Jennifer waited outside while Harm secured the hangar, still on a flying induced high. "Thank you for bringing me out here, Harm," she said as he approached her with a self-assured swagger to his step.
"I'm glad you liked it," he said, putting an arm around her shoulders as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "We'll have to see what we can do about getting out here more often. You handled the controls as well as Mattie does."
"Really?" she asked, surprised by the praise.
He turned her so that they were facing each other. "I would never lie to you, Jen," he said, pulling her hair from the collar of her coat, tangling his fingers in its length. "I love your hair."
Jennifer smiled at him. "I figured that out last week," she said, looking up at him, her hands pressed flat against his chest. "I think you mentioned something about dinner?" she told him.
Harm shook his head as he laughed again and opened the passenger side door of the Lexus. "Your chariot awaits, madam," he said. "I just happen to know about a quiet little place not far from here," he told her as he got into the SUV and started the engine. "Checkered table cloths, candles -"
"A pizza place?" Jennifer teased, laughing as Harm gave her a surprised look.
"Italian," he clarified as he realized she was joking. Reaching over, he took her hand in his, holding onto it as they drove away from the airport.
After a delicious dinner at the restaurant that Harm had taken them to, they walked across the parking lot toward his truck, Harm's arm around her waist. The evening shadows were deepening, but the parking lot of the restaurant was still mostly empty. At the truck, he opened the door, but pressed her against the side of the vehicle, kissing her again.
When his cell phone rang, Harm groaned, frustrated and pulled only far enough away to dig it out of his pocket and answer.
"Harm? Where are you?"
"Just outside of Leesburg," he told her. "I just had dinner and was about to start back. Why?"
"I've been trying to call Jennifer -"
"She probably went out with her friends again," Harm said, biting back another groan as Jennifer's fingers slipped under the shirt he was wearing. He grabbed at her hands. "Why? Is something wrong?"
"No. I just wanted to find out if it was okay for me to stay at with Janice again tonight."
"Is her mother there?"
"Just a minute." He waited until he heard Janice's mother on the telephone.
"Mrs. Collins. Would Mattie spending the night again be a problem?" He saw the way Jennifer smiled in anticipation upon hearing the words.
"Not at all," Mrs. Collins assured him. "She's a wonderful young lady. We'll have her home whenever you say tomorrow -"
"Noon?" he suggested.
"No problem. And they won't be going out again this evening," she assured him. "They rented several DVDs to watch."
"Okay. Thanks. Could I talk to Mattie again?"
"You can stay til noon. We're scheduled to fly at three tomorrow."
"Cool!" she declared. "How was it today?"
Harm smiled at Jennifer. "It was fantastic. See you tomorrow."
"Okay. Love you."
"Love you," he told her, closing the phone as he returned his attention to Jennifer. "Mattie's spending the night with Janice again."
"Really?" Jennifer said.
"Hmm," he confirmed, placing a light, teasing kiss along her jaw. "If I didn't know better, I'd think she knew that we needed some time for ourselves."
"She didn't hear it from me," Jennifer said. "But I'm not going to turn it down - that is, if it's what you want."
Harm wrapped his arms around her, giving her a long kiss. "Let's get home, hmm?" he suggested in a low, sexy voice before assisting her into the Lexus and closing the door.
They were barely inside Harm's apartment before they were in each other's arms again, edging closer and closer to the bedroom. Jennifer's sweater and Harm's shirt leaving a trail along the floor. Shoes and socks followed close behind. Harm's fingers tangled into Jennifer's hair, and he laughed softly, causing Jennifer to look up at him.
"I think I'm developing a hair fetish," he told her, lowering his head to breathe in the scent of her shampoo, feeling her nimble fingers unfastening the button on his jeans and starting to lower the zipper.
A knock at the door sent a groan of frustration through both of them. "I'll get rid of whoever it is," Harm promised, stealing a quick kiss. He zipped and buttoned his jeans as he reluctantly left the bedroom area and approached the door. Looking through the peephole, he glanced at Jennifer, who was still standing beside the bed, waiting. "It's Mac," he hissed, wincing as she knocked again.
Jennifer quickly removed her jeans and climbed into bed, pulling the sheet over her head.
Sighing, Harm opened the door with an embarrassed smile. "Mac. This is a surprise. I thought you and Clay were -"
"He had to leave town this morning," she said, holding up a paper bag. "I thought we could go over the Corwin case," entering the apartment, only to stop again as she saw the trail of clothing that led toward the bedroom - and the definite outline of someone in Harm's bed.
Harm gave her another smile. "I'm - a little busy at the moment, Mac," he said.
"Oh. I didn't know you had a date - I stopped across the hall - when no one was there, I thought Mattie and Jennifer might be over here," Mac said, embarrassed by the situation.
"Mattie's spending the night with a friend from school," he explained. "I don't know where Jennifer is. Probably out with some friends as well." He tried to block her view of the bedroom. "Now, if you'll excuse me -"
"Sure," Mac said. "I'm - really sorry. I - I'll call next time," she said, leaving the apartment and heading for the stairs. Harm watched her go before closing the door and turning the security lock. He leaned back against it for a moment, trying to sort out his feelings. Mac's intrusion had made the idea of returning to his bed with Jennifer unthinkable.
So Harm went to the refrigerator and took out a beer, moving to the sofa, where he sat down, twisting off the cap and tossing it toward the sink.
Jennifer appeared, wearing his bathrobe, looking at him uncertainly. "You want me to leave?" she asked.
"No," he said, holding out his hand in invitation. When she took it, he pulled her down to sit beside him. "Sorry," he sighed. "It's just - I hate sneaking around like this. Being terrified that if someone from work finds out that we're involved both our careers will be finished."
"Do you want to stop - being involved?" Jennifer asked, resting her head against his shoulder.
"No," Harm said without hesitation. "I don't want to give this up - Jen, if someone does find out, I'll take the fall. Let them think it was all my fault -"
Jennifer sat up, already shaking her head. "But it wasn't your fault. I'm the one who started it -"
"And I could have said no. Been stronger."
"And I could have said no as well," she pointed out, taking the bottle of beer from him and drinking from it. "It's a two way street."
Harm put his head back against the cushions. "Then what are we going to do? Keep hiding? Lying to Mattie, to our friends?"
"My current enlistment will be up in two months - I'm thinking about not signing up again -"
Harm looked at her, taking the bottle from her hand. "And do what?" he asked.
She shrugged. "I could probably get a job as an office manager - and for more than I make in the Navy."
"What about college?" he asked.
"I've gone this long without it -"
Harm shook his head. "No. You need to finish college. You're not leaving."
"Well, you're not going to resign, either," Jennifer said. "You did that - wound up working for the CIA and crop-dusting."
"So we're right back where we started," Harm sighed, watching as she took another drink of beer. "Unless - Have you ever thought about applying for OCS?"
"Become an officer?"
"Something wrong with being an officer?" Harm questioned, smiling at her.
"No, except, well, with my record - I doubt I'd be accepted. And I still have two years of college to finish before I could even apply."
"Two years," Harm said, sitting back again. "I'll be able to retire by then."
"I guess there's no answer," Jennifer decided, sitting forward as though she was going to get up. "I'll go back to my apartment -"
Harm grabbed her arm, pulling her into his lap instead. "Uh uh," he told her, untying the belt of the robe, allowing the soft fabric to fall open. "I said that I don't want to lose this - to lose *you*," he told her, sliding his hands inside the robe, brushing the sides of her breasts with his thumbs. His hands moved upward to push the robe from her shoulders before he pulled her close. "We'll figure something out."
"And until then?" she asked.
"We keep doing what we've been doing," he told her. "Stealing whatever time we can, whenever we can."
Jennifer's arms slid around his neck. "Then you don't mind if I tell you again that I love you?"
"Not at all," he assured her, standing up and carrying her back to bed, dismissing the rest of the world from his mind.
Jennifer fell forward, her limp body covering his chest like a blanket. Harm rubbed her back in gentle circles, feeling the twin beats of their hearts begin to slow. Jennifer's breath on his sweat-drenched body sent a shiver through his body. "We forgot something again," she told him, not moving.
"What?" he asked, and suddenly understood her comment. "Damn," he sighed, realizing that he hadn't even thought once about the condoms in his nightstand. "I'm sorry," he told her. "But something about you just makes me forget everything when we're together like this."
Jennifer finally looked up at him. "I told you, it doesn't matter. I'm on the Pill."
"The Pill's not 100%, Jen," he reminded her, smoothing her hair.
"Even if it *did* happen, would it really matter?" Jennifer asked.
Harm put a hand under her chin, forcing her to look up at him. "It would to me," he said, suddenly wondering what it would be like, knowing that Jennifer was carrying his child. He'd always thought Mac would be the one to do that. But now - all he could think about was Jennifer.
He'd find a way for them to be together, Harm decided. Some how, some way.
"I don't want to keep lying to Mattie, Jen," Harm told her as they ate the omelets that he made for breakfast the next morning. Jennifer had used the time while he cooked to go across the hall and change clothes.
Jennifer looked at him, surprised. "What if she doesn't - I mean -"
Harm reached over to take her hand in his. "She likes you. I think she'll approve. The only problem will be making her understand why she can't tell anyone else."
"When do you want to do this?" Jennifer asked.
"How about when she gets home?" he suggested. "We'll do it together," he promised.
Jennifer nodded. "I just hope you're right. She could see it as a betrayal. I mean, I'm her friend, and now I'm your -" she stopped, uncertain.
"You're the woman I want to share my life with," Harm told her, lifting her hand to his lips to press a kiss onto her skin. "In every way possible."
"Don't tell me. You're having second thoughts - Decided that an older man isn't what you want after all -"
Her smile was reassuring. "No. Never. I just - I want you to be sure about this."
"I'm sure," he said firmly, releasing her hand and standing up as he picked up his plate to carry it to the sink. "Finish your breakfast. We need to talk about some things."
Jennifer's eyes were huge. "Talk? About - what?"
He smiled and winked as he put the rest of the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher. "Just eat. And if I have to make it an order -"
She smiled then. "Yes sir. Eating, sir," she said, picking up her fork again.
"That's better," he said.
She insisted on rinsing her own plate and silverware and turning on the machine herself while Harm finished changing the sheets and remaking the bed.
"I think I've figured out how we can do this," he said, pulling Jennifer along with him over to the sofa. "It came to me in the middle of the night when I woke up and watched you sleeping."
"I need two more years before I can retire with twenty years."
"I know that."
"And you need two years to finish college so that you can apply to OCS," he continued.
"That would be two years *full-time*, sir," she confirmed.
"Precisely. So, when your current contract is up in two months, you go back to college - full-time. Then, when you finish, - if you want to - you can reenlist and apply for OCS. Depending on whether or not they accept the application, I make my decision about retiring at that point."
Jennifer considered his words. "That's a good plan, Harm, except for one thing."
"What's that?" he wanted to know. "I thought I'd covered all contingencies."
"Except for the fact that I can't *afford* to go to college full time if I'm not in the Navy. I mean, I have about a year's worth of tuition available, but after that -"
"I'll take care of it," he said.
"But - what about Mattie's education?"
"She's going to the Academy, remember?"
"And what if she changes her mind? Or doesn't make it?"
"She won't change her mind. And she'll make it. If I have to knock on every door in Washington, she'll make it."
"You think it would work, Harm?" Jennifer asked.
"Yeah. I do. But I think the biggest drawback is that you have to lose those two years."
"I won't mind," she said, turning toward him and smiling. "As long as you won't mind having a college-student hanging around," she said, sliding her arms around his neck.
"Rah rah rah," Harm murmured, lowering his head to hers . . .
"I'm going to have to make the bed up again," Harm sighed as he got dressed.
"I'll do it," Jennifer offered, putting her own clothes back on. "Mattie should be home soon."
Harm slipped a tee shirt over his head as he went toward the windows. "She's here now," he said, looking out to see her getting out of a green SUV that belonged to Mrs. Collins.
"Damn," Jennifer said, slipping into her shoes before attacking the severely tousled bedclothes.
"I'll see if I can't stall her for a couple of minutes," Harm said, opening the door into the hallway just as Mattie appeared on the stairs. "Hi there," he said, giving her a fatherly hug. "I saw Mrs. Collins drop you off downstairs."
"We all set to go flying?" she asked.
"Yeah," he confirmed, watching as she opened the door to the apartment she and Jennifer shared.
"Hey, Jennifer!" she said as she entered the apartment. When there was no response, she looked at Harm. "Jennifer's not home?"
"She's - in my apartment," Harm told her. "We were - talking."
Mattie nodded. "I guess she took advantage of my spending the night at Janice's to spend time with her 'friend', huh?" she said, taking the shopping bag she'd been carrying into the bedroom.
"You - might say that," Harm said, grabbing the note that Jennifer had left by the telephone and stuffing it into his pocket as Mattie came back. "Did you have a nice time?"
"Yeah. It was cool. I can't wait to show Jennifer what I bought yesterday -" Mattie paused, looking at Harm. "You're not upset that she was with her friends are you, Harm?"
"Of course not. Mattie, could you come over to my place? There's something we need to discuss."
"You're scaring me, Harm," she said.
He managed a smile as he placed a hand on her shoulder. "I promise it's not that bad. All depends on how you look at it."
"It's not about my father, is it?" Mattie asked, hanging back as he would have tried to lead her toward the door. "Because if it is -"
"No, Mattie. This doesn't involve your father. Although my thoughts on that topic haven't changed." They had argued halfway through the week about her calling her father, maintaining some kind of contact with the man. It had ended with Mattie slamming out of his apartment and back into this one, going directly to her bed without even talking to Jennifer about it. "Come on," he said, smiling. "Please?"
Mattie went with him across the hall, smiling as she saw Jennifer standing near the kitchen bar. "Hi, Jennifer," she said.
"Mattie. Have fun last night?"
"Sure. We watched some really cool movies -. And Janice's brother came home. He's been deployed on the Patrick Henry for the last six months - He's a radio operator. Talk about *cute*."
"I didn't know that Janice *had* an older brother," Harm said, momentarily forgetting the reason he wanted to talk to his ward as his sense of responsibility to Mattie came to the fore. "How old is he?"
"Twenty two, I think," Mattie said. "*Way* old for me. But he's still cute. Kinda like Janice thinks you're cute, Harm. Especially in your uniform. But you're old enough to be her father -"
Harm looked at Jennifer and started to laugh, relieved when she joined him. Mattie looked from one to the other. "What's so funny?"
"Your comment about older men," Jennifer explained.
"Why don't we sit down," Harm suggested, catching his breath to place an arm around each of them and guiding them gently toward the living room.
Jennifer sat down in a chair while Harm and Jennifer sat down next to each other on the sofa. "So. What's going on?" Mattie wanted to know.
"Well, Mattie -" Harm began, but Jennifer stopped him with a hand on his thigh - a move that didn't go unnoticed by Mattie.
"Let me, Harm?" Harm covered her hand with his, nodding. "Mattie, I wasn't with friends - last night or last weekend," she confessed.
"No," Jennifer said.
"She was with me, Mattie," Harm said, watching Mattie's response carefully.
Mattie looked from Harm, then to Jennifer, processing his words. "With - you? As in - Oh my god."
"Mattie," Harm begin, sitting forward as Mattie jumped to her feet.
"We can explain," Jennifer said, but Mattie wasn't listening.
"You and Jennifer? That's - That's so -" Both Harm and Jennifer waited for her to finish, neither one daring to breathe. "Cool! I mean, my best friend and the person I care most about in the entire world?!" She leapt forward to enclose both of them in a hug, forcing them to take a breath at last.
"You're not upset?" Jennifer asked. "I know that -"
"Upset? Hell no!"
"Mattie -" Harm said warningly.
"Sorry. I'm just so happy! I mean, I hoped, but I thought you and Mac -"
"Mac and I are friends," Harm said. "We'll probably always be friends. But that's all." He put an arm around Jennifer, pulling her close. "Jen's the one I want to share my life from now on," he said, smiling down at her. "I'm in love with her. I know it's a little strange - considering the difference in our ages, but -"
"That doesn't matter, does it? I mean, if you love each other - It's not like you're old enough to be her father."
"Almost," Harm said, grinning, promising himself to have a talk with Jennifer about the 'daddy issues' Mac had mentioned earlier in the week. "But I'd have had to have been pretty precocious."
"So. What about the Navy? I mean, aren't there some kind of regs about officers and enlisted dating?"
"That's the problem, Mattie," Jennifer said. "We can't tell anyone. And I mean *anyone* else about this. Harm didn't want to hide it from you, that's why we told you."
"Jennifer's going to leave the Navy in a couple of months and go to college," Harm explained. "Then, when she graduates, she'll reenlist at her current rank, and apply for OCS."
"Cool," Mattie said.
"If I'm accepted, I won't be able to stay at JAG," Jennifer said.
"But since we'll already be together," Harm finished, "We'll be able to stay together without problem. And if there is - I'll be in early retirement range by then."
"Seems like you have it all planned out," Mattie said. "Only thing is, - what about living arrangements?"
"Well, I haven't said anything to Jennifer yet," Harm said, "but I'm going to call the realtor tomorrow and have her start looking for three bedroom houses. I know you'd prefer to live the city, Mattie, but Falls Church isn't that far out of DC and it's a suburb. Not rural."
Mattie considered his words. "Okay. I think I can handle that. I've been thinking I'd like to have a dog, anyway. I had one when I was little, but my father got rid of it when he tripped over it one night when he was drunk. I came home from school the next day and mom told me that Tipper had run away, but he told me the truth. That he had taken Tipper out into the country and just - dropped him off. Like trash or something."
Harm moved to take her into his arms, holding her. "We'll get another dog," he promised. "The three of us."
Mattie nodded into his neck. Finally, she lifted her head to look at him. "How long before we can tell people?" she asked, causing Harm to blink for a moment in confusion and Mattie grinned. "About you and Jennifer, silly."
"Oh. Uh, not before she leaves the Navy in two months."
"Okay." She thought for a minute. "You were together yesterday?" Harm and Jennifer nodded. "So you took Jennifer flying?"
"It was great!" Jennifer declared, her eyes shining.
"You wanna go with us today?" Mattie asked.
"You wouldn't mind?"
"He-" She glanced at Harm, then adjusted her speech, "-ck, no. Might as well make it a family outing, right, Harm?"
Harm smiled. "Right," he agreed.
Mattie stood up. "You said three, right? What are we waiting for? Let's go!"
She was already out of the door by the time Harm and Jennifer got to their feet. "See?" Harm said. "I told you she'd be fine with it," he said as he looked down at Jennifer. "Breathe, Jen."
"I just realized something," Jennifer said, chewing nervously on her lower lip.
"I'm going to be a mother-figure to a fifteen year old," she said.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "Don't think you can handle it?"
"It's certainly going to be different," Jennifer said.
"Don't worry," Harm said, squeezing her shoulders. "We can learn together."
Jennifer looked up at him. "Now *that* is something to look forward to," she told him.
They ended up flying for three hours total, splitting it about evenly between Mattie and Jennifer in the front cockpit. Over dinner at a local pizza place, the two women compared notes about flying, listening to Harm talk about some of the maneuvers he'd done in a Tomcat that could be converted over to the Stearman.
"I bet flying in a Tomcat would be great," Mattie sighed. "Too bad they won't be around much longer."
"They'll still be using Hornets," Harm pointed out. "Good aircraft. Not a Tomcat, but -"
"And the 22," Mattie said. "I don't like the looks of that one."
Harm privately agreed with her, but didn't say anything. He'd had a chance to fly a prototype simulation program for the new fighter while he was with the CIA, and hadn't been impressed. Unless there were some major changes before the final design he had a feeling that there was going to be problems.
When they returned to the apartment north of Union Station, Harm stood at his door, unlocking it, his eyes on Jennifer as Mattie opened their own apartment. "See you tomorrow morning," he said. "You'd better get to sleep, Mattie. It's after 2200. You have school tomorrow." He moved closer to them.
"Yes, Dad," Mattie said, giggling as she crossed to give him a hug. "I'm really glad for you," she said into his ear.
"Thanks." He replied, tightening his arms around her as he spoke. "Jen."
Mattie sighed. "I'm going into the apartment," she told them. "So you two can get all snuggly." Giving Jennifer a quick hug, she disappeared into the apartment, closing the door behind her.
"You - want to come over for a cup of coffee?" Harm asked. "Or a glass of wine -"
"Coffee sounds good," she told him, leading the way to his open apartment doorway.
Harm put the coffee on before joining Jennifer on the sofa and taking her hand in his. "Sorry I didn't talk to you about the house -"
"That's okay. It's either move or somehow convert these two apartments into one - and that would take a while."
Harm nodded. "I could do it - I remodeled this place by myself, but it took a couple of years." He looked down at their joined hands, trying to figure out how to broach the topic that Mac had brought up. "Jen, when is the last time you talked to your father?"
Jennifer looked at him, frowning. "What brought that up?"
"I'm just curious. I know you and he don't get along - and I'm not going to try and change that, but -"
"The last time I saw my dad was when you took me there when we first met," she said.
"That's - two years, Jen," Harm pointed out, feeling her start to withdraw from him.
"My dad doesn't want to see me, Harm," Jennifer pointed out. "I'm not the son he wanted, so I'm not important. If I was - well, he knows how to find me. Can we talk about something else?" she asked.
Harm nodded, rising from the sofa to pour the coffee. Carrying the cups back to the sofa, he sat down again. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just - you admitted that you liked older men, and you have - issues with your dad -"
Jennifer turned to look at him, her mouth open in surprise. "You think I feel the way I do about you because I don't like my *dad*?"
"No. I don't," he quickly said. "But - others might."
"Others. Such as?"
Harm sat back, sipping his coffee. "Mac, for one." He lifted his shoulders. "She was talking about Mattie needing to reconnect to her father the other day, and mentioned that you could help convince her to do that - except that you have 'daddy issues' of your own."
"She said that?"
"You have to remember that Mac had a few of those issues herself for several years. Until her dad died and she forgave him."
Jennifer remained sitting stiffly, staring down into her coffee cup. "I can't do that, Harm. Not after everything that happened. You don't know half of what he did to me - how he treated me."
"You want to talk about it?" he asked, knowing what her answer would be even before she shook her head, causing her hair to fall curtain-like between them.
"Not right now, Harm," she said. "Maybe someday."
He reached out, gently smoothing her hair back and turning her face toward his. "Its okay, Jen."
"You don't really think that I'm here now because -"
"No." He leaned forward to give her a light kiss. "Why don't we talk about something else?" he suggested, pulling her back against the sofa, his arm around her shoulders.
"When are you going to tell the Admiral that you're leaving?"
"I'll probably do it this week," Jennifer told him. "Give him time to find someone else. You know, I think being his yeoman is what I'll miss most about the job."
"Even with his yelling at you?" Harm questioned, half smiling.
"He had his reasons. He was upset because of the breakup with Dr. Cavanaugh."
"He's not going to be happy that you're leaving, either," Harm pointed out.
"Too bad I can't stay and continue to work for him as a civilian."
Harm placed a kiss against the smooth, dark hair on her head, trying to figure out why her words niggled at something in his memory. He wasn't sure why, and he didn't want to get Jennifer's hopes up in any way, so he remained quiet. He'd do some research tomorrow and make sure of his facts first.
After staff call the next morning, Jennifer waited until she was sure that the Admiral wasn't on the telephone or with someone else before smoothing her skirt and going to his door. Knocking on the frame, she waited for him to look at her.
"Permission to speak with you for a moment, sir."
He frowned, his reading glasses perched on his nose as he looked at her over the lenses. "Is it important?"
"I believe it is, sir," she said.
"Come in and close the hatch behind you," he said, and Jennifer thought he believed she was going to ask him about Dr. Cavanaugh again. Jennifer moved to his desk, where she stood at attention. "At ease, Petty Officer," he said, still looking at her. "What did you want to talk about?"
"I thought that the Admiral would like to know that my current enlistment contract is up in two months - and I have no intention of reenlisting at the present time."
AJ Chegwidden's eyebrows had risen while she spoke, and then fallen as she finished. Jerking his glasses off, he dropped them onto the desk. "You're leaving?"
"This isn't because of - because I yelled at you a few weeks ago, is it?"
"No, sir," Jennifer assured him. "I think I understand why you did that. I *was* pushing too hard, and I had no right to do so. I would also like the Admiral to know that I've enjoyed serving under his command."
"Then why? I thought you were happy in the Navy?"
"I am, sir. But there have been some changes in my personal life lately, and I just feel that it would be better for me to leave the Navy while I take the next two years to finish college. I might reenlist at that point and try for OCS."
AJ studied her for several moments. Something wasn't adding up here. There was missing piece of the puzzle, and that troubled AJ. "You're not leaving because of a man, are you, Coates?"
Jennifer glanced at him before lifting her gaze back to the wall behind him. "I don't believe that's your concern, Admiral. My personal life -"
"Jennifer, I'm sorry I came down so hard on you."
"You were right to do so, Admiral," Jennifer insisted, trying to maintain the formality between them.
"Are you sure about what you're doing? Is this man worth giving up your career for?"
"I believe he is, sir. But I'm not giving up my career. After college, I'll probably reenlist. And it's only two years."
"Why not stay in the reserves?" AJ suggested.
"I'd rather not, Admiral. I have my reasons, and I feel that they're valid ones."
"Is this man in the Navy as well?" AJ wondered aloud, a suspicion beginning to form in the back of his mind. Jennifer Coates' hesitation before answering gave him the answer to his question.
"Admiral - you're the one who said -"
"I know. But I'm still the Admiral, and your Commanding Officer for the next two months at least." He took a deep breath. "It's a simple question. Is this man that you're willing to give up two years of your career for in the Navy?"
Jennifer's eyes fixed on the wall behind his head again. "Yes sir," she responded. "May I be excused, sir?" she asked. "I have some filing that I need to finish."
"You're dismissed," AJ said, watching as she snapped back to attention before turning on her heel to leave his office. "Damn," he muttered, standing up and going to the window. He believed Coates when she said that this wasn't because of the way he'd acted after the break up with Meredith. He admitted to himself that he'd made a lot of mistakes in his dealings with the Petty Officer. He should never have involved her, should never have asked her to help with the wedding plans or in finding a replacement Christmas gift. And he'd regretted yelling the moment he'd done it, but he'd lashed out and Coates had taken the brunt of it.
Now, she had decided to leave the service - because of a man, if she was to be believed. And that it wasn't forever, just for two years. Until she could apply to become an officer. Which probably meant the man involved was already an officer.
Something about Coates mention of two years brought AJ up short as his lips thinned in consternation. "Rabb."
Harm continued to look at his computer screen when the intercom drew his attention. "Rabb."
"The Admiral would like to see you in his office ASAP, Commander," Jennifer said.
Something in her tone alerted Harm that she was worried. "Everything okay, Jennifer?"
"I'm not sure, sir," she replied. "I wouldn't keep him waiting, sir. He seemed - agitated."
Harm winced. That didn't sound good. "I'll be right there," he told her, hitting the "print" icon on his computer. Waiting impatiently for the page he'd been reading to come out of the printer, Harm continually glanced at his watch, knowing that each second he delayed would only increase the Admiral's displeasure. Finally the paper came out and Harm grabbed a folder to slip it into, already half out the door, heading toward the Admiral's office.
Jennifer looked up at him. "Did you tell him?" he asked.
She nodded. "You'd better go in, sir."
"Jennifer -" Harm began, stopping before her desk and leaning forward. He saw Jennifer's dark eyes move to a point behind him seconds before he heard the Admiral's voice.
"My office, Mr. Rabb." Harm immediately straightened and turned to enter the office, hearing the Admiral tell Jennifer, "Hold my calls, Petty Officer."
"Aye aye sir," Jennifer said just before AJ closed the door.
Harm stood before the Admiral's desk at attention, reminding himself to breathe as his commanding officer moved to the windows. "At ease, Commander." Another few minutes went by before AJ spoke again. "Petty Officer Coates has informed me that she's not going to sign a new contract when her current one ends in two months."
He saw AJ turn to look at him. "Considering your lack of surprise, I take it that you aware of her plans, Commander?"
Deciding on honesty, Harm answered. "We discussed it, sir."
"Did she tell you her reason for the decision?"
"She wants to apply for OCS, Admiral," Harm said. "But in order to do so, she has to complete four full years of college. That will take several more years if things remain as they currently are. In order to save time, she's decided to attend college on a full time basis, including summers, and reenlist once she has her degree."
"What about the man she's involved with?"
Harm frowned. "A - man, sir?" So much for honesty, Harm told himself.
"Commander, Petty Officer Coates is your ward's roommate, is that correct?"
"And you're telling me that you aren't aware that she's involved with someone in the Navy? Your ward - what's her name again? Maggie?"
"Mattie, sir. I believe there was some mention about the Petty Officer seeing - someone, Admiral, but I don't recall anything about his being in the Navy."
"Well, according to her, he *is* in the Navy. And I have reason to believe that he's an officer."
"Admiral, Coates is enlisted - for her to be involved with an officer -"
"I'm aware of the regulations, Commander," AJ barked.
Harm fell back into an 'at ease' stance at his tone. "May I ask the Admiral why he believes that Coates might be involved with an officer?"
"Call it intuition, Commander," AJ said, his hawk-like gaze on Harm. "Coates admits that he's in the Navy. She's never shown any interest in OCS, yet suddenly she wants to apply - in two years, after she finishes college. And there's only one officer that she's recently been in close quarters with."
"I wouldn't exactly call it 'close quarters', Admiral. Mattie and Coates have their own apartment. We barely see each other out of the office."
AJ glared at him for a moment longer before turning back to look out of the window. "How are things between you and Col. Mackenzie these days?" he asked.
"We're friends, sir. At least, we're working back toward that point." He saw AJ turn around and look at him again.
"Friends. That's all? After you resigned your commission and spent six months out of the Navy to save her life?"
"The Colonel has - other interests at the moment, sir."
"Webb," AJ spat, shaking his head. "I still can't -" He took a deep breath. "So she's moved on. I assume you're doing the same?"
"I'm trying to, Admiral. Taking your advice, actually. Growing up. I hope. Taking responsibility for Mattie - and maybe a family of my own eventually."
"Anyone particular in mind?" AJ asked, and Harm smiled, finding that he was *almost* enjoying the cat-and-mouse game they were playing.
"I believe so, sir. But until things are more - settled, I hesitate to say anything further."
"Commander, if Petty Officer Coates *is* involved with an officer on my staff, who would you bring charges against?"
"The officer, sir," Harm answered, meeting his CO's sharp gaze. "It would no doubt be entirely his fault."
AJ got directly in Harm's face. "I agree, Commander. And if I find out that one of my officers is responsible for my losing a yeoman when she was just starting to become comfortable in her job, I'll kick his six all the way to Leavenworth and throw the damn key away."
He knew that he was taking a huge risk, but Harm also knew that he probably wouldn't have another opening to bring it up. "I'm sure that the Admiral is aware that according to new regulations, he would be within his prerogative to hire a civilian to do the Petty Officer's job."
AJ backed off slightly, as if the idea hadn't occurred to him. "You're suggesting that I ask Coates to stay on as my secretary even after she leaves the Navy?"
"I - happened to overhear her telling Mattie that she was going to miss working for you, sir," Harm explained. "So I did some research." He held out the folder containing the page he'd printed from the computer. "The Navy allows this office a budgeted amount for civilian workforce - most of which isn't used because the billets are all filled by Naval personnel," he continued as AJ took the folder and looked at the paper.
The Admiral gave Harm another look of suspicion. "Keep whatever's going on out of this office, Commander. If I see the slightest hint of anything inappropriate -"
"Understood, sir," Harm replied, understanding the silent threat with no effort.
"Now get the hell out of my office before I decide to use my 'prerogative' to replace a senior staff attorney with someone from the civilian sector."
Harm snapped back to attention, then left the office, leaning against the closed door for a second, looking at Jennifer, who returned his look with one of her own. "Later," he mouthed, and she nodded, almost jumping as the phone rang.
"Admiral Chegwidden's office."
Harm took a deep breath and left Jennifer's office, running into Mac coming from her office. "Everything okay?" she asked. "You look a little shell-shocked."
"Um, the Admiral just told me that Jennifer's decided not to stay once her current contract ends in two months," he said.
"She's leaving the Navy?" Mac asked, glancing toward Jennifer's office.
"To do what?"
"Something about finishing college so that she can reenlist and apply to become an officer."
"With her record?"
"She's kept her nose clean for the last two years, Mac. Her actions after Bud was injured alone prove that she's turned it around. I think she'd make a good officer." Realizing that his defense was making Mac look at him strangely, Harm shrugged. "Just my opinion."
"You didn't know she was planning this?"
"It wasn't my place to say anything until Jennifer told the Admiral," he reminded her.
"I guess not. How about lunch?" she suggested. "And yes, Clay's in town, but he's in a meeting."
"Sure. I'll even buy."
"Excuse me, sir, ma'am," Jennifer said, causing them both to turn around to look at her.
"The Admiral would like to see both of you in his office."
Twenty minutes later, Harm and Mac left the Admiral's office again, and Harm stopped by Jennifer's desk, telling Mac, "I need to let Jennifer know what's going on so she can tell Mattie," he said.
Mac nodded. "I'll pick you up at the airport."
"Uh, could you wait a minute? I'll need a lift back to my place to pick up my sea bag."
Mac nodded again. "I'll just - go call Clay and - let him know -" she said, backing out of Jennifer's office, looking confused.
"What's going on?" Jennifer asked Harm.
He held out the keys to the Lexus. "Here. Mac and I have to go out to the Seahawk for a JAG man investigation. I was supposed to meet with Mattie's English teacher this afternoon -"
"Don't worry, sir. I'll take care of it," she assured him, taking the keys from him.
"Tell her I'll call if I can."
"I will. Be careful - sir."
Harm smiled at her, wishing he could do more than that. "I will. Tell Mattie that I love her."
Jennifer nodded. "Col. Mackenzie's off the phone, sir," she told him. "I think she's waiting for you."
"Drive carefully," he said as he left her and went to his own office, where he grabbed his briefcase, coat, and cover before joining Mac at the elevator. "Sorry. Jennifer's car wouldn't start this morning so we drove in together. She needed a way home."
"You're letting Jennifer drive one of your cars?" Mac questioned as the doors opened for them.
"Hey, it's not like she'll be driving the Vette," Harm pointed out, laughing.
Mattie was sitting by the telephone when it rang that evening. "Harm?" she said.
"Hi, munchkin," he said through the static-filled connection. "How was your day?"
She heard a loud noise through the connection as she answered. "Not bad - except that Ms. Pembroke has it in for me. What was that noise?"
"They're launching Hornets," Harm explained. "That was the catapult. Done your homework yet?" he asked.
"Doing it now," she told him. "Wish you were here to help with the math."
"Have Jen do it," he said, laughing. "Don't let her tell you she can't."
"She's making dinner right now."
"You didn't order your usual pizza?" he questioned, surprised.
"Jennifer wouldn't let me. Insisted on cooking. You're a bad influence on her Harm," Mattie said with a melodramatic sigh.
"I think her cooking means I'm a *good* influence, young lady."
"If you say so. Hey, she wants to talk to you -"
"Okay. Behave yourself. Do what Jen tells you to do."
"Hey, I know the drill by now, Harm. You be careful out there. I miss you."
"I miss you, too."
Harm kept an eye on the hatch, glad that he'd convinced Mac and Lt. Brown, the Seahawk JAG, to go for some coffee so that he had the office alone. "Hi," Jennifer said.
"How did the meeting with Ms. Pembroke go?"
"She says Mattie's doing better - but she still wants the make up work from last semester before she'll pass her for the year."
"We'll work it out. Did the Admiral say anything else to you after Mac and I left?"
"Yeah. He asked me if I'd be willing to keep working as his secretary, even on a part time basis."
"What did you tell him?"
"That I'd think about it. Was he really rough on you?"
"He's been worse. At least he didn't bring me up on charges."
"He knows, doesn't he?"
"Probably. But he said as long as we keep it out of the office, he won't do anything. So. Are you going to take the offer?"
"Do you think I should? I mean, everyone would know then, about -"
"Jen, once these two months are up, I don't care who knows. I'd probably put a banner on the Stearman and fly it all over DC if I could get the FAA's approval." He heard her laugh at the idea. "I miss you."
"Me too. Oops," she said, and he heard the sound of metal.
"Spaghetti's boiling over -"
"Well, I'll let you go so you can finish dinner. Not sure how long we're going to be here. Mac's already decided that the accident was the pilot's fault -"
"And you're not sure that it was."
"Benefit of the doubt," Harm said.
"I love you," she said as the door opened to admit Mac and Lt. Brown.
"I love you, too, Mattie," he said, hoping she understood. "I have to go. Mac just got back."
Harm hung up, noticing Lt. Brown's curiosity. "My ward. She still gets a little nervous when I go out of town on an investigation."
"Everything okay?" Mac asked.
"Yeah," Harm said. "Just checking in. One of the joys of being a parent."
"I know what you mean, sir," Lt. Brown said. "I've got a ten year old at home that tends to walk all over his mom if I don't check in whenever possible."
"Mine's fifteen," Harm told him. "So where are we?"
It was Friday afternoon before Harm and Mac returned to JAG headquarters. After reporting in to the Admiral, telling him that the incident had been a matter of several failures and that the matter was being handled by the Seahawk's CO, they were told to take the rest of the day off.
"Report for duty on Monday ready to work," he said. "Dismissed. Commander, a word please."
Mac gave Harm a questioning look, as if wondering what he'd done now as she left him alone before the Admiral's desk. "The Seahawk's CO was impressed with you, Commander."
"Capt. Morgan's a fair man, sir. Willing to hear all of the evidence before coming to a conclusion about the accident."
"Meaning that Col. Mackenzie wasn't as fair, I assume?"
"The Colonel tends to - allow her past experiences with Naval aviators to - color her judgment in matters of this nature."
"Any - specific 'Naval aviator' responsible for that?" AJ questioned a half smile on his face. "Capt. Morgan has requested that your quals be brought forward with the idea that he might need your assistance before long," he said, holding a paper across his desk toward Harm.
"I wasn't sure that I was even going to do my quals this time, sir," Harm heard himself say, voicing his thoughts for the first time, surprising him as much as it surprised his commanding officer.
"You're giving up your flight status?"
"I've considered it," Harm admitted. "I'm not sure I like the idea of leaving Mattie alone if something were to happen to me while I was out there -"
"And it's not as though it never *has* happened," AJ pointed out dryly, causing Harm to grin, slightly embarrassed. "Well, it's your decision," AJ said, picking up his reading glasses again. "Just keep me informed."
"I will, sir."
"Dismissed, Commander. Enjoy your afternoon off."
"Thank you, sir." Harm left the office, the papers in his hand, giving Jennifer a smile that she returned. "I'll pick Mattie up from school," he told her. "See you later," he said as the door behind him opened and the Admiral came out.
"Yes, sir," Jennifer said, the smile now gone.
"Did you need something, Commander?" the Admiral asked.
"No, Admiral. Just letting the Petty Officer know that I would pick Mattie up from school so she doesn't have to bother." He nodded at Jennifer again before leaving her office.