Author's Note:

Okay, I've had this in my head for a while and I know that there are other people who have done fics with this kind of story line before. Here is my take on it, and I hope that you all enjoy it… P.S. whoever the guest was that wanted another fic with some angst… sign in and PM me if you've got an idea, and I will TOTALLY try to make it happen!

Review if you would all like, and ENJOY!

It always happened this time of year… that dull ache in her that did not go unnoticed. She would always acknowledge it, but push it far away as to not give away what she was really feeling when this time of year came around. How do you look back on your life and realize that you are an entirely different person from years ago? You know that this person is changed for the better, but you still wonder what if you hadn't changed from that. Where would she have been?

The ache was a lot stronger this year than years previous with the news from her doctor that the future she still had a glimmer of hope to hold on to was probably not going to happen. Even if she and Harm got together after all these years, which was honestly the only choice for her, the chances of them getting the family she knew deep down they both wanted, were slim to none. Mattie was another part of what brought this year crashing down around her. She loved Mattie and loved that Harm loved Mattie, but it hurt her more than she would like to admit.

When Harm came in, he could only hear her end of the conversation.

"Ward of the state? How is that possible?"

"Where is she now?"

"I know that I don't have any… I would appreciate the opportunity to apply for that then."

"I understand that, but you have to understand my position in this."

"I was unaware of that."

"Please get back to me as soon as possible."

She hung up and sat there for a minute with obvious tears in the corners of her eyes. He didn't know what the call was about and had no clue why she could be so upset.

"Mac?"

Nothing.

"Sarah?" he whispers again while reaching a hand out to touch her shoulder.

"Hmm? " she starts, as if not knowing that he was even in the room, "Oh, I'm sorry. What did you need?"

"Are you okay? Who was on the phone?"

The second he asks, she shakes her head quickly as if to get the thoughts out of her head before starting her conversation with him.

"Oh, I'm fine, don't worry about it. Now what did you need?"

"Mac… come on, I know when you're upset."

"Yeah, well, you don't know everything Harm." She says with a bite that he was certainly not expecting.

"I don't claim to, but you're clearly upset about something with that phone call."

"Drop it, Harm."

"Mac."

"I mean it, I can't do this… maybe sometime I'll be able to, but right now, I can't do this and I need you to drop it." She says in such a broken way that he can't help but drop the subject for another time.

"Okay… I came in for the transcripts of the interview for the case with the crewman on the Patrick Henry."

"I have it somewhere on my desk here." She says, shuffling through some papers on her desk and finally producing the manila folder for his outstretched hand.

He turns to leave, but before walking out the door turns back to address her one last time.

"You said to drop it, but know that if you ever want to talk about it, you can."

She just shakes her head telling him that it wasn't going to happen.

Your best friend knows everything about you, and Harm probably knew the majority of the worst in her past. All of JAG found out about her husband thanks to the unfortunate circumstances that lead to his death, but that was something that she had kept from everyone. She remembered the sound of his voice when he heard her say that she was arrested for murdering her husband. It was the part of her past that she kept hidden away. Only one part remained hidden away now, and it was probably the worst of her indiscretions.

A few days later, a woman from DCFS came looking for Mac, who was delayed in court. Harm was, of course, the person Coates directed her to in Mac's absence and he took the documents she had requested from the woman to give to Mac. He couldn't help but look into the folder for just a second. A second was all it took to see, PETITION FOR FOSTER PARENTING and PETITION FOR FOSTER CUSTODY OF KATHERINE M. BRANDT.

When she got back from court, he was waiting in her office with the folder.

"I figured you wanted these right away." He says as he hears the door open, which causes her to jump because she didn't know he was there.

"God, Harm, you scared me! What do you have?" she says, coming around to sit in her desk chair as he places the documents on the top of her desk.

She opens the folder and her face instantly goes blank as she starts to read just as he has to ask, "Who's Katherine Brandt?"

"Oh, um… it's just something for a case." She says quickly, shoving the folder into a drawer like it's nothing.

"That has nothing to do with a case and everything to do with the phone call the other day."

"Which you agreed to drop."

"I did, until now it looks like this is something major. Mac, you were so upset with me when I told you about Mattie after the fact. If you are trying to adopt, I think it's great. Why wouldn't you want the support of those around you?"

"It isn't at all what you think it is."

"Then what is it?"

She stops for a minute, staring at him and not knowing what words should be coming out of her mouth. She knew that she needed to let someone in. If she was being honest with herself, she also knew that the only person she would even consider letting in was standing right in front of her.

"Are you doing anything for dinner tonight?" She finally asks.

"Is that an invitation for food or conversation?" he says, assuming that she's inviting him over to talk but wanting to make sure.

"Chinese?"

"Sounds good food wise… what about the other part?" He replies, getting up from the chair across from her own.

"I'm thinking about it and leaning towards talking about what's going on."

"That sounds even better. I'm always here for you, Mac. You know that." He says, walking out of her office to finish his day.

She couldn't count the number of times the two of them ate at one another's apartments, working on cases, just wanting the company of another. It was easy for them to do and they both enjoyed it more than either had the guts to say.

Tonight was another matter entirely and when he showed up at the door, she didn't know what to do.

"Hey, is the food here yet?"

"Yeah, I've got it all set up." She says, gesturing to the coffee table behind her nervously.

"Wow, Mac… you went all out tonight."

"I figured we'd probably be here for a while."

"Noted." He says, taking his shoes off at the door and rolling up the sleeves of his shirt before sitting on the floor to the side of the coffee table.

They don't say anything for a while, just enjoying the food and occasionally looking towards each other with a glance that neither could place. It was so unlike all the other times that it had him worried. She couldn't hold his gaze for more than a moment. Instead of breaking of a stolen glance in a shy and flirty way, she was looking down like someone who was ashamed of something.

"How do you want this to go, Mac? Do you want me to ask, or do you want to start talking?"

She just looks up at him, not saying another word when he decides that she needs the talking points if she's going to tell him everything, "Okay, who's Katherine Brandt?"

"My daughter."

It comes out so simply and in a rush from holding it in for so long that she doesn't even look up when she says it. She hears the whispered "what?" come from his lips but doesn't choose to acknowledge him in any way.

"I was nineteen when I had her and we decided to give her up for adoption."

"You and Chris?"

"No, my Uncle Matt and I."

"But I assume that she is Chris' daughter… right?"

"He didn't know about her. I knew deep down that he would use her against me, so he never found out."

"Sarah, start at the beginning…."

"Do you hate me?" she asks, finally looking up to meet his gaze.

"I could never hate you…. Not for this and not for anything."

She lets out a shaky breath and begins telling her story.

"The car accident I told you about with our friend… at the hospital they told me I was pregnant. It sobered me almost instantly. I didn't tell Chris then because he was already in jail. By the time I got out of the hospital and through the next day and night I had this realization. When I wasn't drinking I just saw how horrible my life was. The place we were living in was crap, I didn't have any kind of direction in my life, and I was going to bring a baby into it. It was about two weeks later that Uncle Matt found me and decided that I needed to sober up."

"You were still drinking?"

"No, but he didn't know that. He just heard about what had happened and assumed that I was still drinking until I told him the situation." She says with a smile on her face that almost doesn't match her sad tone. "I remember him saying to me that we would figure it out and this baby was going to be a loved future Marine."

"I thought you joined the Corps when you were nineteen though, and spent the time in the cave with your Uncle drying out." He says with another confused look on his face.

"Yeah, well… the best laid plans… Katie was five months old and Uncle Matt was out for the evening when I couldn't get her to stop crying one night. I was trying everything and thought about how she could be teething, or something like that. I remembered seeing those teething rings that you put in the freezer and thinking that I could just grab some ice and rub it on her gums. When I opened the freezer I was met with vodka that Uncle Matt had forgotten about from his friends being over a few nights before. She was screaming so loud and she wouldn't stop so I thought that I could just ease my pain a little bit. I vowed to only take one sip."

She stops then, with a shaky breath, not knowing how to continue. Even with Harm knowing her past, nothing was as horrible as what she was about to share. How a mother could treat her child in this way disgusted her now more than ever, and it was she who did it.

"Mac, nothing you tell me is going to make me think any less of you. It was the circumstance that you were in, you have a disease, and you were so young."

"I emptied the bottle… drank the whole thing…and I left. I walked down the corner to the store and got some college boy to buy me another bottle if I made out with him for a little while in the alley. When I got back, I had no clue how much time had passed and she was still crying. It was bad, if not worse than before, so I drank another bottle and passed out on the couch. When I woke up, Uncle Matt was feeding Katie in her high chair at the table…" she pauses, looking off into the distance as if remembering the scene from years ago. "He just says to me 'Sarah, you don't want her to live your life.' And I dissolved into tears. I picked her up out of her high chair and held her close to me and realized that she was as happy as can be. She didn't know what I had done. She had forgiven and forgotten everything from the night previous, but I knew that I would slip up again in time, and Uncle Matt was right."

"Was he the one who suggested the adoption?"

She nods, now picking at the carpet below her knee.

"We found a family, I signed my rights away and we left to dry me out. When we came back, I realized that I needed to get myself in a better place, so I joined the Marines the next day."

"What about now?"

"Something happened… apparently a few years later they wanted to put her up for adoption again, but instead surrendered her to the state."

"Is that even legal?"

"I don't know… but when they did it, I was already overseas doing something with the Corps and the call fell to Uncle Matt because he was the other person who was signing documents as my witness and such."

"Did you ask him what happened?"

"I called him yesterday… and he apologized but explained that he knew that I still wasn't ready to take her on full time and said that they could release her to another family. He thought that she was going to be adopted again right away. He didn't know that she hadn't been."

"She never got adopted?"

"Diabetes… that is why the original family gave her up… the medical expenses were too much."

"You didn't know, Sarah." He says, leaning over to put a reassuring hand over hers.

"I think that the thing that kills me most about it is that I don't know what I would have done if they would have contacted me. Knowing the problems she had, would I have even taken her back? She's my own flesh and blood and I don't even know if I could have handled her again."

"Mac, as much I know that you are going to… You can't beat yourself up about choices that were made for you or opportunities that never came up. You couldn't control her being sick or your Uncle not calling you. You thought that she was living happily with the couple you chose originally."

"I know, but knowing now that she wasn't hurts me that much more." She says, with a sob shaking her body.

He rubs circles on her back as he moves in to hold her to him. He waited until the sobs stopped and the tears ran dry before pulling back and looking into her swollen eyes.

"Why now, Mac?"

"When I found out that I couldn't have kids, it obviously made me think of her. I just wanted to know that when I was given the chance, I had done the right thing by her. I wanted to know that she was safe and she was happy and I made the right choice."

"That's when you found out about her being in the system."

"Yeah… but I want to take her out. I know that she can't be my baby. At this point she probably won't ever think of me as her mother. I know that, but I also know that I can at least give her a home for a few years before she goes away to college or does whatever she wants to do. I want her to know that she was a surprise, but she was wanted. I was just not capable of being her mother at the time."

"And you are now?"

"I can at least be an adult she can count on."

What she was saying was realistic, but Harm knew her better than that. Mac wanted everything to be right with her daughter, and though it was late it wasn't totally out of the realm of possibility.

"So, what are our next steps?"

"Our?"

"Mac, I'm not letting you do this alone. I want to help you, I want you to get the chance to help your daughter. Whatever it takes, we'll fix it… but… promise me something?"

"Hmm?"

"Don't give up on another family just yet. You haven't had the time to really think about everything. I know you told me you needed the time, but I don't want you to think that your options aren't open at all."

"Seeing as how I'm not getting any younger and I see no willing prospects, I'm pretty sure the door is slamming shut."

"Mac." He says, turning to her, stopping her with the intensity in his gaze.

"What?"

"The door is open… trust me."

With that, he starts to lean towards he and she can see what is about to happen play out before them like a romance movie. Before it can get to that point, she puts a hand to his chest to stop him.