Author's note: This fits in with both JAG canon and my Element series, which features the Webb & Rabb friendship/relationship/dynamic -- whatever you want to call it. It was written for Gail for the holiday ficathon; she requested another story for the Elemental series.
Disclaimer: Pretty sure I don't own these guys.
For the forty-fifth time in as many minutes, Clayton Webb stared at the glass door. His vantage point from the middle of the restaurant offered him an unobstructed view of the passersby and it was difficult to squelch the growing sense of disappointment rising up in him. He turned his attention back to the menu, and only glanced up as a waiter refilled his water glass.
"Would you like to order, sir?" the waiter asked cordially.
"Still waiting, thanks."
The restaurant was nearly empty now. It was well past two in the afternoon, and the aromatic mixture of spices that had wafted in from the kitchen had all but disappeared now. In the background, near the kitchen door, the three waiters and maitre'd hovered unobtrusively. Webb glanced at his watch. He would give Rabb another five minutes and then he would order. This was the ninth time he'd made that decision since walking into the restaurant at exactly 1:30.
He took a sip of water and made a final selection of the items he would order. He had nearly memorized everything on the menu, right down the entree descriptions. He must have read "A pungent and tangy cream sauce, infused with almonds and ginger" at least twenty times before deciding to order the dish --chicken korma -- which came with rice and an order of garlic and onion naan. He was about to signal to the waiter when the door opened and Harmon Rabb entered. Rabb took a long look around and then spotting Webb, made his way over. He wasn't in uniform, and Webb felt a slight tinge of disappointment.
"I didn't think you were coming," Webb said, trying to keep the modulation in his voice even. "I was about to order."
"I got caught at the office."
"You should have called." The conversation was starting to sound petty. So like old times, Webb thought with dismay. After all this time, he'd hoped they could move past their traditional friction. Old habits die hard, he supposed. "I was starting to think you'd forgotten, that you didn't want to come."
Rabb took the seat opposite Webb's. The waiter came by and filled his water glass.
"Something to drink, sir?" he asked.
"No, the water is fine for now," Rabb said. He turned his attention back to Webb. "I did have second thoughts." He pressed his lips into a straight line. "I never thought I'd see you again. Not after what happened at Manderlay."
"Well, things change." Webb looked at the menu in an attempt to avoid eye contact. Eighteen months may have passed since he had found himself losing his edge on the beach near his family's estate, but the humiliation of the moment still lingered. Recovering his composure, he said quietly, "Congratulations on your wedding, by the way. I saw the announcement in the Navy Times. Never thought of you as the marrying type."
"That makes two of us." There was a glimmer of a smile on Rabb's face.
"How is Sarah, by the way?"
"She's fine. Settling in."
"Still striking terror in the court room?"
"No, she lost the coin toss."
"Coin toss?" Webb asked in confusion.
Rabb shrugged. "It's a long story. Right now, she's doing some translation work for the State Department. Farsi speakers are in short-demand."
The flatness to Rabb's tone took Webb by surprise, but he decided to dismiss it. "I'm glad to hear she's doing well. Have you decided what you want to order?"
"I'm not really hungry."
"The chicken korma is really very good here."
"I thought you said you'd never been here before."
"I read about this place in Fodor's. It was apparently Princess Diana's favorite Indian restaurant."
"I see." Rabb rapped his fingers lightly against the white linen tablecloth. The movement made Webb nervous. "What brings you to London, Webb?"
"I'm on my way to Paris. The recent riots have Washington a little concerned. As of yet, there's no reason to link what happened in the suburbs to Islamic fundamentalists, but the Agency wants me to check it out." He smiled. "It's good to finally get back into the field."
"I did think your career was over after Manderlay."
"Me too." Webb gestured to the waiter and quickly placed his order, before turning his attention back to Rabb. "I've spent the last year in California, posing undercover in a rather high-class neighborhood. Wife, kids, the whole nine yards, and when this new assignment came up, they faked my death and voila, pulled me out of the field. I guess they figured that my expertise and experience outweighed my letting the Hawk get too close at Manderlay."
"I was unaware the CIA had the capacity for forgiveness." There was a trace of bitterness in Rabb's voice and Webb realized the man was still upset about being unceremoniously dismissed from the CIA after ZNN had shown tape of his rescue of the Libyan family.
"Maybe not for forgiveness, but self-interest definitely, and there aren't many agents in the field who have my talents," Webb said with some pride. "I made a mistake eighteen months ago and put someone else in front of my work. It won't happen again."
Rabb eyed him steadily. "So just like that, you're going to be the cold and calculating man I met ten years ago once again?"
"I'm going to try. You try exile to the suburbs, Rabb, and see if you like it. You have just as much of a taste for excitement and adventure as I do." Webb settled back in his chair. "In fact, it surprises me you've been deskbound all these months. You must be chomping at the bit to get free."
"I've had all the adventure I can take, thank you very much. Besides, Mac would kill me."
Webb leaned forward. "What if I said I could use your skills in Paris?"
Rabb tensed. "You or the CIA?"
"We're one and the same."
"No, you're not."
The words hung there for a moment and Webb considered them carefully.
"Okay," Webb said. He spread his hands in conciliatory gesture. "I'm just asking you to consider it. I wouldn't want to ask you for a commitment."
"You know I can't," Rabb said evenly.
"You mean you won't." Webb glanced up as the waiter placed a steaming bowl of chicken korma in front of him. The food smelled wonderful, but Webb was no longer hungry. "You know the problem with you, Rabb, is you wait until the last minute, and even then you can't make a decision about what you want, and then before you know it, what you want is gone forever."
"Whereas you'll take just about any opportunity that comes your way, whether it makes sense or not," Rabb shot back. "Anything to get your way, to promote *your* agenda."
Webb pierced a piece of chicken with his fork. "You couldn't make up your mind about Sarah, so I did."
"Leave Mac out of this."
Webb leaned forward. "What were you most upset about, Rabb? That I had Sarah and you didn't, or--"
"That was a long time ago."
"You obviously feel very passionately about it." Webb spooned some of the creamy gravy onto his rice. "Or is there something else you want to tell me?"
Rabb crossed his arms against his chest. "You've lost, Webb, fair and square."
"Are we talking about Sarah again? Or something else?" Webb closed his eyes for a moment, savoring his food. "Forgive me, I didn't realize it was a competition."
"You're the one who set the stakes," Rabb said. "You left me no choice." He shook his head. "That was pretty much the worst year of my life. Between Chedwiggen accepting my resignation, you taking Mac, and then losing my position at the CIA--"
"You seem to have
recovered well. I should have congratulated you on your promotion to Captain
when you first arrived. My oversight."
Rabb's expression was icy. "You can't come back here, after all this time, and pretend things are fine," he said. "Or even that I'm interested in what you have to say, or that you mean anything to me beyond someone who once was a valuable source of information."
"Is that *all*?" Webb asked acidly. "Or do you have any other insults to heap on me?"
Rabb was silent and Webb wondered what he was thinking. In Webb's view, Rabb had never been a terribly complicated man to figure out. He was a man of action, one who thrived on passion and gut instinct. Maybe that's why they had made such a good team, especially during the few missions they'd worked together during Rabb's short CIA stint: Rabb's tendency to act first and think later complemented Webb's more cerebral approach.
"You let me down when I needed a friend," Rabb said finally. "At the very least, you could have put in a good word for me at the Agency, but you didn't. I've always wondered about that."
"Getting your face splashed across ZNN, however accidentally--" Webb tipped his head to the side "-- the CIA isn't going to make many allowances for that."
"And what about Mac?"
"I just gave her something she needed, wanted, what you were unwilling to offer her. And I got your attention." He bit his lip. "But I always knew I was second choice for her." He glanced up at Rabb. "Just as I was with you."
Silence fell and Rabb took the opportunity to look around the restaurant. The walls were painted a deep red, and paintings nicely framed in gold decorated them. In the corners stood knee-high bronze sculptures.
"It didn't have to be that way," Rabb said finally. "You made it hard for anyone to get close to you."
"I could say the same thing about you."
"That's not true." Rabb leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table. The back of his hand grazed Webb's, but Rabb didn't seem to notice. "How do you explain Mac?"
"You were given an ultimatum and you didn't want to lose one more person." Webb dabbed carefully at his lips, feeling very satisfied. "Is that what it takes to get a commitment out of you, Rabb?" He felt very calm as he said the words. For a long time, Rabb didn't say anything, and Webb settled back in his chair, listening to the Bollywood music playing in the background, and watching the snow flurries swirl through the air outside.
"Maybe you're right," Rabb said slowly. "But it's too late for regrets or for second chances."
"You could come to Paris with me. I could use you."
Rabb shook his head. "And after the mission is over, then what? There has to be an end, Clay." He bit his lip. "I never thought I'd see you again." He glanced over his shoulder and then back at Webb. "I did have second thoughts about coming today. When I got your email the other day, it was unexpected, and I didn't know how to react at first. My knee-jerk reaction was to say no."
"You didn't tell Sarah?"
"Of course not." Rabb shook his head. "She wouldn't understand. Probably would be furious if she knew I was meeting you now." He intertwined his fingers. "We have a long history, Clay, and most of it isn't very good. Hell, seventy-five percent of the time we've known each other, you've been trying to get either Mac or me killed. I'm not sure even the strongest of friendships could withstand that."
Webb chose his next words carefully. "It has never been my intention to hurt either of you," Webb said slowly.
"You've done a damn fine job of it though," Rabb answered. "Maybe the CIA forgives, but I'm not sure I can. Not for what you did to Mac, not for what you did to me." He got up from his seat. "I'm glad the CIA reinstated you. You're a good agent. You deserve a second chance."
"But not from you."
Rabb looked pensive for a moment. "Sorry," he said. He paused, resting his hand gently on the seat back. "It *was* good seeing you again, Clay."
"You don't have to lie to spare my feelings. I suppose I should be grateful you showed up at all."
"You've put me in a difficult position. I have my own command now and I'm married. I don't need the complications you bring to my life." Rabb glanced towards the door. The snow was coming down faster now. "You're going to have to take care of the Paris mission without me." He offered Webb a brief smile. "Try not to get yourself killed, okay?" And with that, Rabb turned and walked out the door.
Webb sighed and then signaled for the bill. He gestured to the leftover food. "Please wrap this up for me," he said, even though he knew he probably wouldn't have time to eat it. His flight to Paris left Heathrow at seven o'clock.
"Yes, sir," the waiter said.
Webb passed his hand roughly over his eyes. He felt suddenly drained of energy, any anticipation he'd felt upon arriving in London was suddenly gone. With a sigh, he put away his wallet and reached for the bag of leftovers. Out on the street, the snow was falling with increased intensity. He looked both ways down the street, but didn't see Rabb. Webb sighed and as he turned down the street, he saw a homeless man shuffling down the street. Without a word, Webb handed him the bag of leftovers, and then disappeared into the grey London day.
~ the end
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