Adventures in Fatherhood II: Daddy/Daughter Rose Ball
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
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.
NORTH OF UNION STATION
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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,
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.
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.
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
"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
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
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
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!"
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
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
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
"Ha-a-a-rm! That's just what I wanted!" Mattie dissolved into
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
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*
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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,
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,
"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?"
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
"Careful, Mats," he warned. "I knew a guy who broke his wrist
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."
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 pulled out his debit card and handed it over. "No matchmaking,
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
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.
NORTH OF UNION STATION
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
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
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
"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
Mac drew in a deep breath. "Okay," she said finally. "I'll
"We'll pick you up at twenty-thirty next Friday, if that's okay."
Mac nodded. "Sure." As he turned to leave, she stopped
"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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
"That, too," Harm said.
Mac rolled her eyes. "I can take care of myself," she reminded
"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
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
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
"What is it?" she asked curiously.
"Nathaniel," he said with a slight blush. "I make people call me
"It's not too bad." Mattie said with a smile. "Not as bad as
"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
"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
"You're welcome," she answered, then hurried over to where Harm and Mac
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"Sure," Mattie answered absently. She crossed her ankles and bit
her lip. "Harm and Colonel Mackenzie'll be back in a few minutes,
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.