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Classification Angst, romance (H/M)
Length Approx 5,431 words, 12 pages (8 x 11)
Spoilers Through the beginning of Season 9
Rating GS
Author's Notes In driving through Virginia with my daughter, I saw a little shop off the roadway.  We passed by quickly, but the sign seemed to say Grandma Sara's Homemade Candy.  By the time we reached Hampton this story had fully formed itself in my brain.  Apparently the endless road construction in Virginia is good for something, or bad depending on how you see this tale.

And ...

Each of us may be given signs in life.  It's how we interpret and react to them that often determine the course our life will take.

 



Northern Virginia
Near Washington DC


At sixty-seven years old he figured he could do as he damn well pleased, and what Admiral Harmon Rabb Jr., USN Retired chose to do most of the time was to tour the back roads of Virginia and a few neighboring states on his antique motorcycle.

This afternoon had proven less pleasant than most and should have been a warning, but he'd taken the heavy rainsquall in stride, and persevered through it, refusing to give in to the elements. What he gained for his pigheadedness was a rivulet of water down his back and under his leather jacket that was big enough to float a battleship. With dusk approaching, it threatened a dangerous chill.

Possessing enough remaining good sense to find a way to warm himself for the rest of his ride home, he pulled into the tiny parking lot of a miniature white house with dark green trim. It dated from sometime in the early part of the last century. The white sign facing the street promised homemade cookies, pies, and cakes, served with fresh brewed coffee. It wasn't until he cut his rumbling engine, removed his helmet, and turned towards the door that he came face to face with the name of the establishment. Brushing raindrops from his leathers, he froze in place. Mama Sarah's Dessert House, the dark green freehand script read.

It was almost enough to make him return to his bike, almost, but not quite. He knew he could ill afford a serious loss of body temperature, not that anyone was left who would really care if he caught pneumonia, but his contrary nature refused to allow him to give in to this fatalistic way of thinking.

Sarah, it was a name that conjured the deepest sorrows of his past. A name he'd systematically cut from his life at every opportunity. He'd successfully avoided it for over two decades. She'd taken the heart out of him, but in his fight for survival he'd learned to play the game life dealt him.

Shoving all emotion aside in the transformation of Harmon Rabb, he'd risen to a two star before finally retiring two years ago. In all the intervening time, he'd allowed his prejudice against her to make him unduly hard on anyone who shared the name and came under his guns. He never apologized nor explained, and indeed, his newly formed, carefully nurtured, heartlessly cold politicizing had prevented him from ever being reprimanded for this cruel and unfair behavior. The good old boy network still worked magnificently. It continued to remain amazingly healthy after all the years, all the sensitivity seminars, and in spite of all the laws enacted to quash it.

The day he found this cold side of his heart remained startlingly clear. He could still hear her voice quaver as she revealed her recently discovered secret. It was barely three months after their one and only night together. A night he'd never again allowed himself to relive. A night filled with the wonder of discovery, the thrill of fulfillment, and the contentment of expectations exceeded.

Struggling with the memory, he fought it as his mind brushed over his emotions of their ill-fated intimacy. He'd held her for such a short time, and yet in those few moments she'd become the most important thing ever in his world. He knew if he'd never possessed her he could have survived. It was the one consuming fear that had held him back. As in the old saying, 'ignorance is bliss'. But knowing her, having her, holding her, and knowing she had given herself willingly and lovingly, he'd changed in that brief span of time. He knew in that moment his soul would never survive without her, and indeed it did not.

The General had bargained with her to go to San Diego. Three months he'd coaxed, to train a replacement for the job he'd earmarked for her. She would then be free to join Harm in London. The reward he promised was to find her a suitable, though not as extraordinary job. It would allow her to remain in the corps and earn her retirement in seven years.

"Harm?" her voice came uncertainly over the wire. "I...uh... have a little surprise."

"You're coming to London on the next fight?" he guessed hopefully,

"Uh....no....not exactly," she faltered.

"What then?" he asked with his last few seconds of blissful ignorance.

"Harm, I'm pregnant," she blurted with no preamble.

"What?" His reactions to surprise had always been a sticking point. "How'd that happen?" he asked stupidly, knowing in just a minute his surprise must turn to indescribable joy.

"Certainly you must know how babies are made, Harm," she answered acerbically

"Of course, Mac...it's just... When did you find out? How long have you known?" he was slightly puzzled even he knew how early pregnancy could be detected.

"I...I just found out yesterday," she sounded strange, distant. "I...that is...I..." she was distracted, disconnected. "The General....he sent these two officers for me to evaluate and train....he still wants me to work with them some more. It's going to be a while. I'm not sure exactly when I'll be able to leave. We...uh...we sort of have a lot of work to do yet."

"Yesterday???" he questioned. Odd, first she wasn't supposed to even be able to have children, and now she was suddenly pregnant. He could count if nothing else. With a dry mouth he forced himself to ask, "How long Mac?"

"What? How long will I be here? I really don't know," she dithered. She knew what he meant.

"No, Mac. How long have you been pregnant?" There it was out. It was stupid. He should have known better. But after her remark about evaluating her co-workers, her lack of enthusiasm for leaving the post in San Diego, her reluctance to set a time, and her refusal to explain the details of the pregnancy, how could he any longer believe what he truly wanted to believe.

"Harm," she sighed tiredly, "I have to go back to work. I'll contact you later," she concluded. "Good-by Harm."

"Mac?" He questioned the dead line. And contact him she had. He'd received divorce papers in the post three days later. Citing several catch phrases including irreconcilable differences and career conflicts, she'd made a case for their separation. Apparently he had not been wrong with his questions.

He'd never wanted anything more than a child with Mac, even one they adopted together would have been fine with him, but this was a betrayal he couldn't and wouldn't tolerate. He couldn't even believe it had happened, he could only assume it was a case of out of sight out of mind. She'd moved on. The lure of her own command, and someone new, had quickly taken its way with her. Well, better to find out now than later.

Once again, the inconstancy of her heart had led her to choose the quick, the immediate, the easily available way. It would be swift and clean, and it would hurt like hell for a very long time. He read and signed the papers, returning them by the next post. She had demanded nothing of him, another fact that gave weight to his belief. At least she wasn't specious enough to expect him to support the child.

The scratch of pen to paper created a discordant tremor that scraped the life from his soul. With his signature, that brief moment of absolute happiness in his life had ended. Never again would he allow someone under his armor, not that he wouldn't indulge in convenient interludes, but they would never penetrate the hard shell where his heart was confined. Eventually, lacking the nourishment of hope, the heart and soul of him had shriveled and died.

Weighing his need for sustenance against his prejudice, he decided that self-preservation demanded a warming brew, and the intake of simple carbohydrates. It wasn't far to his home, but it was far enough to account for the chance of an illness that at his age his body would have difficulty fighting. It wasn't nutrition he sought, merely the heat and energy necessary to get him safely to his own warm environment. With that final thought, he strode across the porch and pushed on the door.

 

Chapter 2

 

The sound of a light bell tinkled into the stillness of the deserted room. He must have arrived between those who would take an afternoon break, and those who would stop to take home a treat for dinner. His senses were filled by the glistening glass cases full of sweets, and the warm smell of fresh baking entwined with the aroma of newly brewed coffee. His reluctant footsteps fell hollow across the polished hardwood floor.

He heard the voices from another room, voices that stabbed sharply at the back of his mind but did not penetrate the walls he'd built.

"Darling you have to go now. I'll be fine. There are only a few more hours and I'll be along. Your semester finals start Monday, and I won't have you neglecting your studies." Something in the voice, too vague to be obeyed, told him to turn and go.

"I still don't see why you won't sell this place, Mom," came a soft and caring voice. "You don't need to work so hard. I worry about you. My tuition is finished and what that franchise corporation offered could take good care of you for the rest of your life," the younger voice argued.

"You know how I feel about my recipes, baby, but we'll talk about it later. I think I heard a customer," the older voice responded.

"I'll get it Mom, just finish what you're doing, but please consider that offer," she begged one last time.

"I'll think about it, Trissy. I'll only be a few more minutes, then off you go to study, agreed?" the older voice bargained.

"Okay, Mom, agreed," the younger woman replied, walking into the serving room from the office in back.

Looking up, she saw the tall, imposing stranger, and stopped cold. An onlooker would find it impossible to tell who was more startled, the retired Admiral or the twenty-something girl who owned the face of someone he'd briefly loved. A girl who stared at him through eyes that mirrored his own.

"Mom," she called breathlessly, backing up a few steps. "Mom?" her voice rose, quavering a little, "He's here." She turned towards the door.

Harm was shocked to insensibility, his mind was telling him one thing, his heart another as his eyes attempted to assimilate and excuse what they saw.

"Who's here, darling?" Mac asked, as she walked through the door and stopped dead.

"Oh, I see. Hello, Harm," was all she could offer.

"Hello?" he asked in a voice tinged with ire and sarcasm. "All you can say is hello?"

"What would you have me say?" she inquired in the same acerbic tone she had once used to remind him he was 'perfectly aware how babies were made'.

It was true, he had known, and furthermore he should have known how this one was made. He should have known a lot of things. In that very instant all he had lost in his life swam before his eyes. "Why didn't you just tell me, Mac?" grated out between his teeth.

He trembled with more than cold, and she calmly turned to the coffee urn, expertly preparing a mug in his remembered preference. Handing it to him, she continued.

"You seemed ill disposed to listen. You'd apparently made up your mind from the first sentence," she excused.

"What the hell do you mean by that? I never...." his voice was disbelieving, as he took the coffee. It was surreal, that this tragic conversation should be enfolded into the nicety of an afternoon break with coffee and cookies. She sat at a table by the window and waved towards the other seat. He complied automatically, with no thought, no preference.

"You asked how it happened. It was as good as an accusation," she defended.

"Good Lord Mac, your own doctors told you that you couldn't conceive. I was stunned." The explanation was a lifetime too late.

"Well you sounded like you were accusing me," she countered. "And the more we talked the more it sounded that way."

"The more we talked the more it sounded like that was what you were telling me," he responded quickly.

"Why are you here, Harm? How did you find us?" she was tired of this already, it no longer mattered.

"This is your place?" his mind skipped a track.

"Yes," she was wary. She hated it when he did that. You never knew when it would skip back.

"You can't cook," he said dryly.

"No. You thought I couldn't cook because I didn't like to. Food is boring, desserts aren't, I always liked cooking desserts," she explained patiently, as if to a child.

"I didn't know that," he was momentarily off balance.

"Apparently there were a lot of things about me you didn't know," she remarked painfully.

"She's mine," he stated simply.

"No. She's mine, but you are her father," Mac answered defensively.

"How could you have done this to me? What did she mean 'he's here' how did she know? I wonder what else you told her." He bombarded her with caustic questions.

"Only that we parted before she was born. I told her that one day you might figure it out, perhaps if you cared to you would find us again," she answered. It was a simple statement of fact that explained nothing. She ignored the other element of his question as rhetorical.

"And now that I have? Even accidentally? What now Mac?" His bitterness returned in a flood.

"You could meet her, talk to her, she's a wonderful person, Harm," was offered conciliatorily.

"I'm no part of her now. I have nothing to offer her. I once thought I could never forgive you for the betrayal I'd imagined. Now I know I can never forgive you for the betrayal you committed. Good-bye, Mac." He rose, threw a few dollars on the table for the coffee and cookies, refusing even that small courtesy. Turning on his heel he moved swiftly through the door. His anger overwhelmed the chill he'd stopped to assuage.

Striding across the porch, and mounting his bike, he raised the helmet to place on his head when he heard the bell on the door. Helplessly his eyes were drawn to the figure standing there. That of a young girl with her looks and his eyes. He wondered who's mind she had, though it mattered little, intellectually they were equal for all the good that ever did them. His one prayer was that she looked at things with a different heart, and that her heart would allow her the path to true happiness. Her words when she spoke reassured him.

"Will you come back?" her voice was small, but unwavering.

"Why?" he asked. "I've missed too much."

"True, but there's still more to come. I've always wanted to know you," she answered with heart-tearing honesty.

"You could have found me," he countered harshly. "You're old enough."

"She gave me your last name and a photograph, but nothing else. I didn't know where to look," the young woman was almost in tears, her hand reached out imploring him to connect.

"What's your name?" he asked, once again afraid of the answer.

"Patricia. Patricia Rabb," she responded, dealing his heart its final blow.

He swore under his breath. 'How dare she?'

"Perhaps someday," he answered aloud, kicking the bike to life and pulling the helmet tight over his head. Haunted by the set of grey green eyes, he turned his ride towards home knowing he would never come this way again.

 

Chapter 3

 

A deep chill fell over the land. As the late-autumn night gathered its dark cloak, the rain-slicked pavement transformed the standing patches of water into crystalline snares. He mounted the top of a long hill that would take him into the valley and his home. Oblivious to the icy trap in the roadway, it pushed unexpectedly at his front tire. The bike skidded sideways then tumbled. Hanging on for no particular reason, he felt the heavy metal object impact on his chest at the same time his back hit the ground. Already he felt his life ebb, then he was in the air sailing over the damaged vehicle before he hit the tarmac again tens of feet down the hill. Once again, he took the force of his twisted bike, and so it continued once, twice, three times, and more. In his mind he saw himself from a distance, as over and over he catapulted in slow motion, aware that gravity would be unforgiving until he reached level ground.

"Noooooooo!!!" He couldn't understand his ability to scream, to continue the loud horrifying sound that tore from his crushed chest. He wondered with detachment if when he hit the bottom he would lay flat in the middle of the road, awaiting discovery by some unsuspecting motorist. Or would he continue to tumble, falling from the side of the road into the thick underbrush, fodder for small animals, his bones undiscovered for years.

And still, he screamed. Why did he scream? How could he still scream? He was fairly certain he was dead or near to it. He shouldn't have been able to make a sound.

It seemed to take hours before he came to rest crumpled and still, cold and wet beyond belief, in the middle of the road. The twisted, broken heap of his prized motorcycle somewhere nearby, the only indication of its presence was the hiss of cooling metal as the rains resumed to soak the landscape. And still he heard himself scream.

The flashing lights arrived on a wave of sirens. The bright young medics, acknowledging their powers were worthless, covered him with a sheet, and still he screamed. It wasn't fair, his entire life had not been fair. A final horrifying scream ripped through his shattered lungs. "Nooooooo!!!"

Suddenly his eyes popped open, but instead of a dark night with frigid rain falling, instead of the flashing lights of emergency vehicles, instead of the plastic sheet of death, he continued to scream through a soft cotton cloth.

"Noooooooo!!!"

Immediately he was propelled upright, his covering torn away by scrabbling fingers. The four walls of a familiar room took form as his eyes focused. He heard the scream erupt from his chest and suppressed it. His eyes widened in disbelief, as he looked frantically through the window at a strange city. The first rays of dawn streaked the sky. His breath pounded through his undamaged chest and his heart raced too fast, but at least it was beating, he was alive. The chill of the rain was transformed to the cold sweat of fear, drenching his body, clothes, and bed.

A nightmare, the absolute worst nightmare of his life, and it had been so horribly real. He looked to the other side of the bed as he felt movement and a soft hand on his shoulder. "Harm?" she asked, a look of deep concern flooding her sleepy features.

Looking at her as if he'd never seen her before, suddenly he realized he was home with his wife in their townhouse. They were in London. Her transition period in San Diego had lasted only two weeks, not months. She'd been here with him all the time.

Shaking him further, his memory returned in a rush. They'd made love last night, beautiful love. He recalled his amazement that each time it was more wonderful, but held the same excitement as the first time. Drifting to sleep, he'd allowed his thoughts to wander back to their first night together. From that point, everything changed. He felt as if he'd lived an entirely different life during the six hours he had slept. A life that presented itself complete with the most detailed and terrible memories.

Still breathing too hard, he wrapped her desperately in his arms. "Mac! Oh God, Mac, it's you. You're here."

"Of course I'm here, Harm. Where else would I be?" she was curious now, but still more than a bit alarmed. "Harm, are you okay?"

"Yes! No! Yes! I had a nightmare. Mac it was awful, dreadful," he was still panting in a vain attempt to calm himself.

"It must have been a doozie. Tell me," she coaxed.

"No! I can't! It was too awful. I don't want to upset you. Especially not in your condition," from her perspective he wasn't making a lot of sense.

"What condition, Harm? What are you talking about?" she looked at him askance. "You have me worried, sailor. Do I need to get you to the infirmary?" Could this be some latent manifestation of PTSD, she wondered?

"No, but maybe I need to get you there," his breathing and heart rate were slowly returning to near normal, as he deliberately practiced deep calming breaths. He looked at her with wonder and began sorting the elements of his dream.

"Look Harm, I know you're upset, and it's early, but you aren't making any sense. Come here," she wrapped her arms around him and drew him against her. "Lay down and let me hold you." The paralyzing fear of his vision was slowly ebbing as the deep breaths calmed him further. He acquiesced, pulling her closer into his arms as well. His warmth returned and his heart sang with the knowledge it had been just a nighttime horror of the mind, but he still felt the damp of the sheets, it had seemed so real. Reaching down he pulled a wayward blanket over both of them, and huddled close, the remembered fear and tragedy of the dream still nudging at him.

"Mac, we need to see your doctor," he insisted in a tone that took no argument.

"Why? I'm fine," she gave him one anyway.

"Humor me," he coaxed. "I...I think you're pregnant."

"That's not funny Harm," she responded in a slightly hurt tone, holding her anger only because he still trembled with fear.

"I'm not trying to be, but it was so real. Please, let's just ask. I don't want that to happen, I can't let it happen. Please, Mac. Please. For me, for us." He knew his fears were unreasonable. Nothing was as it had been in the dream except the time of year and the filthy weather. Still, with their history of messing things up, he could take no chances. He wouldn't allow his awkward response when surprised to alter the path of their life. It was a pre-emptive strike of sorts.

"Okay Harm," she sighed, half-amused and still half-angry that he would taunt her with her barrenness, but stranger things had happened. For now, she would give him the benefit of the doubt. He was so distressed by this vision she could find no malice in his words. She was, after all, uncomfortably familiar with visions herself. "Now shush," she pulled him tight. "We can still sleep for a little while longer," she soothed, and pulled his head to her shoulder, stroking her fingers gently through his hair.

Soon she heard the gentle rush of his sleeping breath as he relaxed. Seeking reassurance, he cuddled tightly against her. His rest was punctuated by tiny shudders and occasional whimpers, as his body threw off the residual effects of mental anguish. She remained wide-awake, however, disturbed by his assertion, his determination, that some element of his dream was true, and another part was too horrible to share with her.

Comforted by the huge slumbering form of her husband, she found solace in his physical strength, but no sleep. She would call her doctor first thing. It couldn't hurt. Indeed stranger things had happened.

 

Chapter 4

 

Hours later

"Sir, your wife is here," he heard the disembodied voice of his assistant.

"Hmm?" His concentration was buried deep in a case report. "What? Send her in," he commanded. Immediately his mind came alert to the veiled message it received. He was out of his chair and halfway across the huge, ancient, paneled room before the door opened.

She stood there outlined against the light, looking at him with an unreadable expression. He stopped in his tracks. "Mac?" She must have gone to the doctor.

She closed the door softly and leaned against it, her hands behind her back. "How did you know, Harm?"

"What?" he responded stupidly, while his mind assimilated what he knew she was telling him.

"About the baby, how did you know?" she cocked her head.

"You went to the doctor? Mac, I would have gone...I should have been there," Harm frowned slightly, stunned that she would go without him. A sudden shiver ran through him as he remembered his dream. Miscommunications wouldn't help.

"Harm," she tried, "I called and they said to come right away. I'm sorry, Harm, I really didn't think...," she faltered. "I guess I didn't believe...."

"I know, it's okay," he offered with a small assuring wave of his hand. "It was a long shot, but it was so real in the dream," he insisted distractedly. "Is it true Mac? Are you really going to have a baby?"

"Yes Harm, we really are going to have a baby," she informed him, comforted he wasn't angry. "He said it was good we caught it so early. I have to take it easy, but...." it was the last words she uttered for several minutes. He closed the distance between them in three long strides, folding her into his strong arms. His lips covered hers in a nearly smothering kiss. She finally had to wiggle free to breathe.

"Harm," she giggled, "Remember, I'm breathing for two."

"Oh, Mac. I'm so sorry," he loosened his grip, holding her as though she was made of crystal. "You should be home resting. We'll have to apply for reserves status. How long before you're due? What did he tell you to do to take care of yourself? Do you have to take medicine? How often do you have to go back?" all tumbled out of him in a steady stream.

"Whoa, flyboy, settle down. I'm fine. In fact, we caught it early enough that with proper care the doctor said they're may be a possibility of more. That is, if this one goes well," she revealed with uncharacteristic shyness.

"More? More children? We could have more?" His excitement was certainly contagious. She'd been happy beyond belief, but he was positively ecstatic. "Will it be okay? Will you be okay if we do?" First and foremost he couldn't lose her.

"I'll be fine Harm, but please stop treating me like I'm fragile. I won't break. I'm just glad you're happy about this," she stated somewhat foolishly. It was something a person said when they ran out of words.

"Happy? Are you kidding?" Then he caught the look in her eye, his dream must have bothered her more than she let him know. After all, he hadn't shared the details. "Oh Mac, come here," he scooped her up in his arms and whirled her around, hugging her close, but not too close. Before he allowed her feet to slide to the floor he kissed her again, long and lovingly.

"Tell you what, sailor, if you promise to behave in public I'll take you to lunch and tell you all about it. Just don't get us court-martialed okay?" she bargained, toying with the brass buttons on his jacket.

"Whatever you say, Ma'am," he tossed her a jaunty salute. He had no idea what the dream meant. It may have been wrapped in his fear of losing her. It may have meant nothing at all. It may have been the spicy Indian food they had for dinner last night, but the important message was received. Perhaps its only purpose was to get her to the doctor early. He sincerely hoped the news of all his children didn't arrive in quite so dramatic a fashion, but if this rare and incomparable happiness was the result, he could handle a few nightmares.

He turned to his desk to grab his cover before approaching his wife and folding his arm firmly around her waist. "Let's go feed my Marines," he suggested with a playful smile.

"Harm," she looked pointedly at his hand planted squarely in the middle of her uniform jacket. Standing on tiptoe, she placed a soft kiss on his lips, then tenderly disengaged his hand. "Now let's go," she smiled up at him, as he reached for the door handle.

He hesitated slightly touching her arm. As she turned back to look at him he asked, "What will we name her?" still bothered by how much of his dream was meant to be a foretelling.

"Her? You think it's a girl? You know Harm, even sonograms can be wrong," she mentioned gently, not wanting to deny his enthusiasm. It was a fact that would be sharply demonstrated a few years later. When his second son was handed to him, the laconic Scottish nurse would remark she wondered how the 'wee bairn hid that package from the camera'.

"Harm, are you going to tell me about this dream?" She gave him a penetrating look.

"No," he smiled. "The only important parts are the good parts. But yeah, I think it's a girl. Any ideas for a name?"

"Well, in the event it's a girl, I think I'd like to name her after your mother," then catching the strange look on his face she amended quickly, "That is, if you don't mind."

"No. No, not at all," he answered when he caught his breath.

In that moment, he decided that the dream had absolutely no significance except to bring him the timely and important information that Mac was pregnant. The name thing had to be a coincidence. After all, Mac had chosen it with no input from him. He shook his head, completely baffled by the workings of these strange portents.

For the entire remainder of his life he would sleep soundly next to his wife, his deep slumber interrupted by nightmares on only two more occasions. Each time the six-week-old child she carried would touch his mind, in an emotional knock to the back of his head. Each baby would scramble the deepest emotions of fear and happiness, and the terrors of his worst experience and expectations, as it forcefully announced its impending presence in their lives.

Although the following manifestations were never as severe as the first, he treasured each of them. The early warnings gave them the time needed to provide a safe pregnancy for Mac, and insure the delivery of three healthy babies. Their first was named Patricia Ann, but fondly referred to as Trissy.

And when things went wrong, tempers ran high, or inadvertent words were spoken, Harm would remember the alternate life he'd been shown. Somehow, he would always find right words and the soothing gestures needed to restore his family.

 

End

 
 
   

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