A Nickel Trumps a Dime of Fate by doc

AN: I've had this story floating around in my head for over a year. If you remember back a couple of months before the JAG series finale, we were all speculating over what DPB would do with our favorite couple. At the time, few of us envisioned DPB actually getting Harm and Mac together. We hoped, we prayed, we petitioned the network to cancel JAG…but we didn't know what would happen. Some of the pages from the 'proposed script' were leaked with a less than satisfying ending, and around that time CM issued a challenge for people to write a final episode of JAG based on what we thought the ending would be. The one that came closest to DPB's actual finale was to win. I'm not sure what the prize was to be…blue M&Ms…an evening with Harm? The stories were to be posted to CM's website. I was amazed that no one took up the challenge. Maybe if the prize had been an evening with Harm, more would have participated, but there wasn't even one story posted to CM's website. Ah, once the news of cancellation was released, and bits and pieces of the script for the actual finale were leaked, most of us forgot about our 'feared ending' and crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

Of course in all honesty, I didn't write one either…I was too chicken to write and post what I thought might happen, but I had one planned in my head. My previous story, 'Joy Cometh in the Morning', was what I wanted to happen. But this story was what I was AFRAID would happen. The more I thought about it…the more I figured I could write the cursed, frightful ending I thought we would get from DPB…but then tweak it…fix it, to make it one I would enjoy. So here is my FEARED JAG finale with a 'SHIPPER TWIST.' Hope you enjoy.

Special thanks to CM for keeping me on the straight and narrow regarding military protocol, TQ for the JAG script drafts and revisions, and to Mom, my faithful finder and keeper of all things related to spelling and grammar.

Disclaimer: I don't own JAG or any of the characters. I just take them out and play with them on occasion before replacing them safe and sound back on the shelf.

Part 1a of two parts

20:00

29 April 2005

Adidas Cranston Huckleberry Hotel

Washington, D.C.

The evening was pleasantly cool and clear. The night sky was filled with stars, but somehow they didn't shine as brightly as they had in an Afghan desert so many years ago. Harm shook his head to clear the memory, had it really been only 3 years ago. It seemed more like another lifetime, where had it all gone wrong? He only allowed himself to think about those memories on nights like this. Nights when he was alone and feeling sorry for himself. There'd been so much hope back then that they would figure out this 'thing between them.' Mic and Renee had left the scene, and though tentative with one another at first, he and Mac were moving forward. He scrubbed a hand over his face; they were supposed to be married by now with at least one kid at home and another on the way. But somehow, inexplicably fate had stepped in and stolen it all away. It wasn't supposed to end like this.

He paced down the sidewalk in front of the hotel. This was supposed to be a celebration of his promotion and new billet, but he didn't feel like celebrating. He was walking away from his dream of a family to a life filled with politics and protocol and…loneliness. Sure he'd have Mattie, he was grateful for that one constant, but he'd wanted so much more. Maybe he'd find someone new in London; he could start looking again couldn't he? Life didn't have to be over…he could still marry…have kids. The problem was, every time he allowed his mind to wonder that far ahead, he ran headlong into a vision of a little girl. A little girl with big brown eyes, soft russet hair, delicate features, and a strong disposition…a marine in-training so to speak. Try as he may, he could never picture his child's face without seeing his Sarah. He released a sad sigh, well she wasn't his anymore…hadn't been for a long time. How had they let that happen? He knew they were both at fault. There were so many chances to change the final act, but they'd both plunged ahead without rewriting the lines.

He was interrupted from his musing by a friendly voice. "Good evening, Captain," came Harriet's subdued greeting.

I guess everyone's a little melancholy tonight was his silent reply. Instead, he pasted on a smile and responded in kind, "Evening Harriet…Bud. Has anyone told you how beautiful you look this evening?"

Harriet blushed, "Not anyone who didn't expect something in return." She threw an agitated look toward her husband. Bud ducked his head to avoid the glare.

Harm chuckled at the pair, "Still smarting from the potential transfer?"

Bud had the good sense to look contrite, "Of course not, Sir. Harriet's right…it really is best that we stay here in D.C. for now." He glanced back toward Harm; and though his words said one thing, his eyes gave him away.

Harm extended a hand to Bud; who accepted it warmly. "I'm gonna miss you, Bud. It would have been great to have you aboard. Guess I'll have to launch out on my own this time."

Bud's voice cracked as he returned the sentiment, "I'll miss you and the Colonel too, Sir. The place just won't be the same without you…no more Three Musketeers."

Harm smiled at the phrase, "You'll be OK, Bud. This gives you the chance to be senior attorney. I'm sure you'll do us proud."

Harriet wiped at tears that had yet to fall, "This is so sad. After tonight, we're never gonna all be together like this again."

Harm dipped his head and responded back circumspectly, "Maybe that's reason to celebrate."

Bud deflated at the words, "Well, the last few years have been the best time of my life. I'll never forget you, Sir. You and the Colonel helped me get to where I am today, both in my professional and personal lives."

Harm looked away and muttered under his breath, "I'm glad I helped someone with their personal life…mine's pretty much died a slow painful death."

Harriet sniffed and gave him a pained smile, "What was that, Sir?"

Harm turned back to his friends, "Ah, nothing Harriet. It wasn't important."

She grabbed Bud's hand for comfort, "I can't believe it's all coming to an end." She sniffed again, "I'm sure Colonel MacKenzie feels that way too."

Harm released a sarcastic sigh, "Yeah…sure. I…ah…"

Bud sensed his friend's reluctance to engage in that particular conversation and gave Harriet's hand a tug. "Why don't we all head inside?"

Harm threw him a thankful smile, "You two go on ahead. I need a little time alone, before all the final goodbyes." He watched the Roberts walk away and then moved further into the shadows. He smiled a rueful grin, maybe if he didn't join the others; tonight would never end and tomorrow would never come. If only it were that simple. Time never stood still; except on lonely dark nights, when it mocked your cowardly choices.

He sat down on a brick retaining wall in the corner shadows. Closing his eyes and inhaling deeply to calm his emotions, he was hit by the sudden scent of roses. Looking around, he caught sight of the fragrant intruders in ornate pots lining the sidewalk. Even his senses warred against him, preventing him from fleeing the memories that threatened to crush his ambivalent facade. He closed his eyes tightly to blink back the sting of tears. The memories lingered undeterred behind his closed eyelids…a rose garden…familiar dark eyes…a handshake…a smile…Sarah, his Mac. His feelings, even in that first moment, ran the emotional gamut: shock, sadness, hope, intrigue, the possibility of new beginnings. He couldn't have fathomed the intensity of the relationship that was to follow in the ensuing 9 years. No, he would never again know this depth of feeling…of love for any other woman, of that he was sure. As he glanced back up to the stars, he was hit by the realization, that that night in the Afghan desert would be his only remembrance of holding her in his arms. That memory would need to last him a lifetime. That was their chance to get 'this thing' right…to have moved forward. So many things could have been avoided if they'd just held on tight in that one moment. Their world had spun out of control just 12 months later…the Singer mess…Paraguay…Webb…Mac's illness…Mattie's accident. If only he'd made a conscious effort to express his deepest desires and emotions back in Afghanistan, they could have avoided all those pitfalls. Instead, their complacency in the notion that they had time, lots of time, eternal minutes of time, had stolen their eternity from them.

He stood to pace once again. Why did they have to be transferred now? They'd been working their way back to one another in the last 6 months. After Webb's deceit, Mac had been tentative…almost afraid of getting involved again, but he remained a constant in her life, giving as little or as much as she'd asked. Then came her accident at Christmas, her spirit had finally started to blossom and open back up to him. The changes were tentative and slow, but they could do slow. They were famous for their version of the dance called slow. But the fates just couldn't leave them alone, no, they had to throw in another inquiry into his character, tilting his emotional axis just enough to push him off balance. Throw in Mattie's accident, and suddenly he was the one ducking for cover behind his well-constructed emotional barricades. He hid behind a strong veneer, afraid that the slightest acceptance of help would crumble those walls leaving him vulnerable. And if there was one thing that Harmon Rabb couldn't tolerate, it was breaking down and showing others his weakness. So, in the end, he'd pushed Mac away once again, only this time it was forever. The fates had decided that enough was enough. The final curtain was to fall, and they would not be given an encore performance.

He walked out from the shadows toward the entrance of the hotel. Taking a deep breath to steel his resolve, he stood tall and walked through the doors to give his final performance. Goodbyes were hell, but he'd done them many times before. It was part and parcel of life in the military. Problem was, this time he would be leaving his heart behind, and he wasn't certain he could recover from that loss. Five thousand four hundred and eighty nine miles…that was a long way from home.

He was met in the reception hall by General Cresswell and his wife. "Captain Rabb, we've been looking for you. It's kind of hard to have a reception in your honor when you're not here."

Harm forced a smile to his lips, "I'm sorry, Sir. I was just getting a little air." He looked around the hall; the room was filled with people…some he knew…some he didn't. This was the beginning of the political networking required in his new position as Force Judge Advocate Naval Forces Europe. The name was already leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. He turned back to the General, "It's a wonderful reception, Sir. I guess we should get this party underway." The phrase, 'So I can get out of here with my dignity intact,' died silently on his lips.

He spent the next hour greeting and shaking the hands of dignitaries and the like. When he thought he couldn't force one more, 'Pleased to meet you,' from his lips, Admiral Chegwidden came to his rescue. Harm hadn't been aware his former CO even knew of his promotion. The Admiral whisked him away to the dark corners of the room for a bit of low key reminiscing over drinks.

"So Harm, they decided to give you a shot at a direct course to the position of JAG." The Admiral flashed a warm welcoming smile.

Harm hadn't realized just how much he'd missed that early camaraderie that had once existed between the Admiral and himself. He shook his head, "Go figure…I guess they're not holding my past transgressions against me, Sir."

The Admiral shook his head, "I'm retired now, Harm. Don't you think it's time you called me, AJ?"

The Admiral flashed another grin and Harm was taken a back at the notion of how much he was going to miss his JAG family. Family…that's what they'd been all these years. He thought they'd lost something in the year following Paraguay, but somehow they'd all found their way back to one another…just like family. Would he find that again in London? Did he even want to allow himself to get this close to people again?

AJ roused him from his thoughts, "Still with me, son?"

Harm smiled back, "Of course, AJ. It's just that…."

AJ nodded in understanding, "It's hard to leave people with whom you've become so attached." Harm gave a slight nod. "So, I hear Mac's going to San Diego. That's OK with you?"

Harm looked away to hide the pain in his eyes, "We go where we're told…that's life in the military, right?"

"But you're going to stay in touch?"

Harm shrugged not meeting AJ's questioning gaze, "Don't know…I guess time will tell."

AJ sighed in resignation; he'd always assumed they'd finally get it right. He knew they would be miserable apart; after all, he'd lived through the events and aftermath of Paraguay. Rabb and MacKenzie could be difficult to tolerate when they were at odds, but that was nothing compared to the torture they put him through when they were apart. Heaven help those poor souls in their respective commands. As Harm finally looked up to meet the Admiral's gaze, AJ was dismayed to notice the complete loss of hope and fight in his eyes. It was as if the light had gone out…this was going to be difficult indeed.

Harm extended his hand, "It's great to see you again, Sir. Give your daughter my best."

AJ held on to the younger man's hand a bit longer than necessary, hoping to communicate his support, "Stay in touch, son."

Harm nodded and then fled back out to a terrace to regroup. The last two days had been exhausting. He ran his fingers through his hair. It had been only two days…not even 48 hours, since this nightmare began. He remembered with vivid clarity the General's announcement of their new duty stations. They'd both been shocked. There'd been no warning, no suggestion. He knew this was part of military life. They'd been lucky to be stationed at headquarters for as long as they had. Maybe, if there had been more time, he and Mac could have made plans…discussed options. He shook his head, when had that ever worked? They could never get beyond the simple sentiment. The words were always just out of reach. He had told Mattie a year ago that they were working to close the divide; but that wasn't true, they were now going to be farther away than ever, both literally and figuratively. Five thousand four hundred and eighty nine miles…ten and a half hours flying time. He doubted they'd ever see each other again, except for the occasional work related functions.

His mind drifted back to their conversation from yesterday. He'd stopped by her apartment, hoping to talk things out, but once again he'd lost his nerve when faced with saying the actual words. Instead he'd fallen back into comfortable conversation. "I need your advice."

Mac had smiled back with hope in her eyes, "Good because I need yours."

He'd hedged, "What are you doing about the lease on your apartment?"

He saw her deflate before his eyes, "That's what you want to talk about? Real Estate?"

Despite her obvious disappointment, he couldn't make himself say more, "Yes."

She'd retreated into her emotional shell, "Have you talked to Mattie?"

He crossed his arms and nodded back, "First call I made."

She smiled back, "She told you to go?"

He fidgeted with his coat, "Yes."

"What'd you say," came the soft halted response.

He returned with conviction, "I told her I wasn't going anywhere without her. We're still waiting for the Juvenile Court to rule on it; however, her Father's not contesting it…so."

She smiled back and answered with honest emotion, "You're a good Dad." The unspoken words following in her mind, 'I always knew you would be. How come you're so willing to leave me behind?'

They'd bantered on about work and cases and requested support staff, before she brought the conversation back around to them. "Were you ready for all this?" the emotion obvious in her eyes.

He crossed his arms in a protective mode, "Were you?"

She sighed, "Well, I've been dreading it for awhile, but now that it's here…it doesn't seem so bad." She watched him look away. And deflated further, "I'm just taking it one day at a time." Her old AA motto falling easily from her lips. One day at a time, she could survive almost anything, one day at a time. Her eyes lost their luster.

He nodded in resignation, thinking that somehow all this seemed to be affecting him more than her. Maybe she was glad to finally be moving on…to be rid of him and their entanglements. If he'd looked up, he would have noticed the lost expression on her face. Turning to leave before he broke down, he glanced into the trashcan in passing. Noticing a picture of Webb, he picked it up. "Throwing out your past?"

She took the photo and threw it back into the trash, "Yes, a new broom sweeps clean." She wanted to add that she'd never throw out their past.

He wanted assurance that she'd always remember him…that he'd always have a place in her heart.

He shook his head to clear the memory. He needed to get back to mingling; this was his party after all. His future depended on these contacts. His future? He glanced up as he passed the back terrace and noticed Mac sitting at an outside table. The radiance of the moon and candles illuminated her face in a soft blush light. He thought she'd never looked more beautiful. He'd been right, red really was his favorite color on her. It made her look vibrant and alive, something he'd missed terribly in the last two years. She was alone and appeared deep in thought. He started to walk toward her and then thought better of it. This was not the place for further discussion. They'd said their peace. It was time to move on. A nagging doubt pushed into the edge of his consciousness that his future was sitting in a red dress at a table across the room, but he'd learned by repetitive conditioning to ignore those doubts. He pushed that thought aside and ambled into the room. It was time to do what Harmon Rabb did best; win over the masses with his confidence and charm.

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Continued in Part 1b