Rating: PG-13 (some language, nothing that hasn’t been said in an episode, though)
Disclaimer: I don’t own these characters. I wish I did, but at the same time, that would be one more thing for me to worry about. So, I’ll settle for borrowing them and playing with them every once in a while, as long as DPB, Belisarius Productions, Paramount Pictures, and CBS Television don’t sue me.
Spoilers: Specifically, “Take It Like A Man,” “Persian Gulf,” and “A Merry Little Christmas.”
Feedback: Always welcome and appreciated. Can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clayton Webb’s Apartment
Saturday, February 28, 2004
0007 Hours (local)
Slipping quietly from the covers, Mac tried not to disturb the man snoring in the bed. Dressing in the dark, she watched him closely, looking for any signs of awareness, and was relieved when she didn’t see any. Although she wasn’t exactly sure of how she wanted the evening to go, this wasn’t it, she knew that much. Ending up in bed tonight with Clayton Webb wasn’t part of her plan. She had come to him feeling weak, lost… scared… and joining him in bed probably wasn’t the best thing to do. In fact, it may have been the worst thing to do.
Closing the door quietly behind her, Mac walked to her car, feeling even more lost than she had felt when she arrived. After climbing into her car, Mac locked the doors, something she always did immediately, set her purse down on the passenger seat, and inserted the key into the ignition, but didn’t turn it. She wasn’t sure she had the strength to turn it, or where she would go when she did. Home wasn’t an inviting option, as she would just be alone there, and being alone was the last thing she wanted. What she wanted was to go some place warm and inviting, some place comfortable, some place that made her feel safe. Sighing heavily, Mac found the strength buried somewhere deep inside and turned the key, bringing the engine of her Corvette to life. Pulling away from Clay’s place, she let the car go, steering it with her mind empty, her heart numb, and only dimly aware of the light traffic on the roads.
When she found herself parked outside his apartment, she wasn’t surprised. It was almost like she knew she was going to end up there, because if she admitted it to herself, she wanted to be there, with him. Looking up as she approached the building, she noticed that the apartment was dark, and for a moment her heart sank and she considered turning back, finding some other place to go, but the reality of that path propelled her forward into the building. Climbing the stairs, she felt weary, as if she hadn’t slept for days, for weeks. And perhaps she hadn’t. Mac didn’t know anymore.
Knocking lightly at his door, Mac didn’t know if she really wanted him to answer it or not. Knocking slightly harder after a moment in which there was no answer, she considered turning away, returning to her car. The moment he opened the door, she felt guilty for rousing him from his sleep. His eyes were blinking in the harshness of the light, his hair tousled, and his plaid pajama pants and white t-shirt were rumpled.
Having heard the sound at his door, Harm had risen from his bed, turned on a light in the kitchen area, and moved to the door, wondering who it could be. When he peered out the peephole, he had been surprised to see Mac standing on the other side. Even though her face was turned downward and he couldn’t see it, he knew it was her. He would know her from anywhere. Opening the door, he stood before her and said quietly, “Mac.”
Meeting his gaze briefly, Mac wanted to smile, but couldn’t find it in herself, so she broke the gaze and said, “Hey, Harm.”
"It’s late,” he replied, pointing out the obvious.
Shifting her weight, Mac looked down at her feet and spoke in a nearly apologetic manner, “I, uh, should go, then. Sorry for waking you.”
As she turned to go, Harm called her name again, “Mac.”
Turning around, she looked up, but gazed somewhere over his shoulder, not meeting his eyes.
“Did you want to come in?” Harm asked.
“I should go,” she repeated.
Stepping back into the apartment, Harm pulled the door open wider in an invitation to her. “Why’d you come here?”
Accepting his invitation, Mac moved into the apartment as she said, “I don’t know. I just… needed some place to go.”
After closing the door, Harm studied her for a moment. Had it been another time, he might have let Mac go when she had arrived, but given the events of the last two weeks, he was reluctant to do so. There had been something wrong with Mac, even if she refused to admit it. She wasn’t acting like herself, like the squared-away Marine that she was. Her interruptions when talking to the Admiral were one example, reminding Harm of Jennifer Coates. While Harm believed that Jennifer’s interruptions were unintentional, just a minor character flaw and something she would one day outgrow, there had been something else about Mac’s interruptions, something cold, hard, and intentional about them, something mean and definitely unlike Mac. Her behavior in the courtroom and her personal attack towards him likewise signaled to Harm that something was off with Mac, and if she arrived at his door in the middle of the night, she was there for a reason. “Do you want some water?” he finally asked.
All Mac could do was nod as she looked around the loft. It was so different from Clay’s place, well-lit under normal circumstances, few shadows, and always more welcoming. There were pictures on the shelves, pictures of people and of Harm’s life, and objects scattered about that held personal meaning for Harm.
When Harm handed the bottle of water from the fridge to Mac, he noticed the deep cut on her hand and asked, “What happened to your hand?”
Glancing down at the wound, Mac remembered the glass of alcohol Clay had left beside her bed, the desire she had felt to drink it, drink it and drown herself in it. It had been anger, not will-power or self-control that had stopped her, but anger towards Clay, the Admiral, Sadik, and Harm. But she had been angry mostly at herself, angry because she had let Sadik get to her and control her life, even after his death. “Oh, it was an accident.”
Grabbing her hand, Harm held it gently and studied the injury. “How’d it happen?”
Pulling her hand away and taking a step back, Mac felt her heart tighten in a way she hadn’t felt in years, not since she was living with her father. “I dropped a glass,” she answered simply as she twisted the top off the bottle of water.
“And it cut you like that?” Harm questioned still further, concerned for Mac’s well-being.
“I dropped it on the dresser by my bed. My hand happened to be close by,” she explained.
Harm knew that wasn’t the whole story, but he let it go for the time being.
Moving away from Harm, attempting to get out from under his intense gaze, Mac moved to the couch and took a seat, fighting the tears that were threatening to fall. She was so mixed up and confused, and once again, doubting her decision to come to Harm’s apartment.
Watching her move across the room, he tried to figure out what to say to her, what he could do to draw her out, but she did it for him.
“The Admiral made me see a psychiatrist at Bethesda,” she spoke calmly.
Even though he agreed with the Admiral’s decision, he knew that saying so would anger her further. Asking her if it helped would only do the same. “How was it?”
Moving slowly across the room towards her, he asked, “Really? You feel like you didn’t get anything out of it?”
Swallowing, it took Mac a moment to answer, “I got nothing.” Silent for a moment, she fiddled with the label on the bottle of water in her hands. “Have you ever been to one?”
“Twice,” Harm began. “Well, several times to two different doctors. After my ramp strike and after my crash into the Atlantic.”
“Did you feel like they helped you?”
“No,” Harm admitted. “But I had to go as S.O.P.”
“That’s why Clay went,” Mac spoke softly. “He never told me, until tonight, that he had gone.”
Sitting in a chair opposite the couch, Harm leaned forward slightly, keeping his eyes on Mac. “Do you think they helped him?”
“I’m not sure,” Mac shrugged. “He either thinks it helped or that he didn’t need help. He also agreed with the Admiral’s decision to send me to counseling.”
“Are you going to go back?” Harm asked.
“No,” Mac answered quickly. “I don’t need to.”
Although Harm wanted to suggest to Mac that she return, he also didn’t want her to get defensive. “What did the doctor say?”
Lifting her head a little, her eyes clear, Mac answered, “You know that’s privileged information, Counselor.”
Harm nodded. “You don’t have to tell me, Mac. I respect your privacy.”
Watching him for a moment, Mac said, “She said that I missed the excitement of having somebody looking for me, looking to kill me, that I’m disappointed because life isn’t as exciting, things don’t move as fast, without Sadik now, and that I’m seeking to replace him in some way.”
Harm raised his eyebrows at this. “Replace him?”
“He made life exciting.”
“Do you miss him?” Harm asked. “Do you think he made life more exciting?”
“I had forgotten about him until the whole diamond issue came up a few weeks ago,” Mac mumbled, her tone vehement.
Harm didn’t believe her for a moment. Something as traumatic as what Mac had been through was not easily forgotten, if it was ever forgotten. And the cases they had been through in recent weeks, issues of torture and stolen diamonds, probably had only served to stir up her memories of Paraguay. “Mac,” Harm whispered, unsure of how to go on.
Meeting his gaze, her eyes flashed her anger. “I was over Paraguay, everything that happened down there,” she spat.
“I wasn’t saying that I didn’t believe you,” Harm returned calmly.
“It’s in your eyes,” Mac replied, her tone a little less angry.
Breaking the gaze, Harm looked down at his feet. Even after everything, she knew him well. “I still have nightmares,” he admitted.
“Yeah. About what would have happened if I hadn’t been found, if you hadn’t tried to find me…” he trailed off.
For a moment Mac was silent. When she spoke, her voice was barely a whisper, “So do I.”
Mac nodded, not trusting her voice.
“What happens in them?” he asked gently.
“You don’t come,” she whispered. “You don’t come and find me, Sadik, he…” she trailed off, unable to go on.
Harm gave her a moment to collect herself. “Did you tell the doctor about the nightmares?”
The shaking her head was the only response she gave Harm.
“Does Clay know?”
“I don’t think Clay would even notice,” she said softly.
“Mac, why didn’t you ever say anything?” he asked.
“Because I was fine!” she practically shouted as she rose from her position on the couch and started pacing. “I…” she began, unsure of what she wanted to say. Halting her pacing, she sat back down heavily onto the couch.
“It doesn’t make you weak to ask for time, or help,” he said gently.
“I should have been able to do it. I should be fine,” she said softly. “I’m a Marine, he tried to kill me. Killing him was a relief.”
Harm was silent, waiting for her to go on.
Looking up and meeting his gaze, taking solace in the cool seawater-green depths of his eyes, she asked, “Do you know what happened when I was with him last week?”
Harm knew almost nothing about what had happened. The entire thing had been classified. All he really knew was that Mac got the information about the planned bombing, and when Sadik started going in for the kill, she shot him. “No,” he answered simply.
“I shot him. He… he was down and I shot him. Once in the arm so that he couldn’t use his weapon, and then he looked at me, really looked at me… and I shot him in the head,” her voice was harsh, but filled with pain.
“Mac…” Harm began, dying to move across the space between them and hold her.
“The file says that I shot him twice in rapid succession, that he could have still gotten me, so it was self-defense, but he was down…” she went on.
“You did what you had to do, Mac. You killed an international terrorist, did something a lot of people wanted to see done. There is no shame in that.”
“He could have given us information on others in an interrogation.”
“You don’t know that, Mac,” Harm began. “A man like Sadik would rather die than betray others, he was willing to give up his life for the cause. You know that as well as I do.”
“But he was down, Harm,” she insisted, “I killed him because I wanted to see him dead, because he hurt Clay and because he hurt you.”
“He hurt you, too,” Harm reminded her gently.
“I don’t matter,” she said softly, sadly, looking down at her feet.
This time, Harm moved and sat beside her on the couch, wrapped one arm over her shoulders, and pulled her towards him. “That’s not true, Mac. You do matter. A lot.”
Mac just let Harm hold her, glad to be in his embrace, even if it came only out of pity.
“We all care about you. Don’t ever think that you don’t matter,” he said softly, but firmly.
This time, Mac couldn’t stop the tears that threatened to fall, but was forced to let them go. “He made me feel weak and powerless, like my whole life has been a waste. I wanted him to want me, I dared him to want me, to be like every other man, but he resisted. He resisted me.”
“Sadik was trained to get at you psychologically, Mac. He knew which buttons to hit, what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. He knew how to get to you.”
“He was right, though. He called me a whore, said I was barren.”
“You’re not a whore, Mac,” Harm insisted.
“He wasn’t far off,” she said softly. “I don’t… not for money… but company…”
Shaking his head, Harm held her tighter, one hand rubbing her back soothingly. “No, you don’t. You are one of the strongest people I know. You aren’t needy and clingy like somebody who does use men for company would be.”
“I have no kids…” she added, trailing off.
“Not yet. You will,” he insisted.
Shaking her head, Mac pulled away from Harm. “No, Sadik was right.”
Watching her closely, Harm said nothing, not knowing what to say.
Weak, and exhausted, Mac leaned still further away from Harm and laid down on the couch, putting her head on the armrest and curling her legs up, making herself as small as possible. Closing her eyes, she sighed, and tucked her hands up under her chin.
Rising off the couch, Harm retrieved a blanket and returned to the couch to cover her with it. Sitting back down, he started slowly rubbing her back again.
“He wasn’t here,” she stated suddenly, her voice even and emotionless.
“When Sadik showed up. He was out of town. Again. Now he feels guilty because he wasn’t here.”
“How do you feel about it?” Harm asked gently.
“Tired. Tired of him not being here like he said he would be. Tired of being left on my own. Tired of being alone.”
Continuing to rub her back, Harm said softly, “You won’t be alone again, Mac. I promise.”
Her eyes still closed, Mac relaxed with his words. She was so tired of going through her life alone, of always having to take care of everything. For just a little while, she wanted to feel safe and protected, have someone else watch out for her. Just for a moment, she felt like she had found it.
Harm kept rubbing her back until he heard her heavy breathing and knew she was asleep. Rising gently off the couch, he turned the light off in the kitchen and returned to bed, hoping Mac would still be there when he awakened in the morning.
North of Union Station
Saturday, February 28, 2004
Harm had slept later than he normally would, even on a weekend, because he had been up late the night before with Mac. When he had stepped out of his bedroom a few minutes earlier, he had been relieved to see her still curled up on the couch, sound asleep. Trying to be as quiet as possible, he started some coffee and opened up the apartment door to pick up the newspaper. Now, sitting at the bar, he was reading the comics, pausing every few moments to glance over at Mac. He had been concerned about her for several days now, but after last night, he felt both better and worse about her state-of-mind. Feeling better about her because she had opened up, to him of all people, but he also felt worse because he was now aware of how much pressure she was under, more aware of how she was feeling. Thinking back to her words about the Corporal in court the other day, the way she asked him while on the stand if he just wanted someone to recognize what he’d been through. Harm knew it was Mac’s way of apologizing to him for her comments to him earlier in the week, but he couldn’t help but to think that there was more to it than that. Had any of them recognized what she had been through, both last spring and after the incident with Sadik last week? Had any of them even asked if she was okay, or did they all assume that she was?
A knocking on the door broke his thoughts. Quickly getting down off the barstool, Harm moved across the room and opened the door, only surprised by Mattie’s presence on the other side because of the hour. Letting her in, he gestured to Mac and indicated to Mattie to be quiet. Nodding, she followed him into the kitchen area, where he asked her, “What are you doing up so early?”
“Early?” Mattie questioned. “It’s almost 10.” Pausing, she glanced at Mac and asked, “What’s she doing here?”
Following Mattie’s gaze, Harm watched as Mac continued to breathe deeply in her sleep. “She was having a rough night last night and needed someone to talk to.”
“Oh,” Mattie replied, frowning slightly. “Okay. I guess I’ll go, then…” Mattie trailed off, looking unsure of herself.
“Stay,” Harm insisted. “I’m sure Mac will be up in a little while. And I’ll make some pancakes.”
Sighing, Mattie grabbed a coffee mug from one of the cabinets and poured herself a cup. Shrugging her shoulders, she said simply, “All right.”
Watching with a disapproving look, Harm frowned as Mattie took a seat at the bar and sipped the coffee.
“How many times have I told you not to drink coffee?” Harm asked. “It’ll stunt your growth.”
Rolling her eyes, Mattie answered, “And how many times have I told you that I don’t care? My mom wasn’t particularly tall and I’ve probably reached my adult height, Harm.”
Moving towards the bar, Harm sighed and sat down next to her. Sometimes, there was no point arguing with Mattie because she could be as stubborn as a mule.
Picking up the section Harm had been reading, Mattie raised her eyebrows as she spotted the comics. “The funnies, Harm? I didn’t think they were your style.”
"Hey,” Harm answered with a smile, “the world is a depressing place, might as well start with the good stuff.”
“I guess,” Mattie replied, tossing the paper back down on the bar and taking another sip of her coffee.
“So what brings you over here so early?” Harm asked.
“I was thinking…” Mattie trailed off.
When it became obvious that she wasn’t going to continue on without prodding, Harm asked, “Thinking about what?”
“What you said yesterday, about getting involved with a program like Alateen.”
“What about it?”
“Maybe you’re right, maybe I should I do it. I mean,” Mattie sighed heavily, “I know it isn’t all his fault. He loved my mom and he wouldn’t have driven if he knew she was going to be killed in that accident. And I know that alcoholism is a disease, that it’s not something that he can just stop… But it’s not easy for me to forgive him.”
Harm nodded, appreciating how open Mattie was being on the subject, knowing it was tough for her. “I think we can work something out. And you can always talk to me.” Glancing at Mac, he said to her, “Maybe, one day, if Mac is up to it, you and her can sit down and talk.”
Likewise, Mattie turned to look at Mac as she slept on the couch. “Why? I know she’s an alcoholic, she told my dad she was on Christmas Eve, but…” Mattie trailed off, not really knowing where she was going.
“I think you guys may have a lot in common,” Harm mused. “Might be good for both of you.”
Pondering Harm’s statement, Mattie was silent for a moment. “I didn’t mean what I said the other night.”
Sipping his own coffee, Harm asked her, “What didn’t you mean?”
“What I said after my dad left, that I was happier before I met you,” she admitted softly.
“I know,” Harm smiled. “You do know that I like having you here, right? I don’t want you to make up with your dad so you can go live with him. If you want to go back with him, that’s your choice. But I want you to be happy, and I want you to have that choice, to at least try to get along with him,” he informed her.
“I know,” Mattie said, glancing down at the floor. Looking back up and meeting his gaze, she said, “Thanks, for everything you’ve done. I know I haven’t been easy to deal with.”
Nodding slightly, Harm grinned as he said, “That’s true. But I know this hasn’t been easy on you, either. And I wouldn’t want to trade it, Mattie. I love having you around, having you in my life.”
Smiling, Mattie was getting ready to say something, but the conversation was interrupted by Mac’s stirrings on the couch. Both Harm and Mattie turned to look as Mac stretched and slowly opened her eyes, blinking in the bright sunlight.
Spotting Harm and Mattie at the bar watching her, Mac groaned, closed her eyes, and rolled over to face the back of the couch.
Rising from his perch on the barstool, Harm walked over to the couch and squatted down by Mac’s head. “You okay?” he asked.
Reaching up, Harm gently stroked Mac’s hair, moving it out of her face and tucking it behind her ear. “You sleep all right?”
Nodding was the only response Harm got.
“I’ve got coffee,” Harm offered. “Would you like some?”
Again, Mac only nodded.
“I was going to cook some pancakes for breakfast. You want to eat with Mattie and me?”
Rolling over quickly, Mac asked, glaring, “You always ask this many questions right after people wake up?”
Startled by her movement, Harm removed his hand from her head. Grinning, he answered her question as he got to his feet, “Only the people I care about.” As he walked back into the kitchen, he got a third coffee mug down, added a lot of sugar, and poured in some coffee. Using a spoon, he stirred the coffee, dissolving the sugar. Setting it down on the bar, he said to Mac, “It’s over here for you.”
Grumbling, Mac rolled off the couch, landed on her feet, left the blanket on the couch, and walked right past Mattie and Harm towards the bedroom. “I have to use the head,” she called behind her.
Once she was out of sight, Mattie looked at Harm and asked, “Is she always this grumpy in the morning?”
“No,” Harm answered, smiling slightly as he shook his head. “She’s usually a morning person. Last night just wasn’t a good night.” Glancing around the kitchen, he added, “Guess I’ll start on the pancakes.”
A few minutes later when Mac came out of the bedroom, she found Harm in the kitchen, preparing the pancake batter, and Mattie by the couch, folding the blanket Mac had used all night. Moving towards Mattie, picking her coffee up off the bar on her way, Mac said, “You don’t have to do that, Mattie. I was going to get it.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Mattie finished folding the blanket and tossed it on the couch. “I was just trying to do something to help.”
Sitting down on the couch, Mac drew her knees up to her chest and sipped her coffee. Closing her eyes, she licked her lips and sighed as she said, “Mmm… this is good.”
“It’s just coffee,” Mattie said, watching Mac.
Opening her eyes, Mac turned to Mattie and said, “There’s an art to coffee. This is a dark blend with a rich flavor. Not like that cheap stuff we have at work. And Harm put the perfect amount of sugar in it.”
From the kitchen, Harm called, “It’s not hard to get your coffee perfect, Mac. Just add a little coffee to the sugar!”
Rolling her eyes, Mac took another swallow of her coffee.
Mattie grinned as she watched the interaction between the two. She didn’t know much about the past between them, but when she had first met Harm, she could tell that somebody had hurt him deeply. The more she got to know Harm and the more she learned about his life, the more she thought it was Mac that had hurt him. There was obviously a past between them, a relationship that went deeper than either one of them cared to discuss, but it was there.
Turning to Mattie, Mac asked, “So, what are you doing up so early on a Saturday?”
“You guys make it sound like a miracle that I’m out of bed,” Mattie said.
“Most kids your age don’t get out of bed until noon, so it is somewhat unexpected,” Mac explained.
Nodding, Mattie shrugged as she said, “I’m used to getting up early. I have to for school, I did when I was on my own, I just can’t sleep until noon.”
Sipping her coffee, Mac repeated her question, “So, what brings you over here so early? Are his pancakes really that good?”
Smiling, Mattie shook her head. “I didn’t come for pancakes. They are good, though. I wanted to talk to Harm about what happened at dinner the other night when my dad was here.”
“Oh,” Mac said as she swallowed more coffee. “It isn’t easy, is it?”
“No,” Mattie shook her head. “But I didn’t exactly make it easy for him, either. Or Harm. I was being a royal pain in the ass.”
“Sometimes it’s easier to be a pain in the ass than it is to say what’s bothering us.”
“Sounds like you’ve been there,” Mattie said softly, watching her.
“I think I’ve spent most of my life there, Mattie. It’s not a life I’d recommend,” Mac said sadly.
“Harm thinks I should get involved with Alateen.”
Turning to look at Mattie, Mac nodded. “It would probably be a good idea. Support groups can make a huge difference, just knowing you aren’t alone.”
“Pancakes are done!” Harm called from the kitchen.
Rising to her feet, Mattie started towards the kitchen.
Mac caught up to the young girl quickly. “You aren’t alone in this, Mattie. If you need to talk to someone, you can always call me. I’ll be there for you.”
“Thanks,” Mattie said, smiling. Try as he might, there were just things that Harm couldn’t understand about this, but there were things it sounded like Mac could understand. Even though she hadn’t said much, Mattie got the idea that Mac knew where Mattie was coming from.
A friendly and light chatter was kept up during breakfast, the three of them enjoying the pancakes and orange juice, and the company. When they were done, Mattie got to her feet and said, “I think I’ll go now. Jennifer and I were going to clean the apartment today. Thanks for the pancakes, Harm. And it was good seeing you, Mac.” After putting her dishes in the sink, she left the apartment, Harm and Mac bidding her good-bye, but still sitting at the table.
When they were alone, Mac pushed her plate aside and placed her head in her hands, not looking at Harm.
Despite her normally large appetite, she hadn’t eaten very much at all, which had Harm slightly concerned. “You okay?” he asked.
“I have a huge headache,” she said. “I found some Tylenol in your bathroom, but it hasn’t helped yet.”
“Anything I can do?” Harm asked.
“No,” Mac said, her head still resting on her hands.
Harm rose from his seat and collected both of their plates and glasses, and carried them to the sink. Depositing them, he plugged the sink, added some soap and hot water, and began washing the dishes.
“You want some help?” Mac called.
“I’ve got it,” Harm said. “But, thanks.”
“Thanks for breakfast,” Mac said. “They were good.”
“I’m glad you were here,” he said, turning back to look over his shoulder at her.
She was watching him, and when he glanced back at her, she smiled to him. Continuing to watch Harm’s backside as he did the dishes, Mac was unable to stop the comparisons that were running through her mind. She wondered if Clay would have made her pancakes if she had spent the night at his place. Probably not. Mac wasn’t even sure that Clay would have let her stay the night at his place. They were usually at her place, and thinking about it, last night had been one of the few times Mac had even been inside Clay’s apartment.
When he was finished, Harm brought the sugar over to Mac and refilled her coffee mug, adding more to his own as well. Sitting back down at the table, he studied Mac closely before he asked, “You okay?”
“My head still hurts…” she trailed off.
“And about last night?”
Looking away, Mac was hesitant to answer. Swallowing some of her coffee, she raised her mug and said, “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. And you didn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t know,” Mac admitted.
“There’s more to it, isn’t there?”
Mac nodded slowly. It was amazing how well he could read her.
Harm didn’t know what to say to Mac to draw her out, didn’t know how to get her to talk, so he continued to watch her as he thought about it.
“I almost did it. I hated it as I thought about it, but I almost did it,” she whispered.
“Did what?” Harm asked, his voice soft and quiet.
“Drank it. Clay left alcohol in the glass…” she trailed off.
“The one that broke?”
Mac nodded. “But then I got mad. I didn’t want to give up more than five years of sobriety for him.”
“For Clay,” Mac answered solemnly, looking up at Harm, meeting his gaze across the table.
Harm nodded, slowly understanding that it wasn’t just the events with Sadik that were weighing on her mind, but things with Webb, too. God help the man if he hurt Mac, because Harm would be more than happy to strangle him if he did. “What happened?” Harm asked gently.
Sipping her coffee, Mac shook her head and said, “Where do I begin?”
“Do you love him?” Harm asked, both afraid of and dying to know the answer.
“Yeah,” Mac nodded, setting her mug back down on the table. “I do.”
Sitting back in his chair, his gaze leaving her, Harm’s heart physically hurt hearing her say it. He had asked for it, but some part of him had hoped that she didn’t love him, that there was still a chance for him.
Watching Harm, Mac looked away and added, “But not like I should. Not like he loves me. I just… can’t.”
Harm looked back up at Mac once more. “Why can’t you?”
Looking up towards the ceiling, Mac struggled to hold back the tears. “He is like every other man, full of broken promises and empty words. He wants me to be something I’m not, something I can’t be. He doesn’t…” Mac trailed off, looking down at her hands.
“He doesn’t what?” Harm prodded gently.
“I don’t think he cares, unless it affects him directly,” she whispered.
“Mac…” Harm whispered.
“In Paraguay, he said everything I wanted to hear. He told me he’d always be there for me, always listen to me, he would never make me wonder, and he would always respect me. But he’s never here, he doesn’t listen to me, he makes me wonder about everything, and he doesn’t respect me. Even when I’m with him, I have to take care of myself. I was still left to deal with Sadik, when it was his problem to begin with.”
Nodding, the picture for Harm began to get still clearer. Clay was treating Mac like every other man had treated her, like an object.
“He did it again last night, just dismissed me like I wasn’t important. I asked him what happened to what he said in Paraguay, about all those things, and he said, ‘This is the real world’ and that he’s ‘not dealing with me when I’m like this.’” Moving slowly, Mac picked up her coffee mug, brought it to her lips, and drank the warm liquid.
Shaking his head, Harm asked, “What did you say to him?”
“I told him that if he shut me up one more time, then we were over…” Trailing off, Mac paused for a moment before she continued on, “He makes me feel just as weak as Sadik did, just as powerless. Sadik reduced me to acting on impulses without thought, and Clay embraced those impulses, never asking why. He just took advantage of it.”
Frowning slightly, Harm asked her, “Why are you still with him?”
Looking around the room, anywhere except at Harm, Mac answered honestly, “I don’t know. I’ve been asking myself that all morning.”
Harm didn’t want to tell her what to do. This was something she had to figure out on her own. That didn’t stop him from having ideas. If it were up to him, she’d tell Clay to stay the hell out of her life, go back to the counselor at Bethesda, and come home to him every night. But it wasn’t up to him. “What is it that you want?” he finally asked.
Thinking for a moment, Mac answered in a serious tone. “I want to be respected. I want to be taken seriously. I don’t want pity, but I want people to recognize what I’ve been through. I want to be accepted as me, as who I am, not having people trying to change me. I want someone who asks me how I am. I want to feel safe, to feel protected, to not be alone.” Pausing for a moment, she added one more thing to her list, her voice barely a whisper, “I want to be loved.”
Looking at Mac, he waited until her gaze met his, “You are,” he said firmly.
Smiling weakly, Mac had to blink back the tears. Continuing to gaze at him, she was startled when the phone rang.
Harm, too, was startled. Getting up from the table, he picked the portable phone up off the bar. “Rabb,” he answered, his voice betraying none of the emotions that were swirling around inside him.
“Rabb,” Clay’s voice spoke over the line. “Is she there?”
“Is who?” Harm asked, even though he knew he was talking about Mac.
“Sarah,” Clay asked. “Is she there?”
“Yeah,” Harm nodded, glancing over at Mac, who was still sitting at the table. “She’s here.”
Sighing heavily, Clay said a quick, almost inaudible, “Damnit,” before continuing with, “Good. Can I talk to her?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Harm said, “I guess so. Hold on.” Extending his arm, Harm offered the phone to her. “It’s Webb,” he said.
Taking the phone from Harm, Mac remained seated at the table. “Clay.”
“Sarah,” Clay responded. “Where are you?”
Rolling her eyes, a slight grin on her face, Mac responded, “I’m at Harm’s.”
Realizing how stupid the question was, Clay went on. “Why didn’t you stay last night?”
“I didn’t want to,” Mac answered simply.
“You wanted to be with Harm,” he charged angrily.
“Something like that.”
“What’d you do,” Clay began, his tone accusatory, “go from my bed to his?”
“Clay…” Mac began. “You know I didn’t.”
“Then what’d you do?”
Glancing up at Harm, Mac said, “Talked.”
“You talked? That’s it?”
“Well, I did fall asleep on the couch, but that’s it,” Mac replied.
Sighing again, Clay said sarcastically, “I hope it was a good conversation.”
“Why are you calling me?” Mac asked.
“I was worried about you,” Clay admitted. “I woke up and you were gone. You didn’t answer your phone at home or your cell phone…” he trailed off.
“Sorry,” Mac apologized.
“I’ve got to leave again tonight. I thought you would like to go out and do something today before I have to leave,” he suggested.
“Where are you going this time?” Mac asked.
“When will you be back?”
“In a few days.”
“Clay,” Mac sighed.
“I know, Sarah, and I’m really sorry, but I have to go. It’s part of the job.” In truth, Clay did feel guilty for leaving again, especially after everything that had happened over the last few days.
Sighing, Mac looked back up at Harm as she said, “I’ll be there in a little while.”
Hearing Mac’s words, Harm closed his eyes and turned away. He had been hopeful that maybe she would end it with Clay, but that didn’t appear to be the case.
Watching Harm, Mac said her good-byes to Clay.
When she hung up the phone, Harm turned around and faced her again, his heart aching for both of them. “You’re going back to him?”
Rising from the table, Mac nodded. Returning the portable phone to the base, she said, “I’ve got to go.”
“I know,” Harm said.
Moving towards the door, Mac said, “Thanks, for everything.”
“I’m always here for you, Mac,” Harm said. He wanted to pull her into a hug and never let her go, but he knew that she had to make her own choices in life, even if he didn’t agree with them.
Her hand on the doorknob, Mac smiled weakly and said, “I’ll see you Monday.”
“See you Monday,” Harm echoed, his heart broken.
Once she was outside the door, Mac leaned up against it and took a few deep breaths. She was so mixed up and confused. Unable to stop the few tears that fell, she wiped them away with the back of her hand. Thinking, she wondered how Clay had known she was here. The conversation she had had with him a few days earlier came rushing back to her. Clay had accused her of not having one consistent relationship her entire life, except Harm. Clay had tried to take it back, say he didn’t mean it, but Mac knew he did. Is that how he had known where she was?
Walking away from Harm’s door, every step was a challenge, and as the distance grew between her and the door, Mac’s heart hurt more, her conversation with Clay echoing in her ears. Clay said he was giving her a shot at happiness, but Mac knew that Clay didn’t have what it took to make her happy. But somebody else did. Thinking about breakfast, how nice it had been with Mattie and Harm, how much she wanted something like that in her own life, Mac knew Clay would never make her happy, no matter how hard he tried.
As she opened the door she had shut a few minutes earlier, she could see Harm sitting at the bar once more, the newspaper in front of him, although he wasn’t reading it. “Harm?” she called.
Harm spun around to look at her, surprised to see her standing there.
When she saw his face, Mac could see the pain etched into it, could see the hurt in his red eyes. Unsure of how things would work out, or if they even would work out, Mac knew that if she had any chance at happiness, this was it. Every journey began with a single step, no matter how small, and she had already taken that first, and hardest, step. She had come back.