if the fates allow
by tahlia

Her drink is flat. Her food is mediocre, at best; it doesn't have flavor or texture. Webb is telling a story, something about aide workers and Afghanistan, but she lost track a while ago. She can't even remember why it was so funny.


Her name catches her off-guard. Smoothly, she picks up the napkin on your lap and pretends to wipe the corner of her mouth. "Yeah?"

Webb is watching her, probably expecting her to fill in the rest. (Did he ask a question?)

"What?" she finally demands, when he won't say anything; napkin, back on her lap.

He opens his mouth, and then quickly shuts it again. "Forget it."

She doesn't know why, but she reaches her hand across the table and places it over his. A consolation gesture, perhaps. "Clay," she murmurs. His fingers curl under her palm.

Suddenly, he jerks his hand out from under hers. "Don't," he hisses, but he catches himself. He shuts his eyes.

"Clay," with both hands on her lap now, "what's going on?"

"Maybe I should be asking you that," he spits.

"What--" She are short, defensive. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Webb sighs. His eyes glance around the restaurant, at the other patrons. He doesn't want to do this here anymore than her. "You seem..." He trails off, doesn't finish.

"What?" she demands. "I seem what?"

It's like he's searching for the proper word. The right way to say it. "You seem distracted." He pauses. "Lately, you seem...distracted." After a minute, he clears his throat, saying softly, "I don't want to do this now."

"Come on--"

"Mac, it's Christmas Eve, for God's sake. Can we just...have a normal meal? Please?"


She stops. She hates arguing in public, too.

Outside, they are waiting for the valet to bring their separate cars. (She called him earlier: "I'll meet you there, okay? There's something I need to do first.") It stopped snowing, but the ground is still lightly coated in white and she runs the toe of her shoe along the sidewalk to make small lines. Anything to avoid looking up. Anything to avoid this conversation. Only decency is keeping her here, by his side.

Finally, she isn't sure why-- finally, she looks up. He's squinting down the street, probably trying to watch for his car, barreling around the corner. Not looking at her, either.

"'Distracted'?" she asks.

He turns to her with sympathetic eyes. "Yeah."

She shifts. "Why?"

It's amazing how civil this can be.

"You tell me," he replies.

"Right." She's smiling, but it's not funny.

There's a pause before he speaks again. He turns his whole body this time, moving closer to her. "Seriously, Sarah, tell me." Adding, "Please."

She doesn't know what to say. She flounders, trying to find something appropriate. "I-- I don't know. I guess, I hadn't noticed."

She might as well have kicked him, the way his shoulders fall. "Of course," he mutters.

Maybe it's the truth, maybe it's not. To be honest, she really hadn't noticed, whether that was good or not.

"Where were you tonight?"

Again, he catches her off-guard. "What?"

"After the sermon, you said there was something you had to do."

She notices that they are standing close, but they are not standing together. Their backs are straight; their hands are strategically placed so that they will not touch. She wonders if he feels threatened by her, by the hands he thinks have been on her. How many ways can she show him that it's not true?

"I--" She hates to imagine what would happen if she told him everything. "It was for a friend."

Webb looks at his shoes, his head like a dead weight on his shoulders. "For Harm?"

It kills her to say it. "Yeah," she whispers. She is choked up, God knows why.

He stares out into the deserted road. DC is empty on Christmas Eve. "You went to the Wall."

"He's my friend, Clay," she points out, suddenly on the defensive.

He kicks an invisible stone. "Right, we've established that much."

And she stands there and it feels like the end; maybe not the end, maybe just a bump in the road. Like clockwork, or maybe like a tired clichÈ, the valet pulls up with her car at that exact moment: Harm's car, really, because they both own one. As if the world couldn't forget that Harmon Rabb would always exist between them.

They wish each other Merry Christmas; they do not kiss goodbye.


She knocks on his door softly, because she knows Mattie will be asleep by now. Once, twice; there is a pause, and then she hears shuffling on the other side. Shadows of feet stop, and she knows he is checking the peephole. Then the chain sliding open, and Harm opens the door, slightly surprised; okay, more than a little surprised.


It still smells like Christmas dinner. "Chinese food?" she asks, voice purposely lower.

He looks at her strangely for a minute. "Yeah," he replies, almost whispering, and he glances over his shoulder. "We were hungry." She sees Mattie, asleep on the couch, a blanket tossed over.

She flirts with going home.

"I thought you had a date with Webb."

He catches her. She smiles, maybe a little sad. "I did."

Harm smiles mischievously. "Isn't it a little early?"

In a previous life, she would have taken the bait and they would have bantered and they would have flirted. Like old friends; like comfortable, old friends. She can't figure out what to say to make it like that again.

"Mac," he says again, and the door slides ever more shut, though he doesn't stop whispering, "what's up?"

She doesn't know why tears are forming in her eyes. Checking the doorknob once to make sure it's unlocked, Harm lets the door close softly behind him. "Mac?" he says again, gently.

"I think I screwed up."

He blinks, considering the possibilities. "What do you mean?"

"In court," she begins, but then she stops. After a minute, she thinks better of where she left her thought, afraid he might draw the wrong conclusion. "What I said in court, I wasn't-- I meant it."

A moment. Harm presses his lips together. Finally: "I know."

"Everything, I meant...everything."

"I know," he repeats.

"I know you know!" She doesn't mean to shout. Her emotions are starting to get the better of her, and she can't figure out how to stop them. She wishes she could blame the wine at dinner. "I just-- I needed to say it."

Harm nods. "Okay."

"No," she presses, and she steps closer to him, "it's not okay. This is not okay. We are not okay."

That was intentional. Harm's eyes slip shut and he sighs. He doesn't say a word.

She makes a gesture between the two of them, trying to indicate space and something else. "There are these things that I know, and there are these things that you know, but we never say them. We never say that we know them, we just kind of...assume things."

For a minute, she's sure he doesn't understand. And then his eyes open. "How about now?"

"What?" She blinks.

"This." His voice is loud. He'd almost be angry, if she didn't know him better. He mimics her gesture. Maybe he is angry. "Right now, Mac. You can't even bring yourself to say it."

She shakes her head once. "Pot, kettle," she mutters.

Harm stops. "The hell?"

Perhaps that wasn't meant to be said. "You should talk, Harm," she says louder, with intent.

He shakes his head. "What the hell are you talking about?"

She crosses her arms, challenging him. "Why did you follow me to Paraguay?"

"This isn't about me," he throws back.

"Answer the damn question, Harm."

He doesn't have to think hard. "Because you were in trouble."

It's not what she wants. She tries again: "Why did you leave your career behind and follow me to Paraguay?"

"You just asked me that, Mac."

"Well, I'm asking you again."

Harm drops his head, breathing in. It's like he's preparing for battle. "Because, I care about you, despite what you may think."

"Why?" She can feel the way she's pushing him over the edge.

"Because I do!"

He's teetering. Just one last push, perhaps.


"I just said--"


Finally, he explodes. "Because I love you, that's why!"

She winces: at his tone, at the way he said it, at how she made him say it. She never imagined it would be like this.

"Shit," he mutters, burying his face in the palms of his hand.

Mac stands in front of him, considering her options. She had come here seeking forgiveness and managed to wander into strange territory, possibly uncharted. It isn't what she had been expecting, but she would hardly call herself disappointed.

So, she decides to go back to the beginning. "I screwed up," she tells him.

"Yeah, well, me, too," he replies, still speaking to the palms of his hands. "Apparently."

She steps closer to him, and lifts her hands to curl around his, pulling his hands away from his face. She wants to look directly at him and doesn't break her gaze as she speaks. "I don't want it to be like this anymore."

He doesn't speak, and for a minute, she thinks that maybe she's taken his breath away. Maybe she has. His fingers are laced with hers and they are pressed against her chest.


His lips take the rest of whatever it was she was going to say, as they press against hers. It's tentative, at first, because maybe it wasn't exactly the right thing to do, but his lips are soft and there's the hint of Kung Pao chicken in the crevices, and she can't resist it for long. Her legs relax, their hands drop, and his tongue is in her mouth. She presses herself against him, and they go careening into the door: it rattles in its frame, and what little part of her rational brain that's left reminds her that Mattie is sleeping not twenty feet from them. His hands are on her waist and hers on around his neck, playing with the hair cut so close to his scalp, and she feels like a teenager all over again, making out in some darkened corner.

She has to stand on tiptoe, and he is forced to slide his body down to accommodate her, so, of course, this arrangement can't last very long. She has to pull back because the muscles near her heels ache, but she leaves one hand pressed flat against his chest as a reminder.

Eventually, his arms are wrapped around her, hugging her, and she is pressed against his chest: she can hear his heart beating, and beating quickly. His hand runs up and down her arm, reassuring her, but from what she's not sure. Her head fits neatly under his chin, and he whispers into her hair: "How about now?"

She sighs into him. "I screwed up," she repeats.

"Yes," he replies, honestly, "you did." He pauses. "Can I say something?"

Mac pulls away to face him. "What?"

He sighs. Twice, he opens his mouth, and thinks better of it, before he finally decides. "What do you want from me?"

She's shocked, but only a little. It's a good question-- no, it's great question. She makes a face to let him know that it's a good question. "Forgiveness," she tries, not really sure of herself and not hiding it. Adding, "Maybe. I don't know."

He's no longer leaning on the door, but Harm says nothing. She doesn't add anything else.

He opens his door and she accepts his invitation, because there are only so many Christmas mornings she can spend alone these days. As he deadbolts the door for the night, she looks around his apartment and remembers a long time ago, when it was barely inhabitable, when it was still a hole in the wall and there was no where to eat the food she had brought him except for his bedroom. Now, it twinkles with Christmas lights and the small light in the kitchen. On the couch, Mattie sleeps soundly.

He takes her coat: she is still wearing her uniform. In the kitchen, he offers her meager Chinese leftovers, but she holds up a hand to refuse; it's close to midnight. Yet it doesn't seem to fly with Harm, and somewhere in the process of convincing him, she ends up trapped between him and the kitchen sink. She isn't sure who initiates the kiss. It's much different than the first time: primal, hungry, and hardly tentative. Her fingers scrapping against the fly of his jeans, and his lips-- oh god, his tongue massaging that bit of skin by her ear lobe. They've started something they can't seem to control.

Her vocal chords are barely listening to her. Finally, she manages to say his name, to grab his attention. "Bedroom," she whispers into his ear.

His fingers are wrapped loosely around her wrist, guiding her there (practically dragging her there). At the foot of the bed, he stops, bringing her skin to his lips and kissing it gently. "What do you want from me?" he asks again.

She responds with her hands cupping his face and her lips pressed against his. This. This is what she wants. He understands. Her hands creeping up under his sweater is the only motivation he needs before it's lying in a heap by their feet. His fingers fly over her jacket, and he pushes it off her shoulders.

Somehow, they wind up on his bed. She is pinned beneath him, her blouse nearly open and his hand up her skirt. (His fingers had long ago peeled her stockings from her legs.) He is drawing slow circles on the inside of her thigh while he kisses her and she runs her hands up and down his torso. And then--

She freezes. Her hand covers his mouth and she pushes him away. She doesn't make a sound, doesn't breathe.

In the living room, she can hear Mattie stirring.

Harm squeezes his eyes shut and sighs when he understands. Suddenly, he's laying next to her, staring up at the ceiling. She props herself up on one elbow, never mind what it reminds her of; she doesn't say anything, only stares.

"We can't," he says.

"I know."

For a moment, she thinks about Webb, but only in that moment.

Eventually, she rolls over onto her side, facing away from him. Harm pulls back the covers and she maneuvers herself under them. She's still wearing (parts of) her uniform, but she doesn't care. His arm fades its way to her waist and she lets him pull her close to him. Vaguely, before she drifts off into sleep, she tries to consider explanations in the morning, but his fingers absently rubbing the bare skin on her stomach makes her forget all about it.

They have a deal, after all.


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