A TIME AND PLACE
AN: This story came to me earlier today. It was inspired by two other pieces of work here (Once Upon A Time and These Magic Moments) that revolved around a central theme: What if Harm and Mac met as teenagers? From that idea came this idea. I hope you enjoy it.
Spoilers: We The People, People v. Mac. Maybe more.
CHAPTER 1: ARIZONA, 1986
RED ROCK, ARIZONA
There was an old Native American legend around these parts - only the Gods or Fate ever made it rain in Red Rock.
And tonight, both seemed to be working as it positively poured down on the warm little desert town, as if all the waters on earth were being dumped on this little godforsaken point of nowhere that wasn't even modest enough to justify a welcome sign.
The little biker dive bar imaginatively called 'Rattlesnake' proved to be the only reason to ever stop here, the cheapest booze for a hundred miles. Possibly the only booze for a hundred miles too.
Sarah MacKenzie sat at the bar alone and stared at the drink in front of her. The clear liquid looked like water but was either distilled turpentine or god-awful vodka. Once upon a time she didn't care which it was as it made its way down her hatch. Now though... she just stared at it.
Minutes passed by and she was no closer to drinking it than she was leaving it there and walking out. She was stuck, trapped in between two stages of her life - the life she was to scared to go back to and the life she was too scared to step forward with.
She closed her eyes and sighed once more. She and her Uncle Matt had just come down from Red Rock Mesa, the mountain formations near this town. The rocky mountainous formations she had spent the last month camping in, hunting ichnites and drying out. Her uncle had been there every step of the way, challenging her, consoling her, letting her throw every insult, plea and trick to try and score another drink and him ignoring all of them just the same.
The first days had passed by like months. The first week passed by like years. The rest of it though passed by like no time at all.
And so here she was now, facing her final challenge. And she had to face it alone, because Uncle Matt had told her that he couldn't be there forever to keep her on the wagon. She had to keep herself on it. Conquer it on her own.
"And what if I fail, Uncle Matt?"
"Then we try again. We try until you're strong enough to refuse a drink, even with it sitting under your nose."
Sarah stared at the drink and was keenly aware of the time passing by. Nine minutes fifty seven seconds. Fifty eight. Fifty nine...
She turned to look at the man leaning against the bar next to her. The first thing that struck her about him was how ruggedly beautiful he was, and he was that. Not just handsome, not just gorgeous, but as if he had been chiseled out and carved by God's loving hand. As if he had walked out of a dream.
The second thing that struck her was how tall he was, that even with him leaning over, she had to look up to see his face. The third thing that struck her was his smile, and she was floored by it.
"Hey." he repeated, as if unsure how to proceed.
"Hey." she answered back, similarly unsure what to do next. She looked shyly away from his face and took in the rest of his appearance.
He wore an old style aviator's bomber jacket, and she could swear it was exactly the same one Tom Cruise wore in all the movie posters for that new movie that just came out about some Navy pilot. Top something or other.
Sarah rolled her eyes. She knew this guy was probably one of those actor wannabes - probably on his way to Hollywood right now to catch his big break. He was beautiful enough to be a TV star, and she'd watch anything he was on that was for sure.
"Can I help you?" she asked quietly.
"Well, I've just noticed you staring at your drink for the last ten minutes. That's not usually how drinking works." he said with that killer smile of his.
She looked back at the drink because she couldn't keep staring at him. She could feel her insides already melting under his gaze, and feel warm stirrings in a little zone just south of her navel.
"That's a very nice smile and I'm sure most of the time it gets you what you want. But I don't know you, so if you don't mind, I'll keep my drinking to myself."
Ensign Harmon Rabb Jr. glanced at her drink, grabbed it and before she could stop him, downed it in one. And he almost passed out because of it. The concoction whatever it was, was foul and burned like drinking pure grade gasoline.
He coughed and she patted him on the back as he struggled with the fact that every breath of air made his lungs feel like they were on fire.
"Well, that serves you right for taking my drink!" she growled, somewhat amused.
He tried to talk but the words melted in his mouth as the vodka burned everything it touched in his body. She rolled her eyes and called to the bartender.
"Two soda waters with a twist of lime."
He gulped down both drinks and finally he could breath again. In the back of the bar was a guy with boyish good looks holding his sides laughing at the sight. Harm shot him a withering glare.
"Your friend?" Sarah asked.
"Yeah. Shut up Jack!" he shouted at his friend before turning back to her. "I'm Harmon Rabb Jr. by the way." he held out his hand to shake hers. She refused it.
"I'm not shaking hands with a filthy drinks thief."
"I did not steal your drink. I was saving your liver."
"Well, it's my liver to ruin in the first place."
Harm stared at her, and she started feeling self conscious. She wanted to tell him to shove off when he finally spoke, "You know I don't think I've ever met a girl as strong as you are."
"Huh?" she asked, confused by his compliment... if it was that.
"Most former alcoholics would have taken a sip instead of trying to stare it down into submission."
She was surprised. "How did you know..."
"Ten minutes is a long time to decide if its worth taking a drink. And that was not a beginner's drink."
Mac looked away, and she knew this was what her uncle was preparing her for. She had to say it, had to face it. "I'm an alcoholic." she finally admitted aloud to another living person for the first time.
Mac quirked her eyebrow at that comment.
"You were an alcoholic. But you beat it. And you'll beat it again the next time a drink sits in front of you."
She smiled at his confidence in her and held out her hand to shake his. "Sarah. Sarah MacKenzie."
And he gave her the full killer smile that made her insides melt.
"So what brings Sarah MacKenzie into a bar that she really shouldn't be in?"
"Just trying to figure out the rest of my life."
"Well, a fake ID is only going to get you so far." he tapped the laminated card with her picture on it sitting on the bar.
"How do you know it's fake?"
"Because it says you're Marsha Ellis of Minnesota."
"Maybe I was lying about my name?"
"I doubt it."
"Because you're beautiful enough to be a Sarah. And there's no way you were born in 1956."
She smiled at his compliment. And she found it flattering that the best looking guy she had ever laid eyes on paid her such attention. It made her almost believe that she was beautiful, even though she was sure he was lying through his teeth.
"So what brings Harm...? I'm sorry, what's your name again?" she asked, embarrassed that she hadn't been paying him any attention until then.
"Let's go with Harm." he said with a smile.
"Okay. What brings Harm to the great boondocks that is Red Rock, Arizona?"
"Me and my friend Jack are taking a road trip, riding cross-country. One last weekend of liberty before reporting to duty."
Duty? With his TV star looks, what kind of duty? "You're in the Army?"
"Ah, a squid."
He was surprised that she knew the term.
"My uncle's in the Marine Corps."
And that explained it. "So that makes you an honorary jarhead, then."
"Mmm, let my uncle hear you say that, and you'd be a very sorry squid."
"Sarah?" a voice suddenly broke into their conversation. She turned and tensed up. Harm noticed it.
The man standing in front of her was probably 21, and he smelled like a number of recreational drugs. The numerous tattoos of skulls and naked women impaled on giant phallic symbols on his arms showed that while technically he was an adult, he also didn't choose to be a very bright one.
"Hey, Sarah. Should've known I'd be seeing you here."
"Hey, hey, hey. There's no need for insults!"
"That's your name." she said, her mood darkening.
"You always were a hot one, Sarah. Man, I didn't know what Chris saw in you at first, but damn, you are a fine piece of ass..."
Harm moved to shut Fred up but Sarah stilled him with her hand.
Fred continued, "You know Sarah, with Chris in prison, maybe you know, you and I could take care of each other..."
"Don't be like that. I'll buy you whatever you're drinking." he tried to paw at her but Harm was in front of her in an instant.
"I believe she said no."
Suddenly aware there was this large barrier in his way, Fred glared at him. "I believe it's none of your business."
"And what if I'm making it my business?" Harm replied steadily.
Fred finally took stock of the situation. In front of him was 6'4" of what looked to be quite developed muscle. He turned to Sarah.
"Should have known Chris' slut wife would take all of 5 minutes to spread her legs for someone-"
Harm grabbed Fred and pushed him hard against the bar. Fred grabbed the bottle, broke it and tried to go after Harm, but being both sober and trained in unarmed combat, Harm quickly disarmed Fred without even hurting the tattooed punk. Harm quickly squeezed consciousness from Fred and lay him on the floor passed out.
"You okay?" Harm asked Sarah and she nodded, staring at him wide-eyed. Harm called to the bartender and tossed a couple of tens on the bar. "When he wakes up, get him a cab."
"Hey Junior," Jack Keeter came up behind him. "You got things handled?"
"Yeah." Harm turned back to the pretty brunette and was surprised to see her gone.
"Your pretty lady just left." Keeter said.
Harm looked at his friend who motioned his head to the door. "What are you waiting for, Junior? Go get her."
She was so embarrassed. For a second she almost believed that... that just because she cleaned up her act, every stupid thing she had ever done in her life would just... just clear up. Fade away. Never existed.
And now, the hottest guy she knew, knew she was... was damaged. She walked out into the rain, getting drenched as she quickly crossed the street. She didn't know where she was going, but she knew that she needed to get out of here.
When she sensed him following her. She stopped and turned.
He stood there with her in the rain, getting drenched. And they stared at each other, like two idiots out in the rain - literally two idiots who didn't know better to get out of the downpour.
"Leaving?" he finally asked as his intense eyes bored into her. She felt her breath catch.
"Yeah." she said.
"Was it because I hurt your friend..." he asked.
"No. He's not a friend. He's... just a past life reminding me..."
"Reminding you of what?"
"That I might change but nothing else has." she admitted sadly.
Harm closed the distance until he was standing right in front of her, close enough to touch. But he didn't. She looked up at him and saw the kindness in his piercing blue eyes. But more than that, she saw... admiration.
"You know, you're stronger than you look." he said.
"What do you mean?"
"Most women... check that, most people wouldn't have faced their problems the way you did."
"Alcohol was easy to beat." she looked down shyly.
"No it's not and you know it." he reached a finger under her chin and lifted her head back to look at him.
"... It's true though. What he said." she blinked away tears, hoping that he would think it was just moisture from the rain.
"What did he say?" Harm asked.
"I'm Chris' slut wife."
"You're married?" he was surprised.
"God, I'm so stupid." she closed her eyes, dropping her head once more, ashamed to even look at him.
"Sarah MacKenzie. In all the time I've talked to you, stupid is the last thing I think you are."
She looked at him once more. "What?"
He continued, "Smart. Sexy. Strong. Articulate. Sober."
She so wanted to believe him. She so wanted to believe he was this kind perfect gentleman who cared for her, who told her nice things. Who would stand up and defend her honor.
But she knew better. "Nice try sailor." she said.
"Huh?" he asked confused.
She fixed a smile on her face, but it was forced. "You're only going to be in town for a few seconds and you're trying to get me into bed."
She saw his gaze and expression darken, but he didn't take his eyes off hers. "If that's what you believe... then I can't stop you from leaving can I?" he said, his voice a low growl, before he turned to go back to the bar.
Sarah would have let it stay there, but she couldn't. As much as she knew that they would probably never see each other again, she couldn't let him walk away angry with her.
She ran two steps to stop him, but her pride wouldn't let her run any further than that. He was walking away.
She shouted after him. "Wait, Harm. I'm sorry."
That stopped him. He looked over his shoulder at her.
"No you're not. But it doesn't matter, because part of you is right."
She couldn't believe her ears. "What?"
He came back to her and pulled her out of the rain. He wiped her damp hair from her face. She leaned into his touch that was so gentle, so caring. She looked up at him and saw the tortured look on his face.
"When I first came up to you, I wanted to sleep with you. You were the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen." he said. "You still are." he added so softly, she almost didn't catch it. Almost.
"You could have any girl you want." she said.
"And I still choose you."
Was she really that easy? That she would fall into bed with him after just a few compliments and smoldering looks? She wanted to, but she couldn't. Not if she wanted to be able to look at herself in the mirror in the morning. Not if she wanted to remember tonight for as long as she could with fond memories instead of bitter regrets.
"Harm, it's not... I'm not..." she stammered.
"I know, Sarah. So I'm not going to ask. But..."
"Well... maybe I could call you sometime. And we can talk. As friends."
She eyed him skeptically. "As friends? Does that line even work?"
"I don't know. And it's not a line." he replied sincerely.
She wanted to believe him. "Even after everything you know about me, you still want to be friends?"
"Everything I've learned about you only makes me want to know you more."
That won her over. If he asked her to be with him tonight she would have. She knew she would have. She might regret that he would be a one night stand, but she wouldn't regret being with him tonight, if he so wished.
"Would you still sleep with me after all you've found out?" she asked.
"Even if I found out you were a Russian spy. Even if I found out you were a homicidal maniac, I'd take that chance."
She stepped up to Harm and he confused the look in her eye.
"I didn't mean that as an insult..." he began but was shut up when she reached up and kissed him. It was sweet, tender... it promised so much, could lead to so much more.
He held her, letting their kiss linger, letting her lips stay even after the kiss ended. They opened their eyes slowly and for a moment, time stood still as they stared into each other's eyes.
Harm finally spoke, "God, forget alcohol MacKenzie. You're more addictive than that."
She smiled. "That's possibly the nicest thing anyone has said to me."
"Then you've been hanging out with the wrong crowd."
Her smile grew rueful. "So, sailor, where you shipping out to?"
"San Diego. Then who knows."
"Have a safe cruise." she said as she realized that the rain around them was abating, having faded into nothing more than a fine drizzle. She pulled away from him, but his hand on her hip kept hold of her.
"What about you?" he asked, genuinely concerned.
"What about me?" she asked back.
"What are you going to do?"
"Right now or with the rest of my life?" she said with a smile.
"Either one. Both."
"Right now, I'll go back to my uncle's and call it a night."
"And the rest of your life?"
Mac thought about her options. Though her uncle was a Marine, he had never suggested following that path. Not when her drunk abusive father was also a Marine.
"... Is the military all it's made out to be?" she asked.
"It is when we have strong, brave people like you in it." he replied completely sincere.
"Now that's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me."
"Glad I could be of service."
They walked together towards the main street and was surprised that there was a cab pulling up to the corner. It was a beat up almost archaic Cadillac from the 1950s, but it tried - even bothering to have the little light on the top and the paint job that informed everyone it was a cab.
They crossed over and hailed it. As he opened the door for her she turned into him.
"Be safe, Harm."
"Be safe, Sarah."
She kissed him once more, again sweetly, before getting into the taxi.
As she drove away, she stared back to look at the leather bomber jacket wearing tall drink of water known as Harm. She saw him keep waving and she couldn't help but wave back. It was dorkish behavior but it was cute.
Her thoughts swirled in her mind on the car ride back to Uncle Matt's. 'What am I going to do with the rest of my life?'
'Is the military all it's made out to be?'
'It is when we have strong, brave people like you in it.' she heard his voice say.
She had never even considered it before, but it appealed to her. They had discipline, had great opportunities, didn't really care about her grades or her past. And most of all, they would rebuild her into something her uncle would be proud of. Something Harm could be proud of. Maybe even something she could be proud of.
She was going to be a United States Marine.
AN: I hope this is not too fluffy. Or too hard. (I don't know. I'm not used to writing for a T rating).