Operation: Road Not Taken
Part 1
By Nancy Eddy

Pairing: Harm/Mac; AJ/Meredith; Sturgis/Varise
Rating: NC-17
Spoilers: Everything through "What If?" anything's possible.
Disclaimer: I don't own them. I'm also poor. I'll give them back, I promise!
A/N: Fallout from Harm's realization in "What If?" Warning- if you like Clay, you might not like some of my characterization early in this story. And going with the tone of the episode, AJ and Meredith move toward each other again. (Sorry, Paula et al. Please don't hate me!) This story is dedicated to KarenB. Thanks for the tape!

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Harm glanced up when Mac knocked once and opened his office door. Seeing Harm on the telephone, she started to retreat, but he smiled and waved her further into the office as he continued to talk.

"I'll be home around 1800 hours . . . yeah. 6 o'clock," he amended. "You can see it then . . . That's right . . . Well, we'll talk about the price, but - I put a lot of money and time into her -" he laughed softly. "See you then."

Mac stood there, waiting for him to finish the conversation. Seeing him hang up, she waited for him to explain, but he didn't. "What can I do for you, Mac?"

"Selling something?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said, watching her reaction. "The Vette."

Mac's eyes widened with surprise. "You're selling your Corvette?"

"Well, it's for sale. Whether the guy I was just talking to can come up with the asking price is another story. But someone will buy it." He sat there for another few moments, waiting for her to ask him why he was selling his prized possession, but when she didn't, he said, "Did you need something?"

"I wanted to talk to you about the Donaldson Article 32. But if you're busy -"

"No. I've got the time," he said. "Lots of time, as a matter of fact."

Sitting down in a chair, Mac asked, "Harm, what's going on?"

He picked up a pen and started tapping nervously on the desk as he considered the question. "Mattie left to go back to her father last weekend."

"Mattie went back to Tom?"

"Yeah," he said. "He was ready to leave the halfway house and she decided that he needed her around to look after him. She said that I - um - that I'm more self-sufficient than he is," he finished with a wry grin.

"Well, she's probably right." Harm lifted an eyebrow at her comment before she continued. "Tom's in a fragile place right now. He needs the support of people he cares about and who care about him." She sighed as he rose to look out of the window. Not that there was much to see out of it. The former file closet wasn't known for its view. "Harm, you had to know that this could happen."

"I did. I just - I guess I wasn't really prepared for it to happen so quickly."

"What about her flying lessons?" Mac asked.

"I'll still see her for that, but -"

"It won't be the same."

"No," he agreed.

"What about Jen?"

"She's looking for another roommate. I've offered to keep paying Mattie's half of the rent until she does."

"You're walking a very thin line there, Harm," Mac pointed out.

"I know. It shouldn't take her long to find someone else."

"So I guess that's why you decided not to buy the house? Because you don't have Mattie anymore?"

"No, I'm still buying the house," he told her.

"Just for you?"

"Maybe," he answered, looking at her. "Time to move on from a converted loft into something a little more permanent. Is - Clay out of town?" he asked, giving her a moment to digest his words.

"As usual," she sighed.

Harm looked at her. "Why don't you come over to my place for dinner? We can talk about the case after? Like we used to."

He was relieved when Mac smiled. "I'd - like that. What time?"

"Well, I'm showing the Vette to a potential buyer at 1800, how about 1830?"

"Okay. Should I bring anything?" she asked.

"Just yourself," he told her, smiling.

Mac gave him another look, one that told him she wasn't sure that she was making the right decision by agreeing to have dinner with him. But she didn't say anything, just stood up and moved toward the door. "I guess I'll - see you then."

"Yeah," Harm nodded, smiling as the door closed behind her.

Ever since that night at the Chinese restaurant, Harm had been trying to find a way to get closer to Mac. While he had hoped to have both Mattie *and* Mac in his life, Harm realized that Mac was right: Mattie needed to be with her father right now. And it wasn't fair to Mac to saddle her with an almost grown child when he needed to concentrate on her.

Now, the only thing Harm needed to do was take things slow and easy. He had to rebuild Mac's confidence in him, to let her know again that whatever happened, he would be there for her. She'd gone through her own personal hell lately, and even though she was putting up a good front for the Admiral and everyone else, Harm could see past the façade if he looked hard enough.

From this point on, Sarah McKenzie was first in his life. Everything else - *everything* was going to take a back seat.


Harm was talking to a middle-aged man when Mac arrived and parked her own Corvette across the street. The man glanced once more at the open garage doorway and the car inside before shaking Harm's hand and getting into a Suburban.

Mac got out of the car and started toward Harm, watching as he closed the doors on the garage. "No sale, huh?"

"On the contrary," he told her, fastening the padlock. "He's bringing a cashier's check tomorrow and will have someone to drive his Suburban back while he drives the Vette."

"You're really going to do it?" she asked.

"I am. I sold the motorcycle yesterday."

"I didn't know you *had* a motorcycle," Mac told him as they moved toward the front door to the building.

"I bought it last summer on a whim."

"A whim?" she repeated, laughing as they got into the freight elevator.

He gave her his best grin. "I was making good money, thought I deserved a treat."

"But you sold it."

"Yep. Got what I paid for it," he said. "Dinner should be almost ready by now." Opening the door of the elevator, he waited for her to get off and then went to his own door, opening *that* for her as well. "It's just a casserole that I made a few weeks ago when I had time. I put it into the freezer thinking that it would be something quick that I could fix for Mattie and me -"

"You miss her, don't you?"

"Yeah. I hope I helped her -"

"I think you did. You made her understand how important it was for her to forgive her father. You know, watching you with her, I -" she shook her head. "Never mind."

"What were you going to say?" he wanted to know, taking the casserole dish out of the oven and carrying it over to the table, which was already set.

"Just that I wish I'd had someone like you in my life when I was her age. Things might have turned out a lot different."

"You had your Uncle Matt," he pointed out, finding two bottles of mineral water in the refrigerator. "Agua mineral," he said with a grin, holding them up.

"I know. But he wasn't around until after -" she paused. "After Eddie died. Mattie was very lucky to have met you when she did."

"I think I was lucky, too," Harm nodded, pulling out one of the chairs. "Dinner is served, madame," he declared, waiting for her to sit down before taking his own seat.

"Are you willing to consider a deal in the Donaldson case?" Mac asked after she took a bite of the casserole.

"Dinner first. Work later," Harm told her. "Eat. You don't look as if you've been eating very much lately."

"This *is* good," Mac said, taking another forkful. "I haven't been very hungry lately."

"You *seem* to be doing better," Harm acknowledged. "It couldn't have been easy, doing what you did." He immediately felt like biting his tongue off when she paled slightly and put down her fork.

"You have no idea what I did, Harm," she said in a quiet voice. "I - I killed him."

"Yeah. He was a terrorist, Mac. He tortured Clay, nearly tortured you - he was going to set off a bomb and kill God knows how many innocent people - you had no choice."

"I wish I could see it that way," was her response, and Harm started to back away from the conversation, uncertain about continuing. But he also knew that he couldn't afford to do that. So he reached over and took her hand in his instead.

"If you want to talk about it, I'm willing to listen."

She drew a shuddering breath that sounded as if she might shatter at any moment. "Not much to talk about. I killed him. He was down - and I fired second time. He wasn't a threat anymore. I could have let the authorities handle him." She put her napkin on the table and rose to walk over to the windows, crossing her arms across her chest. "But all I could think about was what he did to Clay, to me." She turned to look at him. "To you. He could have just as easily killed you with that battery, Harm."

"But he didn't," Harm reminded her, joining her at the window. "And the world's down one terrorist who can't hurt anyone else. You did what you had to do, Mac. That's all any of us can do." He paused a beat before asking, "Does Clay know about what happened?"

"We've talked," she confirmed. "But he's got problems of his own -"


"He's drinking. He carries a bottle of Conya around with him everywhere - I think he's got a case of it stashed at his place. He let that monster almost kill him to save my life - and I feel so damn helpless that I can't do anything to help him now," she sighed.

Harm lifted her chin to wipe away a tear from her cheek with his thumb. "You know as well as anyone that as long as he's drinking, there's nothing you or anyone else can do to help. He has to make that decision on his own. You need to worry about taking care of yourself right now, Mac."

"I'm not - I'm not sure I can anymore," she said. "When did things become so *hard*?" she asked, and then rolled her eyes. "They've always been hard for me, though. My childhood, everything I've gone through since -"

"And you've overcome all of that, Mac," Harm pointed out. "You're a strong, wonderful woman and I consider myself lucky to have you as a partner - and a friend."

"A friend?" she asked. "I haven't been much of a friend to you."

"That's a two way street," he pointed out. "We can both share the blame for that. I should have stayed in touch."

"And I should have tried harder to stay in touch as well."

"At least I had an excuse," he pointed out. "I was gone more than I was home. Why didn't you?"

"I don't know. I just - I was tired. Tired of the game playing, I guess."

"And now?" he asked. "What if I don't want to play games anymore, either?" he wanted to know. So much for taking it slow and easy, Rabb, his inner voice sighed. "Forget I said that," he said quickly. Mac looked confused - and he hoped a little disappointed. "Not that I *want* to play the games, I just - I don't want to pressure you right now. I know you need some space. I just - I wanted to let you know that I'm here. If you need a - friend to talk to - a shoulder to cry on." He smiled. "Even if it's just someone to yell at. I'm here." Seeing her smile at his words, he said, "Let's go finish dinner," he suggested gently.

Mac nodded and started toward back toward the table, only to stop as she heard her cell phone ring. Giving Harm an apologetic look, she went to her purse and pulled it out, opening it. "Hello?"

When Harm saw her eyes flicker toward him with a guilty look, he knew who was on the other end of the conversation. Clayton Webb. Picking up the remote for the stereo system, he pressed a button, wincing as the sound increased instead of decreasing. He smiled at Mac when she turned to look at him, mouthing "Sorry."

Into the phone, she said, "Does it matter where I am, Clay?" she asked, her voice wavering slightly. "No, I'm not at home, I'm at Harm's - . . . we're discussing a case. . . Where are you? . . . When did you get in?"

Harm tensed, preparing himself for Mac telling Clay she'd be right there, leaving him high and dry.

"Clay, have you been drinking?" she asked, lowering her voice. When she sighed, Harm thought he knew the answer to her question, and felt a twinge of concern about Clay. Even after everything that had happened, he didn't want to see the CIA agent go down that road. "Why don't we have dinner tomorrow night - . . . So soon? You just got in this evening after being gone for a week. I don't suppose you can tell me where -. . . I didn't think so . . . No, Clay. I'm not going to just drop everything and come running just because you happen to be home for one night before disappearing again . . . No, it doesn't have anything to do with - You'd better go sleep it off, Clay before you leave tomorrow. I'll talk to you when you get back from wherever." She closed the phone and stood staring at it.

"Mac, if you want to go take care of Clay, we can put off talking about the case. I can understand that you and he went through a lot in Paraguay. You feel responsible for that -"

She lifted her eyes to look at him. "Who are you?" she wanted to know, watching him with a wary expression.

Harm shrugged. "I just want you to be happy, Mac. That's all I've ever wanted." He put down the remote. "And that wasn't intentional. I was trying to turn the music down so you could hear. I hit the wrong button."

She sighed. "I can't believe that he thought I'd just come running just because he's in town for one night."

"Have you suggested that he give up field agent status?" Harm asked, moving toward the table and sitting down again before picking up his fork.

"He'll never give that up," Mac told him, joining him at the table. "He thinks he has something to prove. Just like you are about flying Tomcats and Hornets."

"Speaking of flying - I'm giving Mattie a lesson on Saturday - you want to come out and maybe go up for a few minutes after she and I finish?"

"Harm, the last time I was in a small plane with you -"

"I promise, I won't get out of sight of the airfield," he told her, holding up a hand. "And I'll go over the plane with a fine-tooth comb twice before the flight." Seeing her hesitate, he begged, "Please? One more chance? You were enjoying that first time until the fuel line broke," he reminded her.

Her smile sent a wave of relief through him. "Okay. *One* more chance. But if *anything* goes wrong, that's it. I'm permanently grounded."

"You're on."

Mac pushed her empty plate away. "That was good, Harm," she told him. "It's been awhile since I've had home cooking. Most of the time I just pick up something on the way home or eat out."

"I've had to start cooking again with Mattie around. If I hadn't, she would have lived on a diet of pizza," he said with a laugh as he rose and took their plates over to the kitchen sink.

Mac picked up the casserole dish, following him. "What do you want to do with this?"

"Just put the lid back on it and put in the fridge."I'll take some for lunch tomorrow or reheat it tomorrow night." He put the plates and utensils into the dishwasher before wiping down the counters and table. "Let me turn the coffee on and we can talk about the case."

"Can I ask about a deal now?" she questioned, grinning.

"Depends. What are you willing to offer?"

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She stayed until nearly ten while they hammered out the details on the case, ending up with a deal that Mac thought her client would accept. Harm walked her down to the car over her insistence that it wasn't necessary. Standing beside the car, he said, "Call me and let me know you made it home."

"Nothing's going to happen, Harm," she told him.

"I know. But I'll sleep easier knowing for sure."

"Okay. I'd hate for you to lose any sleep because of me," she sighed.

"You mean anymore sleep than I already have," he corrected in a quiet voice. "Goodnight, Mac."

"Night. Thanks for dinner."

"Anytime," he assured her, standing up as she pulled away.

He checked the lock on the garage doors once more before heading upstairs, where he put their coffee cups into the dishwasher and turned it on. Picking up his guitar, he sat strumming it quietly, waiting for the phone to ring, letting him know that Mac had gotten back to Georgetown without incident.

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Mac opened the door to her apartment and entered, reaching automatically for the light switch as she put her briefcase beside the door. The illumination revealed Clay sitting on the sofa, a glass of Conya in his hand.

"I was beginning to think you weren't going to come home tonight, Sarah," he said.

"What are you doing here, Clay?" she asked, standing in the still open door.

"I wanted to see you. I've been gone a week -"

"I know. And you're leaving again tomorrow," she pointed out.

He rose to his feet and moved closer to him. "Did you have good time with Harm?"

"It was a nice evening," she confirmed. "He made dinner, and then we discussed a case we're on."

"Sarah, don't do this," he said, lifting a hand to her face. "You're just setting yourself up for another fall with him. It's his pattern. You know that."

Mac pulled away from his touch, slipping around him to pick up the half-empty bottle of Conya. Holding it out, she said, "I think you'd better go, Clay."

"I don't have a ride -"

"I'll call a cab," Mac told him, picking up the phone as it began to ring. Glancing at the Caller ID, Mac sighed and pushed the button. "I'm home, Harm," she said firmly.

"I was getting worried," he said. "Is everything okay? You sound a little stressed."

"Everything's fine," she said. "I'll see you tomorrow. Thanks again for dinner."

"Clay's there, isn't he?"

"Harm, I can handle it."

"Okay. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Night," she said, smiling as she hung up the phone, only to frown again as Clay sank onto the sofa. Mac dialed the number for the cab company, asking for one to be dispatched to her address. "They'll be here in ten minutes," she told Clay when she hung up.

"I came back tonight to be with you, Sarah," Clay said. "I could have gone directly to my next assignment, but I came back to see you. Doesn't that count for anything?"

"I appreciate the effort, Clay," Mac said. "But I'm tired and I have to go to work tomorrow. I don't feel like getting into an argument tonight."

"Then let's not argue," he said, standing up and pulling her into his arms. "I'll cancel the cab and we can -"

Mac pushed him away. "No, Clay. Just go. Please."

He picked up the bottle and his overcoat. "Fine. We'll talk when I get back."

"Any idea when that might be?" Mac asked in a bored tone.

Clay sighed. "Bye."

She closed the door after he was gone, turning the deadbolt and putting the chain in place. When she turned around, her eyes fell on the glass of Conya that Clay had left on the coffee table.

Deciding that it was just too much for her to handle tonight, Mac turned off the light and turned toward the bedroom, hoping that for once she'd be able to sleep without the usual nightmares.

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Harm went out of his way the next morning to wish Mac a good morning, delivering it with a cup of coffee from the kitchen. "Coffee?" he asked, holding a cup out to her.

She smiled at him, but he could see the dark circles under her eyes that she hadn't been able to completely hide with make up. "Thanks."

"I brought some of the casserole for lunch - there's enough for two, if you'd like to share."

"Sounds good," she told him, taking some papers from her briefcase.

"Everything okay, Mac?" he asked.

She hesitated for a minute. "Yeah. I called a cab and he left."

"Then why do you look as though you haven't slept at all?" he questioned.

"Maybe because I haven't been sleeping," Mac told him, looking back down at the file she'd just opened on her desk. "Nothing new, remember?"

"You want to talk about it?" he asked after taking a sip of his coffee.

When she answered, her voice was strained. "No. I'm sorry, Harm, I just - I can't. Not yet."

"That's fine. When you're ready -" he said, leaving the offer on the table. "I have to get ready for staff call - let me know when you've spoken to Petty Officer Donaldson."

"I will." Harm turned toward the door, pausing as she spoke again. "Harm? Thanks."

"Hey, what else are friends for?" he asked, smiling at her before leaving the office.

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Harm sat across the table from Mac as the Admiral conducted staff call. "Anything on the Donaldson case?" he asked, looking from Harm to Mac.

"I spoke to the Petty Officer just prior to coming in, sir," Mac explained. "He's agreed to take a cut in pay and rate with no time served."

AJ turned to Harm. "You agreed to this, Commander?"

"Yes, sir. The Petty Officer made a mistake and is willing to own up to it. Shows an ability to accept his mistakes and change," he answered, looking at Mac.

"Very well. Have the paperwork on my desk by the end of the day and I'll sign off on it. Oh, your carrier quals are coming up, aren't they, Commander?"

"I've decided not to go for my quals, Admiral," Harm announced, still watching Mac as he heard the surprised gasps from around the table. Mac's eyes widened in surprise.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harm saw the Admiral's quickly hidden reaction as well. "Very well. Anything else?" he asked, peering over his glasses at the others. When no one spoke, he nodded. "Dismissed. Commander Rabb, if you'd stay behind for a moment?"

"Yes sir," Harm agreed.

"Are you giving up flight status, Commander?" AJ asked.

"Yes, sir."

"May I ask the reason for it?"

"Well, sir, I just realized that my plate's already pretty full with working at JAG. Spending an extra weekend every six months at sea doesn't leave much time for anything else. I'll still fly - but maybe it's time I - grew up and admitted that I'm not - Peter Pan anymore."

He saw the amused glint in his CO's eye and smiled as well. "I won't say that I'm not pleased to hear this, but - I will admit to being surprised. I'm sure your ward is pleased to hear that you won't be risking your life flying off of carriers."

Harm's smile faded. "Mattie decided to go back to her father, sir," he explained.

"I'm sorry to hear that. But that makes me even more surprised at your decision."

"Maybe Petty Officer Donaldson's not the only person who can change, Admiral," Harm pointed out.

"Glad to hear it. Dismissed."

Harm hesitated for a moment. "Permission to ask the Admiral a personal question?"

AJ's eyes narrowed dangerously. "You can ask - no saying I'll answer."

"Have you spoken to Meredith, sir? I know you told us that the engagement had ended, but -"

"Dismissed," AJ said more firmly, and Harm instantly snapped to attention before picking up the folders on the conference table and leaving the room while he could.

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He was surprised to find Mac standing at the window of his office when he entered. "Can I do something for you, Mac?" he asked.

"Did you mean it, Harm?" she wanted to know.

"Mean what?"

"That you're giving up flight status?"

Harm put the folders he was carrying onto his desk as he answered. "Well, I didn't say that, exactly -" he began, and saw her shoulder droop in disappointment. "But yes. That's the idea."


"Maybe it's time I came down out of the clouds and planted my feet on terra firma," he suggested. "Focus on some -" he paused. "Something else instead."

"You won't miss it?"

"I'm sure I will. But I'm discovering that there are other things more important than flying supersonic, Mac. Like making a future for myself. With someone I -"

Harm almost groaned when his telephone rang and interrupted him. He thought he saw the same frustration in Mac's eyes as well before she turned to leave. "I have court."

"We still on for lunch?" he asked before she left.


"I'll find you," he said, picking up the phone, aware that she was looking at him, still looking a little shell-shocked. "Rabb." After she left, Harm sat down, smiling as he spoke with a possible witness in an upcoming case.

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At lunch, Mac was looking a bit less surprised, Harm decided. But every now and then he caught her watching him, as if she were trying to figure out what he was thinking. Once, when he caught her doing it, she quickly lowered her gaze to the paper plate that he'd put her half of the casserole onto.

"Are you busy this evening?" he asked.

"No," she said, and Harm smiled at the uncertainty in her tone.

"Would you like to go to dinner this evening?"


"At a restaurant. Maybe - go to a movie afterward?"

Mac smiled. "Harm, you are - asking me out on a date?"


"I don't know if -"

"Mac, I don't expect anything in return except your company. I just - want to spend time with a person that I once considered to be my best friend. I'd - like to get back to that, if it's possible. Is that so wrong?"

"No. I think - I'd like to get it back, too."

"Then you'll go to dinner and movie with me?"

"Tell you what - why don't *I* make dinner and you bring the movie?" she suggested.

"You're going to cook?" he questioned.

"I *can* cook, Harm. It's just that I don't usually go to the trouble. And don't worry," she promised, finishing off her casserole, "It won't be dead animal."

"Okay. I'll bring the movie. I have to get the check for the Vette after work and turn over the keys - what time should I be there?"

"1900?" Mac suggested.

"I'll be there," he agreed with a wide smile.

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AJ sat in his office, looking at the heart shaped paperweight that Meredith had given him for Valentine's Day. He hadn't spoken to her since that evening he'd gone over to her place and found - closing his fingers around the object, AJ leaned forward.

"Damn Rabb anyway, opening wounds he has no idea are there," he sighed.

Relaxing his hand, he let the paperweight fall to the desk with a dull 'thud', staring at the words inscribed across the smooth gold surface. "A woman will run through fire and water for such a kind heart."

AJ ran his hands over his face before looking at the telephone. Taking a deep breath, he picked it up and dialed a number that he still recalled easily, only to hang up again before it connected. This wasn't something he could do over the phone.

Picking up the paperweight, he stuffed it into his pocket before grabbing his cover and leaving the office, telling Coates that he would be out for the rest of the day.

"Is there someplace that you can be reached, sir?" she asked, her eyes open wide in surprise at his actions.

"I'll have my cell if it's an emergency," he informed her.

"And if someone asks where you are, sir?"

AJ stopped in the doorway and turned around to look at the Petty Officer. "Just tell them that I had some personal business to take care of and that I'll see them on Monday morning. Do you have any other questions, Petty Officer?"

"No, sir," she assured him.

"Good. I'll see you Monday morning as well."

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AJ watched as the students left the classroom after Meredith's final class of the day. He'd gone so far as to check with the admin offices to verify that she was even still working here at all. He'd had a momentary hope - or had it been fear? - that she might have gone back to Italy with her 'Profesore Alesandro Selvaggio'.

As the last student left, AJ held his cover in both hands, moving to stand in the doorway, watching Meredith as she sat at her desk, head bent, studying papers. The late afternoon sunlight turned her red hair into a blaze of color. She looked thinner, even from this angle, and AJ wondered if that was a result of the way they had parted.

He remained where he was, just watching her, waiting for her to look up and see him there. For some reason, he needed to see the look in her eyes when she first saw him again.

Reaching behind him, AJ took the door and closed it, the latch clicking into place sounding loud in the quiet room. As he watched, Meredith's head came up - and he knew. Just from that look, he knew the answer to his questions even before they were asked.

She rose slowly to her feet. "AJ?" she said, her voice sounding soft and shaky, as if she wasn't sure he was really there at all.

"Hello, Meredith," he said. "I think we need to talk."

He saw her take a deep breath before beginning to speak. "Before you say anything, AJ, I want to apologize for - for what happened. It was entirely my fault, and I don't blame you for breaking things off the way you did. I never wanted to hurt you. I'll understand if you're not able to forgive -"

"Meredith," he said in a calm voice. "Breathe."

She did. "I'm sorry, AJ. It's just that - I've been practicing that ever since - and -"

He placed his cover on a desk, moving toward her to stop on the far side of her desk. "You're thinner," he noted.

"I haven't been very hungry lately," she told him. "I've been trying to stay busy so I - don't have as much time to think about how I messed - everything up."

"Why, Meredith?" AJ asked. "Was it because of something *I* did? Something that I *didn't* do? I don't understand."

She came out from behind the desk, shaking her head. "No. No, AJ, it wasn't your fault. I told you that. It was me. I was - scared."

"You? Scared? Meredith, I've never known you to be scared of anything. Hell, I've seen you do things that scare the hell of out *me* and never blink an eye."

"None of those things compared to the fact that I was about to make the biggest change I'd made in my life, AJ. I've never *been* married. I've - had relationships, but none of them were as important to me as ours was."

"So you slept with someone else because -?" AJ asked, folding his arms across his chest as he waited for her to answer.

"It wasn't your fault, but - well, I was feeling - neglected."

Unfolding his arms, AJ stuffed his hands into his pockets. "I suppose that *was* my fault," he sighed. "Things were so crazy at work - I should have found some way to take the time off to go to Italy with you over Christmas -"

"No, I understood," Meredith insisted. "You're an important man. You do an important job -"

AJ's fingers touched the metal of the heart-shaped object in his pocket and he said, "Meredith, nothing - *nothing* was more important to me than you were," he told her.

"I know, AJ. But - I suddenly had this vision of the future. I kept asking you to have dinner with -" her gaze fell. "With Alesandro and me. I wanted you to meet him. But you kept finding excuses -"

"I was busy trying to track down what was going on with that damn ring," he sighed. "And I was - a little jealous, I suppose."

"You were?" she asked, looking at him again, a tiny smile on her face.

"A little," he repeated. "The last thing I wanted to do was share your company with some smarmy Italian *profesore*."

"I thought - I was afraid you were changing your mind about getting married."

"Why on earth would you have thought that?" AJ asked.

"Again, it wasn't anything you did or didn't do. I just - my own insecurity was at work, wearing me down. I suppose that I just - I've never understood why you put up with my - flights of fancy. No one else ever has. Most of them have run for the hills after just a few weeks -"

"There was a very good reason I *put up* with it, Meredith," AJ told her. "Because I happened to be in love with you. I guess I figured you needed someone around to keep an eye on you and make sure you didn't kill yourself during one of those flights of fancy."

"I know I hurt you terribly, AJ. Believe me, I didn't plan for it to happen. Alesandro and I went to dinner, we had some wine. I guess I started talking to him about us, about how frightened I was, and the next thing I knew we were back at my apartment and - It was only that one time," she assured him. "I knew it was a mistake immediately and I told him to go. He was getting ready to do that when you - when you came in."

"Why didn't you say something?"

"I was too ashamed," she said. "I could see by the look on your face how angry you were, rightfully so. And I couldn't think of anything *to* say that didn't sound trite and -" She sighed. "And then when I tried to call you, you wouldn't take the calls. Jennifer just said that you were busy, and she'd give you the message - So I thought I'd really done it this time - acting before thinking things out, and resolved to take my punishment for that mistake. Even if it meant spending the rest of my life alone."

AJ stood there for a long moment, feeling the heavy weight of the paperweight in his hand. "Do you have plans for dinner?" he asked.

Her face took on a cautiously optimistic expression as she answered. "No. I was going to go home and grade these papers, maybe have a sandwich -"

"Get your things together," he told her. "You need more than a sandwich."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Harm looked down at the cashier's check in his hands before taking his cell phone out. Just as the buyer had arrived, his cell phone had started to ring. When he hadn't answered, the caller had left a message for him. After listening to the message, Harm smiled and dialed a number. "Good. You're still there . . . Yeah, I got your message . . . That's great . . . Can we meet tomorrow? I'm ready to sign and I want to get the keys so I can start doing whatever work needs done - . . . Well, I have to be in Leesburg at noon - how about nine? . . . Fine. I'll see you then."

Closing the phone, he went back upstairs to lock up before going over to Mac's. As he was heading toward the elevator, Jen's door opened and a blonde petty officer appeared with Jen close behind. "I'll move in tomorrow, if that's all right," she was saying.

"Hello, Jen," Harm said, noticing the look that the blonde was giving him.

"Hello, sir. This is Petty Officer Mary Crandall. She's going to be my new room mate."

"Petty Officer," Harm said, smiling.

"Jen didn't mention you," Mary said.

"Mary, this is Commander Harmon Rabb. I work with him at JAG."

Harm smiled as he saw the young woman's smile falter. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."

Jen gave him a sad look. "Did you really sell it, Commander?" she wanted to know, turning to tell Mary, "The Commander has -"

"Had," Harm corrected, waving the check in the air.

"*Had* a Cherry Red 1968 Mako Shark II Corvette convertible."

Harm smiled tightly. "It was Rally Red," he corrected.

Mary's eyes widened at the news. "That's a nice car," she told him. And you sold it?"

Harm nodded. "Yes. And tomorrow, I sign on the house," he told Jen.

"When will you be moving, sir?"

"I'll start moving things over in the evenings this week, might take awhile."

"It won't be the same not having you as a neighbor."

"Same here," Harm agreed, putting the key into the lock on his door and turning it. "Hopefully your next neighbor won't be someone who plays loud music," he suggested, laughing with her.

"Are you going out, Commander?" Jen asked.

"Having dinner with a friend," he told her. "I'll be seeing Mattie tomorrow -"

"Tell her I said hello, sir."

"I will. Welcome to the building, Petty Officer Crandall. Excuse me. I'm going to be late if I don't get going."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Harm grabbed the tape he'd rented on the way home from work and locked the SUV before going into Mac's apartment building. Moments later, he was knocking on her apartment door. She opened it quickly. "Hey. You're right on time for a change," she teased, turning back toward the kitchen. "Come on in. I'm just finishing things up.

"You make it sound as if I'm always late, Mac," Harm said, taking the tape out of its case and putting it into the machine.

"What are you doing?" she asked, peering out of the kitchen at him.

"Nothing," Harm said. "Just getting the movie ready for later."

"What did you get?" she asked, back in the kitchen.

"Just something I grabbed off of the shelf," he lied, hiding the tape case between the sofa cushions. "Need any help in there?"

"No, thank you. I think I can manage."

Harm noticed the place settings on the table - silver, napkins, glasses ready to be filled, candles ready to be lit - only the plates were missing. "You're sure I can't help?"

"Everything's ready," Mac announced, reappearing with two plates which she set down on the table. "Let me get the mineral water. Why don't you light the candles?" she asked, tossing him a small box of matches.

Harm laughed softly, striking one of them and holding the flame to the candles as he looked at the food. "Food looks good," he said as she returned with two bottles of mineral water. Pulling out a chair for her, he waited for her to sit down, and then went to the other chair. "Grilled salmon, green beans with almandine sauce," he said, picking up his fork. "You went to a lot of trouble."

Mac toyed with her own fork. "I can't lie to you, Harm. I didn't cook it. I ordered it from that little restaurant on the corner - I just transferred it to my plates."

"Which explains why you didn't need my help in the kitchen," he nodded.

"You knew," she said.

"I had an idea," he told her. "I don't mind. Really," he assured her, taking a bite. "And it's really good. Eat."

"You don't mind?"

"Eat," he said again, holding his own fork out toward her with some of the salmon on it. "Come on. If I have to eat it, you have to eat it."

"Har-" He took advantage of her open mouth to put the salmon into it, withdrawing the fork as he smiled. Mac chewed. "Mmmm. This *is* good," she agreed, picking up her own fork and digging in.

As they ate, Harm told her that the Vette was history. "I have the check in hand - and tomorrow I'm going to seal the deal for that house I've been talking about."

Mac, taking a drink of her water, nearly choked. "You're - You're really going to buy a house and leave that apartment that you spent so much time renovating?"

"I sign the papers tomorrow morning. Take delivery of the keys to my castle as it were. As of tomorrow morning, I'll officially be a homeowner. No more hustle and bustle of the big city."

"Where exactly is this place?" she asked.

"Tell you what - why don't you go with me tomorrow morning? I'll be signing the papers at the house before driving out to Leesburg."

"You want *me* to come to look at your new house?"

"Why not? I'd like to see what you think of it."

"Where *is* it?" she asked again.

"Falls Church. It's in an older neighborhood, two story, four bedrooms. One downstairs, three up. There's a full basement as well that we can put to use."

"*Four* bedrooms?" Mac repeated.

"I was looking for two originally, but I got to thinking that I needed a study, and then a guest room, so things - changed."

"You're really going to leave the city behind for suburbia," she sighed.

"Why not? At least out there I'll have a garage big enough to hold more than a sports car. And a yard. I might even get a dog."

"A dog?" Mac laughed. "What kind of dog?"

"I don't know. What kind of dog would you get if you could?"

"I've never thought about it. I had to give Jingo to Chloe since I wasn't here enough to keep an eye on him - They put him down last summer," she told him, running her finger around the top of her glass, blinking back the tears.

"I'm sorry." Harm rose from his chair and went to one knee at her side, cupping her face with his hands and wiping away the tears. "I didn't know. I didn't mean to make you cry, Mac -"

"It's okay," she said, reaching up to cover his hand with hers.

"No, it's not." He wiped at another tear before taking a deep breath. "Anything for dessert?"

"Ice cream," she told him.

"Why don't we eat it while we're watching the movie?" he suggested, standing up and holding out a hand.

She took his hand and stood up - the movement bringing her so close that Harm could feel the heat from her body. "Harm," she whispered as they leaned toward each other.

"Mac -"


"Don't answer it," he said.


"What if it's something important?" she asked, her lips millimeters from his.


"The machine will pick it up," Harm said.

*Ringggg!! <Click>*

The sound Mac's voice filled the apartment as their lips moved slowly closer. "Hi, this is Mac. Leave a message and I'll call you back. *beep*"

"Mac, where are you?"

At the sound of Clay's voice, Mac's eyes closed. When she would have turned toward the phone, Harm placed a hand on her waist. "Mac, don't. Please?"

"Mac, I don't have a lot of time - I shouldn't even be calling." His sigh was loud over the line. "I'll try your cell phone. Or maybe Harm's. You're probably there, anyway."


Mac pulled away and went to her purse on the desk. "Mac, what -?" Seeing her take out her cell phone, he felt a sense of defeat - until she deliberately turned it off and dropped it onto the desktop.

Returning to stand before him, she said, "You mentioned something about a movie?"

"And I think I heard something about ice cream?" he said just before his lips met hers in a replay of the kiss they had shared on the Admiral's porch that night so long ago. Once it ended, Harm kept his arms around Mac, holding her head to his shoulder. "I didn't plan for this to happen," he told her. "Slow and easy never seems to work for some reason."

She lifted her head. "Why don't we watch that movie and have the ice cream?" she suggested. "See where things go from there."

"Good idea," he agreed.

"You still haven't told me what movie you picked out." Harm mumbled the name, causing Mac to say, "I didn't quite hear that."

Harm looked up at the ceiling as he said again, "When Harry Met Sally." Almost immediately, he felt her shoulders start to shake with laughter.

"*You* picked out a - chick flick?" Mac questioned, her laughter finally spilling out.

Giving her an embarrassed grin, Harm lifted his shoulders. "I heard Chloe mention once that you liked it," he told her. And well, - I've never seen it."

That caused Mac to look at him in disbelief. "You've never seen 'When Harry Met Sally'?"

Harm shook his head. "I mean, I know what it's about - I liked the idea of the storyline and all -"

"Best friends who realize they're much more than that," Mac confirmed. "Why do you think it's one of my favorites?" she asked him, pulling him toward the kitchen. "I can't see you walking into a video store and renting that movie," she commented, picking up her plate as Harm followed suit before entering the kitchen.

"They're used to my coming in with Mattie so she could rent them for herself and Jen. Speaking of Jen, she's found a new roommate."

"Good. I was worried about how she was going to manage if she didn't," Mac told him, opening the freezer. "Which do you want? Tutti Fruitti or Rocky Road?"


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