"Then you need to know what the doctor said," Mac told him, and Harm felt his heart stop beating for a moment as he looked at her face. She looked so serious, so frightened. He covered her hands with his and waited for her to talk. He didn't pressure her, just sat there, waiting, even though his own worry and fear *for* her were eating him alive.
When she finally spoke, she was looking at their hands, not at him as she pulled one of hers out to capture his hand between hers. "I - It's possible that I might not be able to *have* children," she said in a quiet voice, her eyes lifting to his face, as if trying to catch his reaction before he had a chance to conceal it.
"I don't care about that right now, I just want to know what's wrong, with *you* Mac" he told her, and saw the relief in her eyes.
Mac took a deep breath. "Endometriosis. That's what's caused the back pain and - other things I've been experiencing."
Harm closed his eyes and released the breath he'd been holding. "Thank God. For a minute I was afraid -" he blinked, opening his eyes to look at her. "I was afraid it was cancer -"
"It's not that bad," she told him. "Except that I might not be able to have any children. And I know how much having a family means to you, Harm -"
He turned to face her. "Mac, I don't give a damn about whether or not we have any kids. As long as we're together, we're a family. We can always adopt - or - or become foster parents, there are all kinds of options. I said once that I didn't want to lose you. I meant it then, and I mean it now. I'm sorry about Clay - I know you wanted things to work out, but in another way, I'm not sorry that he's not part of the picture anymore. Because that means there's nothing standing in my way." He looked down at their intertwined fingers. "There's no one else in your life at the moment, is there?"
"N-no. Except you."
He lifted his eyes to find hers watching him. "Yeah. Except me," he agreed, leaning closer to her, only to stop as the door into the club opened and someone came out.
"There you are," Harriet said when she saw them, and then backed off, as if suddenly realizing that she might have just interrupted something. "Is everything okay?"
Harm retained his hold on Mac's hand as he stood up, pulling her gently with him. "Yeah. We were just talking," he said, smiling as Harriet's eyes widened upon seeing their hands joined together.
"I was wondering - have either of you seen the Admiral? He's nowhere inside -"
"He probably slipped away," Mac suggested. "Didn't want a scene."
Harriet sighed with regret. "You're right. Bud and Sturgis both said that they thought that's what he would do. It just seems - wrong, somehow. After all this time -" She looked at Harm and Mac again. "Are you sure everything's okay?"
"I'm just a little tired," Mac confided. "With everything that's happening - the Admiral's retirement and Clay -"
Harm winced as he felt her increased tension and saw Harriet's look of concern. "Has something happened to Mr. Webb, ma'am?"
"He's dead," Mac said softly.
"Oh, Mac. I'm sorry," Harriet said. "When?"
"He was one of the men that the sailors from the Thomas Lyons were trying to rescue -"
Harriet's mouth dropped open. "But that was - a week ago. The gifts -"
"His assistant was sending them on his orders," Mac told her.
Harm looked at Harriet. "This isn't for public consumption, Harriet," he said. "It's still technically classified -"
"I understand, sir," she assured him.
"I really need to get home - I'm not feeling very well -" she took her cell phone out of her purse.
"Call me," Harriet said to her. "If you need anything. Please."
Mac nodded as she waited for someone to pick up the phone on the other end. Harriet left them alone once more. "Yes, I need a cab -"
"I'll drive you home, Mac," Harm offered quickly, before she could finish the sentence."
She looked at him. "Just a moment," she told the dispatcher. "I don't want to put you out -"
"You won't be. I'll drive you home," he said again.
"Never mind. I have a ride," she said into the phone before closing it again.
Harm gave her a gentle smile, offering his arm. "Let's go Cinderella. Your pumpkin awaits."
On the way back to Mac's apartment, Harm called Mattie and let her know that he was going to be a little late. She assured him that it was okay, and that she had enjoyed dinner with her dad. Hanging up, he saw Mac watching him. "What?" he asked.
"You're good with her," she noted.
"I hope so. I've learned a lot from having her in my life." That thought led to the realization that she might not be in his life much longer, and he sighed.
Mac reached over to place her hand over his. "Just because she goes back to her father doesn't mean you won't be a part of her life anymore, Harm," she pointed out.
He managed to smile at her. "When did you learn to read my mind?" he asked.
"I wish. Maybe then I wouldn't have messed everything up so badly. And Clay wouldn't be -"
He'd been afraid of this, Harm thought, sighing and cursing himself for making that stupid comment to Sturgis three years ago. Grasping her hand with his fingers, he waited for her to look at him. "It wasn't your fault, Mac. It was his job. You had to have known something like that could happen. Nothing you did or didn't do would have made any difference."
"I can't believe that he lied to me."
"To protect you. To keep you from worrying."
"To keep me from harassing him, more likely," Mac said, shaking her head. Moving in the seat, she winced, and Harm frowned.
"I'm a little uncomfortable. The doctor said that it could happen."
"Do you have anything to take for it?" he asked.
"I have a prescription, but I didn't take the time to get it filled -"
Harm looked around before turning into an all-night pharmacy. "Then we'll do it now," he declared.
He insisted on walking her up to her door, and for once Mac didn't fight him, for which he was grateful. There was no way in hell he was going to leave her alone at the moment - but he didn't want to fight with her about it. For once in his life, Harmon Rabb knew exactly what he wanted, and he wasn't about to back down with the target in sight.
"You want some coffee?" Mac asked as she unlocked the door, and Harm nearly sagged with relief upon hearing the question.
"Sure. But why don't I make it while you change?" he suggested, following her into the apartment.
"Everything's still in the same place," she assured him with a grateful smile before turning toward the bedroom. "Make yourself comfortable."
Harm took her at her word, removing his jacket, tie and cummerbund, laying them neatly over the back of a dining room chair before going into the kitchen to put the coffee on to brew. He could smell the faint odor of Webb's expensive aftershave even in the kitchen - and wondered if Mac could as well. He could afford to be magnanimous, he supposed. After all, Webb was dead - and it looked like things were finally moving in the right direction for himself and Mac. But knowing that Webb had been here, with her -
Harm took a deep breath to restore his equilibrium, rolling up the sleeves of his dress shirt while waiting for the coffee to finish. Finding two cups, he poured the coffee and put sugar and cream into Mac's before carrying them to the living room. "You okay in there?" he asked, worried that she wasn't out of the bedroom yet.
When she didn't respond, Harm put the coffee onto the table and moved cautiously toward the bedroom, worried that she might have fallen or fainted because of whatever they'd done to her at the hospital earlier. "Mac?"
She was sitting on the edge of the bed, wearing a knee-length tee shirt while holding something in her hands, her eyes on that item. Harm recognized the item as a dark tee shirt - too small to be one of his - Not that he would have left one here at Mac's apartment. "I found it under the edge of the bed," she explained. "I still can't believe he's really gone," Mac said in a shaky, quiet voice.
Very carefully, Harm sat on the side of the bed with her, keeping several inches between them. Giving her space. "Maybe he's not, Mac," he suggested. "I know you said that you 'feel it' - that he's dead. But I can't help but remember when he faked his death to complete a mission."
She looked up at him, and Harm's heart nearly broke completely at the look in her dark eyes. "I wish I could believe that," she said, and shook her head. "But I can't." Her fingers clenched around the dark fabric she held. "He's gone. You were right about me."
"No, you were. Every man who gets involved with me dies or wishes he was dead. Eddie, Chris, Dalton - now Clay. They're all dead."
"Not because they were involved with you," he pointed out. "Eddie was drinking. You didn't force him to get drunk or drive that night. Chris was going to kill you. It was your life or his. No one forced *him* to come back here and try to black mail you for money." He covered her hands with one of his. "Dalton was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was bad luck on his part that he got in Coster's way. Anyone that Coster felt was close to you would have been a target. But that was Coster's problem. Not *yours*."
"You didn't send him out on that mission," Harm pointed out. "He had a dangerous job. He knew what the risks were going in, Mac. At least - at least he was happy and had you in his life for awhile before it ended."
"I thought you said that you aren't sure he's dead?" she pointed out, but he saw the tiny glimmer of gratitude in her eyes, even while knowing that he wasn't convincing her that none of the deaths in her life were her fault.
"Have you talked to his mother? Porter's reaction to the news might be enough to confirm it one way or the other."
"I tried to call - but she's out of the country, according to the butler. Either that or she just isn't taking my calls."
Harm frowned. "Why would she do that?"
"Porter Webb and I don't exactly get along. She's not happy that Clay was spending so much time with me instead of with her whenever he was in town. I think she'd be that way with almost anyone Clay became involved with, though."
"So it's not personal."
"No." Mac's gaze fell to the dark fabric in her hands once more. "He really tried, you know. He was even cutting back on the drinking. When I was around, anyway. And I knew that he lied to protect me, to keep me from worrying about him. If I'd kept getting those gifts he picked out, I probably wouldn't have known anything was wrong." Her sigh was loud in the quiet room. "If you're smart, Harm, you'll run as fast and far in the other direction before it's too late."
"I think it's already too late, Mac," Harm said, tilting his head to see her face. "And I'm not going anywhere," he promised. "Why don't you take a couple of those pills and get some rest?" he suggested, standing up and pulling the covers on the bed back for her.
"What about the coffee?" she asked, slipping between the covers.
Harm tucked her in. "It'll wait. Just like everything else until you're ready." His eyes met hers, letting her know that he wasn't just talking about the coffee. I'll go get that pill and some water."
He busied himself with finding the pain pills and getting a glass of water, taking both into her and making sure she took the medication before tucking her in again. "Get some rest," he said quietly, smoothing her dark hair.
Before he could pull his hand away, Mac grabbed it, causing him to stop and look down at her. "You'll be here?"
"Always," he said again, smiling gently. "Now sleep."
"You're too good to me sometimes," she said. "I don't deserve it."
"I happen to disagree. Close your eyes, Mac."
She did, and he remained where he was, watching over her, until he could tell that she was sleep. Only then did he move back into the living room. Picking up the now ice-cold cups of coffee, he carried them into the kitchen, emptying both into the sink and rinsing one of the cups. Refilling the other, he returned to the living room to sit down on the sofa, staring into the dark liquid.
He wasn't sure why, but he couldn't accept that Clayton Webb was gone as easily as Mac seemed to be able to. He knew that he was crazy for feeling that way - but Harm had never liked loose ends. And Webb's sudden death was a loose end, even if it was too neat, too easy. If nothing else, the man had been good at his job when things went right.
And things *had* gone right for Clayton Webb most of the time. It had only been on the ops where JAG personnel were involved that things had tended to become somehow skewed. If a person had only known about those ops, they would have thought Webb was the biggest screw up in the Company. Just like if people only counted Harm's problems flying aircraft. He had a lot of hours flying safely - but those incidents made some people a little nervous.
Taking out his cell phone, he peeked into Mac's bedroom, pulling the door almost closed before dialing a number that he managed to dredge up from inside his head somewhere.
"Porter Webb, please," Harm told the butler.
"May I say who is calling?"
"Commander Harmon Rabb."
The other man hesitated before speaking. "Mrs. Webb is not taking calls, Commander Rabb."
"Markov, has she been informed about her son?"
"Please give her my condolences, and let her know that I'd like to speak to her as soon as she's returning calls."
"Just a moment, please."
Harm stood by the window, waiting for Markov to return, probably to take down his number or -
He frowned at the voice. "Mrs. Webb. Your butler -"
"Is very protective of me. It's the reason that - my son and I chose him for the job. I must say that I'm surprised to hear from you, Commander. But it does give me a chance to thank you for what you did for Clayton last year. If it hadn't been for you, he would have died." Before Harm could speak, she continued. "But you didn't go down there to find Clayton, did you?"
"No, ma'am," Harm answered honestly. "Actually, Clay was part of it, but I was more concerned about Colonel Mackenzie. I am sorry that Clay's dead, Mrs. Webb. Even after this last year and everything that's happened, I never wanted -"
"I know. You're an honorable man, Commander. You're curious as to whether or not my son is faking his death again, aren't you?"
"Well, I have to admit, Mrs. Webb, that thought *has* crossed my mind," Harm confessed. "The last time that everyone thought he was dead -"
"You rescued him. Just as you did last year. Commander, as far as I know, my son is dead. I don't know any of the details, but his body is being returned to the mainland tomorrow. The coffin has been sealed - and I have no intention of requesting that it be unsealed. There are certain things that I take on face value. I can only suggest that you - and the Colonel do likewise."
"About the Colonel, Mrs. Webb -"
"I'll let her know when the memorial service will be held, Commander. But that's all."
"Mrs. Webb, when did you last speak to Clay?"
"He stopped by just before leaving on his last mission," she said. "For ten minutes. Before you ask, he did not give me any indication of where he might be going."
"He didn't mention anything about Germany?"
"He told me that he had told her that he was going there," Porter confirmed, "so that if she contacted me, I would be able to maintain the charade. I didn't approve of his having lied to her, Commander. She deserved better from my son. But he did it out of his feeling for her. It was a rather ham-handed attempt to keep her from worrying about him."
"Yes, ma'am," Harm agreed.
"I won't deny telling him that I felt he should have been honest with her, and that if wasn't able to handle that honesty perhaps the relationship wasn't meant to be."
"Clay's father never -"
"Lied to me about where he was and promised to keep in touch? No, Commander. I understood that my husband's work wasn't a subject that he could discuss and I learned to live with it. Some people simply can't make that adjustment."
A few minutes later, Harm expressed his condolences once again before hanging up. Mrs. Webb seemed convinced that her son was dead. Mac was sure that he was gone. So why did he have a little niggling feeling that was making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end?
Something about Webb's death just didn't 'feel' right to Harm. The man had gotten out of too many close calls. He was a good swimmer. From talking to Sturgis, he'd discovered that they hadn't been in the water for that long. The zodiac had only overturned as the rescue operation progressed.
The coffee was cold again, and Harm decided to give up on it. Instead, he found a bottle of water in the refrigerator and opened it, taking a long drink before making another check on Mac. She saw still sleeping, and Harm smiled as he made sure she was covered and returned to the living room.
Maybe it was time to call in some of the favors he'd accumulated while flying for the company to see what he could find out. While Mac had managed to get a foot in the door through her having helped in Paraguay and her relationship with Webb - to mention having taken out Sadik at great emotional cost t herself, Harm had a few deeper contacts.
One of those contacts was also Mac's. And Harrison Kershaw *owed* Mac for what she'd done for the company. There was also Catherine. While he hadn't stayed in close contact with the CIA attorney, she still considered him a friend and was grateful for his assistance with her mother.
But even as he opened his phone, Harm knew that he couldn't call her. Not without talking to Mac first - finding out if she wanted to pursue this farther, to see if she wanted to find out if Clay was dead or alive. She was as involved in this - no, she was more involved. She's the one who had been in a relationship with the man.
Once, Harm had grudgingly considered Clayton Webb to be a friend, a comrade, an ally. He knew that he could get whatever information he needed out of the agent, with a little arm-twisting and guilt. And Clay had always come through - even at the expense of his career, he had done the right thing in getting that information about the Angel Shark.
But somewhere along the line, things had changed. Harm didn't really blame Clay for falling for Mac. Hell, he'd been in love with her for years but hadn't had the courage to say the words she needed to hear. Clay, apparently, had found that courage and taken the chance. Harm felt that Clay had to have known how *he* felt about Mac, but maybe he hadn't. Even during the darkest days of the last year, he'd never wished that Clay were dead.
Well, maybe once. Or twice, he amended as a crooked smile appeared on his lips. But the feeling always passed quickly and left him feeling angry - at himself.
Dropping onto the sofa, Harm put his head back on the sofa and let himself remember the happier times - Columbia, when he and Mac had saved Webb's life, their first meeting when Mac's Uncle Matt had been set up to steal the Declaration of Independence, saving the Admiral, Bud, Mac and Corporal Magita from Osbourne . . .
He had called on Clay's help, shamed him into doing the 'right thing' more times than he could count. Those were the times he would remember. Not this last year, even though he'd finally made his peace with the way things had happened.
"When one door closes, another door opens."
Harm just hoped that Clayton Webb - wherever he was - would approve of his going through that door once Mac invited him inside.
Sometime during the night, Harm stretched out as much as he could on the sofa and fell asleep, hugging a throw pillow against his chest. His dreams had been filled with memories of Webb, and Mac, and that time when Webb had faked his own death. But this time, instead of Jordan being in danger, it was Mac, and Harm and Clay ended up fighting over which of them was going to save her. Toward the end of the dream, Palmer turned into Sadik Fahd, and it was Mac who took him out while Harm and Clay stood by watching.
"She's something else, isn't she?" Harm questioned.
"She sure is," Clay agreed. "Certainly too good for either of us."
He brushed aside the hand that fell on his chest, turning on the sofa and releasing the cushion.
"Harm." This time the hand shook his shoulder. "Wake up."
He opened his eyes to find Mac's limpid brown eyes on his face. "Mac?" Sitting up, he glanced toward the window, seeing daylight outside. "What time is it?"
"Zero nine fifteen," she informed him.
"Guess your internal clock's still working," he said, running his hands over his face and through his hair before looking at her. "How are you feeling this morning?"
"A little better. Physically, anyway." She chewed on her lower lip for a moment. "You stayed."
"I said I would," he reminded her. "I didn't mean to fall asleep. I wanted to be awake in case you needed help -"
"You don't have to stay with me 24/7, Harm," Mac assured him. "I'm capable of taking care of myself, you know."
"I know that. But everyone needs a little TLC from time to time. I figured last night was your time. Do I smell coffee?"
"I made some fresh," she said, holding out a cup as she sat down beside him. "Here."
"Thanks," he said, taking a sip of the liquid. "I need to use the head."
When he returned, he picked up the coffee again and sat down beside Mac on the sofa. "Did the doctor say what they could do to help you?" he asked.
"I have several options," she told him. "Medication for one. And they can do surgery to - remove the scar tissue. My doctor said that she removed some of the tissue, but she was hesitant to do more before I decided about having children."
"I thought you said that -"
"If I want to have a child, I can't wait. I have to do it soon. Dr. Takashi said that if the condition doesn't improve after that, their only option would probably be a hysterectomy. That would mean that I - wouldn't be able to have anymore children."
"I see," Harm said, a little surprised by the news. "What are you going to do?"
"If I decide to go the medical treatment route, it would mean that I would have to put off having a child - and decrease my chances of every having one." Harm sat there, waiting. "Did you mean what you said last night?" she asked slowly. "About our - having a baby - together?"
"Of course I meant it, Mac. I want nothing more. But I don't think that this is the right time for the two of us to start a relationship. You're still hurting because of Clay's death. And as much as I'd like to take advantage of that - I -" he stopped as she placed a hand over his.
"I understand. I guess it was too much to ask -"
"No, Mac, it's not. I'm just not sure we're ready to take that step - I am, but -" Seeing her disappointment, Harm put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her into an embrace. "Come here," he said, holding her. "I'm not backing out, Mac," he promised. "I made you a promise, and we'll figure out a way to make it work." Pulling back, he lifted her chin. "Okay?"
"Now. Why don't you get dressed and we'll go find something for breakfast?" he suggested. "I'm sure you're hungry."
"Now I know you're not well," he teased gently. "You're *always* hungry." He sat back on the sofa, pulling her with him, enjoying the feel of her in his arms, her head resting against his chest. Tangling his fingers in her hair, he said, "I called Porter Webb last night."
She looked up at him. "You did?"
He nodded, lifting his arm and leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. "I'm - not convinced that he's dead, Mac."
Her hand was on his back. "What did Mrs. Webb say?"
"That she hasn't heard from Clay since he left, and that the Company told her that he was killed in service to his country. They're sending his sealed coffin to Dover today. She said that she would call us about the memorial service."
He watched as she rose from the sofa and paced across the room to pick up a small figurine. She examined it. "Clay bought this for me in Italy," she told him. "At least, I *think* he bought it. I don't know anymore if he bought the things that he brought home or if he had someone else do it for him. I'd know if he was still alive, Harm." She put the figurine down again before turning to look at him, tears in her eyes. "He's dead."
"I wish I could be as certain as you are that he won't suddenly walk through that door and say 'Honey, I'm home.'" He dropped his gaze to his hands, hating himself for the way he felt about that possibility.
She sat down beside him again, her hand covering his. "Harm, if Clay *were* to walk through that door right now - I'd be happy that he's not dead - but that's all."
He turned his head to look at her. "Mac, you can't know that. You've spent the biggest part of a year with him -"
"And I've spent a pretty good chunk of the last nine years with you," she pointed out. "Clay was gone more than he was here, and when he *was* here, we were usually fighting about his having to leave again. It was a vicious cycle. I probably drove him to the lies just to keep that from happening. But even though it was my fault, I don't think that I could ever trust him again. Not now."
Harm put his arm around her again. "Would you mind if I did some investigating? Tried to track his movements? Maybe get an idea about what happened?"
"It's classified, Harm," she reminded him.
"I still have a few connections from my six months on the dark side," he told her.
"You were right that Clay was the one who made the decision to fire you," Mac told him. "I think he did it because he knew how worried I was about what you were doing. He was trying to put my mind at ease. I didn't expect him to put you back on the unemployment rolls, however."
"If he hadn't, I wouldn't have met Mattie. And I'm glad she's been part of my life. Probably not for much longer, but - I think having her around has been good for me as well as for her."
"She's lucky to have you in her life, Harm," Mac told him. "I wish I'd had someone like you in my life at her age. Maybe then I would have figured things out sooner and not made so many mistakes."
"Mac, our mistakes are what makes us who we are. If we're lucky, we learn from them and then move on. Sometimes it takes making the same mistake more than once before we learn how to keep it from becoming a pattern. I hope I've finally learned that lesson."
"Same here. You need to change clothes. Why don't I get dressed and we can pick up Mattie and then go to breakfast?"
"I thought you weren't in the mood to go out?" he reminded her.
"So? I changed my mind," she said, giving him a smile as she moved toward the bedroom. "I'm allowed."
Harm chuckled softly, shaking his head. He opened his phone. "I'll call her and make sure she doesn't pig out before we get there."
"Don't tell me she gets up before noon on a Saturday!" Mac called from the bedroom.
"She's an early riser," he answered, waiting for Mattie or Jen to pick up the phone.
"Mattie, its Harm. Have you had breakfast yet?" he asked, taking a couple of steps toward the desk, where he noticed some booklets stacked haphazardly.
"No. I just got up. Jen and I stayed up late while she filled me in on the party. It's good that Bud got his promotion, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Really good. He deserves it. Don't eat breakfast. Mac and I will be there in -"
"Twenty minutes," Mac said, obviously listening to his end of the conversation.
"Twenty minutes. Mac thought the three of us could go out for breakfast."
"Mac, huh?" the girl questioned.
Harm lowered his voice, glancing through the booklets on the desk as he talked. "Behave. Mac's going through a rough time right now. She needs her friends."
"Have you told her what you told me?"
"Mattie - are you *sure* you want breakfast?" he questioned.
"Okay, okay. I'll be good. See you in twenty."
"Sounds like she gave you a little trouble," Mac said, coming back into the room wearing a dress and sandals.
"Not really," Harm said, still examining the booklets. "What are these, Mac?" he asked.
"Oh, some pamphlets that Dr. Takashi gave me about endometriosis and my options. Why?"
"No reason. Just curious, I guess." He picked up his jacket, tie and cummerbund from the chair, giving her a winning smile. "You ready?"
"Anytime you are."
Mattie, as promised, was as good as gold. But it was Mac's interaction with Mattie that surprised Harm more than the other way around. She asked about Mattie's Alateen meetings, about school, about how her father was doing.
As they returned to his apartment Harm found himself wishing again that Mattie wouldn't be leaving soon. He thought that being around Mattie would be as good for Mac has it had been for him.
When Harm's cell phone rang, he gave both of them a self-conscious smile, seeing the concern in Mac's return look as he opened the phone and glanced at the caller ID. "Hello."
"Commander. This is Markov, Mrs. Webb's butler. She asked me to contact you. I left a message at the Colonel's apartment, but since she wasn't there, I thought it might be a good idea to let you know that Mr. Webb's memorial service will take place tomorrow afternoon at three," he said before giving Harm the location. "His ashes arrived this morning."
Harm carefully controlled his reaction to the man's final sentence. "Tomorrow at three," Harm said, seeing the shadow that crossed Mac's face. "Is there some reason for the haste?"
"I'm only relaying what I was told by Mrs. Webb, Commander Rabb."
"I understand. Give Mrs. Webb my regards and tell her that Colonel Mackenzie and I will be there."
"Very well. Good day, Commander."
If Harm hadn't been so concerned about Mac's reaction to this, he would have laughed about the butler's stiff tone of disapproval. "They're not wasting any time, are they?" Mac noted.
"If he knew why, he wasn't sharing."
"He?" Mac questioned.
Mattie was looking from Harm to Mac. "Who's Markov?" she asked.
"He's a butler," Harm explained without explaining. "Works for the mother of a friend of ours who recently died."
"A - friend?" Mattie's eyes widened as she apparently recalled having heard a name during her talks with Jennifer Coates. "Webb?" She looked at Mac. "That's who you -"
"Mattie," Harm sighed, hoping to warn her off before it was too late.
But Mac placed a hand on his arm. "Its okay, Harm. Yes. I was involved with Clayton Webb. He died last week. Suddenly, while on a business trip out of the country."
"A - business trip," Mattie repeated. "Jen said that he's a -" she stopped, biting her lip and wincing. "Oops."
Harm lifted an eyebrow as he looked at Mac. "Apparently Mattie's been asking Coates some questions about things she shouldn't."
"I was curious," Mattie said in self-defense. "I know Jen's technically not supposed to talk about you two because you're officers, but -"
"What did she say about Clay, Mattie?" Mac asked.
"That he's a CIA agent and that you went to Paraguay with him last year on a mission and that's why Harm resigned, so he could go down there and save you." She looked between them again. "And that after you got back, you started seeing Mr. Webb instead of Harm."
"That about sums it up in a nice neat little package," Mac told her. "But if anyone you don't know asks - Clay was working for the State Department."
"I know. Jen told me that, too. She didn't mean to tell me about that. Don't be angry with her," she begged Harm.
"I'm not. But I *am* going to have little chat with the Petty Officer about a few things."
"So. Mr. Webb's funeral is tomorrow?" Mattie questioned.
"Memorial service," Harm corrected, watching Mac again. "Mattie, would you mind giving us a couple of minutes?"
"Sure. I'll see you later, Mac. Thanks for inviting me."
"I'm glad you agreed to come along," Mac assured her. Once the door closed behind the girl, she looked at Harm. "There's more, isn't there?"
Harm was torn between wanting to protect her, and being honest with her. He opted for the latter. "Markov said that Clay's 'ashes' arrived this morning." He saw Mac's face pale for a moment. "Apparently the Company had him cremated in Hawaii."
"Why? Clay never mentioned anything about -"
"Did you and he discuss it?"
"No. Not specifically. The one time I asked about it, we were arguing about his job - he said just said that 'arrangements' had been made and that was all." She turned and went to the windows, resting her hands on the bottom of the frame. "Is this *ever* going to end?" she wondered. "It just gets worse and worse -" Her arms moved to grip her waist, and he saw her exhale.
He moved to stand beside her. "I wish I had an answer for you, Mac. Wish there was someway I could help -"
She turned into his arms on her own, resting her head on his shoulder. "You can. By not letting me go. No matter what I say or do. Please."
Harm closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around her. "Don't worry. That's not going to happen."
"I hate being so damn - weak," she sighed.
"You'll be your old kick-ass Marine green self soon," he said. "Change affects people in different ways," he told her.
"The Admiral once told me not to get too used to personnel or billets."
"It's a good idea. People move on, assignments change. Not saying it's easy. But we'll get through this."
"We always do, right?"
"Right. Why don't you stay here tonight, Mac?" he suggested. "We can go back to your place and get some things - something for you to wear tomorrow and -"
"I don't want to put you out, Harm."
"It's either you stay here or I stay at your place. I'd rather be here in case Mattie needs me for something," he confided.
"You don't have to watch me all the time, Harm. I'll be fine."
"I know. But it makes me feel better, knowing you're not twenty minutes away."
"Then I'll stay here," she agreed. "But there's no reason to go back to my place before tomorrow. We can leave here early enough for me to change before the service." She managed to smile. "As long as you promise no meatless meatloaf."
"Hey. Mattie ate it," he told her. "But it's a promise."
Since Jen had a date that evening, Mattie, Harm, and Mac shared dinner in Harm's apartment. Jen had apologized to the officers for having spoken to Mattie out of turn when Harm had asked her about it, agreeing that it had been a breech of protocol that wouldn't be repeated.
Mattie left soon after dinner, claiming a need to work on some final reports for the end of school. Harm and Mac both tried to convince her to stay, reminding her that she had the next day to work on the report, but she told Harm that she was going to meet her father the next morning for church and spend the day with him.
After she left, Harm stood looking at the door for a long moment before he heard Mac's voice. "Harm?"
"Sorry," he told her, joining her in the living room to sit on the sofa. "Just - thinking."
"You're really going to miss her, aren't you?"
"Yeah. I didn't realize how important she's become until I realized that she won't be around much longer."
"She'd be leaving in a few years anyway," Mac reminded him.
"At least I would have had those few years," he countered.
"But you've had the best part of a year. And just because she goes back to her father doesn't mean you won't be part of her life. She'll need to know that she has a safe place to come to, someone who'll be here for her if things get to be too much."
"It won't be the same as having her here. I've been trying to buy a house," he said. "Every time I make an offer, someone else outbids me."
"Maybe you should keep trying," she suggested. "To buy a house," she finished when he frowned in confusion.
"Oh, I plan to keep trying, but I'm not sure I need the room with her gone." He looked at the cup of coffee in his hand. "Unless - never mind. It's too soon to discuss it."
"Too soon to discuss what?"
"If we *do* have a child together - it might make more sense if we live in the same house. That way we could both be part of his - or her," he said with a grin, "life. I don't intend to be a weekend father, Mac."
"I wouldn't expect you to. You sound like you've thought of a way that we can -"
"Did you mention to Dr. Takashi that you weren't in a relationship at the moment?"
"I think so. I told her that the man I'd been seeing had just died."
"One of the pamphlets she gave you was about - artificial insemination. It might be something we should think about."
"You'd really be willing to - consider that?"
"It would make sense, Mac," he told her, turning to lift a hand to her cheek. "As much as I want to be with you, I want both of us to be ready so that everything's right. At the moment, you're still halfway in love with Webb. If we didn't have to worry about your health, I'd be happy just to spend time with you, helping you through that, being here when you were finally ready to - move on. But since we do have to worry about it, it would make sense to do it this way."
"Sometimes, Harmon Rabb, you're too practical for your own good. I hope you know that."
"One of us has to be," he told her with a smile. "I'm not asking you to answer right now. We can discuss it with the doctor and see what she says about it. I just want you to think about it."
"Okay. I'll think about it."
The chapel was filled nearly to capacity by the time that the memorial service began. Harm recognized more than one face from his time at the CIA, including Catherine Gale and Harrison Kershaw.
Porter sat in the front row, stoic, lifting a handkerchief to her eyes every now and then as the minister spoke about how wonderful and loving a son Clay had been, and how devoted he had been to serving his country. After the service, everyone returned to Porter's house in Great Falls for a small wake.
It was then that Harm and Mac managed to catch up to Porter, who was, as it happened, standing with Kershaw. "Mrs. Webb," Mac began, and even Harm was surprised when the older woman took Mac's hand in hers.
"Thank you for being here, Colonel Mackenzie. My son loved you a great deal."
"I know. And I'm sorry that he spent so little time with you during this last year, Mrs. Webb -"
Porter smiled tightly. "It's in the past now, isn't it? Don't dwell on what's gone before, dear. Open your eyes and move forward. It's what he would have wanted." She nodded at Harm. "I'm glad you're here as well, Commander Rabb. I believe that - in spite of all that happened between you, Clayton counted you among the people he could trust. There weren't many who could say that."
"Thank you, Mrs. Webb," Harm said.
"If you will excuse me, I see someone else that I need to speak to."
"She's an amazing woman," Kershaw noted as the three of them watched her move across the room.
"Yes, she is," Mac agreed quietly.
"Mr. Kershaw," Harm began, "why the need for haste in having this memorial service?"
Kershaw smiled. "Webb died a week ago," he informed them. "I don't see any sign of haste."
"Why was he cremated?" Mac asked.
"It was his request. Is that so difficult to understand?"
"He's not dead, is he?" Harm questioned, cutting through all of the double-talk. Sometimes a direct question was the best way to get at the truth.
"I wouldn't say that too loudly if I were you, Commander," Kershaw warned. "You'll only upset Porter. The woman's lost her son. The least you can do is to allow her to grieve without having to deal with wild conspiracy theories. Now, if you will excuse me -"
Harm moved to block the man's retreat. "Kershaw, I think you owe us the truth. After all, if it wasn't for Mac and me, you'd have been explaining how a terrorist got his hands on Stinger missiles and you'd *still* be looking for that terrorist."
Kershaw glanced at Harm's hand on his arm before lifting his blue eyes to meet Harm's. "You have the truth, Commander. He's dead. Now let. It. Go."
Harm finally removed his hand, and Kershaw left them. "He's right, Harm," Catherine Gale said as she joined them. "It's never a good idea to press a Deputy Director on any subject. Especially when said Director is an old friend of the family."
"Kershaw's a friend of the Webbs?" Mac questioned.
"Neville Webb was Kershaw's sponsor," Catherine informed them. "I'm sorry, Colonel. I know that you and Clay were close. It must be difficult for you."
"Thank you, Ms. Gale," Mac said, watching Catherine's gaze slide to Harm.
"At least you have someone to help make things a little easier. Some people don't even have that."
"How are you doing, Catherine?" Harm asked. "How's the baby?"
Catherine smiled. "She's wonderful. I think finding out she was going to be a grandmother was the best medicine in the world for Mother. She came home from the hospital last month. You should come and visit her. I know she'd love to see you again."
"I might do that. Give her my best."
"Of course. Colonel," the blonde said as she moved away.
"What was *that* about?" Mac wondered aloud. "She acted as if she were angry with me about something. I've never done anything to her -"
"Catherine knows what I went through to find out what was going on in Paraguay last year," he said. "She's the one who put me in touch with Kershaw."
"And the one that you 'married'," Mac realized, finally connecting the dots. "That still doesn't explain why there was so much latent hostility there." She looked up at Harm. "Unless it's because she's jealous."
"Not of me. Catherine and I had dinner a few times, but - it never went any farther than that. She was pregnant before I left for Paraguay." Seeing her curious look, he sighed. "I'll explain later. I don't think this is the proper setting for some reason."
Returning to Mac's apartment later, Harm found himself hoping that she wouldn't press him for an explanation. He had never told her everything about how he'd gotten down there. They hadn't discussed it at any real length. Dredging up all of those bad memories surely wouldn't help matters now that they had finally managed to put it behind them.
"You still think he's alive?" Mac asked as they sat on her sofa, her back against him, his arms around her.
"It all just seems too convenient somehow," Harm said after a moment. "I can't figure out what Webb and the other two would have been doing in Indonesia to begin with. Especially in a zodiac in that weather. He was a strong swimmer. I guess he told you that he'd competed in an Olympic pentathlon -"
"No," Mac said, surprised. "He never mentioned anything about that."
"Well, he did. I found out when he was missing a few years ago and Bud and I visited his old place in Alexandria."
"You know better than anyone how difficult it is to swim in rough seas, Harm. You have no way of knowing how long they had been out there in that zodiac. It could have been a few hours or a few days."
"The ship was on a covert mission, Mac," Harm told her. "Sturgis said that the Admiral told him to focus his investigation only on the three members of the rescue team. Not on the three men they were *rescuing*. The Captain of the Thomas Lyons stonewalled him, refused to give any more information than necessary to that investigation. If Sturgis hadn't accidentally seen the photos of the men who were lost in the security office, he wouldn't have known that Webb was one of them."
"When did he tell you this?"
"I asked him about it at work on Friday while you were out. That's another thing. *Why* were those photos on that ship?"
"Maybe so that the bodies could be identified?" Mac suggested.
"That would have been done at Tripler," Harm said, shaking his head.
"Why is it so important to you that Webb's alive, Harm?"
"I don't know. Maybe because if he is, then that's one less person you have to feel guilty about. I don't like the idea of winning by default, I guess," he admitted, and smiled when she turned her head to look at him.
"I'm not with you because he's not here, Harm," she said.
"Mac, if he hadn't gone missing or been killed, you wouldn't have found out about those gifts - and you'd be waiting for him to come back to talk to him about what you found out. And I wouldn't have mentioned anything about our deal except maybe to point out that it was null and void because you were with Webb." He saw the acknowledgement of his words in her eyes and gently disentangled himself from her before standing up and pacing across the room, ending up at the window overlooking the city. "I think that's what bothered me most about you being with Webb. It was that knowledge that this time I might really lose you. And there wasn't a damn thing that I could do to stop it."
"You could have stated your intentions," Mac pointed out. "Harm, I've never asked this, but - if you hadn't gone down in the Atlantic, would you have just stood there and watched me marry Mic, or would you have found a way to stop it?"
"I wanted you to be happy, Mac," he told her. "If you thought Mic - or Clay - was what could do that, then I didn't think it was my place to second judge your decision. All I could do was be there as a friend in case it didn't work out."
"I watched you go after what you wanted so many times, Harm. Finding out about your father, returning to flying - but you never went after me."
"Yes, I did," he corrected her. When she frowned, he clarified, "A year ago. I gave up my career to go after you. But it didn't end up exactly as I'd hoped it would. I didn't expect you to throw your arms around me in gratitude, but I didn't expect to hear the word 'never', either." He glanced at Mac, seeing her close her eyes at the memory of that single moment that had changed everything - and yet, in the end, hadn't changed a thing. "You said never, so I took you at your word, decided to give you the space you seemed to want. I wasn't happy about it - but I wanted you to be happy. And if Clayton Webb was what would do that -"
"You know, Harm, sometimes your self-sacrificing, nobility makes things difficult."
He managed to chuckle. "Tell me about it."
"So what changed? Why now?"
"Having Mattie in my life, I suppose. It's made me realize that I can't keep putting off what I want. I'm not saying that I would have made a move if Webb were around, but I'd have been there for you. No matter how much it hurt to watch you have a happy life with him."
"Clay knew that. More than Mic did, I think. Knew that if you ever made that move in my direction - I'd choose you."
Harm turned to look at her as she said the words. "Really?"
"Really," she confirmed. "After awhile, I would have wanted more than just gifts from Clay. I would have wanted him here, not halfway around the world. I didn't think he'd go back to fieldwork after what he'd gone through in Paraguay. I thought he'd take a desk job or something."
"Did the two of you discuss it?"
"I brought it up once. He said that he couldn't just sit around while others were doing the work that he'd been trained to do." She shook her head. "I don't think he could have given it up for anything - or anyone. Every time he would leave, I'd get the same feeling in my stomach that I always get when I hear that you're flying a Tomcat or a Hornet or even a C-130."
"I'll give up my flight status, Mac, if that's what you want -"
"No. I'm not asking you to, and I don't expect you to. How many times has your ability to fly solved a case you were on? Led you to the truth?"
"I've been thinking about it anyway. It's getting more and more difficult to pass the physical, and if I'd gotten full custody of Mattie, I don't like the idea of leaving her alone if something were to happen while I was out. And now, if we decide to go ahead and have a child, the question still arises. I wouldn't want to leave a child of mine to grow up without his father the way I had to do."
"You could just as easily be killed on the Beltway, Harm," Mac pointed out. "Or on a routine investigation." She rose from the sofa and came around to stand before him. "The only one that can decide it's time for you to quit is you. And only because you're *ready* to quit. If you do it for any other reason, you'll eventually resent whatever that reason was, blame it for making you stop doing something that you enjoy doing - and that you're really very good at."
"Even with all of the accidents?"
"Yeah," she said, smiling. "Even with the accidents. And when you consider how many times you've flown without an incident, there aren't that many of them."
The thought reminded him of his thoughts a few nights before. "Same with Webb. He had a good record - the Company's golden boy. There were just a few ops that for some reason went sour."
"Usually the ones we were involved in," Mac agreed with a smile of her own. "Wonder if that should have told him something?"
"Probably that he needed us around to watch his back," Harm suggested.
"I'm going to call Dr. Takashi tomorrow to set up an appointment to discuss artificial insemination," Mac announced.
"Do you want me to go with you?" he asked.
"Just tell me where and when."
"Okay. Of course, depending on what happens tomorrow, it might difficult to get away. Do you have any idea who the new JAG will be?"
"I haven't heard. It's possible that the SecNav will name someone to be temporary until they confirm someone to the position."
"You mean like Teddy Lindsey did after Admiral Brovo resigned?"
"Yeah. It's possible that you'll be the one in charge."
"Me? I can't. Not with everything going on -"
"You're Chief of Staff," Harm pointed out.
"Which is why it would make more sense for them to appoint someone else to the position temporarily. You, for instance."
"After my six-months out last year, I doubt I'll even make Captain, Mac," Harm declared. "If it's not you, then it'll be Sturgis." Mac was looking at him strangely. "What?"
"You don't know."
"Your record. It crossed my desk right after you came back. The Admiral had updated it. It says that you were on an extended leave of absence while on loan to another government agency. Officially, you were never *out* of the Navy. There's no mention of your resignation whatsoever."
Harm was stunned. "I didn't know. Damn."
"So Captain's *not* out of the realm of possibility," she told him. "You're not quite in the zone yet -"
"Almost. Two more years and I'm at twenty. Before you told me what you just did, I'd planned on putting in my time and then taking an early out. But now -"
"I think it was his way of trying to make it up to you for everything that happened."
"And it's just like him not to mention it."
"Did he talk to you before his retirement?"
"No," Harm said. "Not a word."
"I kept trying to catch him on Friday, but he seemed to be busy and didn't have time. I'd planned on telling him about Webb, but -"
"Things aren't going to be the same without him there, Harm."
"No," he agreed. "They aren't."
To Part 2