Disclaimer: They don't belong to me.

AN: After Snap, Nat asked so nicely for Crackle and Pop, couldn't do Crackle but thought Cracked might be close enough.

This is set after Paraguay and probably instead of Dining Out. It's all in fun and errors are still mine.

I'm hoping to return to work next Monday, so I'll see if I can do a Pop as well before then.

Mind you, the stories are totally unrelated. And that's enough dribble from me.

XOXOXOXHMXOXOXOXOXO
If he hadn't been warned that she was there, Harm probably would have missed Mac's presence in his apartment altogether. Knowing he wasn't home, Jennifer Coates had called his cell a little before midnight and interrupted his festivities, to tell him that Colonel MacKenzie had let herself into his apartment and seemed very distressed.
Immediately leaving the bar, where he'd been celebrating a friend's birthday, Harm sped all the way home, hoping Mac wouldn't leave before he got there. Concerned about her behaviour in recent days, Harm had begged Mac to talk to him, he'd promised he'd be around and. on the one occasion it seemed she had actually come to him, he'd been across town.
Still, his land speed records to get to her weren't necessary, finding her in exactly the same spot she had sat down in thirty four minutes earlier, on the window seat, her knees clutched to her chest in the darkened room.
Not bothering with the light, Harm made his way to her and stood beside her, taking in the sad and lost look on her face as she stared into the nothingness of the night.
"Mac?" he said quietly, desperately wanting to touch her, not knowing if he should. "Mac?" he repeated when she showed no signs of responding.
Slowly, she looked up and the pain in her eyes overwhelmed him, instantly he was sitting alongside her, Mac locked securely in his arms. Neither spoke, but Mac nestled her head into the crook of his neck and sighed deeply as she let her tears spill over and run down onto his shirt.
For an incalculable length of time, Harm sat there, holding her, caressing her, kissing her head. A few times he tried to get her to talk but each one was met with silence, so he gave up. At sometime around three, with muscles aching from his hold on her, Harm decided to change tactics.

"Mac," he whispered, still holding her to him. "It's very late, and we're both exhausted. I think it's best if we tried to sleep. You can take my bed, okay?" he said, letting go of her and standing up.
To his relief, Mac nodded and reached out, wrapping her arms around his neck. Not wanting to let her go, he wound his arm around her back and scooped her up, tucking one arm under her legs. Carrying her to his room, he studied her face, desperate to know what had happened in the last few days to reduce his marine to this state.
Dipping down to place her on his bed, Mac spoke for the first time. "Don't let me go," she whispered, her voice broken. "Don't let me go."
"Never, Mac," he replied, pulling her back to him. "I'll never let you go, honey," he soothed, sitting down beside her.
Eventually, Mac's arms slipped down his chest as she gave into the fatigue she'd been fighting.
"I'm going to let you go for a minute, Mac," he said as a warning, not wanting her to fret. "And then we're going to get rid of our shoes and whatever else and climb into bed. Okay?"
Mac nodded.
Taking the opportunity to use the bathroom as well, Harm emerged in his boxers and tee, and was glad to see Mac had changed into one of his Navy tees.
"Can I use the bathroom?" she asked softly.
"Sure," Harm replied, she'd never asked for permission before.
It took her ten minutes to come back out; Harm had counted every one of them. When she did, it was clearly obvious she'd been crying and most likely had been trying to compose herself.
"Come here, Mac," Harm said quietly, pulling back the covers on her side.
As soon as she slipped into the bed, Harm stretched out his arms and she snuggled into him, leaving absolutely no space between them. With her fingers gripping his tee tightly, Mac sighed deeply, she desperately needed to talk to him, to release all the thoughts and emotions that were killing her. But there was something stopping her, and not just her ability to form coherent sentences in her head.

Sensing her struggle, Harm kissed her head once more before edging down in the bed to be face to face with her.
"Whenever you're ready, Mac," he whispered, brushing her hair away from her face.
For several minutes Mac stared at him and, even in the darkness of his bedroom, Harm could see the emotions play across her face.
"Harm..." she began, her voice shaky and weak.
"I'm right here, honey," he soothed. "It's okay, go ahead."
And right there and then the emotion became too much and Mac finally cracked. Every swirling, swarming emotion came pouring out in a distorted, tear filled, rambling mess. Not once did she hear his attempts to soothe or placate her.

"Harm...I'm so sorry about Paraguay...it's not how I wanted it to end ... or happen...you gave it all up for me and I hurt you so much. I was such a mess I wasn't thinking straight and in that whole episode I lost me and then by the time we got back here and I'd lost you and you left and ...and ... and ..."
"Mac, ssh, honey, take a breath," he soothed.
"And it's been so hard to deal with and I always thought there was something between us and I know you have forgiven me and come back..."
"That's right," he whispered, kissing her head.
"But I'm not, I'm not right ... I'm not alright..." she continued to ramble, tears streaming down her face. "I'm never going to be alright."
"What's wrong?" he asked, cupping her face and raising it.
"Had a procedure done on Wednesday and it seems ... well, the doctor said ... I can't ... I know I agreed but it doesn't look like it will happen and ... and... you're going to hate me and leave me all over again ... I just know it."
"Slow down, Mac," he said. "You're not making sense."
Taking several deep but non-cleansing breaths, Mac tried to bring some semblance of sanity to her addled brain.
"I had a procedure done for my endometriosis," she said, trying to avoid his gaze. "And the doctor said I have no chance of conceiving a child ... well, there is a 4% chance which is nothing, really. And that means I can't make good on our baby deal and I know family is everything to you and you can't have that with me so not only did I let you down in Paraguay by saying never when I really didn't mean it but I'm letting you down again and I hate me for it and I know you'll hate me for it too and everything seems like a train wreck and right now I just ... I just ... I just..."
Harm had heard enough, sitting back up in the bed he pulled Mac to him and cradled her in his arms. There was so much he wanted to say to her, so much he wanted her to understand but right now she was beyond listening, beyond understanding, so he just held her tight.

Through exhaustion, Mac drifted off to sleep in his arms, shifting restlessly on occasions as she sought to find the rest her body and mind so desperately needed. All the while, Harm lay awake watching her, wondering when things had become this hard for her.
It was hours before she woke, the sleep calming her brain but not taking away the pain of her reality. As her eyes wearily opened, she saw Harm's tired eyes watching her, not a hint of sleep in them.
"Hey," he greeted, his thumb rubbing over her cheek.
"Hey," she replied, her head hurting.
"Can I say something?" he asked, wanting to speak now, before she moved out of his arms.
She nodded slowly, unsure as to whether it was a good thing or not.
"I have never hated you...despite everything else... I have never hated you... I could never hate you, okay?" he said, waiting for her to acknowledge it as the truth.
"And I'm sorry the doctor's news wasn't as good as you'd have hoped but conception's not impossible, 4% is still something," Harm continued. "It will just mean taking a different approach."
Mac nodded again, the doctor had said something similar but she hadn't really been listening then either.
"And while I would love to have a baby with you and fulfil the baby deal, I will admit that a bundle of joy wasn't my main motivation," he said, holding her closer.
"What was?" she asked in barely a whisper.
"I wanted you ... I still do. I just figured if we had a baby together then we'd have a lifelong connection and even on the days where I annoyed the hell out of you, you wouldn't be able to stay too mad at me as you'd have junior to remind you of just how good I could be," he continued.
"A little you would have been nice," Mac admitted, biting down on her lower lip as it started to tremble.
"But," Harm said, caressing her face once more. "But, the baby would have been the bonus in the deal. What I wanted most was you...it's always been you."
"Really?" Mac mouthed, her voice disappearing.
"Really," he confirmed. "Mac, in case you haven't realised it by now, I love you ... I am in love with you; always have been. And not the baby deal and not Paraguay and not Webb or JAG or anything else will ever change that. Do you understand what I'm saying?" he asked as her as she blinked back her tears.
Mac nodded; she did understand; it was how she felt about him.
"And, baby or no baby, I'll be the happiest man alive, just to have you – no deals, no strings attached, nothing - just you," he said. "And while I don't expect an answer from you, right now, I want you to consider the possibility of spending the rest of your life with me."

Mac nodded again and laced her arms around his neck. "I will," she whispered.
For a few moments, Harm pondered her response, unsure as to whether it was an agreement to be with him or just to consider it.
"Mac?' he prompted, knowing he'd drive himself crazy if he didn't clarify it now. "You will...what?"
"I will consider it ... sort of," she said and watched as his eyes darkened. "I mean, I want to be with you... forever, but I will take time to consider this thing of you and me, in case you want to change your mind."
"Mac, I'll never change my mind, I wanted you long before we made the baby deal and..." he began.
"But AJ's seven," Mac interrupted.
"I know – so despite my inability to get my act together to actually talk to you about this before, this is not a new emotion," he admitted.
"Oh," was all she could offer in return.
"Yeah, oh," he echoed, kissing her forehead. "Now, your rumbling stomach tells me it's been too long since you've eaten. So, I'm going to go and organise breakfast, okay?"

Mac shook her head. Although she was feeling hungry and couldn't remember the last time she actually ate, she couldn't bring herself to let him go.
"You haven't had any sleep," she said. "Breakfast can wait."
"No, it can't," he replied. "You need to eat."
Mac shook her head once more.
"Okay," Harm said, prepared to negotiate. "What about we both get up and have breakfast and then come back to bed and sleep? Does that sound better?"
"Yeah, it does."

Orange juice, scrambled eggs on toast and a cup of tea later, and Harm climbed back into his bed. Laying on his back with his arms folded under his head, he waited for Mac to return from the bathroom. Smiling when she returned, Harm pulled back the covers for her but she sat on the side of the bed instead.
"Harm, I was thinking of going home – that way you can get some decent sleep and..."she began to explain.
"No!" he interjected. "I am not going to get any sleep unless you are here."
"But..." she began to protest.
"Mac, I won't stop you leaving, but just so you know, if you go home, I'm coming with you," he announced, sitting up in bed.

For a few moments, Mac contemplated her next move.
"If you are going to sleep with me anyway," she said, climbing back under the covers, "then we may as well stay here."
Shifting in the bed, as Mac got in, Harm waited for her to snuggle into him before settling down with her.
"I know you probably don't need me to hold you, like you did last night," he said as she rested her head in the crook of her neck. "But just so you know, I'll always need you to hold me."
"I think I can manage that," Mac replied, raising her head and kissing his cheek.
"Good, I'm glad," he replied, kissing her nose and closing his eyes.
"Harm," Mac said, nestling into him once more.
"Yes," he replied, not able to open his eyes again.
"I forgot to tell you some things last night," she said and Harm sat up once more. He couldn't imagine what else she had on her mind, there had been so much said during the night.
"What is it?" he asked, caressing her face.
"First of all, thank you ... for looking after me... I... well, let's just say thank you," she said, not wanting to fall back into her previous emotions.
"You never have to thank me for that," he said. "I won't say it was my pleasure because I hate seeing you so upset but I'm more than honoured you came to me."
Mac smiled and Harm waited. If there was a first of all, there had to be a...
"And second of all," she continued. "I am in love with you too."
"That's good to hear," Harm replied, swiping his thumb across her lips. He'd been hoping for a declaration but hadn't wanted to pressure her in any way.
"Just thought you should know," she said, kissing his thumb.
"I love you so much, Mac," he said, easing down in the bed and pulling her close.

Harm had always thought their mutual declaration of love would result in hours of endless, passionate sex but as Mac sighed sleepily into his chest he had to smile. This was far more intimate and when Mac was up to it, he'd see what else they could get up to.

Thanks for reading and reviewing.