Happy Birthday, Commander Rabb
Part 2

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"Dinner was wonderful as usual, Harm," Mac said as she dropped onto the sofa. "I'm stuffed!"

"Glad you enjoyed it," he said, bringing two cups of coffee with him as he joined her in the living room. But instead of joining her on the sofa, Harm sat down in the chair, pretending not to see her look of disappointment.

"Is everything okay, Harm?" she asked, sitting forward to watch him as she spoke. "You seem - I don't know - ill at ease about something."

"Maybe because I am," he said, deciding that he couldn't put this off any longer. Placing his untouched coffee on the table, Harm leaned forward, his clasped hands between his knees. "I know you said that you were ready to talk, Mac, but - and I can't believe I'm saying this, but - now *I* need more time."

"More time?"

"Something's happened," he said. "And I need time to - find out some things. How I feel."

"About me?" she asked.

"No," he said quickly. "Not about you. But there's someone else that I - I need to talk to."

"Another woman," Mac realized. "Alicia Montez?" she asked.

Harm frowned, surprised to hear the name. "Alicia? No. Why would you think that?"

"She had dinner here," Mac recalled, and Harm remembered that she had come by when Alicia was here that evening.

"It was a last ditch attempt to keep her at arm's length, Mac," Harm said. "She suggested going out to some fancy restaurant to celebrate winning our case - and I suggested she come here so I could cook and could let her know that I wasn't interested in a relationship with her."


He could see the wheels turning. "You thought - is that why you didn't call the next day like you said you would?"

Mac nodded. "Yeah. I thought I was - too late. If it's not her, then who? Someone you met on the Seahawk?"

"No. Someone I knew before that." He took a deep breath and forced himself to watch her face as he continued. "It's Jen, Mac."

"Jen? Jen Coates?" she repeated, obviously stunned by the news. "Harm, she's - she *was* a petty officer. Enlisted. Are you telling me that you and she -?"

"No. Nothing more than one kiss - that Jen initiated," he informed her before adding, "and that I continued a little longer than I probably should have." He could tell she was thinking back, imagining all kinds of things. "I guess it all started because of our being thrown together because of Mattie."

"Why now, Harm?" Mac wanted to know, apparently trying to understand what was going on with him. "She's been Mattie's room mate for months now -"

"Do you remember the day you left for your last assignment, Mac?"

"The one that sent me to Fallon?" she asked, and Harm nodded. "Of course I remember it. Why?"

"What was the date?" he asked.

"The -" her eyes widened, and Harm saw that she'd finally connected the dots. "It was your birthday," she said, wincing slightly. "I'm sorry, Harm. I forgot."

"So did everyone else," he told her. "Except for Jen. She saw that I was a little down and did some research to find out why. After I got home that night, she brought over a small gift and a cake."

"And that's when -?"

Harm nodded. "Yeah. We talked a little - I noticed she seemed a little nervous and questioned her about it. The next thing I knew, she kissed me. Not on the cheek, either."

"And you - returned the kiss," Mac finished for him.

"Yeah. Just for a second. As soon as I gathered my thoughts, I pushed her away. I was confused and - stunned by the experience, and I wanted to talk to her, but she ran away."

"But it affected you."

Harm took a deep breath and looked at her again. "Yes. Enough that I need to find her; to talk to her and see if there might be a future there."

"What would you have done had she still been at JAG, Harm? She would still be enlisted -"

"I know," Harm agreed, standing up as he ran a hand over his head. Moving to the window, he continued. "I don't know."

"You'd have been risking *both* of your careers, Harm," she pointed out.

"I know. But for some reason - I'm not sure it matters."

Mac was silent for a moment as she digested his words. "If there *were* something there, Harm, what then? You couldn't stay together and both stay in the Navy -"

"I know. If something was there - I think I'd be willing to give it up," he said.

"Leave the Navy?"

Harm nodded.

"I think you have your answer about how you feel, Harm," Mac said at last.

He frowned, not sure what she was getting at. "What?" he asked, watching as she rose and came toward him.

"You just said yourself that you'd be willing to give up your career to be with Jen."

"I gave it up for you once," he pointed out.

"What you did, you would have done for Bud, or even the Admiral. You were willing to give it up to go after Sergei, remember? You expected the Admiral to take you back both times. But this is different. Because of Jen, you can walk away without regret."

Harm took a deep breath as he realized that she was right.

"Why do you think the two of us could never get things right?" she asked, looking out of the window.

"I wish I knew the answer to that, Mac," he said.

"You know the answer as well as I do, Harm, if you let yourself think about it. We've both known for some time that if we ever got together, one of us would have to leave JAG - and neither of us was willing to take the hit that would give our careers. We weren't willing to give up anything to have the other."

Was it really that simple? Harm wondered. "Maybe you're right. But that still leaves us with a promise -"

"That I won't hold you to," she assured him. "It's not like it would have happened anyway, all things considered. My chances of having a child are so slim that -"

"We could have tried anyway," he told her, turning his body to face her directly. "But there is a part of that I'm not going to back away from, Mac."

It was Mac's turn to frown. "What?"

"I'll always be here for you, Mac. As a friend. As someone you can count on if you need help."

"That's not fair to Jen," Mac said, shaking her head.

"I somehow think Jen would understand and approve my standing by someone that I think of as my best friend," he insisted. He felt more relaxed at this moment than he had in ages. The pressure had been removed from his relationship with Mac. "We *are* friends, right?"

"The very best," Mac confirmed with a smile. "Now, we need to find Jen."

"It's like she dropped off the planet," Harm noted, his concern for Jen returning full force. "I wish I knew what happened. Jen and I talked about her re enlisting just a couple of weeks ago. She said that she was going to do it. I thought she was serious."

"I think she was," Mac said slowly. "I might know why she made the decision, Harm," she admitted. "Because of me."

"You?" Harm asked, his forehead wrinkling in confusion.

Mac took a deep breath and lowered her head. "The case in Fallon wasn't a tough one - it involved a Master Chief who was killed during a training exercise. Things were pretty cut and dried, but - well, the Chief wasn't married. He had a long-term 'non relationship' with another Master Chief in the same command. She was devastated by his death, and something she said to me - that they had thought they had all the time in the world. He was eligible to retire in a year. It made me think, made me realize that maybe I shouldn't keep waiting. I guess I waited too long after all, though."

"Mac-" Harm began, moving to touch her cheek.

She smiled up at him and shook her head. "I'm okay," she said. "Really." She turned and went back to the sofa. "Anyway, when I got back to JAG, was disappointed that you weren't there and would be gone for a week. I had psyched myself up to finally talk to you about things, and you weren't there."

"I'm sorry."

"Hey. It's your job. I should never have expected you to sit around waiting for me to get my life sorted out. Jen noticed my mood and asked me about it. So I confided to her that I was going to talk to you when you got back - to see if we could move forward. She must have gone straight from my office to the General to let him know she wasn't going to re enlist."

"You think she made the decision because she didn't want to stand in your way?"

"I think she didn't want to have to stay at JAG and see either of us happy with the other. You should be able to understand that."

Harm nodded as he sat back down. "Yeah. I felt it last year while you were seeing Webb." He didn't mention the possibly of his having had to watch Mac after she married Mic. He sucked in his lower lip. "About Webb, Mac- have you talked to him?"

"No. And I know where you're going with this, Harm. Whatever was between Clay and me, it's over. Don't worry about me, Harm. I'll manage to land on my feet. I always do. With your help."

"And you have that." He took a deep breath. "So. I guess I need to find Jen."

"I'll help," Mac offered. "It's my fault that she's gone -"

"No, it's not. She was embarrassed by what happened, Mac. I told you, she refused to talk to me after. She even took the next day off so she wouldn't have to face me at the office."

"Does that mean you don't want my help?"

"I didn't say that," he countered with a smile.


Mattie was waiting on the front porch when Harm pulled up in front of the old farmhouse, and ran down the steps to greet him when he got out of the Vette. "Hey!"

"Hey yourself," he repeated, pulling her into his side. "You're looking good. Being back with your dad must agree with you."

Mattie didn't comment on his statement, and instead noted, "And you look tired. Everything okay?"

"Been better," Harm commented briefly as Tom Johnson came from the house. "Tom."

"Harm. Mattie says you two are going flying."

"I thought we might." He looked up at the clear blue sky. "It's a good day for it."

"A little cool in the open cockpit, though."

"I have a coat, Dad," Mattie reminded him, lifting the heavier coat from the edge of the porch rail. "I'll be fine."

"We won't stay up long, Tom," Harm said.

"Well, I'll have some lunch ready when you two get back, then." He gave Mattie a quick hug. "Have fun, honey."

"We will," Mattie assured him, heading toward the red Corvette.

"I'll bring her back safely," Harm promised Tom, who nodded.

"I know." He stood on the front porch as the car pulled out of the drive and turned toward the airport.

Once in the car, Mattie turned sideways to look at him. "Okay. Spill it."

"Spill what?" he asked, knowing what she was talking about, but not sure how to broach the subject.

"You said you'd 'been better'. That means something's going on and you don't know how to tell me about it."

Harm smiled, shaking his head as he glanced at her. "You know me too well, kiddo."

"Yeah, well. I like to think I do. What's going on, Harm?"

His fingers tightened on the steering wheel. "Quite a bit, actually. You said that Jen called?"

"Yes. She said she was taking some leave time and would be in touch when she got back -" Mattie frowned. "Is something wrong with Jen? Is that what this is about? She didn't want to worry me -?"

"No, Mats," Harm said, reaching over to touch her arm. "No, nothing like that. But she didn't tell you everything," he confirmed. "She didn't reenlist."

Mattie's eyes widened in surprise. "What? I thought she was going to?"

"So did I. Apparently something changed her mind."

"What? Did you talk to her about it?"

"I don't know where she is. When I got back from the Seahawk, her apartment was empty, and I don't know where she went."

"Didn't she tell someone where she was going to be? The Roberts? Mac?"

"No. She basically told them that she'd be in touch when she got settled."

Mattie frowned. "It doesn't make sense, Harm. Why would she do something like this?"

"Because she was embarrassed to face me after my birthday," he answered, bringing the car to a stop in front of the hangar.

"Why? What did you do?"

"It wasn't what *I* did, Mattie. It was what she did. And that wasn't all of it. She was also upset over something Mac told her."

"Okay, now I'm *really* confused. What could Mac say to Jen that would upset her enough for her to just - disappear?"

"Let's go pull the plane out while we talk," Harm suggested, opening the door, then waiting for Mattie to join him before moving toward the large building.

"Harm!" she said insistently. "If you know what's going on, tell me!"

He sighed and turned to look at her. "Jen was the only one who remembered my birthday and brought a cake and a CD over after work. Just before she left, she - she kissed me."

"Kissed how? Like a little sister or -"

Harm's lips curved into a bemused smile. "No. Definitely *not* like a sister."

"Guess she got tired of you not knowing," Mattie mused.

"Not knowing what?" he wanted to know.

"I promised I wouldn't tell you, but - I guess it doesn't matter now." She opened the side door of the hangar, letting Harm follow. "Jen's had a major crush on you since before I met her."

"She has? How do you -?"

"Harm, it was obvious in the way she looked at you. And she used to say things like she wished she could find someone like you instead of the losers she usually ended up going on dates with. Then one day, she said she wished you weren't an officer - she didn't think I heard her, and when she realized I had, she swore me to secrecy, since it could hurt your career if it ever got out."

"I had no idea," he said. "Until she kissed me, I never realized -"

"That she was in love with you?"

"Or that I might be in love with her," Harm finished, unfastening the lock on the hangar doors, glancing at Mattie's face as he made the admission.

"What about Mac?" she wanted to know. "You said that you -"

"That I was in love with her," Harm nodded. "I *do* love Mac, Mattie," he admitted. "But as a friend. As a best friend," he clarified.

"Does *she* know this?"

"We talked last night. I told her that I needed some time to talk to Jen, to figure out how we felt. But when I told Mac that I'd have been willing to give up my Navy career to be with Jen, Mac knew."

"Because you never really did that for her."

"No," he had to admit.

"Wow. I guess we need to find Jen, don't we?"

"You okay with this?" he asked.

"Hey, I like Jen. She's cool. And what's important is that you're happy."

Harm smiled and gave the girl a hug. "Thank you."

"What did Mac say that caused Jen to decide not to re-up?" she wanted to know, speaking over the sound of the heavy metals doors sliding back into their pockets.

"She told Jen that she was going to talk to me about our future when I got home."

"Oh. That would do it, I guess," standing back as Harm grabbed the metal tow-bar and attached it to the tail-wheel of the yellow Stearman to pull it out of the hangar. "I guess Jen didn't tell me the truth because she was afraid I'd call you or try to talk her out of it."

"Most likely," Harm agreed. "Let's turn her around. Watch the wings."

She did the walk around inspection with him. "Harm?"

"Hmm?" he asked, looking up at her as he knelt to inspect the tires.

"Are you in love with Jen?"

"I think I might be. I knew she was going to find another place to live after her friend caused all that trouble - and I knew she couldn't really afford the rent after you moved out, but wouldn't let me continue to pay half because it wouldn't look right. I guess I figured that even if she lived somewhere else, she'd still be a part of my life."

"But now she's not, and you miss her."

"Yeah," he said with a tight smile. "We need some fuel."

Mattie grabbed her gloves and crossed to the fuel tank, freeing the hose and carrying it over her shoulder to the plane. A couple of minutes later, with the tank full, they climbed into the airplane and Harm started the engine.

"Any idea where you're going to start looking?" Mattie asked through the intercom.

"Mac has some ideas."


"She's agreed to help me find Jen," he replied. "Figures she might have a better chance of it than I would, since Jen's mostly trying to avoid me right now."

"Good idea," Mattie agreed, watching the stick and rudder pedals as Harm checked them out at the end of the runway.

"You ready?" Harm asked.

"Let's go!"


"Maybe I'm just being an old fool," Harm said to Mattie as they drove back toward the house after the flight, during which Mattie had taken the stick and put the plane through her paces. "I'm too old for her."

Mattie didn't bother to ask who he was talking about. "You're only - fifteen years older, right?"

"Something like that."

"That's not too old. She likes older guys."

"She does?"

"Don't go getting crazy on me," Mattie said with a sigh. "She just says she doesn't have much in common with guys her own age. She's more comfortable with guys at least ten years older than she is."

"Oh." Harm could understand that. There had been times when he'd wondered how Jen had gotten so mature for her age.

"You really didn't notice her not spending a lot of time with us during those last couple of weeks, did you?"

"I figured she had other things going on in her life. College, boyfriends."

"The entire time Jen and I shared that apartment, she only went out on four dates, Harm. She was looking for something she thought she could never find."


"Yeah. You. And now that she might have a chance, she takes off. I never saw Jen as a coward."

"She's not. She's trying to protect herself. I can understand that."

"If she calls, I'll insist that she call you and talk to you."

"Only if she wants to," Harm said.

"Oh, she will, once she realizes that you and Mac aren't a couple."

"A couple?" he questioned. "I'm not sure Mac and I were *ever* a 'couple', Mattie."

"I think others would disagree. Jen was convinced that the two of you would end up together at some point, once you both got your lives in order. Although she did confide that she thought Mac was crazy for not snapping you up."

"Is that so?"

Mattie grinned. "Come on. I bet Dad's got lunch ready. And flying makes me hungry."

"Everything makes you hungry," Harm pointed out.

"I'm a growing girl," she shot back, causing Harm to chuckle to himself as he followed her toward the house.


"Bud, did Jen say anything you or to Harriet about where she might go?" Mac asked the younger officer the next morning.

"No, ma'am. She didn't say a word. We were as surprised as everyone else when she told us on Friday that she wasn't going to reenlist. Why?"

"I need to discuss something with her," Mac said.

"Have you talked to Commander Rabb, ma'am? Maybe he knows something. Jen was his neighbor and Mattie's room mate -"

"He didn't know about this until he got back from his TAD on Friday evening," Mac explained.

"What about Mattie?"

"All she told Mattie was that she was taking some time off."

"Wow. That doesn't sound much like Jen."

"No," Mac agreed. "It doesn't. If you hear from her -"

"I'll let you know, ma'am," Bud assured her.


"I was surprised when you called this morning, sir," Harriet said to her visitor. "It seems like forever since we've seen you."

AJ smiled as they sat in the living room. "I've been busy. Between spending the summer with Francesca and then getting a law practice off the ground, it's been pretty hectic."

"I bet you enjoyed spending so much time with your daughter, sir."

"Harriet, you don't have to call me 'sir' anymore," he reminded her. "It's AJ."

"Yes, sir," she said, and then laughed. "Sorry. I guess old habits die hard."

"I guess so. It was fun, introducing Francesca to baseball," he nodded. "By the time we celebrated the Red Sox winning the Series, she could quote batting stats with the best of them," he said with a wide grin.

"I wouldn't have known you if I saw you on the street," Harriet confided, indicating the mustache he had grown over the summer. His hair - what there was of it - was a little longer, too. "You look so different."

AJ stroked the mustache. "I needed a change. Francesca said that it made me look 'distinguished'," he explained.

"Oh, it does. And it *is* a change," she confirmed.

"I also decided that it was time to renew my old friendships. Thought maybe that enough time had passed that I could do that. How are things going?"

"Not too badly," she said, patting her stomach. "These two are keeping me busy, not to mention little AJ and Jimmy."

"And Bud?" AJ added.

"Oh, of course."

"How is he settling in with my replacement?"

"Not too well, I'm afraid. Somehow General Cresswell go the idea that Bud has issues with his temper."

"Bud?" AJ was surprised. Bud Roberts was one of the most even-tempered people he'd ever met in his life.

"I guess you probably heard about his run in with that guy in the shoe-store?"

"It was in the papers," AJ nodded. "But he was found not guilty in a court, right?"

"Yes. But Cresswell doesn't like 'loose cannons', and he saw Bud as one after that incident. So he had to go through an anger management session that ended badly when a couple of guys in the group got physical. Bud was trying to get out of the way and managed to hit the therapist with his chair."

AJ couldn't help but laugh. "Oh my. I'm sorry, Harriet, but -"

"I know," she admitted, smiling as well. "It was horrible. The poor man had to have his jaw wired shut. Poor Bud was horrified when he realized what he'd done."

"What did Cresswell do?"

"Well, after he assigned Sturgis to investigate the incident, he talked to Bud and I think things are okay now. Bud says it's okay, anyway."

"That's good. Cresswell may be a little more by the book than I was, but he's got a reputation for being fair in the end. How are you adjusting to being a housewife?"

"I'm enjoying it. We're having to tighten our belts a little, with only the one paycheck, but Bud's promotion helped with that. I still can't thank you enough for that -"

"It wasn't my decision," AJ reminded her.

"No, but you moved heaven and earth to make sure it happened."

"How is everyone else doing? Jen, for instance?"

"I thought she was doing okay - but - she decided not to reenlist last week."


"There was no warning or anything. Bud called me just before he left work and told me that she had made the decision and that Friday was her last day."

"That's strange. I figured Jen Coates to be in for at least 20."

"So did Bud. Everyone was surprised."

"Where is she now?"

"I don't know. She didn't tell anyone. I think there's more to it than we know, but without talking to her -"

"What do you mean?"

"I've worked with more than one woman in the Navy who decided to leave because of a man, AJ."

"You think that's what this is about?"

"It could be. She never mentioned a man in her life to me, or to Bud, though." She looked at him curiously. "You're awfully curious about Jen, AJ. Why?"

"She was a big part of my life during my last year as JAG," he said. "And I'm concerned. I thought I might try to find her, see if she might be interested in a job. I need a legal aide, someone to run the office. If she's available -"

"Commander Rabb might know. He was the closest to her, since she was his neighbor and Mattie's roommate before Mattie left."

"She left?"

Harriet nodded. "Went back to her father once he got sober."

"That was awfully quick," AJ said with a frown.

"The court returned custody a few weeks ago."

"I guess Harm and Mac are -?"

"I don't know, AJ," she said with a deep sigh. "I keep thinking they'll get it right, but Bud told me last week that they barely talk anymore. And when they do, Mac's pretty abrupt with him."

"Maybe they've decided it won't work?" AJ suggested.

"I can't see that happening," Harriet insisted, shaking her head. "They're perfect for each other, if only they'd see it."

"Sometimes they never do, Harriet."

"It would take something really serious if those do didn't," Harriet commented as little AJ came running into the room, only to stop and stare at the 'stranger' sitting across from his mother.

"Hello, AJ," he said, and apparently the boy recognized his voice, because his round face split into a huge smile and he launched himself forward.

"Uncle Admiral!"


"You'll never guess who came for a visit today, Bud," Harriet told her husband when he returned home that evening.

"Uncle Admiral!" little AJ announced, unwilling to wait for his mother to continue.

"AJ, it's not polite to interrupt someone," Harriet chastised gently.

"Sorry," he said.

Bud frowned. "The Admiral was here?" he asked Harriet.

"Yes. He's opened a law office in McLean."

"Why did he come here? I mean - there's no reason why he *shouldn't*, but -"

"I think he wanted to catch up on what's been going on, but didn't want to go to JAG."

"I guess that's understandable. Probably not a good idea to go back with General Cresswell still getting his sea legs. How is he?"

"He's grown a mustache," she told him. "And his hair's longer than it was."

"How could you tell?" Bud questioned, causing them both to laugh.

"He looked happy. Rested. And younger than I remember."

"That's good to hear. Did you invite him for Thanksgiving?"

"He said he'd have to get back to me about it. Speaking of that - have you invited Harm and Mac?"

"I think Harm's going to spend Thanksgiving in Blacksburg with Mattie and her dad. Mac said she would probably be here, though."

"Good. Any news on that front?"

"No. But I did notice that they seemed - more relaxed than I've seen them in a long time. The smiles and laughter wasn't as forced as it has been."

Harriet looked hopeful. "Maybe that means things are working out? Who knows they could be engaged by Christmas!"

"Harriet," Bud said, trying to rein in her jumping to a conclusion. "Let's just take it one day at a time, okay, sweetie?"

"You know who else AJ asked about?"


"Jen. He was surprised that she decided not to stay in the Navy."

"So were we *all*. I think that Harm was totally surprised by it. And Mac asked me today if Jen had said anything to us about what she might do."

"Really? AJ seemed really curious about why she made the decision. He agreed with me that there's probably a man involved somewhere."

"He didn't," Bud said.

"Well, he agreed that it could be part of the reason for her decision."

"*You* are a romantic, Harriet," Bud accused, pulling her close for a kiss.

"And that's why you love me," Harriet replied.

"One of the reasons," Bud said, his eyes twinkling.

"Bud," Harriet said, glancing around to make sure that AJ had left the room and that Jimmy wasn't around to watch them. When she saw that they were alone, she slid her arms around his neck and returned the kiss.


AJ sat looking up at the brick building, hesitating. If he was wrong, then he'd look like the biggest fool in the world. But he needed to make amends. With both of them. He'd left JAG without really talking to them, while he talked to everyone else and gave things to the others.

Problem was, he hadn't been sure what to say to them. Not after everything they'd gone through, after everything that had happened during the previous year. Even now, he couldn't explain his actions to make *himself* forgive what he'd done.

But this wasn't about him. Or about them. It was about Jen. He needed to find out what had sent her running away from the Navy. Taking a deep breath, he got out of the car and moved across the street to enter the building.

He took the stairs instead of the elevator, recalling that it had a tendency to break down on occasion. Approaching the door, he lifted his hand and knocked sharply on the metal surface.

He could see the surprise on Rabb's face when the door opened. "Admiral."

"Harm. May I come in?"

"Of course," Harm said, backing away and opening the door further.

"Make it AJ," he growled. "I'm not in your Navy anymore," he said, repeating words that Harm had used once when talking to him.

"Fair enough," Harm agreed. "This is a surprise."

"I thought it would be." No sense in beating around the bush, he decided and went straight to the reason for his visit. "Harriet tells me that you might know something about why Jennifer Coates decided to leave the Navy."

"Me, sir, I mean, AJ?"

"She *was* your ward's roommate and your neighbor, wasn't she?"

"Yes. But I don't know why Harriet would think I'd know why she made the decision not to reenlist."

"You've spent more time with her than anyone else over the last ten months. Was she seeing someone?"

"Not that I know of," Harm said, moving to the refrigerator. "Would you like something to drink?" he asked, and AJ saw the nervousness in the movements.

"I'll take a beer if you have one."

Harm took two bottles out and handed one to him. "Here you go."

"Was she having problems adjusting to Gen. Cresswell?" AJ continued.

"No. I think she was getting used to him."

"You *do* know something, don't you?"

He stood there, his eyes locked on the younger man, facing him down until surprisingly Harm's gaze fell to the beer in his hands. "Yes. She left because she couldn't face me."

"What the hell did you do to her, Rabb?" AJ wanted to know. "Dammit, she was enlisted. I can't see you -"

"I didn't," Harm insisted. "I mean, I probably overstepped the lines a couple of times by asking her to share an apartment with Mattie," he admitted. "And including her in our family evenings, but nothing happened, AJ. I give you my word."

"Then why did she leave?"

Harm indicated the sofa and chair. "Why don't we sit down?" he suggested. "And I'll try to explain."

AJ sat there, listening as Harm told AJ about what had happened on his birthday between himself and Jen - and that he'd planned on talking to her about it when he got back, because that kiss had made him realize that he'd been overlooking her all this time and could no longer do so.

"She would still have been enlisted, Harm," AJ said, opening his second beer. "Still out of bounds."

"Not if I left the Navy," Harm said. "This time for good," he added, and AJ grunted.

"Hell, Harm, you've done before," he noted, sitting back.

"And I expected to be taken back. I admit that. I figured you had to make it look good for the SecNav after Lindsey's hatchet job. So you refused to let me go and forced my hand."

"For all the good it did. According to Harriet, you and Mac are no farther along than you were when you returned from Paraguay."

"We're farther along," Harm said. "Just not toward a romantic relationship. We're friends again. And we've both admitted that it's all we'll ever be."

"So Mac's aware of how you feel?"

"Yeah," Harm confirmed. "We talked about it over the weekend. She's trying to help me find Jen."

"And if you did find her - what would you do?"

Harm grinned. "You're asking the question again, aren't you?" he asked, recalling a similar question being asked when he'd resigned his commission to go to Paraguay.

"I guess I am. But this time it's about Jennifer Coates. What are you willing to do in order to have her?"

"Since she's made the decision not to be in the Navy, my being an officer doesn't matter. So I could tell her how I feel about her."

"You sound sure that she feels the same way."

"I am. Mattie told me as much yesterday. But she thinks that Mac and I - That's why she did what she did. Mac told her that when I got back from being on TAD she was going to tell me how *she* felt." Harm looked thoughtful. "Why are you asking these questions, AJ?" he wanted to know. "Did she call you?"

"She might have," AJ hedged. "And if she did - she *just* might have asked me to keep quiet about where she is."


"Because she's too embarrassed to tell me why she did what she did, maybe. Because she thinks there's no chance for a future and just wants to get on with her life."

"That's why I need to see her, AJ. To let know that things have changed." He sat forward. "If you know where she is -"

"I didn't say that," AJ said, and watched the roll of expressions that crossed the younger man's face. Hope, guilt, worry, despair, all of them flitted across, leaving the last in place. "But I might be able to reach her -" seeing the return of hope, AJ lifted a hand. "But I need to talk to her first. Make sure she realizes what she's letting herself in for, and that it's what she really wants."

"You're not her father, AJ," Harm insisted. "Jen can make her own decisions."

"I know. I also know that she hasn't spoken to her father in several years, so she needs someone to take his place in her life." He finished the second beer and stood up. "I'll be in touch once I've talked to her."

Harm rose as well, following him to the door. "AJ, if you do talk to her, tell her -"

AJ shook his head. "No. That's *your* job. But I will tell her that you and Mac aren't involved because you want to talk to *her*."

Harm nodded. "Fair enough."

"I'll be in touch."

AJ saw Harm standing at the window as he got into his car and started the engine. Things were clearer now - but there was still another stop he had to make before talking to Jen. He wanted to hear from the source that she and Harm were just friends - and would never be anything more than that.

He refused to even think about his own hopes and dreams that he had long ago buried for reasons of his own . . .

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Original Content Copyright 2005 Nancy Eddy