Admiral AJ Chegwidden frowned as he read the paper in his hands and looked up at the woman standing before his desk. "Are you sure about this, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir," she answered, remaining at ease, her eyes focused on the wall behind him.
Putting the paper informing him about her request to transfer out of JAG on the desk, AJ asked, "Are you unhappy here at JAG, Lt. Sims?"
"No, sir. I've spent some of the happiest times of my life here. My son was born in this office. But I think it would be best for me to make this move and transfer back to the IG's office. I appreciate everything you've done for me, Admiral, but - it's not that easy for me, being here. I keep seeing Bud everywhere. Everyone thinks of me as his widow, forgetting that I'm more than that. Over there, I can - make a - fresh start."
AJ stood up and came around the desk. "Have a seat, Harriet," he said, taking the other chair once she was sitting down. "Are you sure that's the only reason you're doing this?"
"What other reason could there be, sir?" Harriet asked, hoping she didn't sound as nervous as she felt.
"I know that Commander Rabb's been helping you and little AJ out since last spring. I just -" he hesitated, as if looking for the right words. "I just don't want you to start thinking that there's anything more to his attention than there might be."
"I'm well aware of what the Commander's attention means, Admiral," Harriet answered, and knew that he'd heard more in her answer than she'd intended.
"Is that why you're leaving, Harriet?"
"Admiral, with all due respect, I'd rather not discuss my personal life at the moment."
"You're doing this to protect him, aren't you?" Harriet's eyes widened before she could stop them.
"Yes, sir," she answered firmly. "I don't want Harm to suffer any damage to his career because he's been there for me and my son."
"Is there more than that, Harriet?" AJ asked softly.
"Yes, sir, there is. On *both* our parts. And before you say it, yes, it's only been six months since Bud died. And yes, Harm's having grown up without a father has been a factor in his actions. But he's *been* there for us, Admiral. Without complaint. Little AJ and I can't imagine our lives without him a part of it now. And Harm never realized it was happening. It just - happened. We're actually *laughing* again. I've known Harm for as long as I've known Bud. Who knows? Maybe if Bud hadn't been there, Harm and I might have - I loved Bud more than I ever loved anyone, Admiral, but I'm still alive -" She took a deep breath. "All I know is that I want to be there for him the same way he's been there for us. I get the impression that he's never really had that in his life. Until now."
"And how does he feel?"
"I believe he feels the same way, sir. We've only just started discussing the future. He's afraid that it's still too soon, that I'm just grateful to him for his help."
"Are you sure that's not it?"
Thinking back over the last six months - even farther back, after baby Sarah's death - Harriet recalled all of the times that Harm had been there, been strong for her. "Very sure, Admiral. I love him. I haven't told him that yet, but I intend to, once I'm in another office and we don't have to worry about fraternization problems." She managed a smile. "If you can't be happy for me, sir, at least wish me luck?"
"I can do both," AJ said. "It's not often that a person manages to find two people to love in their life. It's only the lucky ones that do so. This office won't be the same without you."
"And I'll miss all of you, but Petty Officer Coates is very organized, sir. I think she'll be able to step into my shoes with little difficulty."
"If you say so. How does my namesake feel about this turn of events?" AJ asked.
"He's fine with it. He adores Harm."
"You realize that with Harm being on active flight status, you could end up alone again. Especially considering his history in aircraft."
"I can't live my life being afraid, Admiral. Bud's death taught me to grab whatever happiness I can when I can."
AJ sat there for a moment before standing up. Picking up the paper from his desk again, he looked it over. "Okay. According to this, your transfer is to take effect beginning next Monday."
"Yes, sir, but if it's not convenient or too short of a notice -"
"No, I think we'll manage. I'm not saying it will be easy, but we might as well get started on learning how to take care of this place without you around to clean up the messes."
"Thank you, sir," Harriet said, standing again as well, blinking back the tears that were threatening to fall down her cheeks.
"You'll be missed, Harriet," he told her. "And I hope you'll keep in touch, even though you're no longer apart of this office. You'll always be a part of the JAG family."
"Thank you, Admiral," she said. "I would appreciate it if there was no - fuss about my leaving, sir. I'll tell the people that I feel should know, but -"
"As you wish, Lieutenant. Good luck."
Harriet stood there, uncertain about saying what she needed to say. "Admiral, this conversation isn't going to have a negative impact on his career, is it?"
"No. I haven't seen anything that rises to the level of fraternization in this office. I don't think anyone else has either. Now get out of here, so I can get some work done," he said in a faux gruff voice that she knew too well to take seriously.
Harriet turned and left his office, ignoring Jason Tiner's concerned look when he saw her tearful face to head directly to the ladies room after grabbing her handbag from her desk.
Mac was just leaving that room when Harriet entered, and Harriet brushed past her to grab a tissue and wipe her cheeks.
"What's wrong, Harriet?" Mac asked.
Aware that Harm likely hadn't had a chance to talk to Mac about the previous night, Harriet wasn't sure how much to tell her. But she also knew that she didn't want to lie to her old friend. No matter what else, Mac was little AJ's godmother. She's been Harriet's Maid of Honor when she married Bud. "I just told the Admiral that I'm transferring back to the Inspector General's office on Monday morning, ma'am," Harriet said, running some water on another towel and using it to dab at her face.
"You're what? Harriet, why?"
"It's time to move on, ma'am," Harriet said. "You were right yesterday. I need to get away from JAG. It won't be easy, but it's for the best."
"I'm going to miss having you around," Mac said. "How did the Admiral take it?"
"He wanted to be sure I knew what I was doing and my reasons for the decision, but he wished me well."
"Does - Harm know about this?"
"We discussed it last night after dinner," Harriet informed her, suddenly pretending an intense interest in repairing her make up and trying to cover up the fact that she'd been crying.
"And he's okay with it?"
"He's fine with it," Harriet nodded.
"I know it's going to be difficult to make it one your own, Harriet," Mac said. "But I'm sure you'll find that it's the best thing for you and your son."
Harriet didn't respond as she finished her repairs. "That will have to do. Ma'am, I'd appreciate it if you'd keep this quiet. I don't want a lot of fuss over my leaving. I'll tell Jennifer and Tiner and Cmdr. Turner, but I'd rather do it privately."
Mac nodded. "If that's what you want."
"It is, ma'am."
Harm had seen Harriet leaving AJ's office. As she stopped by her desk, he had noticed that she looked as if she'd been crying, and so when the phone rang a moment later, he wasn't surprised that it was Tiner, telling him that the Admiral wanted to speak to him.
Harm entered the office and remained at attention while the Admiral studied something on the desk in front of him. Finally he spoke. "Lt. Sims informs me that you're aware of her request to transfer back to the IG's office, Commander."
"At ease," AJ said. "I know how this is going to sound, Harm, but - what exactly are your intentions toward Harriet Sims-Roberts?"
"Eventually, sir, I hope to marry her and help her raise little AJ."
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
AJ rose from his chair and came around to stand in front of him. "Why are you spending so much time with Harriet and AJ? Is it just because you can't stand to see the boy grow up without a father? Because you feel you *owe* it to Bud to take care of his family? Why?"
"Admiral, there are *some* things that I need to talk to Harriet about before I discuss them with anyone else. But I can tell you that I've never felt about anyone else the way I feel about her."
"What about your flying?" AJ asked.
"That's something else that she and I will have to discuss. If she wants me to give it up, I will. But it's a decision that both of us have to make."
"You know, Harm, I think having you settled might be a good idea. Might calm you down a bit. Make things a hell of a lot easier for me, at least," he said with a grin, and Harm replied with one of his own.
"I do feel more settled, sir," Harm admitted. "I know that we're going to take some heat since it hasn't been that long since Bud died, but we'll get through it together."
"Very well. Just to let you know, whatever support you need, you'll get. Harriet doesn't want a fuss this afternoon, but I have other ideas on the subject. Are you willing to render assistance?"
Mac was in his office when Harm returned. She was standing at the window. "Sorry. I needed to talk to you and I thought you wouldn't mind my waiting."
"Not at all," Harm said, glancing over to Harriet's desk, where she was on the telephone.
"What did you need to talk to me about?"
"She said you and she had discussed it last night," Mac admitted. "Are you okay? I mean, I know how involved you've been in her life lately. It's not going to be easy to be on the outside -"
"Who says I will be?" Harm asked, and saw Mac frown in confusion.
"I thought that - you aren't going to stop helping them?"
"Not only am I not going to stop 'helping' them, Mac, but I'm going to be spending more time with them. Harriet and I are - involved, Mac," he said, watching her face as he spoke. "I'm sorry."
"In-Involved? But, I thought that - you and I -"
"Mac, this isn't the place to discuss this. Why don't we have lunch and talk? I need to try and explain."
"Explain? Explain what? That you've been looking for a ready-made family for a long time? You were almost ready to marry Annie Pendry to have one. But she wised up and left. Now it's Harriet and little AJ." Her voice was raised now, and Harm glanced behind her to see Harriet's pale face turned in their direction. "Bud was your best friend, Harm! How can you possibly step into his shoes after just six months?"
"That's enough, Mac," Harm said, his tone firm and quietly authoritative. "I can understand your being upset about this, but this is *not* the time or place to discuss it." He looked pointedly past her, and Mac turned slowly to see every eye in the bullpen focused on them. "Lunch at Benzinger's."
Mac nodded sharply, and then left his office, heading directly toward hers. She closed the door behind her and the blinds as well. When he looked back to Harriet's desk, Harm saw that she wasn't there. Stepping out, he stopped Jennifer Coates as she passed by. "Coates, do you know where Lt. Sims went?"
"I think she went to the file room, sir. She mentioned something about doing some filing." Her eyes told him that Harriet had informed the young petty officer about her decision to leave JAG - and the reason for it, but Harm wasn't sure if he saw approval or worry in the woman's eyes.
"Thank you, Coates." Harm wanted to follow Harriet and talk to her about what Mac had said, but as he'd told Mac, this wasn't the time or the place for such a discussion.
He went back to his office and waited until she returned, then took out his cell phone and dialed her extension. Turning his chair away from the bullpen, Harm waited for her to answer.
"Lt. Sims, JAG Ops, how may I help you?"
"You can tell me you're okay for starters," Harm said. He could see her struggle not to look toward his office even over the phone.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"I know you heard what Mac said earlier."
"I think the entire office heard it," Harriet pointed out, her voice low so not to be overheard.
"It's not true, Harriet," he told her. "That's not why I -"
Those two simple words were enough to lift the cloud of fear from Harm's mind. "I'm glad. I won't keep you. But I wanted to let you know that Mac and I are going to have lunch at Benzinger's to discuss things."
"I'll talk to you later. Harriet?" he turned in his chair to look at her, and saw her look in his direction. "I love you." He heard her quick, soft gasp before he hung up the phone and put it away, with no need to hear any verbal response. The look in her eyes said it all.
Mac insisted on them taking separate vehicles to Benzinger's, and as he followed her to an empty table, Harm recognized the angry set of her shoulders.
"What can I get you folks?" the waitress asked before they were completely seated.
"I'll just have a salad," Harm told her. "And some water."
"Hamburger and fries," Mac said. "And I'll have water as well. With a twist."
"Coming right up," the young woman said before moving to her next customers.
Harm watched Mac place her hands on the table. "Are we going to talk?" he asked.
"That *is* why we're here, isn't it?" she said. "I can't believe that you're really serious about this, Harm," she said, remembering to lower her voice in the crowded room. "Bud's only been dead for six months. That's not enough time -"
"Really? I think it's more than enough time. This isn't about me and Harriet, though, is it? It's about me and you."
"I thought we were moving closer last year," she told him. "That we were getting past all of that with Mic and Renee -"
"We were. But Bud's death made me take stock of my life, Mac, and I realized that I didn't want to wait anymore for something to happen between you and me. Face it, Mac, if it was going to happen, it wouldn't have taken us five years. I don't want to lose your friendship, Mac," he said. "Neither does Harriet. You're still AJ's godmother -" the waitress returned with their drinks, causing Harm to fall silent.
"You never really gave us a chance, Harm," Mac said once they were 'alone' again. "After a couple of dinners just before Bud died, you were suddenly wholly consumed with another obsession: taking care of Bud's family. I don't know if it's because you felt guilty because he died, or because you just want a family so much that you're willing to do anything to have it -"
"That's not true. I wouldn't have married Annie, Mac. Not even to be Josh's stepfather. She and I were just too different. There were too many things standing in the way."
"And there's not with you and Harriet?"
"No. Harriet is - I've never felt the way I feel when I'm with her with anyone else, Mac. I'm not saying that to hurt your feelings, I'm just - trying to be honest with you. Maybe for the first time. I always secretly envied Bud having Harriet in his life. She was supportive of him, even when he didn't realize it. And she's the same way with me. When I'm with her, I feel like there's nothing I can't do if I want to. Even stay in the Navy and someday be the JAG," he said with a smile. "Not that I think it will really happen, but she makes me *feel* like it can."
"And I've never done that, have I?" Mac said. "I've always expected you to be there for me."
"You were there for me," he told her. "When I was accused of murder. In Russia. When I found Sergei."
"How is he doing?" she asked.
"He's working for a Russian airline as a pilot. Seems to be happy when we talk." Sergei had returned to Russia soon after Bud's funeral, claiming that he was homesick and since he couldn't get his green card, he couldn't stay anyway.
The waitress brought their food, shutting down the conversation again. Once they had started eating, Harm said, "I haven't always been there for you. After Mic left -"
"I understood that you had to be there for Renee. After all, you *were* still involved in a relationship with her. I wasn't *happy* about it, but I understood. And I managed to survive." She took a deep breath. "I guess our timing's never been right, has it?"
"No." They continued to eat until Harm finally asked, "So, are we okay? Still friends?"
"Of course we're still friends," she told him.
"Good. Because as a friend, I'm going to tell you that you're making a mistake eating that," he said, pointing his lettuce-clad fork at her hamburger.
"I feel sorry for Harriet," Mac said. "Having to make healthy meals all the time. Or maybe it's little AJ I feel sorry for. I'll have to stay around just to make sure the poor kid gets exposed to all the *good* things in life. Like hamburgers and hot dogs and medium rare steaks."
"Harriet already cooks healthy meals. She started when Bud was trying to lose weight and just kept going. She can work magic with tofu," he told her, and they both started laughing. "In fact, she managed to make my meatless meatloaf so well that even AJ likes it."
"You're subjecting that poor child to "Harm's Meatless Meatloaf"?" Mac questioned, shaking her head. "I *know* I have to stick around now. If only to protect him from *that*!"
Harriet wasn't at her desk when Harm and Mac returned, both smiling. "Well, it looks like the hatchet's been buried," Sturgis noted as he saw them. "Everything okay again with you two?"
Harm and Mac looked at each other before Mac said, "Of course. We're best friends. Do you know where Harriet is, Sturgis? I need to mend some fences."
"I think she was in the law library last time I saw her."
Mac nodded and left them, leaving Sturgis to ask, "So, things are really serious between you and Harriet?"
"I think so," Harm agreed, leading the way toward his office, where he stowed his cover and overcoat. "You have a problem with that?"
"Me? No. As long as you're both happy, it's fine with me."
"Good. Because I know I am. And I'm pretty sure Harriet is."
Harriet was just coming around a row of shelves when she realized that Mac was standing there. "Excuse me, ma'am," she said, starting to step around the Marine Colonel. But Mac didn't budge.
"Harriet, I think we need to talk."
"If you'd like ma'am," Harriet agreed, trying to maintain a military bearing.
"I want to apologize to you."
That surprised Harriet. "A-Apologize, ma'am?"
"For the things I said earlier today. For the things I said yesterday. I didn't realize how things were. I wish you'd told me."
"I would have, ma'am, if I'd known for sure myself. Harm and I didn't really talk until last night when I tried to pull back and he wouldn't let me."
Mac smiled. "That sounds like Harm. And no, not because I think he wants a ready made family or feels guilty and responsible," she clarified. "Are you happy, Harriet?" she asked.
"Oh, yes," Harriet said, relaxing at last, seeing no sign of anger or rancor in her friend's face. "Happier than I thought I'd ever be again after Bud died. I'm just sorry that things didn't work between you and Harm."
"So am I. But what's important is that he's happy. And I think he is, with you."
"I hope so. Are we still friends?"
"Of course we are. Always."
Harriet waited until everyone else had gone except for Harm - who had offered to stay late and help her pack up her few personal belongings from her desk and locker. Once that was done, they started toward the elevators, with Harm carrying the cardboard box. Suddenly he stopped. "Oh. I forgot a book I needed from the conference room," he said. "Come on. We'll get it and be on our way."
"I have to pick up little AJ," Harriet reminded him, glancing at her watch.
"This won't take a minute," Harm promised. "Could you open the door for me?" he asked, juggling his briefcase and the box.
Harriet grabbed the doorknob and pushed - only to stop in her tracks as AJ came running toward her. "Prise, mommy!"
Picking up her son, she saw the staff gathered in the room beyond, all smiling. Harriet turned to look at Harm, who had entered behind her to block her avenue of escape. "I thought we agreed to keep this quiet?" she said.
"Talk to the Admiral," Harm said. "It was his idea." He put the box onto the conference table and took AJ from her, putting a finger against his lips to signal that he should be quiet for a moment as the Admiral began to speak.
"For the last three plus years, this office has benefited from the excellent organizational and managerial skills of Lt. Harriet Sims. Lt. Sims has opted to return to the Inspector General's office to work full time, and I think we're all agreed that while we'll miss her, we also wish her the best of luck in whatever she does in the future." Tiner brought them each a glass of sparkling cider as the Admiral spoke. Lifting his glass, AJ said, "To Lt. Sims. Fair winds and following seas. And happiness. You deserve it more than anyone else I know."
Harriet blinked back the tears and glanced at Harm, who winked at her, giving her a knowing grin. "Thank you," she said to everyone once the toast was drunk to. "Leaving here isn't going to be easy for me, but I hope that we'll find a way to stay in touch."
After a little while, the gathering began to break up, with people going their separate ways for the weekend after wishing Harriet good luck. Jennifer Coates was smiling when she approached. "I'm glad we managed to surprise you, ma'am. I wasn't sure we'd be able to pull it off."
"I was surprised," Harriet admitted. "Thank you, Jennifer. For everything."
Coates' smile faltered slightly as she recalled the full meaning behind those words. "I need to go. I have some things to take care of before this evening." She looked at Harm. "1830, right sir?"
"That should be just about right, Coates," Harm agreed, causing Harriet to frown as the young woman moved away to the door and left.
"What was that about?" she asked him.
"I asked Coates to keep an eye on little AJ tonight so that you and I can go out."
"I hope you don't mind," he said. "AJ knows her and likes her. And I thought you and I needed some time alone, just the two of us. You don't mind, do you?"
"No. Of course not. I'm just - surprised. I didn't expect it."
"Good," Harm said with a lopsided grin. "I like the idea of keeping you a little off balance."
Harriet would have thrown her arms around him and kissed him right there if it wouldn't have been a major violation of the regs. The Admiral approached to wish her luck again, and to give Harm a stern warning to take care of her and AJ.
"Don't worry, sir," Harm assured him. "I intend to do just that."
2030 Hours Local Time
Le Clare Restaurant
"Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?" Harm asked as he and Harriet sat after finishing their meal.
Harriet blushed. "You have. But you can say it again." She had followed Harm's suggestion that they 'dress up' for the evening and dug through her closet to find a black dress that still fit her in all the right places. "It's nice, getting dressed up like this again," she told him. "But I - I can't help but feel a little guilty."
Harm reached over to cover her hand on the table with his. "Do you want to go home?"
"No. Oh, no." Music began, and she watched as several other couples moved from the dining area to the small dance floor.
"Would you like to dance?" Harm asked.
"I was hoping you'd ask."
He led her onto the dance floor and into his arms, where he was still amazed at how well she fit against him. They had spent most of dinner talking about their future - and about the logistics and advisability of Harm moving into the house in Falls Church with Harriet and little AJ.
She was all for the idea - but Harm wasn't as sure that it was a good idea. He didn't want to rush things, although, mostly for little AJ's sake. He still remembered the resentment he'd felt when Frank had moved into the house with him and his mother, and didn't want to face that with Bud's son.
"But," Harriet pointed out, "you were quite a bit older - and were questions about your father's fate. Neither of those factors applies in this case. Little AJ adores you. And there's no question that Bud is -" Harm had reached over to take her hand in his as they shared a moment of grief.
It was as the dance ended and they sat down again that Harm said, "You realize that we're going to have to tell Big Bud and Mikey about this."
"I know," she sighed. "I don't think Mikey will mind. But Big Bud -" Harriet shook her head. "He's never liked you, you know. I think he was always jealous of your influence in Bud's life. You were the reason that he decided to go to law school. And that in some way influenced Mikey to go to the Academy."
"When do you think we should tell them?"
"I thought - maybe I'd invite them for Thanksgiving dinner," Harriet suggested. "We could tell them then."
"Your folks too, I guess?"
"No way. My parents always spend Thanksgiving in Florida. They *might* be able to be talked into coming up for Christmas, though."
"Okay. Thanksgiving it is, then."
"You know, you haven't mentioned *your* mom. Does she know about us?"
"I haven't had a chance to tell her," Harm said. "It's still pretty new, remember," he pointed out, he reminded her. "I was going to call her this weekend and suggest she come out for a visit to meet you and AJ."
"Do you think she'll approve?" Harriet questioned, and Harm laughed softly.
"She'll be delighted that I'm finally settling down. And since she's hinted more than once about how all her friends have grandchildren while she doesn't, I think she'll love AJ. She'll probably spoil him rotten," he said with a grin.
"She can't possibly spoil him more than *my* mother does," Harriet said. "And she's been even worse since -" her voice trailed off, and they were silent for the next few minutes.
"You ready to go home?" Harm asked, signaling their waiter for their check.
"I think so."
1300 Hours Local
Harriet Roberts House
Falls Church, VA
Harm hung up the phone, a smile on his face as he looked at Harriet. "She's probably already hit the airline number on speed dial and is making reservations for her flight," he told her.
"Then she's not upset?"
"Upset? Not at all." He pulled her into his lap. "She can't wait to meet you and Little AJ." He looked around. "Speaking of AJ -"
"He's out in the back yard, playing," she told him, leaning forward, only to stop as the doorbell rang. "Wonder who that could be?" she asked after a frustrated sigh.
"Only one way to find out," Harm told her, letting her go with some reluctance so that she could answer the summons when the bell rang again. "Whoever it is, they're impatient."
Glancing through the front window, Harriet's eyes widened. "It's Big Bud," she hissed in his direction.
"Great," Harm sighed, putting his head against the back of the sofa before standing up as well.
"Maybe if I don't answer, he'll think we're not home -" Harriet said, wincing as this time her father in law knocked hard on the door.
"My car's in the driveway," Harm pointed out, "and since it's the Vette, I'm sure he's already recognized it. Might as well get it over with now."
Harriet nodded and took a deep, calming breath before going to the door and opening it, giving the heavyset man who stood there an over-bright smile. "Big Bud. This is a surprise."
"What took you so long to answer the door?" he asked, stepping past her into the house without waiting for an invitation. "And what's Rabb's Corvette doing in your driveway?"
"Because he's here," Harriet said, and Harm heard the nervous undertone in her voice as he came from the living room to join them.
"Big Bud," he nodded. "It's been awhile."
"I was in the area and figured I'd drop in to see my grandson," Big Bud informed them. "Seems like every time I've come over lately, you've been here."
"Harm's been a big help since Bud died," Harriet told him. "I don't know what I'd have done without him."
"And I bet he's got his reasons," Big Bud replied, glaring at Harm.
Little AJ blew into the room, stopping as he caught sight of the three adults still standing in the front hallway, as if he sensed the tension. "Grandpa Bud," he said, and Big Bud turned to lift the little boy into his arms.
"Hey, little man," Big Bud said, ignoring the sudden tension that came from Harm. "Your face is dirty." He managed to make the simple observation into an indictment of Harriet's mothering skills with only a look. Harm moved closer to Harriet, feeling his dislike of this man increase almost exponentially by the second.
"I was playing in my sandbox," AJ explained. "I made a castle. I wanted to show it to Mommy and Unca Harm, but now you can come out and see it, too."
"Well, then, let's go," Big Bud said, turning toward the kitchen, glancing back to where Harm and Harriet were still standing. "You two coming, or do you have other things to do than to pay attention to your son, Harriet?"
Harriet saw the increased tension in Harm's body and put a hand on his arm. "Don't cause any trouble, Harm, please."
"I won't, Harriet," he promised. "But I think he's *looking* for trouble. And if he is, he won't stop."
"I just don't want AJ caught in the middle. Big Bud *is* his grandfather -"
"Something that even Bud regretted," Harm reminded her, but he lifted a hand to her face, cupping one cheek in his palm. "But for AJ's sake, I'll be gracious and take the high road."
"Thank you," Harriet said, her eyes shining up at him before she turned to place a kiss in his palm.
Big Bud's eyes followed them as they came out of the house, openly accusing them of doing something that they shouldn't, while he praised his grandson's castle building skills.
"See my castle, Mommy and Unca Harm?" AJ asked, running over to grab Harm's hand and pull him toward the sandbox.
Instead of remaining standing over the boy, Harm squatted beside him to survey the 'castle', pretending to examine it carefully. "Very nice, AJ," he said, then pointed to a long, flat spot that ran close to the castle. It was flat, and smooth, like he had deliberately run a spade along the sand. "What's that? The road to the castle?"
"No, it's the runway for the plane. You gotta have a runway," he insisted, and Harm lifted his eyes to Big Bud, sending a look that said that Harm had won this round.
"I'd rather have a seashore," Big Bud told the little boy. "So that big ships could anchor in the bay."
"I like planes more," AJ said, flopping back into the sand, where he picked up a toy F-14 and 'flew' it onto the runway, making the appropriate noises to accompany it, the adults forgotten as he returned to his own little world, where he flew his F-14 to land beside a castle made of sand.
Harm reached out to ruffle AJ's blonde hair. "We'll be inside, Champ," he told the boy. Standing up, Harm sent Big Bud a look of inquiry, waiting patiently for him to turn back toward the house before following with Harriet at his side.
"Would you like something to drink?" Harriet asked her father in law.
"You got any beer?" he asked with barely controlled civility.
"I was thinking more along the lines of coffee -" Harriet began. She, like Harm, had smelled the alcohol on the older man's breath from the first, but hadn't mentioned it.
"I don't want coffee," Big Bud declared. "You got beer or not?"
"No, she doesn't," Harm answered, deciding that it was time that he stepped in. "And you don't need anything else to drink."
"What are you implying, Rabb?"
"Why don't we take this into the living room," Harm suggested in a calm voice, nodding toward the back yard, "so that AJ doesn't overhear the conversation?"
"That's just like you, Rabb," Big Bud sneered. "The great Harmon Rabb, Jr. Pilot, lawyer, and family stealer. You stole my sons from me - but I'll be damned if I stand around and let you steal my *son's* family, too," he declared.
"Harm's not *stealing* anything," Harriet insisted, but Big Bud wasn't listening. He was standing toe to toe with Harm, looking up at the taller, younger man.
"If my son hadn't met you, he wouldn't have decided to 'improve himself' and become a lawyer, and he'd still be alive right now," Big Bud accused. "He got too important for his old man. Practically cut me out of his life. And if that wasn't enough, you influenced my younger son to become an *officer*," he continued, practically spitting as he said the word, as if it was something distasteful. "Now Mikey barely talks to me, and when he does, it's like he's the adult and I'm the kid -"
"Maybe that's because he's finally grown up and sees the real you, Master Chief," Harm suggested. "Maybe that's why Bud didn't *want* you in his life. Because the only way you knew how to be a father was to belittle everything he ever did to better himself. Because even on his wedding day, you walked out of his life. Bud did everything he could not to *become* you, and he would have been successful had he lived. You're angry because he asked someone else to take care of his family - not you."
"It was my *place* to take care of them!" Big Bud insisted. "Not yours. But then, you make a habit of this kind of thing, don't you? I've done some checking on you, Rabb. This isn't the first time he's latched onto a ready-made family; did you know that, Harriet?"
"Bud -" she began, but he wasn't listening to her as he shoved a finger into Harm's chest.
"He was pretty heavily involved with the wife of his old flying buddy after his death. She had a son, just like you do."
Having already discussed this with Harriet, Harm kept his attention focused wholly on Big Bud. "Annie Pendry and I were just friends, if it's any of your business. We were never going to get married, and both of us knew it. Harriet knows all about it. Harriet and AJ aren't a 'duty' to me. I'm not here because of any promise I made to your son. I'm here because I *want* to be. Because Harriet and AJ want me here."
Harriet moved to stand beside Harm, deciding that it was time to finish this. "Big Bud, if you want to remain a part of your grandson's life, you'll accept that Harm is going to be a major part of it. If you can't, then you know where the door is."
"We'll see about that," Big Bud said, his face turning red with rage. "We'll just *see* about that." He pushed between Harm and Harriet, barreling past them toward the door. Harriet, caught unawares, lost her balance and fell against the table.
Harm reached out to grab her before she fell to the floor, doing a visual examination. "You okay?" he asked, looking at her with concern.
She nodded. "Yeah. I'm fine."
Harm kept his arm around her shoulders as he turned to look at Big Bud, who had stopped in the doorway upon hearing Harriet's cry. Big Bud's eyes narrowed before the turned and left the room. A moment later, they heard the front door slam behind him. "You sure you're okay?" Harm asked again, pulling a chair out for Harriet to sit in and kneeling beside her.
"I'm okay, Harm," she assured him. "He just caught me off guard, that's all. To be honest, I just feel a little clumsy more than anything else."
"He should have been more careful," Harm said. "I'm sorry, Harriet. I know I said I'd stay out of it, but -"
"It's okay, Harm," she said. "I shouldn't have asked you to do that. You're involved. Do you think he can make trouble for us?"
"I can't think of anything that he could do," Harm said. "Tell you what, why don't you get AJ in and get him bathed, and dressed and we'll all go out to eat."
"All of us?"
"Sure. I was thinking that maybe we'd go to that pizza place that AJ likes."
When they returned home later, AJ was sleepy from playing so much at the pizza playground. Harriet turned around from looking at her son sleeping soundly in his car seat. "He's exhausted."
"I'll carry him into the house," Harm told her as he turned into the driveway. "Someone's here," he said, nodding toward the small, dark car parked ahead of them on the circular drive.
"That's Mikey's car," she said, giving him a worried glance.
Harm killed the engine on the van and gave Harriet the key before opening the door. Mike Roberts, Midshipman Third Class, got out of his car, his overcoat over his uniform. "Mike," Harm said, nodding as he retrieved AJ from the back seat.
"Commander," he replied before giving Harriet a hesitant embrace. "Hello, Harriet."
"Hello, Mikey. This is a surprise," she said, closing the van door after Harm lifted AJ into his arms.
"I needed to talk to you," he said, including Harm in his glance. "Both of you."
"Why don't you come inside?" Harriet offered, leading the way up the steps and onto the porch, where she unlocked the front door and opened it.
"I'll take him upstairs," Harm said. "I'll be down in a minute."
Harriet saw Mike watching Harm climb the stairs and said, "Would you like something to drink, Mikey? I have some lemonade -"
"No, thanks, Harriet. I can't stay long. I shouldn't even be here, but after Dad called this evening -"
"Big Bud called you?" Harriet asked, going into the living room with Mike close behind her.
"Yeah. He was ranting about what a terrible mother you are and how the Commander's trying to steal Bud's family -" He sat down. "I know he was drunk, but - well, considering what else he said -"
"What else did he say, Mike?" Harm asked as he returned to the room. Mike rose quickly to his feet again out of habit- even though Harm wasn't in uniform. "At ease, Midshipman. I'm off duty and out of uniform." He waited until the young man was seated again. "Now, what did your father say?"
"That he was going to find some way to ruin you and prove that Harriet was an unfit mother so that he could get Little AJ and raise him."
"Does he really think that a court would give him custody of a child?" Harm asked.
"Right now, yes," Mike confirmed. "Like I said, he's been drinking. I don't have a problem with you and Harriet -"
Harriet's soft gasp drew his attention. "You know?"
"I've seen the two of you together whenever I've been around, Harriet," he reminded her. To Harm, he said, "And I know how much Bud looked up to you and respected you. I don't think there's anyone he'd rather have taking care of Harriet and AJ."
"It's more than just taking care of them, Mike," Harm said.
"I know. And like I said, I'm okay with it. But Dad -" he shook his head. "Just - don't underestimate him."
"I -" Harm stopped, reaching down to place a hand on Harriet's shoulder, "we appreciate your warning, Mike, but I think we can handle Big Bud."
"All he needs to do is find someone who has a grudge against you, Harm. Someone who wants to see you dragged down. I'm sure you've made more than a few enemies as a lawyer -"
"One or two," Harm admitted. "Including your father." He took a deep breath, looking at Harriet. "Do you remember when he was on trial for theft?"
"When he asked Bud to defend him?" Harriet asked.
Harm nodded. "He was guilty -."
"But he was found innocent -" Harriet recalled.
"Because I'd figured out what he was doing," Harm said. "He had the best of both worlds. If I had pushed for conviction, he would have destroyed Bud's career by claiming 'ineffective counsel'. If he was found innocent, then he couldn't be tried again and would get away with it."
"That - creep *used* Bud?" Harriet asked, sounding furious.
"That sounds like something he'd do," Mike said with a deep sigh. "He's always been one to cover all his options. Bud didn't know, of course."
"No," Harm said. "I never told him. And neither did your father. Because it would have destroyed Bud's belief in his abilities as a lawyer - and his relationship with his father."
"That - *jerk*!" Harriet declared, jumping to her feet. "I'm sorry, Mikey, I know he's your father, but that man is - is -"
Harm tried to calm her by putting his hands on her shoulders. "Harriet -"
"He's despicable, Harm!" she said, obviously fired up and unstoppable. "He doesn't *deserve* to be part of his grandson's life!"
"But does AJ deserve to lose his grandfather?" Harm countered in a quiet voice. Harriet looked up at him.
"What are we going to do?"
"Let me talk to him. When he's sober. Right now, all I have is my word against his on what happened in that trial. He knows that. There was no proof of what he had planned to do if the verdict had gone against him."
"Okay," she said, relaxing under his fingers.
"I have to get back to Annapolis," Mike told them, standing up. "I just wanted to warn you two about what Dad's up to."
"Thank you," Harriet said, giving him a hug. "And I want you to know that you're always welcome here, Mikey. Always."
"I know," he said.
"Oh, and if you can get away for Thanksgiving, you're invited for dinner."
"I wouldn't miss your turkey and dressing for the world," he assured her. He turned to Harm, holding out his hand. "Take care, sir."
"You too. And thank you."
They stood in the door, waving until he got into his car and drove away. Closing the door, Harm locked it and pulled Harriet into his arms, resting his chin against her soft hair. "It'll be okay, Harriet," he told her.
She put her head back and lifted her eyes to his. "Do you really believe that, Harm?"
"Yes," he assured her. "Why don't you go make sure that AJ's tucked in and I'll double check the doors and get us some wine? Meet you back in the living room."
She nodded and turned toward the stairs. Harm went into the kitchen, where he found two wine glasses and a bottle of wine. Pouring the liquid into the glasses, he carried them into the living room and put one of them on the coffee table as he sat down on the sofa.
His eyes fell on the telephone/answering machine and noticed that the red light on it was flashing. When Harriet joined him a few minutes later, he mentioned it.
"Oh, it's probably just my mother's weekly call to try and convince me to leave the Navy and bring AJ down to Florida to live," she declared, ignoring the machine. "I'll listen to it tomorrow." Sitting down beside Harm, she lifted his arm over her shoulders. "Right now, there are other things I want to think about besides my mother."
"Oh really?" Harm asked. "Such as?"
Harriet placed her glass on the coffee table, and then took Harm's out of his long fingers, setting it beside hers. Lifting herself up, she turned and straddled his hips, sliding her arms around his neck. "You."
Harm bit back a groan as she ground her body against his. "Harriet -"
She placed a finger against his lips before replacing them with her own, deliberately rubbing her breasts against his chest, and Harm gave up trying to hide her effect on him. Placing his hands on her hips, he lifted his, leaving her in little doubt that he was hard and ready for her. His fingers slowly lifted the fabric of her skirt until he could touch her thighs, and then moved higher - only to discover that she wasn't wearing anything under it. His eyes must have revealed his surprise, because she grinned salaciously and lifted her body so that he could touch her.
Harm wasn't surprised to find that she was dripping with moisture, and his manhood strained even further against its fabric prison. Slipping two fingers inside of her warmth, Harm smiled when she whimpered and her eyelashes fluttered downward for a moment. He buried his face between her breasts and heard something crackle softly against his cheek. Lifting his eyes, he saw a bit of devilment in Harriet's before his other hand slid under her blouse and up to her bra - dipping inside of the lacy fabric to pull something out. From the feel of it, Harm knew what it was and grinned. "Is this a hint?" he asked, withdrawing his hand to hold up the item between his fingers.
She ground her body against his fingers. "What do you think, sailor?" she asked, rising up onto her knees, she worked around his arm to unfasten his pants and pull his already hard member out of them. The touch of her fingers around him caused Harm to put his head back against the sofa. It felt so good, having her touching him that way. His eyes closed until he heard the sound of the package being torn open. Looking down, he watched as Harriet rolled the condom over his hardness. Harm removed his fingers from her as she lifted her body a little more and guided him into her.
She sighed audibly as he filled her. Harm's fingers found the buttons of Harriet's blouse and unfastened them as she began to move on him. He left it on her shoulders to hang open, revealing the scrap of lace that covered her breasts. His eyes were on hers as he opened the front clasp with a flick of his fingers and peeled the wispy fabric away before burying his face against her skin, running his tongue through the valley between her breasts while his hands cupped the mounds of flesh and his thumbs circled her erect nipples.
Harriet's head went back as she moaned softly, and one hand drifted down to her clit, fingering it in time with her movements. "That's it honey," he whispered quietly, enjoying watching her. "Let it happen. Just relax and let it go." His mouth moved from the valley up the side of one breast, leaving tiny, wet kisses on the trail before he reached the peak and circled it with his tongue before drawing it into his mouth.
"Oh, yes," Harriet sighed, using her free hand to cup the back of Harm's head, keeping him at her breast. That was one thing that Harm and Bud had in common. They were both appreciative of a woman's breasts. It had been one of the only areas where Bud had been at all willing to experiment. The first time that he had shyly asked if he could place his hardness between her breasts, Harriet had been delighted. She couldn't wait until she and Harm did something like that. Just the idea of having him sliding between her breasts caused Harriet to moan again.
Right now, however, she was enjoying having him inside of her, filling her. When he bit down gently on her nipple, Harriet felt an answering pull in her core, and began to shake before her body tensed against his. Harm placed his hands on her hips and lifted his hips up several times and emptied his essence into the condom.
Harriet collapsed against his chest, resting her head on his shoulder, loathe to move from where she was. "That was wonderful," she said.
"I agree," he replied, running a hand over her back before turning his head to give her a long kiss. "Why don't we continue this upstairs?" he suggested.
"What did you have in mind?" Harriet asked, her face aglow with satisfaction.
"You'll see when we get there," was his answer.
"Ohh, a man of mystery."
"I have a feeling that you know all my secrets, Harriet," Harm said, running a finger down the side of her face. "That you know me better than anyone ever has."
"I wouldn't say that, exactly," Harriet said, gasping as his finger drifted down to the opening in her blouse and bra before his long fingers closed gently over one of her breasts. "But I feel the same way. I never thought I'd feel this way again, Harm. Thank you." She sealed her thanks with a kiss.
When the kiss ended, she felt the muscles in Harm's body tense before he stood up. "What are you doing?" she asked, her arms going around his neck to prevent her from falling. He had softened enough to come out of her, but the condom was still in place.
"Carrying you upstairs," he told her.
"No. I'm too heavy -"
"No, you're not," he assured her. "Lock your ankles behind my back."
She did so, but still felt compelled to say, "Harm, what if AJ wakes up and sees -"
"He was exhausted from playing all evening," Harm reminded her, using his hands on her hips to keep her in place as he moved toward the stairs. "I don't think he'll wake up again tonight."
"You're going to hurt your back," she warned as he climbed the stairs.
"Let me worry about my back, Harriet. I'm fine."
Harriet gave up and relaxed against him, enjoying the feeling of being held and carried by the man she loved. Once inside the room, he closed and locked the door behind them with his foot and slowly lowered Harriet's feet to the floor until she was standing before him.
Harriet went to her knees, ignoring his attempt to stop her, and removed the used condom, tying it off and dropping it into the trash can that was somehow conveniently nearby. Running her tongue around her lips, she looked up at Harm before placing it against Harm's manhood, moaning at the taste of him that still clung to his skin. "Oh, God," Harm sighed, reaching down to run his fingers through her hair. "You keep that up, and I won't be able to hold back, Harriet."
"That's the idea," she told him between licks to clean him up. She had never considered herself to be a woman who craved tasting a man's essence - not even with Bud. She enjoyed giving oral satisfaction as much as she enjoyed receiving it, but until Harm, she had never found anyone who enjoyed it as much as she did.
She was rapidly becoming addicted not only to Harm's taste, but to the man himself. When he wasn't with her, she ached with loneliness. And when they were together, she ached with desire to be possessed by him, wholly and completely, just as she possessed him in the same way.
Assuaging that ache was easy, though. A touch of his hand, a look from his eyes, his smile --- any and all of those were enough to make her feel as if he were making love to her, even if they were across the room from one another.
She had never felt incomplete with Bud - they had been a good fit. But with Harm, Harriet felt totally complete in a way she'd never felt before. That thought caused a momentary jolt of guilt, but it passed quickly as she looked up and saw Harm's eyes watching her pleasure him.
Harriet knew she would always love Bud, but she loved Harm, too. In some ways, more than she'd ever thought possible. Harriet opened her mouth and took Harm inside, hearing him gasp. Her hands on his hips, she began to suck him, pulling back until just the head was inside of her lips, running her tongue around the head before making the return trip down again. She wanted more of him. Everything she could get. He might not be able to fill her body with his essence, but that didn't mean it should go to waste, either, she reasoned.
Releasing his hips, she found his balls, rolling them with her fingers, feeling them drawing up against his body, ready to release their load of life-giving cream. Harriet backed off slightly, increasing the suction and running her tongue through the slit in the top of her 'candy'. She felt Harm's body begin to tense up and shake at the same time. Glancing up at him, she saw that his mouth was open and his was gasping for breath.
Then her attention was focused on swallowing everything he gave her, not wanting to waste a precious drop. The idea of someday having a baby with this man was overpowering, and Harriet knew that it would happen. It *had* to.
Once he had finished coming, Harriet gently cleaned Harm up and rose to her feet, not surprised when he captured her face between his hands and gave her a long kiss, as eager to taste himself in her mouth as she was to taste herself in his.
His arms went around her and he backed her toward the bed as they began to remove clothing, leaving it scattered across the floor on the way. Once at the bed, Harm lifted her onto it and started to kneel beside the bed between her legs. But Harriet reached out and stopped him, pulling him onto the bed with her.
"I want you inside me again," she said. "Without a condom this time."
He hesitated. "Harriet, I don't think -"
"You're planning on this lasting, aren't you?"
"Yes. Of course."
"And you want us to have children, don't you?"
"You know I do."
"Then why not?"
"I don't want us to *have* to get married, Harriet, simply because you're pregnant -"
"We won't *have* to do anything," she insisted. "I love you, Harm. And I want to have your baby. Is that so wrong?"
Harm dropped to rest his head against her breast. "No," he admitted. "But I'm still worried that it's too soon. I don't want you to start regretting this."
"I'm not going to regret anything, Harm. I love you."
He lifted his head to look at her. "I love you."
"Then you want me to be happy, don't you?"
"Always." His mind easily made the connection between making her happy and their having unprotected sex that could result in her becoming pregnant. "You're sure about this, Harriet?"
"I've never been more sure of anything in my life," she said, running a hand over his dark hair. "I want to have your baby. Babies," she corrected with a wicked grin that caused Harm's eyes to widen. "You wouldn't mind a large family, would you?"
"*I* wouldn't. But what about AJ? He might not like having to share you with brothers and sisters. Especially so soon after -"
"We'll just have to make him feel included," she said, her hand reaching between them to find his softened member. "As for *him*, we need to get him back in the mood."
"I know a way to do it," Harm told her, sliding down
her body again and spreading her legs . . .