Operation: Road Not Taken3
Part 9
Nancy Eddy

Disclaimers in Part 1

On the opposite side of the house, Harm was going through something similar with Clay, who was managing to convince himself that he was making a huge mistake, ruining Jen's life by tying her to a man almost old enough to be her father, all of the excuses he could think of.

"There's one thing that overrules all of that, Clay," Harm pointed out.

"What's that?" Clay asked, sitting on a nearby chair, looking as though he'd lost his best friend.

"You love her. And she loves you. Nothing else matters."

Clay looked up at him. "You really believe that?"

"Hell, Webb," AJ growled. "*I* believe it, and I'm the one who was seriously considering having Jen certified for agreeing to marry you in the first place."

Bud, Jason and Harm all joined in the laughter at their former CO's words. "If you can convince AJ, Clay, then you're home free."

Clay closed his eyes. "Okay. Let's do it."

AJ's hand came down on Clay's shoulder as the smaller man stood up. "But just remember, no matter how much I think you and she belong together, you ever do anything to hurt that girl, and you'll answer to me."

"At least I don't have to worry about your being close enough to do any damage before I can get away," Clay replied.

"Don't be too sure about that," AJ said. "I'm seriously considering moving back to DC," he told them. "I'm going to go see if the ladies are ready to start," he decided, leaving all four men staring at each other.

"Did he really say that, sir?" Jason asked.

"He sure did," Harm confirmed.

"Had he mentioned anything about moving back to you, Harm?" Bud asked.

"No," Harm replied.

Clay sat down again. "I'm screwed."


As Jen and Clay finished taking their vows, Harm noticed a vaguely familiar face near the edge of the sea of guests. Most were friends of Porter's, with a few of Clay's friends from his days with the CIA, including Catherine and Jack Keeter, who, Harm had discovered, were expecting a second child.

He couldn't quite place the somber faced older man, and his attention was called back to the couple as the ceremony was completed. Clay lifted the veil from Jen's face to give her a kiss that went on a moment or two longer than Porter Webb thought proper, if her embarrassed expression was any indication.

At the reception which was held in the same area as the wedding went into full swing, Harm noticed Mattie dancing with Mike Roberts, and took a deep breath to control the worry that always came when the two of them were together.

"Relax," Mac said, slipping her hand into his. "They're just dancing."

"I know. It's not that I object to Mike. It's just that Mattie's still a minor. And I don't want her to mess up the plans she's made."

"You're turning into an over protective father," she warned.

He placed a hand on her stomach. "At least I won't have to worry as much about this one."

"You won't worry because he's a boy?" Mac questioned.

"Boys can take care of themselves -" he stopped, realizing what he was saying and *who* he was saying it to. "Oops." He winced as he looked at her. "Sorry. Old habits."

"And old seadogs," she sighed, shaking her head.

"Speaking of old seadogs," Harm said, watching as AJ and Allison Krennick moved across the dance floor, "has AJ mentioned anything to you about moving back here from Italy?"

"No. Why? Did he say something to you?"

"He dropped a bombshell just before the wedding started that he was thinking about it." Allison was smiling, and AJ laughed. "Oh, no."

"What?" Mac asked, following his gaze. "You don't think -"

"AJ and Allison?"

"You're thinking it too," Harm said.

"Thinking. But *not* believing. They have nothing in common," Mac pointed out. "The age difference -" When Harm's eyebrow lifted and he nodded toward the bride and groom, who were gliding around the dance floor as if they were the only two people in the world. "Okay. Maybe that one is okay. But -"

"The age difference doesn't mean as much when you're their age," Harm pointed out, still watching Allison and AJ as they left the dance floor and moved toward a table. AJ pulled a chair out for Allison before going to get drinks from the bar and returning.

"You noticed too, huh?" Harriet said, joining them, her eyes on AJ and Allison.

"I'm not sure how anyone could *miss* it," Harm said. "He's been with her ever since the reception began - except for that one dance with Jen, anyway."

"I think it's romantic," Harriet sighed, shrugging as her two friends turned to look at her in surprise.

"Harriet!" Mac hissed.

"The Admiral deserves to be happy after that fiasco with Meredith Cavanaugh," she insisted. "And if Allison Krennick makes him happy, who are we to question it?"

Harm looked at Mac. "You have to admit, she *does* have a point.

"Glad you agree, Harm," Harriet said, smiling at Mac. "Now, if you don't mind, Mac, I'd like to borrow your husband for a minute."

"Borrow me?" Harm questioned.

"I want to dance. Since Bud refuses to even try because of his prosthesis, he said that if I could find someone else who's willing to dance with me, to go for it. You have to give in to me, sir. I'm an expectant mother."

"Mac?" Harm said, looking at her and silently begging for her to say no.

"She's right, Harm. Besides, the next dance is mine," she said with a smile as Harriet pulled Harm toward the dance floor, leaving Mac to move to where Bud was sitting, watching the table on the other side of the dance area. "Hi, Bud. I see that Harriet's abandoned you. Want some company?"

"Mac. Sit down," he said, smiling. "Truthfully, I was never a good dancer. Harriet loves to dance. My leg gives me an excuse."

"I see. Don't worry. Your secret's safe with me."

"Have you noticed -?" he looked pointedly toward AJ and Allison as they sat talking and laughing.

"Harriet thinks it's romantic," Mac told him.

"I know. But Harriet, bless her, thinks everything is romantic these days. Of course, they are the only Admirals here. Maybe they're just talking shop," he suggested, falling silent as Allison's laughter floated across the yard toward them and she reached out to cover AJ's hand where it lay on the table. What was more surprising was that instead of pulling away, AJ covered her hand with his other one.

Jason Tiner came over to the table with Carrie. "I guess you've seen -" he began as they sat down.

As Harm and Harriet returned, he held out his hand toward Mac. "Your turn, I believe?"

Mac took his hand and followed him out onto the dance floor, enjoying being in his arms as they moved to the music. But her gaze remained on AJ and Allison. "I think I know where he's been staying," Mac said softly.

"Who?" Harm asked, obviously more caught up in the atmosphere.


"Oh," he said, turning them around in time to see the couple rise from the table and move toward the buffet that was set up. "Where?"

"With Allison in McLean."

Harm moved back to look at her, surprised. "You're kidding."

"I makes sense. She's renting the place from him. And she knew before anyone else *when* he was coming in."

"That house only has one bedroom, Mac."


He turned to watch AJ again. "There's only one way we're going to find out," he told her.


"Ask." As the music segued into another tune, Harm took Mac's hand and led them first toward the buffet, where they each got something to eat, and then to the table where their former and current COs were sitting, eating. "Care for some company?" Harm asked.

AJ looked up at them, a knowing smile on his face before he looked at his companion. "Your call, Al."

She smiled. "Please sit down." Once they were all seated, she gave them a long, considering look. "I suppose - everyone's wondering what's going on."

"We're - curious," Mac admitted.

It was Allison's turn to give AJ a look. "This one's yours, AJ. I need a refill," she decided, picking up her glass. Would you like another?"

AJ held up his glass, sitting back as she walked away, watching her as she did so. "You're curious about how much time I'm spending with Al, aren't you?" he asked.

"Do you blame us, sir?" Harm asked. "You've been in Italy for nine months and when you come back for a visit, you have lunch almost every day with her - and I believe that you're staying with her at the house in McLean as well."

He smiled crookedly. "That woman's intuition of yours is dangerous, Mac," he said. "The house *is* mine, remember. Al called me a few times, asking for advice at first. Over the course of time, the calls became less about JAG and more about us. And before you ask - no, there was nothing going on before she left JAG all those years ago. There might have been, but she was an officer in my command and off limits. And her interests at that time lay - elsewhere," he recalled, giving Harm a pointed look.

"You mentioned something earlier - about moving back to DC," Harm said. "It's because of her, isn't it?"

"In part. Long distance relationships are hell. I don't have any reason to stay in Italy now that Francesca in living in Paris with James. And I'm bored out of my mind with nothing to do. So - to that end - I've applied to coach a high school baseball team in McLean starting next year."

Even knowing how much AJ loved the game, Harm and Mac shook their heads in surprise. "How does the Admiral feel about that idea?" Mac asked.

He smiled, watching her finish talking to Porter Webb about something before starting back to the table. "She's as much a fan of baseball as I am."

"You're kidding!"

"No, he's not," Allison said as she sat down, placing the glasses of champagne on the table. "I played first base in high school. And in college. Wasn't bad, if I say so myself."

Mac and Harm looked at each other and started to laugh. "I have a feeling that this is going to be *very* interesting," Harm said at last. "And it'll be good to have you back to stay, AJ."

AJ reached over and took Allison's hand, looking at her. "Believe me, no one's happier to be back than I am."

"Don't be too sure about that, AJ," Allison said, her voice pitched even lower than normal as she lifted her glass and took a drink, still watching him.

AJ seemed fascinated with watching her before he remembered they weren't alone. Looking at Harm and Mac, he said, "I'm sure we can trust the two of you to spread the word?"

"Yes, sir," Mac said, knowing a dismissal when she heard one. "If you'll excuse us -?"

Picking up her plate, she led Harm away from the table, to where most of the remainder of the JAG crew was sitting, talking among themselves.

"Well, sir? Ma'am?" Jason asked almost immediately. "What's going on?"

"Well, he's definitely moving back to the area, Tiner," Harm said. "He's going to coach baseball at the high school in McLean next year."

"That makes sense," Harriet said. "He's always liked baseball."

"So does the Admiral," Mac told them.

"Admiral Krennick?"

"Seems she played the game in high school and college," Harm confirmed.

"They're - involved aren't they?" Bud asked hesitantly, obviously uncomfortable discussing the matter.

"I'd say so. He's been staying with her in McLean."

"Wow!" Harriet breathed. "It really *is* romantic," she sighed, looking toward the couple.

Harm looked around. "Bud, have you seen Mike lately?"

"Last time I saw him, he and Mattie were getting something to eat, I think."

"She went to help Jen change clothes," Mike said, joining the group.

Harm smiled at him, and then noticed the man that he'd seen during the wedding, standing off to himself at the far edge of the yard. "Damn," he said, causing everyone to look at him before following his gaze.

"Who is it, Harm?" Mac asked.

"The Reverend Conrad Coates," he said. "Jen's father."

"What's he doing here?" Bud asked. "She hasn't seen him for -"

"Since that Christmas when I took her by there when she was in my custody," Harm finished, frowning. "Excuse me."

"Harm," Mac said, trying to stop him. "He might have been invited -"

"Then why didn't he say something to Jen?" he asked, watching as the man turned and started toward the side of the house. Harm shook off Mac's hold on his arm. "Don't worry. I just want to talk to him."

He followed Jen's father, catching up to him as he was about to get into a Chevy that had seen better days. "Rev. Coates."

Conrad turned to look at him. "Commander Rabb. That's right, isn't it? It's been a few years."

"Yes, it has. Did you speak to Jen?"

Conrad looked down. "No. But I was invited. By her husband." He pulled the invitation out of his coat pocket and showed it to Harm.

"Did Jen know?"

"Probably not. But it didn't matter."

"You need to talk to her."

"She doesn't need me anymore, Commander. She has a life now. One that doesn't have room for or include me. I don't fit here," he said, looking at the carefully sculpted grounds and the house nearby.

"If you weren't going to talk to her, then why come at all?"

"She's my daughter, Commander. I know I seem to have forgotten that, but she is. And she's managed to turn her life around in a way I never thought she would."

"And what happens when she finds out that you came to her wedding and didn't speak to her?"

He lifted watery eyes up toward Harm. "I'm going to trust you to keep my being here between us."

"I can't do that. Jen's a friend of mine. She needs her father."

"She never needed me, Commander."

"I think you're wrong about that," Harm said.


Inside the house, Mattie looked out of the window as she helped Jen change out of her wedding dress. "Who's my dad talking to?" she wondered.

"What?" Jen asked, checking her reflection and smiling before moving to join Mattie.

"Over there," Mattie pointed out. "Beside that beat up old car."

"Ohmigod," Jen said quietly, her fingers dropping the heavy curtain as she turned and leaned against the nearby wall.

Mattie turned to look at her friend. "You know him?"

"He's my father," Jen told her.

Mattie looked again. "I'm going to get Clay," she announced, and left the room, leaving Jen alone. She turned back to the window and watching Harm talking to her father. Harm seemed agitated about something - probably that her father was here at all.

She heard the door open behind her, but didn't look around when she felt Clay's hands on her shoulders and the press of his lips on the side of her head. "You okay?" he asked.

"What's he doing here?" she wondered aloud, not answering his question.

She felt him take a deep breath before speaking again. "I sent him an invitation, honey."

Jen turned to look at him. "You what?"

"It was Mother's idea," he said, putting his hands into his pockets when she moved away from him. "And - I agreed with it."

"You - Clay, you don't know him. You don't have any idea what I went through. How he made me feel totally worthless. He doesn't love me. He's never -"

"Then why is he here?" Clay asked, taking his hand out of his pocket to run it through his hair, leaving it in disarray. "He didn't have to come."

"Probably thinks I'm marrying your for your money and wants a piece of the action," she flung at him. "I can't believe that you went behind my back to do this -" she said, swallowing back the tears that were threatening to escape as she turned away from him.

Clay moved to place his hands on her shoulders, "I did it because I love you, Jen. And because of something Mattie said one night about how much she wished she had been able to fully settle things with her father. I don't want you to have to go through what she's gone through. Or what Mac went through with her father." He turned her around, lifting her chin. "Please? At least say hello before he leaves. Let him know that you're aware he was here. That the lines of communication are open." He rubbed her shoulders. "For me?"

"Damn you, Clayton Webb," she said in a raspy voice. "I -" She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. "Okay. I'll say hello. But that's *it*."

He took her hand in his. "You won't regret it, babe," he promised. Releasing her hand, he went into the hall, where Mattie was pacing, chewing nervously on her lip. "Mattie, go tell Harm to bring Jen's father in here."

She looked past him to where Jen was standing before turning and running toward the front door as fast as the high heels she was wearing would let her. Rev. Coates was getting into his car when she saw them. "Dad!" she said, getting their attention.

Harm, sensing something in her expression, grabbed the car door, preventing the other man from closing it. "What is it, Mattie?" he asked when she reached them.

"Clay wants to see Jen's father inside. Now," she said, her eyes meeting his.

"I'm leaving," Conrad said.

"No, you're not," Harm told him, pulling the door open and reaching inside for the keys in Conrad's hand. "Come on."

"It's her wedding day, Commander. I don't want to -"

"I think it's too late for that," Harm said, waiting. Without looking at Mattie, he asked, "Does Jen know he's here?"


Conrad took a deep breath, bowing his head for a moment before slowly getting out of the car and walking toward the front door of the house.

Inside, Mattie lead them toward the room where she had left Clay and Jen. When Conrad made no move to knock, Harm rapped once on the door, and then stepped aside, pulling Mattie with him.

Clay opened the door and moved back, silently inviting his father in law into the room, giving Harm and Mattie a look of gratitude before closing the door.

Harm drew Mattie into his arms and lifted his eyes toward the heavens, saying a silent prayer that things would go well for his friends.


"Hello, Jennifer," Conrad said.

"Hello, Dad," she said, not quite looking at him.

Conrad looked at Clay, holding out his hand. "Conrad Coates."

"Clayton Webb. Thank you for coming."

"Thank you for the invitation. I didn't expect one."

"You're Jen's father," Clay said, moving to stand behind his wife, his hands on her shoulders again. "I thought you should be here."

"Don't bother, Clay," she said in a quiet voice. "He probably thinks I married you for your money or -"

"No, I don't," Conrad said. "You're not the same angry young woman that I kicked out of my home, Jennifer. You've made something of yourself -" he pulled a small Bible from the inside pocket of his jacket and opened it to remove what appeared to be a folded piece of newspaper. Carefully unfolding it, he continued. "That young woman would never have done what you did when a friend was seriously injured in Afghanistan." He held out the article, and Jen took it from him, recognizing it as one from the Navy Times that had been published soon after her reassignment to JAG after Bud Roberts had nearly lost his leg.

"You - carry this in your Bible?" she questioned, aware that he only kept things of importance there.

"Yes. It reminds me of the power of people to change. I'm very proud of you, Jennifer. You're so much like your mother - And today - seeing you in that wedding dress -" he lifted a hand to touch her damp cheek, "it was as if she were alive again." He smiled gently. "I don't expect you to ever forgive me for the things I did - but I wanted to see you. I wanted you to know that - I love you. And I want you to be happy."

"Th-thank you," she said through the lump in her throat.

"That's all I wanted to say. I'm sure you two are eager to leave for your honeymoon. I'll be going -" he turned toward the door, after giving Clay a single nod of his head.

"Daddy?" Jen said, and he stopped without turning around. "Maybe, after we get back, -"

It seemed to Clay that his father in law seemed to stand a bit straighter upon hearing her words. "I'd like that," he said. "You know where I am." He looked at Clay. "Take care of her."

"I will, sir," Clay said, and then watched as the man left the room. He pulled Jen into his arms as she turned around, not caring that she was leaving a wet spot on his jacket as she cried softly. "You can go after him."

"I'm - not ready," she said in a broken voice.

"Okay," he told her, taking the handkerchief out of his pocket and handing it to her. It would take more than one meeting to heal those wounds. But at least they had made a beginning. "We're going to miss our flight," he told her. "But we can reschedule -"

She shook her head. "No. I'm - I'm okay. I'm sorry I got so angry -"

"It's okay. Hell, I expected worse," he admitted. "I mean, we've got a garden full of lawyers out there - I'm sure one of them would be willing to help you get out of this -"

"Never," she told him, resting her head on his shoulder. "Where are we going?"

"That's my surprise," he told her, taking the airline tickets out of his coat pocket with some difficulty.

Jen's eyes widened when she saw the destination. "P-Paris?"

"You said you'd always wanted to go. And I'm going to enjoy showing you around."

She managed a smile. "*If* we make it out of the hotel room," she said, giving him a long kiss.


"You enjoyed surprising them today, didn't you?" Allison asked later, once she and AJ were back in McLean. They were sitting on the sofa, glasses of wine in hand, relaxing.

He smiled. "Yes," he admitted. "Doesn't do for them to think they know everything about me. Removes the mystery."

"You're not a mystery to me, AJ," she assured him.


She shook her blonde head. "You're a force of nature."

"Is that so?"

"Like a hurricane or typhoon. Bending everything and everyone in your path to your will."

He put his arm around her, pulling her back so that he could look at her face. "Including you, Al darlin?"

"Most definitely me," she assured him, pulling his head down to hers to capture his lips with hers before standing up and pulling him to his feet to lead him into the bedroom.


Labor Day Weekend
1300 Hours Local
McLean, Virginia

"Strike Two!"

"That wasn't a strike!" Allison insisted, turning to face Bud in his position of umpire.

"It was a strike, Al," AJ called from the pitcher's mound.

"It was a mile outside the zone," she called back, hunkering down, getting ready for the next pitch. "Give me something to hit."

"Be careful what you ask for, darlin," he told her, his eyes narrowing as he wound up and threw a fastball - only to stand open mouthed as the crack of the bat hitting leather filled the air and the ball flew over his head while Allison ran all three bases to celebrate with her team.

On the sidelines, Mac and Harriet watched the action, shaking their heads. "They're certainly competitive, aren't they?" Harriet noted, holding baby Kate in her arms.

"And they wouldn't have it any other way," Mac nodded, putting a hand to her lower back and wincing.

"Are you okay?" Harriet asked, watching Mac try without much success to get comfortable in the canvas chair.

"I think so. I just can't seem to find a comfortable position these last few days." She smiled at Harriet, putting a hand on her abdomen. Not long after Jen and Clay's wedding, she had started to show, until now, near the end of her pregnancy, she was convinced that Dr. Preston was wrong and that she was really carrying twins, at least.

"Well, you don't have much longer," Harriet pointed out. "And then you'll forget all about being uncomfortable and everything else once you see your baby," she added, cuddling Katie again. The boys were both sitting on a blanket nearby, watching the game with rapt attention.

"I'm glad that AJ and the Admiral decided to have this cookout today," Mac said.

Harriet nodded. "It's nice out here. Harm's at bat," she announced.

Mac turned her attention back to the game, watching as Harm warmed up, sending a wink and that 'flyboy' grin in her direction before facing AJ. Carrie, Liz, Clay and Gene all began to chatter, trying to distract him as AJ drew back and released the ball.

When she heard the crack of the bat once more, Mac stood up to cheer as Harm ran the bases, - and then promptly doubled over. "Ow," she said, her hand low on her belly, causing Harriet to give her a look of concern, the game momentarily forgotten.

"Mac?" She stood up.

In the makeshift dugout, Harm was exchanging high fives with his fellow teammates when he heard Harriet's voice calling out and turned toward the sound. "Harm!" Seeing Mac doubled over, the game was instantly forgotten as he quickly crossed to put an arm around his wife.

"Honey? You okay?" he asked, and received a glare of warning for asking the question.

"Do I *look* okay?" she replied as the others gathered around. Another pain caused her fingers to dig deeply into his arm. "Damn!"

"Has your water broken?" Harriet asked, and Mac nodded sharply as Mattie came around to Mac's side.

"You need to head toward the hospital, Harm," AJ said. "*Now*."

As soon as Mac could move, the entire group moved toward the house and around it, heading toward where the Lexus was parked. AJ helped Harm get Mac into the back seat while Mattie got into the front. "Thank you, AJ," Mac said.

"You can thank me by getting to the hospital so I don't have to deliver another baby," he said, shaking his head as another pain began. Turning to Allison, he said, "I'm going with them."

"Probably a good idea," she agreed, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

Joining Mac, AJ closed the door. "Let's go, Harm."


AJ was pacing the OB waiting area when Allison and the others arrived. "Any news?" she asked.

"No. Harm and Mattie are both in the delivery room with her. It shouldn't be much longer. She was having pretty hard pains by the time we got here."

"How's Harm holding up?" Clay asked, holding tightly to Jen's hand.

"Nervous as hell," he answered with a grin as he put an arm around Allison's shoulders.

"All I can say is that it's a good thing that Mac went into labor and ended the game," Allison said.


"Because we were beating the pants off of you," she answered, and chuckled softly when AJ whispered something into her ear in response, causing the others to find something other than the couple to look at.

Jen sat down in one of the chairs with a view of the hallway, and Clay joined her. "I can imagine how nervous Harm is," he told her.

"You'll find out yourself in a little less than eight months," Jen said, turning to look at him.

"Eight -" Clay's eyes widened. "Jen? Are you -?"

She nodded. "I was going to tell you tonight."

He pulled her into his arms, causing everyone else to turn and look at them. Clay looked up at them, a huge grin on his face. "We're having a baby."

The next few minutes were filled with congratulations and hugs before Mattie, wearing a pair of hospital scrubs, appeared in the doorway. Almost immediately the room fell silent, waiting for her to speak.

"I have a little brother," she announced, smiling. "He and Mom are fine. Dad's a little worse for wear though," she finished, the smile widening into a grin.


Harm stood beside the bed, watching a tired Mac holding their son. "He's beautiful," Harm said in a soft voice, touching the infant's soft skin.

"We never settled on a name," she reminded him.

"Only because you keep insisting on naming him after me."

"It's tradition, Harm," she pointed out.

"Maybe it's time to start a new tradition," he countered, letting the baby's fingers curl around his index finger.

"How about a compromise?" she suggested.

"Such as?"

"Andrew Harmon Rabb."


"That's your stepfather's middle name, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Harm smiled as he repeated the name. "Andrew Harmon Rabb. Frank would be delighted."

"He's been as much a father to you as you've been to Mattie," she pointed out.

Harm agreed with her statement and rubbed this thumb across the baby's cheek. "Andrew Harmon Rabb. That's a pretty big name for such a small baby."

"So we'll call him Andy," she suggested.

Harmon bent to give her a kiss. "Compromise accepted," he agreed. "I love you, Sarah Mackenzie Rabb. Thank you."

"For what?"

"For our son. For being a wonderful mother to Mattie. For making the road we've traveled so far more wonderful than anything I'd ever imagined it would be."

"We're just getting started," Mac said. "That road's still there. But I've finally figured out that as long as we travel it together, there's nothing we can't handle."

The End

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