Author's note: Spoilers for "JAG: San Diego" and set after the events of "A Shooting at the Mosque." This fits into the "Element Series," and more specifically with Standing Still, but can be read and understood without reading the other stories.
Disclaimer: DPB and CBS Productions, not me.
The gentle tap of rain on the windows beat a steady but low rhythm as Mac pulled two plates from the kitchen cabinet. She paused for a moment, before opening the fridge to grab a couple of bottles of water. In the background, she could hear Harm moving around restlessly. She smiled to herself. No doubt he was hungry and the heavy aroma of Chinese food hung heavily and tantalizingly in the air.
"Ready to eat?" Mac asked, coming into the living room, plates and utensils in one hand, the two bottles of water in the other. She nodded towards the containers of food sitting on the coffee table. "It was nice of you to bring dinner."
"It's the least I could do, dropping in on you suddenly," Harm said. He shifted, a little awkwardly, as Mac set the plates down on the coffee table. "I didn't mean to interrupt your evening."
Mac gestured towards the stack of file folders she had unceremoniously dumped on the floor a few minutes previously. "It's not like I had a lot going on for a Friday evening, just working on my monthly status report for Creswell." She managed a wry smile as she stared at some of the documents which had slipped free of their folders. "Though, it's going to be hell getting all the papers back where they belong." She looked back at Harm. "What I'm trying to say, your sudden appearance at my doorstop is a welcome distraction."
At this, Harm quirked a grin, his lips parting just enough to reveal a bit of tooth. "I guess that makes two of us then," he said. "Friday night, and nowhere to go."
"Well, I'm glad you're here now," Mac said. She sank down onto the sofa. "What did you bring?"
"The usual suspects." Harm reached forward and opened one container and showed it to Mac. "Fried rice." He held up a wax bag. "Egg rolls. Buddha's delight. And just for you, cashew chicken."
"You're too good to me," Mac said a little flirtatiously as she watched as Harm organize the food on the coffee table.
"Like I said, I owe you one," Harm said, nodding. "More than one, actually." There was an invitation underlying his words, but Mac chose not to take it. The evening had started pleasant enough and while there were definitely things they needed to talk about, Mac preferred a more gentle and in-direct approach; there would be time enough to talk about the uncomfortable things after dinner.
Harm cleared his throat, breaking the silence. "I didn't ask you about San Diego."
"You had other things on your mind," Mac said gently. She held her breath, watching Harm carefully. She found it difficult to talk about Mattie, and she could not even imagine the pain her friend was enduring. "San Diego isn't as important as the other things that are going on." Without waiting for a prompt from Harm, she spooned some fried rice and vegetables on his plate and handed it to him.
"Yeah." Harm exhaled heavily and dropped his head slightly. "I'm sorry, Mac."
"For what?" She finished ladling rice on to her plate and she reached past Harm to take an egg roll. She handed him a napkin and he shook his head when she offered him the wax bag holding the egg rolls.
"For not taking your phone calls, for pushing you away when you finally tracked me down at the hospital." He glanced at her sideways. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Mac said gently. "I understand." She bit her lip and then said, "Neither of us are very good at admitting weakness or needing help."
"Maybe that needs to change."
Mac nodded. "Yes," she said. She speared a piece of baby corn on the end of her fork and contemplated it for a moment before popping it into her mouth. "We'll get there. It's just a question of doing what has always been difficult for us: being in the same place at the same time."
"Yeah," Harm said. He cleared his throat again. "So, um, San Diego. The conference."
Mac shrugged. Harm was trying, she had to give him that, and in most cases, she would have been grateful, but it worried her that Harm didn't seem to want to talk about Mattie or what he was going through. You can a lead horse to water, but you can't make him drink, Mac thought wryly, deciding to go back to her earlier strategy of letting Harm talk when he was comfortable. "I missed most of the sessions because of the case. In fact--" she frowned, thinking back "--I don't think I attended a single session, not that I had time." She shook her head ruefully. "Vukovic kept me on my toes, that's for sure."
"He did?" There was a note of insecurity -- or was it jealousy? -- underlying Harm's voice.
Mac put her empty plate down on the coffee table and shifted her position on the sofa so she was looking directly at Harm. "Yeah. He's someone we're going to have to keep an eye on. I'm still not 100 percent sure of his tactics and if I had to try a case with him again as co-counsel, I'm not sure I would be able to trust him. I haven't decided whether I want to talk to Cresswell about Vukovic yet. Conventional wisdom says I should, immediately, before Vukovic pulls another stunt like he did with that actor, but at the same time, I have this *need* to get through to him myself." She shook her head. "In some ways, Vukovic reminds me a lot of you."
"Really?" Harm sounded more amused than insulted.
"Yes, in a pig-headed, obstinate, and utterly infuriating way." Mac licked her spoon and then let it clatter to her plate.
"You say the nicest things, Mac." But Harm smiled at her and he seemed relaxed, and Mac hoped that at this moment, the recent hospital drama was the furthest thing from Harm's mind. "I can't remember the last time someone called me those things."
Mac waved off his comment with a casual wave of her hand. "But what bothers me most about him, about Vukovic, is his desire to win at all costs, regardless of ethics. It worries me that he places a premium on winning, so much so that it concerns me the truth may get lost. In that sense--" Mac bit off a piece off egg roll "--he's nothing like you."
"And that's a good thing?"
Mac glanced sideways at Harm. "Yes, very much so." She reached over and lightly laid her palm on his knee. "I'm trying to understand why the General has paired me up with Vukovic so often. I know you've been busy, but this is ridiculous. I think I have at least a couple more cases where I'm going head to head with him. I relish the challenge, but at the same time, I'm wondering what he's going to come up with next." Mac licked her fingers. "Mmm, that was a good dinner, Harm. Thanks." She reached for her glass of water. "Still, I'd like to know what Cresswell is thinking."
Harm offered her that familiar crooked grin which she had always, from the day she'd first laid eyes on him in the rose garden, found irresistible. "He suspects you'll be a moderating influence on him?"
"Much as Chegwidden thought I'd be on you."
"I thought the Admiral wanted me to teach you a thing or two," Harm said, his smile taking on an impish characteristic. Even after all these years, it never failed to amaze Mac just how mischievous Harm could be -- a trait she found both irresistible and infuriating and sometimes, at the same time.
"And see how that turned out."
"You win some, you lose some," Harm said, shrugging. Mac eyed him with some concern.
"What's on your mind?" she asked finally.
Harm paused, seeming to direct his attention to everything other than Mac.
"Harm," Mac said, her voice softening. "Talk to me. Don't make me fill in the blanks." It was as direct a request as she'd ever made. Even when she'd sat by Mattie's bedside, cradling Harm's large hands in her own, she'd been very aware of Harm's grief. However, she'd been unable to come out and directly ask him what exactly he was feeling. She knew her fear was irrational in every way, and perhaps, was just another way of shielding herself from the force of his personality. The few times she had attempted to open up to Harm, she'd found herself devastated and over the years, she had trained herself to keep him at an emotional distance as a self-defense mechanism. She'd convinced herself it would be okay, that she could help Harm through Mattie's accident, be there for him as the friend and support he so desperately needed. It now occurred to her mere physical presence wasn't necessarily enough.
"I never expected it to be like this," Harm said softly. He didn't look at her.
"Everything." He sighed and then, defiantly, he said, "I don't want you to worry about me."
She scoffed at the comment. "Tough luck." Her knee bumped up against his, but he didn't react and she didn't pull away. "Harm, things have changed drastically for you. You have a lot to absorb, to deal with. I'm asking you what I can do to make it easier."
Harm considered and then he said, "I may need to consider making some changes, career-wise. I'm not sure I'm in the right state of mind to go to Afghanistan, Iraq, or even make a trip to the Coral Sea or any other battleship group out there."
Mac tensed. "What are you saying? Are you thinking about leaving JAG?"
"It's starting to seem like an option."
Mac swallowed. She'd missed Harm the last time he'd left JAG, but she'd understood his motives then, just as she understood them now. "You have to do what you have to do," she said finally. "I know that."
"I've been stagnating, Mac." Harm knitted his fingers together as he glanced at her sideways. "In a way, I'm not even sure where I fit in anymore, at JAG, with you. At least with Mattie--" he gave a short, bitter laugh "--there was someone who needed me for sure, but even that…" his voice drifted off. "I've spent more than ten years of my life at JAG, trying to do the right thing and I'm proud of that. But when I look to the future, I see more of the same and somehow, that doesn't look that attractive to me now."
Mac cleared her throat. "What will you do?"
"That's a good question."
"You know I'll support you, no matter what."
"I do." Harm shifted his position on the sofa, turning so that he was now looking directly at her. She admired the way the glow from the lamp fell across his face, creating an intriguing mix of shadow and light, softening his features in a way that was both familiar and comforting. "I saw Webb, by the way."
The comment took Mac by surprise, but she hoped she recovered her composure quickly. "What? When?" She did her best to keep her voice even.
"A couple of months ago. Before all this happened with Mattie," Harm said. "He was in town for just a few hours, and he asked to see me. I met him out by the Lincoln Memorial."
Mac glanced down at her hands. In retrospect, she knew what she shared with Clay hadn't been real or solid, but it had been *something* and in the beginning, she had enjoyed being with him. It was only later on, as Clay's lies started to unravel, as she found herself in greater jeopardy because of him, that she was forced to face the truth: she had chosen Clay because she had been afraid of being alone. "What did he say?" Mac asked finally.
"He had an assignment for me, out in--" Harm paused "--in the Midwest…"
"Classified location, huh?"
Harm had the grace to look contrite. "Yeah, something like that."
"Go on." Mac knitted her fingers together.
"He just pointed out how I seem to have hit a ceiling at JAG, that there are no more opportunities for me there." Harm took a deep breath. "I said I'd consider his offer, though to be honest, the CIA isn't really for me."
"So you're not going to go?"
"Well, that depends."
Harm looked at her intensely, his eyes clouding with an emotion Mac was afraid to assign a name to. She rubbed her sweaty palms against her jeans.
"To be perfectly direct," Harm said quietly, "what are your plans?"
Mac shrugged, allowing herself to relax a little. "Other than baby-sit Vukovic for a while? Though, I get the feeling Cresswell has plans for me."
She leaned forward. "Cresswell mentioned something about needing a new JAG out in the San Diego office. The way he put it--" she twisted her hands together "-- I don't know whether he was asking me or *telling* me."
"You're thinking about transferring?"
"Not me, *Cresswell*." Mac sighed. "Have you noticed we haven't worked together lately? I can't help but wonder--"
"That he doesn't like our bickering as much as Chegwidden?"
"Yes, that too." Mac smiled. She took a deep breath. She knew Cresswell never did or said anything without reason and it was telling, at least to her, that on the recent trip to San Diego, she had been selected to go, while Harm had been forced to stay behind. She wondered now, given the off-hand comments Cresswell had made to her since returning from San Diego, whether the trip had been an orientation of source. A transfer now wasn't necessarily a surprise, Mac had to admit. She'd been in Washington for nine years, and with exception of her brief foray into private practice, she had remained fairly stagnant, often lingering in Harm's shadow. Moving to San Diego would give her some new visibility, new opportunities. "If he is serious about transferring me to San Diego, I would consider it strongly," Mac said.
"Depending on the position, it could be a very good career move for you," Harm said carefully.
"That's what I was thinking," she said. "Besides, it would be nice to see the sun once in a while, and not to mention, a lot less snow." Mac ran her hand over the sleeve of her white angora sweater and wistfully thought back to the sundresses and t-shirts hanging in her closet. It had felt good, even for a few days, to feel the sun on her skin, to step outside without putting on layers upon layers of clothing. "But I shouldn't count my chickens before they hatch." She looked at Harm with some concern. "And then there's you," she said. Surprisingly, the words were not difficult to get out.
"In what way?"
"I'd worry about you."
"I'll be fine."
"That's what you always say, Harm," Mac said earnestly. "And then I have to come and save your ass." She started to gather up the discarded containers of Chinese food. She busied herself for a second stacking the white boxes on top of each other and piling the dirty plates. "What I'm trying to say is, maybe you should consider San Diego yourself."
"What's keeping you here?" The words tumbled out and Mac finally stopped cleaning up and turned to face Harm directly. She knew she couldn't stop now. "Not Mattie, not family, not anything. So, why not?"
"I don't know what to say, Mac."
"Think about it," she urged. "Think of it as an opportunity."
"Yeah." She quirked a smile. "Clay was right. You've been stagnating. We both have. Maybe it's time to make drastic changes."
"A cross-continental move is a hell of a change, Mac."
"It's just something to think about, Harm. It's not a done deal. We're just talking. A long over-due talk." Mac could feel the heat rising in her face. "But if Cresswell is serious, if he is going to transfer me, then--" she took a deep breath, and then reached over and clasped Harm's hand between hers. His skin was warm against hers and for the first time in years, she felt completely comfortable with reaching out to him, both physically and emotionally. "I can't imagine being without you," she said very simply. And then she waited. The silence in the room was punctuated by the low hum of the heater in the background and the ticking of the wall clock. In the distance, she could hear the wail of a siren and a second later, the roar of a helicopter up above.
After what seemed to be an interminable amount of time, Harm leaned forward, so close she could feel his breath on her cheek. She didn't pull away. He put his arms around her and she leaned in, even closer, her palms flat against his chest.
"You do realize this changes everything," he told her.
"Yeah," Mac said, a little shakily. "I was kind of hoping it would." She pressed her forehead against his. "I guess this means you'll think about it?"
"Very seriously so."
Mac draped her arms around Harm's shoulders and then let him pull her down to the sofa with him. She lay there, her ear to his chest, his lips to the top of her head, and closed her eyes.
~ the end
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