1300 Hours Local
"You're sure you don't want to go up, Mac?" Mattie asked as Harm put her back into the wheelchair after an hour-long flight. Her cheeks were flushed from the wind and excitement of flying.
"Not this time," Mac said.
"I guess Marines *can* be chicken," Mattie mused in a smug tone, turning her chair away from the plane.
"Hold on a minute," Mac said, and Harm turned to the airplane to hide his smile at her taking Mattie's bait so quickly. "I'm not 'chicken'."
Mattie turned her chair around. "Oh? Then why won't you fly with Harm? Even Jen flew with him. And she was *terrified* of small planes."
"Mattie," Mac began, stepping closer. "You don't understand. Things have - happened -"
"And you walked away from every one of them," Mattie pointed out calmly. That stopped Mac, Harm noticed. She stood there, her dark eyes locked with Mattie's blue ones. "Harm's a good pilot," Mattie said. "Best I've ever seen. And I trust him to be able to handle any emergency. Do you?"
Mac looked up and met Harm's eyes before she nodded. "Yes. Okay, flyboy," she decided, stalking toward the airplane. "Let's do this."
He joined her at the airplane after seeing Mattie give him a 'thumbs up' sign. "Mac, you don't have to do this -" he began, watching as she pulled the seat belts around her.
"I think I do, Harm. Mattie's right. I've been a coward about flying again."
He gave her belt an extra tug before handing her the headset. "Okay. I'll take it easy."
Getting into the rear cockpit, Harm turned his cap around and put on his own headset, watching as Mattie wheeled away closer to the hangar. She waved, and Harm waved back before starting the engine.
By the time he made the second turnout of the pattern, he heard the sound of stifled laughter through the headset. "You okay up there?" he asked, wanting to make sure.
"I'm fine!" she called back. "Of course, we haven't landed yet."
Remembering the last time they were in an airplane, Harm grimaced. That landing in Paraguay was one that they had both been lucky to walk away from. He'd ended up a concussion and one hell of a headache. Mac had barely gotten a scratch. "I think we'll manage this time. No one's shooting missiles at us."
"For once," she called back to him. "Are you flying this thing straight and level for my benefit?" she asked.
"Didn't want to do anything before you were ready."
"I'm ready for anything you can throw my way, flyboy."
"You asked for it!" Harm warned her seconds before sending the airplane into a snap roll and then into a loop. Hearing Mac's laughter halfway through the roll caused him to smile in response.
Mattie watched as the yellow airplane rolled, and found herself smiling. "He's good, isn't he?"
Hearing Cal Hicks' voice, Mattie's smiled faltered a bit. She didn't look at him as he came to stand beside her, but could see out of the corner of her eye that he was looking skyward as well. "Yeah. He's the best."
"Mr. Castle says that your dad flew Tomcats in the Navy."
"He's not my -" Mattie began, intending to correct his mistaken impression. But at the last minute, she decided not to do so. Harm *was* her Dad in everyway that really mattered. "He did. He was also a JAG attorney."
She rolled her eyes and explained as if talking to a small child. "Judge Advocate General. They handle the legal affairs for the services. Harm went to law school when he thought he couldn't fly anymore."
"Who's up there with him today? That lady who flew the other day? Jennifer?"
"No. This time it's his fiancée. Lt. Col. Sarah Mackenzie."
"She's a Marine lawyer."
Mattie glanced at the young man, taking note of his curly-blond hair. He was good looking, she supposed. Suddenly he turned his head and caught her watching him, causing Mattie to raise her head and search for the plane in the distance.
"Your dad told me about your accident. I'm sorry."
"It wasn't your fault," Mattie said, lifting her shoulder in a dismissive gesture.
"I know. I think it's great that you still like to fly after that. I'd be terrified."
"You're just saying that."
"No, I'm not. I think you're pretty brave." He glanced up as Harm did a loop and finished with a roll. "Look at that. *That's* what I want to do. Aerobatics. Not for fun, though. I want to fly crop dusters and fire fighting planes."
"My mom had a crop dusting business," Mattie told him. "I was running it after she died. That's how I met Harm."
"He flew a duster?"
"For a couple of days," Mattie said. "He was good at it, too. But stuff happened and when I had my accident, my dad sold the business. My real dad," she clarified, seeing Cal's confusion.
After flying for half an hour, Harm asked, "You ready to make a try for it?" he asked.
"Might as well. Can't be any worse than the last time you landed with me in an airplane!"
Harm shook his head and turned back toward the airport. As they over flew the field at midpoint, he made out someone standing beside Mattie near the hangar, and guessed that Cal Hicks was out there. He called into the airport that he was landing, and turned onto final, touching down without a single bump or bounce.
"Nice," was Mac's comment.
"I tried to tell you." He taxied to the ramp in front of the hangar and killed the engine as Cal ran over to the plane to put the wheel chocks in place. "Hello, Cal."
"Mr. Rabb." He nodded at Mac when she got out of the plane. "Ma'am."
"Cal, this is my fiancée, Sarah Mackenzie. Mac, this is Cal Hicks. His dad owns the FBO," he explained, nodding toward the nearby building.
"Nice to meet you, Cal," Mac said, shaking the young man's hand.
"So, Mac," Mattie said as she rolled closer, "guess you survived intact?"
"Yeah," Mac confirmed.
"First time you've flown, ma'am?" Cal asked, and looked confused as Harm, Mac, and Mattie shared a look and laughed.
"Not quite, Cal," Mac clarified. "Maybe Harm will tell you about it someday."
"Someday," Harm nodded, lifting an eye brow in Mac's direction. "Want to help me put her into the hangar, Cal?" he asked.
Cal's eyes lit up. "Sure!"
As Harm and Mac followed Mattie back toward the Lexus a few minutes later, Harm said to Mac, "Cal seems pretty interested, doesn't he?"
She seemed to catch what he was saying and grinned. "*Very* interested, if you ask me."
Mattie's shoulders lifted and fell before she turned to look at them. "Cut it out, okay? He's just using me to try and get to Harm and 'Sarah'."
"You really think that the only reason he's being friendly to you is to get a ride in the Stearman?" Harm questioned, opening the back door before moving to lift Mattie out of the chair and into the SUV.
"It's obvious," she insisted. "He's not interested in someone who can't walk." He stepped back and saw that she was smiling. "But once I'm walking again -"
Lisa had been surprised at Mattie's sudden increase in determination to walk again. She had begged the therapist to let her spend an extra half hour working. And even that half hour had been a compromise from a full hour.
Harm returned her grin, shaking his head. "Keeter was right. I can see that I'm going to have to get my service weapon out."
Mattie rolled her eyes in response, and Mac laughed softly while getting into the front seat. "I don't think he's joking, Mattie."
"It's a good thing I have you around to keep him in control, then," Mattie replied.
"I don't know. I might be right there beside him," Mac pointed out, giving Harm a wink. "I have a service weapon, too, remember?"
Mattie groaned loudly, folded her arms across her chest and looked outside, ignoring their teasing.
1800 Hours Local
La Jolla CA
"Keeter!" Harm declared as his old friend entered the house. "How's the apartment?"
"Not bad. I think I could get used to it," Keeter said. "Thanks for finding it."
"Gave me something to do," Harm pointed out as they entered the living room, where Mattie was sitting.
"Where's Mac?" Keeter asked.
"In the study, doing some paperwork. We spent most of the afternoon flying, and when we got home, she said that she needed to work for a little while before you got here -"
Keeter nodded, moving to give Mattie a hug. "How's the prettiest girl in all of Southern California?" he asked.
"Not listening to your flattery, Uncle Jack," Mattie said, but she still smiled at his words.
"I'm going to make sure Mac knows you're here," Harm said, although he knew that she couldn't possibly *not* have heard his greeting. "Make yourself at home, Keeter."
Harm went down the hall toward the study, pushing the half closed door open. Mac was just as he'd last seen her, sitting behind the desk, concentrating on the computer monitor. "You keep that up and you're going to need glasses," he teased, leaning against the door frame. "Keeter's here."
"I know. I was trying to finish this last report - another five minutes-"
"It can't wait until he leaves?" Harm questioned.
"Five more minutes, Harm," she said again, still focused on the computer.
"Okay. But if you're not out of here in five minutes, I'll come in and drag you out," he said , only half-joking. Mac didn't respond to the threat, so Harm took a deep breath and returned to the living room, where Mattie was telling Keeter about her week in therapy.
"You know, this Lisa sounds like someone I should meet," Keeter said to Harm as he returned. "Where's Mac?"
"Still working. She needed five more minutes," Harm explained with a tight smile. "And believe me, Keeter, Lisa's *not* your type."
"Do I *have* a type, old buddy?" Keeter wondered aloud, winking at Mattie as she giggled.
"Seriously, Uncle Jack," Mattie said. "She's Goth."
"Dyed black hair, dark make up, fingernail polish. Black clothes. She even has a couple of tattoos."
"Still sounds interesting," Keeter decided.
"Well, you'll get to meet her on Monday," Mattie said. "She's coming to the July fourth party."
"I guess I'll find out then, won't I?" Harm glanced at his watch, and saw Keeter watching him. "How many people are going to be at this thing on Monday?" he asked.
"Last count was somewhere between fifteen and twenty," Harm answered.
"Whoa. That's a lot of people."
"That's why we have a patio," Harm said, standing up. "I'm going to go drag Mac out here -"
"No need," Mac said, appearing in the doorway. "Hello, Keeter," she said, accepting his hug.
"Harm, if you don't marry this lady ASAP, then you're a fool," Keeter declared. "Someone else is going to come along and sweep her off her feet."
"That's not likely to happen," Mac said. "I guess you know that we *did* set a wedding date?"
"Yeah. First weekend in November," Keeter confirmed. "Wouldn't be me, let me tell you," he continued, ignoring Harm's silent attempt to silence him. "I'd drag you down to the JP so fast that you wouldn't know what hit you."
"Sounds nice," Mac told him, sitting beside Harm on the sofa. "But with so much going on at the office, I just don't have time for a proper wedding and honeymoon right now."
Keeter shook his head in resignation. "If you say so. Seriously, Mac. You're looking good. A little tired, maybe -"
She chose to ignore the last part of the comment, Harm noticed. "Thanks, Keeter. You look better than you did the last time that I saw you."
"Well, I was never at my best with a sunburn and a broken arm."
"A broken arm?" Mattie questioned, causing them all to grin at the memories.
"Why don't I tell you what I can about it over dinner?" Keeter suggested.
2340 Local Time
"Jack's a nice guy," Mac said. "Too bad he'll never settle down."
"He might surprise you," Harm suggested, enjoying the feel of Mac resting against his shoulder as they sat in the living room. Mattie had gone to bed just after Keeter went home, and now it was just the two of them. "Now that he's out of the service and not flying for the CIA anymore."
"He's an overgrown boy, Harm. Still full of pipedreams and not sure of what he wants to be when he grows up." She looked up at him. "He's not like you."
"I don't know if I'm much different. I still can't settle on what I want to do out here."
"I thought you were going to try to pass the California bar so you could practice out here?"
"Oh, I am. But I don't think I want to join a big firm. Right now, I still need to be here for Mattie and you. Mom suggested that I might be able to teach a class at one of the colleges." He lifted an eyebrow when Mac turned to look at him again.
"Don't think I can do it?"
"I just can't see you being happy standing in front of a classroom of kids, trying to impart your wisdom about the law. You know what they say - Those that can, do. Those that can't -"
"Teach," Harm finished. "Maybe I can do both. Like I said, it's just an option. I don't want to get too tied down with anything at this moment." He pulled her closer. "This is nice."
"Sitting here. Just the two of us. Being together."
He felt Mac's sigh of regret before she spoke. "I wish it didn't have to end."
"Why does it?" he asked.
"I need to work on that paperwork that I brought in last night."
"Ma-ac," he said, drawing out her name with a pleading tone. "It's a holiday weekend. You're not supposed to be working."
"Just tonight," she promised, placing a kiss on his jaw. "Then I'll have all day tomorrow and Monday to just be with you and Mattie."
"How long are you going to work?" he wanted to know, slowly letting her rise from the sofa.
"It shouldn't be more than a couple of hours."
"I guess I'll go finish up in the kitchen then. You want something to drink?" he asked.
"No, thanks," she replied, leaning forward to give him a kiss, this time on the lips. When Harm grabbed her arms and tried to pull her back onto the sofa with him and deepen the kiss, Mac laughed and shook her head. "You're not going to distract me, Harmon Rabb, Jr. Work first. Play later." The last was offered with a smile and a fingernail dragging lightly along his jaw line.
Harm smiled. "I'll hold you to that, Marine," he said, releasing her and watching as she moved out the door.
Once he was alone, Harm rose from the sofa as well and went toward the kitchen to finish cleaning up after dinner.
1800 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
"So who else is going to be here?" Keeter asked Jen as they carried plastic plates and napkins out to the table where the food was sitting.
"Let me see. Lts. Mayfield and Graves will be here. That's if Lt. Graves can get away from her family. They live north of here and she wasn't sure they would understand her taking off."
Harm chuckled. "From what I remember about Catherine Graves, she'll do what she wants to do."
Keeter gave him a look. "You know her?"
"She and I worked on a case out here last winter. The Navy jet that crashed near a school -?"
"Oh. Yeah. What's she like?" Keeter asked, and Harm chuckled again as Mattie shook her head as if to say she was giving up. "Okay, who else? I mean, if I'm going to spend the next hours with these people, I need to know who they are."
"Lt. Talia Mayfield worked at JAG HQ for a few months before Mac came out here. She transferred when Jen did."
"You're incorrigible, Keeter," Harm said, tending to the gas grill. "My mom and Frank will be here any minute, I'm sure. And Lisa."
"Mattie's physical therapist," Keeter recalled. "The Goth girl."
"Okay, so you said somewhere around fifteen. That's still only nine with all of us."
"Who else is coming from the JAG office, Jen?" Harm asked. "Didn't you mention something about Gunnery Sgt. Boyle and his wife?"
"And their two kids," Jen continued. "They're in their teens. Not far from Mattie's age, I think."
"Still thirteen. At least two more to go."
"I said 'somewhere around'," Harm reminded his friend, pointing to a plate of hamburgers. "Could you hand me that?"
Keeter glanced a the red meat on the plate. "I can't believe you're going to serve that, considering that you hate it."
"Hey, anything for my guests. I have some veggie burgers over there to put on later. And some hot dogs."
"Besides, his Marine needs red meat," Mac said, coming out of the house behind Mattie. She moved to give Harm a kiss, then hugged Keeter. "What needs to be done?" she asked.
"Nothing, really," Harm said. "Oh. The ice chest needs to come out here -"
"I'll get it," Keeter offered. "Where -?"
"In the kitchen next to the fridge."
"Jen was trying to remember who all might be here, Mac," Harm said. "We're up to thirteen people -"
"And those would be?" Mac asked, glancing toward Jen, who, Harm noticed, looked slightly uncomfortable.
Jen related the names of the confirmed guests, then said, "I think I'll go see if Jack needs some help. Excuse me."
"She forgot Lt. Mayfield's boyfriend. And didn't you say that Mrs. T might be here, Mattie?"
"She said she would if she could manage. She's having lunch with her daughter's family."
"There might be one or two more from the office, but I'm not totally sure they'll be here," Mac said. "Most of them had already made plans by the time you decided to do this."
"I gave them a full week," Harm told her, turning the burgers. Once that was accomplished, he turned to look at her. "Mac, are you trying not to tell me something?"
She looked a little uncertain before she answered. "Lt. Vukovic might be here."
"Vic?" Harm questioned in surprise. "When did he come to San Diego?"
"Last weekend. He was the liaison that Gen. Cresswell sent out. After the weekend, the General informed me that Vukovic was here on TAD until further notice."
Harm glanced toward Mattie, who was sitting by the brick wall at the far side of the patio, a spot which gave her a good view of the street in front of the house and any cars that might arrive. Lowering his voice, he said, "Why didn't you tell me? I thought you decided *not* to ask for him on your staff."
"I did. But I told you that Gen. Cresswell obviously had other ideas. He thinks that the Lieutenant just needs some 'seasoning' and that I can provide that, I guess."
Harm snorted in disbelief and shook his head. "That guy needs more than a little 'seasoning'. He needs -"
Mac placed a hand on his arm. "Harm. Please. It's only for a few hours. And he might not even show up. He wasn't sure if he would have other plans or not."
"Probably needed time to go through his little black book," Harm muttered, then looked at Mac. "You should have told me."
At that moment, Jen and Keeter returned with, and Keeter put the ice chest near the food table. "There," he said. "Anything else you need to me to, pal?"
"Grandma and Grandpa are here," Mattie announced excitedly. "I can't wait to show them my new trick," she said as she rolled the chair toward the back door, which Keeter had left standing open.
Mac looked at Harm. "New trick?" she questioned.
"Remember when I called on Friday afternoon?" he asked, and she nodded. "I was trying to tell you when you got a call from Adm. Drake and had to go. After that, Mattie decided to just surprise everyone." Seeing Mac's expression, Harm insisted, "It wasn't a deliberate attempt by *me* to keep anything from you." He saw that she understood the meaning of his words and then turned as his mom and stepfather appeared with Mattie.
"Hi, Mom. Frank," he said, accepting Trish Burnett's hug and shaking his stepfather's hand. Trying to distract Mac's attention from Mattie, he indicated Jen. "This is Jen Coates, Mom. Jen, my mom, Trish Burnett and Frank Burnett."
"It's a pleasure to meet you at last, Jennifer," Trish said, shaking Jen's hand. "Mattie's spoken of you often."
"Same here, Mrs. Burnett."
"Oh, call me Trish, please. Hello, Jack."
"Ma'am," Keeter said. "Mr. Burnett."
Mac accepted Trish and Frank's brief embrace before Trish turned to Mattie. "Now, dear, what is this surprise that you promised?"
"I was going to wait until Lisa got here," Mattie said, "but I can't." She pointed to her sandal-clad feet. "Look."
After a moment, the big toe on each foot moved up and down. Harm stepped closer to Mac, seeing the tears forming in her eyes. "I'm sorry that I didn't tell you, Mac," he whispered as the other congratulated Mattie on the accomplishment.
"Lisa says that it means my feet are getting the signals from my brain again," Mattie explained. "And that it's only a matter of time and getting the nerves used to those signals before I walk again." She smiled at Mac. "Surprise."
"I'm sorry that I didn't know -" Mac started to say, but Mattie shook her head. "I should have paid closer attention."
"It's okay, Mac," Mattie said. "I really glad that Harm didn't tell you because I wanted to surprise everyone today," she explained, only to be interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.
"I'll go let them in," Jen offered, and Harm wondered if Mac had noticed that her yeoman hadn't seemed surprised by Mattie's 'trick'. Jen had come by to visit Mattie after going off duty on Friday, and Mattie hadn't been able to keep from showing off. But she had sworn Jen - and Harm - to secrecy until she found the right moment to let everyone else know. The only other person that Mattie agreed should be told was Mac - and that hadn't happened.
"So how long does Lisa think it's going to be before you can lose that wheelchair?" Frank asked Mattie, sitting down in one of the chairs on the patio.
"She didn't want to make a prediction," Mattie said. "But I have a bet with Harm that I'll be walking by the time I start school."
"Ten dollars," Harm confirmed. "It's a bet I won't mind paying on, either," he said, winking at Mattie as Jen returned with Lt. Mayfield and her date, and Lt. Graves, turning the attention of the gathering away from Mattie and to getting the gathering started in earnest.
1930 Hours Local
"We need some more ice, dear," Trish told him.
"I have another bag in the freezer," Harm informed her, putting the barbecue tongs onto the nearby table. "I'll go get it."
He entered the kitchen and heard the doorbell ring again, causing him to groan, wondering who else might be arriving. Lisa and Mrs. T had been the last to arrive almost an hour ago - bringing the total number of people on the patio to sixteen, since Mrs. T had brought along her sixteen year old nephew who had wanted to ask Harm some questions about the Navy.
He gave Jen a grateful smile when she came into the kitchen. "I'll go see who it is."
"Thanks, Jen," Harm said, pulling the bag of ice out of the freezer. "I don't know what we'd do without you."
"You'd manage," she told him as she disappeared into the hallway.
Harm decided to grab another carton of cold drinks as well, and juggled the ice to pick it up from the floor next to the fridge, only to drop the ice onto the floor.
"Please, sir. I don't want to ask you to stop again."
Jen's words caused Harm to frown and he left the ice on the floor to approach the door into the hallway as he heard a man speak.
"Come on, Jen. We're off duty. And you look *great* in civvies -"
Lt. Vukovic was in the entry way, leering at Jen's cotton and denim-encased body. When he saw Harm, Vic moved away to a more respectful distance. "Hello, Vic."
"Mr. Rabb," Vic answered.
"The others are on the patio," Harm told him, pointing toward the door into the kitchen. "Through the kitchen and outside." There was no mistaking the tone of his voice as he practically ordered the young man to follow his directions ASAP.
Vic slipped past Harm - not an easy task, since Harm remained where he was in the middle of the entry into the hallway - and Jen would have followed, but Harm moved to block her path. "Are you okay, Jen?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she assured him.
"Has this happened before?"
"A couple of times," she confirmed slowly.
"Have you told Mac about it?"
Jen's eyes widened. "No. I can't."
"Why not?" he demanded to know.
"The lieutenant is Gen. Cresswell's golden boy," Jen explained. "I'm sure that he wouldn't believe me if I tried to report it. Besides, I'm sure he doesn't mean anything by it. He's just an overgrown kid and can't help but flirt with every woman in his orbit."
"But he's an officer, Jen," Harm reminded her. "He should know better. Especially with someone who's enlisted."
"I can handle it," Jen insisted. "It's kind of flattering - even if he makes my skin crawl."
"I thought one of the reasons that you originally wanted to come out here with Mac was because you thought he'd be here?"
"It was. But I realized that he's not worth my time. Or my interest. Especially after something Lt. Mayfield said about him one day." Harm lifted an eyebrow in silent question, and Jen frowned. "Not that we were gossiping or anything. I overheard her and Lt. Graves talking in the cafeteria. About how different Capt. Maxwell is from Lt. Vukovic and how much happier he makes Lt. Mayfield. That he's more - stable."
"Mayfield and Vukovic were-?"
Jen nodded shortly. "A few years ago, from what I've gathered. The impression I get is that she broke it off, but I don't know why." She looked at Harm. "I'm sorry that I didn't tell you that he was here, Harm."
"It wasn't your place to tell me, Jen. Mac should have mentioned it. But I guess she believed that she was doing the right thing by not doing so. I want you to promise me that if this keeps happening, you'll tell Mac about it, at least. Let her decide what needs to be done."
He smiled at her agreement as Keeter's head appeared from the kitchen doorway. "There you two are. I thought you'd gotten lost or something." It was only when Keeter's gaze dropped to Jen's shoulder that Harm realized that he'd put his hand there during their conversation. "Everything okay?" he asked, looking at Jen.
"Everything's fine, Jack," she assured him, moving away from the two men. "I need to get back outside. Excuse me," she said to Keeter as she passed him and continued into the kitchen.
Harm recognized the look on Keeter's face but chose to ignore it. "Come on. You can help me with the ice and drinks."
"Now *he's* cute," Lisa said to Mattie as a man that Mattie didn't recognize came through the door. "Who is he?"
"No idea," Mattie replied, seeing Mac move over to greet the newcomer as Lt. Mayfield and Lt. Graves hung back, looks of disapproval on their faces. Jen appeared a minute later, and Mattie noticed that she seemed subdued. "There's Jen," she told said, and lifted her hand. "I'm sure she knows who he is. Jen!"
Jen joined them. She and Lisa had struck an odd friendship upon meeting when Lisa arrived. During her sessions, Mattie had told Lisa about her 'best friend', Jennifer Coates, and Lisa had been eager to meet the other young woman. "Who's that with Mac?" Mattie asked Jen now.
Jen didn't even look in that direction. "Lt. Vukovic," Jen explained. "Vic."
Mattie heard the lack of enthusiasm, but Lisa obviously didn't. "Ohh, you lucky girl, getting to work with that every day. He's a dream."
"More like a nightmare," Jen replied quietly, finally getting Lisa's attention.
"Something wrong, Jen?"
But Jen just shook her head and glanced toward the house, where Harm and Keeter were just coming out with the ice and more drinks. Harm looked up as well and sent Jen a look that Mattie thought might be one of encouragement and understanding, but it passed so quickly she wasn't sure. Whatever it had been, Jen seemed to relax, and even smile as she turned her attention back to Mattie and Lisa. "Believe me, Lisa, looks can be deceiving. It's a pretty package, but there's nothing pretty inside."
Lisa gave a sigh of regret as she continued to watch Vic, who was still at Mac's side. "Too bad. But I'm not into the 'bad boys' these days. Been there, done that."
"Same here," Jen agreed. "I'm looking for someone steady these days. Someone you can count on to be there when you need him instead of flirting with everything in a skirt."
"I knew we were alike," Lisa grinned, nodding, and looked to where Harm was dishing up the last of the hot dogs. "Too bad they're not all like him, huh?"
"Yeah," Jen agreed. "Too bad. Sometimes I wish they could clone him - but then he wouldn't be the special guy he is." Realizing that she might have said too much, Jen laughed. "When did this conversation become so serious? I thought we were supposed to be having fun."
"Well, we were discussing my tats," Lisa reminded her. "I think I'd asked if you had ever considered getting one before the doorbell rang and you ran away to answer."
"I was hoping you wouldn't remember that," Jen declared in a good-natured way.
Mac, has a tat," Mattie told them, giggling when she saw their surprise. "A rose on the outside of her left ankle," she told Jen, who looked surprised. "You didn't know?"
"I guess I'd never noticed."
"She hides it most of the time with makeup. Especially if there are other military personnel around.
"Wow. Col. Mackenzie doesn't strike me as the type to get a tat," Jen said, trying to picture the woman with a tattoo of any kind. "But she *is* a Marine, after all. I think it's a requirement for them to have at least one tat."
"I think she got it before she joined the Marines," Mattie said. "So - are you going to answer Lisa's question?" she prodded.
"What question was that?" Jen replied.
"Whether or not you've ever thought about getting a tattoo," Mattie repeated slowly.
"Oh. Uh, well -"
"She has one," Lisa declared.
"Has one what?"
They all turned around as Harm joined them. "Jen has a tat," Lisa told him.
"A tat?" Harm questioned, looking at Mattie.
"A tattoo," she clarified. "Get with the program, Harm," she teased.
Chuckling, he said, "I know what a 'tat' is." He looked at Jen. "You do?"
Jen nodded. "I got it when I was running with Tiny and his friends," she explained.
Harm conducted a visual search of Jen's exposed skin. She was wearing a tee shirt and shorts, which left a lot of skin uncovered. "I don't see it."
"You wouldn't," she replied with a cheeky grin.
"What kind of tat is it, Jen?" Lisa asked.
"You don't have a tattoo," Mattie said. "I never saw it when we were sharing the apartment -"
"I made sure you didn't," Jen told her.
"Why?" Mattie wondered. "Is it something you're ashamed of?"
"No," Jen insisted. "It's a heart with a rose through it instead of an arrow," she explained. "But it's not in a place where most people will ever see it."
"Could you wear a bikini and still keep it hidden?" Lisa asked, and Mattie giggled again when Harm's ears reddened at the question and visual image it presented. "Sorry, Mr. Rabb."
"I think it's time I move on to another group," Harm decided, but Mattie noticed that his gaze at Jen was speculative, as if trying to figure out where her tat might be.
"Thanks, Lisa," Jen said. "It's fun being embarrassed that way."
"Hey, I wasn't going for embarrassment. But if anyone was embarrassed, it was Harm, not you." She giggled as well. "He's cute when he's embarrassed, isn't he? Now, about the location of this tat . . ."
The rest of the afternoon and evening went pretty well, all things considered, Harm thought later. Vic spent most of the time trying to ingratiate himself into Harm's good graces by appearing to be interested in what he was saying to Mrs. T's grandson - a bright young man that Harm thought would be a good fit for the Navy. Possibly even as an aviator. He made arrangements to take the boy flying before school started - as long as he parents agreed to let him go.
At one point, Vic spoke quietly to Harm. "About what happened when I got here, sir."
"You don't have to 'sir' me anymore, Vic. I'm not in the Navy." Knowing that Vic would probably fall back on the "Mr. Rabb" appellation, he quickly added, "Make it Harm."
"I hope you didn't get the wrong idea back there," Vic said. "I was just - kidding around. Jen took it as more than that."
"You're an officer, Vic. Even off duty. And Jen's enlisted. That's something you should never forget."
"I'll try to remember that - Harm," Vic said, but Harm could read the insincerity in the man's eyes. He followed those eyes to where Mac was standing near the brick wall, talking to Lt. Mayfield and Capt. Maxwell. "You won't - mention anything about it to Mac- I mean, Col. Mackenzie, will you?" Vic asked him.
"I should." Harm watched the younger man's face move into a worried frown. "But I won't. Unless I hear that it's happened again."
"It won't," Vic promised. "Excuse me. I need to apologize to Jen."
Harm felt someone at his shoulder and turned to find Keeter there. "He's a real piece of work, isn't he?" Keeter questioned, nodding toward Vic.
"He's a good lawyer," Harm noted. "Or will be with some experience under his belt. But how he ever gotten through OCS, much less pulled the wool over Cresswell's eyes - have no idea."
"Takes all kinds, buddy," Keeter muttered, producing a couple of cigars. "Look." Keeter ran the cigar under Harm's nose, and Harm inhaled the rich scent. "Cuban?"
"Is there anything else?" he asked. "I had them stashed back in my place in DC. Think we could sneak away for a few minutes and enjoy them?"
"Only if you have enough for three," Frank commented as he joined them.
Keeter pulled a third cigar from his pocket. "As a matter of fact, I do. Didn't know you smoked, Frank."
"It's the only vice I have left, Jack," Frank said, taking it.
"Why don't we go around to the front porch?" Harm suggested. He caught Mac's attention and showed her the cigar, then pointed toward the front of the house. She nodded, rolling her eyes, and smiled, touching his mother's arm to get her attention. Trish followed Mac's hand to where Harm, Frank, and Keeter were standing and listened as Mac spoke to her.
Trish smiled as well as the three of them turned and went through the house to the front door.
"Your mother hates it when I smoke cigars," Frank said as he studied the light on the end of his cigar.
"Mac's the same way. She wasn't happy when I started up again."
Keeter laughed. "That's why I'm not married. No one to tell me what I can and can't do."
"But there are some trade offs, Jack," Frank reminded him.
"Nothing I can't get without marriage," Keeter replied smugly. "Besides, Harm's not married yet."
"But I will be," Harm countered.
"Still the first weekend of November?" Frank wanted to know.
"That's the plan."
"*If* the lady can make room in her busy schedule," Keeter muttered.
Harm's eyes narrowed as he looked at his old friend. "At least it means that Sergei will possibly be able to come over to be my best man. The baby will be a couple of months old by then."
Keeter's fake grimace of pain caused Harm to smile and put the cigar to his lips. "You wound me, Harm, old buddy. I thought that *I* was going to stand up with you while you sign your life away."
"And that's exactly why you're *not* going to be my best man, Keeter," Harm replied, flicking the ash off into the grass beyond the porch.
Johnny Terwilliger came around the side of the house. "Excuse me," he apologized, and all of them turned to look at the young man. "But Col. Mackenzie wanted me to let you know that the fireworks should be starting soon down on the beach."
"Thanks, Johnny," Harm said. "We'll be right there."
"I'll tell her, sir," Johnny replied before disappearing into the darkness again.
"He seems like a good kid," Frank noted.
"Has a head on his shoulders," Keeter agreed.
"He's certainly interested in joining the Navy," Harm agreed as well. "I think he'd make a fine officer if he wants to go that route."
"Better than Lt. Vic, anyway," Keeter said.
"I guess I wasn't imagining that the Lieutenant isn't exactly - by the book, then," Frank said.
Keeter and Harm laughed softly. "Not really, Frank," Harm said.
"I noticed that he seemed to be trying to make a good impression on you, though."
Harm shook his head at Frank's observation. "He's just scared for his own skin right now, Frank. Trouble is, I think he *could* be a good officer if he'd just try to do more than get by on his charm with nothing to back it up."
The sound of fireworks exploding in the distance caused the three men to douse their smokes and head around the side of the house, following Johnny's footsteps.
Harm joined Mac and Mattie as they were gasping with delight at the brilliant displays in the sky. He sat between them, taking Mattie's hand and putting an arm across Mac's shoulders to bring her closer.
The debris was picked up, the dishwasher was running quietly; Mattie had gone to bed once Jen and Lisa left. The two young women had insisted on helping to police the area.
"I wouldn't have pegged Jen and Lisa to become friends," Harm said to Mac as they sat on the patio, enjoying the relative quiet.
"As long as Jen doesn't take to dying her hair black and dressing Goth when off duty, I don't see anything wrong with it."
"Neither do I," Harm agreed. "Jen needs some friends closer to her own age. She's been spending so much of her free time with Mattie that I've been worried about that."
"I hope Mattie doesn't start worrying that she won't have Jen around as much and become jealous of Lisa," Mac said.
"I don't think so. Mattie's been worried about it, too," Harm told her. "Once school starts, Mattie will make friends *her* age." He settled back onto the wrought iron bench, pulling Mac with him. "This is nice."
"Hmm," Mac murmured in agreement. "Harm?"
"I *am* sorry that I didn't tell you about Vic being in San Diego. I should have trusted you to be able to handle it."
"The only thing that bothered me was your keeping something from me, Mac."
"I know. And I'll try to do better in the future," she said.
"About Vic, Mac - I told Jen that I wouldn't mention it, but I think you should be aware of it."
She pulled away to look at him. "What is it?"
"When Vic arrived, Jen went to let him in."
"I know that."
"I was in the kitchen getting the ice, remember? Well, I heard Jen telling someone to 'stop'. She sounded upset, so I went to see what was going on - I heard Vic say something about their both being off duty and it not hurting anything."
"What are you trying to say, Harm?" Mac asked.
"That Vukovic was harassing Jen. She said that it had happened before, but that she wasn't going to raise a fuss about it."
"Are you sure it was harassment, Harm? Vic flirts a lot. Like you always did - he doesn't mean anything by it."
"I never 'flirted' with female enlisted personnel, Mac," Harm reminded her, not happy that she was comparing him to Vukovic. "He's an officer he should know better. And yes, it was harassment. Believe me, I know harassment, Mac. I've been on the receiving end of it."
"Krennick," Mac recalled, nodding. "Vic's young, Harm. He has a lot to learn -"
"This is something he should already have learned, Mac. He's a disaster just waiting to happen. If he harasses the wrong person and she makes an issue of it, it could blow up in your face as his CO."
"So what are you suggesting that I do? Go to the General and tell him that his golden boy has feet of clay and that his impression of the man was totally wrong?"
"Well, isn't it?" Harm asked. "Has Vukovic ever - 'flirted' with you, Mac?" he wondered as something about her reaction to this troubled him.
"A - few times," she admitted. "But it was nothing that I couldn't handle."
"Oh. You can handle Krennick chasing you around the desk but I can't handle a junior officer getting into my personal space?" she said.
"I didn't say that. I made a mistake by not reporting Allison Krennick. I know that now."
"Why didn't you?"
"I was young. Still finding my footing at JAG. And - like you, I told myself that I could handle it. Truthfully - I guess it stroked my ego a little, knowing that she found me attractive - even though I knew that that wasn't the reason she was doing it. Not the entire reason, anyway. She wanted me out of the picture - or in her control so that I wouldn't get in her way to becoming the JAG." He looked at Mac. "Is that why you didn't report Vic's actions?"
"In a way. I think - last spring I guess I needed someone to reaffirm that I was still attractive and Vic did that. But there's more to it. It's not just harassment. He has a tendency to be disrespectful to superior officers. And not in the same way that you've been on occasion," she added. "You always knew when to push back and when to back off. Vic just seems to think that's the only way to do things. He's like a bull in a china shop."
"So why not report him?" Harm asked again.
"Because I didn't report him then. I should have. I know that." Mac's deep sigh was loud in the stillness that surrounded them. "And so does he. He knows that reporting it now will only hurt my career - and that that's the reason I won't do it."
Harm looked at her in disbelief. "You're telling me that you're just going to let him keep on doing this sort of thing just so you don't put your career on the line?"
"Of course not." She shook her head. "I'll speak to him. Let him know that I'm watching him."
"And what good will that do if he knows that you won't report him? Mac, you have to know that when this hits the fan, and it will eventually, and it gets out that you knew about this and didn't do anything, your career will be over."
"I can handle Vic, Harm," she insisted, sliding her arms around him. "And do you *really* want to waste this lovely evening arguing about him?"
Harm laughed softly, burying his fingers in her dark hair. "No. I don't. I'd much rather spend it making love with you."
"Sounds lovely," Mac said, lifting her face to his . . .
1500 Hours Local
"Excuse me, Harm, I hope I'm not interrupting -"
Harm looked up from the book he'd been studying from to find Mrs. Terwilliger standing in the door of the study. "Not at all, Mrs. T. I'm just boning up for the California bar exam." He stood up and ushered her to a chair. "What can I do for you?"
"First of all, I want to tell you that Mattie's doing very well with her studies. I think she'll be more than ready to start school in September."
"That's good news."
"She's a very bright young lady. You should be proud of her."
"I have a favor to ask of you. After hearing you speak with my grandson Johnny last week, I was hoping - well, I know it's probably an imposition. And I don't want you feel that you have to say yes."
"Mrs. T. I need to know what you're going to ask before I can answer either way."
"You're very good with young people. I couldn't help but notice the way Johnny and the other young people responded to you on the Fourth."
"Mac would tell you it's because I haven't grown up myself," Harm joked.
"No. They sense that you care. That's very important to young people. I'm involved in a project that helps them build the self esteem they need. We have a gymnasium where they meet to play basketball or study to try and catch up on classes they might have been borderline passing during the school year. And once school starts, we have an after school program as well."
"Sounds interesting. Are these young people at risk?"
"All young people are at risk these days, Harm," Mrs. T proclaimed. "With so many things pulling at them from every direction, and most of them either come from single parents homes or homes where both parents have to work, and have less time for them. I'm hoping that I can convince you to at least come down there and see if you might be interested in volunteering. We need a basketball coach - You *do* play, don't you?"
"I've played a little," Harm told her. "Where is this gym?" She told him the address, and he thought for a minute. "That's not far from where Mattie does her PT. I'll come by tomorrow and look around."
"Oh, thank you, Harm. I know you won't regret it."
1000 Hours Local
La Jolla Therapy Center
"I'll be back just before noon," Harm said to Mattie.
"Okay," she said, giving him a hug. "Have fun."
"We'll see." He smiled at Lisa. "Give her a good workout."
"Don't worry about that. She always pushes herself farther than I push her." She watched Harm go. "Where's he headed?"
"To a gym a few blocks from here," Mattie said, and explained about Mrs. T's program. "She's asked him to help out."
"Sounds interesting. He'll probably be pretty good at it."
"I'm sure he will be. Harm can do anything."
Lisa laughed. "There speaks a case of hero-worship. Not that I blame you. Come on. Let's get to work."
La Jolla, CA
"Good shot, Nick!" Harm called out as the young man made a basket even though he was the shortest boy on the rag-tag team.
Nick glanced in his direction, obviously pleased by Harm's approval. The basket won the game for his team, and he came over to where Harm was standing, followed by several other boys. "You were right," Nick said. "First time I tried that shot, I missed by a mile. Then I remembered what you told me, and it was like a string was attached to the ball. *Bam* nothing but air!"
"I knew you could do it if you just put your mind to it," Harm told him. He glanced at the clock on the far wall. "I have to be going."
The group erupted into protests. "No, man!" "Come on! You can stay!" "We want to play another game!"
Harm lifted his hand. "I'll try to get back over here tomorrow. If not, then Friday for sure. Same time."
"Cool!" "You promise?"
"I promise," Harm said. "Meanwhile -" he took the basketball from Nick and tossed it toward the net, catching it easily. "Practice."
Harm turned to find Mrs. T standing nearby, watching. "I knew you'd fit in," she told him.
"They're good kids. What's Nick's story?"
"He's got three older sisters, the father's gone. Who knows where. His mother was on drugs and died of an overdose last year. He's been staying with the oldest sister, but she doesn't have a clue about raising a boy, not being married and with no children of her own. Plus, she's under a lot of stress right now, trying to take care of her siblings. So Nick got into some trouble at school and his grades slipped. He doesn't think he's good at anything because of his height." They watched as Nick stole the ball from a larger boy and dribbled it down the court. "Today's the first time I've seen him actually *try* at anything. I hope you meant your promise, Harm. These children have been lied to enough -"
"When I make a promise, Mrs. T, I keep it. I'll be back. Tomorrow, if I can find someone to stay with Mattie. If not, then Friday."
"Well, I'll see you later, then. And thank you."
"No thanks necessary. I need something to keep me busy. This just might be it."
2100 Hours Local
"I tell you, Mac, those kids are craving attention. Mrs. T thinks that I'll be able to turn most of them around pretty quickly."
"When are you going back over there?" Mac asked as she helped him with the dinner dishes.
"What about Mattie?"
"I'm going to drop her by the gallery. Mom's been wanting her to come down there and hang out."
"Sounds like you have it all planned," Mac told him, putting the last plate into the dishwasher and closing the door. "Are you going to keep doing this once school starts?"
"I don't know. I've only done it once. I might decide that I'm not suited to it -"
"No, you're perfect for it," Mac said. "You're the type of man who should have had a houseful of kids, Harm."
"Mac," he began, aware that this was a touchy subject for her. "I didn't mean to -"
"I know. But it's a fact of life that we can't ignore. You're a wonderful father. Mattie certainly adores you. And Gunny Boyle told me today that his kids talked about you all the way home."
"They're good kids," Harm said.
"Even Vic was talking about it," Mac told him.
"Speaking of Vic - did you, - have that little 'chat' with him?"
"I haven't found the right moment, Harm. But I've been keeping an eye on him. I'm sure that he's not bothering Jen."
"It's not just Jen that I'm worried about, Mac. It's every woman in that office. Enlisted or officer. What's the story between him and Talia Mayfield?"
"I'm not positive. All Talia will tell me is that they were involved at one time and that it ended. She's assured me that his being in the office won't affect her performance of her duties. And it hasn't. I just haven't assigned them to work on a case together or against each other."
"Probably a good idea. I can't quite see the two of us facing off in a courtroom now," Harm noted, turning her into his arms.
She smiled, her palms against his chest. "Me either. I've seen you naked, after all." Harm chuckled, causing Mac to frown. "What's so funny?"
"You remember that time you subpoenaed Renee to testify in a case?"
"How could I forget? You weren't very happy with me for that."
"It was the right things to do," Harm said.
"I really didn't expect her to be so upset. I thought she had thicker skin. What were you laughing about?"
"When I finally convinced her to meet me so that I could apologize, she told me that while she was on the stand, she was picturing me naked."
"Not that she'd seen me that way at that point in our relationship."
"When *did* it happen?" she asked.
"Right after," he admitted with a naughty grin. "Thing is, I'd been trying to find a way to break it off with her before that trip to Sydney. But then things changed. . ." his voice trailed off.
"I took Mic's ring," she recalled sadly. "I messed things up so badly. I hurt him. I hurt you."
"It's in the past, Mac," Harm said, pulling her head to his shoulder. "Let it go. We're together now."
"You're too good to me."
"We've both hurt each other over the years," he said in a quiet voice. "The only way to make the future work is to put that hurt aside and move on. I love you."
"I love you, too," she answered, then pulled away, looking up at him. "Which makes me feel absolutely terrible." Her confession caused him to frown and lift an eyebrow in silent inquiry. "I have some work to take care before I can go to bed," she explained.
Harm pushed aside his disappointment, nodding. "Okay. I'll sit in the study while you work and read my law books."
"You're really determined to pass the bar here, aren't you?"
"It's the only way I can practice outside of a military courtroom."
"I'm sorry you had to give that up, Harm."
"I'm not," he said. "I think I've gained more than enough to take its place. You. Mattie." He took her hand to lead her out of the kitchen. "Come on. The sooner you get started working, the sooner we can go to bed."
"I like the way you think, flyboy."
The End Episode 3