Title: In A Garden

Chapter One: The End

By: LizD

Spoilers: Through Paraguay

Notes: Picks up a year after Paraguay, no Mattie

Written: January 2004

Disclaimers: No disrespect to JAG's cast, crew or creators. With love and thanks.

In A Garden

It ended as it began, in a garden with a handshake.

It was little AJ's fifth birthday. A milestone for any child but for the godparents it was the deadline of a silly deal made that many years ago. Harm and Sturgis stood off to the side by the rose bushes watching the children playing. They joked about how much doesn't change with boys as they grow up. Mac was helping Harriet and some of the other mothers with the cake and ice cream. From the outside it looked as if this was a normal all American scene. Rockwell should have captured it.

The admiral joined Harm and Sturgis and addressed his prodigal commander.

"Commander, your orders came in today."

"Sir," Rabb responded. He really hadn't heard what the admiral had said.

"Fallon, Nevada. It's what you asked for," the admiral challenged. Rabb was stilled to silence. He hadn't told anyone about his request for transfer and didn't think this was the place to talk about it.

"Harm?" Sturgis asked.

"They needed a legal and combat ethics instructor at Top Gun," the admiral helped. "Our commander put in for the assignment."

"And they chose you?" Sturgis smiled at the absurdity.

"Admiral Boone is back out of retirement and teaching," Rabb found his voice. "He requested that I put in for the assignment."

"Should I sign the orders, Rabb?" the admiral asked.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

For the first time in the conversation, the admiral addressed Turner. "Commander, would you excuse us for a moment?"

Turner nodded and left.

"Commander – Harm. You have come and gone at JAG before. You can't use this office as a fall back position."

"I understand sir and I appreciate every time you have taken me back."

The admiral frowned. "I have said this before, Rabb. You have a career ahead of you at JAG."

"Yes, sir."

"But if you leave this time, you leave for good."

"Yes, sir."

"Do you fully understand what is ahead of you?" Rabb stood rigid waiting for the dressing down he knew he was going to get. "You will run through a series of assignments until they get bored with trying to find a good place for you. They will stick you with a desk job in the middle of nowhere. Your career advancement will be effectively terminated. You may make captain, but never beyond that."

"Sir, with all due respect, the long term opportunities that the JAG office offers me has become less appealing of late. I cannot see myself …" he looked for a good word, "effectively handling the politics of the job."

The admiral couldn't disagree. "Your mouth would get in the way."

"Often sir," he smiled. "Furthermore, as good as the Navy has been for me, I don't see myself going much beyond my twenty years."

He was surprised at the revelation. "You have made that decision?"

"Yes, sir."

"With dispassionate clearheaded thinking?"

"Sir?"

The admiral nodded over to Mac who was now sitting with Webb on the other side of the yard. Harm's eyes followed his. His expression did not change.

"Sir," he paused. "My relationship with the colonel was never going to be anything more than friendship," he took a deep breath. "If I had realized that a long time ago we may not have lost that."

"Is it really lost?"

"Yes, sir. I take full responsibility and I accepted it months ago; I believe she knew it long before then."

"I see."

"My decision to leave JAG at this time is because of the opportunity to be at Top Gun, to teach and to work with Admiral Boone."

The admiral nodded slowly.

"I am not running away from something, sir. I am making a choice – a calm and rational choice – the best choice I can for myself at this time with an eye on the future and on the past."

"Alright, son," the admiral relented. "JAG will be sorry to lose you … and so will I."

"Thank you, sir."

Harm stayed off to the side watching the children play. He tried to find some sadness about his leaving JAG and his failed friendship with Mac, but he couldn't. What was done was done and there was no interest on either side to undo it. He didn't even find sadness in that. It was time to go and he was glad he only had a week left.

He didn't notice Mac walk over to him. They were completely out of sync with each other. There was a time when each could sense when the other was in the room or in trouble or just needed a kind word. No more. In the past six months they spoke to each other on very few occasions and always about something work related. There was no animosity or anger of any kind. They were civil – painfully civil. If truth were told people didn't enjoy being around them anymore – the relationship was dead, all that was left was to pull the plug.

"Commander," Mac said casually.

"Colonel," he found a smile for her as he nodded to their godson. "He is getting big."

"Yes he is," she looked back at Harm. "So, I hear you are going to teach in Nevada."

"News travels fast."

"Good news?"

"Very good news."

"Will you be back?"

"I do not expect to be back at JAG," he said carefully. "Or in Washington."

"You are OK with that?"

"I am."

"I see."

They stood in silence for a moment watching AJ play with his friends.

"Five years ago we saw that boy come into the world," Harm said with ever so slight tinge of – not remorse – nostalgia.

"That was a pretty interesting day."

They each thought of the deal they made.

Mac had often wondered if that was the day that sealed the fate of Harm and Mac. She wondered if they had not put such an onus of a baby and a deadline of five years, if things between them would have been less doomed. Maybe they would have attempted a casual relationship, maybe it would have ended, maybe they could have discovered how to be friends afterward. Or maybe something good would have come out of it. Maybe it had no affect at all. Some really horrible events had happened for each of them, maybe if they weren't fighting to hard to not be together some of those events wouldn't have happened, or they could have been faced together even as friends. She wanted to lay the blame as his feet, but it would have been unfair.

Finally Harm spoke. "I suppose we have to say something about it."

"What is there to say?"

"I never made a promise I did not intend to keep," his voice was soft and sad, but also very firm. "But this one I can't." His complete mea culpa definitive statement threw her for a loop, probably much like the statement she made about there never being an 'us'. "You can sue me for breach of contract if you like; I won't fight it," he tried to smile. There was a pain behind his eyes but it was hard to tell exactly why.

Her face clouded over. It was not funny. The deal was silly and it had been a long time since she even considered it a reasonable course of action, but the impact was profound and it was most certainly NOT funny. In fact it was the furthest thing from funny. "The agreement was that if neither one of us were in a relationship in five years ..." She let the rest hang out there knowing that he would find an interpretation that would fit for him.

"So you are saying that it is null and void?"

She looked back over at Webb who was arguing with the admiral and Turner. Her stomached flipped over. She was not involved with Webb, but Harm did not need to know that. Again, she would protect him and let him off the hook, but this time it may have been as much for her ego as his. If the contract was voided, then Harm did not refuse her - again.

"Yes, the contract is null and void. Your honor is intact," she said decisively

He just nodded. It didn't feel that way. It felt like for the first time in his life he was 100% wrong.

"When do you leave?" she asked.

"I report in a week."

"I won't be back from the Med by then, so it looks as if this is good-bye."

She pushed her hand out to him. He took it slowly. "Good luck to you, commander."

"And to you, colonel," he let go first. "It has been an experience working with you."

She nodded and tried to find a smile. Webb called her name and she retreated.

Harm watched her go and again wished the he could feel something more, but all he felt was relief.

So there it ended, as it began, in a garden with a handshake.