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"I can't believe you're going back into the field after what happened!" Mac told Clay.
Clay took a deep breath as he picked up his coat. "Sarah, it's my job. It's what I do. You wouldn't expect me to ask you to give up your job, would you?"
"*My* job doesn't require me to drop off the face of the planet - or lie to the people who care about me."
"Sarah, I thought you understood why I did what I did. I was trying to protect you and Mother. If I'd stayed, it would have placed you both in danger -"
"And that made it all right for you to let us both think you were dead? Dammit, Clay, you have no idea what I went through! I needed you *here* with me, not hiding somewhere."
He came closer, trying to calm her down. "Sarah, honey, I had no choice."
"Oh, you had a choice, Clay. You could have confided in me that someone was trying to kill you and that you had to go underground. I can pretend as well as the next person if I'm being watched. But to lie to me - to tell me you were going to Germany - and then to have your assistant send me those gifts!" She shook her head. "You weren't even going to tell me that you were going back into the field. If I hadn't overheard that phone call -"
"I didn't want you to worry -" the faint sound of a car horn reached them, and he looked at his watch. "That's my cab. I have to go -"
He was halfway out of the door when she spoke again. "If you leave, Clay, don't bother to come back. I won't be waiting for you this time."
"Sarah -" he began, stepping back into the room, but leaving the door open.
"I mean it. I can't live this way, Clay. Never knowing what's happening - never trusting you to tell me the truth. The next time you go missing, how am I supposed to know if it's for real or if it's just another attempt to 'protect' me?"
"I can't change who I am, Sarah," he said, running a hand through his hair as he exhaled. "I always knew it would come to this, I think. I was only fooling myself that it could work."
"I think we based our relationship on the wrong things, Clay," Mac said. "Shared experiences in Paraguay. My guilt, your need for someone."
"That may have been all it was on your side, Sarah," Clay acknowledged. "But it's more than that on mine. I saw a chance and I took it. Maybe I was wrong to do it when and where I did, but I figured - hoped - that without Harm in the picture, I might stand a chance. I didn't realize that taking that chance would almost get us both killed." The car horn blasted again.
"Go on," Mac told him, the anger gone from her voice.
"Not until I know we're still friends at least."
She looked at him and nodded. "We're friends," she agreed.
"Good. Then do a friend a favor and go talk to Harm. Try to work thing out." He turned to go again, his hand on the doorknob.
Mac nodded again. "Clay." He looked at her. "Be careful."
Mac went to the window, watching as he got into the waiting taxi that would take him to the airport for his flight to who knew where to do who knew what. Her heart felt as though a heavy burden had finally been lifted from it. For the first time in over a year, she felt whole and in control again.
The entire relationship with Clay had been built on shifting sands. It had never been something that would weather the constant barrage of storms that her life seemed to attract. There was only one man who had always been there for her through those storms, watching her back, trying to catch her whenever she fell - when she let him, anyway.
She knew that Harm was upset that she had renewed her relationship with Clay once they had discovered that he was alive - that he hadn't been able to understand her reasons for continuing to see the CIA agent. Mac wasn't even sure why she'd done so. Maybe what she'd said to Harm about how he reacted to her being available was true for her as well. She and Harm had both been free - and Clay's return had given her a reason not to pursue that. Didn't make any sense, but it was true nevertheless. But Harm hadn't said anything to her about it. No questions, no recriminations. And true to his word, he'd been there for her - as a friend - through so much in the last few weeks while Clay had been tied up in debriefings after the attempt on his life.
Maybe Clay was right: It was time to talk to Harm. If she told him that she and Clay had agreed to end their relationship because it hadn't been right for either of them, maybe he would agree to be more than just her friend. The problem was, how could she let Harm know that the love she felt for Clayton Webb had never come close to comparing with what she felt for him?
She'd just play it by ear, Mac decided, grabbing her jacket and car keys on her way out of the apartment.
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She parked the car on the street below Harm's loft, relieved to see that the lights were on. Harm was home, at least. Probably still fretting over the fact that Mattie appeared more and more likely to return to her father's custody soon. Mac felt guilty for not being here for him during this time. He'd been there for her, but she had been so caught up in things with Clay and her own problems that returning the favor to Harm had gotten lost somewhere in the shuffle. That was going to change.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the car door and crossed the street, entering the building. She could hear music playing through the door, nothing loud or raucous, but some light jazz. She could smell something mouthwatering cooking beyond the door as well. At this time of the evening, he was probably making dinner for himself and Mattie, and for a moment, Mac hesitated, suddenly uncertain about interrupting him.
But this was too important to put off, so Mac lifted her hand and knocked on the door, waiting a moment before Harm opened it. "Hi there," she said.
"Mac. Hi. This is a surprise."
"I hate to bother you, since I know that you and Mattie are making dinner -"
"Mattie's got an Alateen meeting and then she's having dinner with her dad," he explained. "Did you need something?" He hadn't moved away from the door, and Mac was feeling more and more nervous by the second.
"I thought we could - talk," she said.
"Can it wait?" he asked. "We're just about to sit down to dinner -"
"Actually, no it can't. It's kind of important -" Mac began, but the timer on the oven cut her off seconds before Alicia Montes appeared behind Harm.
"I think your soufflé's ready, Harm," the attractive brunette told him.
"Thanks," Harm said, turning away from the door.
"Col. Mackenzie. It's a pleasure to see you again," the law professor said. "Why don't you stay for dinner? I'm sure there's enough. I think Harm made enough for an army," she declared, giving Harm a teasing look that he returned as he put some pot holders onto his hands.
"For the Seventh Fleet, maybe," he corrected, turning to open the oven.
Mac saw the look that passed between them, saw the smile on Harm's face, and moved back out of the doorway, telling Alicia, "Tell him I'll call him tomorrow," she said, and headed toward the stairs since they were faster than waiting on the elevator.
Downstairs, she stood in the street beside her Vette, looking up at the windows as she'd done once or twice before. Harm was happy again - heaven knows, she hadn't given him much to smile about over the last year - since before that, actually. She had noticed the rapport that Harm and the law professor seemed to share while they had worked on that case together, but Mac supposed that she'd never taken it seriously, that she'd always believed that Harm would be there waiting when *she* was ready.
But she'd waited too long to be ready - and her chance had faded into nothingness. She'd burned her bridges with Clay - there was no going back in that direction, even if she wanted to. It wouldn't be fair to Clay or to her to do so.
Getting into the Vette, she started the engine and turned the car back toward Georgetown. How many times had Harm stood back while she was with someone else, unwilling to say anything so that she would be happy? Dalton, Mic - even Clay. Wiping a tear from her cheek, Mac concentrated on the road ahead of her, trying not to see how dark and bleak it looked.
Why did she constantly sabotage every one of her relationships? Why was she so damned - *toxic* when it came to the men in her life? There had to be an answer somewhere. The idea of where she might find those answers appeared with a sudden burst of clarity. Maybe it was time to call Dr. McCool again.
Maybe once she'd talked this through, Mac would be able to get on with her life and accept that it was time to move on.