Disclaimer: Things would be a lot different if these characters belong to me. But as it is, they belong to DPB and only the words in this fic belong to me.
Author's notes: A follow-up to "Shifting Sands" and some hints for what's to come in "Secret Agent Man". This could also a sequel of sorts to my story, "The Rain Must Fall", but it's not necessary to read that one to understand this one. This story also references events from "A Tangled Webb, part II". So it goes without saying that spoilers for the end of season 8 and beginning of season 9 follow. Many thanks to Gail for looking this one over.
Timeline: a few days after "Shifting Sands" and assumes "Secret Agent Man" took place four months later.
"You want to talk about it?"
Mac looked up. Harm stood over her, dressed in jeans, a polo shirt, and a brown leather jacket, looking every inch the civilian he now was. Mac pushed what remained of her hamburger and fries aside. She hadn't eaten much; since the end of the LaPorte Article 32 hearing and discovering Harm had joined the CIA, her stomach had been doing wild somersaults. She'd been hoping a quiet lunch outside on a brisk autumn day would give her time to absorb what had happened in the past few weeks. She'd certainly not expected the object of her thoughts to show up at her table, looking surefire cocky as ever.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, unable to keep the note of irritation out of her voice. "If I recall correctly, the Admiral gave you your walking papers and you're not one of us any more."
"It's good to see you too. May I sit?"
"You're a hard woman to track down, MacKenzie."
"You found me," Mac said. She lifted her chin defiantly to look at him. "I guess you're putting that new training the CIA put you through to work."
Harm settled into the metal chair opposite her, his gaze settling somewhere beyond her. "I called but you were in court. Sturgis signed me in and Harriet told me I could find you out here." He nodded towards her lunch. "I don't think I've ever seen you not finish one of those burgers before."
"There's a first time for everything," Mac said lightly. "And you didn't answer my question. I thought you'd be off playing cloak and dagger with Webb."
"So it's Webb now? Not Clay?"
She hated the way Harm looked at her, his brow crinkling, his dark eyes slightly narrowing. "I don't know what you're getting at," she said evenly. "But now that you're one of them--"
"Whoa!" Harm held up a hand. "One of them?"
"You could have told me you were considering joining the CIA," Mac said quietly. "I shouldn't have had to overhear you telling the good news to Webb in the hospital."
"I wasn't sure you would be interested --"
"Not interested?" Mac stared hard at the man whom she'd once followed all the way to Chechnya. "Harm, I'm your best friend." She gulped, reaching for her drink to soothe away the scratchiness on the inside of her throat. "At least, at one time, you considered me that."
"I'm not the one who used the word 'never', Mac," Harm said.
Mac averted her gaze slightly so she wouldn't have to see the hurt in his eyes. "Some things just had be said, Harm."
"You want me to be someone I'm not, to act in a way I wouldn't," Harm said. He shifted position. "I've been nothing less than consistent with you, Mac. I'm sorry if that wasn't enough for you."
Her heart pounding, Mac reached for her soda, taking a long sip of her Coke to calm her nerves. Finally, she lifted her head and, intentionally changing the subject, said, "So Clay tells me you'll be flying again with the CIA. Special Ops, apparently."
"Yeah. I start training tomorrow in Langley. Probation lasts about four months."
"I see." She kept her tone purposely flat.
He eyed her carefully. "Does that bother you? That'll I be flying again?"
She shrugged as she swirled what was left of her ice in the cup with the straw. "It's what makes you happy. The flying is what makes you you, and it's always been your first and true love."
"And is flying the only part about my joining the CIA that bothers you?" his tone was gentle. Mac knew Harm was aware exactly how she felt about his flying; she very much preferred he keep both feet firmly and securely on terra firma. She'd told him more than once than one of these days, he was going to get himself killed, somewhere between the blue skies and the hard earth below. He'd laughed off her concerns, teased her about her worries, and she'd managed to shrug off the comments, hoping he wouldn't do anything stupid. "Is there something more you want to talk about concerning my new job?"
Mac ran her finger down the side of the plastic cup; tiny beads of condensation had formed on the side.
"Mac?" His voice seemed very far away to her at this moment and she shivered, as a cloud obscured the sun. The wind picked up slightly, scattering leaves across the plaza.
"I have to go," she said softly. She gathered her garbage and pushed her chair back, the legs scratching against the concrete patio. "I'm due back in court."
"Mac." Harm's voice was low, but still, it carried over the sound of the rustling wind, the idle chatter of other officers sitting nearby. "I came to your apartment last week. After we came back. You weren't there."
Mac stopped in place, her hand gripping the back of her chair. "You did?"
"I wanted to talk."
"You. Me. Us. What you said. How it all fits together."
"I already told you," Mac said. She took a deep breath. "Harm, I can't keep doing this."
"So you're choosing Webb then?" The note of bitterness in his voice was unmistakable, not to mention the underlying hurt. She'd never seen Harm like this. In that moment, she decided quiet melancholy didn't suit the otherwise flamboyantly emotional aviator.
"You can't define yourself by what you do or what you feel," Mac said quietly. For a moment, she regarded Harm. Then she took a deep breath. "Good-bye, Harm."
As she walked the halls of JAG, the click-clack of her regulation heels seemed to echo more loudly than usual. Faces of passersby blurred. By the time she reached her office, she had regrouped and was ready to tackle the pile of work on her desk. She had no less than three Article 32 hearings this week and Coates, still transitioning into her new position as the Admiral's yeoman, had organized the files nicely. Mac sighed as she laid a hand on top of the JAG-emblazoned manila folders.
"Colonel?" Harriet stood in the door.
"What is it, Lieutenant?" Mac kept her attention on her folders.
"Did Commander Rabb find you?"
"You mean Harm?" Mac asked. She lifted her head. "He's not in the Navy any more."
"I know, ma'am, sorry, ma'am. Force of habit." Harriet paused, rubbing her stomach with the palm of her hand. "Did you see him?"
"He found me, thank you, Harriet." She regretted the sharpness in her tone immediately, but she very much wanted to imply the dismissal -- both of the conversation and Harriet. As she turned the pages in the folder, the edge of the paper caught her skin. She stared at the thin trickle of blood.
"I'll get you a Band-Aid, ma'am," Harriet said helpfully from the door.
Mac nodded, dumbfounded, as she watched little drops of red stain brown on the white case files. A second later, Harriet returned.
"Let me help you, ma'am," Harriet said softly.
"No, I've got it." Mac waved Harriet away as she applied the Band-Aid to her finger.
"Ma'am, are you all right?"
In exasperation, Mac looked at Harriet. "I've got a full caseload, the Admiral breathing down my neck, we're short-staffed and --" she stopped. Harriet was staring at her, wide-eyed. "I'm sorry, Harriet. I didn't mean to snap at you. I've just been distracted lately."
"It is quiet around here without him, ma'am."
Mac bit her lip, suppressing the urge to negate this comment as well. "It's just taking some time for me to adjust being back in DC." She smiled wistfully. "There were some parts of Paraguay I really liked."
"You almost got killed in Paraguay."
"I almost got killed right here," Mac reminded Harriet. "Harm took me flying once and we ended up getting chased by poachers. I got shot." She shook her head, involuntarily cringing at the memory. "It's always something around here, isn't it?"
"Perhaps things will slow down now."
"Perhaps," Mac said. "Thank you for the band-aid, Harriet."
After Harriet returned to the bullpen, Mac settled herself behind the desk, but she couldn't concentrate. In frustration, she grabbed her notepad and started jotting down notes on the first case; Petty Officer Algon was accused of drunken disorderly conduct and then starting a bar room brawl. Two officers had received black eyes and a bystander had ended up in the emergency room with a broken arm. The case details blurred on the paper in front of her and finally, Mac pushed back.
The office, she realized, was entirely too quiet.
Mac curled up on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn. She'd found an old video of The American President and had popped that in; she wasn't especially interested in watching the film. Finally, she put the bowl down and padded into the bedroom. She'd changed into shorts and a t-shirt after showering, but after a moment's consideration, she slipped on a sweatshirt and jeans. She'd already taken the dog for a walk, but she needed the fresh air and the exercise, anything to get her muscles moving and to shake off the lethargy that had recently overcome her.
She attached the leash to Jingo's collar. He sniffed her beat-up sneakers as she opened the door and then trotted out in front of her, obviously excited about a second opportunity to go outside.
"Sorry about leaving you in a kennel for so long, even if it was one of those fancy luxury deals," Mac said as she leaned down to scratch Jingo's head. "And I'm glad to see you're not holding my trip to Paraguay against me. C'mon, boy."
She shivered in the cool air, reconsidering her spontaneous decision; perhaps it would be wiser to spend the evening with Michael Douglas and Annette Benning. But Jingo was straining on his leash, pulling her forward and so she conceded; the dog would lead the way. She walked briskly, trying to ignore the long shadows cast by the oak trees. The lights on this street were positioned every ten yards or so, but every rustle of leaves, every snap of twig, caused Mac to rethink her decision to take a late night walk.
"Mind if I join you?"
Jolted out of her reverie, Mac stopped short. "Are you stalking me now, Harm?"
"It's hard to get you to sit still for a moment," he said. "And if I recall correctly, you were the one who walked away from me this afternoon when I tried to talk."
"How long have you been following me?"
"Just a few minutes. I saw you leave your building just as I drove up. I was hoping you'd see me, but apparently you were in a hurry to get to wherever it is you're running away to. So I just followed you."
"Practicing at playing a spook?" she asked, barely concealing her irritation at Harm's smugness.
He shrugged. "You didn't answer my question."
"You didn't answer mine."
"Fine." He reached over, his hand brushing hers, and took the leash from her. "At least I caught you at home this time. Where were you the last time?"
"I don't owe you an accounting of my whereabouts." She quickened her pace, but as expected, Harm easily matched her, stride for stride. "And for the record once again, you're jealous."
"I'm leaving for Langley tomorrow and before I go, I'd like to understand what's going on."
She stopped. "Harm, there's nothing going on."
"Look, can we at least talk about the CIA thing?" He pointed to a bench. "Please?"
She nodded reluctantly. The bench was cold and covered in leaves. She leaned back against it, twisting her body slightly towards Harm.
"The CIA is the only offer I've got, Mac. You know that," he said earnestly. "JAG is where I belong, but obviously, that's not going to happen now. The Admiral made sure of that."
"How many second chances did you expect, Harm? How many missed opportunities do you really think you'll get back?" Mac asked. She shivered as the wind picked up, swirling leaves around their feet. Harm shrugged out of his jacket, handing it to her. She shook her head, noting he was still in short-sleeves.
"I thought you, if no one else, would support me."
"You heard me in the Admiral's office. I did support you," Mac said. She reached down to scratch Jingo behind the ears; he lifted his head and licked at her hand. "But perhaps you'd want to look at it from the Admiral's perspective. He's put up with a hell of lot from you and something had to give."
"Glad to hear you're grateful," Harm said coldly.
Mac narrowed her eyes. "I am grateful. We had this conversation in Paraguay and it got us nowhere then. What makes you think it'll be different now?"
He sidestepped the question, saying instead, "I don't belong in the CIA. We both know that."
Mac waited for a second and then said, "What are you going to do? Try to talk to the Admiral again?"
Harm spread his hands out in a gesture of indecision. "He, like you, doesn't seem to want to return my phone calls."
She let the jibe pass. "I think he misses you."
"And what about you?"
"The dynamic in the office is different without you," Mac said. She hated to admit it, but Harmon Rabb had presence, the ability to fill up a room with the sheer force and strength of his personality. Already, several times in the last few days, she'd barged into Harm's office, only to be taken aback to see Sturgis Turner sitting behind the desk. She wondered how long it would take to cure herself of that knee-jerk reaction to consult with Harm, to get his take on cases and possible strategies. Much as she liked Commander Turner, she didn't have the same rapport with him. She knitted her fingers together. "The Admiral is clamping down tighter on the office and we have to file weekly reports with him now on the status of our cases. On a positive note, he has given Bud more responsibility. You do know he went on a JAG-man investigation to Iraq."
"The case of Petty Officer LaPorte? How did that go?"
"Not so good." Mac sighed. "Harm, I made a mess of things."
"Want to tell me about it? Maybe I can help." Mac stared at him. The casualness of his statement belied the fact that this wasn't business as usual, that he wasn't a fellow JAG attorney, not someone whom she could rely on. In the dim light, shadows obscured half of his face, but she could imagine the expression on his face -- that half-smile reserved especially for her, the intense focus in his eyes -- and by the tone of his voice, she could almost imagine things were back to normal for them. She had a sudden memory of Harm drive nearly 90 miles late at night to get her advice on a case. With an effort, she blocked out the image as well as any qualms she might have about sharing information about Alison LaPorte's case with Harm.
"I turned some recently declassified documents about the Petty Officer to Bud. I was --" she paused, trying to come up with the right adjective. Distracted? Sloppy? Careless? "I had a lot on my mind and there was a lot of information to shift through. I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing," she said finally. "And I handed a pile of documents to Harriet to give to Bud and I accidentally included some incriminating evidence against LaPorte. I pretty much turned my client right over to the prosecution on a silver platter."
"That's not like you, Mac."
She nodded. "I had a lot on my mind," she said again, almost desperately. Harm regarded her and she sensed he wanted to probe deeper, but she forged on, not giving him the opportunity to do so. "But that's no excuse for carelessness."
"So then the newspaper reports are true? LaPorte is suspected of aiding the Iraqis?"
"I don't know what to believe," Mac said. She shivered; the temperatures for the night were forecast to fall into the 40s -- too cold to just sit around. "Can we walk?"
"Sure." Harm got up. Jingo trotted alongside him as Mac fell into step. "What's going to happen to LaPorte now?"
"She'll be remanded into custody pending a general court martial. Harm, she may face the death penalty." Mac stopped short. "I should have never accepted those files from Clay."
"Webb gave you those files?"
"Yes, he declassified intelligence on a Bedouin tribe spying for the Iraqis for me in a show of trust."
"A show of trust?" Harm arched an eyebrow, but Mac refused to meet his gaze.
"Why did you come out here?" she asked, choosing instead to change the subject. She had no desire to get into a discussion about Clayton Webb. But then, she mused, there would never be a good time to talk about her relationship -- whatever it was -- with Clay; Harm, ultra-competitive as he was, wouldn't sit still long enough to hear her out. He'd cut her off in Paraguay, asking if they could table the discussion and she, sensing that they would never resolve the situation, had cut him off at the knees.
"I already told you. I want to talk. You said you wanted someone who could state his intentions. I don't think I can say it any clearer than showing up on your doorstep at 2 am in the morning."
"It's not 2 am."
"It was when I showed up and you weren't there." He stopped and Jingo hunkered down, obviously anticipating a long drawn out conversation. "Where were you, Mac? With Webb?"
"None of your business," Mac snapped. She yanked the leash out of Harm's hand. "I'm going home."
"Hey!" he caught her by the upper arm. "You can't just keep running away. I realize you're upset with me, but I think at the very least, I should know why."
She put her hands on her hips. "Okay, so you wanted to talk about the CIA. So, I've got a question for you. When were you going to tell me about this new career change of yours? Pretty convenient, isn't it, that you keep managing to tell Webb things before I find out?" Mac started walking. "First you tell him about giving up your commission, and now this?"
A cool breeze ruffled the leaves. Mac hunched up, hugging herself, as she quickened her pace. She was aware of Harm right behind her, his breathing even as he caught up to her.
"I'm sorry," Harm said. He put his hand on Mac's forearm. "I should have told you, but it all happened so quickly."
So it's final?" she said flatly.
"It's not like I have any other choices."
"You should have thought about that before you resigned."
Harm stopped short. "You know, you're really incredible. When I resigned, I only had one thought on my mind. I'm amazed you're not more grateful."
"I am grateful, Harm." Mac, not bothering to hide her exasperation, ran a hand through her hair. She'd recently gotten it cut after it'd grown out during the few weeks they'd been in Paraguay. Still, for that period of time, she'd enjoyed having hair reaching past her collar, and it'd felt almost normal; 'happily ever after' hadn't seemed so unattainable during those days. She'd even been willing to entertain the thought of settling down with Webb in a white colonial in the suburbs with a picket fence and a yard for Jingo. All a pipe dream now, she realized, as it was obvious to her now that a long-term romantic relationship with Clay was simply out of the question. She respected the man more than ever, felt she had insight into his character now that she hadn't had before, and for that, she was grateful. "I don't know what you want from me."
"Some excitement, maybe," Harm said. "How about a 'congratulations on the new job and good luck, Harm'? It's the least I'd expect from someone whom I worked with for eight years, whose life I saved."
She winced at the snide coldness in his voice. "Well, there, you asked nicely. So, congratulations and good luck." She continued walking, ignoring the leaves shuffling around her feet. They were nearly at her apartment now and Jingo was dragging, the way he always did, when it was time to go back inside.
"Why do I get the feeling you're not happy with my new job?" Harm asked. "Is it because it involves flying?"
"You already asked me that this morning and I answered it then."
"No, you side-stepped it." He looked her squarely in the eye. "Why are we so bad at this? Why is it impossible to have a straight, honest conversation with you?"
"You know why," Mac said. She bit her lip, remembering how many times Harm had used those same words with her.
"Are you upset because I now have something in my life that doesn't involve you?"
"Please." Mac rubbed her arms in a fervent attempt to get warm.
"Then, come on, Mac. What is it?"
They stopped beneath the full spotlight of one of the streetlights. For once, there were no cars passing by. In the apartment building across the street, a light went out. Mac took a deep breath.
"I'm not going to tell you anything I haven't said to you before," she said. "But I'm afraid you're going to get yourself killed one of these days, Harm. You take risks. Stupid risks and you play the hero when you have no right to endanger yourself. If you can manage to get yourself into so much trouble as a JAG lawyer, what the hell is going to happen when you're a globe-trotting man of mystery? It's not just the flying, Harm. It never has been. It's the fact that you take chances, unnecessary ones, and maybe you don't have a sense of mortality, but I'm tired of wondering if you're going to make it home in one piece or in a body bag."
"You know how it is. Excitement finds me," Harm said easily. In that moment, she hated him.
"You --" she jabbed a finger in his direction "-- should consider a desk job."
"Are you jealous?" His lips turned up in that cocky grin that alternately infuriated and seduced her. "Now I get all of the adventures and you're stuck here in DC, defending petty officers who start bar fights or get unauthorized tattoos."
"No," Mac said. She rubbed her hands together and then ascended the stone steps to her apartment door. Harm stood at the bottom, still holding Jingo's leash.
They stared at each other.
"Mac," he said softly, "you said yourself JAG is all I've got and as much as I didn't want to believe it, it's true. I had to find something to replace it and you know as well as I did that choice number one didn't work out. Don't worry. I'm going to be fine. I'll be up and running in no time at all. I have no doubt I can be as successful a CIA operative as I am a lawyer or aviator."
"That's what I'm afraid of," she said, biting her lip. She took the steps down two at a time until she was standing only a few inches away from Harm.
"That I'll be good at it?" his voice was laced with incredulity.
"You never do anything in half-measures, Harm. You go all out, you put your whole heart into what you do and I--" she paused. "What if you become like Clay, Harm, what then?"
"You seem to like Clay just fine," he answered coolly.
The night suddenly seemed even colder. Mac reached for Jingo's leash, her fingers brushing Harm's hand as she took it from him.
"You know what I mean," she said evenly.
"No, I don't think I do." Harm crossed his arms against his chest, lifting his chin to stare at her in defiance.
"It takes a certain cold-blooded mindset to be an operative, the ability to do whatever it takes to get the job done and the self-discipline to compromise principles if the situation comes down to that. Can you honestly tell me you are willing to do that? That this is what you want?" Mac asked, then she took a deep breath, her chest tightening as she watched the shadows ripple across his face. Suddenly, she could no longer discern what he was thinking from his expression. In all of their years together, she'd always seen Harm as the type to wear his emotions on his sleeve; there wasn't much he couldn't hide from her any more and yet...
She held up a hand. "Don't tell me," she said. "I don't know, Harm, if I could handle the answer."
They stared at each other for a moment. The hazy glow from the streetlight seemed to soften Harm's features and she resisted the impulse to trace the outline of his square jaw with her fingers. They were close enough that his breath was warm against her skin. After a second, Mac turned and walked back up the stairs.
She looked back at him, twisting Jingo's leash around her hand.
"Maybe you're right," he said flatly. "Maybe we need a break from each other. We're obviously not going to work this out."
"Are you giving up?"
"No, just being practical."
"If that's what you want."
"You know what I want," Harm said earnestly. He edged closer to her. She swallowed hard and backed away. Harm stopped in his tracks. "But we're obviously not in agreement on that. Good-bye, Mac."
"Good-bye," she said softly. She'd said the same words to him earlier in the day, but the finality injected into the word at this very moment hit her hard. She put her hand on the railing, gripping it tightly, waiting for Harm's reaction, but he just stood there, staring at her with those dark eyes of his, as if memorizing every inch of her. Her heart pounding, she turned away and unlocked the door, not trusting herself to look back.
Back in the apartment, Mac threw herself down on the couch, with Jingo lying on the floor next to her. She stroked his fur idly, almost out of force of habit than anything else. She closed her eyes and then after a moment, rolled off the couch, barely missing Jingo. He whimpered but didn't follow her to the window. She pressed her forehead against the glass, searching the street. Harm's car was gone. She sighed, and turned away.
Perhaps it was better this way, she thought as she slumped back against the sofa. Time and distance would be good for both of them. She rolled over onto her stomach, grabbing a throw pillow and hugging it to her. Perhaps in morning light, what she'd seen in darkness, would become more clear. Perhaps then, she would be able to tell Harm exactly where she had been on the night he'd come to find her: that she'd gone looking for him.
~ the end
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