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A Merry Little Question

by LauraBF

Disclaimer: Still not mine. Tell you what; TPTB can have my autographed Andrea Parker picture for Harm. #BEG# Maybe I should throw in a PEZ staircase too. Nah…

Author Notes: This is a continuation of A Merry Little Christmas… the first episode in a long time that showed us even a glimmer of hope that our characters aren't lost causes. It's also pure fluffy, WAFFy nonsense, that TPTB would never actually let us have. My thanks to my beta reader for putting up with my tangents and for nagging me about studying for finals when I'd rather be writing!

~*~*~*~

Mac climbed into her car, started the engine, and pulled out of the parking lot. Maybe she should have called Webb and cancelled. She couldn't help but feel that Harm needed her--the last time she had seen that particular destroyed look on his face had been in Paraguay--right after she had told him that there was no chance of a deeper relationship between them.

She was still a little mad at him for not telling her about Mattie, but in a way, she could understand. It wasn't like they'd really been close this past year. In between the Admiral cutting her off from him during the Singer fiasco, the mess and the aftermath of Paraguay, they really hadn't been talking much. Even after his return to JAG, they'd kept their distance unless it was work-related.

At least she'd been able to give him a good present. She could see that he really loved Mattie, and now he had her. Now if she could only have what *she* wanted for Christmas… him. Mac sighed and shook her head over her own stupidity. She'd stopped denying what she felt for him to herself a long time ago. She knew she loved him, she just didn't know what, if anything, could be done about it.

Mac pulled into the parking lot in front of Clay's house and parked. She got out of the car and made her way up to his door. She raised her hand to knock, but before she could, the door opened in front of her.

Webb greeted her with a smile. "I've been waiting for a gorgeous, beautiful, sexy Marine to show up on my doorstep," he said teasingly. "And it looks like Santa brought me one." He was surprised that she didn't even blush. He only teased her like that because she turned a really cute shade of red when he did. "Sarah?" he said, hoping to jar her out of her reverie.

"What? Oh, um, hi, Clay." She said absently.

He sighed, pulled her inside, and led her over to the couch. "Sarah, what's the matter?" he asked.

"Nothing," she answered.

"It's not nothing," he said insistently. "It's something to do with that errand you had to run, isn't it?"

"Maybe a little," Mac admitted.

"Does it have anything to do with the teenager that Rabb has been trying to adopt?"

She shot him an irritated look. "Even *you* knew? Harm didn't even tell *me*."

"He didn't tell me, Sarah--I know guys who know guys. And I know he's been searching for something permanent like the girl since Paraguay."

Mac turned to face him. "What do you mean?" she asked, puzzled.

"I know his CIA partner," Webb began. "We've worked together on a few ops--and I kind of kept in touch with her because Harm wasn't talking to any of us." He shot her a pleading look. "I just wanted to make sure that he was okay."

Mac simply nodded and motioned for him to continue. "Beth said that he just seemed… lost. They ended up sharing close quarters more than once, and she said that he talks in his sleep when he's having nightmares." Clay hesitated before continuing. "His nightmares were about being too late in Paraguay and losing you. Beth also said that she got him to talk about it, and she told me what you said to him. He told her that his nightmares didn't matter, because he'd lost you, anyway. He said that he didn't have anything left after Paraguay, because he was pretty sure that you hated him, and the best thing he could do was to stay away."

"But that's not true," she began stunned.

"He thinks it is," Webb said quietly. "I've known guys like him, Sarah. He's afraid to tell you how he feels, because then you'll leave him… and now he probably won't make the first move, because in his mind, you already have."

Mac looked at Webb through eyes that were rapidly filling with tears. "But I'm still here," she choked out, afraid that she'd ruined everything.

Clay sighed. "I always knew there wasn't much of a chance for us because of how you feel about him. He reached out and pulled her to him for a hug. "I'll always be your friend, Sarah, but he needs you more than I do--and I know that you need him, too."

Mac hung her head, not bothering to deny it. "You should have seen him when I said that I was spending Christmas with you," she whispered. "He looked--broken, and I know that he doesn't trust me anymore."

"That… doesn't surprise me," Clay said finally. "Why don't you go over there? I'm sure that Rabb and his new kid'd be glad to see you."

Mac stood up and walked over to the door. "Thanks, Clay," she said, before she left the apartment.

~*~*~*~

Harm stuffed down the feeling of desertion from Mac's abrupt departure, locked it away, and kissed Mattie's hair. Mattie didn't deserve to bear the brunt of Mac leaving him yet again--she finally had someone to depend on, and he refused to spoil her happiness in it. "Since we're here, honey, there's something I'd like to show you," he said.

Mattie hugged him tightly. "What is it?" she asked, before releasing him.

Harm smiled and reached down to take her hand. "Every year on Christmas Eve," he said quietly, "I come here. You see, my Dad went missing on Christmas Eve." He led her over to the wall and traced the letters of his father's name. "Dad," he said, "I want you to meet Mattie. I'm going to adopt her just as soon as they let me. I already have guardianship…" He touched his father's name again and fell silent.

Mattie reached out and touched the letters, her fingers brushing against his. "Well, I'm *your* daughter now, no matter what the courts say, so that makes him kind of my grandpa." She said softly before she looked at the name on the wall. "Nice to meet you, Grandpa," she said softly. "Thank you for sending Harm to be almost my dad."

Harm smiled and squeezed her hand tightly. He'd finally found someone concrete to hang on to. Heaven only help him if she found out the extent to which she had him wrapped around her little finger. He noticed her shiver. "C'mon, kiddo, let's go home where it's warm."

Mattie smiled, stood on tiptoes, and kissed him on the cheek. "Okay," she grinned.

Harm smiled and led her to the car. They began the drive back to his place in silence.

"Harm?" Mattie ventured.

"What, Mattie?"

"What is Mac to you? Is she your girlfriend?"

"Mac… used to be my best friend," he answered finally.

"She loves you," Mattie said positively.

"I used to think that," he admitted. "But there's a lot of history between us--I've known her for eight years--and she's said some stuff recently," he paused. "She doesn't want that from me."

"Are you sure?" Mattie asked.

"Yeah," he sighed. "I rescued her six in Paraguay, and she said that we could *never* have the kind of relationship that I want." Harm grimaced. "I know better than to keep beating my head against a brick wall."

"Do you love her?" Mattie asked.

Harm nodded. "Yeah. But it's no good if she doesn't love me back."

"Have you ever *told* her how you feel?" Mattie persisted.

"Not in so many words, no."

"*Tell* her," she urged. "She probably needs to hear it--you didn't hear her conversation with that Webb guy in the car. He's just her friend."

Harm glanced over at her as he pulled the car into a parking space in front of his apartment. "I'll think about it," he promised. "Now," he grinned, and his face lit up. "It's Christmas Eve, and it's time *you* were in bed. I know we don't have your stuff here yet, and I've still got to figure out something for the bedroom problem, but you can borrow some shorts and a shirt to sleep in, you can have my bed, and we'll figure out the rest tomorrow."

"Ok," Mattie was about to say more, but a yawn interrupted her. "I'd argue, but it's been a long day." They rode the rumbling elevator up and Harm unlocked his apartment.

Harm started for his bedroom and rummaged in his drawers. "I think I've got a pair of Mac's shorts and a shirt or two in here," he said as he pulled out a gray t-shirt and a pair of shorts.

Mattie looked at the clothes, both of which had 'US Marines" printed on them, and then back at Harm. "Are you *sure* she's not your girlfriend?" she asked.

Harm's face twisted into a wry smile. "Very sure. Now go get changed, kiddo. It's past your bedtime."

Mattie headed toward the bathroom and shot him a look over her shoulder. "Bedtime? What's that?" she asked.

"It's 2330, kiddo, that's past bedtime for you--especially since Santa hasn't come yet."

Mattie emerged from the bathroom, pulling her hair out from the collar of the shirt. "2330? Oh, yeah… military time." She crossed the room.

Harm tweaked her nose. "Well, you *are* kind of a military brat, now," he teased, turning down the covers. "Hop in, kiddo."

Mattie climbed into bed, but before she could reach for the blankets, Harm had already pulled them up and was tucking them around her. She yawned. "You know I don't believe in Santa Claus anymore, don't you?" she asked sleepily. "I guess I can one more time… after all, I got the only grown-up I've ever been able to depend on as a guardian for Christmas. I love you, Harm."

Harm reached down, stroked her hair, and kissed her forehead. "I love you, too, Mattie. G'night." He walked to the door, turned off the light, and looked back. The sight of his little girl curled up in bed melted his heart. He shook his head, walked over to the closet, and pulled out the presents he'd hidden there. Quietly, he walked over and set them underneath the tree. He grabbed the stocking that he'd picked up and filled it, grateful that Mac had fixed things so that he could have Mattie after all.

He allowed a small hope to blossom in his chest. Maybe they could at least be friends again. Harm hung up the stocking on a wall-mounted hook, then stepped back to survey his handiwork. It was perfect. Silently, he walked over to the bedroom and peeked in to check on Mattie. It was still a little hard to believe that she was his.

Harm was thankful for whatever whim of fate had brought together two lonely, lost souls those few months ago. Maybe Catherine Gale had been right, he reflected. He *was* looking for a family of his own. It wasn't like he was on great terms with his mom or his brother. He tiptoed into the room and pulled a shirt out of his dresser, then got bedding out of the linen closet.

He walked quietly into the living room, dropped the bedding on the couch, and made his way to the bathroom. A few minutes later, he emerged, carrying both his discarded clothes and Mattie's. They'd have to go back to the house and pack up her clothes, he thought. There was also the house note to take care of… perhaps they could move the furniture and rent out the house so that he could manage to keep it for her and find a bigger place for them to live.

He didn't think that his salary would stretch to paying both rent *and* a mortgage… or even *two* of them.

Harm put the clothes in with the rest of the dirty laundry, except for her dress, which he put over a chair. It *was* the only thing her really had for her to wear, after all. He went back to the living room and started making up a bed on the couch. Just as he was finishing, he was interrupted by a knock on the door.

Harm opened the door and was surprised to find Mac standing there. "Mac?" he said. "Mattie's asleep."

"Harm, I'm sorry for coming over so late, but, I, well, had to talk to you."

"What about Webb?"

Mac heaved a sigh. "Webb and I were never serious. He had a lot to say to me tonight about us, about you and me, I mean."

Harm's mouth tightened imperceptibly. "What did he have to say?" he grated.

"Just that there were lots of things that I've been refusing to face." She answered.

"Like what?" he asked, refusing to make it easy for her.

"The fact that we've been partners, best friends, and *this*." Mac tugged his head down to hers and kissed him. It wasn't a platonic kiss between friends; it was a kiss filled with love and the promise of more. Mac ended the kiss and hugged him tightly. "Clay pointed something out to me--I've been hurting you for a long time and then just expecting you to come back to me… it doesn't work like that. I love you, Harm, and I'm sorry about before. Forgive me?"

"Please repeat that?" he asked, feeling more than a little vulnerable.

"What? The part where I asked you to forgive me?"

"No, the other part."

"I love you," she said, giving him another hug.

"That's what I thought you said--and I think maybe I should follow Mattie's advice." Harm took a deep breath. "I love you, too, ninja-girl." He leaned down and captured her lips with his, giving her a kiss filled with everything he had. One kiss led to another, which led to another, and before they knew it, they were sprawled out on the couch with Mac lying on Harm's chest.

"I think we ought to slow down," Harm said finally, breaking off their latest kiss. "Mattie's asleep in my bed, and there isn't exactly much privacy around here."

Mac chucked softly and rested her forehead on his chest. "We've spent a *lot* of time being slow," she said. "But what about all of the messes we've had," she looked at him seriously. "We *can't* just ignore all of the bad stuff."

Harm kissed her on the forehead. "I can deal with a lot if I've got you and Mattie," he admitted. "I think we need a do-over--we forgive each other for all of the hurt feelings and screw-ups and start over again."

Mac groaned and buried his face in his chest. "We don't have to listen to the Admiral tell us not to get too close again, do we?"

Harm grinned. "Well, he might have something to say to us when we get married."

"*When*, flyboy? Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?"

"Maybe, but I'm stating my intentions right now--I want *forever*, Mac. I want it all with you--marriage, a family, *everything*. I'm forty years old, ninja-girl. I can't be Peter Pan forever."

"As long as you're *my* Peter Pan, I don't care," Mac said, kissing him. "Now I think I'd better go before we wake Mattie up." Mac pushed herself up and headed towards the door. Harm followed her and they stood together, reluctant to say goodbye.

"You're going to need a bigger place," Mac said, looking around the loft.

"I'm thinking of looking for a house, or at least an apartment with two bedrooms," he admitted.

Mac linked her arms around his neck. "We could switch," she said, smiling.

"Or I could just move Mattie and me in with you," Harm suggested.

Mac's smile widened. "Maybe… how about the two of you come over for dinner tomorrow and we'll talk about it."

Harm simply grinned and gave her a final kiss. "G'night, Sarah," he whispered.

"Night, flyboy." Mac left quietly and Harm quickly finished making up his bed. It wouldn't be easy, but it looked like maybe he could have his *entire* heart's desire, after all.

End.