Title: Switching Tracks

Chapter Eight

By: LizD

Spoilers: Alternate Ending to Season Nine – Spoilers Through 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 – Part Eight

This Landing is TOO SOFT

"We had a deal, commander," Mac said before he had a chance to get in the car. "You aren't going to welch on a promise, are you?"

"I haven't yet," he said after a moment. "Marry me."

"Yes," she smiled broadly.

"Tonight?" he asked.

"Right now," she confirmed.

"Good."

"What about the ICC?"

"We'll figure it out," he flashed his grin.

"I love you," her eyes were wet with joy.

"I love you," he stepped toward her and they kissed.

"So what was so hard about that?" she asked.

"At the moment, I can't think of a thing."

They fold into an embrace, then another kiss … then hand in hand they walked off into the sunset … well actually the sun has already set … but let's assume a sunset … and lived happily ever after.

This Landing is TOO Hard

"We had a deal, commander," Mac said before he had a chance to get in the car. "You aren't going to welch on a promise, are you?"

"It would be a first … but I am done being yanked around by you, colonel."

"HA," she spit back at him. "If there is any yanking being done, you are the yanker and I am the yankee."

"I don't know why I ever thought it could work between us," he picked up his keys.

"I never did."

"Good – we finally agree on something," he climbed into his car. "Good bye Mac."

"Good riddance, Harm."

Harm drove off into the night and Mac felt lighter than she had in years.

This Landing Feels About Right … Considering

2256 EST – Saturday, May 22, 2004

Outside McMurphy's Tavern

"Don't go." Sarah MacKenzie said one more time.

"Give me a reason," Harm heard himself say.

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

He nodded sadly. "That's what I thought," he turned again to climb into his car.

"Don't go." The words came as clear as a bell with the force of an order.

"Mac," he shook his head and looked away. It was not enough.

"We had a deal, commander," she said before he had a chance to get in. "You aren't going to welch on a promise, are you?"

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

What had gotten into Mac? It was so unlike her to be so forward, so bold. What was she doing? Asking him not to go, baiting him with the baby deal? What was going on in her mind? What had changed for her?

The answer was quite a bit. She had gone home from Harm's apartment the night prior and paced.

Fact: Harm was leaving.

Fact: She didn't want to lose him in her life.

Fact: If she let him leave with the way things were between them, they would never find their way back to anything resembling a friendship, much less anything else.

Well that last one was more of an opinion, but a well-founded opinion based on Mac's experience.

Why was Mac so wound up about it? Why did she care? Yeah, Harm had been a good friend, a trusted colleague and a worthy adversary for years. She had gotten used to him and all his facets. He was familiar. But he had also been a thorn in her side; a snide, mean-spirited (at times), arrogant man who would just as soon make her the butt of a joke as take her to dinner. He was the epitome of an oxymoron – well some kind of moron.

"Who is Harmon Rabb to you?" Dr. Madden's question started running through her head,

She got so worked up pacing her apartment; she had to run. She ran / walked / jogged for hours. She wore herself out – so much so that her normal self-defensive logic reflex had shut down. Then her mind started allowing all kinds of thoughts to enter, thoughts she normally guarded against. It was full of the eight years of Harmon Rabb.

"Who is Harmon Rabb to you, Mac?" she finally asked herself.

"He is my … my friend," she answered.

"What else?"

"He is ... my colleague ... my motivation … my adversary ... my companion ... my comrade ... my hero ... my advisor ... my ally ... my … my … my... my would-be-lover ... the object my desire."

Really? Object of desire, eh? Motivation?

He was her motivation and that motivation was fueled by her desire. Most of the actions she took over the past several years were in some way wrapped up with her feelings for Harm from the thousand or so work related issues to the men in her life:

Mic Brumby: Would she have accepted his ring and pursued a relationship to the edge of marriage if Harm had not turned her down? What if Mac had never approached Harm? What if she never offered and he never refused, how would that have changed what happen with Mic? Would Mac have been so willing to accept him, if she were not stinging from that blow to her ego? What if she still held out hope that Harm would turn his feelings toward her, how would that have changed her reaction to Mic?

Clayton Webb: Why did she turn to Clay? The honest to God answer was that Harm had again removed himself from the game and she needed someone to keep her connected to the world after that horrific experience. Their bickering in Paraguay was wretched and hurtful. She had long since owned her share (probably more than her share) of that mess, but the worse part was when they got back to the real world and Harm 'disappeared.' Mac needed time to process everything that had happened to her from Clay's protest of love and protection to Harm's sacrifice and heroism. She needed time and for the first time since they had known each other, Harm was not there to give it to her. For the first time she told him to go, and he left. Why did he do that?

"Who is Harmon Rabb to you, Mac?"

That was the wrong question; the right question was "who do you want Harmon Rabb to be to you?"

That Saturday night Mac made up her mind. She could not let him remove himself from her life again. She needed him. She wanted him. She loved him. She would do whatever it took … including something like call in the promise made to each other in better times.

"We had a deal, commander," she said before he had a chance to get in. "You aren't going to welch on a promise, are you?"

Harm turned back to Mac, the keys fell from his hand. Their eyes locked. His expression was unreadable; hers was intent.

Harm broke eye contact first and reached down to retrieve his keys.

"Did you hear me?" she asked since her voice was under her command again.

"I heard you, colonel – I just can't believe you would stoop so low."

"Harm, I am not -."

"You play to my reputation, my honor, my integrity," he stated. "Do you really think so little of me?"

"Think so little!" She was shocked. She had just reminded him that they promised to have a baby together. How is that 'thinking little'? "Do you know what I am talking about?" she continued. "What promise I am referring to?"

"I know exactly what you are talking about, Mac," he shook his head. "And if you think that I would follow though with that now – you're out of your mind."

"But -," she protested.

"Good luck, commander." Tiner called from across the parking lot.

"Thank you, Tiner," he called back. "Good luck to you, too," Harm looked back at Mac. He could tell that she was edgy and nervous in spite of the fact that she remained at a near attention. "You disappoint me, Mac."

"I don't understand," her voice cracked; her marine resolve had been broken.

He shook his head. "Maybe we do need to talk – before I go – there are some things you need to know … to understand."

"Harm?"

"With me colonel," he ordered as he climbed into the car.

Mac stood motionless; she had no idea what she was supposed to do.

"Mac, get in the car," he ordered again.

She moved slowly to the other side of the car and got in. Her mind was revving at 9000 rpms. Did she push too hard? Had she played the highest trump card too soon? Had she blown her last chance?

2315 EST – Saturday, May 22, 2004

Rabb Residence

North of Union Station

Harm let Mac precede him into his apartment. Three suitcases stood ready and waiting to go by the door; sheets covered the furniture. He pulled the one off the couch and motioned for her to sit down. She did as she was instructed to do.

The car ride home was silent, each in their own thoughts, in their own heads, dealing with their own agendas. Soon – very soon, these agendas would be addressed – or at least some of them.

Harm sat on the coffee table in front of her. It took him another long moment to find the words he was looking for.

With a deep breath and a too-late-to-turn-back-now attitude, he spoke. "Here is how I see it, Mac," he said gently. "You want things to stay the same … I need things to change."

She looked down. He was right; or at least close to right. But wouldn't a baby change things?

Harm continued. "You want to keep me at a safe distance, not too close, not too far away."

She did not attempt to argue; she would hear him out.

"I can't do that anymore," he gave a sad smile. "I can't stay at arm's length any more."

"So you need to move to the other side of the world?" she asked.

"Location doesn't change who we are, Mac. What we are – to each other." Again that argument from Sydney, however this time Mac had the feeling that the 'who' and 'what' were much more meaningful.

"You are talking about emotional distance," she stated.

"Yeah, I suppose," he acknowledged not trying to define it. "The reason we never got any closer was because of you."

"Me?"

"You. It has been your call since Brumby left."

"Harm, that's not fair," she shook her head.

"Mac, this is how I see it," he stopped her. "You can agree or disagree, but please … let me say what I have to say."

She nodded.

"In light of everything we have been through this past year, bringing up the baby deal … us having a baby … that was low Mac, especially for you."

She looked down.

He pulled her chin back up so she would look him in the eyes. "First of all bringing it up when I have less than six hours before I leave … talk about waiting until one foot was out the door."

She nodded. She knew it was a desperate act.

"If we did … make that deal … you would have locked us – and the baby – into to that arm's length for life."

"I didn't think …"

"No, that was clear," he said quickly. "So I won't hold it against you, but for the sake of anything we ever were to each other ... our friendship –."

"Harm, I don't want you to go," she said softly. "I don't want us to end like this."

"Mac, you have to understand … I can't stay … I can't be this close to you …Close enough to touch you…To look in your eyes … and …and be kept so far away … so out of reach … not anymore … I can't." He leaned toward her and his voice got very soft and very gentle. "I want so much more … to be so much closer … to be near you … next to you … with you … to love you … to make love with you … to spend my life with you … to have a houseful of kids, if that is what you want," he's eyes were tearing up.

Her breath caught in her throat and her heart started to pound.

"How can you expect me … Sarah … how can you ask me to accept so much less than I am willing to give?"

She leaned into him expecting him to kiss her.

He pulled her into an embrace. He could not kiss her. "I can't, Mac," he whispered, his voice starting to crack.

Mac felt his pain, his frustration. She almost understood why he needed to go, and why he never approached her before. He was as afraid as she was of being refused. After a moment, she pulled away from him, got up and moved away. He took her seat on the couch and waited for her to speak.

"How long have you felt this way?" she asked calmly.

He laughed a little. "Who knows? … A long time."

"Why didn't you say anything to me?" she asked though she knew the answer.

"I thought you knew."

"Not good enough, Harm," she was not about to let him get away with another mealy mouth protestation or a deflection of his responsibility in their mess. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I tried … God knows, I tried," he looked down. "The timing was never right."

"Timing? Is that your defense?"

He looked up at her. "You never seemed to want to hear it."

That was the truth she was looking for. She nodded and averted her eyes.

"Can you blame me?" she asked after a moment.

He shook his head. No, he didn't blame her. There was enough fault and blame to go around.

She added in her defense. "I would have to say that I felt stiff armed by you too."

"Where did you get that?" he leaned back.

"Should I cite the thousand caustic or evasive remarks you gave every time we got close?" she gave him the biggest example. "The entire time we were in Paraguay?"

He nodded; at the moment he didn't remember anything he had said that was caustic or evasive – at least not verbatim, but he would grant her point.

"We are quite a pair, aren't we?" she said.

"Can't seem to get out of our own way," he agreed.

"So what do we do now?"

He paused to consider. "We can't go back to the beginning," he said. "Been there, done that."

They were silent for a while. "Harm, about what I said … about the deal… I'm sorry -."

"Forget it," he waved her off.

"I don't want to forget it," she said. "I mean I don't want to forget that it hurt you … the way I brought it up."

Harm didn't respond.

"I was desperate," she explained. "I didn't know how else to keep you in my life."

"I am SO SORRY you couldn't think of another way." The snide was back in his voice.

She looked at him in disbelief. "You think it is because I don't … because I …" She couldn't find the right words.

"Exactly," he was in full Rabb mode again.

"No. No. Not 'exactly'," she snapped back at him. "You can't possible know what I was thinking or was going to say. I didn't know myself."

"So … tell me Mac," he shot back at her. "Tell me what it is that I don't know … exactly."

"You think that I am not in love with you."

He shrugged like that was obvious.

"You couldn't be more wrong," she stated. "I do love you, Harm. God help me, I do. And I want to be with you."

"But?" he could not stop himself from trying to prove a point.

"But you make it impossible," she snapped.

"Back to my stiff arming … my evasive … caustic and evasive comments?"

"Kind of like that attitude you have right now," she glared back at him.

"Point taken," he stood down.

She was silent for a moment.

"What happened with Webb?" he asked.

"Do you want to gloat?"

"No, I really want to know," he was very earnest.

"We didn't want the same things from the relationship," she answered as truthfully as she could without giving too much information.

"Was it your idea or his?"

"I started the conversation and we agreed."

Harm laughed a little. "Something we rarely do."

She nodded sadly.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked.

She paused for a moment before answering. "It's complicated."

"How complicated?"

"If I really wanted to be honest," She took a deep breath. "I would have to say I didn't tell you because I couldn't take the chance of you turning away from me again." That right there was more truth than she had allowed herself since this last mess with Harm began. She didn't want to appear available to him, and then not have him make a move.

"Did you really think that would happen?" he tried to keep the patronizing tone out of his voice, but he didn't do a very good job.

"Harm, with you nothing is written in stone," she moved to the window and looked out on to the night. She was silent for a long time.

"What are you thinking?" he asked.

"I was actually thinking about something my shrink asked me."

"Your shrink?"

Mac turned to him. "She asked about you. 'Who is Harmon Rabb to you?'" Mac laughed a little as she mocked Dr. Maddens' voice. She turned back to him and smiled. "You were the subject of our last meeting; your ears must have been frying off."

"What was your answer?" Harm asked.

"I didn't give her one," she smiled. "Oh, I said something. I said a lot of something … but I am not sure how much of it made sense and how much of it was motivated by anger."

"You were mad at me?" he was amused.

"Furious," she confirmed.

He took guilty pleasure in knowing that he was able to rile her. "So why didn't you answer her?"

She took a deep breath in and out. "I didn't want to focus on who you were to me rather than who I wanted you to be."

"And who is that?" he prodded.

She spoke slowly and let each role be heard and acknowledged. "My friend … my support … my partner in life … father of my children … the man I would grow old with."

He was blown away … and confused. Nothing that he had been thinking for the past twenty-four, forty-eight hours – heck the past several months, nay years was validated during the conversation. The words were right and the sentiment was real, but something was wrong. She had answered his hopes but not his fears. How could he have been so wrong for so long? If she loved him and he loved her – why weren't they together? Why was it so difficult? How could there have been so many misunderstandings for so long?

"How long have you felt that way?" he asked when he could.

"Honestly?" she asked. "I don't know … I think I only admitted most of that to myself this morning … but the feeling doesn't feel new," she looked over at him. "I have loved you forever," was her final answer.

He looked disappointed, not with what she said but the fact that it was said too late. They were quiet for a long time.

Mac finally broke the silence. "So again I ask, now what do we do?"

He shook his head. Something was not right. How could two people who have known each other for so long, been so wrong about the other? It made no sense; at least not to him. Part of him wanted to take her in his arms and stop all the talking – they apparently didn't know how to communicate verbally; they should try something else. But the larger part – the rational part of him felt that to stop the talking could only lead to more misunderstandings. He needed time to think, they needed time to process.

He stood up and approached her. "We say goodbye – for now."

"What? Goodbye?" she was crushed.

"Mac, I am getting on a plane in less than five hours," he waved toward his luggage to show that he was packed and ready to go.

"You are still going?"

"Of course I am," he stated surprised that he had to. "You knew I would."

Of course she did. "What about us?"

"Us?" he smiled thinking that almost a year ago she had declared that there never would be an 'us' and now she was begging to keep it. "I think we need some time, some distance to sort through all this … it is too hot, too raw right now … we need a lot of talk before we do anything … make any kind of change … maybe we can be honest with each other on the phone or in e-mails."

"Drop the stiff arm because there is an ocean between us?" she helped him explain.

"Some thing like that."

She looked away. "This is not at all how I thought this conversation would go."

He laughed at her. "What did you think; that you would bring up the baby deal and I would change my life to accommodate?"

She realized how silly it sounded. "Well I certainly didn't think we would walk into the sunset and live happily ever after."

"That would have been too easy," he agreed. "And certainly not in our pattern."

"Not at all," she reached out and took his hand. "I will miss you."

"I'll miss you," he smiled. "I'll call."

"I know. But I will miss you," she laughed. "I'll even miss your caustic evasive remarks."

He smiled. "Not going to have a personality transplant Mac," he walked her into the hallway and rang for the elevator.

She turned to face him and words failed her.

His insides were screaming and it was hard for him to maintain control. He couldn't believe he was letting her leave. He couldn't believe he was going to get on a plane that took him more than 3000 miles away from her. He was acting under the orders from his head; every other part of his body was reluctantly obeying.

The elevator arrived. He leaned down and kissed her lightly on the lips – anything more would have been too hard to stop.

He pulled away, but she followed. She was not willing to let him go without something to motivate him to come back. She kissed him with a desire to make him understand … make him feel … make him remember the depths of her feelings for him. He did. He understood, he felt, he would remember, he would be back.

She looked up into his eyes and saw her love returned. It was enough, for the moment. She smiled sadly and stepped into the elevator.

The moment the doors were closed, Harm lost all strength in his legs. He leaned against the wall. His mind was spinning. Should he stay? Should he go? Should he chase after her? He had her. She was there. She was his, if only he had reached out and taken what he wanted – for once. The internal struggle was becoming too much, he was going to need to act. Chase her down? Run away together? To hell with duty and responsibilities. What about his duty and responsibility to himself? To her? Something, he was going to need to do something. There was nothing he could do. He would leave at the appointed time and if with any luck they might be able to figure it out – in time.

He turned to head back into his apartment.

The elevator doors opened again. She was standing there. She was tentative, nervous, insecure. He had done that to her. He had dissolved that marine resolve. In two quick strides he had her in his arms. His mouth was on her and the audible sighs were increasing his desire. She wanted him. She had come back for this – came back for him – came back for them. He swept her up and carried her to his bed – not caring about any thing else – not the past, not the future, not his duty. The only thing on his mind was her – right there, right then, the only two people in the world who existed, who mattered at all, were in his bed. The only agenda on the table was the physical expression of love given and received. Planes that had to be caught, misunderstandings that had to be ironed out, futures to plan – would all have to wait while these two lovers became one.

Later, Mac lay securely in his arms making lazy circles with her fingertips on his chest. He was not sleeping, but his eyes were closed. He was savoring in the closeness and the utter completeness he felt. The view to the past and the hope for the future was morphing and changing with each moment. Words – spoken and unspoken, actions – taken and not taken were all taking on a new meaning in his mind.

"I'm glad you came back," he said softly, probably the first full sentence uttered in hours.

"I had to," she kissed his chest and pulled herself closer to him. "My car is at McMurphy's," she giggled like a woman in love.

He pushed her back on the bed and leaned over her and suggestively said, "That is the only reason you came back?"

"You didn't expect me to walk home at that time of night, did you?"

"I can honestly say right now – I have no idea what to expect from you."

"We surprised each other then?"

"I'll say," he leaned down and kissed her.

She tried to maintain the kiss but he pulled away.

"Sarah, I have to go."

"I know," she pouted. "But not this minute."

"Soon," he tried to make her smile.

"Not that soon," she leaned up and kissed him trying to contain her sly smile.

"Not that soon," he echoed.

0558 EST - Sunday, May 23, 2004

Andrews Air Force Base

Military Transport to Europe

Harm jumped on the plane with literally two minutes to spare. In spite of his lateness and his obvious lack of sleep he seemed in rather a good mood.

"Commander," the admiral nodded to Harm as he strapped himself in. "Nice of you to join us."

"Yes, sir," Harm couldn't take the chance of saying anything more, he felt for sure that he would shout from the roof tops that he GOT THE GIRL – and no one really wanted to hear that kind of information particularly not his commanding officer.

"Didn't see you leave the party last night," the admiral goaded.

"Cut out early, sir," he said. "I had some more packing to do."

"Right." The admiral smiled at him and turned the page of his newspaper. He didn't look up as he asked the next question. "Did the colonel make it home alright?"

OH MY GOD … Harm was caught. How did that happen? "Sir?" Pretending not to hear the question might have worked if it were any other admiral.

"Yes, Colonel Mackenzie? Her car was in the parking lot when I left, but no one had seen her for hours. Did she get to where she was going?"

Harm was thinking quickly. "Yes, sir," Harm could not contain his smile and looking out the port side window did not hide it from the admiral.

The admiral's face broke into a grin that he kept behind the sports. "Very well."

Harm nodded his agreement. Yes, it was very well indeed.

0603 EST

Rabb Residence

North of Union Station

Mac slowly drew to wakefulness. She knew that he was gone, but if she kept her eyes closed she could still pretend he was holding her for just a little longer. She stretched out to his side of the bed and felt the box and the note that he had left for her.

A box? She opened her eyes. It was the Chiapet that Mattie had given him. She could not help but smile.

The note read:

Sarah –

Didn't have the heart to wake you; I was running late enough as it was.

Water my plant for me, would you?

I'll call. I'll write. I'll see you in my dreams. I'll be back.

Love, Harm

PS: Sorry about breakfast – I owe you. Love, H

PPS: I guess I owe you a taxi ride too – left the number and the cash by the phone (don't take that wrong). H

She leaned back on the bed and felt a little disappointed. She wasn't expecting Byron or Wordsworth – but would it have killed him to write the words down?

There was writing on the back of the note that she had not noticed before.

PPSS: I didn't believe it was possible, but you are more beautiful when you sleep. I have been privileged and honored to know you as a friend and colleague. I am the luckiest SOB to know you the way I do this morning. If it had to take us those eight years of misunderstandings to get us to where we are, I wouldn't have traded one minute of it. I love you, Sarah – believe it.

Harm.

She pulled his pillow close to her chest. "I love you too, Harm," she said to the empty room.

Ok kids … there you go. Harm and Mac are on the way. Ya know, they might make it to that sunset after all.

Thanks for reading.

LD