammer," she turned away prepared to end the little tête-à-tête'.

"You go first," he slammed the door, which was designed to give her pause. It did.

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The news about the admiral didn't just affect Harm and Mac. It had shocked the entire staff. The speculations, predictions, gossip started pretty close to immediately. The admiral nixed it in short order – at least under his watch. Bud and Harriet felt the need to process the news away from the office and without the kids – they decided to go for Chinese before going home. Harriet knew that the admiral's departure would affect Jennifer the most and invited her to join them. Mac overheard the invitation and asked if she could 'tag' along.

Sturgis and Harm wound up at the same restaurant but for very different reasons. Harm needed a friend that night - though he would not admit it – and it had nothing to do with the admiral. It was the first night he would not be going home to Mattie. She had moved back to Blacksburg to live with her father. It had been a painfully difficult decision for her to make, but one that Harm fully supported – making sure she knew that his door – and indeed his life – was always open to her. He was a phone call away.

When Sturgis and Harm entered, they were expected to join the table with the rest of the JAG crew. People had gotten so used to the tension between Harm and Mac that it was not a consideration that maybe they didn't want to eat together. Harm and Mac would do what they always did – either ignore each other, be painfully civil in front of the rest or debate some minor point of nothing (i.e. egg rolls vs. spring rolls) until someone shut them up. It was accepted now. That was how the JAG family behaved.

The group dinner didn't last long – it didn't even make it as far as the first course. Just like a silly sitcom – people started getting called away. Harriet and Bud had to go home because AJ had been sprayed by a skunk and would not let the babysitter give him a bath. Sturgis had gotten a frantic call from Varese. She left her bag in his car and it had all her sheet music. She had to be at the airport in less than an hour and needed it if for her recording session the next day. Finally Jennifer was called back to the office by the admiral who was wrapping up some correspondence and needed her help. Harm and Mac were left not only with the check but six entrees, two orders of spicy shrimp fried rice and some pot stickers. No rolls – egg or spring – of any kind.

Their eyes met across the large table as the waiters were placing the plates down on the Lazy Susan pretending not to notice that the six top had gone down to a deuce.

"Do you think they planned this?" he broke the ice.

"Don't think they are that devious," she replied.

"You don't give them enough credit," he looked back at her. "Should we have them wrap this to go?" Harm asked trying to give her a way out of spending any time with him at all.

"Moo Shu never reheats well," was Mac's way of saying that she didn't want – or need – to leave.

"Should we move to a smaller table at least?"

She laughed. "We couldn't fit all this food on a smaller table."

He smiled with her but there was still a great distance between them – literally as well as figuratively. Without saying anything, they both stood up and moved to a chair closer to the other. Now they could talk over dinner in normal tones.

They piled their plates with tastes from all the entrees and made small talk on how each dish looked and questioning who had ordered what. They ate is companionable silence for a moment, until Harm couldn't help himself.

"Got a call from Webb today," Harm said as if it were a normal topic of conversation.

"Did you?" she was not really interested in fighting and not about Webb.

"Yeah, guess he is in Afghanistan – but I am sure you knew that."

"I did," motioning to him to pass the soy sauce. She would not ask the next obvious question.

"He wanted me to send him a copy of the file we put together on Simon what's-his-name – Mr. MI6."

"Uh huh." Simon was another topic she didn't want to get into.

He spied her suspiciously. "I sent it to him."

She suggested that he try some of the shrimp with snow peas.

"Why didn't you send him the file?" he asked directly pushing the plate of shrimp to the side.

"He didn't ask me," was her all too simple answer.

Harm felt the chill. "Oh really," he paused to consider his next question/statement to get her to talk.

Before Harm could start grilling her again, Mac asked quickly, "Where is Mattie tonight?"

Harm's whole demeanor changed. His shoulders dropped, his eyed darkened and he put down his chopsticks. He was no longer on the offensive but he didn't put up his defenses either. He got the waiter's attention and ordered a beer and another Iced Tea for Mac.

"Harm?" she asked knowing that something was wrong.

Harm's voice dropped to just above a whisper. "Mattie is gone," he stated calmly picking up his chopsticks again trying to remember how they worked.

Mac sat back in shock and amazement. "What do you mean 'gone'?"

"She went back to live with her father," he struggled to get some lo mien to his mouth.

She put her hand on his arm, which forced him to look into her tender eyes. "When did this happen?"

"I dropped her off this morning," he gave her a weak smile.

"Oh, Harm," she pressed his arm. "I'm sorry."

He shook his head, trying to keep the brave front he had been wearing for the past week, ever since Mattie had made her decision. "Why? No, no don't be sorry," he again offered her his weak smile. "It is better this way. You of all people know that you can't go through life hating the people you are supposed to love."

"Harm," she warned.

"I meant your father, Mac," he corrected. "And learning to forgive."

She knew exactly what he meant and it did extend to the two of them.

He placed his hand briefly on hers and then sat back away from her. "The only way she is going to be able to accept her mother's death, is by working through it with her father, by forgiving him and starting again."

Mac was proud of him and was hard pressed not to let it show. "She could not have done that without you," Mac stated confidently.

"Maybe, and I will still be there for her, just not quite as THERE as I wanted to be," he went back to playing with his chopsticks. "It is better this way," he said again hoping that one time he would actually believe it.

"Not for you."

"Taking Mattie in was not about me," he said with a distant look in his eyes. "Though I probably got more from her than I gave to her."

Mac went back to her food as well, but her appetite was gone.

They sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts – their own losses.

After a moment, Mac stated clearly, "Webb didn't ask me for the file, because he knew I wouldn't give it to him."

"Should I not have sent it?" he glanced over at her to trying to read her expression.

"No, I mean … it doesn't matter … he can have it."

"Why did he want it?" Harm asked.

"To do some research – gather intel – as they say," she smiled vainly too.

"On Simon?" Harm added, "Like knowing your enemy?" Harm added a little too spitefully, "Or your competition?"

"Maybe … but in the end it was more like Monday Morning quarterbacking."

Harm shook his head; he didn't follow her metaphor.

"Things ended between Clay and I – officially a few days after I returned from the Wake Island, but in truth we were never as involved as I led you to believe."

WOW … that was some admission, an amazing display of honesty. Harm was speechless.

"Well, actually … as you led yourself to believe," she corrected with a sly smile on her face.

Harm felt the banter rising. He wanted this conversation to stay civil and to finish without one of them storming away. "I will grant you that I did make up my own mind about a lot of what was going on without checking my facts."

"Kind of your standard M.O."

"Only with you," he defended sharply. "But two weeks ago I asked you a direct question and I got …"

"An evasive answer," she finished for him. "Would you believe me if I told you that it had nothing to do with you?"

"No," he smiled in disbelief that she would even consider trying to get him to buy that.

"You should," she stated firmly. "When you asked me, I was really trying to save that relationship – if only in my head."

Harm gave her a look that said she needed to do more explaining.

"I guess I didn't want to fail at another relationship."

"Was it you that failed or Webb?" he asked gently. He was trying to be nice but his mind was also spinning trying to determine what Webb's departure meant for them if anything at all. The real question now was had she ended it or had Webb?

"Webb had removed himself – physically - from a relationship with me a long time ago."

Harm did not want to think about the physical relationship between Mac and Webb and was not happy to think that it was Webb's decision to leave Mac. "Removed himself?" he asked.

"I haven't seen Webb since the beginning of March," she braved.

"I assumed he was out of the country on assignment."

"That is what I was supposed to assume," she continued. "He was in Washington the entire time – well up until two weeks ago."

"I'm sorry, Mac," he truly was. He did want her to be happy and never wanted to see her hurt particularly by a man who was supposed to love her, who she loved.

"Don't be. The answer to that question … the one you asked before … is 'no.'"

He acknowledged her 'no' but felt that she was crying 'sour grapes.' That she wasn't in love with Webb, because he wasn't in love with her.

"It is true, Harm," she protested. "Webb knew it before I did, which is why he left."

"Can I assume that he didn't want to end it?"

"You can assume that if you like." Again she flipped him an evasive answer.

Harm looked disappointed.

"No, he didn't. It was my call."

Harm nodded. So Webb was in love with Mac, but she was not in love with him. So she ended it. Was there a reason for that other than just two people not being compatible? Like maybe that she was in love with someone else? 'Get over yourself, Hammer,' he chided himself.

"Harm, you know me well enough to know that I don't fall in love at the drop of a hat. It takes work and even then I still don't trust it. Webb was not about to do what it took to bring us together and if I could be being honest, I don't think I was either."

"Should love really be that much work?" he asked honestly. He wasn't trying to zing her or make her feel responsible; it was an honest question.

"Yes," she confirmed. "And you know that now especially after what you have been through with Mattie."

He nodded. "So you are really OK?"

"I am. I was fooling myself or pretending that … well just pretending."

He leaned back in his chair and took her in. She looked sad, but not like a woman who has lost another chance at a normal life. More like a woman who had gone through hell, and had come out the other side worse for the wear but stronger for the experience. He gave her a big smile hoping that this was the start of the two of them getting back a little of what they lost. "What are the odds that we can pretend these last twelve to fourteen months never happened?"

"Pretty slim," she smiled wishing that she could forget everything from Loren Singer's death to the admiral retiring.

"Yeah," he agreed. "Too bad there isn't a reset button."

"It wasn't all bad, was it?" she asked trying to find some silver lining.

He looked at her and a soft smile came across his face. "Two things I want to remember from the mess that was last year."

"Mattie?"

"She is one. The other is how you defended me at the custody hearing. Have I ever thanked you for that?"

She smiled, "More than a thousand times."

"Still not enough," he put his hand on hers and pressed it quickly. "Thank you."

She smiled and accepted his gratitude. It all of a sudden occurred to her that she had yet to express her gratitude to him. "Harm … I never said … I never told you … I mean …" She took a deep breath and felt that whatever she said it would be too little too late. "Thank you for saving my life."

He took her hand across the table but this time didn't let go. She didn't need to thank him. He hadn't done it for her gratitude or even for her love. He did it because he couldn't not do it. He did it because of his love for her – his unconditional love.

She saw that love shining out at her. Tears welled up in her eyes and her breath caught in her throat. Mac had never been loved unconditionally before and she didn't know how to accept it. "More than that," she continued. "For giving up everything you had for me."

He shook his head. "The only thing I lost that I regret was your friendship and that was my fault."

"You never lost my friendship," she stated, pressing his hand. "I'm sorry things go so out of whack with us," she continued as the tears rolled down her face.

"Hey, hey," he brushed them away. "None of that, marine."

She looked down.

"Let's take a walk," he said pulling her to her feet. He motioned that the food be boxed up and told the host that they would be back, tossed him his credit card to pay for the feast.

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Outside they crossed the street to the park, Harm didn't let go of her hand until she pulled it away. They walked in silence for a while. The fresh air revived them.

"Did you hear that Harriet was pregnant - again?" he asked trying to find a safer subject.

She wasn't prepared to say what she had to say out loud. She croaked a 'yes.' "Bud and Harriet are very lucky that they found each other," she said.

"And they knew what to do when they did," Harm was more than a little sorry that Bud was smarter about women than he was – and quite possibly would ever be.

"Harriet was born to be a mother," Mac continued in a faraway voice.

The comment took Harm off guard. It sounded as if she were saying something about herself rather than Harriet. "Harriet is not the only one who will be a great mother," he said gently.

Mac quickened her step. Harm let her get a little ahead but stayed close. She paused on the bridge and watched the water rushing by. Again she was fighting back tears.

"Mac?" he asked from behind.

She did not turn around.

"What is going on?" he prodded gently again.

She wiped her eyes and turned to him. "I got some news the other day."

"News?"

She tried to be brave, "Medical news."

"Something about your back?" he was immediately concerned.

"No … well, yes … but it is not my back," she paused again because she didn't know how to find the words.

He put his hand on her shoulder, but she moved slightly away. She couldn't bear to be touched at the moment.

"Mac?"

"The doctor thinks that I may not be able to have a baby," her voice was clear but weak. She didn't want to repeat it.

He shook his head. He didn't understand.

"I have been having some troubles and about five - six weeks ago …" Her words trailed off.

About five or six weeks ago she had thought she was pregnant. It scared her to think that she and Webb had created a life. She was not prepared to raise a child with Clay. She wanted a baby – but she still wasn't ready yet, and definitely not ready with Clay. That whole scare reminded her about the deal she had made with Harm. It was five years later, but she still was not ready. Or maybe she was just scared to make that kind of commitment to a baby, a person, a person who would be completely dependent on her for the rest of her life – well at least the first eighteen years. Or maybe it was her choice – albeit unintentional - of father that scared her or made her NOT ready. She had always thought – some where in the back of her mind – that Harm would be the father, but after the last year that didn't look like it would be a reality. Life fools you some times. What she thought would happen didn't, and a whole bunch of stuff she never thought would happen did.

She went to the doctor and he told her that not only was she not pregnant, but that the reasons for her irregular periods and the odd pains she was suffering were due to something else. He suggested that it would not only be difficult for her to get pregnant it might also be difficult for her to carry a baby to term. It was all very technical – well medical. Mac was planning on doing the research and getting a second opinion, but there was no reason to rush that. She wasn't ready.

"Mac?" Harm prodded.

"I need to get a second opinion …" She found her voice finally. "But the doctor seemed pretty sure," her voice was nearly cracking. She looked him in the eye and tried to be strong and unaffected. "I may not be able to have a baby," she stated again for the record.

Harm was blown away. This news affected him as well. He was not only in love with her but he fully expected them to figure it out, get married and raise a family together – even if the news of Webb's departure was less than ten minutes old and they had barely been on speaking terms for nearly a year. None of that really dashed his dream. Not like this little bombshell had. It crashed his dreams as well as hers.

He pulled her into a tight embrace. He needed to feel her in his arms, and he needed to try some how to comfort her and let her know that they would see this through together. Mac welcomed it. She had been holding it in for so long. She was so alone. It felt so good to be able to share it with someone she knew cared enough to understand her pain. Harm not only understood, he felt it as deeply. She knew Harm would be the one person she could turn to, but she didn't feel that she had the right.

"Mac, I won't let you go through this by yourself," he stated as if answering her unspoken fears.

"Harm, I can't ask you …"

"You didn't ask, I am offering."

"Harm," she pulled back to look at him.

"No, Mac. Don't push me away again - please."

"Harm," she pulled out of his embrace.

He would not let her go too far and his frustration was building. "Damn it, Mac. I love you."

"What?" she turned back to him.

"And you love me," he took her hand. "Let's stop denying it. Stop fighting against each other."

She was stunned, pulled her hand away and took a step back.

"We are much better – much stronger – on the same side," he continued his argument. "Always have been."

"What did you say to me?" she was still stunned.

"I said that we are stronger …" His frustration was dissipating that she had at least not shut him down cold.

"Before that."

"I said I loved you," he smiled a little. It felt good to say it out loud and to her. It was a lot easier than he had expected it to be.

"After that," she asked again.

"That you love me." His smile broadened tentatively.

She studied him for a moment. "You know that?"

"I have known it for a while," he tried to be cocky but he knew this was the real deal and he was playing his trump card.

"How long?" she pushed.

"I was sure of it the day of Mattie's custody hearing, but I wanted to believe it since that night on the admiral's porch."

"You waited … did nothing to …" she was confused. So much of their past was flowing back on her.

"You … you weren't having it … having me … and then you were with Webb. I needed to let you finish. Let you be ready."

"You took a big risk," she chastised him.

"I wasn't all that ready myself up until a few weeks ago," he looked back at the restaurant. "In fact I know exactly when it was that I knew … it was the last night we had dinner here. The night of Coates' celebration."

She didn't understand.

"Let's just say I took my fortune to heart," he evaded not wanted to explain the whole fish-tank fantasy thing to her.

"Your heart's desire is the road not taken. Take it," she quoted.

He smiled remembering that night. "And you got the same fortune and you lied about it."

"So?" she smiled daring him to pick a fight with her.

"So …" He stepped closer to her and took her hand. "Can we stop? Just stop dancing around this one point. We are getting too old for this, and we will lose so much more than we already have if we don't. Serious stuff is happening; let's not make it any harder on each other."

She paused for a long moment. Long enough to worry Harm that he had pushed too hard' had assumed too much.

"Ok," she finally said.

"Ok?" he asked.

"Ok. We can stop dancing," she smiled. "On this one point."

"So, you love me?" Now he was unsure.

"Yes, I love you," she confirmed.

"Good," he relaxed.

"Very good," she agreed.

"So now what?" he was at a loss for what to do.

"You could kiss me," she said as if he should have known.

He did just that. He pulled her gently into his arms, brushed the hair back from her beautiful face and brought his lips to hers. It was soft and gentle at first, just lips touching and tensions releasing. She brought her arms around his neck and he felt her desire match his own. Their lips opened and the kiss deepened – a truly unmilitary public display of affection. It was a kiss to confirm their love, eight years of friendship and a hope for the future.

They pulled away but clearly each wanted more.

"Let's go home," she stated simply.

"Home?" he was unprepared for that.

"Mine is closer, but yours is probably cleaner," she smiled.

"Really?"

"Really."

"Don't you want a proper first date with a tentative kiss goodnight, followed by a proper second date with a 'send him home wanting more' scene, followed by …"

"Harm, when are you going to learn to quit when you are ahead?" she took his hand and led him off the bridge.

"Sarah," he called her name to get her to turn around. "We are going to be OK – you and me and this other thing – it is going to be OK," he was trying to tell her that he knew they still has some stuff to deal with and first and foremost was her medical problems, but that they could survive anything.

She turned back and smiled at him slowly. "For the first time in a very long time – I honestly believe that."

"It is not going to be easy," he went on.

"I know," she grinned. "Just so long as I get to be on top."

He wrapped his arm around her. "Discussion item number one. Now when you say 'top' …"

They ran across the street and jumped in his car forgetting all about the doggie bags and his credit card. It didn't matter, everything was starting to look up. The dancing had stopped and they were about to make some beautiful music.

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