Disclaimer: Don't own'em.

A/N: So this story is not yet completed, and I am having a hard time sitting down and finishing it. I am hoping that by posting this, I will somehow be incentivized to complete the story. Or maybe shamed. Or, hey, even absolved. I guess it will depend on your response.

Begins at the tail end of Harm's stint with the CIA, after Paraguay. Takes off from there into the infinite possibilities of AU.

--

Fresh Start

Mac stood at his door. The last time she'd been here, she'd been wearing a pregnancy suit, telling him that she was leaving. And here she was, doing the same thing. Sans pregnancy suit.

She took a breath and knocked on his door. 50:50 odds he'd ignore her knock, as he had her calls.

To her surprise, the door swung open after only a few seconds, and Harm was smiling. That smile, however, was quick to fade when he realized who was actually in his hallway.

"Mac." He stood framed by the door, his displeasure at seeing her thinly veiled under curiosity. The smell of cooking and the sound of music filled his apartment.

"Am I interrupting?" She asked tentatively. She'd prepared herself to express regret about him losing his job at the CIA, but his attitude towards her made her feel unsure of herself.

"I'm having company for dinner." He replied, and maybe she imagined the smugness in his tone. "She should be here soon."

This, if nothing else these past few months, convinced Mac she was doing the right thing. "I'll only be a minute. There's something I need to tell you. In person."

"Look," He began impatiently, "If it's about the missed calls-"

"It's not." She stated, glad she'd spent the extra ten minutes sitting in the car in front of his building preparing herself for this encounter. The extent of his hostility, however, was a surprise. She'd really screwed up; hadn't expected her words in Paraguay to cut so deeply through all the good they'd built together over the years.

He studied her, distrustful. Mac bit back her own anger and hurt at his behaviour. Instead, she waited for him to decide if she was worth his time.

After six seconds of silence, he turned back into his apartment. He left the door open, but walked to his kitchen without a word or a backward glance. It was as much an invitation as she was going to get. No matter. She entered his apartment and shut the door behind her. She hadn't come here for any kind of gesture from him.

"I wanted you to hear this from me," She began, watching him as he moved about his kitchen preparing dinner. He didn't look up at her. She might as well not have been there. Mac took a breath. She would say this and she would leave. "I've been offered a position in San Diego." She paused, gauging his reaction. The knife he was using to chop carrots paused in midair. It was the only indication she had that he'd heard her. She'd come ready with an entire speech on how it was a good career move. How it was a position that would let her exercise more leadership ability, how it came with increased responsibilities and would likely put her on the fast track for a promotion. How it was good for her personally, and she would love to skip her annual February bout with the flu. How she needed a fresh start, needed to get away from Chegwidden and the dark cloak that now shrouded JAG. How the entire fallout from Paraguay followed her wherever she went, clawing through her self-confidence, leaving a trail of open sores, exposing her fears and her anger, her vulnerability. She wanted the courage to tell him that she had no reason to stay here any longer, nothing that was keeping her.

The sound of his knife slicing through the carrots, thudding against the chopping board, brought her back to reality. He was focused once again on making his dinner, head bent in concentration.

He didn't care about her reasons.

Everything she'd come ready to say turned to ash, useless in the face of that one truth. And he just kept chopping vegetables. It was stupid to come here, even though he deserved to know. Or maybe she just needed to tell him, see him one more time. That was it: this had all been for her. As far as he was concerned, she was no longer a part of his life.

"I'll go," She whispered, determined not to cry. This hurt more than she'd thought it would. She was at peace with her decision. It had taken a while, it would hurt for a long time to come, she knew, as it hurt now. But this was for the best. For him, for her. She wanted him to be happy, and clearly he wouldn't be with her around. She'd held out hope for so long, and perhaps that was the worst part, the most damaging of it all.

She had one hand on the doorknob when he finally spoke.

"When do you leave?" He asked.

Mac rested her forehead against the cool wood of his door. "Two weeks." Don't ask me to stay, she silently begged.

He said nothing, and she thought this was it. The last time she'd see him, a relationship faded to silence and tears, empty of all she'd felt for him over the years. She couldn't bear to say goodbye. A quiet exit, unacknowledged, unchallenged, seem distractingly apt.

Mac wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, and rallied herself to walk out.

"Unbelievable," He muttered, derision dripping from his tone. Mac stilled, unsure she was meant to hear that.

"You're just going to walk away?" He said more loudly to her.

Mac turned to look at him. She didn't understand his reaction.

"Don't look at me like that, Mac." He waved his knife at her before slamming it down into his chopping board. "You're just going to walk away? After everything?"

"What?" This was what he'd wanted ... He hadn't returned her calls...

"Why do you always walk away?" His voice was increasing in volume, and she could see his anger take shape between them. "You always walk away! Every time we get close to something! And I'm not going to feel bad about this. I refuse to feel bad that there is nothing between us, there is no 'us'. I'm done feeling guilty." He glared at her. "If this is how you want to play it, fine."

She stared at him as he launched on his tirade, unable to find voice for the thousands of thoughts flying through her mind.

"I'm not going to beat myself up that it didn't work out! So you can leave. I won't stop you, you made sure of that," He accused, his jaw set in that stubborn line. "Just remember that."

Mac felt nothing but bone-tired at this never-ending mobius strip their relationship had devolved into. They both needed an escape. An exit strategy. It was telling that she'd even lost the will to fight him on this. She finally agreed with him on that point. "You didn't fight me." She pointed out. "I finally got the message."

"Fight you!" He sputtered. "You said it wouldn't work because we always fought," He threw his arms up in the air, exasperated, eyes blazing dangerously. "And you wanted me to fight you!"

This was spiralling out of control. "That's not what I mean," She said quickly, trying to pull back the reins on this conversation.

"Then what do you mean?" His anger took her back to the taxi stand in Paraguay, the suffocating heat and his unbearable abruptness. "You're going to have to spell it out for me."

"You told me once that when you save someone's life, it makes you responsible for them." She searched his face. "I don't want you to feel responsible for me. You ... you would be with me even if it made you miserable, out of a sense of obligation. You didn't fight me on it down in Paraguay, you didn't fight me on it when we came back. Five months and seventeen unreturned messages is proof enough, Harm, even if it hurts to admit it. I shouldn't have kept trying, but I guess I just wanted to believe that I was wrong. It took me this long to realize that I need to let you go. I'm making both of us miserable."

He stared at her. He looked ... shocked.

She swallowed the tears clogging her throat. "My regret is I dragged what we had through the mud." She looked down at her shoes, fingered the hem of her coat. "I shouldn't have done that. Our friendship deserved better. And I shouldn't have tried to force our relationship in a direction you didn't want." She couldn't look at him, not yet ready to face him with her shame over her behaviour, over how she'd tried to corner him.

"Mac, wait." He had moved across the room when she hadn't been looking. He was standing too near her, his voice was too soft, his eyes too warm. "What ... what are you saying?"

She didn't want to have to spell it out, it was embarrassing enough as it was.

A knock at his door saved her from further having to bear herself to him.

"That's your dinner date," She said, relieved. "I just wanted to say goodbye, and thank you. I owe you many things, Harm. All good."

"Wait," He shook his head, confused and disoriented. He reached an arm out towards her. "Wait."

She shook her head. "I can't wait anymore." She looked at him one last time, a long look she would hoard for all the times ahead. "Not anymore. You don't owe me anything."

She turned around, opened the door and without another thought, she walked past the woman who was standing in his hallway and out of his building. She forced herself to reach her car without turning around to get a final glimpse of him through his apartment window. She was not strong enough to see him yet with another woman. One day she might be okay with it, but not today.

It was only when Mac was in her car that she let herself take a breath and process what she'd just done, what had just happened. She waited for tears, expected them, in fact. But maybe it had cost her all her tears to come to this decision. And now that she'd carried it out, all she could feel was relief so potent, it made her hands shake. It was done, and now she could try to fix the mess she'd made of herself, of her life. That was something she could do. Small steps, attainable goals, a little at a time. A fresh start, new job, new city. This was something she could do.

--

One year later...

Mac stepped out of her cherry red convertible. One great thing about San Diego was the weather: she could drive her corvette year-round without worry. She hadn't felt cold down to her bones for a year, ever since she'd left DC. Warmth and sunshine were the best medicine. Of this, she was convinced. She wouldn't go so far as saying the last year had been a breeze. Quite the opposite. It had been long and hard. She'd grieved the end of an eight-year relationship, the loss of her best friend. Though, to be honest, she'd been grieving the loss of those for slightly longer than a year. But she'd only admitted it to herself a year ago. All in all, however, this city had been good to her. She'd worked hard at her job heading up Joint Legal Services South-West, she'd immersed herself in it and was now reaping the rewards of a job well done. Scuttlebutt had it that she'd be getting her full bird soon. She even found herself contemplating retirement. She had thought she was a dyed-in-the-wool Marine, but for the past few months she'd increasingly been inclined to see the world as her oyster. Perhaps she could branch out a bit. The details weren't too clear, but it felt good to be able to dream. She had nothing tying her down, felt freer than she had in years.

"Ma'am!"

Mac turned at hearing Bud's greeting. He was disembarking from his van. She grinned at him: another perk of San Diego, and one she perhaps appreciated more than others, was that she'd finally convinced Harriet to move the family down here. She'd had to work even harder at that than she had at establishing her own command. That thought made her grin widen. It had all been worth it.

"Hi, Bud. How're you?"

"Fine, Ma'am, thank you. And yourself?"

"Doing just great. AJ called me this morning to remind me about our planned trip to the beach this weekend."

"He's really excited," Bud said as they walked in step towards the building their offices were housed in. "He says he's going to build a sand castle that will be way cooler than yours."

"As long as he doesn't use my cell phone as the drawbridge this time." They shared a laugh.

"Before I forget: Harriet wants to know if you and Ethan would like to come over for dinner tomorrow night?"

Mac hesitated. If she were being honest, she was still unsure of her relationship with Ethan. She liked him, there was no denying. But she wasn't sure if she ready for anything. It had only been a year. It had already been a year ... For his part, Ethan was okay with taking things slow. He had a laid back approach to life, was at ease in his skin, and refreshingly honest. These were things she both envied and admired about him.

"Ethan would never turn down an offer to eat at Harriet's dinner table," Mac finally answered, "And neither would I."

"Great," Bud replied, holding the door for Mac. "Harriet will be so pleased."

Mac nodded, her thoughts distant. It was bound to be a long, sometimes achingly sad process ... She still thought of him, wondered what he was doing. With him out of the Navy, she had no way of knowing. It was better this way. And now, the thought of him finding another woman, finding happiness ... she was okay with it. In fact, she sometimes hoped for it. It would make her feel less guilty for trying to do the same.

--

That night...

The knock sounded at her door at 21:20, as anticipated. Mac, in a childlike fugue, slid across her hardwood floor in her socks. "Coming!" She called.

She opened the door, grinning at the man standing there. "Evening, Ethan. You're right on time." She knew he took it as a personal challenge to time himself by her internal clock whenever they met or made plans. It amused her no end.

"Evening," He gave her a wide, warm smile. She would admit that it made a little something glow in her chest when he looked at her that way. "How was your day?"

"No complaints," She moved aside to let him in. "Yours?"

"Mine's looking up," He entered her apartment, and gave her a greeting kiss on the cheek. "I have ice cream," He showed her the bag in his hand.

"And I have spoons," She replied, closing the door behind him. "What a happy coincidence."

"It's fate," He grinned at her over his shoulder as he headed to the kitchen. "Why don't I get those spoons. You can put the TV on."

Mac sat down on the couch and flipped on the television. She and Ethan were both avid fans of the same show, and watched it together on a weekly basis. It was good to have someone she could do something so mundane with: watch TV over a shared pint of ice cream. She like how uncomplicated this felt. How ... simple.

Ethan joined Mac on the couch, and handed her a spoon. "Do you want to guess which flavour I got?"

She turned to face him. "Let's see," She tapped her finger against her chin, pretending to give it some thought. She studied his face. He was smiling very widely, which meant he'd bought her favourite flavour. "Phish Food." She declared.

"How did you know!" He exclaimed with genuine surprise. "You always guess right!"

"I told you," She replied, reaching behind his back to grab the container. "I'm psychic."

He settled back against the cushion, waving his spoon at her. "You peeked."

"I did not!" She defended.

"Shh," He interrupted, digging his spoon into the container, "The show's starting."

She laughed at his petulant behaviour. "Sore loser," She teased. He purposefully ignored her, which just made her smile. As the credits rolled, Mac watched the man beside her. There was something about him she found very appealing, almost calming. He was handsome, tall, had sun-kissed chestnut hair - from all the time he spent outdoors and in the ocean, she'd guess - and light eyes. Physically, he was quite unlike the men she'd previously dated. She normally went for guys her height, dark-eyed and dark-haired. But Ethan had kind eyes that crinkled in the corners when he smiled, and warm, calloused hands that lent him an air of solidity she was finding it increasingly difficult to resist. Perhaps it really was time to move on, to test the waters. Ethan was a good man, he had a good heart. Mac sighed, turning her attention to the TV show. She didn't know what she wanted, what she wanted to do...

"Hey," Ethan nudged her with his shoulder. "You're drifting."

Mac smiled up at him. He was also very sweet. Giving in to the spontaneous imp that sometimes wanted to come out to play, Mac reached up to place a kiss on his jaw. Happy with how that had felt, and enjoying the stupidly happy look on Ethan's face, Mac turned her attention back to the television show and the ice cream.

Four minutes and eight seconds later, Ethan slipped his arm around her shoulder. She let him, because she liked how this felt too. She was going to stop thinking seventy steps in the future, and enjoy all these little moments she'd lived without for such a long time.

--
That weekend...

Mac entered the medium-sized gallery in search of Ethan. He was working, delivering and putting the final touches on the furniture he'd designed for his client, who was the owner of the gallery. She was, Mac knew, one of Ethan's favourite and most loyal customers. For her part, Mac had an appointment at a spa just down the street, and she'd stopped by and see if he was willing to let her steal him away to share a cup of coffee at the cafe a few doors down. It was such a lovely day, perfect to sit on a terrace with a steaming latte and good company.

She spied Ethan, lying on his back under the wooden side table he was setting up. He was pretty well-known in certain circles for his skills in woodwork. He'd even built Mac a desk for her apartment as a birthday gift; it was simply gorgeous and almost made her look forward to bringing paperwork home. As Mac made her way to Ethan, she spared a leisurely glance for her surroundings. She decided she liked the gallery, and not for the first time wondered how it must feel to be able to afford dropping a few hundred if not thousand on a piece of artwork. This was a luxury that was far beyond her means. She smiled, though, at the thought of the desk Ethan had built for her. Maybe not so far out her reach, then. And, she knew, the kind of friend she was finding in Ethan was a luxury in itself.

"Working hard, Handyman?" She nudged his foot with her toe.

Ethan looked up at her, and grinned in greeting. "You hassling me, MacKenzie?"

"Actually," She said, arching her eyebrow, "I came to offer to whisk you away for a quick coffee break. But you would clearly rather pass on my company."

He grabbed her ankle, laughing. "Oh no, you don't. I'm going to take you up on that offer." He held on to her ankle, those deliciously calloused fingers of his warm against her skin, to pull himself off the ground. She smiled at him as he wiped his hands on a cloth.

"Where are you taking me?" He asked.

"There's a coffee shop a few doors down..."

Mac trailed off as an older woman approached them, her nose buried in a large volume. "Ethan," She began, not looking up, "Why don't you take a break for a bit? You've been working hard..." She looked up and caught sight of Mac. She smiled, and Mac thought there was something familiar about the woman.

"I was about to do just that, Mrs. Burnett, thank you." Ethan replied, then indicated Mac. "This is a good friend of mine, Ma'am. Sarah MacKenzie."

Mac smiled and put out her hand in greeting. Instead of shaking it, the older woman stared at Mac with a mix of surprise and uncertainty. Mac's hand remained extended, though she could not interpret the reaction she was getting. Ethan didn't seem to notice the hesitation his client was exhibiting.

"Sarah," He put a hand on Mac's back. "This is the famous Trish Burnett I've been telling you about."

It was Mac's turn to drop her jaw. He'd never mentioned her name before. "Ma'am?" Mac's hand wavered, but before she dropped it, Trish grasped it.

"Oh, Sarah MacKenzie!" She shook Mac's hand with great warmth, and then seemed to change her mind and pulled Mac in for a hug. "After all these years, imagine meeting like this!"

She pulled back, keeping Mac's hands in her own. She was smiling widely. "How are you?"

Mac didn't quite know how to react to this greeting. She'd never met Harm's mom, and based on the terms she and Harm had parted on, Mac had expected ... different.

"You two know each other?" Ethan looked from one woman to the other in confusion, before settling on Mac to wait for an answer.

"Mrs Burnett is..." Mac realized that she had not said Harm's name out loud in almost a year. It was a terrible realization, that drove many points home, none of which Mac wanted to consider. "When I was stationed in DC," She explained to Ethan, "I was partnered with Mrs Burnett's son for many years."

"They were thick as thieves," Trish added with a wink directed at Ethan. "She saved his life more times than I care to contemplate."

Mac found a smile with some difficulty. Her sincerity, however, was easy to come by. "That road runs both ways, Ma'am."

"Call me Trish," Trish admonished. "Harm should-"

She was interrupted by another voice coming from the entrance. "Mom, sorry I'm late-"

Mac spun on her heel, sure her ears were deceiving her. She hadn't heard that voice in so long ... He was standing in the doorway. His eyes fixed on hers, his sentence left dangling, a look of shock on his face. In the space of a breath, shock transformed into longing, which gave way to regret. He took a quick step towards her, but then stopped himself.

She felt herself being sucked back in, a powerful whirlpool that frothed, the roar of rushing water in her ears, filling her lungs. She couldn't breathe.

"Harm!" Trish's voice wrenched Mac back to realization. She looked away from his entrancing stare, and she felt embarrassed by her reaction to his sudden presence. She looked at her feet, remembering that Ethan was standing next to her. She didn't look at him, not able to bear seeing what his reaction to all this had been.

"What are the odds of meeting Sarah like this?" Trish asked her son.

Harm didn't say anything, and Mac's curiosity got the best of her. She glanced at him, her head still bent, and their eyes met. It was enough to knock him from his stupor. He blinked, and then looked blankly at his mom.

"Sorry, what?" He cleared his throat, and didn't know what to do with his hands. He crossed them over his chest, then clasped them in front of him before stuffing them in his pockets.

Trish was looking at Harm, wearing an odd expression. Mac was pretty sure Ethan was directing the same look at her. This was getting awkward. But Mac couldn't bring herself to talk to Harm. What would she say?

So the four of them stood there: two trying not to stare at each other, the other two looking confused.

Trish was the first to break the heavy silence. "Harm was meeting me for a late lunch. Why don't you two join us?" She asked Mac and Ethan.

"I wouldn't want to intrude," Ethan began slowly, but Trish cut him off.

"Nonsense. A good friend of Sarah's is a good friend of ours."

"That's very kind of you, Trish," Mac looked at Harm's mom, relieved to have found her voice. "But I have an appointment in an hour that I cannot miss. I just came by to take Ethan out for a coffee."

"Oh," Trish said, seeming quiet disappointed, "How unfortunate."

Mac looked at Harm from the corner of her eye, and was surprised to see that he was equally disappointed by her refusal. How could he possibly want to spend an awkward lunch with her, after they'd neither seen nor spoken to each other for a year?

"Maybe next time," She told Trish, then forced herself to look at Harm. She felt awkward speaking to him. "The next time you're in town-"

"Darling," Trish looked at Mac in confusion. "Harm lives about 30 minutes from here. He's usually in town."

"Oh." And there was awkwardness again, laying siege to their quartet.

This time, Harm took the initiative. He entered the gallery fully - he had been standing in the doorway this entire time - and walked towards them. Mac's heart seized. She wouldn't know what to do if he touched her, hugged her. She wanted it so badly, and yet was horrified at the thought of what her reaction to such proximity with him might be.

But he simply put his hand out to Ethan. "Harm Rabb," He introduced himself. He looked both reluctant and determined. "Mac and I used to work together."

Ethan shook Harm's hand. "Ethan Wilder. Pleased to meet you."

Mac could tell that Ethan was more bewildered than pleased.

"Mac and I were stationed together in DC," Harm offered by way of explanation, probably sensing the other man's confusion.

Ethan, to Mac's surprise, grinned giving her a sidelong look. "Mac. Cute nickname," He teased.

Mac couldn't help but laugh, of all the things for him to comment on, he picked the most harmless one. The tension seeped out of her, and she silently thanked Ethan for his tact in diffusing the situation. At least for her.

"That's exactly why I adopted it, Ethan," She bantered back, giving Trish a mock-exasperated look. "Because the military is all about cute."

Trish laughed lightly, though her eyes were still clouded by curiosity over the stilted reunion she'd witnessed. "Ethan, could I steal you away for a few moments before you take that coffee break? I'd like to go over a few details about the dining table you'll be building for the house."

"Of course, Mrs. Burnett." He turned to Mac, "Would you mind waiting for a few minutes?"

She did not know if she wanted to be left alone with Harm. "Of course not," She lied. "Take your time."

"Thanks, Sarah." He squeezed her shoulder before following Trish towards the back of the gallery. She felt incredibly self-conscious to be touched by Ethan while Harm watched, and also thought herself stupid to feel such a thing. It had been a whole year ... She watched Ethan disappear through the door to Trish's office, buying herself time before she had to face Harm.

Mac took a deep breath, then finally looked at him.

He was watching her with sadness and longing and affection.

"How are you, Mac?" His voice was low, his eyes soft, his smile slight. He seemed resigned, and somehow older. Perhaps even calmer. She wondered what the catalyst for the change in him was. In some ways, he looked how she felt. But she'd done the right thing a year ago.

She shrugged. "You?"

He also shrugged. They stood silently. He kept watching her as though doing so was parching a deep thirst, and she tried not to get caught up in his gaze.

"You live here now?"

He nodded. "I was at loose ends after..." He hesitated. "...after the CIA let me go. Thought it might be time for a fresh start."

"Near your parents?"

He nodded, his eyes roamed her face. It felt like a caress. "I run a flying school. You wouldn't believe how much people are willing to pay to learn."

"Do you enjoy it?" Mac had a hard time picturing Harm in any profession that didn't involve thrills and high stress situations. He thrived in those settings.

He shrugged. "I get by."

Her heart tightened. This was not how it was supposed to go. He was supposed to be happy. He was not supposed to be like ... this.

"Harm..." She trailed off, not knowing what she wanted to say to him. She wanted to tell him off, tell him that she'd done the right thing by absolving him and he was the one who hadn't kept up his end of the deal.

His eyes finally left her face, to drift over her shoulder in the direction his mother and Ethan had gone.

"You're happy?"

She didn't know. Happiness seemed such a big thing, and there were days she felt so small. She didn't say anything.

He reached a hand out towards her, his fingers slightly rough against her skin as they traced her cheek. Her eyes fell shut, her breathing deepened. Her heart thumped in her chest. His touch was bringing everything back, all the things she'd tried to forget, all the things she told herself she didn't want to remember. She opened her eyes to find him again watching her, entranced.

"Do you ever wish for clean slate?" He whispered.

She tried to fight her tears.

"I do," He answered his own question, his voice quiet, soft. "I've given it a lot of thought..." He gave her a sad smile and cupped her face with his hand. "You know what I'd do?"

She shook her head slowly, from side to side, resisting the urge to nuzzle into his warm palm.

"I'd start over with you, Sarah. I wouldn't let myself lose sight of you." His thumb stroked her skin. "I'd make you see that you were never an obligation. You've always been a gift."

Mac sniffed, and couldn't stop the tears from escaping. "Harm-"

The door to Trish's back office shut with a firm thwap, and Trish's voice soon followed.

"That would be simply wonderful, Ethan!"

Mac hastily stepped away from Harm and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. Harm's hand dropped to his side, but his eyes never left hers.

"It'll be a great project to work on, Mrs. Burnett," Ethan's voice drifted across the large room as Mac quickly composed herself.

She turned around to face Ethan and Trish with a plastered smile on her face. Her mind and her heart still lingering on Harm. What just happened here? She thought-

"Ready to go?" Ethan asked as he came to her side. He didn't touch her, though, and for that Mac was relieved. Harm's caress was still too fresh on her mind.

"Yes," She nodded, snapping herself out of her thoughts. Mac turned to Trish. "It was wonderful to meet you. I'm sorry I can't make lunch."

"Next time, dear. I'll get your number from Ethan, if that's okay." She smiled warmly at Mac, and then as an afterthought added, "Or I can get it from Harm, even. Regardless, you must let us have you over for dinner."

Mac nodded and smiled, her confusion now steadily increasing. She thought she'd done the right thing a year ago. She was convinced she had. She was sure Harm had increasingly seen her as a burden after the way he'd behaved in Paraguay. He'd resented her for the risks he'd had to take in getting to her, for what it had ultimately cost him. He hadn't spoken to her for almost half a year, hadn't returned her calls ... But now...She was so confused...

"Thank you, Ma'am." She heard herself say. "That would be lovely."

"It'll be good to catch up, Mac." Harm added, his voice tentative, as though he was testing the waters.

Mac looked at him, and found nothing but sincerity.

"Nice to meet you, Ethan." Harm turned to Ethan, consummately polite.

"Likewise, Harm." Ethan was slightly more reticent, and Mac guessed he was piecing together his own idea of what must have transpired between her and Harm. Mac suddenly saw the simple, uncomplicated life she'd been trying to build for herself explode into ruins.

Why did he come back? She was working on it, she had been making progress. She had started to look forward to seeing what was between her and Ethan. He made her feel little pieces of happiness, tiny moments of joy, eclats of ease. And then Harm had come back into her life and everything was all messed up again. What would she do? What did she want?

What could she have?

It hit her then that she felt for Harm now exactly as she'd felt for him a year ago, exactly as she'd felt when they were the best of friends and she went to him with the minutia of her life and he came to her whenever he needed a sounding board. Love, she thought, can drive a woman crazy.

She wished she'd never set foot in this gallery.

-