Operation: Road Not Taken 2
Part 4
Nancy Eddy

Disclaimers in Part 1

Harm waited in the outer office while Mac spoke privately with Dr. McCool, flipping through out of date magazines. Hearing the door to Dr. McCool's office open, Harm returned the magazine to the table, smiling at a nervous looking Mac and the doctor.

"Commander Rabb?" Dr. McCool asked.

He rose to his feet. "Yes."

"Why don't we talk for a few minutes before we do the joint session?" she suggested, smiling at him.

He looked at Mac. "You okay?"

"I'm fine," she assured him.

Harm led the way into the inner office. "Sit down, Commander - may I call you Harm?" she asked.

"Sure," Harm said, sitting on the sofa.

"Have you ever been in therapy, Harm?"

"Not in the Navy, no. I did see a psychiatrist a few times where I worked last summer. It was SOP." Dr. McCool nodded, as if she understood what he wasn't saying. "I did date a Navy psychiatrist a few years ago," he told her, his smile subdued as he remembered Jordan.

"Your expression implies that it didn't end well."

"No. Like most of my relationships, I wasn't fully invested in it."


"There were - other things in my life that I considered more important at the time."

"Such as?"

"Flying F-14s," he said. "My career."

"You're an attorney, is that right?" she questioned, glancing at her notes.

"Now, yes. I didn't start out that way. I was an aviator until I had a ramp strike -" He sat forward, clasping his hands between his knees.

"Was it your fault?"

"I thought it was for a long time - but I had an eye infection that wrecked havoc with my night vision - they told me I'd never fly again. So I switched designators and became a lawyer."

"You're still wearing your wings," she noted.

"The eye infection was correctable - and once that was done, I went back to a carrier squadron for a few months. I guess that's when things really started going downhill for Mac and me."

"You were close before that?"

"We were good friends. She had just come off of a bad year - I was involved with someone else, but there was something there. Even the woman I was seeing knew it."

"But you weren't able to acknowledge it," McCool nodded. "Why was that?"

Harm chuckled. "That was the sixty four thousand dollar question, Doctor. I wish I knew the answer. I told myself then that I was afraid of losing her friendship. Of taking that risk. But I was willing to risk my life flying a Tomcat. I've come to think that it just - wasn't the right time. Neither of us was ready to deal with a relationship with each other."

"You father was listed as MIA over Vietnam when you were young, is that right?"

"Yes. I was six. Almost six."

"No brothers or sisters?"

"No. Just my mother and myself and my grandmother."

"Did your mother remarry?"

"When I was thirteen," he said.

"And did you get along with your step father?"

"Not really. Now, yeah. I can see that he loves my mom and that she loves him. But at the time - I felt like she was betraying my dad's memory."

"You grew up quickly, I would guess. Became the man of the house, that sort of thing?"

"I didn't have a typical childhood," he admitted. "I guess that's one reason why it took me so long to grow up. Emotionally, I mean."

"Do you think you have now?"

"Yes," he answered honestly. "I'm not sure how much Mac told you about what's happened over the last year -"

"What she could. I'm aware that much of it is classified."

"It started before the part's that's classified," Harm said. "I was arrested for murder. It was a stupid mistake. My half brother was involved with a woman that Mac and I worked with. She became pregnant and I was convinced that the baby was Sergei's. She said it wasn't, told me that she was going to have an abortion, and then changed her mind, said she was going to put it up for adoption."

"Which you didn't take well, I would guess."

"If it was my brother's child, it was a Rabb - and I didn't want another Rabb growing up without a father."

"What happened?"

"I forced her to call Sergei in Russia - where he lives."

McCool nodded, understanding. "Mac explained about your father and your brother. Go on."

She told everyone that she was going to San Diego on maternity leave - but they found her body by the river that spring. She'd been murdered. All of the evidence pointed NCIS right to me. And I didn't help much, trying to protect Sergei."

"You thought he had done it?"

"Yeah. But all I wound up doing was making myself look like a suspect. I was arrested - and no one from JAG came to see me in the brig."

"Why do you think that was?"

"Everyone says that the Admiral told them not to. That he ordered them all to stay away so not to further involve JAG."

"You don't sound as if you believe that reason."

He sat forward again. "It wouldn't have stopped *me* if one of them had been in the brig," he explained. "I would have done whatever I had to in order to prove they were innocent of the charges."

"And when the killer was found and you were released."

He nodded. "JAG was never the same after that. I wasn't sure who I could trust anymore. And I guess they didn't trust me."

"Did they believe you might have killed the woman?"

"No. But like I said, I made myself look guilty. And I - hadn't told anyone about a private investigation I'd undertaken about her when I found out she was pregnant."

"Why was that?"

"I was ashamed to think that my brother would have been that involved with the woman. She - well, she wasn't well liked by most of her coworkers."

"And if she had agreed to your taking the child if it *had* been yours brother's?"

"I would have had to tell them, then. But I made a mistake. I shouldn't have done a private investigation. And I should have confided in someone. But I didn't. So everyone at JAG saw me as secretive and started walking on eggshells. But I thought we'd get through it. The office had weathered worse storms." His shoulders fell. "Then Mac took off on that assignment -"

"You resigned your commission to go after her, didn't you?"

Harm rose from the sofa to wander around the room. "Yes. Our CO refused to let me go any other way. Things didn't go - exactly as I'd thought they would. Mac seemed to be - involved with someone else -"

"Clay," McCool supplied, and Harm smiled tightly. "Were you and he friends?"

"I considered us to be. Thing is, I'd never realized that he was interested in Mac until last year. He'd given no hint to make me think he saw her as anything more than a colleague."

"Was he aware of *your* feelings?"

"I think he suspected. Hell, everyone who *knew* us was aware of it. And Clay had been there from the beginning."

"You were angry with him."

"A little."

"Were you angry with Mac as well?"

Harm picked up a crystal dolphin from the shelf and examined it. "Yes. But it was more because she was willing to give up on us than because of Clay."

"Care to explain that?"

"She told me that there was 'never' going to be an us," he said, sitting down again.

"And what did you say in response?"

"Nothing. I was so - shocked. We had agreed to table any discussion about our relationship until we got home - but she said it on the sidewalk before we got into a cab to go to the airport. I thought we'd have a chance to talk it out when we got back -"

"But that didn't happen?"

"No. Our CO processed my resignation, and said that he was tired of my not being a 'team player'."

"Was he right?"

"I didn't think so at the time. There are times that I still don't. But what happened forced me to think about my life, about where I was, where I wanted to be."

"And you made some changes as a result."

"I took responsibility for a minor - Mattie." He smiled, and Dr. McCool returned the smile. "She was alone, her mother was dead, her father was an alcoholic who had basically abandoned her. So I petitioned the court to become her guardian. If it hadn't been for Mac's coming to court on my behalf, I probably wouldn't have been successful."

"She testified on your behalf."

"Yes," Harm said, shaking his head at the memory. "I didn't expect that she would. We weren't exactly - close at that point. I hadn't even *told* her - or anyone at JAG about Mattie until I asked Mac to be a character witness."

"You weren't close, yet you still believed strongly enough that she would do it - enough to ask, at least?"

"Yeah. I said some things that day - I wouldn't have blamed her if she'd left me hanging out to dry."

"But she didn't."

"No. Then Mac went through some rough times of her own -"

"The things that brought her here," Dr. McCool nodded.

"Yes. I thought we'd been working out way back toward being friends at least -"

"You would have been satisfied with just being her friend?"

"All I've ever wanted was for Mac to be happy. If that meant watching her leave JAG for the private sector, or marrying a man I thought was wrong for her - or getting involved with someone that I believed had stabbed *me* in the back to get her - as long as Mac was happy - I'd have been okay with it."

"Did something happen to change that?"

"Yes, it did. I won't go into the reasons, but - let's just say that I had an - an epiphany. I realized that the changes I'd been making in my life were a start, but I needed to make more. So I sold my Corvette, I bought a house, and I decided to accept that I'm not twenty-five and able to fly off of carriers with the best of them. I'm a lawyer. But even that's not the most important thing in my life." He grinned. "Mac will tell you that I tend to obsess. Finding out what happened to my father, about cases; - I guess I'm the type of person who needs something to focus on, something that presents me with a challenge. Usually, once the problem I'm focused on is resolved, I tend to lose interest, to look for the next challenge. But this time my sights are set on the one thing that I need to focus on more than anything else."

"And that would be?"

"Mac. Mattie. Being a family. Making sure that Mac is happy. That's what I intend to devote the rest of my life to achieving."

"Human beings aren't always happy, Harm," McCool pointed out.

"No. And I don't doubt we'll argue - but now, I know that I don't have to win those arguments. They're not important anymore."

"Mac tells me that you and she are talking about marriage."

Harm smiled. "Yes, we are."

"You feel that you're ready to take on a ready made family?"

"More than ready. Mac's uncertain because she's still in therapy and still has some issues about what she's been through."

McCool tapped her pencil on her notepad for a moment. "Do you resent that, Harm?"

"Resent -?" he repeated, blinking in surprise. "No. I understand that she went through a lot. I wish I'd been there for her then. Wish she had *let* me be there for her instead of -"

"Have you spoken to Clay, Harm?"

"Once. He came to see me just before Mac broke up with him. Wanted to make sure I knew what would happen if I didn't treat her right."

"Do you still have issues with the fact that Mac was with Clay for those months after the trip to South America?"

Harm rose to his feet again, pacing. "No. Of course not. I -" he turned to find her looking at him and took a deep breath. "Maybe a few. But I don't blame Mac. The circumstances they were in created a pretty intense bond between them. Clay nearly died, and Mac felt guilty about it."

"Was she responsible in some way?"

"No. It was all Clay's doing. He's the one who took her down there, knowing how dangerous the situation was."

"She could have refused to go, couldn't she?"

"You don't know Mac if you think she would have said no. She's one hell of a take no prisoners, gung ho Marine. She can take care of herself -"

"Then why did you go down there to rescue her if you believe that?"

"Because while I trusted her to get *herself* out of a bind, I didn't trust Clay or *his* people to protect them." He sat down again. "If I hadn't gone -" his voice broke as he considered the alternative. Harm shook his head, swallowing several times until the feeling passed. "I love Mac, Dr. McCool. If I hadn't gone down there, and I'd lost her, I wouldn't have had any reason to go on. I fully intend to spend the rest of my life proving to Sarah Mackenzie how much I love her."

"I think we're ready for Mac to come back in," she told him, rising to her feet and going to the door. "Mac?"

Mac entered, giving Harm a questioning look before moving over to sit beside him on the sofa. Harm reached over and took her hand in his, giving her a reassuring smile.

McCool stood watching them for a moment, as if she were considering her words carefully. "Mac, if you could ask Harm any question, what would it be?"

"Why he didn't -" Dr. McCool indicated that she should ask Harm directly, so Mac turned to look at him. "Why didn't you return my phone calls last summer? I left 17 messages. I know you were gone a lot, but -"

Harm took a deep breath before answering. "Look at it from my point of view, Mac. I'd given everything up, taken the biggest risk of my entire life, only to be told that there was *never* going to be an *us*. And when I got back all I got was slapped in the face at every turn by people who I respected and admired. Everything I used to define my life, to define who I *am* was gone. I had to start over. From scratch. And the easiest way for me to do it was to - to try and pretend that the past hadn't happened. It was a self-protection mechanism. Talking to people from that past life - hell, sometimes just *thinking* about them only made it more difficult for me to move on and put it behind me. So I pushed it all aside. Maybe it was wrong, but I had to do it. I'm sorry that it hurt you. That it made you worry."

"Of course I was worried," Mac said. "You'd gone over to the 'dark side', remember? I'd had first hand experience about how they treat their people."

Harm shook his head. "I'd gone over to the dark side, but you were seeing the man who got us into this to begin with. There were times when I was glad that I wasn't at JAG anymore. At least I didn't have to see the two of you together, knowing that you and he were -" Sitting back, he put his head back.

"Clay and I dated. When he was in town. Dinner. Dancing. But we weren't *together* until after -" her eyes fell as Harm's opened to look at her. "It was only once. When he got back into town after I killed Sadik," she told him. "I cared about him. Yes, he put me in that situation. But that didn't change what happened. He almost died."

"It would have happened even if you hadn't been there, Mac," Harm said. "The only difference was that since you *were* there, I was there to save you both."

"I never thanked you for coming down there, did I?"

"I never expected -"

"You should have. You gave up everything to come down there and I acted like a -"

Harm placed his fingers over her mouth to stop the word. "Neither of us has much to be proud of regarding the way we acted toward each other in Paraguay, Mac. After everything you'd gone through, I should have known not to push." His hand slid to cup her cheek in his palm. "I shouldn't have shut everyone out. But I realize now that I needed a wake-up call. I needed something to make me realize that it was time to grow up." He gave her a half-grin. "So in a way, I'm glad it happened. It made me into a different person. Someone who's ready to accept all the responsibilities that come with being a grown up."

Mac covered his hand with hers, looking up at him, her eyes bright.

Dr. McCool broke the silence after a moment. "Okay, Harm, it's your turn. What would be the one thing you could ask Mac if you could?"

"Why did you say 'never', Mac?" he asked.

"Even though you resigned and came after me, I couldn't be sure of your reason for it -" when he started to speak, Mac placed her fingers over his lips. "Let me explain?"

Harm took her hand and kissed it, nodding his agreement as he remained silent.

"You wouldn't - or couldn't say the words. You'd been willing to resign once before - to find Sergei. I think you might have even threatened to resign to go to Russia to find your father if the Admiral hadn't backed down. You were jealous of what you'd seen - what you *thought* you'd seen - between Clay and I, but when I had to make a choice, Harm, I chose to stay with *you* that night, remember? I could just as easily have stayed with Clay and taken care of him," she pointed out. "Then we started flailing at each other again with words, saying things we shouldn't have. I guess - I guess I just wanted to see if you would - follow through for once."

"Follow through?" Harm repeated, confused.

"You came down to rescue me because you cared - but did you have *any* idea what would happen after you did that? Any kind of plan?" she questioned.

Harm was forced to look at his hands. "I guess I thought I would swoop in like a hero and end up carrying the woman of my dreams home in my arms," he told her. "Only once I was there, it appeared that she was interested in someone else." He sighed. "When I told the Admiral that I was resigning to go after you, he asked me what I would do to keep you," he told her, a sad smile on his face. "I think I told him that I hadn't thought that far ahead. I didn't have you around to do that for me then like I had in Russia."

"And even though I said it, Harm, I didn't mean that I didn't want us to be friends anymore. I missed that in my life. Missed being able to just - drop by your place without calling to discuss a case or whatever was bothering me."

"I missed it, too," Harm told her, taking her hand again.

"And you *did* finally follow through," she said. "This time, it wasn't only about being a hero. You realized what needed to be done, and you did it."

"And won the prize?" he questioned, giving her a look that would have turned her into jelly if they'd been alone.

"I'm not sure that I'm a prize by any means."

"You are to me," he assured her, leaning in to give her a kiss. "The prize in the box of Cracker Jack."

That made Mac smile and laugh softly as their foreheads rested together.

Dr. McCool cleared her throat to remind them of her presence in the room, causing them both to turn and look at her.

Mac smiled. "Well, Doctor? What you do think?"

"I think we've made progress, Mac," she said.

"Do you think we would be rushing things if we got married?" Harm asked.

"After almost nine years of 'courtship'?" she replied, and then smiled. "No. I don't think you'd be rushing things. But you have to remember that marriage isn't a guarantee of happiness. Things happen. People change. I would suggest that Mac continue her sessions for awhile - I believe we still have some issues to work out."

"I planned to do that anyway," Mac told her, earning a smile of approval as she felt Harm's fingers tighten slightly on hers.

"And you need to also remember that it's not just the two of you. You have a ready-made family with Mattie" she said, glancing at her notes. "She's going to need as much love and support as either of you. But with your own pasts to draw on, I think you can help her. Is she in any kind of support group, Harm?"

"She was - attending Alateen meetings before she went back to her father," Harm explained.

"It might not be a bad idea for you to encourage her to continue that for the time being. Losing a parent at any age is a traumatic experience. Even a parent that the child doesn't feel overly close to." Mac felt Harm's fingers tighten again as Dr. McCool gave her a knowing look. "And I have a suggestion for you as well, Harm."

"For me?"

"I think you need to go and clear the air with Clay. You said yourself that you considered him to be a friend before everything happened. I get the impression that you're not a person who considers people to be friends that easily."

"Not usually," he said.

"Then you need to resolve any lingering issues between the two of you. If Mac is right, I believe that he could probably use a friend or two at the moment."

"If you think I should, I will."

"Very well." She stood up. "I'll see you on Wednesday, Mac? At the regular time. And - I'll offer my congratulations now - and I'm going to insist on an invitation to the wedding."

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

After leaving Dr. McCool's office, Mac and Harm got into the SUV to drive out to Bud and Harriet's to retrieve Mattie. "So," Harm asked once they were on their way. "How about our deal?"

"She *did* give her stamp of approval, didn't she?"

"I'd say so."

"Where and when?"

"Let me think about it?" Harm questioned, surprising her.

"Having second thoughts, Navy?" she asked.

Harm frowned, reaching over to take her hand in his. "No way, Marine. I just want *this* part to be right." Giving her a big smile, he asked, "Trust me?"

"With my life," she said solemnly.

"Even after everything that's happened?"

"Maybe because of everything that's happened," she countered, smiling as well.

Harm forced his gaze back to the road, searching his brain for something to take his mind off of the woman at his side. "We still need to get the rest of your things over to the house."

"I wonder if Sturgis would still be willing to help."

"I'm sure he would. Think we should ask Bud?"

"Why not? Most of the time, I forget that he -"

"I know. He's really bounced back, hasn't he?"

"I knew he would. Bud's a lot stronger than most people give him credit for being."

"Well, he had a lot to live for," Harm pointed out. "Harriet, little AJ. Now Jimmy."

Bud eagerly agreed to help them move the rest of Mac's things out of her apartment and over to the house in Falls Church if Harm could arrange for a truck the next evening. Harriet invited them to stay for dinner, insisting that she had planned for them to stay and made more than enough. Mattie and the boys joined their voices to Harriet's, and after exchanging a look with Mac, Harm agreed to stay.

Mac insisted on helping Harriet in the kitchen while Mattie and little AJ, who tagged along after the older girl like a puppy, set the dining room table for dinner. "I really hope you haven't gone to any trouble, Harriet," Mac said. "I still feel guilty that we had to postpone dinner last week."

"We'll reschedule, Mac," Harriet said in that bright, sunny tone that Mac sometimes envied. "Once things are settled again. Although, right now, I wonder if that's ever going to happen."

"What do you mean?"

"There are so many changes taking place. Sturgis getting married and leaving, the Admiral retiring and moving all the way to Italy -" she managed a grin. "You and Harm finally getting together - I am *so* thrilled for both of you, Mac. I can't tell you how long I've hoped the two of you would work things out." She glanced out of the corner of her eyes at Mac. "So, when can we expect wedding bells?"

"We're still discussing it," Mac told her.

"I know I didn't say anything when you were going to marry Mic, but - well, I didn't think it was my place to - well, you *seemed* to be in love with him, and -"

"It's okay, Harriet," Mac assured her. "I *did* love him. But - well, not like I should have if I was going to marry him. It took *me* a long time to realize that."

"Never thought you'd be grateful for Harm's going on in the ocean, did you?"

Mac shook her head. "Hardly."

In the family room, Mattie and the boys joined Harm and Bud, who were discussing work and the Admiral's impending retirement. "Speaking of the Admiral, Harm," Mattie said, standing in the middle of the room, arms folded across her chest, "did you talk to him about the dog?"

Harm winked at Bud as he answered. "Yes, I did. He'll bring her over before he leaves."

"Yes!" Mattie said, raising a fist in victory.

"You guys are going to take Dammit?" Bud questioned, wincing as he said the name and glanced at his older son.

"Uncle AJ's dog?" the little boy asked, and Bud relaxed.

Harm pulled the little boy into his lap. "Yes. He can't take the dog with him when he moves, so we're going to take care of her."

"I want a dog," AJ declared, and Harm sent Bud a look of apology.

"AJ, you know that we've talked about this -"

"Tell you what," Harm said to the boy. "You can come over and play with her at our house, okay?"

"Can I Daddy?" AJ asked.

"I think we can manage that," Bud agreed, and AJ smiled, temporarily content.

Mattie picked up Jimmy and held out her hand. "Come on, AJ. Let's go get your hands washed for dinner."

"Okay," AJ agreed, slipping off of his godfather's lap to practically pull Mattie out of the room as Harm and Bud laughed at his antics.

"Sorry about that, Bud," Harm apologized.

"Don't worry about it. He's already forgotten with the promise of going over to your house to see the dog."

"No more problems with him?"

"He's settled down. Mattie's good with him. So good that Harriet's thinking about going back to the office part time if you agree to let Mattie baby-sit the boys during the day."

"I don't know, Bud -"

"She's responsible, and the boys both adore her."

"Have you mentioned this to Mattie?"

"No. I thought I should talk to you first. Mattie babysat a couple of times before she went back to her dad, and she really impressed us, sir."

"It's Harm, Bud." He took a deep breath. "I'll talk to Mac and Mattie about it. We could use Harriet at JAG," he had to admit. "Even if it's just a few hours a week."

"It might help keep her mind off her dad, too," Bud pointed out.

"Did she say anything about him today?" Harm asked, glancing toward the door to make sure that they weren't inadvertently overheard.

"Not really. I expressed my sympathies when I got home and she thanked me."

"Dinner's ready!" Mattie called from the doorway.

"We're coming," Bud called back.

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

After dinner, Mattie, Mac, and Harm said their good byes to the Roberts. AJ was upset that his friend was leaving until Mattie promised to come and see him the next day as well - with Harriet's smiling agreement to the plan.

"If you're sure it's no bother, Harriet," Harm said.

"None at all," Harriet assured him. "Mattie's a big help, keeping an eye on the boys while I take care of errands and such. Besides," she said, winking at Mattie. "It's nice having another female around to share girl talk with."

"We'll have her here," Mac promised.

As they drove away, Harm watched as AJ waved frantically after them and laughed, glancing at Mattie in the rear view mirror. "Looks like you made a conquest, Mattie."

"He's just lonely. I can understand that. I think he wants to go back to day care but his mother's still worried about when he ran away."

"She trusts you," Harm noted. "In fact, she and Bud were wondering if you'd be willing to watch the boys a couple of days a week so she can go back to work at JAG. At least for the summer."

"Sure," Mattie answered. "I'm willing."

"I thought you were going to join the volley ball team at the Y?" Mac reminded her.

"They have practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays," Mattie said. "And that's only for a couple of hours. "I could use the money," she told them."

"The money's not a problem, Mattie," Harm told her.

"I guess I'm still kinda used to making my own way," she answered. "Money of my own. Other than from the rent on the house in Blacksburg."

"We haven't fully decided -" Harm began, and made the mistake of looking from Mac to Mattie. "Okay. If you and Harriet can work things out, you can do it. But only until school starts. And as long as it doesn't conflict with your Alateen meetings." He saw Mattie's expression change. "I figured you might want to go back," he said.

"I'll - think about it," she said slowly, sitting back in her seat.

Harm set Mac a troubled look before turning his attention fully to the road ahead.

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

Later that night, after Mattie was in bed, Mac was sitting on the back porch when Harm came out of the house. "There you are."

"I decided to take advantage of the nice weather," she told him, smiling as he sat down in the metal chair opposite her at the table.

"I tried to call Clay," he told her. "Got the machine."

Mac nodded. "Why doesn't that surprise me. He's probably on the other side of the world."

"I'll keep trying," he said. "Of course, there's no saying that he'll return the calls, but I'll find a way."

"Did you call Sturgis about tomorrow evening?"

"He said he could get away."

"Good." She sat there, looking out over the yard, the breeze ruffling through her dark hair. Noticing that he was watching her, she smiled. "What?"

"You're beautiful," he said.

"Harm -"

"I mean it." Putting a hand into his pocket, Harm pulled out the small velvet box that he'd retrieved from the back corner of his top dresser drawer and placed it on the table between them, lifting his eyes back to Mac's face to watch her reaction. "My grandfather gave this to my Grandma Sarah when he asked her to marry him," he told her. "And *my* dad gave it to my mom for the same reason." He ran a finger over the blue velvet top. "Mom wore it until the day she accepted Frank's proposal." Slowly he opened the lid to reveal the single diamond in a yellow gold setting. "I asked her to send it to me a few weeks ago."

"It's beautiful," she said.

"I love you, Sarah Mackenzie," he told her, taking the ring from the box, his eyes never leaving her face as he spoke. "I know it took a long time for me to be able to say those words to you, but I promise you that from now on, not a day will go by when you don't hear them. You'd make me the happiest man in the world if you would agree to marry me, Sarah."

"For a man who has trouble with the words, Harm, you -" She smiled at him. "Yes. I'll marry you. If you're sure you want to take a chance on -"

He lifted her hand from the table, removing her OCS ring. "I don't think I'm taking any chance here. This is right. And it's real. And I'm going to spend the rest of my life making you happy," he promised, slipping the engagement ring onto her left hand.

"It fits," she said, surprised.

"I - remembered you once telling Harriet your ring size," he explained, pulling her from her chair and around the table where she settled into his lap. "I had it sized when I got it."

"Pretty sure of yourself, weren't you, Navy?"

"Not at all," he said. "Just incredibly lucky to have gotten one last chance to make things right." He looked up into her beautiful eyes. "God, I love you, Sarah," he sighed, pulling her close for a kiss.

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

"How are you going to tell her?" Harm asked as he finished the last pancake.

"I'm just going to rely on her powers of observation," she said, lifting her left hand and wiggling her fingers as Mattie entered the kitchen. "I'll bring your coffee to the table, Mattie," Mac said.

"Good. I could use it," the girl said, moving directly to her usual chair.

"Morning," Harm said, sitting down as well, watching Mac placed the cup of coffee before Mattie, making sure to linger *just* long enough so that the girl couldn't possibly miss seeing the ring on Mac's left hand. But there was no reaction, other than a muttered.

"Thanks, Mac."

Harm frowned at Mac, confused. "Mac, would you pass me the strawberry jam?" he asked, watching as she reached for the bottle with her left hand.

"I can get it," Mattie said, grabbing the bottle and handing it to Harm before putting maple syrup on her own pancakes.

Mac's eyes widened in frustration. "Do you need more coffee, Harm?" she asked.

He glanced at his half-full cup. "I will in a minute," he told her, picking it up and drinking it down as Mac rose to get the pot. Leaning over the table, she rested her left hand not far from Mattie - who *still* didn't seem to notice anything. "Thanks," Harm said, lifting his shoulders as if to tell her he hadn't a clue as to what was going on.

"Mattie?" Mac asked.

"Hmm?" Mattie replied, her mouth full of pancakes.


Mattie shook her head, leaving Mac to sit back down with a look of resignation on her face. The girl swallowed the food in her mouth. "So when's the wedding?" she asked, not looking up. She might have been talking about the weather from her tone.

"We haven't -" Mac began, only to stop when she saw the huge smile on Mattie's face.

"I knew about it last night," Mattie said. "I came down here for a glass of water and happened to see the two of you outside on the patio and noticed the glint of moonlight on that rock," she told them, reaching out to capture Mac's hand for a closer look.

"You don't seem very excited by the prospect of Mac and I getting married," Harm noted with some concern.

"I knew it was just a matter of time," she told them, releasing Mac's hand to pick up her cup as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on. Suddenly she smiled again and put the cup down, rising to her feet before going to give first Harm and then Mac a hug. "I think it's great!" she declared. "We'll *really* be a family! So, I ask again. *When*?"

"We were going to discuss it today," Harm said. "We'd like to do it before the Admiral leaves in two weeks -"

"You're not going to make me wear a dress and be a bridesmaid, are you?" Mattie asked Mac. "I don't *wear* dresses," she declared.

"You did for court," Harm pointed out.

"I was going to ask Harriet to be my maid of honor, since we've known each other for so long, but I *was* hoping that you and Jen and Chloe would be bridesmaids," Mac sighed.

Mattie managed to look extremely put upon and pleased at the same time. "Well, I guess if I *have* to."

Harm's eyes had widened as he listened to Mac and mentally counted the names. "Ma-ac," he whined. "I thought we were just going to have a small wedding. *Four*? I'm not sure I can come up with that many -"

"Of course you can, Harm," Mac assured him. "Let's see. There's Bud - I'm pretty sure you'll ask him to be your best man -" Harm nodded. "And Sturgis - and before you say anything, I'm reasonably sure he'll be willing to come back for *this*. And then Jack Keeter -"

"I'm not even sure where Keeter *is* right now, Mac," Harm pointed out. "He's still pulling CIA duty, remember?"

"Who's Jack Keeter?" Mattie asked.

"He went to the Academy with Harm and Sturgis," Mac explained. "Maybe Clay could find him -" Her eyes widened as an idea struck her. "Or -"

Knowing what she was going to say, Harm began to shake his head. "Oh, no, Mac. Even *I* wouldn't do that to Clayton Webb. Talk about cruel -"

"Not if you and he kiss and make up," she said, smiling at the mental picture that her words had painted.

"Okay, now I've lost my appetite," Harm sighed, pushing away from the table. "I'm going to go finish getting dressed," he announced, turning on his heel to leave the room as Mac and Mattie watched him go.

Mac picked up her and Harm's plates, carrying them to the sink as Mattie said, "Even with Bud, Sturgis and Clay, that's only three, Mac."

Mac scraped the remains of Harm's breakfast into the disposal as she considered options. "Mike Roberts," she said. "He's stationed at Norfolk for school - I'm sure he'd be glad to be a groomsman. He's always admired Harm."

"He's not bad on the eyes, either," Mattie noted, and when Mac turned to give her a look, she grinned. "At least, that's what Jen always said." She looked toward the door that Harm had gone through. "You think he'll cave and talk to Clay?" she asked, bringing her own plate and the three coffee cups over for Mac to rinse and put into the dishwasher.

"I hope so," Mac said. But it wasn't just because of the wedding. It bothered her that she had come between the two men. Yes, they were different in so many respects, but there were similarities as well. Both men had lost their fathers at a young age and grown up with little or no real knowledge as to what had happened to them; both men had followed their fathers into the 'family business'; both men were dedicated to serving their country; and although they often took different paths to get there, both men sought the truth above all else. They had never been close enough to do more than have a drink together - Mac couldn't see Clay helping Harm rebuild the Vette, or shooting baskets or even running with Harm - but they *had* been friends. And the guilt of destroying that was something she still carried.

Mac's internal clock informed her that it was time for them to leave as she finished wiping down the table and counters. Telling Mattie to go and get whatever she was taking to the Roberts for the day, she followed the girl out into the entryway, stopping in surprise as she saw Harm standing there, holding his cover and both of their briefcases.

He didn't return her smile as she thanked him, so Mac suggested that she take Mattie over to the Roberts in the Vette while he went ahead to JAG in the Lexus. After a moment's hesitation, he nodded and agreed, telling Mattie that he'd see her later before turning on his heel and leaving the house.

Mattie slipped an arm through the strap of her backpack and looked at Mac. "Think he's upset?"

"He'll get over it," Mac told her, hoping she was right. "We'd better get going or I'm going to be late getting to work."

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

Once at the office, Harm put his cover on the shelf and sat down. He was early, and found himself trying to figure some way to keep Mac from hurting Clay any further than he was already hurt. He couldn't believe she had even *made* that suggestion. Asking Clay to be a groomsman at his wedding to Mac was like kicking the man in the face.

Picking up the phone, Harm dialed Catherine Gale's office at Langley. He hated going to her again, but he told himself that it was only because he needed to find Keeter before Mac could involve Clay in their wedding plans.

"Ms. Gale's office," the secretary said.

"Is she in? I need to speak to her."

"May I say who's calling?"

"Harmon Rabb."

"Just a moment, Mr. Rabb. I'll see if she's available."

Harm picked up a pen from his desk and began to tap it on the blotter as he waited. "Well, this is a surprise," Catherine Gale said over the phone. "Hello, Harm."

"Catherine. How are you doing?"

"Fine. You're lucky to have caught me. Today's my first day back from maternity leave."

He smiled. "How's he doing?"

"Perfect. I haven't had a chance to thank you for the flowers and teddy bear you sent when he was born. Thank you."

"Don't mention it. How's your mother?"

"Doing better. I think having a grandchild was the best medicine she could have gotten."

"Good. Give her my best."

"She wouldn't mind if you delivered it yourself."

"Well, I'll see what I can do about that, but I'm in the middle of planning a wedding."

"Is it too much to hope that it's yours and Col. Mackenzie's?" Catherine asked, and Harm smiled again.

"How'd you know?"

"You sound happy. For the first time in a very long time. As much as I wished otherwise, I know that she's the only one who could cause that reaction."

"Hey, you had your chance," Harm told her, grinning into the phone. "Turned it down."

"Oh, well, my loss is Mac's gain. Now, since I know you didn't call just to catch up, what can I do for you?"

"I've got a friend who does occasional air ops for your bosses. I need to find him to see if he'll be a groomsman."

"What's his name?"

"Jack Keeter." Catherine was quiet for a long moment, and Harm thought that the line had disconnected. "Catherine?"

"Yes. I'm here. Jack Keeter. I'll see what I can find out."

"Do you know, Keeter, Catherine?"

"Yeah," she said, and Harm frowned at the uncertainty in her voice. "He *does* work for the Company occasionally, remember?"

"Look, Catherine, if you'd rather not do this, I can call Clayton Webb -"

"You *are* brave, aren't you?"

Since the topic had come up, Harm decided to continue. "Have you seen him lately?"

"We run into each other occasionally. You know Webb. Keeps his own council. Why do you ask?"

"No particular reason. Mac's worried about him, and I've left a couple of messages for him, but he hasn't called me back."

"That's strange. I know he was out of the country at the end of last week, but I thought he had returned -"

"Out of the country? He just got *back* the *first* of last week," Harm pointed out.

"You're not the only one who can do fast mission turnarounds, Harm," Catherine said, referring to Harm's having flown a record number of missions during his brief stint with the CIA. "Look, I'll see what I can find out about where Jack might be, let him know you want to talk to him."

"Okay. Thanks. You know where to find me." Harm hung up the phone and then dialed the number for Langley again, this time using a different extension. When the secretary answered, he said, "Clayton Webb, please."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Webb's not in the office today," she said.

"Is he in town?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. -"

"Commander Harmon Rabb," he told her.

"Commander Rabb. I'm sorry. It's been awhile since I last heard your voice."

Harm's eyes narrowed as he tried to recall the young woman's name. "Marie, I need to get in touch with him." He winced, crossing his fingers against the lie. "It's about Mac. Colonel Mackenzie."

Marie's voice changed slightly, lowering in volume as though she was making an attempt not to be overheard. "Mr. Webb returned from a mission yesterday morning, Commander. He came in for his scheduled debriefing, but hasn't been in or called this morning. I called him at home, but he didn't answer. I'm worried about him," she confided.

"Why? Something specific or -"

"Not really. I just - well, I have a feeling that something's wrong. I can't explain it -"

"I'll check on him," Harm promised. "I'm sure he just went home and fell asleep. Probably turned the phone off -"

"Mr. Webb *never* does that, Commander. He's always on call. He knows that."

"I'll make sure he gets in touch," Harm promised her. "Thank you."

"Just make sure he's okay. He needs to check in before someone *else* discovers that he's not here."

"I'll let him know," Harm said, hanging up. He had a nagging feeling that Marie was right: something was wrong with Clayton Webb. Dialing Clay's cell phone number he discovered that it was turned off. Picking up the phone once more, he dialed Mac's cell phone. "Mac, where is Clay living now?" he asked, knowing that he was leaving himself wide open by doing so.

"In Arlington," she said, giving him the address. "He should be at Langley if he's in town."

"He's in the country, he's not at Langley, and his secretary says that he's not answering his phone."

"That's not like Clay," she said. "That phone's almost surgically attached. He can't ignore it."

"That's what I thought." He decided not to tell her that the phone was turned off.

"What are you going to do?"

"Go over there, find out what's going on."

"You want me to meet you -?"

"No. You come on in to work. I'll clear this with the Admiral and then get over there." He paused. "Mac, I'm sorry about -"

"Just make sure he's okay."

"I'll let you know what happens," he told her, hanging up as he saw AJ crossing through the bullpen. Rising from his chair, he called, "Admiral!"

AJ turned, looking surprised to see him. "You're early today, Harm."

"Yes, sir. I need to leave the office for a little while, Admiral," he said, noticing that other personnel had begun filtering in as well.

"My office," AJ told him, leading the way through Jen Coates' office and into his. "What's going on?"

"I asked Mac to marry me last night, sir, and -"


Harm grinned. "Thank you, sir."

"What does this have to do with your needing to leave this morning?"

"I called Langley this morning, trying to locate Jack Keeter to be a groomsman, sir. While I was on the phone, I discovered that Webb is out of pocket - and his secretary is concerned about it. That, combined with Mac's worries about the man's state of mind -"

"You're going over to Webb's to make sure he's okay?" AJ questioned, frowning.

"Admiral, you know what Clay's like. He's turned off his cell phone, sir -"

AJ's frown deepened. "Get over there and find out what's going on. Report back to me ASAP."

"Yes, sir."


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