Title: Switching Tracks

Chapter One

By: LizD

Spoilers: Alternate Ending to Season Nine – Spoilers Though The Death of Sadik

Notes: Written before the last five shows of Season Nine Aired

Written: April/May 2004

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

Switching Tracks

1618 ZULU – Tuesday, March 30, 2004

JAG Headquarters

Falls Church, VA

Harm knocked on Mac's doorframe and asked quickly, "Do you have the Letterman file?"

She was staring out the window, lost in thought. "What?" she turned and her expression changed when she saw it was Harm.

Harm had seen that look before – a lot recently – but he was hard pressed to figure out how to read it. It wasn't soft or hard, it wasn't happy, sad or annoyed. If he had to make a guess it was expectant or curious or maybe just wary. Whatever it was, it was just for him.

Mac had been dealing with a lot since that incident with Sadik. Harm chided himself for not being more supportive, but she didn't seem to want his 'support' so he tried to treat her as he normally would under other circumstances – that didn't seem to work either. After the Corporal Strange courts martial where she apologized – in open court – and he accepted, Harm and Mac hadn't shared much more than the standard 'hello's and 'good-bye's, and some very civil office talk over the conference room table. Neither had been assigned to work on a case together or as opposing counsel. Harm assumed that was the admiral's way of keeping the peace. There were a couple of group lunches and a very enlightening celebration dinner for Jennifer, but aside from a few glances, some nice smiles that could be interpreted one of a hundred ways and some casual chitchat – she didn't approach him. And Harm, though not strictly avoiding her, didn't approach her – professionally or personally.

In the past month or more – actually it had been growing exponentially since his return from Paraguay; Harm had done a lot of thinking about the past, the present and the future. Certain truths were made painfully obvious to him – as if the ton of bricks that apparently needed to fall on him finally dropped; while other truths were still too out of focus to see. Though he wasn't totally resolved, he had made some decisions and others were made for him. His new goal was to accept the ones he couldn't or shouldn't attempt to change, and to be clear about the ones he should. This new outlook on life was actually not as hard as he expected it to be, but it wasn't as easy as throwing a switch either. He had to admit, it seemed a lot easier to get through a day and he slept better at night.

He asked her again, "The Letterman courts martial file, do you still have it?"

"Bud is making copies."

"I'll check with him, thanks," he flashed a smile. "As you were," he added playfully.

"As I was what?" she didn't know what possessed her to say that. It would mean that she was inviting him to stay and talk. Truth be told, she missed him. For over a month he was being very … nice to her. He wasn't sarcastic or caustic, he didn't go out of his way to jib or jab at her. In fact he had pretty much stayed out of her way. The only thing she did notice was that often he would be looking at her from across the room, or the table or wherever they were. When she caught him, he made no attempt at hiding the fact. He would simply smile slightly and turn back to whatever he was supposed to be doing. It didn't unnerve her; it made her curious. "As I was what?" she repeated.

This time he just smiled and walked away. That made her curious too.

Later that afternoon, Harriet met Mac in the bullpen. "Colonel, this just came for you," Harriet handed her an envelope.

"Thank you," Mac opened it and pulled out a note and what looked like a ticket envelope.

"Taking a trip, ma'am?" Harriet asked.

"I'm," Mac sighed. "Much needed few days off."

"You won't be going alone," Harriet became immediately embarrassed. "I mean; I only see one ticket."

"I won't be alone," Mac still didn't feel comfortable talking about her relationship with Clay in that forum – heck in any forum. She didn't like talking about him with her shrink.

"Mr. Webb?" Harriet just couldn't stop herself.

Mac looked up and noticed that Harm was watching her from Turner's doorway.

"Thank you Harriet," Mac said and walked toward Harm. When she got close enough, she lowered her voice, "Do you have something to say, commander?" she challenged.

He shook his head. "I hope you have a very nice time. No one deserves a little R&R more than you," Sturgis was off the phone and called Harm's name. Harm turned back to him and started talking about the Letterman case.

Mac walked back to her office confused. Harm hadn't denied eavesdropping, but it wasn't like him to NOT make a comment about the trip or her companion. Something was wrong. Mac was going to find out what.

That evening, Harm was working late on some files. Mattie had a 'date' with her new boyfriend – who Harm didn't dislike as much as he thought he would – so he was killing time before he went home. Mac knocked and entered.

"Hi," she said as casually as a woman on a mission could muster.

"Hi," he returned easily. "Something I can do for you?"

"No, I mean, yes. Well…" She looked at him for a moment before she spoke. "You and I are friends, right?"

"I like to think so."

She remained standing. "Even after everything we have been through this past year?"

He leaned back in his chair and tossed his pen on his desk. "I would say especially after everything we have been through these past eight years."

"So what is going on?" she fixed her gaze on him.

"Going on?" he repeated.

"You're being … I don't know … different."

"How so?" he thought he was being nice.

"I don't know how to describe it. You're being …"

"Nice?" he offered.

"Yeah," she smiled nervously. "What's up with that?"

He laughed and she laughed with him. His expression got a serious. "You deserve to be treated nicely, Mac," he said calmly.

"Since when?" she was annoyed thinking that he was patronizing her. "I mean, what changed?"

He chuckled a little. "Wow, never thought I would have to defend -."

"It's not you," she stated a little too adamantly. "It's not like you."

"I'm trying to be … better," he explained sincerely.

She shook her head, urging him to continue.

He adjusted his position and sighed. He wasn't really prepared to have a BIG conversation, but he forced himself to continue. "I have been doing some thinking – some reevaluating about … things."

"What things?" she asked.

"Me, I guess. Mostly," he looked back at her. "I didn't like what I saw so…"

"There was nothing wrong with you," she claimed a little too quickly and tried to recover, "Why … how … what did you need to change?"

He shook his head and sat up.

She felt like she was prying. "You don't have to tell me anything that you don't feel comfortable telling me."

"I'll tell you anything you want to know, Mac," he said quickly. He didn't mean it as challenging as it came out, but he would have answered any question she asked, truthfully. Any question.

Mac felt the weight of his offer. She needed to be very careful about what she asked. She thought for a long moment. "So can I assume that Mattie is responsible for this change?"

He shrugged a half acceptance of that question. "She has had a huge impact on my life – no doubt," Harm looked away. "In none of the ways I thought she would."

"What does that mean?"

He studied her for a moment before he spoke. "I thought I was taking her in to help her. Turns out, I was helping myself," he looked slightly embarrassed.

"I imagine you have been very good for her too," Mac had spent very little time trying to understand Harm and Mattie's relationship and at the moment she realized exactly how much she didn't know. If truth were told, she was probably a little jealous of Mattie. Here this fifteen-year-old girl who blew on to the scene when Mac wasn't looking; got Harm to do what Mac had never been able to do – commit.

"It has been good for both of us," he added. "I don't want to lose her."

"Lose her?" she asked.

"The judge only gave her to me for six months; it's almost up. Her father has been making a huge effort to get his life together and he will want her back."

"Does Mattie want to go back?"

"I don't think it will be up to either me or Mattie," he said sadly.

"You won't lose touch with her though."

"No, of course not," he looked back down at his desk. "I'm still trying to buy a house, so she will have a place to stay – if only for visits," he looked back up at her. "But who knows, maybe the judge will not send her back."

"I hope it works out for you, Harm."

"I hope it works out for all of us," he said including her.

She knew it but chose not to respond to that. She still had doubts about exactly how her life was going to turn out. "So what You're saying is that parenthood has brought out your nicer side?"

He smiled at that. "No."

"Then what?" she pushed.

"I don't understand what you want me to say."

"You don't have to say anything, I just wanted to make sure that – we were – you know -."

"Still friends?" he offered.

She shrugged a 'yes.'

"Mac, I consider you one of a select few people who are essential in my life."

Mac was stunned at his word usage. "Essential?"

"I have said it before – I don't ever want to lose you," he got a little choked up. "I forgot that this past year. I forgot that I could – through no one's fault but my own."

Again words failed her. Luckily (or not) – her phone rang. "Excuse me," she pulled her phone out and saw who was calling. She got up and went to the doorway. "Hi. … I did, thank you. …No, it's perfect. I haven't skied in years," she laughed a little and looked back at Harm quickly and then away. "Can I call you back later? … Sure … Ok. … Bye," she hung up.

"You could have taken that, Mac," he stated confidently.

"You know who it was?" she asked.

"I'm assuming it was your companion for your rendezvous."

"You have nothing to say to that?" she asked guardedly.

"Do you mean am I going to make some snide, caustic, nasty remark about your choice of companions?" he said playfully.

"It's not unheard of for you."

"Not this time."

Mac was surprised. Harm not making a comment about anything to do with her and another man? I could only mean that lost interest. "I see," she started to turn away and was thinking about a way to retreat.

"Do you?" he pulled her back with the gentleness of his voice.

"I think so."

He shook his head a little. "I'm not sure you do."

His voice again pulled her back into their conversation. She stepped back into his office and waited for him to continue.

"I supposed I should tell you this, because you will think a hundred wrong things if I don't," he laughed and she didn't. "I care about you very much, Sarah. I want you to be happy. I hope you get everything you want in life." He tried to say the next bit as if he truly believed it. "If Clayton Webb can help you to be happy, so be it."

She was blown away. "I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything. I just wanted you to know," he swallowed hard. "I don't want to lose what we have – what I hope we still have – over the man in your life."

"This is a different side of you," she wanted to add that she liked it.

"It was pointed out to me, by a very wise, very young female that I was being a hypocrite."

"Hypocrite? Mattie said that?" she was shocked.

"It was amazing to hear that word come out of her mouth and how dead on she was."

"You talked to Mattie about us – me?"

"She actually talked to me."

"I don't understand," Mac sat back down.

"It didn't start out that way," he ran his tongue over his teeth trying to find the right words. "Mattie has a boyfriend. So I had 'the talk' with her."

"You told her about the birds and the bees – would've loved to have been a fly on that wall."

Harm laughed. "Ha… yeah… no, the education system deals with all the technical parts in health class and stressed the importance of 'safe sex' and God know the movies and TV are all over the 'joys of sex'. But it's amazing how much kids still don't get. That is still the parents' job."

"So what did you tell her?"

"I talked to her about respect."

"Respect?"

"It was pretty close to the same lecture my mother gave me, one of the thousand times she said it."

"What did you say?"

"I talked to her about how important it was to respect yourself as well as anyone that you would enter into a relationship with. That peer pressure and hormones were working against her, that her body would want her to do things that emotionally would be better left for a later time in life. Her friends and her boyfriend – more than likely – would push her to do something that her own better judgment would counsel her not to do. I told her that she needed to respect herself enough to make the right decisions and not get carried away in the moment and to choose friends and boyfriends who are worthy of her respect and would return it. And finally, before she made any choice to be sure – be very sure, because one wrong decision could impact her whole life."

"Wow," Mac was impressed. "That is quite a bit to swallow. Do you think she understood what you meant?"

"I hope so. It seemed like she was hearing me," he shook his head. "But I don't know. I also told her that I would support her decisions 100%, that she could talk to me about anything and I wouldn't judge her."

"Wish someone had said that to me," she looked up at him. "I never expected that you would be so open minded."

"I'm not," he smirked. "I will kill the first guy that tries anything with her."

She laughed with him. "That sounds more like you."

"But, the truth of the matter is that I wanted her to know that I love her first, last and always – regardless of anything else. And that I will be there for her."

Mac smiled at him. "You're a good man, Harmon Rabb."

He shook his head and looked away. "Sometimes."

"How did she take this little lecture of yours?"

"It wasn't a lecture, it was more of a discussion, and - ," he looked down. "She turned the tables on me."

"How do you mean?"

"She asked me if I was so smart about relationships, why did I never get married."

"Oh," Mac felt her stomach tense. This was either going to be the part when he told her that he wasn't interested in her anymore or that he still was. Neither of which she wanted to hear and both of which she was terrified NOT to hear.

"And she asked about you," Harm continued.

"I'm glad I wasn't there for that part of the discussion," she deflected with a nervous laugh.

He looked at her puzzled. "Mac, what do you think I would say that you couldn't hear?"

"I don't know."

"What do you imagine I think about you?"

She thought for a moment. "I don't know, I often can't tell with you."

"Well, I guess I can understand that."

"We don't often talk about … well talk about anything," she defended.

"No, no we don't," he sighed. "Well let me clear it up for you," he again sat up in his chair so she knew he was speaking sincerely. "There is no one that I respect or admire more. You're the smartest woman – hell smartest person I know. You're capable and strong. You're tenacious and you're ability to bounce back from the tragedies that occur in your life amazes and inspires me. I trust you implicitly in every way. Your instincts about people are 100%," he paused, thinking that she might respond. She didn't. "And the fact that all of that is rolled up in an easy-on-the-eyes package in a person I call my friend is icing on the cake."

She was a little stunned and hung on to the one thing she could articulate. "My instincts are 100%?"

"With the possible exception of me – but I take that fault on myself," he flashed a smile. "With you I seem to go out of my way to be …."

"Ambiguous?" she offered.

"Contradictory. I know we don't agree on most things, and I do – I did go out of my way to play the devil's advocate just to get you going. And it's fun – used to be fun – to find ways to dig at you cause you gave as well as you took," he shrugged. "But that kind of fun only lasts so long. Just because the two of us can look at the same thing differently doesn't mean that one of us is right and the other wrong. It's not a contest."

Mac laughed. "OK – where's the camera; and what have you done with Harm?"

"You can laugh if you want. But all that is true."

"I'm not sure about that," she was still laughing.

"Yes you do, Sarah," he fixed his eyes on her. "If you thought that I thought anything less of you, we wouldn't be friends after all this time."

Mac's smile faded from her face. She got serious too. "Friends."

"Maybe more than friends," he added.

"Family?"

He nodded slowly. "Yeah, I think of you as family," he paused for a moment. "And sometimes people take family for granted. I don't want to do that anymore – not with you."

Her eyes started to tear up. She brushed them away before they had a chance to fall.

"I didn't mean to make you cry," he said softly.

"You still shock me sometimes," she brushed her emotions aside. "So how were you being a hypocrite?"

"Oh yeah," he sat back. "Mattie - she challenged me – she'll make a great lawyer. I told her what I just told you and she said - and I will quote – 'if you really think that, why are you trying to change her.' That's when she called me a hypocrite."

"How did she think that you were trying to change me?"

"Your choice of men," he said flatly.

'Oh, God.' Mac thought. 'Here it's.' She was only able to utter a single syllable. "Oh?"

"I of course said that I wasn't trying to change you – that all those OTHER guys were the ones trying to change you and half way through my argument I realized I didn't have a leg to stand on. It hit me – hard – that if I honestly believed that you were smart and capable with great instincts – what on earth made me think that you weren't capable of choosing the person you wanted to be with. The MAN you wanted to be with," he paused. "Mattie, in her own black and white view of the world, showed me that I don't have to see what you see in the men you pick – or what she sees in her boyfriend - I just have to trust and believe that you know what is best for you."

Mac tried to say something but didn't know what to say.

He kept talking – he was on a roll now. "Since we are talking about that, I need to apologize to you."

"Apologize?" she smiled through her tears. "What heinous thing have you done now?"

"This is old," he paused for a moment. "I'm sorry about Brumby."

"Harm," she shook her head. That whole mess was too long ago to bring up now.

"Let me say this. I have been thinking about it recently – in light of your relationship with Webb and – I need to apologize. I never should have gotten between you two. I never should have challenged your feelings for him. It was very disrespectful to you and selfish and wrong. I tried to stay out of it for as long as I could – but that night at the admiral's house – I just couldn't keep my mouth shut."

She laughed slightly remembering the way he kissed her and no, he didn't keep his mouth shut. "Don't take all the blame on yourself, Harm. You couldn't have interfered if I hadn't let you."

"That may be true or it may not be. But I was still wrong, and I'm sorry. You chose to marry him and I should have respected that. You wouldn't have made that decision lightly. You deserved more from me. Nothing like that will ever happen again."

She smiled trying to hide the tears that would not go away. "So I can tell Clay You're happy for us?" That didn't come out the way she thought it would.

Harm shivered at the sound of his name on her lips and knowing what all that entailed. It was clear to all that he didn't like the idea that she and the spy that nearly killed her were together. "As I said, I believe that You're the best and only person to make the right decisions for you." He swallowed hard. "If you have chosen Webb," he couched. "I can accept that." It was the first time he said it out loud, but it actually sounded like he meant it.

"I don't believe this is you saying this."

"Pretty progressive, aren't I?" He laughed quickly and then got serious. "But if I want to remain in your life, I need to respect your choices," he waited until she looked up at him. "And I do want to remain in your life, Sarah."

She didn't know how to respond. She had to stop this flow of open honesty. "Mattie brought all this on?" she asked.

"Mattie, a lot of time by myself and …" He said under his breath. "A fortune cookie."

"What?"

"Doesn't matter," he smiled at her. "It's mostly Mattie. Trying to teach a fifteen year old the difference between right and wrong is a challenge. It's like holding up a mirror. Nothing gets by her."

"'Do as I say not as I do' doesn't fly with her."

"Won't even get you off the ground," he acknowledged.

She watched him for a moment not sure how to proceed. She finally stood up and let out a deep breath that she had been holding. "Well, I certainly got more than I bargained for coming down here tonight."

"Did I say too much?"

She shook her head. "No, not at all. If anyone heard you, they wouldn't believe it."

"Well …" he cocked his head. "Time for a new leaf."

"New leaf – hell, it's a whole new tree."

He laughed.

She continued. "I need to go," she turned away and then turned back. "Thank you."

"For what?" he stood and walked toward the door.

"For being so open with me," she smiled. "For being my friend."

"First, last and always, Sarah MacKenzie," he nodded. "You can take that to the bank."

"Same here," she confirmed. "How late are you staying?" she asked trying to figure a way out of there.

"Hour or so. Mattie won't be home until 2200."

"Ok," she smiled weakly. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Right. Night."

She nodded and walked slowly down the hall.

Harm watched after her until she was out of sight. When he was sure she was gone, his whole body sunk. Every muscle un-tensed and he slumped into the chair she was just in. He dropped his face into his hands and wiped his eyes. The conversation was probably one of the hardest things he ever had to do. He was exhausted. He meant what he said – or was trying very hard to mean it, but he wanted to say so much more. Did he say too much? Did he say too little? Now that that was over – it would be playing over and over in his head like a broken record and he would think of the hundred or so other things he wanted to say but didn't and beating himself up over the things he said that he shouldn't have. How do you let someone go, hoping that they will not leave? Well the fact that he never had her in the first place made this move inevitable.

He got up and tried to go back to work.

0623 ZULU – Wednesday, March 31, 2004

MacKenzie Residence

Georgetown, VA

Mac wasn't sleeping. She was staring at the ceiling her mind wandering over a thousand different topics, but mostly over her conversation with Harm. She hadn't had a chance to process it all. When she got home, Webb was there, waiting for her. He wasn't drunk but he had had a few drinks. He was feeling very amorous. Mac would have preferred to be alone, but he was too hard to dismiss when he had been drinking.

So there she was at one o'clock in the morning berating her self for doing something that she didn't want to do. What had Harm said about peer pressure compelling women to have sex when they really didn't want to? Guess that didn't stop at adulthood. She tried to convince herself that it was different for her. Now that she was in a relationship, it was about give and take and compromise. But again, Mac felt like the only one giving and making compromises. She dismissed the thoughts as just being tired – over tired.

Her mind wandered back to Harm's words. This time it was about another conversation that they had, the one on the admiral's porch. He had said other things to her that night – probably more true to his opinion than what he said to her earlier. He accused her of going with any man that shows a little interest. Was that true? Had she ever been with anyone that didn't pursue her? It was hard to know what the motivation was with Chris; everything was drenched in alcohol. Mic pursued her relentlessly, so did Dalton and even Farrow to a point. But wasn't it normal for the man to pursue the woman? Isn't that the expectation of society? Harm was the only man she met that showed any interest in her that didn't pursue her – well pursue her in the way a normal man would.

Webb mumbled in his sleep and it annoyed her. She was probably disturbing him. If she were ALONE … She slipped out of bed, pulled on some sweats and went to the living room to be find the solitude she wanted.

She thought back to Mic and her time with him. Often she would get up from their bed too. Maybe it was just her. She did love Mic, didn't she? Love him enough to marry him? He was persistent enough. And he said he loved her – over and over again and she returned the sentiment. One question had always nagged at her; he asked her one night if she loved him because he loved her. She denied it at the time, but was that true? It was very hard to resist a man so verbal about his feelings, so willing to give up everything just to be with her. But, maybe he was right. What did they truly have? They had had a couple of dates before he went back to Australia, but she wasn't serious about him. After Sydney, she was all of a sudden in a long distance relationship with him, then without warning he showed up on her doorstep bag and baggage, and then they were engaged and then they weren't. She couldn't even remember making the choice – heck making any choices. Where exactly did it all start?

It started long before Sydney, but that was the crossroads. It really wasn't like she had two men to choose from, but in hindsight that is what it looked like. She approached Harm, he said no, Mic approached her, and she didn't say no. It was as simple as that. What if Harm hadn't rejected her that night? Did he really reject her? No, but Mic was offering so much more than Harm ever had. Would he have? Would Harm have ever stepped up to the plate? It's impossible to know. She didn't choose Mic over Harm then, it was a friendship ring. If Harm were interested, he could have made his feelings known. Or could he have? Now – with the benefit of hindsight – she was sure Harm saw her wearing the ring – right or left hand – was a decision. How differently things might have turned out if she hadn't. Maybe she and Harm could have eased into a relationship. Maybe Mic would have allowed her to fall in love with him – slowly. Mic gave up his career and his country for her – how could she not love him back? But as it was, Mic wanted it all. Was that Mac's choice? She had to own it was. She chose not to send Mic home. She chose not to be alone. She chose to love Mic. And she chose to let her feelings for Harm get in the way of her relationship with Mic. Yes, those were all her choices. Were these the same decisions that Harm was speaking about 'respecting' and 'supporting'? She had to laugh. "I don't think so," she said softly to herself.

She got up and got some water. She wanted to be alone in her house. She wanted take a bath and watch a movie on late night TV. But Clay hated that kind of noise, particularly in the middle of the night. She went to the window and watched the wind blowing through the trees.

Harmon Rabb. What a piece of work he was. A better friend she could never hope to find, but there was so much other crap between them – good and bad. Could they ever really be the friends they were? She still believed – no matter what leaf he turned over – that they weren't destined to be … mated. But a friendship was a possibility. Or not. Wouldn't other relationships interfere and alter how they dealt with each other? More than likely. And as much as Harm claimed that he would support her 'choice' of Clay – or anyone else, she knew that he really didn't mean it – but maybe he did. So did that mean his other feelings for her were gone? She purposely avoided asking him how he felt about her. In the past it had netted her nothing, but during their last conversation, she probably would have gotten more than she asked for. What about her own feelings for him? She hadn't thought much about them in quite a while – since Paraguay, well since actually the hearing for Mattie's custody. She believed what she said – he is the type of man that she would want to raise children with. She laughed at her self – the TYPE of man, but not THE man.

Why not? In the two years between Mic and Paraguay, they had found their friendship again. Again, they could have eased into a relationship – and it looked like it was heading that way. The night she told him about the mission, he started to approach her. She cut him off at the knees and tossed it back in his face. As she thought about it now, it wasn't true that Harm only showed interest in her when she had one foot out the door. The fact was, she had only opened the door once for him, and when he hesitated she slammed it shut and kept it locked. That was also her choice. Her decision. Funny – after all that time she was blaming Harm. Thinking that he was the one who couldn't commit, when in reality it was she. Or maybe it was just they – as a couple that didn't work.

It didn't matter anymore. Paraguay and Sadik happened. Mac lost and found more than she ever thought possible. She would never be the same again. Oh she would learn to live with it – with what happened, with what she did. Harm and she would be friends – but maybe not best friends. And she now had Clay. Clay was there to help her through it – or at least lived through it with her from beginning to end.

She thought about Clay – the man passed out in her bed – and what he brought to her life. She had never really thought of him as a lover or a person to build a life with before. He was a spy, a spook, someone who would be gone for weeks on end with no communication and would show up out of nowhere. It was exotic, exciting, romantic – in a spy novel sort of way. He wasn't like Mic. He didn't gush all over her. He respected her as a marine and a woman almost to a fault. With the exception of taking the brunt of Sadik's torture, he never hesitated to put her life on the line. He trusted in her abilities. He treated her as she wanted to be treated, not like some damsel in distress. He didn't need to be with her 24/7. He didn't demand all her time and attention. And she liked that.

They rarely talked about work – his or hers – because they came at it with two different agendas. There was no question that he did things in his line of work that Mac would never want to know about. He had to compromise his morals. Similar to what she had to do with Sadik – but she didn't like it and really didn't want to get used to it. She was Marine trained: pride, honor, integrity, duty … these weren't the credos of the CIA. In the grand scheme of life, there was a need for both kinds – especially with all the turmoil that was going on in the world – but could these two make a life together?

Clay had made some innuendos about them living together, an off the cuff comment about what their kids would look like, something about growing old together – but he never really made those intentions clear. Mac did want to marry someday – soon. She did want to have children. Was Clay really the man to build that kind of life with? Did he measure up to the kind of man she envisioned marrying? The answer to that was a decided: no. But did she love him enough to over look those failings?

"Sarah?" Clay called from the bedroom.

"Out here," she called back. She hadn't realized it but it was almost dawn.

Clay stumbled out of the bedroom. "Water – aspirin," he said holding his head looking like the night after a frat party. Clay was doing more than drinking, he had been taking some very strong sleeping pills, but they still only lasted for about four to six hours.

"Sit down, I'll get it," she got up.

"Coffee," he called after her.

She came back in moments with a glass of water and a bottle of aspirin. Clay tried to open the bottle but couldn't do it. Without a word she took it from him, opened it and portioned two pills into her hand and gave them to him. He motioned for two more. He swallowed them and drained the glass.

"Thanks baby," he croaked. "Coffee?"

"It will be a minute," she resumed her seat on the coach.

"When did you get up?" he yawned and wiped his hands across his face trying to get is eyes to focus.

"A while ago."

"You OK?" he looked at her for the first time since he got up. "Dreams?"

"No. Didn't sleep enough to have dreams."

"You really need to take what I'm taking; it'll put a rhino down."

"No, thanks."

"Come on, Mac," he craned his neck. "You need your rest. It's not like You're going to get addicted, or anything."

The only thing that Clay did that Mac just couldn't abide was ignore her alcoholism. He would always ask her if she wanted a drink or a glass of wine and assumed that one wouldn't be an issue. She had to be on her guard with him and that made her very uncomfortable. "I missed my run last night, that's all," she shook her head.

He got up and joined her on the couch. "Didn't I give you enough of a work out?" he asked trying to kiss her.

She turned her face away. "Clay – don't."

"What?"

She wanted to tell him how unattractive he was in the morning. How a hangover from either drugs or alcohol wasn't something she wanted to get used to. How being coerced into bed by a man who smelled of scotch and slurred his protestations of love wasn't what she had in mind when she got into a relationship with him. "Just don't."

"You didn't say that last night."

"Maybe I should have." She actually had but gave up.

"I see," he leaned back. "What is going on, Sarah?"

"Nothing," she got up to get the coffee. "I'm just tired."

Clay shook his head and waited for the fight. To be prepared he retrieved his clothes from the bedroom and got dressed.

In the weeks since she killed Sadik and they started sleeping together, they hadn't had much quality time to spend together to talk. That was what the weekend away was supposed to make up for. He had been away a lot and working a lot of nights. The time they did spend was intense and passionate. The events of the night previous weren't new to the changed relationship. He often would come over late, they would go to bed and make love (it was more like sex), talk briefly but seriously before they fell asleep and he would get up in the morning and go – usually before she was awake. That morning she was up. Their relationship had gone from casual dating with an occasional kiss good night to very intensely sexual with not really much transition between. It seemed that before she invited him into her bed, he couldn't find time for her and after – he found enough to 'stop by' at least three of four times a week.

Mac understood – rather she tried to understand. He was busy. She was busy. They were busy people. It's hard to find time to spend together when each worked such odd hours. She told herself that she loved him and that this was only temporary, but she didn't truly believe it.

She came back with the coffee but didn't sit down. "Will I see you before Thursday night?" she asked like a needy girlfriend. She hated it when she sounded like that.

"Thursday?" he was confused.

"We are flying to Vermont? Skiing? You, me and four uninterrupted days together?"

His faced washed with regret. "About that."

"What now?"

"I have to go out of the country. I won't be back until Saturday – late."

She looked away.

"But look, I tell you what. You go and I will meet you there."

She shook her head. "Clay – no."

"I'm sorry. I really am. It came up last night – spur of the moment thing. I'm actually leaving in…" He checked his watch. "Three hours."

"I understand."

"Do you?'

"I do," she looked back at him and put a fake smile on her face. "I really do," she actually did, but his total lack of concern for her feelings about the matter pissed her off.

He pulled her down next to him. "I have been thinking."

At that moment, she didn't believe that he thought about her at all except at night. But she was just 'in a mood.'

"Seriously. We would get to spend a lot more time together if we worked together."

"Meaning what?"

"Well – I have never worked with a partner, but -- ."

"No."

"You haven't even thought about it. I could put in a -."

"No," she looked at him amazed that he would bring up such an idea. "I can't believe you would ask me that."

"Sarah, you're a natural. You have saved my butt more than twice. With your language skills and training …"

She got up and moved away from him. "Stop it, Clay."

"I think you should think about it. You aren't going any where at JAG, why not switch tracks?"

"Clay – don't miss your plane."

"Sarah, honey …" He got up and followed her to where she was standing. "Come on, we would be a hell of a team."

She resisted his embrace. "You haven't been paying attention to me at all have you? You just don't listen. Or is it that you just don't care to see anything beyond your own needs."

"I thought about your needs last night," he again tried to pull her to him and kiss her.

"Get off me Webb," she shoved him away. "Have you changed or did I just never really know who you were?"

"OK, Ok ... I guess I brought that subject up too soon," he checked his watch again. "I'm sorry, baby, but I really have to go."

"Go," she hated to be called 'baby' and she had told him that a number of times.

"I'm sorry about this weekend," he pulled the ticket out of his pocket. "Go with someone else," he dropped it on the coffee table. "You know, like Harriet – make it a girls' weekend. On me. The room is paid for."

"Thanks," she was livid and getting angrier. She just wanted him gone.

"I'll call you."

"Sure."

He kissed her cheek and shook his head. "Sarah," he waited for her to look at him. "Sarah."

"What?"

"I love you."

"Have a safe trip."

He nodded and left.

She immediately went in to take a shower. She caught her reflection in the mirror. She had never seen herself looking so angry. The epitome of the expression 'fit to be tied.' As the steam filled the room and her reflection started to haze over she laughed at her self. "You have no one to blame but yourself, MacKenzie. This was your choice. Instincts … 100 percent …" she grumbled.

1210 ZULU – Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Rabb Residence

North of Union Station

Harm was making breakfast – he didn't look happy.

Mattie poked her head in. "Morning Harm. Later Harm. Gotta go."

"No, you don't!" He bellowed before she had a chance to close the door.

"Yes, I do. Late for school."

"And You're going to be a little bit later," he fixed her with a withering stare. "We need to have a discussion."

She came in and closed the door behind her. "A discussion about what?"

"About what a curfew means."

"Harm, come on," she whined. "I was a little late."

"You were more than an hour and a half late."

"I was in bed at – what like – 11:30?"

"Closer to midnight," he corrected.

"It might have been – but I'm young I don't need as much sleep as an old guy like you," she tried to laugh it off.

"Mattie, when we agreed that you would be home at 10 o'clock on a school night – I expected that we both knew what that meant."

"I was home – we were outside talking – JUST TALKING."

"I know where you were and I know what you were doing – that is the only reason the police weren't called."

"So if it bothered you so much, why didn't you come down and get me – or hell, call my cell phone?"

"Because I expected you to show better judgment."

"Fine. I'm sorry. It won't happen again," she was annoyed. "Can I go?"

"You're grounded for two weeks."

"What? You can't do that?"

"I can and I have."

"Since when did you become judge, jury and executioner?"

"Since you agreed to let me be your guardian," he put two plates down on the table and motioned for her to sit and eat.

She sat, but made no attempt to eat. "TWO WEEKS?"

"No phone, no internet - except for home work - and no TV. You will be in your room immediately after school and you will not leave."

"Jesus Christ – I was only talking!" She pleaded.

"Language."

"Who pissed in your Cheerios this morning?"

"Mattie!" He shook his head. "I have known sailors who would cringe to hear the way you talk."

"What are you talking about – you're a sailor and you cringe when I talk."

"Mattie – enough."

"I don't need you to lay down the law with me, commander."

"I'm afraid you do."

"I'm fifteen years old and was taking care of myself just fine until you came along."

"Were you?"

"I was."

"Mattie You're a kid. You should act like a kid for as long as you can – pretty soon, you won't have the luxury."

"You aren't going to pull that old 'while You're living under my roof' crap are you?"

"No," Harm dropped his fork the plate. He was so frustrated he could scream. "Do you want to know why I'm so upset?"

"Enlighten me."

"Because I thought we had trust. And you abused that trust."

Mattie rolled her eyes and looked away.

"We set down the rules Mattie. You and I together came up with the rules. Now I get to enforce them and you get to follow them. But don't for one minute think that this is some arbitrary – thing on my part."

She didn't respond.

"If I can't trust you to come home when you say you will, how am I supposed to trust you about anything else?"

"You can trust me," she looked back at him.

"Evidence to the contrary," he stated. "Mattie, You're a very smart kid. But You're still a kid."

"You were traipsing through the jungles of Viet Nam when you were my age," she tossed back at him.

"You aren't me, and I'll tell you a little secret – I had no business being there," he got very serious. "I lost more than I found on that trip and I don't want you to make the same mistake."

"What do you mean?"

"This isn't about me. This is about you. About you testing my limits and checking your boundaries. I understand that. This morning you discovered that I mean what I say and I say what I mean," he exhaled. "You should have known that already."

Mattie relented. She was actually pushing her limits with Harm – not consciously of course, but the way a kid tests her parents. "I did," she said softly. "I did know that."

"So we understand each other?"

"Yes."

"Good. Eat your breakfast – now that it's ice cold."

She laughed and picked up her fork. "Do I have to?"

He looked up at her and she stuffed a fork full of cold scrambled eggs into her mouth.

"Did you have a nice time last night?" he asked after a stiff moment of silence.

"Yeah, it was fun. Conrad is a nice guy."

"Good."

"Not sure his company was worth two weeks of solitary confinement," she laughed.

"Well, you will have plenty of time to think about it."

"So no room for movement on the sentence, your honor?" she asked sweetly.

He leaned back in his chair. "What do you think would be a more appropriate sentence?"

"Five days – no phone, no TV, and no going out on school nights."

"For how long?" he was interested.

"As long as school is in session."

"Ok," he agreed.

"Ok?"

"I think that is more than reasonable."

"I just offered too much, didn't I?"

"Pretty much," he smiled at her.

"Damn."

"Mattie please – it's so unattractive to see a beautiful young woman with a mouth like fish monger."

"OK. I'll try."

"Good."

She finally noticed that he looked really tired. "Were you up all night stewing about this?"

It was nice to know that she could read him. "I had a few sleepless hours last night, but not all about you."

"What else? Big case?"

He didn't really want to talk to her about it, but some how he felt that he should. "Mac and I talked last night."

"Has she dumped that loser yet?"

Harm shook his head. "I don't think that is going to happen."

"So what did you two talk about?"

"All the stuff that you and I talked about," he shrugged.

"You told her that you trust her to make her own choices?"

"I did."

"So if she stayed out an hour and a half past curfew…" Mattie smiled.

Harm couldn't help himself. He smiled too.

"What did she say?" Mattie continued.

He exhaled. "Nothing really, I don't think she believed me."

"She will – in time."

"Time," he shook his head. "Too much time."

"Look Harm, you could go the direct approach and just tell her what you want."

"Not while she is with Webb. I can't take the chance of ruining another relationship for her."

"If she and the spook are rock solid, there is nothing you can do to shake it."

"Mattie – no. They may or may not be rock solid – as you say – but that may have nothing to do with her feelings for me – if she has any left at all."

"Of course she has feelings for you – look what she did for us?"

"Yeah. I know it looks that simple to you. But it's not. She has dealt with quite a bit this last year, and I didn't make it any easier for her," he looked away. "I need to be the friend she has been to me. I owe her that much."

"That is ridiculous – You're going to sacrifice your feelings to protect hers."

"I'm going to give her what she will accept from me, and ask nothing more."

"And what?"

"And move on with my life," he nodded to her. "Finish your breakfast. I'll drive you to school."

1603 ZULU – Wednesday, March 31, 2004

JAG Headquarters

Falls Church, VA

Harm was heating his leftovers in the microwave. He was planning lunch at his desk. He heard Mac and Harriet outside the door.

"Thank you ma'am, but we can't this weekend. Bud is working."

"It was just a thought, Harriet."

"Thanks for thinking of us, ma'am."

Harm was watching the door when Mac walked in.

"Hey," she was shocked to see him there.

"Hey, yourself."

"Tupperware lunch?"

"Yeah – lasagna from five nights ago," he confirmed.

"Didn't you have that yesterday?"

"And Monday and Sunday night."

"Mattie not a big fan of vegetarian lasagna?"

"Not much," he pulled it out, poke it with a fork and put it back in for another minute. "What is your culinary delicacy today?"

"A ham sandwich," she opened her bag and looked at the sandwich she made that morning. It looked less than appetizing.

"Yummy," he joked.

She tossed it into the garbage. "Tell you what – how about we go to the Noodle house – my treat."

The microwave dinged. He pulled his lasagna out. "What do I do with this?"

"Do you really want me to tell you?"

He smiled and dumped it in the garbage. "Let's go."

Thai Noodle House – fifteen minutes later

"So Harm tell me – what did you think about working for the CIA?"

He nearly choked. "What?"

"Come on, you worked for the CIA for four or five months, what was it like?"

"The fact that they fired me for saving the lives of a number of women and children should tell you what I thought about it."

"That isn't why they fired you."

He nodded. "No, I suppose it wasn't. But that incident alone should tell you why the CIA and I were never meant to be."

"You do things in the open and they --."

"Don't," he looked at her. "Thinking of switching career tracks?"

"Maybe."

"I'm sure you would get a hell of a recommendation from … a number of people."

"You think I should look into it?"

"No," he said too quickly.

She had to smile. "Why?"

He had to choose his words very carefully and make sure that she understood that his reason for not recommending that course wasn't purely because of his feelings for her. "Well, to be honest – and I don't want you to read too much into this – but you and I are cut from a different cloth than the average CIA agent."

"Really?" she leaned back. "You don't think I could cut it?"

"I didn't say that. I think you can do whatever you set your mind to. But again – You're a marine – you have been trained to meet situations head on. Skirting around dark alleys, going under cover, gaining people confidences so you can betray them, playing mind games with the good guys as well as the bad guys – that isn't me and I don't believe it's you."

She nodded for a moment. "You're right, of course."

"What got you thinking about it?"

"Something Webb said this morning," she didn't mean to add 'this morning', but it sort of fell out.

"Oh." It still stung to know how close they were – but he told her he would support her decisions.

"It's just sometimes – on days like today – where I have a mountain of paper work with no end in sight – I have to think that there is something better or at least different – more meaningful."

"I can understand that – got my own mountain to scale this weekend."

"Looks like I will too," she agreed.

"Yeah, but your mountain will have snow on it."

She shook her head. "Nope – trip got canceled. Duty called. Clay had to leave town."

"I'm sorry to hear that Mac," he said with as much sincerity he could muster.

She looked at him and challenged. "Are you?"

He smiled broadly. "I actually am."

She returned the smile. "This is killing you, isn't it?" she goaded him.

"You ought to know."

"Excuse me?"

"I can imagine it's like breaking any bad habit… One step at a time," he added.

"Do you have a support group?"

"Yeah – another AA – meets on Saturdays."

"AA? " she laughed. "Don't tell me, I have a good enough imagination."

He laughed with her.

"Look," she said after a moment. "The tickets and the room at paid for. Why don't you take the trip to Vermont."

"What?" she wasn't seriously suggesting that they go together.

"You and Mattie, I mean."

He shook his head, "That is very generous of you, but --."

"Not me, Clay paid for the whole thing," she nodded. "Come on, you two need a weekend of fun."

"I can't do it this weekend. I have opening arguments on Friday and the admiral just dumped another case on my lap that I will be investigating all weekend."

"Which one?"

"The Jackson case. Petty Office accused of stealing."

"That is minor. I can do it for you."

"Close to a million dollars of the government's money – don't think they think it's a misdemeanor."

"Guess not. But I can still do it."

"Don't think the admiral wants more work on your plate," he thought for a moment. "But…"

"But what?"

"You could go with Mattie."

She looked nervous at the suggestion.

"She is grounded so she can't watch TV or use the phone, but I would let her go under your watch."

"You're kidding right?"

"No, not at all," he shrugged. "Not quite the romantic weekend you had planned, but Mattie is good company. She would make you laugh."

"Harm, we barely know each other."

"It would be a perfect way to fix that," he nodded again. "Yeah, I want you two to be friends, this could be good."

"You aren't worried that she and I would talk about you all weekend?"

He actually hadn't thought about that and it did make him nervous. "I'm sure you two can find more interesting topics to discuss than me. You actually have some things in common."

"More than alcoholic fathers and absent mothers?"

"Yes," he was now thinking that it was a bad idea. "You know what, never mind. It was just a suggestion," he waved it away. "Why don't you meet Chloe up there?"

"She is with her father in Japan this semester."

"Oh. Too bad."

They ate in silence for a moment.

"Do you really think Mattie would want to go?" Mac asked.

"I don't know. You could ask her – but don't do it on my account. I just thought you could use a weekend away. Like I said Mattie is good company. She has a way about her that helps – me anyway – remember what is important."

Mac thought for a moment and shook her head. "Nah, I will probably just stay home, get a massage – putter around the house."

"Whatever you think is best."

0130 ZULU – Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Rabb Residence

North of Union Station

Mac tentatively knocked on Harm's door. He answered it at the second knock.

"Mac," he stepped back to let her in. "How'd it go?"

Mac had decided to talk to Mattie about the trip to Vermont. He didn't ask what changed her mind, and he didn't interfere. He just let Mac go talk to Mattie.

She nodded. "She is a very special kid."

"I think so."

"She was a little tentative at first but after we talked for a while she warmed up to the idea.

"Good, very good," he looked at her. "Are you still OK with this? I mean taking a fifteen year old skiing isn't the same as a weekend away."

"I know, and you know what? I think it will be more fun," she smiled. "We have made some plans. Some GIRL plans."

"Oh, I see – is that your way of telling me not to crash the party?"

"Were you thinking about it?"

"No, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't have this weekend."

"I would prefer you didn't."

He looked a little hurt, like she was suggesting that it would be bad for her relationship with Webb. "Ok."

"Stop thinking what You're thinking – I just think if Mattie and are going to be friends, it shouldn't be about you."

"Ok," he nodded. "I understand. Tell me when and where you need her and what she needs to pack, and she'll be ready."

"You're such a good dad," she smiled at him. She started to reach for the door and turned back to him with a very serious look.

"What?"

She spoke slowly. "There are times, Harm, when you know me better than I know myself," she said fighting the tears in her voice.

"Why cause I'm dumping my kid on you for the weekend?" he tried to keep it light.

She smiled and nodded. "Yeah, cause of that. I think it was just what the doctor ordered."

He didn't say anything. Whatever he would have said would have been too much or too little.

She added. "I didn't tell you this the other night, but I meant to. I want to remain in your life, too."

He couldn't help himself. She looked so vulnerable and sad. He pulled her into an embrace that she returned gratefully. Three words kept running around his head like a loop but he remained silent.