San Diego International Airport
1300 Hours Local
Harm and Mattie stood in the middle of the terminal, a cart containing their luggage nearby being attended to by an airport employee.
"Where is she?" Mattie wondered, turning as much as she could to look around them as she sat in her wheelchair. "Didn't she say she'd meet us?"
Harm placed a hand on her shoulder. "Yes, she did. Maybe she was delayed." Taking out his cell phone, he opened it. "I'll call her. She's probably on her way."
"Is that Jen?" Mattie questioned, pointing to a familiar Navy Petty Officer in summer whites.
Harm frowned, wondering why Jen was here instead of Mac as she finally saw them and moved in their direction. She gave Harm a look that he interpreted as regretful before bending to give Mattie a hug. "Hello, Mattie! Welcome to sunny Southern California!"
Mattie returned the embrace. "I haven't seen much of it so far," she said.
"Well, we'll change that ASAP," Jen insisted, turning to look at Harm again. "Sir."
"Hello, Jen," Harm said, returning the smile she gave him.
"I thought we agreed that you'd call me Harm?" he suggested. "After all, we used to be neighbors." He looked behind her, hoping to see Mac. "Where is Mac?"
"Col. Mackenzie had a last minute meeting that she couldn't get away from," Jen explained. "She was going to call you and suggest you find alternative transport, but I offered to come in her stead."
Harm was a little disappointed that Mac hadn't called anyway, but reminded himself that she was trying to get the unit set up from ground zero, and that entailed a lot of work and meetings with others. "I understand."
"I have your SUV in the close in parking. It's not that far - I could go bring it around to the passenger pick up area -" she suggested, glancing at Mattie. Harm had had both the Lexus and the Vette shipped out West along with his things so that they would be here when he and Mattie arrived.
"It's okay," Mattie said. "Unless the lot it's in isn't wheel-chair accessible, I can get there."
Jen looked at Harm, and he saw the concern in her eyes. "Then lets go," she said.
"The Colonel's been working twelve to fifteen hours days since she got here," Jen said, as if she felt the need to defend Mac for not being there. "I know she was looking forward to being here to meet the two of you."
Harm nodded. From his brief phone conversations with Mac over the last couple of months, he'd gotten the impression that she had been working almost non-stop since coming here to establish the JLSC. "Hopefully things will change now that we're out there. We have a wedding to plan," he told Jen.
"I hope you're right, sir - Harm," she amended, catching herself with a self-conscious grin that quickly faded. "There are still a lot of details that need to be worked out with this joint JAG office idea. I mean, I know that Navy and Marine lawyers have been serving together already, but this idea's a lot more than that . . ."
1400 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
"Everything okay in here?" Harm asked Mattie from the doorway into her new bedroom.
Mattie looked up, frustrated. "Sure. I'm doing just fine," she declared, her voice dripping with sarcasm as she slapped the arm of the wheelchair. "I can't get anything done because of this thing!"
Harm sat down on the edge of the bed close to her, taking the clothes she had in her hands from her. "Mattie. I know this is a big change. And you really didn't have much choice in things -"
"I couldn't very well stay in Blacksburg with my dad the drunk, could I," she muttered, then sighed. "It's not that, Harm," she told him. "I guess I'm just tired."
"Well, why don't we get you settled for a nap?" Harm suggested. "And we can take care of unpacking later? We can do it together."
"I might as well. I can't do anything right now."
Harm got up and turned the bed covers down before moving to lift Mattie out of the chair. Very gently, he deposited her onto the bed, and then pulled the blanket over her, making sure she was tucked in. Lifting a hand, he smoothed her hair. "Get some rest. It was a long flight." And it had been made all the more difficult because it had been her first time in an airplane since the accident, and she'd been nervous then entire time.
Mattie grabbed his hand, holding it. "You're a saint, you know? Never getting mad at me no matter how angry I get. Always being here when I need you."
"It's what a dad's supposed to do," Harm told her, giving her a smile.
"Speaking of being here, I thought Mac was supposed to call?"
"So did I. I guess she got tied up at the office. I'm going to go call her. You get some sleep. Maybe she'll be here when you wake up."
She nodded, her eyes already closing. Harm stayed another minute, watching her to sleep before leaving the room. He left the door partially open so that he would be able to hear her when she woke up and returned to the kitchen, shaking his head at the sight of the remains of Mac's breakfast. The sugar content of the cereal would put most people into a coma, Harm thought as he cleared the sink of dishes, putting them into the dishwasher.
Once that was done, and still no sign of or call from Mac, Harm took out his cell phone and dialed the number for Mac's office.
"Is she there?" he asked when Jen answered.
"I'm sorry," Jen apologized. "She left here about an hour ago. She came in, I told her that you and Mattie had arrived and that you wanted her to call, and then she got a phone call. I'm not sure when she'll be back. She told me to reschedule her afternoon appointments for tomorrow."
Harm frowned. Mac had said she would take some time off when he and Mattie arrived so that they could start planning the wedding. "If she does come back, tell her I called."
"I will. Is it still okay for me to drop by after I secure?" she asked. "I got the impression that Mattie's a little lost right now." After Jen delivered them to the house, she left, having to return to the JAG office. But she had suggested to Mattie that she come by after work before she left.
"She's looking forward to it. And you're right. She's not handling things well."
"I was afraid of that. She's probably not used to being dependent on others. You know how independent she was before the accident."
"Yeah. I'll see you later."
Harm hung up the phone, dropping it onto the kitchen counter, then went to check out the rest of the house that Mac had rented after his mother had found it for them. It was a nice house, within walking distance to the beach, only a few miles from where she and Frank lived. Harm privately thought that Frank probably owned the place as an investment, and that that was the reason they had gotten it for a pittance compared to other rental prices in the area. But it had curiously un-lived in air, as if Mac didn't spend much time here.
Picking up the phone, he dialed the number for his mother's art gallery, asking for her when the phone was answered by someone he didn't recognize.
"Hi, mom," he said, standing in the open door that lead onto the patio. "We're here."
"How is the house?" she wanted to know.
"Perfect," he answered. "Tell Frank thank you for me."
"You can tell him yourself. I hope the three of you will come to dinner this weekend."
"I'll have to check Mac's schedule," Harm said. "But Mattie and I will be there anyway."
"Good to hear. I'm looking forward to getting to know Mattie better. How is she doing?"
"She's coming along. The therapist in Blacksburg said that she thinks Mattie will recover fully with time."
"That *is* good news. So why do you sound so down, Harm?" she asked.
"I guess the trip was longer than I thought it would be," he said, sitting down at the round table on the patio.
"Don't try to fool me, Harm. I know how much you enjoy flying. Even as a passenger."
"Tell you what, I'll tell you about it on Saturday, okay?"
"Okay. And I'll hold you to it. Don't count on my forgetting by then."
Harm managed a soft laugh. "I wouldn't dare."
1800 Hours Local
Harm grabbed the phone when it rang, glancing at the caller ID. "Mac," he said into the phone. "Where are you?" He glanced through the sliding glass door to where Jen and Mattie were on the patio talking. He had come back inside to start dinner so that it would be ready when Mac got home.
"I'm sorry, Harm," she apologized. "I got caught up in a meeting with General Morrison at North Island, and I couldn't get away to meet you or call to let you know I wasn't going to be there. Did you and Mattie get settled in?"
"Yes. When are you going to be home?" he asked.
"That's another reason I'm calling. I have to get a report to General Morrison first thing tomorrow, and so I have to work on it this evening. I probably won't be home before twenty-two hundred."
"What about dinner?" he asked, hiding his disappointment.
"I'll grab something from the mess hall, I guess. Don't wait for me."
"I'll wait up," he promised, lowering his voice. "I want to see you."
"I want to see you, too," she replied, and Harm thought she sounded like she meant it. At least, he hoped she did.
"See you later, then."
"I love you."
"Me, too," she answered and then hung up, leaving Harm standing there with the phone to his ear as the door opened and Jen pushed Mattie into the house.
"Was that Mac?" Mattie asked. "I heard the phone."
"Yeah," he acknowledged, hanging up and turning back to the pan on the stove to stir the contents. "She's going to be tied up until later this evening."
"That report for General Morrison," Jen guessed.
Harm nodded. "That's what she said."
"The General's a real hard-" Jen began, then stopped, grimacing. "He's full-on Marine and isn't sure about a joint services JAG office."
"Doesn't like the idea of sharing his turf with the Navy," Harm said. "I understand. Probably the same way I felt when I got word that I would be partnered with a Marine," he told them with a grin. "You have plans for dinner, Jen?" he asked.
"No, sir." She grinned when he lifted an eyebrow.
"You do now," he said. "I made enough for three, so since Mac's not going to be here, you're invited to stay."
"Cool," Mattie said. "Come on, Jen. We can go finish my room til dinner's ready."
"Do you need any help?" Jen asked Harm, her hands on the back of Mattie's chair.
He shook his head. "No. I think I can handle this. Go on."
Harm walked Jen out to her car after dinner. "Thanks for coming over, Jen."
"I hope it helped. She seemed a little happier."
"I think she was. We're going to meet her new therapist tomorrow and the tutor to help her catch up on the school she missed after the accident."
"At least she's going to recover fully. Even if she doesn't think she will."
"Are you going to do anything other than take care of Mattie now that you're retired?"
"Not for awhile. Between Mattie and planning a wedding, I think my time's going to be pretty much spoken for."
"Well, if there's anything I can do to help, don't hesitate to call."
"Thank you, Jen. But I'm sure you're still settling in here yourself."
"Which means I don't have a lot of friends to take up my time other than Mattie."
"And me, I hope," he said, smiling at her. He saw her surprise. "I consider you a friend, Jen. You've been a big help with Mattie. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been there for us."
"You'd have managed," Jen told him, getting into her car. Harm closed the door behind her.
"Well, I'm glad I didn't have to. Be careful driving home. Call and let me know you made it there safely, okay?"
"I can take care of myself," she said, rolling her eyes.
"I know. But humor an old man."
"You're not old, Harm," Jen said, then put the car into gear. "Bye."
Harm stood on the street, watching as the car disappeared down the street, recalling Jen's smile. Then he turned back toward the house and went inside, going to Mattie's room, where she was already in bed, reading.
"Jen gone?" she asked, closing her book.
"Yeah." He sat down on the edge of the bed.
"It was nice. Kinda like old times when we were living next door to you back in DC," she said. "I never told you, but I always thought we were like a family."
"Jen would make a good big sister," Harm agreed.
"I wasn't really thinking of her as a big sister," Mattie said, and Harm frowned, not understanding where she was going with this. "Not at first. But then I realized that you were in love with Mac, and figured she'd do as a big sister after all."
Harm shook his head. "Mattie, Jen's a lot younger than I am. And she was enlisted. We were getting pretty close to a crossing a line with her living next door as it was. And *that* was a line I don't think either of us would have crossed - even if she *did* think of me as anything more than a big brother or father figure."
Mattie grinned. "Believe me, she *doesn't* think of you as either of those things. At least, she didn't when we were sharing that apartment."
Harm decided that it was time to end the conversation, and leaned forward. "I think it's time you got some sleep, young lady. It's been a long, tiring day. And we have another one tomorrow." Giving her a quick kiss on the forehead, he helped her get settled, then tucked in the covers as he had earlier.
"Night, Harm," she said.
"Night, honey. If you need me -"
"I'll call," she promised.
"We'll check on getting a frame so that you can get out of bed and into the wheelchair on your own tomorrow when we talk to the therapist."
"Okay. Tell Mac I said night when she gets in. If you're not to busy with other things," she added with an impish grin.
"I'll find the time to tell her," Harm said. "Do you want her to come in and see you when she gets home?"
"No. I'll see her tomorrow morning," Mattie said. "I don't want to get in the way -"
"You won't," Harm assured her. "You're as much a part of my life as Mac, kiddo."
She smiled at his words, and closed her eyes. "Night."
"Night," he repeated, giving her another kiss before turning off the light beside the bed. He left the door open a few inches so that he'd be able to hear her if she needed him. Back in Blacksburg, she'd been plagued by nightmares about the crash, but after talking to Harm about it, they had faded into the night.
Harm knew that she needed to get back into the air - in a small plane, not a passenger jet - but was at a loss about how to go about accomplishing that. Every time he'd mentioned the possibility of their going up in "Sarah" once she was ferried out here from back east, Mattie had seemed reticent and had changed the subject.
He went downstairs to wait for Mac to arrive, moving to the living room. Sinking onto the sofa, he put his head back and closed his eyes, thinking that he'd rest for a minute until Mac got home.
Harm woke suddenly, lifting his head and looking around, wondering what had awakened him. For a moment, he was disoriented, uncertain about where he was. Then it came back to him.
He was in La Jolla, waiting for Mac to get home. Hearing the sound of the front door closing, Harm realized that his wait was over and rose from the sofa just as she came into the room. She looked tired, he thought, and in that instant all his earlier disappointment about her not being there faded. All he wanted to do now was to make that tiredness disappear.
Pulling her into his arms, he was relieved when she returned his embrace. "Hi there," he said, looking down at her before giving her a kiss that he hoped made her realize how much he'd missed her. "You look tired."
"I am," she said, remaining in his arms, putting her head against his chest. "I was up at 0400 this morning and I don't think I've stopped for more than five minutes since. This is nice," she said, snuggling closer.
Harm smiled into her dark hair, reaching up to release it from the roll she had to wear it in while in uniform. He gently pulled out all the hairpins, and then ran his fingers through the curls. He felt Mac laughing, and looked down at her. "What?"
"You really like my hair longer, don't you?"
"I wasn't sure about it when you first started letting it grow, but now that it's done, yeah," he admitted. "Did you eat?"
She nodded. "Yeah. Grabbed a sandwich from the cafeteria."
"Then let's go up to bed," he told her. "I've missed being with you."
Since that first night when they had tossed a coin, they hadn't found time to be together. Mac had been busy out here, Harm had been busy with Mattie back in DC. Logistics just hadn't worked out. But now, they were in the same state, same city, with a bed waiting for them upstairs.
Mac sighed. "I wish I could."
Frowning, Harm moved back enough so that he could see her face. "Why can't you?"
"I have to do a final read on the report for the General so I can print it to send it to him tomorrow morning."
"You spent all evening working on that report, Mac-" Harm began.
"I know. I knew you were expecting me, so I decided to come home and see you." She lifted a hand to his cheek before standing on tiptoe to place a line of kisses along his jaw. "Why don't you go on upstairs?" she suggested between those kisses, which moved from his jaw down his throat to end at the top of his tee-shirt collar. "I won't be more than fifteen minutes," she assured him. "And then we'll *really* say 'hello'."
Harm hated the idea, but he also knew that this was another of those moments where he was going to have to get used to Mac being busy with work. "Okay," he said, his hands moving up her sides until his thumbs brushed against the outside of her breasts. Leaning forward, he captured her lips. Deepening the kiss, he thought he felt Mac yielding to him. "Are you sure that you wouldn't rather go with me now instead of working on dry, boring paperwork?" he whispered.
"Oh, I'd rather," she admitted. "But if I do, I'll only to get up again and finish my work."
Harm sighed, giving up. "Okay. Don't be too long. I'll come looking for you." He gave her another kiss before they turned toward the hallway, parting company as Mac grabbed her briefcase from the table near the front door and moved toward the study.
Harm stopped by Mattie's room to make sure that she was okay. She was sleeping soundly, he saw in the moonlight that flowed through the window blind. Smiling, he continued to the master bedroom, where he undressed and went to take a quick shower, feeling much better than he had been earlier.
He knew that it was because Mac was home. These last two months apart had been hell. After his shower, Harm pulled on a pair of jersey shorts and sat on the bed to wait.
After an hour, Harm decided to go see if he couldn't charm Mac away from her work this time. It was late, and if nothing else, she needed to be in bed.
He glanced in on Mattie again on his way to the study. The door was open, and when he saw Mac, Harm stopped and shook his head. Her computer had gone into screensaver - but Mac's head was on the desk in front of her, her eyes closed.
Moving around the desk, Harm knelt beside the chair, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Mac, honey, wake up."
She stirred, and tried to brush his hand away, mumbling something unintelligible.
"Mac," he said again, a little louder, this time lifting her hair from her neck and pressing a kiss to the sensitive skin there. "Come to bed, honey."
"Mmmm," she moaned quietly. "Feels good."
"It's supposed to," Harm said, smiling as Mac opened her eyes to look at him. He saw the realization dawn in them. "Come on, sleepyhead. Come to bed."
"I can't," she insisted, indicating the screen on the computer that had come back when Harm had bumped the mouse. "I need to finish this."
"Mac, you can barely *see* it. You can't stay awake to finish it." He was pleased when she didn't attempt to prevent him pulling her to her feet. "Come to bed. Get some rest and go at fresh first thing tomorrow."
"It's nearly tomorrow now," she noted, keeping her voice low as they passed Mattie's room.
"And that's all the more reason you need to get some sleep. You've been up for almost 20 hours. It's a good thing you're going to take it easier now so we can plan the wedding -"
Mac started fumbling with the button on her uniform trousers. Harm gently sat her onto the bed and took over, while Mac frowned. "What?"
He stopped for a moment, looking at her. "You said you were going to take a few days so we could get the wedding planned," he reminded her.
"Oh. I don't know if I can do that, Harm," she muttered, somehow managing to remove her blouse while Harm bent to remove her shoes.
"We'll talk about it tomorrow," he said. "It's too late right now, and we've both had a long day." He helped her out of her trousers and the rest of her clothes, leaning forward to caress her bare breasts once they were freed.
Mac's arms went around his shoulders. "Oh, yes. That feels so good," she sighed, but Harm could hear that while her spirit was willing, her body wasn't going to cooperate.
Rising to his feet, Harm helped her into the bed, then slipped in beside her, pulling her close. "Harm," Mac said, placing her hand over his as it lay over her breast. "I'm sorry -"
"It's okay," he assured her. "I'm enjoying just being able to hold you again. Sleep."
"Mmmm," was her only response, and he knew she was already half asleep again.
"We have the rest of our lives to make love," he added softly, kissing her shoulder before settling down and closing his eyes.
Harm rolled over and put out his arm with the intent of pulling Mac closer, but his hand encountered only empty air. Opening his eyes, he frowned, and glanced at the alarm clock on the nightstand. It was barely 0500, and Mac was already out of bed. Grabbing his robe, he stopped by Mattie's room to find that she was still sound asleep, so he continued on to the study.
"Mac -" he began, but she looked up at him with a sheepish and apologetic smile.
"I woke up and felt so much better that I decided to finish this thing before I had to get ready for work," she said, pressing a button. "It's printing out now."
"Good. We can have breakfast and talk," Harm said, catching her up in his arms as she started toward the door. "Unless you'd rather go back to bed -?"
"I have to take a shower and -"
"Good idea," Harm said, giving her his best charm-filled grin. "I think the shower's big enough for two -"
"Sounds wonderful," Mac told him, sliding her arm around his neck. "But I have to be in the office at 0700 -"
"You're the CO," he reminded her. "You can be a little late. Call Jen, tell her -"
"Jen's not due in until 0800," Mac told him. "Why don't we have lunch together?" she said. "I think I can clear my schedule -"
"I'm taking Mattie to the therapist and then we're going to meet with the tutor that my mom found for her." He pulled her even closer. "I missed you Mac. I missed being with you. Surely you can spare half an hour -"
The sound of Mattie's sleepy voice caused him to lower his forehead to Mac's. "Mattie's awake," Mac said unnecessarily.
"Yeah." He sighed and turned toward Mattie's room pulling Mac along with him. "Coming, Mattie!" he called out.
She was sitting up in the bed, and smiled when she saw Mac. "Hi, Mac."
"Hello, Mattie," Mac said, moving to give the girl a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. "Sorry I wasn't here yesterday."
"That's okay. Harm explained that you have an important job and can't always get away at the drop of a hat." She looked at Harm. "I need to go to the bathroom," she told him.
"Okay," Harm said, bringing the wheelchair over to the bed and setting the wheel lock.
"I'll just go take my shower," Mac said, and disappeared, ignoring Harm's look.
"Problem?" Mattie asked him as he picked her up and placed her into the chair.
"No," Harm assured her, releasing the brake. "Ready?"
Harm settled Mattie in the kitchen with a cup of tea and started the coffee, then returned to the master bedroom, hoping to be able to join Mac in the shower - or at least be in time to 'help' her get dressed. But she lacked only her jacket, and Harm must have revealed his disappointment. "I'll try to get home for dinner, Harm," she promised.
"What about breakfast?" he asked. "I've got coffee on- and I can make some pancakes, or -"
"I usually just have a quick bowl of cereal," she told him.
"So I noticed yesterday. High-sugar content and who knows what else. With the way you're working, you need a proper breakfast - and we need to talk."
"We're talking now," she reminded him, working on putting her hair up.
"We need to talk about the wedding," he said. "I think we should set a date for as soon as possible."
"I'll have to check my calendar," Mac told him.
"Mac, you've known that Mattie and I would be here yesterday for a month. You said you were going to clear your schedule so that we could get married -"
"We're going to get married," she said, turning to put her hands on his chest. "Things are still crazy. Setting up this office has me trying to please the Navy and the Marines. Sometimes that's not an easy task. Look, why don't you pick a date and let me know and I'll clear my calendar for that day -"
"I thought we could plan this together, Mac," Harm said. "I don't want you to clear your calendar for *one* day."
She turned away to find her shoes and slipped them on as she spoke. "Look, I can't argue about this right now."
"We're not arguing," Harm insisted.
She shot him a look that said she thought otherwise. "I have an early meeting. I can't be late. Look, I'll be home for supper," she told him, leaving the room.
Harm followed her into the study, watching as she put things into her briefcase, including the much vaunted report for Gen. Morrison. "What about breakfast?" he wanted to know.
"I'll grab something at the base," she said.
"Let me get you a cup of coffee, at least -" he offered, not wanting her to leave this way.
She smiled at him, as if she realized what he was trying to do. "Thanks."
"I'll go get it," he said, and left the study to go to the kitchen, where Mattie was still sitting at the table. "I'll make you something in a minute, Matts," he told her, grabbing a "US Marines" mug from the counter rack and pouring some of the dark liquid into it just as Mac entered the room.
"Thanks," she told him, giving him a kiss.
Harm slid an arm around her waist, holding her for a moment. "I love you."
"I love you, too," she replied. To Mattie, she said, "Good luck today, Mattie."
"Thanks, Mac," the girl replied, accepting Mac's good wishes. But her blue eyes were on Harm, watching his reaction to Mac leaving.
Harm grabbed another mug and poured coffee into it, then asked Mattie, "What do you want for breakfast, kiddo?"
"I'm not very hungry," she told him. "How about a couple of pancakes?"
"I think I can manage that," he told her, glad to have something to occupy him so that he wouldn't dwell on the fact that his reunion with Mac hadn't gone quite as planned.
"Is everything okay, Harm?" Mattie asked, and he paused, looking over the bowl that he'd been placing the pancake mix into. He easily read the concern in her eyes, and smiled.
"Just a few things we need to work out," he said. "Mac's been here by herself for two months. Once she gets used to the fact that it's not just her, she'll be okay." *I hope* he added silently.
1100 Hours Local
La Jolla Therapy Clinic
"Hello, Mr. Rabb, I'm Lisa Corrigan."
Harm shook the hand of the petite young woman with dyed black hair that was gathered at her neck, revealing the edge of a large tattoo that disappeared under the collar of her lab-coat. "Ms. Corrigan. This is -"
"Matilda Grace Johnson," Lisa said, indicating the file folder in her hand. "I've been reading Mattie's file that her doctors in Washington forwarded to me." She smiled brightly at Mattie. "And your mother told me to expect you, Mr. Rabb," Lisa said. "I'm grateful that she recommended me. I don't usually get to pick and choose my patients, you know. But when your mother asked if I could make time for Mattie, I was glad to do so." She smiled at him. "Your mom and stepfather are good people. How's Mr. Burnett's leg doing these days? I haven't seen him since we finished therapy."
Surprised at the news that Frank had had need of a physical therapist, Harm covered quickly. "He's doing okay. Nothing keeps him down for long."
"Yeah. I got that impression," Lisa agreed with another smile.
Harm almost asked how old she was and to see her credentials. She didn't *look* much older than Mattie. But she had to be older than that to have become a licensed physiotherapist.
Lisa turned her attention fully to Mattie. "Now. How are you doing?"
"Fine. Except that I can't walk," Mattie answered with a slight edge to her voice.
"Well, we're going to change that," Lisa declared, studying Mattie's wheelchair. "It's good that you're using a mechanical chair instead of an electric. Builds the upper body." She held out her hands. "Grab my fingers," she said, extending two fingers on each hand.
Mattie sighed, obviously having gone through this before, and grabbed Lisa's fingers.
"Good," Lisa said approvingly. "Now hold on as tightly as you can. Wow! You've got a really good grip there. Are you getting into and out of the chair on your own or is someone helping?"
"Harm's been helping," Mattie told her.
"Well," Lisa declared, looking from Mattie to Harm. "That needs to stop if possible. With your upper body strength, I think you can probably take care of it yourself with the proper assistance. What kind of bed are you using at home? The reason I'm asking is that if it's strong enough you can put a hand-grab triangle over the bed -"
"I was going to ask about one of those," Harm said. "Do you know where we could get one? The bed she's using is a heavy wooden frame with a solid headboard -"
"Sure. There's a supply place a couple of doors down. Why don't you go down there while I put Mattie through her paces?" Lisa suggested. "Unless you'd rather he stay -?" she continued, looking at Mattie, who shook her head.
"You might as well go, Harm. It'll be better than hanging around here waiting. You could go see your mom -"
"We're having lunch with her after your session," Harm reminded her. "I'll go get the stuff I need for the bed and then wait in the waiting area, okay?"
"Okay," Mattie said, accepting his kiss on the cheek.
"You are a lucky girl to have someone who cares about you like he does," Lisa told Mattie once they were alone. "And it doesn't hurt that he's a looker. I bet all your friends developed a huge crush on him."
Mattie had to grin. "A few of them. You should have seen him in uniform," she said. "It was always neat to watch all my friends' jaws drop when they saw him."
"I take it he's not your dad."
"Guardian. Although I'm hoping we can start adoption proceedings once he gets married."
"He's not married?"
"Not yet. He's engaged, though. To a Marine Lt. Colonel."
"Cool," Lisa said. "Why don't we go to the work out room and get started?"
"For all the good it will do."
Lisa glanced down at Mattie as she wheeled her chair down the hallway. "You don't think that it's helping?"
Mattie lifted her shoulders. "The doctors in DC said that it was, but I can't see it. I still can't use my legs -"
"Give it time. How long ago was your accident?" Lisa asked as they entered a room that looked familiar to Mattie.
"Almost four months," was Mattie's answer. She reached up to the metal triangle and pulled herself up slowly until she was over the bed, then lowered herself down. "That's harder than I remember."
"It'll get easier the more you do it. But before long, you won't need to - because you're going to get those feet back under you."
"I hope so. I hate being so dependant on Harm. And I feel like I'm in the way. Especially since he and Mac spent so much time apart over the last couple of months. If it hadn't been for me needing him, he'd have come out here a month ago."
"That just means he cares about you," Lisa said, lifting Mattie's leg. "Can you feel that?" she asked.
Mattie paused, then sighed and shook her head. "No."
"You will," Lisa said again. "And you need to be ready when it happens. You need to keep those muscles toned so -"
"So that when the feeling does return, I'll be able to use them," Mattie finished. "I've heard it before, remember?"
Lisa set about exercising Mattie's legs. "The file says you were in an airplane accident."
Mattie closed her eyes. "Yeah. I was taking lessons. Roy, my flight instructor and I went up for a quick lesson, but the weather started moving in early. It started snowing, and visibility dropped. We were landing when another airplane came onto the runway and we - collided," Mattie finished. "Roy was - killed. So was the pilot of the other plane." She opened her eyes to see Lisa's look of compassion. "And I was in a coma for almost two weeks before I woke up."
"With little sensation in your upper body," Lisa nodded, remembering what she'd read. "But now you can move your head and use your arms to lift your body. I think that's progress, isn't it?"
"It's just taking so long," Mattie sighed.
"Sometimes the receptors in the legs take a little longer to get back to work," Lisa told her. "But they'll get there." She paused. "You know, Mattie, a big part of your recovery will be your desire to do so. You have to believe in yourself."
"It's not that easy," Mattie said. "The only reason I'm with Harm is because he feels sorry for me."
"It wasn't pity that I saw when he told you goodbye," Lisa told the girl. "He cares about you."
"I don't know why. I've just caused him trouble. If my real dad hadn't fallen off the wagon when I had the accident, then Harm wouldn't have had to step up and take care of me."
"I don't think he minds."
"That's just Harm. He's - really special. And I know I'm lucky as hell to have him in my life. But I'll never be able to repay him for everything he's done."
"I doubt he expects payment," Lisa said. "But if you think he needs one - I bet he'd consider the bill paid in full to see you standing on your own two feet."
Mattie considered her words. "Yeah. I guess he would."
Lisa smiled. "Now. Are you ready to ramp things up and get it done?"
"I'm in your hands, Ms. Corrigan."
Lisa smiled. "Call me Lisa."
1210 Hours Local
La Gardinere Restaurant
Harm was glad to have Mattie with him and his mother at lunch as a buffer. "Did you and Mac set a date?" was one of the first questions she asked once they were settled at a table in a small restaurant near the gallery.
"Not yet," he told her, glancing at Mattie, who he knew had overheard Mac's suggestion that morning that he simply pick a date for their wedding. "She got home late and had to leave early."
"She's been working quite a bit, hasn't she?" Trish Rabb Burnett noted.
"Yeah," Harm acknowledged, giving her a tight smile. "Why did Frank need a physical therapist, Mom?" he asked, wanting to change the subject away from him and Mac.
"Oh," she replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. "He fell several months ago and damaged one of the muscles in his ankle. He's only just recently managed to walk without a cane."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Harm asked.
"It was only a minor injury, Harm," she said, touching his arm. "He only spent a few days in the hospital. Besides, he didn't want to worry you."
"Things are going to be different now that I'm here in California, Mom," Harm promised, covering her hand with his.
1330 Hours Local
Mrs. Terwilliger was a grandmotherly woman who obviously enjoyed working with young people. A retired school teacher, she now hired herself out as a tutor for children who had fallen behind in their schoolwork for one reason or the other.
What impressed Harm was that the woman never seemed to notice the fact that Mattie was in a wheelchair unless Mattie brought it up. When she asked what sports Mattie enjoyed, Mattie glumly replied that she didn't enjoy any at the moment, since she couldn't participate in them.
But Mrs. T, as she insisted on being called - "Terwilliger is quite a mouthful of word, isn't it? Mrs. T is so much easier' - had merely changed the question to what sports the girl had enjoyed before her accident, drawing Mattie out with such ease that Harm privately thought that the woman had missed her calling and should have been an interrogator.
By the end of that first hour, Mrs. T had Mattie smiling and actually looking forward to the woman's visits at home on Mondays and Wednesdays. So they returned home in a good mood.
"I guess you like her," Harm commented as he drove away from the small house where Mrs. T lived.
"She's cool," Mattie agreed. "Even if she is a teacher."
"She reminds me of my grandmother Sarah," Harm said, wondering if he would ever stop missing the woman who had been so important to him. Her sudden death while he'd been on a CIA op was something that still troubled him.
"I wish I'd had the chance to meet her," Mattie said.
"I wish you had, too," Harm replied. "She would have loved you."
"You and she were really close, weren't you?"
Harm smiled. "Yeah. After my ramp strike, I needed to get away for awhile."
"Why not come out here and stay with your mom and Frank?" Mattie questioned.
"I tried it. When they released me from the hospital, I came out here. But mom was little too -"
"Let me guess. She smothered you with attention and hinted that maybe it was a sign you shouldn't be in the Navy?"
"Yes to the first, no to the second. Mom never second guessed my decision to follow my dad's footsteps. I know that she didn't *like* it, but she never vocalized that dislike. She knew what it meant to me to be able to fly. But she *did* smother me. I needed a place where I could think and try to decide what I was going to do."
"Did you ever consider not staying in the Navy?" Mattie questioned.
"I wasn't sure that I had a choice in the matter, to be honest. I couldn't be an aviator anymore, and that was all I'd trained to do almost from the time I could talk. And if it hadn't been for Grandma Sarah, I probably wouldn't have flown again after the strike." He saw Mattie's expression close over again as she realized that he wasn't just talking about himself, but he pressed on anyway. "She sent me to get something out of the barn where she had been keeping the Stearman under a tarp. I tried to ignore the darn thing, pretend it wasn't there. But something drew me to it, like my dad was there, telling me that it was time."
He was relieved that Mattie seemed to be listening. "I drew back the tarp, and saw that it was in worse condition than I'd remembered it being in. After all, I'd been away at Annapolis and on carrier duty for several years, and that time hadn't been kind to the plane." He tossed her a grin. "There was a wasp's nest in the engine intake, and dirt dauber's nests all over the jugs. It was real mess. I put the tarp back and decided that it would be impossible to restore the thing. But that night, I found myself back out in the barn, making plans on how I could do it if I really wanted to. Grandma saw the light on and came out to find me pulling the prop off. She told me later that she'd hoped I would take the bait and that it would reawaken my love of flying."
"It must have been terrifying," Mattie said quietly, "taking her off for the first time after you finished her."
"I was petrified," Harm acknowledged. "But I didn't feel that I was alone. I never do when I'm flying Sarah."
"Because of your dad," she guessed.
"He's such a big part of the plane," Harm confirmed with a nod. "He's the one who bought it, planned on the two of us working on it together when I was older."
"So how'd you end up a lawyer?" Mattie questioned.
"The JAG lawyer who talked to me in the hospital suggested that I give him a call once I got out. My grades in maritime law at the Academy were pretty high, and that was one of the options I was given in case I had decided that I didn't want to fly."
"Like that was going to happen," Mattie said. "They obviously didn't know you very well."
"You're right. I wasn't sure about becoming an attorney, but it kept me in the Navy and gave me the chance to find out what happened to my dad - and to fly again - and to find Sergei. And you, in a way."
"You know, Sarah's supposed to arrive in a couple of weeks," Harm said slowly, watching Mattie out of the corner of his eye. "If the weather's nice, maybe the three of us can go out to meet her and take her up for a flight."
"I'm - not ready," Mattie responded. "I'm sorry, Harm. I know you think I'm being a coward -"
"No, I don't," Harm said, reaching over to touch her arm. "But the longer you put it off, the harder it's going to be."
"Like getting back on a horse or a bicycle," Mattie agreed. "I understand. But the thought of getting into a small plane right now -"
Harm decided to drop the subject. "Okay. The offer's there if you want to take me up on it. Now, what do we want for supper tonight?"
2200 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
Harm leaned against the door frame, watching Mac concentrating on the pile of papers in front of her. She had come home for dinner, listened as Mattie recounted her day with Lisa, Trish, and Mrs. T; and then had apologized for having to take care of some paperwork in the study. She had disappeared into that room, only acknowledging Harm with a quick smile when he'd brought her some coffee.
Now, she happened to glance up and see him there. "Is something wrong?" she asked.
"No," he answered, moving into the room and sitting on the sofa against the wall that opened out into a bed. "I was just watching you."
"I missed you," he said, lifting his shoulders.
"Is Mattie in bed?" she wondered.
He nodded. "I said I'd send you in when you got to a place where you could stop."
"I'll go do that now, then," Mac decided, leaning back and stretching, ending with a stifled groan. "Damn."
"Sore neck?" he questioned.
"And back," she confirmed.
"Once you tell Mattie goodnight, I'll rub your shoulders," he offered, wanting to get her away from the paperwork that seemed to be consuming her every waking moment these days.
"Sounds like an offer I'd be silly to refuse," she told him with a smile. "I'll be right back."
Harm followed her down the hall, listening as she told Mattie goodnight. She was surprised to find him there when she came out. "Harm?"
He took her hand and pulled her toward the bedroom, a playful smile on his face. "Figured we might as well do it right," he said, closing the door behind them. "You need a break. And I need some time with my fiancée." He leaned forward to place a kiss against her lips as he began to gather the tee-shirt she'd changed into after work up to pull it over her head. His hands moved down to cup her large breasts, the thumbs rubbing across each taut peak, causing Mac to whimper with need.
"I thought you were going to give me a backrub?" she reminded him, her dark eyes shining in the dim light from the bathroom.
"I thought I'd make it a full-body massage," Harm corrected, lifting her into his arms and carrying her the three steps to the king-sized bed, where he laid her down. She deliberately drew her fingers down his chest and then outlined his hardness beneath the cotton warm-ups he was wearing. Harm gasped at her touch, but shook his head and withdrew her hand. "Not yet, sweet thing."
He knew that she was probably as hungry as he was for them to be together. The two months apart after that one night had been a nightmare for Harm. And just from that one night, he knew that Mac's sex drive was pretty high. She'd nearly warn him out. "Roll over."
He waited until she did as he said, bringing her arms up to rest her cheek on them. "Like this?" she asked, wiggling her shorts-clad bottom in the air.
"Not quite," he said, quickly stripping out of his warm ups and seeing her eyes focus on what was revealed. When she ran her tongue around her lips, Harm nearly decided to forgo this in favor of letting her pleasure him. But it was important to him for her to know that he was concerned about *her* pleasure before his. And the best way to make sure she was 'pleasured' was to make sure she was totally relaxed. Climbing onto the bed, Harm knelt over Mac, removing her shorts and dropping them beside the bed alongside the rest of their clothes.
Then, he moved to kneel with a knee on either side of her thighs and leaned forward to place his hands on her shoulders. "You have magic fingers, Harm," Mac sighed as he went to work smoothing away the tension and easing tight muscles in her shoulders, neck, and back. "You should have been a masseur," she continued.
Grinning, Harm leaned close to her ear. "Maybe that's what I'll do once Mattie's better," he suggested. "Open a massage parlor."
"Over my dead body," Mac declared.
"I was thinking of having a very - exclusive client list," he told her, continuing to massage her shoulders and arms. "Just one person. If the benefits were right."
"I think we could come to terms," Mac said. "Ohh," she moaned as he found a sensitive spot.
"Just relax, honey," he said, sitting up again and working his way down her back, letting his fingertips just barely brush against the sides of her breasts as they went. His hardness was nestled between the globes of her bottom, and Harm felt her squirming, trying to increase that contact.
"Stop teasing me, Harm," she begged.
Harm lifted slightly to move back, giving her the chance to turn the tables. Before he knew it, she had flipped over onto her back and was scrambling to push him down onto his back.
Suddenly the sound of the telephone ringing interrupted their activities, and Harm, feeling Mac tense as if to move away, pulled her close. "Don't answer it."
"I have to," she said.
"The machine will get -" he began, but Mac pulled away from him to grab the extension beside the bed. "Hello? . . . General," she gasped, levering away from Harm to grab her clothes, yanking the shorts back on, then the shirt, the cordless phone still against her ear. "Yes, sir. I was just looking at that report - if you'll give me a minute -"
Harm lay there on the bed, alone, ignoring the rising frustration. Every time they tried to make love, something got in the way. Maybe he'd been wrong to try and drag this out. If he got another chance, this time he would go straight for the prize. No games. Sensing that Mac would be tied up on the phone for some time, Harm rose from the bed and went to take a cold shower . . .
Harm woke and realized that he was still alone - and the clock showed him that it was almost two am. Getting out of bed, he pulled on his warm ups and padded barefoot down the hall, glancing into Mattie's room to find her sleeping.
Continuing, he entered the study expecting to find Mac still working at the desk. But while the light was on, she wasn't there. He found her on the sofa, a blanket over her sleeping form. Kneeling beside her, Harm touched her cheek.
She woke with a start, her eyes wide until she found his. "Harm." He could almost see her checking whatever that internal clock was that she seemed to have. "What are you doing awake? It's 01:48."
"I woke up and realized you still weren't there," he told her. "Why didn't you come back to bed?" he asked.
"I wasn't sure you wanted me back in there after what happened," she said. "I'm sorry. General Morrison wanted some changes made and wanted them done before tomorrow. Then tomorrow I have to submit the changes to Admiral Drake and get *his* approval."
Harm rubbed her back. "It's hell, being caught between the Navy and the Marines, isn't it?"
She sighed. "Yeah."
"Let's go to bed," he said, standing up and holding out his hand.
Mac gave him a knowing look as she took his hand and let him pull her to her feet. "You wouldn't have an ulterior motive, would you, sailor?"
Harm almost reminded her that he wasn't a sailor anymore, but stopped himself. "Maybe," was his response instead.
"You still owe me that massage," she said.
"I think we were past the massage," he reminded her, closing the bedroom door behind them again to experience a sense of déjà vu. "This time, I'm not going to give anything or anyone a chance to stop me from reaching my goal."
"And what might that goal be?" she asked, a sexy smile on her face as she ran her hands down his chest before resting them on his hips to push his pants over them to pool around his feet.
Harm felt her hand close over him and fought for control. It wasn't going to take much for him to - "Damn, Sarah," he groaned in a husky voice. His hands moved to her neck and he pulled her close, devouring her lips with his, relishing the feel of her skin.
As the kiss continued, Harm's hands left her face to push her shorts past her hips and dig his long fingers into the soft skin of her hips, lifting her up. Mac's arms went around his neck, holding fast. For a moment, Harm thought about turning around against the door. But concern that they might wake Mattie stopped that idea before it took root.
Instead, he moved quickly toward the bed and entered Mac as he lay her down and covered her body with his . . .
It was over quickly. Too quickly for Harm as he gasped out his love for Mac, how much he'd missed her. Missed *this*.
Within moments, a relaxed a sated Mac was sound asleep in his arms, leaving Harm to push his worries and fears aside once more to press a kiss to her shoulder and pull her even closer, as if afraid she would slip away from him if he didn't.
Harm woke to find himself alone - something that he was thinking that he needed to get used to - and the smell of coffee brewing wafting through the house. It was nearly 0700, so he got out of bed and grabbed his robe.
Mattie wasn't in her bed - and Harm felt a little unneeded when he realized that she'd used the triangle grip he'd installed to get into the wheelchair without his help. As he turned from the doorway, he nearly ran into Mac, noting that she was already in her uniform. "Hey," he said, bending to give her a kiss.
"Hey yourself, sleepyhead," she teased.
"You have to go in early again?"
"Yes. That amended report, remember? I'll probably be in meetings all day with the General and the Admiral." Harm followed her into the study, watching as she gathered her papers in her briefcase.
"Where you going to leave without saying goodbye?" he wondered.
She stopped and looked at him, taking a deep breath. "I know I've been neglecting you and Mattie, Harm. But I'm hopeful that after this week things will settle down and we can spend some time together."
"Only hopeful?" Harm said.
"You know how these things go, Harm," she said, closing the briefcase and grabbing her cover.
"Yeah. If you get a few minutes during the day, give me a call."
"I will," she promised, giving him another kiss that Harm deliberately lengthened as long as possible. Laughing, Mac pulled back. "I have to go, Harm."
"Just wanted to give you something to think about all day," he said.
"Oh, I will," she assured him, then called back, "Bye, Mattie! Enjoy your day!"
Harm went to the door with her and watched her get into her Vette and leave before going back to the kitchen, where Mattie was finishing a bowl of cereal. "You've turned into an early riser," he commented, pouring a cup of coffee.
"I guess it's the ocean air," Mattie told him.
"Could be," he agreed, joining her at the table to frown at the contents of the cereal bowl.
Seeing the look, Mattie explained, "Mac offered me some of her cereal since you weren't up yet. It's pretty good -"
"Yeah," he said. "If you like lots of sugar and carbohydrates."
"Just once won't hurt me," Mattie replied. "Are things better between you and Mac now?" she asked, her gaze on the bowl as she waited for him to answer.
"A little. She's going to try and get some time away from work after this week."
"Must be hard on you, not having anything to do but baby-sit me all day."
"Hey. I don't mind. That's what I'm here for. But I guess you won't be needing me as much now that you can get out of bed by yourself."
"That's not true, Harm," Mattie insisted. "But I'd think you'd be grateful for a little more free time."
"At the moment, taking care of you is my first priority, Mattie," he assured her. "I want to see you through this. See you standing on your own two feet again. And I *know* it's going to happen."
"You know, I've never asked - how badly were you injured in that ramp strike?"
"Bad enough that I had to use a cane for a couple of months. Had to go through therapy. Same when I ejected a few years ago. I've always been amazed that my knees have taken so much punishment and yet still work."
"You haven't gone running in a while, have you?" Mattie noted.
"Why don't you go now?" she suggested.
"A run along the beach should be good for you. I can take care of myself for half an hour. I'm not *totally* helpless, you know."
"I know." He thought for a minute. "Okay. I'll go upstairs and change into some running clothes. But I'll take the cell phone with me. That way if you need me, you can call."
Mattie was right, Harm decided about halfway through his run. He'd needed this. The physical exercise clearing the cobwebs out of his brain. He hadn't expected that things would go smoothly while he and Mac got used to sharing their lives on a daily basis, had he? There were bound to be a few bumps in the road.
Right now, he was just a little lonely, wanting Mac all to himself, even though he knew that her job required a lot of attention. She was working on establishing something new - and that always required more time expended. He just needed something to do. He'd spent the last twenty years reporting for duty almost every day. It was a hard habit to break.
At the moment, he didn't want to do anything that would prevent his being here for Mattie. She still needed that much from him. For the time being, anyway. And once Mattie was back on track, he'd find something to keep his days busy. Maybe volunteer as a mentor. Luckily, he had passed the California bar so that he could practice here if necessary, thinking that he would probably end up back out here at one point because of his mom.
Of course, once Keeter flew "Sarah" out - in short hops in deference to the age of the aircraft - he would try to coerce Mattie into joining him in the air. His mother and Frank had located a small, county owned airport to the east about an hour's drive away on a good day and secured hangar space at one of the FBOs on the field. (Author's note: FBO stands for "Fixed Base Operations". Usually a place on an airport where one can rent aircraft, have one repaired, obtain fuel, store aircraft and sometimes get flying lessons.)
It would be a lot closer to go flying there than it had been in DC. He stopped, leaning over and resting his hands on his knees. He was out of shape. The last few months, he'd let running slide and it had been a mistake. Harm had always found running to be good therapy. It gave him a chance to sort through things without other distractions.
After another couple of minutes and several gulps of water from the bottle he'd brought, Harm turned back toward the house with at least a vague plan of action - more of one than he'd had before the run, anyway.
And having Mac around a little more often starting next week wouldn't hurt, either.
0600 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
Harm waved at some now-familiar faces on the beach as he turned toward the house, ending his morning run. Mattie was sitting in the kitchen, eating a bowl of cereal - but this time it was a healthier cereal that Harm had bought for her.
"Good run?" she asked, watching as he moved to the refrigerator and pulled out a fresh bottle of water, downing half of it in one gulp.
"Yeah," he acknowledged. "I'm getting there. Slowly." He looked around. "Mac's not up?"
"Not yet." Mattie grinned as he poured some coffee into Mac's usual mug. "Guess you wore her out last night."
Harm lifted an eyebrow, knowing that he and Mac hadn't done anything more than hold each other during the night - mostly because Mac had come home exhausted again. "Actually, it's the job that's wearing her out," he said.
"She does seem to be working too hard," Mattie agreed, her expression now somber. "Jen said that she spent more then one night at the office before we got here." Jen had either come by or called every day since their arrival, trying to make sure that Mattie didn't feel alone and without a friend other than Harm.
"Well, that should change now. I'm hoping that her working so much last week means she got things ready so that she can spend more time here with us." He lifted the "US Marines" mug. "I'm taking this in to her. You need anything?"
"No, I'm good. We're still on for dinner at Grandma Trish's right?"
"As far as I know," he told her, smiling at her calling his mom 'Grandma'. It was at Trish's insistence that she was doing it, Harm knew, but it still sounded a little unfamiliar to his ears. "You sound like you're looking forward to it."
"I am. Did she tell you that she invited me to spend some time at the Gallery with her?"
"Yeah, she mentioned it," Harm said. The closeness that had formed between Mattie and his mother had surprised Harm. He'd never realized just how much she missed having him around - or having grandkids. Leaning down, he dropped a quick kiss on Mattie's hair before leaving the kitchen and going to the bedroom.
Mac was sprawled across the bed on her stomach, the sheet kicked down to just above her hips. Smiling at the picture she presented, Harm carefully placed the coffee onto the table next to the bed and sat down on the edge of the mattress. Leaning over, he placed a line of kisses up the indention of her spine to her neck, and then started across to her shoulder. She stirred, moaning softly with pleasure.
"Morning, sleepy-head," he whispered against her skin, taking advantage of her moving to slide a hand under her to cup one of her breasts. "I have coffee," he told her.
"To hell with the coffee," Mac murmured, rolling over and pulling his lips to hers. "I'd rather have you."
Harm didn't question her sudden aggressive move and let himself flow with the moment, returning her seductive kisses with an equal measure. But he knew that he needed a shower after his run, and pulled away enough to see her lust-laden eyes. "I need to go hit the shower first," he said, but Mac shook her head.
"No. Shower later. This first." As she spoke, her leg moved to rub against his groin, bringing him to instant readiness. "I want you, Harm. Now."
He grinned, that cocky, flyboy grin that he knew turned her bones into water. "Well, far be it for me not to give a lady what she wants," he said, moving away just enough to divest of himself of his shoes, shorts and tee shirt before returning to Mac's waiting arms . . .
They spent the day together, being the family that Harm had hoped they would be once they were all in the same place. While Mac and Mattie didn't know each other that well, they seemed to get along okay, Harm thought. He'd been worried that she would see Mattie as someone who needed him more than she did, someone who took time away from 'them'. But Mac didn't appear resentful in the least as they played Mattie's favorite game, "Scrabble".
After winning the game, Mattie said, "I'm going to go get ready for dinner."
"You need some help?" Harm wanted to know, even though he knew she was showing signs of that independent spirit that had first drawn him to her.
"I think I can manage. But I'll let you know if I do. What time are we supposed to be there?"
"1800," he answered, watching Mattie leave the room.
"Be where?" Mac asked, pausing as she put the game pieces away.
"Mom invited us over for dinner tonight," Harm explained, and then winced. "I - forgot to mention that, didn't I?" he said sheepishly.
"Yes, you did."
"Look, if you'd rather not go, I can call and reschedule -"
"No. Don't do that. Mattie's obviously looking forward to it. I'll go take a quick shower and change."
"Mac," Harm said, following her down the hall and into the bedroom. "It's only a couple of hours -"
"I said it's okay, Harm," Mac said. "I wanted you to get close to your mom again."
"I want to get close to *you* again, too," he told her, coming up behind her at the closet to slide his arms around her waist.
He was relieved when Mac turned to smile at him. "Remind me of that later, flyboy," she said, giving him a kiss. "Right now, I have to find something to wear that will impress your mother and be comfortable at the same time."
"Mom's not picky," he said, reaching past her to pull out a pair of jeans and a blouse. "This will do."
Mac rolled her eyes at him, putting the clothes back onto the rack. "*Not* for having dinner with one's future mother in law," she insisted, taking a skirt off the hangar before finding a blouse that matched.
Harm chuckled and moved to sit on the bed. "I was thinking - maybe we could get married next weekend."
Mac glanced at him as she removed the slacks she had been wearing. "Next weekend?"
Harm nodded, enjoying the view. "Keeter will be here with 'Sarah', and he could be my best man -"
"Harm, that's too soon," she said. "There's no way we could pull everything together in a week's time."
"What's to pull together?" he questioned, sitting forward. "We agreed on family and close friends -"
"Which includes Bud and Harriet. And Sturgis," Mac pointed out. "I'm sure they wouldn't be able to get out here on such short notice."
"Okay. Fair enough," he agreed, hiding his disappointment. "It was just an idea."
She concentrated on running a brush through her dark hair as she continued, almost as an afterthought, but Harm could see the tenseness set of her shoulders. "Besides, next weekend's not good for me anyway."
Harm frowned. "Why not?"
"There's a workshop about this new program. All of the commanders for JAG offices are going to be there to find out what we're trying to do."
"Mac," Harm said, the frown deepening. "I thought you were going to take some time off -"
Mac came over to him, putting her hands on his face before pulling him into a kiss. "We'll talk about it later, okay?"
He nodded, not wanting to get into an argument before going to his mother's for dinner. "Okay."
Mac ran her fingertip across his chin. "You need to shave."
"You don't like the unshaven look?" he questioned.
"Not on you," she said. "And I don't think your mom will either."
"Pity," he sighed, standing up. "I was thinking about growing a beard. Haven't been able to in twenty years -"
"Well, you're not going to start now, sailor," Mac said, physically turning him toward the bathroom. "Go. Your razor is calling your name."
Harm entered the house via the kitchen/garage door several hours later after holding the door open for Mattie and then Mac. Mattie glanced at them both before saying, "I think I'll get ready for bed." She wheeled toward the door, then stopped, looking back. "You'll be in to say 'goodnight'?"
"Yeah," Harm assured her, as did Mac.
"K," was her response before she continued out into the hallway and into her room.
Harm went to the refrigerator, pulling out a bottle of water. "Want one?" he asked.
"No, thank you," Mac said. "I think I'm going to go to get ready for bed," she began, and would have left the room, but Harm stopped her attempt to avoid any confrontation.
"When were you going to tell me, Mac?" he asked, leaning back against the counter.
She stopped, taking a deep breath before turning around. "Harm -"
"You had all day today to mention that you had to go to DC the first part of the week to meet with General Cresswell. And if my mother hadn't tried to push you into having lunch with her on Monday or Tuesday, I wonder if you would have told me before you left the house on Monday morning. 'Oh, by the way, I won't be home tonight. Or tomorrow night. I'll be in DC,'" he mimicked.
"I didn't tell you because I knew you'd take it like this."
"Like what?" he asked.
"That you'd be upset."
"Well, I seem to remember your mentioning *something* about taking some time off after last week."
"And I planned to," she insisted, moving closer to him. "I really did. But Gen. Cresswell called late on Friday afternoon just as I was about to leave the office and practically *ordered* me to be there on Monday afternoon for some meetings with him and the SecNav about this program. I couldn't very well say 'I'm sorry, but my fiancé is lonely and needs me to spend time with him', now, could I?"
"No," Harm agreed. "But you could have been honest with me. Given me a heads up about the trip before making me look like an idiot in front of my mother."
"I didn't want to spoil the weekend," Mac said, coming even closer to him. "I knew how important it was to you that we spend some time together, and I didn't want it to be ruined by our arguing about my job."
"We're not arguing about your job, Mac," Harm said. "We're arguing about your not telling me about a trip out of town instead of being honest with me."
"And if I'd told you about it last night or this morning?" she asked. "What would you have done?"
"I'd have been upset," he admitted and before she could speak continued with, "But I'd have gotten over it and made up my mind to enjoy the time we have together right now."
"Really?" she asked.
"Really," he confirmed. "Did you really think that I would have let it ruin the entire weekend just because you're going out of town next week?"
"And that I'll be busy next weekend as well," she reminded him, nodding and putting her hands on his chest. "This meeting next weekend came up suddenly as well. That's why I have to meet with Gen. Cresswell and the SecNav. To go over the agenda for next weekend's meeting. As soon as things get to a good place at work, I'll be able to take more time off."
Harm pushed aside his concern that she *really* seemed to think that he would have reacted badly to her news. "Mattie and I will probably spend most of next weekend at the airport once Keeter gets here," he told her. "As for next week, we're still trying to get her schedule down. Lisa wants her to start doing some water therapy three days a week as well as her regular sessions."
"And that's a good thing," Mac pointed out, taking the bottle of water from Harm and removing the top to take a long drink before placing it on the counter behind Harm. "I think that swimming will help Mattie get back on her feet even sooner. She seems enthusiastic about it, anyway."
"Yeah," Harm agreed, putting his arms around Mac. "But not as enthusiastic as I am about being here with you."
Mac leaned forward, meeting him halfway for a kiss. Harm's fingers slipped down to pull her closer, letting her know that he wanted her. Mac slipped her hands under the shirt he was wearing, tracing the line of muscles on his back, moaning softly when he moved his head down to drop a light biting kiss onto the point where her neck and shoulder joined. "Why don't we go say goodnight to Mattie and then go to bed?" she suggested in a breathless voice.
"Good idea, Marine," he agreed, capturing her lips for still another kiss before releasing her to grab her hand and lead her down the hallway, where Mattie was sitting in bed, reading.
She looked relieved to see them holding hands and flushed, Harm thought, realizing belatedly that any tension between himself and Mac would be transmitted to Mattie. "Things okay?" she asked, and he thought she looked a little uncertain.
"Things are fine, honey," Harm assured her, moving to lean over and give her a kiss.
"Yeah," Mac agreed, bringing the back of Harm's hand in hers to her cheek. "We just needed to talk it out. Do you need anything before we go to bed?" she asked.
"No," Mattie said, nodding toward the bottle of water on her nightstand. "I have some water here."
"Good night, then," Mac said, sitting on the edge of the bed to give her a quick hug.
"Night," Mattie replied, then looked at Harm. "Night."
"Night, Matts. Don't stay up too late reading."
"Yes, Dad," she said, grinning at his reaction.
He left the door partially open as usual, just in case she needed him. Even though she'd gotten pretty good at taking care of herself over the last few days, he never knew when something might happen. So far, she hadn't had any since their arrival in La Jolla.
But Harm knew from experience that sometimes those nightmares could return without any warning. Heaven knew that he'd dreamt more than once over the years about the ramp strike.
Mac tugged on his arm to get his attention, and he smiled, putting the past where it belonged. She was his future now. She and Mattie. Whatever problems came up, they would handle them. Together. As a family.
End Episode 1