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Adventures in Fatherhood II: Daddy/Daughter Rose Ball
By LauraBF

Disclaimer:  If you think they're mine, you're sadly mistaken.  I borrowed them, hugged them, squeezed them, and called them George and then gave them back like a good girl. Seriously, Harm, Mac, Mattie, and the TV series JAG belong to Donald P. Bellisario, Belisaurius Productions, Paramount Pictures, and Columbia Broadcasting Service Entertainment.

Author's Note:  Harm had Mattie for six-eight months, and saw her through some important milestones.  TPTB made us miss a lot of those, and I don't see why Harm had to be exempt! It occurred to me that he might have seen her through an important one... and this was the result.  This can stand alone, so it's not necessary to have read the first Adventures in Fatherhood first.

~*~*~*~  

2130 LOCAL
HARM'S APARTMENT
NORTH OF UNION STATION
WASHINGTON, DC

Mattie let herself in to Harm's apartment and threw herself down on the couch next to her guardian.  "Harm?"

Absently, Harm wrote one last sentence in the brief he was working on and laid down his pencil, "Yeah?"

Mattie leaned against him.  This wasn't something she'd normally ask, but Jen was sick, and the formal was next week.  "Um, can you take me shopping?  You remember--we're supposed to go to that daddy/daughter dance next week, and Jen's sick, and..."

Harm put an arm around Mattie and gave her a one-armed hug.  "Whoa!  Slow down, Mats.  Of course I'll take you--how does tomorrow afternoon after your Alateen meeting sound?"

"Okay."  Mattie laid her head on his shoulder.  "I'm not real sure I want to go to this thing, Harm."

Harm kissed the top of her head.  "I know, honey.  But I *am* going to be there," he reminded her.

"Yeah.  My friends have been talking about you since you brought me that stuff a while ago."

"I'm not sure I want to know," he said.  

"Susan likes you," she said.  "She's going to be coming, too, so I guess it can't be that bad."

"So what's the dress code?" Harm said, changing the subject.

Mattie grimaced.  "Dresses. Fancy ones.  And they're supposed to be pastel."

Harm shot her a grin.  "I guess we'll almost match, then."

Mattie turned and gave him a tight hug.  "Thanks, Harm," she said.  She started to get up, but Harm's hand on her arm stopped her.

"Is your homework done?" he asked.

Mattie nodded.  "Yeah.  The math you helped me with was the last of it--I finished my English homework after school."

"Good."  He hugged her again.  If at the end of the six months, she ended up going back with Tom, he'd really miss her hugs.  It'd been a long time since anyone had gotten close enough to him to allow that kind of contact.  Not for the first time, he realized that without Mattie, his life would be pretty empty.

Mattie settled back next to him.  "Is that mean old Admiral gonna send you anywhere?' she asked.  "I *hate* it when you have to leave."

Harm held up his arm for her to settle underneath.  "Not as far as I know.  Mattie, honey, you know that I'm going to have to leave sometimes for investigations."

Mattie laid her head against his shoulder.  "I know.  But that doesn't mean I have to like it."

Harm gave her a squeeze.  "I'll always come back," he promised.  "You're not alone, kiddo.  I promise."

"And you don't break your promises if you can help it," she said softly.

"Never.  You're my little girl, Mattie.  Nothing can change that."

"Even if the judge sends me back to my dad?  I *won't* stay with him.  I'll run away and come back here!" she said fiercely.

"It won't come to that, kiddo.  If you want to stay with me, we'll work it out.  You're old enough that the judge should listen to you about who you want to live with."  Harm gave her a half-smile.  

Mattie snuggled closer to him and yawned.  "Good.  I hate him."

"Don't, Mats.  I've seen what that can do to somebody--ask Mac about her dad sometime.  Her situation growing up was a lot like yours."  Harm brushed a stray curl from Mattie's face.

"What happened?" she asked, interested.

"It's not my story to tell," he said softly.  "You'll have to ask her."

Mattie yawned again.  "Okay."

Harm glanced at the clock.  "Bedtime for you, kiddo.  You've got school in the morning."

"In a minute," she said.  "I'm getting up, I swear."

Harm let her sit there until he noticed that she was starting to fall asleep.  As much as he loved being her dad, he didn't want to try to carry her to bed.  She was much too big for that.  "C'mon, Mattie.  Up."  

Yawning, Mattie stood up and shuffled to the door.  "After Alateen?" she said.

"Yeah.  I'll be in to tuck you in a few minutes, okay?"

Mattie grimaced.  "All right."

Harm suppressed a chuckle as he watched her leave.  As much as she pretended not to like it, she'd complained the few times he hadn't made it home in time to tuck her in.  Mattie presented a tough façade to the rest of the world, but she wasn't as tough as she pretended.  Harm had only guessed that her mom used to come in at night to make sure she was okay, so he was happy to continue the nightly ritual.    He'd be Mattie Grace's father--for as long as she let him.

~*~*~*~

1600 LOCAL
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Harm shifted from foot to foot as he waited for Coates's substitute to let him into the Admiral's office.  Usually, he'd just leave a message that he was securing early, but today, that just wasn't an option.  They were too busy at the office for him to just take off without warning.  "Commander," the petty officer said, interrupting his thoughts.  "The Admiral can see you now."

"Thank you, Petty Officer," he nodded absently at the young man, walked into the Admiral's office, and came to attention in front of the desk.

Admiral Chegwidden looked up.  "At ease, Commander."

Harm relaxed a little.  "Sir, I need to secure early today--I have to take Mattie shopping for a dress for that Daddy/daughter dance that the officers' wives are holding."

The Admiral leaned forward, his eyebrows lifting into his non-existent hairline and peered over his glasses.  "Commander, isn't there a female in your life that can take care of this for you?  We're short handed around here, in case you haven't noticed.  Why do you have to be the one to take her shopping?"

"Sir?"  Harm clenched his hands behind his back.  "Petty Officer Coates seems to enjoy shopping with Mattie, but sir, she's sick.  Harriet's busy with her work around here as well as Jimmy and Little AJ, and well, you know as well as I do that Mac and I just can't seem to… connect lately.  Mattie is my responsibility, sir,"

"I see." AJ leaned back a little.  "Permission granted.  Heaven knows that I wish I'd been around to take Francesca to more of those things."

"Thank you, sir."  Harm came to attention again.

"Dismissed--and I'll expect you in early tomorrow."  The Admiral gave him a sharp nod and turned his attention to the paperwork on his desk.

Harm executed a perfect about face and left the Admiral's office, breathing a sigh of relief.  After a quick stop at his office for his briefcase and cover, he headed downstairs.  Briefly, he wondered what the heck he'd gotten himself into--the thought of venturing into the women's section of the department store was vaguely disturbing.  Especially if Mattie dragged him anywhere near the lingerie section.

Sure, he'd bought her the dress to wear to court, but, well, from her remarks afterwards, it wasn’t exactly something her age.  If he had it his way, the dress he'd be buying for her would be long sleeved, high-necked, and at least ankle length.  If he had it his way, Mattie wouldn't be dating until she was thirty, or through the Academy.  There was no way that he'd get her a dress that would be an invitation for teenage pregnancy.  Not his daughter.

And when she did start dating, well, his service weapon always could use a cleaning.  It was much, much more accurate than a shotgun.  He climbed into the 'vette, started it, and headed to the Community Center where Mattie's meetings were held.  Shopping.  The women's clothing department.  The more he thought about it, the more unsettling the idea was.  He'd never let any of his various girlfriends drag him with them.  Hell, he'd never even gone with his mom or Mac.

But for his daughter, he would.  If just to pick out a completely modest dress for her that wouldn't give even Keeter ideas.  And Keeter could pull sexual innuendo out of almost anything.  He was determined to make sure that Mattie looked fifteen.  A very innocent fifteen.  And sometime soon, he'd have to talk to Mac about teaching Mattie to kick box.  The faster she learned to beat up suitors, the better.  He grimaced as he pulled up in front of the Community Center.  He'd have to have the sex talk with her.  Soon.  Or more appropriately, the no sex until you're married talk.

Maybe even a no-sex-ever talk.  Yeah, like that'd work.  He just didn't want anybody getting… ideas about his little girl.  She was growing up far too fast for his taste.  He'd overheard her talking about boys the other night.  As long as they kept their hands--and lips--to themselves, he supposed it was okay.  

Harm knew that by the time she got out of the Academy, she might be sexually active, but it wasn't something he wanted to think about.  If he had it his way, he'd be hand picking her husband when the time came--and he'd make sure that the guy knew better than to hurt her.  His service weapon was a good tool.  Much more accurate than a shot gun.  Great for… convincing teenage boys and young men that Mattie wasn't to be messed with.

Harm pulled up in front of the recreation center and came to a stop.  He climbed out of the car and started towards the door when Mattie came rushing out and bounded down the stairs.  "Hey Harm!" she called.

Harm smiled.  "Hey, kiddo.  Ready to go?"

Mattie skidded to a stop in front of him and shifted from foot to foot.  "Yep!  Susan, Linda, and Becky are going to be around, too, because they told me that their moms are taking them shopping for dresses today."

Harm gulped and opened the door to the corvette.  "Um, okay.  Is Linda the one I heard calling me hot when I brought you that, um, stuff you needed?"  He got in and shut the door.

Mattie climbed into the car before she shook her head and fired him a mischievous grin.  "Nope.  That was Becky--but Linda agreed with her.  They all think you're hot, for an old guy."

"Old?"  Harm pretended to look affronted.  He vaguely remembered how he thought that anyone over about twenty-five was old when he was Mattie's age.  

"Relax, Harm," Mattie said as she leaned back in the seat.  "You're not that old… for a dad."

Harm laughed and started the car.  "Let's get to the store before your friends get all the good dresses."

Mattie rolled her eyes.  "Ha-a-a-rm!  It's a mall!  There are *plenty* of places to find those!"

"I asked Jen last night," Harm commented.  "She said to try JC Penny's first."

Mattie nodded.  "Okay.  She told me that, too."

Harm pulled out of the parking lot and headed towards the mall.  "Penny's it is," he said.  Inside, he breathed a sigh of relief.  What Jen had actually said was that Penny's had some *affordable* formal dresses.  That's what he needed.  An affordable dress that fit in his budget, covered Mattie from neck to toe, and shouted hands-off to all the boys so they wouldn't get… ideas.

Maybe if he found one that was… green.  Marine green or puke green.  Yeah, that might work.  "Mattie, what do you think of green?" he asked.

"Not my favorite color.  And we're supposed to be wearing pastels," she reminded him.

Darn!  Hm.  Baby puke was sometimes a pale green.  "Okay," he answered, his mind busy with ways to make sure that the opposite sex kept their distance from Mattie.

Mattie glanced at him.  "Why?  Wait--I know that look.  I've seen it on Becky's dad's face every time a guy comes over to flirt with her.  You want to make sure that none of the guys there get any ideas, don't you, Harm?"

Harm stopped at the red light and looked at her.  Mattie's arms were crossed over her chest.  "Guilty.  I guess I just don't want you to grow up any faster than you already have," he said with a sigh.  He'd had this discussion with her before.  He wanted Mattie to have the chance to be a kid, not be thrust prematurely into adulthood again.  The light turned green, so he stepped on the gas.

"All right."  Mattie gave him a big smile.  "You have permission to glare at anyone who asks me to dance until they keep their distance--and I also know where to kick if they try something."

Harm gave her a look.  "Don't permanently injure them."

Mattie simply rolled her eyes.

"I think we need some ground rules--nothing backless, strapless, topless, skirtless, or sleeveless.  I won't buy anything like that."

"Ha-a-a-rm!  That's just what I wanted!" Mattie dissolved into giggles.

Harm refrained from rolling his eyes.  "I'm serious, Mats."

"I know you are--I remember the dress you got me for the hearing.  Harm, no offense, but it's something that my Mom might've dressed me in when I was six."

Harm reached over and tugged one of her curls.  "You're my little girl, honey.  I want you to *stay* little."  He pulled into the mall parking lot and started searching for a parking space.

"You gonna start putting weights on my head when I sleep to make sure I don't grow?"

Harm laughed.  "Hadn't thought of that.  I'll take it into consideration… since you grow while you sleep…"  He pretended to think about it for a few minutes while Mattie groaned and rolled her eyes.  "Nope.  I think if you want to be a pilot, you *need* to grow."

Mattie smiled as they pulled into a space.  "I'm guessing that you're going to have a talk with every CAG and every Captain of every ship I serve on."

"Damn straight.  They're not allowed to get you killed.  If they do, I'll sue their asses.  *Then* I'll hunt them down."  Harm turned off the car, pocketed the keys, climbed out, and started towards the entrance.  

Together, the two of them started towards the entrance to the mall, with Harm modulating his steps so that Mattie wouldn't have a hard time keeping up.  "Harm?"  Mattie said softly.

"Yeah, Mats?" he answered absently as he scanned the mall directory.  His idea of shopping was more of a walk-into-store-and-grab-a-half-dozen-shirts-in-the-right-size thing.  He didn't usually have to search stores for particular items.  He didn't think he'd ever even been into JC Penny's.

"Um, are you trying to get rid of me?" she asked, her voice almost inaudible.

Harm turned around.  "Why would you think that, kiddo?" he asked as he brushed one of her curls behind her shoulder.

"Because you're trying to get me to talk to Tom," was her immediate response.  "He'll try and get me back. I don't *want* to go back!  I hate him.  I want to stay with you, Harm!"

Harm slung his arm around her shoulder and gave her a one-armed hug.  "I know.  I'm not asking you to go back, sweetheart.  I'm asking you to give him another chance to make things right."

"Same thing," Mattie said.

"No, it's not," he insisted.  "Hating her father hurt Mac for a long time, and I don't want that to happen to you."

"What happened?"  Mattie said curiously.  

Taking one last quick glance to affix the location of the store into his head, Harm started walking down the mall.  "Not my story," he said.  "But you might be able to convince Mac to tell you one day."

"Okay."  Mattie was silent for a moment as they got closer to the store.  "So you don't want me gone?"

"Never.  If I had it my way, Mattie, you'd be changing your last name and staying with me forever… or until you leave for the Academy," he said with a half-smile.

Mattie bit her lip and stared at her feet as they went into the store and walked through cosmetics.  "But what if… well, what if I end up back with *him* anyway?"

"Depends on if it's what you want," he admitted.  "If you want to stay with your dad, I'll support you.  I want you to be happy, honey.  But if you don't want it, I'll fight like hell to keep you."

Mattie grabbed his hand and pulled him to a stop before she threw her arms around him.  "Thank you… Dad."

Harm returned the hug, momentarily forgetting where they were.  Remembering, he pulled away, but not before he dropped a kiss into her hair.  "C'mon, let's get you that fancy dress."

Mattie nodded.  "I think it's upstairs."  She grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the escalator.  "I want something blue," she informed him.  "And nothing too frilly or anything.  My mom used to make me wear frilly dresses when I was little.  I looked like something off the top of a cupcake."

With some effort, Harm managed not to laugh.  "Was that a good thing or a bad thing?" he asked.

"Bad.  It was like all the ruffles, bows, and lace in the world had been thrown all over me."  Mattie made a face.  "It was *awful*."

Harm looked thoughtful.  Before he could open his mouth to say anything, Mattie interrupted.  "Don't you *dare*!"

He tried to look innocent.  "What did I do?"

"It's not something you did, it's what you were *planning* on doing." Mattie said.  "I want something simple.  And I'm all for something modest.  I don't want anybody ogling me."

"Good."  Harm gave her a sharp nod.  He gulped as the top floor came in sight.  It was… lingerie.  And he had to walk past it.  He glanced at Mattie.  Maybe she wouldn't make him go there.  He sincerely hoped so.  He'd rather walk through a mine field again than go into the lingerie section.

Walking through a mine field or letting a dirty nuke chase him would be easier and a hell of a lot less embarrassing than wandering into women's lingerie.  Using his height to his advantage, Harm spotted the formal wear section as they stepped off the escalator.  "C'mon, Mats, it's over there," he said, nodding in the correct direction.

"Okay.  Tell you what, we'll grab some dresses and I'll try 'em on, so we can get out of here quick."

"All right."  Mentally, he breathed a sigh of relief.  It didn't look like she was planning on making him head into forbidden territory.  It was a matter of minutes before they got there, and it didn't take long to locate dresses in Mattie's size.  It was harder, though, to find some that met with the standards they'd agreed on.  It seemed as if all the dresses in Mattie's size were strapless, or had spaghetti straps, or were two pieces and showed her belly button, or… They weren't something he'd ever buy for her, at any rate.

Grimly, he swore to himself that he'd never buy Mattie a bikini.  Ever.  As long as he had her, she's be wearing those racing suits he saw Olympic swimmers wearing.  The kind that covered from neck to knees.  Some of the "gowns" he'd seen weren't much better than a lot of bikinis.

"Harm!" Mattie called.

He hurried over.  "Found anything?"

"Yep!  There's a rack here with some that I can wear," she gave him a big smile.  

Reaching out, he pulled one out and studied it.  It was simple, but it wouldn't be skin-tight.  It also was a whole dress, not like some of the others they'd seen.  "See any you like?" he asked.

Mattie nodded, and added a couple of dresses to the pile on her arm.  "Let's find the dressing room, and I'll try them on."

Harm nodded and silently took some of the hangers from her.  Together, the pair walked towards the sign that said "dressing room."  Harm's step faltered as he noticed that it was, of all places, in the middle of the women's lingerie section.  He could feel his face and ears turning red at the thought of going among all those frilly, lacy things.  He took a deep breath.  He was a fighter pilot.  Surely he could handle going into a section of the department store.

He swallowed visibly as they crossed the linoleum-tiled aisle between formal wear and lingerie.  Nope.  He couldn't go in there.  He stopped for a moment and stared at the underwear.  Not in a million years.  If Mac ever broke up with Webb and they finally straightened things out, he couldn't do it.  That's what Victoria's Secret catalogues were invented for--so men didn't have to go into *that* section to buy a present for their girls.

"Harm?" Mattie tugged on his arm.  "Please?"

She must've seen the panicked look on his face, because the next words out of her mouth were, "I know you don't want to go there, but *please,* Dad?"

Harm sighed as he looked at her upturned face.  He was jello.  He couldn't help it.  When Mattie gave him that pleading look, he couldn't resist her big blue eyes.  "Okay," he agreed finally, forcing himself to walk forward and into those--women's things.

Mattie stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek.  "Thanks, Harm," she said.  

Harm followed her in embarrassed silence to the dressing room, then handed the dresses to her before she disappeared inside.  He sat down in the armchair outside and started flying traps in his head to take his mind off exactly *where* he was.  He jumped, startled, when three more teenage girls and their moms walked up, chattering loudly.  He stood up.  "Ma'am," he said respectfully to the women.  

Recognizing him, Susan's mom smiled.  "Hello, Mr. Rabb."

He nodded again, then offered the women his chair.  The moms ushered their daughters inside, then each made excuses and hurried back in the direction of formal wear.  Harm sat back down, folding his tall frame into the small armchair.  He fiddled with a loose thread on the arm of the chair, wishing that Mattie would hurry up so that they could pay for the damn gown and go home.

Unfortunately, it was Linda who emerged first.  "So, you're Mattie's dad?" she smiled at him and gave him a flirtatious look.  Before he could answer, she continued.  "Wait--she said you're her guardian."  She walked towards him, posing for a second so that he could see that the gown she was wearing was one he'd forbidden Mattie to have.  She flipped her long, blonde hair over her shoulder and sank to her knees beside his chair.

Harm scooted unobtrusively away from the teenager.  He didn't even have to remind himself that she was jail bait--she wasn't Mac. "Um, yes," he said.  "Mattie's a nice kid who needed a break."

Linda smiled sweetly and moved a bit closer.  "We're not kids," she said.  "We're old enough for… a lot of things."

Harm raised an eyebrow at that last statement and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  He considered getting up and leaving, but Mattie was inside, and would soon come out so that he could see her in one of the gowns she'd taken in with her.  Before he could say anything, Susan came out from behind one of the doors to look at her current dress in the mirror.  It was much like the dresses that he and Mattie had chosen--a whole dress that made Susan look fifteen instead of forty-five.  "Hey Mr. Rabb," she said cheerfully.   "I found Mattie looking for a dressing room, and she promised to be out in a few.  I zipped up her dress for her."   


He smiled, grateful to be able to ignore Linda's presence.  "Thanks, Susan.  Nice dress."

Susan smiled back.  "Not too sure of the color, but Mom likes it.  Oh, Linda, your mom is heading back this way.  I'd get up if I were you."

With a muttered, "shit!" Linda got up and hurried back into the dressing room.

"I'd be careful of Linda, Mr. Rabb," Susan warned.  "She goes through guys like candy and she doesn't like not getting her way; she gets mean when she doesn't get it.  Her mom told her she couldn't have the dress she was wearing…"

Mattie came out, saving him having to reply.  She was wearing the simplest dress that they'd picked out.  It was classy, pale blue with lace edging on the collar, sleeves, and hem.  It was also the most modest of the gowns that they'd found.  It was… perfect.  She looked fifteen.  A very, very innocent fifteen.  Harm stared at her, almost wishing he could find something to object to. She was much too pretty in that dress for his peace of mind.

"Harm?" Mattie began nervously.  "Do I look okay?"

"Turn around," he requested.

Mattie obeyed, twirling in place.  It fit too well.  He couldn't refuse.  "You look beautiful, honey.  Is that the one you want?"

Mattie nodded.  "I like the color--and it fits.  Please, Harm?"

He took a deep breath.  He was definitely going to need his service revolver when teenage boys started recognizing how beautiful his daughter was.  Luckily, he wasn't planning on letting her date for another ten years.  "All right," he agreed.  "Go change, kiddo."

"Thank you!" Mattie leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, giving him a chance to notice that the neckline was high enough that even leaning over, nothing showed.

Harm smiled.  "Go change."  Mattie turned around and started back towards the dressing room.  Vaguely, he remembered Renee complaining about having to buy shoes to match formal dresses for the various parties that she'd dragged him to.  "Mats?"

Mattie turned around.  "Yeah?"

"Do you have shoes, or do we need to get those, too?"

Mattie stood still for a minute, thinking.  "Nope.  I think the ones you bought me for the hearing will work.  I don't want heels, because I'd probably fall and break my neck," she said.

Harm grinned.  "Good.  You don't need to be taller, kiddo.  Now scoot!  We'll grab some take-out on the way home, because it's too close to dinner time to start cooking now."

Mattie's face lit up.  "Pizza?"

"We'll see."  

Mattie nodded and hurried back into the dressing room.  "You make me miss my Dad and my brother," Susan observed wistfully.

"Who's bringing you to the dance?" he asked gently.

"My grandpa," she said.  "He and my mom are.  I just really miss them, you know?  Especially at stuff like this.  Are you bringing anybody besides Mattie?"

Harm hesitated.  He hadn't even thought about it.  "I don't know," he said.  "I might try to bring a friend of mine.  She's said that she wants to get to know Mattie better."

"Girlfriend?" Susan questioned.

Harm simply shook his head.  "No," he said softly.  "She's one of my best friends, though."

Susan nodded.  "See you later, Mr. Rabb.  I gotta go change into a better color."

Harm smiled absently as she left.  He supposed he could ask Mac.  She was probably busy with Webb, but, well, he wanted his best friend back.  No more fighting.  It hurt too damn much.  And he'd love to be able to dance with her again.  It seemed like years since the last time he'd been allowed to hold her, even under the pretext of a dance.

He looked up as he heard one of the doors open.  Harm hoped that it was either Mattie or Susan--not Becky or Linda.  He'd never actually met Rebecca, but if she was anything like Linda, he didn't want to.  He breathed a sigh of relief when Mattie bounded out of the dressing rooms, with her dress slung over her arm.  "Ready to go?' he asked.

Mattie gave him a wide grin.  "Yep!  So are you gonna ask Mac to come with?"

Briefly, Harm wondered if she'd told Susan about him and Mac, but dismissed the thought.  It was like pulling teeth to get her to talk about stuff sometimes, and he was sure that she wouldn't tell secrets to anyone.  "I'm thinking about it," he said finally as he took the gown from her.

"Good.  I'd like her there, too."  Mattie started walking towards the cash register.  "I mean, if it weren't for her, I'd be in foster care and I wouldn't have you for my dad."

"I'll ask," he promised.

"I mean, I don't think she really loves that guy Webb, because she wouldn't have said what she did at the hearing if she did."  Mattie turned around and started walking backwards so that she could see him.  

"Careful, Mats," he warned.  "I knew a guy who broke his wrist doing that."

Mattie waved away the warning.  "I know you lo--"

"Don't." he said softly.  "She said never.  No means no.  Never means never.  I'll invite her as my friend so we can all spend time together."

"But Harm!"

Harm pressed on, ignoring Mattie's protest.  "You should really get to know her, Mattie.  She's been through a lot of the same stuff you have, and I think it'd be good for both of you."  They reached the counter, so Harm handed the gown to the sales lady and reached for his wallet.

"Harm!"

Harm pulled out his debit card and handed it over. "No matchmaking, Mattie."

Mattie was silent for a few minutes while he signed the electronic pad.  "Is that why you wanted me?" she asked finally.  "Because I reminded you of her?  Is that why you asked the court to let me live with you?"

"A little," he admitted.  "But mostly, I wanted you to come and stay with me because you needed someone.  And because you're Mattie Grace.  I'm thankful that she talked to Tom, because it means that you're my daughter."  He put the debit card back in his wallet, folded the bagged dress over his arm, and stuffed the receipt and his wallet in his hip pocket before he gave her another one-armed hug.  "No matter what happens, sweetheart, that'll never change."

Mattie hugged him back.  "Okay," she said softly.  "I love you, too."

Harm smiled and the two of them walked back to the escalator and headed out of the store.  He'd talk to Mac about going later.  In fact, he'd better go to her place soon if he wasn't going to chicken out.  But he'd better call ahead of time to make sure that he didn't have to face Webb's smirk when he asked Mac to come with them.  If he did, he was sure that he'd be facing charges, and at the very least, Webb would be facing another broken nose.

~*~*~*~

2148 LOCAL
HARM'S APARTMENT
NORTH OF UNION STATION
WASHINGTON, DC

Harm stared at the phone.  He should pick it up and call her.  If he didn't ask…  Well, not only would Mattie get mad at him, but Mac wouldn't come.  He *couldn't* spoil Mattie's evening.  But Mac was sure to be busy with Webb.  Part of him wanted to hate the spook for taking Mac away from him, but Webb hadn't really taken Mac from him.  She'd never really been his.  Her comments at the taxi stand in Paraguay had cleared out all of his illusions about that.


Still, she'd helped him with Mattie.  And Mac seemed to like his ward.  Maybe, with Mattie wanting it, too, she'd accept.  Maybe the dance would be a decent excuse to spend some time with his best friend.  He'd almost accepted that it was all he could have.  And Sarah Mackenzie's friendship was better than nothing.  

He took a deep breath and started to reach for the phone.  Just as he was about to pick it up, there was a knock at the door.  "Harm?  Ya decent?"  Mattie's voice called.

Harm dropped his hand and quickly sat down on the couch.  "Yeah.  Come on in, Mats."  

Mattie walked on and flopped down beside him.  "Have you called Mac yet to ask her?"

"Um, not yet," he glanced at Mattie.  "Hey, isn't that my shirt?  And why aren't you in bed?  I know your homework's done, but it's a school night, and you have to be up early--"

Mattie shrugged.  "I stole it out of your drawer.  It makes me feel safe, okay?"  She looked down at her lap.  "Andyouhaven'ttuckedmeinyet," she said in one breath.

Harm gave her a hug.  "All you had to do was ask," he said softly.  "I'll call Mac to make sure Webb isn't there, and then I'll tuck you in before I go over to ask her, all right?"

Mattie laid her head on his shoulder.  "Why not just ask on the phone?" she asked.

Harm smiled.  "Because it'll be harder for her to say no if I ask in person.  If I got you a Patrick Henry shirt of your own, could I get mine back?"

Mattie shook her head.  "Nope.  It wouldn't be the same.  *Call* her."

Harm sighed, picked up the phone, and hit speed dial.  "Hello?"  Luckily, it was Mac who'd answered it.

"Hey, Mac," he said.

"Harm," was the cautious response.

"Um, I wanted to know if I could come over for a few minutes.  I've got a little problem that only you can help with."

He heard Mac sigh.  "This can't wait until work tomorrow?"

"It wouldn't be… appropriate for me to ask at work."

"I guess.  I'm up doing paperwork anyway," Mac said.

"Thanks, Mac," Harm said.  "I'll be over as soon as I get Mattie settled."  He suppressed a grunt as Mattie elbowed him in the stomach.

He could hear suppressed laughter in Mac's voice as she said her goodbyes.  "Hey!  What was that for?" he protested as he hung the phone up.

"You *told*," she said.  "You're not supposed to tell.  I'm too old to be tucked in."

"I'll make Mac promise not to spill the beans," he promised.  "And as long as you want me to, I'll tuck you in.  You're not too old, honey."  Harm hugged her again.  "C'mon, it's past your bedtime."

Mattie sighed and stood up.  "All right," she grumbled.  

Harm got up and followed her into the other apartment.  A few minutes later, after pulling the blankets up around her and kissing her on the forehead, he'd grabbed his keys, locked both doors, and was on his way to Mac's place.  It was funny, he thought, how tough Mattie wanted to appear.  Sometimes it was easy to forget that she was only fifteen, and a very insecure fifteen at that.  

But other times, like when she insisted on him tucking her in at night, he could still see the little girl lurking inside.  Sometimes, he wished that he were *really* her father, that he'd been there for her since she were a baby.  Then he wouldn't ever have to face the reality of losing her to her real father.

It was like someone had thrown his and Mac's personalities into a mixer, and the result was Mattie.  He sighed as he pulled into the parking lot of Mac's building.  He'd taken Mattie because she needed someone, but somehow having her was helping him as much as it was helping her.  Harm climbed out of the Lexus, locked it, and hurried upstairs to Mac's apartment.

Shifting from foot to foot, he knocked on the door and waited.  Mac opened it.  Her hair was slightly tousled, and she looked irritated with him. "Come in," she said.  "What couldn't wait until tomorrow?"  She crossed her arms over her chest, drawing his attention to the cowboy pajamas she was wearing.

He licked his lips.  If she weren't involved with Webb… 'Down, boy,' he chastised himself.  She's made it abundantly clear that she didn't want him.  It didn't matter how… sexy… she made those pjs look, she wasn't his.  No meant no.  Never meant never.  She wasn't his, and she wouldn't ever be his.  "Um," he turned around and studied her bookcase.  "Mattie's been after me to ask, and I, well, I miss you Mac."

"Ask me what?"  her voice was gentle as she turned him around.

Harm looked at the floor, then gave her his best beaten-puppy-dog-look.  "Will you, um, gotothedaddy/daughterdancewithmeandMattienextFriday?" he asked in a rush.  He could feel his face turning red.  "Um, you know, the one that the officers' wives are sponsoring?  Mattie and I would like you to come with us… and I'd like to spend some time with my best friend."

"Am I?"  Mac wondered.

"Are you what?" he asked.

"Your best friend, still?  We haven't been very nice to each other in a long time."

"Yes." Harm said simply.  "I meant it.  I never want to lose you."

Mac drew in a deep breath.  "Okay," she said finally.  "I'll go."

"We'll pick you up at twenty-thirty next Friday, if that's okay."

Mac nodded.  "Sure."  As he turned to leave, she stopped him.  "Harm?"

"Yeah?"  Harm stopped for a moment.

"Is the dance formal?  Like the Surface Warfare Ball?"

He turned around to face her.  "Yes.  I had to take Mattie shopping for a dress this afternoon."

Mac grinned.  "I would've liked to have seen that."  

Harm rolled his eyes.  "See you tomorrow, Marine."

"Bye, Harm," he heard he say softly as he left and started down the stairs.  At least he'd get to see her for a while.  He sighed as he left the building and climbed into his car.  He could live without her love, but living without her friendship had damn near killed him.  He'd spent hours over the summer replaying her messages just to hear her voice, but Beth had been right--when he'd talked to her, he'd known that there was no chance of anything more between them.

Things still weren't great.  He wished that he could go back and relive a lot of the past two years.  Maybe then they could've moved forward.  Harm started the car, pulled out of the parking lot, and headed towards home.  He still had Mattie.  With her there, his life wasn't empty.  And even when she inevitably went back to live with her real dad, he'd make sure that he was still a part of her life.  It would have to be enough.

~*~*~*~

1945 LOCAL
MAC'S APARTMENT
GEORGETOWN, VIRGINIA

Mac rifled through her closet, looking for something to wear that Harm hadn't seen before.  It wasn't a date.  Really.  She'd only agreed to go because of Mattie.  Harm had made it perfectly clear that he didn't want her when he didn't fight for her after Paraguay.  She still loved him, was still in love with him, but sometimes love wasn't enough.  She couldn't wait for him forever.  So if she couldn't have Mr. Right, she supposed she'd settle for Mr. Right Now.

True, she'd tried it before with Mic, and it hadn't worked out, but Clay wasn't Mic.  And Harm was back in her life.  They hadn't really been getting along all that well, but he was there.  Finally, she pulled a gown out of the closet and studied it.  Perfect.  It was cream-colored satin, overlaid in rosebud-embroidered chiffon.  She'd bought it on impulse one day, but had never actually worn it except for trying it on in the store.

Mac slipped into the dress, zipped it up, and studied her reflection in the mirror.  If she were trying to impress Harm, it might do it, she decided.  It hugged every curve, and the spaghetti straps gave the illusion of barely being there.  Briefly, she wondered if it were a bad idea to wear it, but she dismissed the thought.  She looked damn good.  If Harm had problems with it, that was his problem.  She'd been to the hairdresser earlier; aside from pulling her hair into a bun, she wasn't really used to having long hair yet, and hadn't really known what to do with it.

Mac pulled a single strand of pearls out of her jewelry box, put them on, and looked in the mirror.  It was just the right touch, she decided.  She reached for her makeup bag, pulled out her makeup, and started applying it.  By her calculations, she had thirty minutes, but Harm and Mattie might show up early.  She snorted at the thought.  And pigs might fly.  

Harm had changed some since Mattie had entered into his life, but not that much.  It was a rare occasion when Harm was actually on time for something like this.  With Mattie to get ready, he was sure to be late, as always.  Having Mattie around had been good for him, and he was a good dad.  She smiled wistfully.  Their five-year deal was coming due soon.  While it was true that she still wanted to go through with it, her involvement with Webb made the deal null and void.  Even if she hadn't been involved with Webb, the idea of having his baby when he didn't love her…  She sighed, finished her makeup, and reached back in the jewelry box for her earrings.  

Mac was just finishing putting them in when she heard a knock on the door.  "Coming," she called.  She hurried, still barefoot, into the living room, and opened the door, expecting to see Harm and Mattie.  "Clay," she said, surprised.

"Sarah," Clay smiled at her, then leaned in to kiss her.  "I missed you," he said.

Mac stepped back so that he missed.  "When did you get in?" she asked.

Webb pushed past her and sat down on the couch.  "A few hours ago.  Why don't you go get your shoes, and we'll go out to eat--you're dressed for it," he suggested.  "And then we can go back to my place for a *real* welcome home."

Mac bit her lip.  "I'm sorry, Clay, but… I… can't.  I didn't know you'd be home, and I have plans."

Webb scowled.  "You're going out with Rabb, aren't you?"

"Sort of," she said, then hastened to explain.  "There's a Daddy/Daughter dance tonight, and his ward wants me to come--she called earlier today to make sure I was coming."

"So his kid's going to be there the whole time?" Webb asked.

Mac nodded.  "I need to finish getting ready," she said.  "Call me tomorrow, Clay, and we'll go out, okay?"

Webb sighed and got up.  "All right.  I love you, Sarah."

"I know."  Mac ushered him out the door and locked it behind him.  Harm and Mattie would be there any minute, and she still had things to do before they showed up.  She swallowed, hard, then headed back into her bedroom.  They'd be there to pick her up soon.

~*~*~*~

2030 LOCAL
MAC'S APARTMENT
GEORGETOWN, VIRGINIA

Harm took a deep breath and knocked on the door.  He shifted nervously from foot to foot until she opened it.  He gulped.  "Hi, Mac," he said softly.  "You look… beautiful."

Mac flashed a smile, then grabbed her purse and her wrap.  Silently, he took it from her and helped her put it on.  "Thanks," she said.  "You don't look too bad yourself, Sailor.  And you can put your eyes back in your head now.  Where's Mattie?"

"In the car."  Harm gave Mac a self-conscious smile.  "She said she didn't want to move, because she was afraid of getting dirty."

"Are you *sure* that's Mattie?" Mac asked.  "I don't know her well, but the few times I've seen her…"

"I know." Harm said with a grin.  "I was tempted to ask her if she'd been replaced by a pod person, but I don't think she'd get that reference, anyway."  He paused and opened the door to the stairwell for her.  "Thank you, Sarah.  This means a lot to Mattie, and to me.  I even taught her to dance last weekend so she'd be ready for this."

"You're welcome," Mac said quietly.

They walked down to the car in companionable silence.  Harm opened the door of the Lexus and helped her in.  "Hey Mattie," Mac said with a brilliant smile.  

Mattie smiled.  "Nice dress, Colonel."

Mac twisted around slightly as she fastened her seatbelt so she could get a look at Mattie's gown.  "Thanks.  So I hear you were afraid of getting dirty?"

Mattie smoothed down her skirt self-consciously.  "Yeah.  I've never had anything like this before, and I'm afraid that I might accidentally wreck it."

"You won't." Mac said confidently.  "I remember what that was like, though."

Mattie bit her lip.  "I guess."  She smiled mischievously.  "I got what Harm let me get--he wouldn't let me have anything sleeveless, but I bet he doesn't mind when *you* wear something like that."


"Mathilda," Harm said warningly.  He fastened his own seatbelt and started the car.

"Relax, Harm," she said impudently.  "This is supposed to be *fun*."

Mac giggled softly.  "Mattie, I'm a lot older than you are.  You look very pretty--and fifteen, which is how old you're supposed to look."

Harm looked back and flashed Mattie a smile.  "You look great, honey.  I think I'm going to have to spend a lot of time tonight warning off teenage boys."

"What about other guys who want to make time with the Colonel?" Mattie asked.

"That, too," Harm said.

Mac rolled her eyes.  "I can take care of myself," she reminded them.

"You don't have to," Mattie said.  "We've got Harm to get rid of them for us.  He *promised* that he would leave his gun at home, so I think we're safe."

"Harmon Rabb!"  Mac crossed her arms over her chest.  "Did you tell Mattie that you'd warn off boys with your service revolver?"

"No," he mumbled.  "Thought about it.  They're not allowed to get…  ideas about *my* daughter."

Mattie groaned, as if to say, 'see what I have to deal with," and Mac started laughing.  It only took a few more minutes to reach the hotel that was hosting the party.

Harm got out of the Lexus, shut the door, and hurried around to open the doors for Mac and Mattie. The women got out and shut the doors behind them before taking Harm's proffered arms.  Together, the trio walked into the hotel, where they were directed to the ballroom.  Mattie gasped as she caught a look inside.  It was a far cry from the decorated gyms that she was used to attending dances in.  The ballroom had been decorated with roses, including a rose arbor with what looked like climbing roses wreathing it.  Small tables stood around the perimeter.  Each table had a vase with a single rose in it.  

Mattie was still looking around the room as Harm escorted them to one of the tables.  As he carefully took their coats and hung them on the chairs surrounding the tables, Mattie had a chance to notice that the roses on the tables were actually artificial.  Mentally, she shrugged.  It cut down the cost, she supposed, to not have fresh flowers.   It was pretty, she decided, just as a fashionably dressed woman picked up a microphone.  

She flashed the crowd a big smile, then began to speak.  "On behalf of the officers' wives, I'd like to welcome y'all out to the fiftieth annual Daddy/Daughter Rose Ball," she paused briefly before continuing.  "If we can have all of our fifteen-year-old young women and their fathers to come up to the stage, we'll be starting momentarily."

Mattie took a deep breath to calm the butterflies in her stomach.  "Why did I want to do this?" she muttered.

Harm took a step closer to her.  "Because your friends were?" he suggested.  "Relax, Mattie.  You'll go up on stage, they'll announce that you're my daughter, and that you want to be a pilot, then you'll come down and when everybody is finished, we'll do the Rose Waltz, and then it's over."

"Easy for you to say," Mattie said.  "I'm gonna screw it up.  I'll trip on the stairs or something and fall flat on my face.  Then, during that idiotic waltz, I'll trip you, and we'll *both* end up on our asses."

"Language, Mathilda," Harm said warningly.

"Ha-rm!  Don't call me that!"  Mattie complained.

"Then don't use that kind of language, kiddo," Harm said.

Before Mattie could do more than roll her eyes, Mac interrupted.  "I'm guessing that you've practiced this?" she asked.

"A million times," Mattie admitted.  "But I'm still afraid that I'll screw it up."

"You won't," Mac said with a grin.  "If you've practiced that much, then you know what to do.  I'll be watching the two of you."

Mattie bit her lip and nodded.  "Okay.  C'mon, Harm."  She grabbed her guardian's arm and started pulling him towards the stage.  A glance back at their table showed the Colonel digging in her purse.  Another glance, and she saw Mac pulling a camera out of her purse.  Mattie tried not to groan.  Just what she needed--pictures of her making a fool out of herself.

Just before they got to the stage where the other girls were lining up in alphabetical order, Harm stopped her.  "You'll be fine, honey," he said softly, then kissed her on the forehead.

"Thanks--Dad," she whispered.  Mattie firmly told her stomach to stop bouncing up and down, then took her place in line.  She watched nervously as Harm got in line with the other fathers and waited for her name to be called.  It seemed like an eternity before she was called up, and even longer as she stood under the rose arbor, grinning like an idiot, while they read stuff about her.  

Mattie carefully walked down the stairs, trying not to trip on her long skirt.  She felt, rather than saw, Harm come up beside her, and tuck her hand into the crook of his arm.  He led her to their position in the circle and got ready for the waltz.  "Breathe, kiddo," he ordered softly.  "It's almost over--then we can have some fun."

Mattie gave him a weak smile and rested her hand on his arm.  "Thanks," she said again, not being able to say just how much it meant to her that he was there.
 
Her eyes widened as the last teenage girl was led to the dance floor, and she stiffened as the opening bars of the waltz played.  She ran over the steps of the dance in her head and reminded herself to follow Harm.  Carefully, she went where he led, remembering the lessons he'd given her, as well as the practices for what she was beginning to call the, "damn dance."

She concentrated on the steps, going through every one in her head right before they performed it.  Holding her breath, they went through the spins and twirls that were part of the routine--if she were to trip, she knew it'd be in the middle of a twirl.  Thankfully, she made it through, and they stopped just as the last bars of the music were winding down.  She relaxed slightly, ignoring what the president of the organization was saying. She almost jumped as the young man who'd been assigned to dance with her walked up.

Harm shot him a look of warning, to which he nodded before taking Mattie's hand.  "Um, hi," she said.  "I'm Mattie."

He grinned as he put his hand on her waist and started dancing to the slow song that was playing on the audio system.  "I thought you must have a nickname," he said.  "My parents gave me a weird name too."

"What is it?" she asked curiously.  

"Nathaniel," he said with a slight blush.  "I make people call me Nate."

"It's not too bad." Mattie said with a smile.  "Not as bad as 'Mathilda,' anyway.

"So you really want to fly fighters?" he asked.

Mattie nodded.  "Yeah.  All I've ever wanted to do is fly.  What do *you* want to do?"

"I want to be a doctor," he said with a shy smile.  "At least, I think I do.  My parents like the idea--as long as I still go military."

"Harm hasn't pushed in one way or the other," she said slowly.  "As long as I keep my grades up, he says I can be what I want.  But, well, I've always wanted to fly, and *everybody* knows that Navy pilots are the best."

Nate laughed softly.  "Yep.  My dad's a pilot--and my mom swears that Navy pilots walk on water.  He refuses to say anything to make her change her mind."

Mattie smiled shyly as they swayed to the music.  "If the stories I've heard about my guardian are true, then I think I agree with her."

They came to a stop as the music wound down.  "Thanks for the dance, Mattie," Nate said with a smile, then led her to the edge of the dance floor.  

"You're welcome," she answered, then hurried over to where Harm and Mac were standing.

"He behaved himself, didn't he?" Harm asked, eyeing Nate, who was standing across the room.

"Haaaa-rm," Mattie protested.

Mac nudged him in the ribs.  "Behave," she whispered.  "You were watching the poor kid like a hawk."

Harm gave her a long-suffering look.  "Had to," he responded.

Before he could say anything more, Susan came over and interrupted.  "Hey y'all," she said with a bright smile.  "Was he as nice as he is hot, Mats?" she asked.

Mattie grinned.  "Ohhh yeah," she said.  "He says he wants to be a doctor--and he's going Navy, too."

Susan bit her lip.  "Mine said that he's going to Annapolis and he's going to be in the Marines--let's make a pact, we're not gonna date military, because the casualty list is too high."

Mattie put an arm around Susan and gave her a squeeze.  "Sucks, doesn't it?" she said softly.  She watched as Harm took a half step closer to them, but she shook her head and shooed him away.  Absently, she registered Harm asking Mac to dance, but she was more concerned about Susan.  It hadn't been that long ago that her brother had died, after all.

"Yeah," Susan drew in a shaky breath.  "I mean, dad's gone, and now Joe…"

"At least you've still got your mom," Mattie said softly.  "I mean, you've got somebody *there* who loves you."

"I keep telling myself that, but--"

"You miss them.  And you wish that they hadn't died," Mattie finished.

Susan nodded and looked out over the dance floor.  "What is it between Commander Rabb and whats-her-face?"

Mattie knew that Susan was just trying to change the subject, but she let it pass.  "You mean Colonel Mackenzie?  He loves her.  He told me so."

"I know!  You told me that, Mats.  But the way she looks at him--"  Susan cocked her head and studied the pair.

"I think she loves him too.  They're just too dumb to figure out that they love each other."  Mattie clasped her arms behind her back.  "I thought about trying to help them out, y'know, give them a clue, but I'm afraid of screwing things up even worse.  'Sides, Harm's been making me see my dad, and I'm not sure I want to contend with Mac being that far in our lives."

"But if she loves him--"

"She betrayed him, Susan." Mattie declared hotly.  "She betrayed him, so how long would it take her to hurt him again?  If I end up going home and staying with my father, I'm *not* leaving Harm behind if he's hurting.  He deserves better than that."

Susan was silent for a few minutes.  "How do you know she will?  And do you know for sure that you're going back to Blacksburg?"

"I don't," Mattie admitted.  "But, well, Harm was there for me and took me in when he could've just called the cops and dumped me at Social Services."  She paused.  "I owe him.  And I love him.  I don't know if I want to give Tom a second chance--Harm is my dad, too, and, well…"

"You don't really want to choose between them," Susan said.  

"Yeah.  I don't want to give Mac the chance to hurt Harm again, either--but he trusts her.  And she did help him get me, so I guess she can't be all bad."  Mattie's eyes strayed to the couple on the dance floor.  "I've never seen him happier than when she's with us.  I mean, he's happy with me around; he smiles more now than he used to, but you can just tell, y'know?"

"Yeah.  I saw just now--he lights up when she touches him."  Susan sighed happily.  "It's sooo romantic."

"Grownups," Mattie said in disgust.

Susan giggled helplessly.  "You *could* help him," she pointed out.

"Nope.  She's dating some guy named Webb," Mattie said with a grimace.  

"Must be dumb," Susan commented.  "If I had a guy who looks like your guardian look at me like he looks at her, I'd never let him go."

"I know."  Mattie sat down in a nearby chair.  

"Are you okay here?" Susan asked.  "I need to go rescue somebody from Linda."

"Sure," Mattie answered absently.  She crossed her ankles and bit her lip.  "Harm and Colonel Mackenzie'll be back in a few minutes, anyway."

With a hurried goodbye, Susan gathered up her skirt and started winding her way through the crowd.  Mattie sighed as she watched Harm and Mac dance.  If Harm trusted her, she guessed they'd have to work it out by themselves.  She still wasn't sure about what she'd do if Tom wanted her back, but she was sure of one thing--Harm would always be her dad, and she'd always do her best to keep him in her life.

The End.