0950 Hours Local
La Jolla High School
La Jolla CA
"What's this?" Mattie questioned as she and Nick and a couple of other kids passed a flyer hanging on the glass window of the office.
"Oh, it's just career day," Nick told her. He frowned as he looked at Deb Fisher. "I don't remember them doing that this early in the year last year. Wasn't it closer to Christmas?"
"Yeah," Deb agreed. She was a tiny brunette with green eyes, short where Mattie was tall, plump where Mattie was thin. Her dark hair was cut short as well. "You're right. Wonder why they moved it up?"
"No telling," Mattie said in a distracted tone as her attention was caught by another poster. "Swim team tryouts," she read aloud.
Nick looked at her. "Mattie, you're barely walking again. You can't seriously be thinking about -"
"Why not? I was a good swimmer before the accident. And a lot of my therapy has been in the water."
"It's not the same," Deb told her. "My cousin tried out for the swim team at her school. She's spent her entire life in the water almost, and she still didn't make it."
Mattie kept looking at the flyer, and Nick said, "Forget it, Deb. She's hooked. You're gonna go for it, aren't you, Mattie?"
1145 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
Harm entered the gallery, knowing that he was early for lunch with his mother. She saw him enter and called his name, crossing the room. "Harm. It's not noon already, is it?"
"No," he said. "I was in the area and figured I'd come by."
Trish slipped her arm through his. "I'm glad you did."
Harm's attention focused on one of the paintings that was being hung on a wall. It was familiar. "I've seen that painting before," he told his mother.
"It's part of a new showing that opens the weekend," she explained as they moved closer to the canvas. "I've been meaning to tell you about it -"
"Hello, Harm," a familiar voice said, and he turned around to see a red-haired woman.
"Megan." Megan Ransford's father had been killed when a remote-controlled F-14 had gone down near China Lake. Harm had been sent to find out what happened - and in the course of the investigation had secured a settlement from the private contractor who had been responsible for the death. In her gratitude for his help, Megan had kissed Harm. "I was about to give up on your contacting my mother. It's been almost nine months."
Megan smiled. "I've been a little busy. I wasn't planning on having a showing at all, but your mother happened to hear about the art center that I'm opening in Lone Pine and contacted me."
"You can imagine my surprise when Megan told me that you were the person who gave her the idea for the center, Harm," Trish told him, glancing behind him. "Excuse me. Vicki's trying to get my attention."
Once they were alone, Harm wasn't sure what to say to Megan. So he opted for commenting on the painting. "One of your father's?" he questioned.
"An old one," she confirmed. "He had at least a hundred canvases squirreled away in a storeroom at that train station. The last ones he did are going into the center when it's finished."
"Good. I didn't know him, but I think he would approve."
"So do I. Your mother tells me that you're engaged to be married."
"So the brunette is finally yours?" she questioned, and Harm gave her a smile.
"Yeah. Or, she will be in about six more weeks."
"I hope she knows how lucky she is," Megan said to him. "And if I were in her shoes, I don't think I'd be waiting six weeks to take you off the market," she added with a smile of her own.
"She's a busy woman. A Lt. Colonel in the Marines."
"So your mother told me. I hope you'll both come to the showing this weekend? I'd like to meet her."
"I'll talk to her about it," Harm agreed. "How are you doing?"
"About the same. There are still days when I really miss him. I'll be painting and remember something he once told me and it's almost as if he's still here. Then I realize that he's not, and I get all weepy again."
"I know the feeling. It's not easy losing a parent at any age."
"No. I don't suppose it is. I wasn't going to sell any of these paintings," Megan continued. "But there's not room for all of them at the center. And even with the settlement, I've discovered that there are bills that have to be paid."
Trish joined them apologizing. "I'm sorry. Vicki had one of her minor 'crises'. Are you ready to go, Harm?" she asked.
"I think so."
"Would you like to join us, Megan?" Trish asked.
Megan gave Harm a sad smile. "No, I don't think so. But thank you for asking. I'll see you when you get back from lunch."
"And I hope to see you and your fiancée this weekend, Harm."
"I think we'll be here."
1210 Hours Local
La Gardinere Restaurant
La Jolla, CA
"Megan Ransford seems to have been another victim of your charm," Trish commented once she and Harm were seated and had placed their orders.
"She's just grateful for the help I gave her after her father died," Harm said in dismissive tone.
"She hasn't really explained anything about what happened to him. Only that he was killed in an accident and that you got her a decent settlement as a result."
"She can't talk about it much. It was part of the settlement. And no, I can't talk about it either."
Trish picked up her glass of iced tea. "Does Mac know about her?"
"There's nothing for her to know about, Mom," Harm insisted. "I met Megan on an investigation, helped her, and then went back to DC. End of story."
"On your part, perhaps. But I still say that Megan's very fond of you."
"Mom, are you forgetting that I'm going to be married in six weeks? I don't need you to play matchmaker."
"I'm not matchmaking. Besides, if I were, I'd find someone closer to La Jolla than Lone Pine. At least that way you'd still be here. I've gotten used to having you close by again," she told him, reaching over to cover his hand with hers.
Harm placed his other hand over her hand. "I'm not going anywhere, Mom," he said. "For the time being, anyway. Mac'll probably be here for a few years, anyway. By that time, you'll be glad to have me out of your hair."
"Never." The food arrived, and the conversation dropped until they were alone again. "How is Mattie settling into her new school?"
"I think she's doing okay. It helps that she and Nick are in the same grade and have some classes together. She's making friends, and that helps."
"And Nick? He seems like a nice young man."
"He is. It will take some time for him to get over what happened with Carl. But he'll bounce back with time. Kids can be pretty resilient."
1545 Hours Local
La Jolla High School
La Jolla, CA
Harm was leaning against the side of the Lexus when he saw Mattie, Nick and Deb exit the school building. Almost immediately, he saw her start scanning the area, waving when she found him.
She was insisting on not using her crutches at school, and Harm worried that she was pushing herself too hard to recover fully from the effects of the accident. Even from this distance, he could see past the mask she normally wore to the tiredness she kept hidden.
When the three of them reached his location, Mattie gave him a quick hug. "Hey, Dad." She had started calling him Dad more than she called him Harm, and he wasn't about to stop her from doing so. Once he and Mac were married, they were going to petition the court for a full adoption. For the moment, Mattie seemed happy that they had managed to get Mattie's name changed to Matilda Grace Rabb before school began. It had been important to her that she start school with her new name. "New school, new name, new life," she'd said at the time.
"Hey yourself. Hi, Deb. Nick."
"Mr. Rabb," Nick said, taking Harm's hand when it was offered.
Deb, as usual, hung back. Mattie claimed that the girl had a huge crush on him, but Harm doubted that she would have a crush on someone old enough to be her father. "You ready to go?" he asked Mattie.
"Yeah." She put her book bag into the back seat, and then accepted Harm's help into the front seat, giving him a grateful smile as he closed the door. "I'll see you guys tomorrow."
"Don't forget to call me about that homework that Mrs. Jordan assigned us," Deb said. "We need to get started on it."
"Will do." Mattie sank back into the seat when the vehicle started moving.
"You look tired," Harm commented.
"It's not too bad. I'm less tired today than I was yesterday," she told him.
"How did your day go?"
"Pretty good. I got an A on my math test."
"Good for you."
She pulled a paper out of her pocket. "What would you say if I said that I wanted to try out for the swim team, Harm?"
Harm glanced at her. "Do you think you're up to it?"
"It won't hurt for me to try, will it?"
"No," Harm agreed. "Sounds like you've made up your mind."
"I have," she confirmed. "But I need your signature on the form to be able to try out tomorrow."
"I'll sign it," he said. "As long as I have your word that you won't push yourself to do too much before you're ready."
"You have my word," Mattie replied, drawing a cross on her chest as a promise.
Knowing that she probably wasn't being entirely truthful, Harm shook his head. Mattie wasn't the type to give up. If she had been, she wouldn't have made it this far. "What's the other paper?" he asked, noting that there were two pieces of paper in her hands.
She pulled out the second one. "This? It's a flyer about Career Day. We can ask someone we know to come and talk to the kids about a career during an assembly. I thought - I mean I hoped that - would you come to talk about being in the Navy and a lawyer and pilot?" she finished quickly.
"I don't think they want to hear -"
"I think you're wrong. Look at the way you turned Nick around. And me. You don't realize the effect you have on people. They *listen* to you."
"This is important to you, isn't it?"
Mattie nodded eagerly. "Yeah. Will you do it?"
"When is this assembly supposed to take place?"
"On Friday afternoon. If you want to speak, you'll have to fill out this form and have it back in by tomorrow morning."
"Why don't you ask Mac?" Harm suggested. "I'm sure she'd be a much better choice - after all, she's still in the service -"
"And she's probably too busy to get away," Mattie told him. "I'll ask her. But when she says she can't, will you do it?"
"*If* she says she can't, I'll take her place," Harm agreed.
1830 Hours Local
Rabb Mackenzie Home
La Jolla, CA
"I think the swim team is a good idea," Mac said after hearing Mattie's plans.
"So do I," Harm said. "That's why I signed the permission form."
"I'm sure you'll make the team, Mattie," Mac continued. "Lisa said that you were a speed demon in the pool, didn't she?"
"Yeah," Mattie agreed.
Mac got up from the dinner table, taking her plate over to the sink, where she rinsed it and put it into the dishwasher. "I have some work to do -"
"Can that wait a minute, Mac?" Mattie asked. "I have something else that I want to talk to you about."
Mac stopped "What is it?"
"Well, they're having a career day at my school on Friday, and, well, I thought maybe you could come and talk to the kids -"
Harm could tell that Mac was pleased by the request. "I suppose I could - Friday? As in *this* Friday?" she asked.
"Yeah," Mattie said. "The assembly starts at 1300."
Mac winced. "I'd love to do it, Mattie, but - I won't be here."
Now it was Harm who asked the question. "Won't be here?"
"I was going to tell you later - I have to go to San Francisco for a meeting with Admiral Drake. I'll be gone from Friday morning until Sunday afternoon."
"I'm sorry, Mattie," she said. "Maybe some other time -?"
"Yeah," Mattie agreed, picking up her own plate and glass to carry it to the sink, leaving Harm and Mac near the table.
"I told Mom that we'd go to a showing at the gallery this weekend," Harm told Mac. "You remember the F-14 accident in Lone Pine last winter?"
"The woman whose father was killed is showing his paintings."
"I'm sure Mattie would love to go with you. And we could go Sunday after I get back -"
"The showing ends on Sunday afternoon," Harm told her. "You're right. Mattie and I will go." He picked up his plate and followed Mattie to the sink, taking over filling the dishwasher. "You go get some rest and finish your homework. If you need help, call."
"Thanks," she said.
"Why don't you ask Harm to go to the school, Mattie?" Mac suggested, sounding as if she were trying to mollify them both. "He's a lot more interesting than I am. Academy graduate, aviator, lawyer. And I bet he'd even wear his uniform if you asked nicely."
Mattie looked at him. "Would you?"
"I don't know, Mattie."
"Please? You'd have every girl in that school drooling."
"Not to mention what it would do for your social standing, right, Mattie?" Mac said with a grin. Harm knew that she was deliberately taking the spotlight off of herself and focusing it on him.
"It wouldn't hurt," Mattie agreed. "Please, Dad?"
"I'll think about it. Not about going. I'll do that. But I have to think about putting the uniform on again."
Mattie grinned. "Reduce altitude." When he bent forward, she gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks!"
In a much better mood, Mattie left the kitchen. "Are you okay?" Mac asked in a quiet voice.
"I'm fine," Harm said. "I just wish you'd give me a little more lead time when you're going out of town so I'll know not to make plans."
"*I* didn't know about this until this afternoon, Harm," Mac informed him. "I really *was* going to tell you later," she said, moving closer to him. "Am I forgiven?" she asked, touching his arm.
"You know you are. It's your job, and I'll just have to deal with it." He leaned in to give her a kiss. "Now go on and get to work so you won't be up all night again."
"I don't deserve you," Mac said, running her fingers through his hair.
"I know," he replied with a grin. "But you're stuck with me."
"I'm the lucky one. Now go."
2115 Hours Local
"That's the last of it," Mattie proclaimed, closing her notebook. She smiled at Harm. "Except for the paper you need to fill out and sign for Career Day."
Harm held out his hand. "Might as well get it done now."
She sat while he filled in the blanks, watching. "You know, you don't have to wear your uniform. I'd understand if you didn't want to." Harm lifted his head, meeting her eyes. "I mean, I know how much it must bother you, not being in the Navy after all those years."
"It's not that, Mattie. I said I'd think about it, and I will." He signed the form and folded it, returning it to Mattie with a flourish. "There you go."
"What was that about an art show this weekend?"
"Just something that Mom's working on. You want to go?"
"Sure. I love hanging out there. Grandma Trish said that I can work there during breaks and the summer."
"I know. But I can't quite picture you cooped up in a gallery for three months. I kinda thought you'd be hanging out at the airport with Cal."
Mattie's cheeks reddened as she blushed. "Cal and I are just friends," she insisted.
"Is that why you used half your cell minutes last month talking to him?" Harm asked teasingly.
"I did not."
"Numbers don't lie," Harm pointed out.
"Was it really half?" she questioned.
"I guess we'll just have to chat via the internet, then," she responded with a cheeky grin. "And when I get a car -"
"Hold on there, Miss Rabb. You're not *nearly* ready to start driving in Southern California."
"I fly a plane. I think I can handle a car, don't you?"
"We'll discuss it. But you're *not* going to drive the Vette."
"We'll see," she told him, her grin widening before she leaned over to give him a hug. "I'm glad you're my dad, you know."
"And flattery won't work, young lady." But Harm returned her embrace, resting his chin on top of her head. "I love you, Mattie," he said.
"Not as much as I love you, Dad." Her cell phone started to ring, causing Harm to chuckle as she picked it up and looked at it.
"Let me guess: Cal."
Mattie grimaced and opened it. "Hey . . . Listen, why don't you meet me online? I'm getting parental heat about cell phone bills . . . Cool. Be there in ten."
Harm placed a hand to his chest in pretend pain. "Replaced by another. How can I ever survive?"
"You'll never be replaced, Dad," Mattie assured him. "No matter what happens."
Mac was on the telephone when Harm entered the office. "Where'd you go?" she asked the person on the other end of the line. "Really? It's been forever since I've been to an actual *movie*. Most of the time I end up catching bits and pieces of them on DVD here." She glanced up at Harm, smiling. "I know. But with my schedule - no, I just wanted to remind you that I need you in the office earlier than usual tomorrow so we can get things ready for this weekend." Harm sat down in one of the chairs in front of the desk and waited. He saw Mac's eyes flicker toward him, then away again. "Yes, he's going, too. I have to go, Jen. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning. Tell Jack I said hello. Harm, too," she added, laughing. "Bye." She hung up. "That was Jen."
"I figured that out. Jack's there again?"
"They went to dinner and a movie."
Harm felt himself frown. "That's the third time in the last two weeks."
"Jen says they're just friends. But I think Jack's smitten."
"He's too old for her, Mac."
"Evidently Jack doesn't think so." She gave him a curious look. "Why does their seeing each other bother you so much? I would think you'd be glad that they're getting along so well and seem to be happy with each other."
"I am. I don't know," he said, unable to put his thoughts into words. "Who's going to San Francisco with you?" he inquired.
"What?" Mac asked, suddenly focusing on the papers before her.
"You told Jen something about 'he's going too'. So you're not going to San Francisco alone."
"No," Mac confirmed, taking a deep breath. "Lt. Vukovic is going with me."
"It wasn't my idea, Harm. Gen. Cresswell suggested that I show Vic the ropes so that he would be able to help with setting up other JLSC commands. I was practically ordered to take him along."
"Who else is going?" Harm wanted to know.
"Just the two of us."
"When were you going to tell me?"
"I was hoping that I wouldn't have to," Mac admitted. "Because of the way you're acting now. I knew you'd react this way."
"Jealous. Believing that I can't take care of myself and keep Lt. Vukovic in line. Do you trust me so little, Harm?"
"I trust you, Mac. It's Vukovic that I don't trust."
"Has Jen complained about him since that day that he was here?" Mac wanted to know.
"No. But that doesn't mean it hasn't happened. Jen respects you Mac. She also knows that reporting any further harassment could be detrimental to her career in the Navy. And she's not going to tell me because she's worried about what I might to do *Vic*. She might have said something to Jack instead," he suggested as an afterthought. "It would make sense, since they've been spending time together."
"Has *he* said anything?"
"No, but he wouldn't if Jen asked him not to. Mac, Greg Vukovic's a problem that you're going to have to face sooner or later."
"You don't think someone can change?" she asked, meeting his eyes.
"Of course I do. With the right motivation, anyone can change. I'm just not convinced that Vukovic's found that motivation yet."
"Youth doesn't excuse bad judgment, Mac. And he's not *that* young."
"Look, you're just against him because he's not an academy graduate and isn't as spit and polished as you always were. And the fact that he's still in the Navy."
"That's not true. I mean, yeah, the guy needs to learn how to use a razor and learn what respect means. I won't even talk about that last bit. None of that is the real problem. He doesn't seem to recognize boundaries. You yourself said that he has a problem with that."
"That was back at JAG in Falls Church," Mac pointed out. "He's behaved himself since coming out here."
"Is that what you call what he was trying to do to Jen on the fourth of July?"
"He was only joking around," Mac said. "Having some fun. Jen took it wrong. Or you did."
Harm shook his head. "Fine. It's on your shoulders, Mac. When it explodes in your face I'll be here to help put it back together. I just hope that it doesn't seriously impact your career." He picked up his mug. "I'll see you when you come to bed."
Lying in bed a few minutes later, Harm tried to figure out what his problem with Lt. Greg Vukovic was. Was Mac right? Was he jealous of the young man because he still had his career ahead of him while Harm's was behind him? Or was it that he was jealous of the fact that Vic spent more time with Mac than he did? That Vic was such a seemingly important part of Mac's life? A life that Harm no longer shared.
Harm quickly dismissed the suggestion. While it was true that he still missed being in the Navy on occasion, he was growing to enjoy life as a civilian. Tomorrow he'd meet with John Harding and Lt. Collins to discuss possibly helping on the Lieutenant's case.
So it wasn't that he missed being able to work in a Naval courtroom. There would be more than enough opportunities to do that around here.
Ever since their first meeting, Harm had felt - uncomfortable around Vukovic. The man's ego was ten times the size of his ability - and while Harm knew that description had no doubt been applied to himself more than once over the course of his twenty years in the Navy, he wasn't sure that he'd ever been quite in the same league as the young Lieutenant. Vukovic was *too* smug. *Too* self-assured. And his methods left quite a bit to be desired, if his actions on the case they had worked together were any illustration.
Harm rolled onto his back, sighing heavily. Maybe it was best to just trust that Mac really *could* handle the young officer and mold him into a good JAG attorney. Mac knew what he was like - and she'd more than proved over the years that she liked a challenge. His lips curved into a smile at the thought.
1615 Hours Local
La Jolla High School
"Okay! Mattie, you're next!" Coach Dawkins called out, motioning for Mattie, who was wearing a sleek one piece suit, her hair pulled back in a French braid, approached the station. Glancing to her right, she saw Harm sitting in the bleachers. He gave her a smile and a 'thumbs up' signal.
"You ready?" Coach asked.
"Yeah," Mattie said, nodding sharply, loosening up.
"Okay. When the whistle blows, dive in, swim to the far end of the pool, then back."
Mattie bent her knees, leaning toward the water, taking slow deep breaths. When the whistle blew, she dove into the pool, slicing through the water with ease. At the far end, she turned and pushed her feet against the wall, propelling herself back toward the other side.
As she came out of the water, she saw Coach Dawkins press the button on the stop watch, then compare her readings to those of the assistant coach. She slowly climbed out of the pool, refusing to allow her shaky legs to give way, to grab a towel and wrap it around her as she awaited the decision.
As she waited, she couldn't help but look over to where Harm was sitting, and something about the smile on his face made her relax. Another 'thumbs up' and Mattie knew she'd managed to ace the tryout, but kept her face devoid of emotion until the Coach turned to look at her.
"Congratulations, Mattie. You're on the team."
"Be here tomorrow afternoon for an hour's practice. We have a meet scheduled for Saturday morning."
Coach Dawson smiled. "Don't worry. I think you're more than ready. And it's just an intra-area meet. Nothing major. You need to be here by nine. The meet starts at ten."
"I'll be here," Mattie assured her, grabbing her bag.
"Go take your shower and change before you go."
"Yes, ma'am," Mattie said, waving at Harm as she headed toward the locker room.
"I think this calls for another celebration," Harm said, slowly releasing Mattie from the congratulatory hug he gave her when she came out of the locker room and joined him.
"I can't believe I really made it."
"I never doubted you for a minute," Harm said, "I've come to understand that once you set your mind to something, nothing's going to stop you."
"Are you saying I'm stubborn?" she questioned, her face glowing.
"I'm saying you're determined. Which can be a very good thing."
"I have to be here for practice tomorrow for a meet on Saturday."
"I know. I talked to the Coach. She said that the meet's at ten. That gives us plenty of time to go to the meet and then to the gallery for Megan's showing."
"Cool!" She sighed as they turned into traffic. "I wish Mac could be there on Saturday."
"There will be other meets," Harm assured her. "I'm sure she'll make sure not to miss any more after this weekend."
"I guess." She turned to look at him. "Does it seem to you that she's slowing down at *all* as the wedding gets closer?"
"Not really," he had to admit. "But she warned me that she might have to work harder to be ready to take the time off. And until then, maybe I'll invest in a digital video camera so she can at least see this one even if she can't be there."
"Really?" Mattie's cell phone began to ring, and she gave Harm a sheepish look as she saw who it was. "It's Cal. He knew I had tryouts today -"
"Take the call," Harm said, shaking his head as he tried not to listen too closely to her conversation with the young man.
1645 Hours Local
"I'm going to call Grandma Trish," Mattie told Harm as soon as they entered the house.
"And then get started on your homework," Harm reminded her. "Just because you're on the swim team doesn't mean your schoolwork can slide."
"Yessir!" Mattie said, snapping a smart salute before heading down the hallway toward her room.
Harm chuckled, shaking his head as he moved into the kitchen, where he pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number for Mac's office, waiting for someone to answer.
"Joint Legal Services Command," Jen said in a crisp voice.
"Harm! What's the word on Mattie? Did she make it?"
"She did." He told her Mattie's time in the swim. "She wasn't the fastest swimmer, but she made the team."
"Good! I'm sure she's delighted."
"Yeah. She'll probably invite you to her first meet this Saturday morning."
"Oh, I'll be there," Jen assured him, and then stopped. "Uh- Saturday morning?"
"Yes. I know that Mac won't be in town. So does Mattie."
"Is she too busy to hear the news?"
"I think she's free. Just a minute."
A second later, Mac came on the line. "Hello, Harm."
"Can you talk for a few minutes?"
"Sure. I think I have at least two free," she replied in a teasing tone.
"I'm calling about Mattie's tryout for the swim team."
"Did she make it?"
"Yeah. Her first meet is Saturday morning."
"*This* Saturday," he confirmed. "I don't suppose there's any way you could be here? Maybe put things off with Adm. Drake until Saturday afternoon? I know she'd like you to be there."
"I wish I could, Harm. But there's no way. Everything's already planned - and I don't think Adm. Drake would understand my postponing things to attend my fiancé's ward's swim meet." Harm found himself frowning at her description of Mattie, but couldn't put his finger on the reason for it. "Harm? I'm sorry -"
"I figured. I'll just get my hands on a digital video camera and record it so you can watch it when you get home. If you want to, that is."
"If I *want* to? Why would you think that I don't?"
"I'm sorry, Mac," he apologized. "I know you'd be there if you could. Look, the reason I called was to let you know that we're celebrating."
"Do I sense another 'family' get together?" she asked, recalling the celebration when Harm had passed the California bar which had ended up with the three of them, Nick, Jen and Keeter and Harm's mom and stepfather at a local restaurant.
Harm laughed. "No. It's a school night. I thought I'd do something special for dinner - I just need to know what time you think you'll be home."
He could almost see her glancing over the paperwork on her desk. "I'd say sometime between 1730 and 1830."
"We'll be ready, then."
"Okay. Is there anything you need me to bring home?"
"I think I can manage that," Mac told him. "See you then."
"Yeah. I love you."
"I love you, too," she replied before hanging up.
Harm stood there looking at his cell phone as Mattie came into the room. "Dad?"
Shaking his head to clear it, Harm smiled at her. "Yeah?"
"Are we going out, or what?"
"Nope. School night," he reminded her.
"I thought we were going to celebrate?"
"We are," he assured her, picking up the cordless phone. "I thought I'd order pizza. Your choice of topping."
Mattie looked surprised. It wasn't often that Harm ordered pizza these days. "You mean it?"
"I mean it. One large with the works, right?"
"How about two?" she suggested. "Jen's dropping by after work - maybe she could stay as well?"
"Isn't she going out with Keeter again tonight?"
"Not that she mentioned when I talked to her earlier. If she says she can stay, is it okay?"
"Sure. I'll order two just to be sure."
"What about you, though? You usually get veggie topping -"
"I think I can manage to clog my arteries for one night," he told her, placing an arm across her shoulders to give her a quick hug. "After all, it's not every day that you make the swim team."
"I just hope I don't screw up on Saturday."
"You won't." He located the number for the pizza place in the phone book, and then dialed the number. "I need to place an order for two large pizzas . . ."
2230 Hours Local
"Night, Mattie," Harm said.
"Night." She gave him a hug before giving one to Mac. "Good luck in San Francisco," she said.
"Same to you," Mac replied. "I hope you know that I'd be there for your meet if I could, Mattie -"
"It's cool. I know it's your job. But Harm and Jen and Grandma and Grandpa will be there to cheer me on. And Harm can use that new camera to film the whole thing so you can see it on Sunday night."
"I'll look forward to it."
"I will be. Night."
"Night." Mattie hesitated, looking at Harm again. "Have you decided whether or not you're going to wear your uniform tomorrow afternoon?"
"Not yet. It probably doesn't fit anymore," he suggested. "I've gained a little weight since I left the Navy -"
"Where?" Mac questioned, looking him over. "I haven't seen anything but muscle."
"Sounds like an excuse to me," Mattie agreed, then gave him another kiss. "Whatever you decide's fine. Night."
"Night," Harm said again, watching her go down the hallway to her room.
"I have some paperwork to finish up before leaving for the meeting tomorrow," Mac told him, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek that Mattie hadn't kissed. "I'll see you later."
"Don't be up too late," he admonished gently. "You don't want to be too tired to work tomorrow."
"I won't be," she said, disappearing into the study, leaving Harm to go to their bedroom.
Opening the closet door, he moved his things aside until he found what he was looking for: His Navy uniform, protected by a garment bag. Sliding open the zipper, he pulled the jacket out, fingering the gold braid on the sleeve. Commander. It had been nice, wearing Captain's rank for the brief time he'd been able to do so. But he had retired as a Commander, not as a Captain.
Without really being aware of what he was doing, Harm took the jacket from the hanger and put it on over his tee shirt. It *did* still fit. He'd known it would. But wearing it didn't *feel* right anymore. It felt like he was only playacting; pretending to be something that he wasn't. He moved to the mirror on the door of Mac's closet, looking at his reflection.
"You look good in that," Mac said from the bedroom doorway. "I always said that you could wear that uniform better than anyone else." She came over to him, putting her arms around his waist.
"But it doesn't fit," he said.
She ran her hands over the front of the tunic. "I think it's perfect."
"Not that way. It doesn't fit who I am now. I'm not Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr. I'm just me. Harmon Rabb, Jr, civilian attorney."
"Mattie's really hoping you'll wear it," Mac pointed out.
"I know. And I still might. But I think her status has already climbed by making the swim team. I'm not sure that my wearing this would make much of a difference."
"You'll have every female in that school at your feet," Mac told him, slowly unfastening the brass buttons before she moved around to gently slide the jacket from his shoulders to let it fall onto the carpet.
"And that doesn't bother you?" Harm asked, putting his arms around her.
"That sure of me, are you?"
"As sure as I am that the sun will come up tomorrow morning."
Harm pretended to sigh with regret. "Taking me for granted. I knew it would happen sometime."
"I've always known you were there, Harm," Mac told him. "I was just afraid to trust myself to *let* you be there."
"I'll be there as long as you need me to be, Mac," Harm said, lifting her into his arms to carry her toward the bed. "You finished in the study?"
"Hmm. I can do the rest of it on the plane."
"Good." He dropped her onto the bed.
"What about your uniform jacket?"
"It'll keep," he told her, lying down beside her . . .
1330 Hours Local
La Jolla High School Auditorium
Mattie broke away from the group of girls that surrounded her as she caught sight of Harm leaning back against the SUV. Seeing him in that uniform caused a sense of déjà vu, memories of his having picked her up back east.
"You were *great*!" she told him, giving him a hug. "Thanks for wearing this."
"You're welcome. Where's the camera?"
Mattie had decided that since Mac wasn't going to be there today either, she might like seeing Harm during the assembly, and had convinced Harm to let her use the digital camera to record the event. "Safely tucked away in my backpack," she assured him. "You look really cool on it, too. I think every girl I passed told me how lucky I was to have such a hunk for a dad," she told him, getting into the Lexus with a grin.
"A hunk, huh?" Harm questioned as he got inside as well.
"Yeah. A *total* hunk! And I heard several of the kids talking about maybe going into the Navy because of the things you talked about."
"Yeah. I noticed that all the pamphlets and such I got from the local recruiter were gone pretty quickly."
"Totally. I'm surprised that the Navy never tapped you for recruiting."
"They did once, in a way."
"Really?" Mattie questioned, never having heard about this part of Harm's life before. "When?"
"A long time ago. The Navy decided to make a recruiting commercial, and I ended up being part of it. Before they yanked it, that is."
"Why did they yank it?"
"I had a case involving faulty recruitment about the same time that the commercial was released. But they kept the posters in the recruiting stations for a while after that."
Mattie's eyes widened. "*Posters*? You were on a *poster*???"
He laughed softly. "Maybe I'll see if I can't dig one out. I think I have one stashed somewhere."
"What about a copy of the commercial?"
"I might have one of those as well."
Mattie was delighted with the poster that Harm located for her - and watched the video tape of his commercial several times.
"Wow! Too bad they pulled it. Recruiting would have gone way up! How'd they choose you to do that?"
"I kind of fell into it, actually," he said. "They sent a director to film the commercial at JAG, but she wasn't happy with the idea. She said that lawyers were boring."
"Well, they are sometimes," Mattie confirmed with a playful grin.
"She was just about ready to give up when she mentioned to the Admiral that she wished I could do more than just argue the law."
"Let me guess: he told her that you were a pilot as well."
"He did." Harm thought back on that time in his life. "So Renee decided to use me in the commercial and for the poster."
"Renee. The lady you were involved with for awhile? So *that's* how you met her. I always wondered how you'd ended up dating a movie director."
"That almost didn't happen either," Harm said quietly.
Harm decided that it was a bit much to explain to Mattie, and shook his head. "Long-past history. Best left there." He stood up. "Come on. It's getting late, and I need to get supper started."
"And I need to get this hung up in my room," Mattie declared, holding up the rolled poster.
"Tell you what: help me with dinner, and I'll help with the poster after. Deal?"
"Deal," Mattie agreed.
1000 Hours Local
La Jolla High School Natatorium
Harm moved toward the bleachers as the meet began, pausing for a moment as the National Anthem was played. Once that finished, he turned back to where his mom, Frank, Jen and Keeter were sitting, taking a spot between the two women.
"She looks nervous," Trish noted as Harm pulled out the camera and started filming.
"You want me to do that, Harm?" Keeter offered. "That way you can just enjoy the meet."
"Would you mind, Keeter?"
"Nah," Keeter replied, taking the camera.
"You know how to use it?"
"Hey, you're the one who's a technophobe, pal," Keeter teased, lifting the camera to his eye. "Not me."
"I'm not a technophobe," Harm denied.
"Yes, you are, Harm," Jen teased, leaning forward to tell Trish, "He hates computers."
"Look, just because I don't like them doesn't mean I don't know how to operate them." His eyes scanned the crowd. "Has anyone seen Lisa? She told Mattie that she'd be here."
"The first race is about to start," Frank pointed out.
Jen leaned closer to Harm. "Only reason you know how to use the chat on a computer is because Mattie showed you so you could chat when you were on TAD."
Harm had to admit she was right as he turned his attention to the pool, where swimmers were lining up for a relay. When the whistle blew, the first swimmer entered the water, swam to the far side and when they reached the wall, they surfaced, tapping the foot of the person waiting, signaling that person to dive into the pool for the return swim.
Mattie was the anchor for her team, the last swimmer, and as soon as she hit the water, Jen yelled out, "Go, Matts!"
Harm chuckled at her outburst as it reminded him of her reactions when Mattie had played volleyball, but kept his eyes on the pool, watching Mattie's progress to the other side. When she reached the finish line ahead of the other girls, Harm clenched his fist in triumph. "Yes!" he said while Jen turned to give him an exuberant hug.
For a moment, the world stopped. The sound of the crowd faded away as harm instinctively hugged her back, sharing in her delight for the young woman who had been such an important part of both their lives.
"Sorry," she muttered, embarrassed at her actions, finally pulling away to refocus her attention on the scene below.
Harm recovered quickly and turned to give his mom a hug as well, unwilling to think about his reaction to Jen's embrace. "She's quite a girl," Trish noted, obviously the proud grandmother.
"Yes," Harm agreed, but he glanced out of the corner of his eyes at Jen, who was now hugging Keeter.
When the meet ended, Mattie's times were in the top five - and she was riding high on an adrenalin rush when they first saw her on the floor after the meet with Lisa. When she saw Harm, she rushed to grab Harm, giving him an excited hug.
"Did you see?!"
"I saw," he assured her, his voice filled with pride. "You were great."
"Great?" Lisa repeated. "She was totally awesome! Hello, Frank. Trish," the therapist said, clearly as proud of Mattie as any of them were. "Jen. Jack."
"I wasn't even pushing it," Mattie said. "I could have posted better numbers."
"Next time you will," Jen said, giving her former roommate a hug as well.
"Come on, Mattie!" one of the kids called. "We need to hit the showers."
"Be right there," Mattie replied as Nick joined the group. "Nick!"
"You swam like a fish, girl!" he told Mattie.
"I did, didn't I? It was *so* great!"
"I have to go," Trish told Mattie, giving her a hug. "I left Vicki in charge at the gallery and I'm sure that by now she's pulling her hair out. I'll see you later."
"Okay. Thanks for coming, Grandma. Grandpa."
"Of course we came," Frank said, putting his arm around the girl's shoulders. "Wouldn't have missed it for the world."
"We'll see you later at the gallery," Trish said, including both Mattie and Harm in her glance.
"Go on," Harm said. "I'll meet you outside."
"Yeah," Lisa agree. "Go. I have to leave anyway. Family thing. I'm expected." She gave Mattie another hug and moved toward the locker room with her for a moment before giving Harm a wave goodbye.
Once Mattie was out of sight, Harm pulled Nick aside. "How's it going?"
"Not bad. Cassie and I are actually getting along now. Kinda strange."
"Yeah," Harm agreed, smiling. "How are *you* doing?"
"I still can't believe that Carl was willing to let me fry for what he'd done. I trusted him. He was my best friend."
"It's usually your best friend who can hurt us worse than anyone else," Harm noted.
"Yeah. I guess so. Well, I gotta go. I told Cassie I'd be home after the meet." He nodded at Jen and Keeter. "Bye."
"I think he's turned the corner," Jen observed, watching Nick walk away. "Thanks to you," she told Harm.
Harm shook his head. "I didn't do anything."
"You trusted him," she said. "That's important for someone at *any* age."
He knew she was referring to his trust in her on that first Christmas that led to her turning her life around. "Yes. It is."
"Hey, Harm, I need to take my ride in for some work - could you take Jen to the gallery? I'll meet you all there or at your place depending on how long it takes."
"Sure. As long Jen doesn't mind."
"I don't," she answered. "I was planning on going to the gallery anyway. Your mom invited me."
Jen nodded. "I like hanging out there. And I like your mom."
"Everyone likes Trish," Keeter said. "See you both later."
"We'll walk out with you," Harm said.
1100 Hours Local
"I really like these," Jen said as she, Mattie and Harm looked at the paintings on display. "Too bad the artist is dead. They're kind of like Monet's work, don't you think?"
"That's exactly the effect that my father was trying for," Megan said from behind them, causing them to turn around. She smiled at Harm. "I'm glad you made it, Harm."
"I said I would," he said.
Megan smiled at Jen as she spoke to Harm. "I thought your mother said that your fiancée was going to be out of town this weekend, Harm. Or did your brunette change her mind?" she asked.
"Uh. No. Mac had to go to San Francisco for a meeting. Megan Ransford, Jennifer Coates. She's a friend of family. And this," he said, putting an arm across Mattie's shoulders, "is Mattie. My daughter."
"Hello, Jen. Mattie. Your grandmother's told me all about you. I hear you practically won the swim meet this morning single-handed."
Mattie laughed. "Not quite single-handed. But I did pretty good. It's nice to meet you, ma'am."
"Oh, please. Call me Megan." She turned to Jen. "Are you in the Navy?"
"Yes. I'm a Petty Officer. I work for Harm's fiancée," Jen explained.
"And she and I used to be roommates," Mattie continued.
"Interesting." Megan turned her attention back to the painting they'd been looking at. "This one of my favorites. It's an earlier work, but it has a hint of his talent. Don't you think so?"
Jen nodded. "I've always enjoyed looking at art. There's something so - grounding about it. Trish has offered a few times to let me help out during various shows, but I've never had the time to take her up on it."
That was news to Harm. He hadn't been aware that Jen and his mom were that close. "You should, if you enjoy art. I'm sure that being in the Navy takes up a lot of your time, though. But you *do* have your weekends, right?"
"Most of the time," Jen agreed.
"See? I'm sure that Trish would love having some extra help." She leaned in closer, keeping her voice low. "Between you and me, I think Vicki tends to stress the poor woman out more than she helps."
Even Harm had to laugh about that. "You're probably right, Megan."
"Megan, dear, would you come over here for a moment?" Trish called from across the gallery.
Megan smiled at Harm. "Excuse me. Duty calls."
"She seems nice," Jen noted. "I take it you know her?" she asked Harm.
"I met her on the investigation in China Lake last winter," he explained.
"The F-14 that crashed near the school," Jen recalled.
"Yes. Her father was killed in the accident and I got a settlement for her from the contractor."
"He really was talented," Jen said, turning her attention back to the paintings. "I mean, I don't think he would have made a fortune if he were alive now with them. But death does tend to make an artist's work increase in value."
"Regretfully so," Harm agreed, watching as Mattie moved away from them. "I didn't know that Mom had asked you to help out here."
Jen didn't look at him, but smiled as she continued to the next painting. "She calls me sometimes. Usually trying to talk to Col. Mackenzie about having lunch. But the Colonel is usually too busy, so Trish asks me to go instead."
"She's never mentioned it."
"Do you really think your mother tells you everything?" Jen asked, glancing to where Megan and Trish were talking to some people about one of her father's paintings. "You know, I got a really strange vibe from Megan when she thought I was Colonel Mackenzie."
"What kind of vibe?" Harm asked.
"Intense interest. Maybe even - jealousy."
Harm shook his head. "No reason she should be. All I did was help her out during a rough time -"
"Just like you always do." Jen finally turned to look at him. "You really don't realize the effect you have on people, do you?"
Harm lifted his shoulders in dismissal. "She was grateful for my help. I think she believes her feelings went deeper than that. But -"
"But yours are still firmly attached to Mac," Jen finished for him. "I really do hope she knows how lucky she is," she added before slipping away from him to join Trish, who had moved away from Megan and the others.
Harm stood watching as Trish greeted Jen with a warm smile and put an arm around the young woman's shoulders as they discussed one of the paintings. A hand slipped into his, and Harm turned to find Mattie standing there. "Hey."
"Hey yourself. You okay?" she asked.
"Why wouldn't I be?" he returned. "I've got the prettiest girl in the room at my side." She rested her head against his shoulder. "Tired?"
"A little. I guess the rush is wearing off."
"We can leave before long."
She nodded. "Miss Ransford is attractive, isn't she?"
"Not you too, Mattie," Harm sighed.
"I've never heard you mention her before the other day."
"I met her after you went back to your dad," he explained. "And there wasn't any *reason* to mention her anyway. I helped her and that's the end of it."
"You're good at helping everyone but yourself," Mattie told him. "One of these days, you're going to have to figure out what *you* want and decide to go for it."
"I already have what I want. You. And Mac. That's all I need." He wasn't sure that she believed him, but she didn't say anything. "Why don't you go find Jen and I'll tell Mom that we're going, okay?"
She nodded. "'kay."
Trish was talking to Megan again about a possible sale of one of her father's canvases, and he waited for them to finish before speaking. "Mom, I think we're going to go."
"So soon, dear?" she said, slipping her arm through his. "You only just got here."
"Mattie's a little tired from the meet. She needs to get some rest." Trish followed his gaze to where Mattie and Jen were talking.
"Of course. I'll go say goodbye." She nodded at Megan before leaving them alone.
"I'm glad you came, Harm," Megan said, moving close to him. "It means a lot to me that you did."
"I'm glad things are working out for you, Megan."
"They could have worked out better if - things had been different," she told him. "I'd tell you to come see me if this thing with your brunette doesn't work out, but I think you have someone here who'd be more than willing to take her place." She nodded in the direction of Trish, Mattie and Jen. "Jennifer seems smitten with you as well. I'm beginning to think that it's something that almost every woman who comes into your orbit feels."
"Jen's a friend."
"You might feel that way, but I saw the way she was looking at you. Like she's looking now since I'm standing to close to you." Harm turned his head enough to see Jen quickly look away. "She won't say anything. She's too self-sacrificing. Wants you to be happy more than she wants to be the one to make you happy. I guess she and I are alike in that." Megan stood on tiptoe and kissed him - this time on the cheek. "Good-bye, Harm. You know where to find me if you ever need me."
Harm turned and walked to where Jen and Mattie were standing by the door, neither one looking directly at him. Of course, he didn't look at Jen either as they left the gallery and went to the Lexus for the drive home. Jen took out her cell phone and called to let Keeter know that he could pick her up at Harm's.
Megan was wrong. Jen wasn't in love with him. And even if she were, he was in love with Mac. He'd planned a future with Mac and Mattie as his family. And Jen as - he couldn't think of her as a sister. Or a daughter. Mattie's best friend was one thing to came to mind. *And yours as well*, his mind prodded.
Jen had been almost as constant in his life as he had been in Mac's, he supposed. There for him when he'd needed help with Mattie on more than one occasion, and she had never once complained about having the responsibility of a teenager suddenly thrust upon her. He'd been surprised to find out that she'd asked for a transfer to San Diego instead of London when he might have been going there, but he hadn't questioned her decision.
After Mattie left, he had started closing down again - except for the time when Jen's old friend had caused such havoc and nearly got Jen charged with murder. And after that, Jen had kept more to herself, trying to find another place to live.
With things going badly between himself and Mac, and losing Mattie, Jen's decision to leave had simply been the last straw, and he'd started to wonder if returning to the Navy had been worth the heartache he'd gone through.
But it had. He was happy now. In six weeks, he and Mac would be married, and they would petition the court to formally adopt Mattie as their daughter.
The question that kept coming into Harm's mind, though, was: Where did Jen fit into that happy scenario?
There was no definitive answer, he decided. But there was one thing that he *did* know: He wanted Jennifer Coates to be in his life in some way.
The End of Episode 5