Title: The Yellow Brick Road Leads to Fate's Destiny (originally written for the Spring 2009 Ficathon)

Prompts:

(1) From Adam's Rib suggested by Ann (the original one). "Lawyers should never marry other lawyers. This is called in-breeding, from this comes idiot children ….and other lawyers."
(2) From Love Story suggested by Araninda. "Love means never having to say you're sorry."
(3) From I Think I Love My Wife suggested by doc. Richard Cooper: "You know, some people say life is short and that you could get hit by a bus at any moment and that you have to live each day like it's your last. Bullshit. Life is long. You're probably not gonna get hit by a bus. And you're gonna have to live with the choices you make for the next fifty years."

Word count: 6,000+

Category: Angst/romance

Rating: T

Disclaimer: Not mine, no intent to infringe ….

Author's Notes: We are going to take cosmic license and pretend that in 2003 October 23th was on a Saturday.

Summary: Yet another Paraguay fix-it. Please don't be discouraged by the Prologue – this is a shipper story for Harm and Mac shipper fans.

Prologue

Our story starts with Paraguay – as seen on the screen – sigh -- and continues into the admiral's office. His rant at Harm begins …. and there we diverge, to the AU of this story. The road to the left leads to seasons 9 and 10. Thankfully, we don't go to the left, but to the right.

As AJ's rant continued, as he brushed aside her protestation that Harm had saved her life, Mac's pale, bruised face grew paler. Impulsively interrupting some crap about taxis and alligators, she requested leave.

"Admiral, I don't feel ready to return to work yet. May I have leave?"

Barely pausing, Chegwidden snapped at her. "A week, take a week, and if you're not ready to work I want a doctor's note, preferably a psychiatrist's!"

Not waiting for his angry 'dismissed,' Mac was gone.

To Harm's surprise and consternation, his commanding officer slapped a folder on his desk, icily informing him that he was going TAD to Fort Bliss, Texas for 179 days. He would be instructing IAs - individual augmentees – from all of the services who were headed to Iraq via Fort Bliss, where they would receive training and outfitting. He'd teach UCMJ 101, Rules of Engagement 201, and the Law of War 301. Each three week session ended on Thursday, new instructor orientation was Friday and Saturday. He left JAG still in the Navy, headed to the Army, determined to cut ties with JAG and everyone there. Chegwidden made it clear that no contact was necessary or desired during his TAD. In effect, he'd been shrouded.

Three days later, life in the desert began. It was mercilessly hot, hotter than anywhere he'd ever been for such a prolonged period. His actual duties were easy enough – he was using Power Points and notes created by former instructors, though he was free to adapt the lesson plans as desired. He quickly grasped that his lectures, role playing and discussion scenarios might not keep his students alive – that was the goal of the field training - but could keep them from creating or contributing to international incidents, from being court-martialed for losing their tempers or their common sense and good judgment.

That was late May, and June came and went, and summer wore on. Slowly. As the heat shimmered off the roadways he learned that even at 4 am he couldn't run without quarts of water to keep from dehydrating. The nightmares still came, his sleep haunted by the events of the past year. Afghanistan. If the bombs hadn't fallen would he and Mac have made love? Or at least spoken their love? Bud's accident. Singer. His month in the Brig. Paraguay. Over and over, in slow motion and fast forward. Rewind. Again and again. The missionaries murdered. Mac tied to that table, about to be tortured. Webb, clearly seriously injured. Mac kissing him. Destroying the stingers. The plane crashing. The hotel. The taxi stand. He dreamed in black and white and he dreamed in color.

What probably saved his sanity was a flyer on the bulletin board in the BOQ's lobby: "Volunteers Needed" "No Experience Necessary."

The group was somewhat similar to Habitat for Humanity but didn't build homes. It fixed them. Loosely tied to a national "Christmas in April" organization, they were military and civilian volunteers, a combination of business owners and workers, men, women and children. Their mission was simple – to make it possible for elderly homeowners, mainly but not entirely veterans, to remain in their homes by repairing and modernizing the dwellings – some little more than shacks – that had fallen into disrepair and worse. Some lacked heat, some lacked indoor plumbing. Some of the core volunteers were licensed electricians, plumbers, contractors. Others were experienced amateurs. Some did mainly fund-raising and organizing. One house every two months – some weekday work in preparation, most of the work in one intense weekend of dawn to night labor.

Harm knew he'd lived a comfortable middle class – even upper middle class life - so the level of poverty he observed was unknown to him. A few veterans he quietly helped obtain increased benefits, a few children or grandchildren he tutored or played ball with. He gave it every spare hour and recognized that it did as much for him as he did for it.

Slowly, as the months passed, he began to think of life after the Navy. He had less than two years to retirement eligibility and he had no intention of giving up the security of income for life, and the medical and other benefits. But, he began to consider the alternatives. Working with his hands – maybe skilled carpentry work. Quality labor was much in demand. Maybe teaching. He was good at it, he realized. Maybe special ed. One Sunday night, he'd started to doodle at a portable keyboard as the player and a guitarist took a break and he soon found himself surrounded. One of the fathers who volunteered with his teenage son invited him back to the house for burgers and tamales; there Harm met his eleven year old wheelchair bound daughter. Congenital abnormalities included what appeared to be partially webbed fingers and feet, and imperfectly performed surgery had led to scarring and contraction. The child's intelligence was relatively normal and her fervent desire was to learn to play the battered piano mainly used as a piece of furniture. Two evenings a week Harm worked with her, patiently teaching the simplest of tunes to fingers that could barely hold a spoon.

Now it was late October. His 40th birthday. Not where he'd planned to be, and not what he'd thought he'd be doing but his life had changed in the span of the past year. Part – a lot – his own fault, he knew. Part circumstances. Part just the way he was. There was no way he could not have gone after Mac, no matter the consequences.

His third house. He'd "progressed" from water boy to roofer to crew leader. He wasn't happy, he wasn't sad, he realized as he wearily showered that Sunday night. Just over a month more of his "179 days" exile, he suddenly realized and he knew, with stunning certainty, that he'd do anything to keep from returning to JAG. He could never work for Chegwidden again. He'd cut himself off from everyone, not returning a single call or voicemail, not responding to a single email. He'd called to speak to AJ once a week or so, unwilling or unable to totally desert his godson, although it was agony listening to the child prattle on about "Aun' Mac this" and "Aun' Mac that." Resolving to call his detailer the next day and request that his orders be extended another 179 days, he drifted off to the ever present nightmares.

TBC