||Drama, Humor, Romance(H/M)
words; 43 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
||Through “Pulse Rate”
Chapter 1: First Steps
Commander Harmon Rabb sat with the receiver at his ear, playing with a
paperclip as he sat hunched over his desk, talking quietly. "Look,
Mattie. He probably just likes you."
"Right. He made fun of me in front of everybody. I hate school. It's
stupid." The young voice on the other end was clearly trying not to cry.
"Mattie… you know how it is. He was probably just looking for attention.
Don't let it bother you."
"Easy for you to say. You weren't the one they were staring at."
"Mattie…" Harm hesitated. The female mind in general was often beyond
him, and as far as teenagers went, well… he hadn't been the easiest to
deal with either. "Just ignore him."
"I've been ignoring him! It just seems to make it worse." The voice
cracked this time, and he shifted uncomfortably as she sniffled. Part of
him wanted nothing more than to head out to her school and pop this kid,
whoever he was. Jason? Jimmy? He sighed. The words came out before he
had a chance to think about them.
"Well, sometimes people get worse when they're ignored. They want to see
if they can make you feel anything, even angry or hurt, so they…" His
eyes widened as he saw himself in the courtroom yesterday. A clear
vision of him lashing out at Mac's weak spot. "They just want to know if
they can affect you at all." He trailed off, and the girl seemed to
sense his shift.
"Harm? You okay?"
"Yeah, it's nothing. I just –"
"Harm. If we're going to be a family…"
The naval officer, reduced to being reprimanded by his would-be ward,
chuckled in spite of himself. "Fair enough. Okay, Mattie, but this is
embarrassing, alright? It's personal."
He sounded serious enough for her to pause. "Okay. I'm listening."
He smiled as he realized she was parroting him. "I think I did exactly
"Right. Jason. I think I did exactly what he did. Except I did it to
Mac. And in court."
"She probably deserved it."
Harm paused for a moment, rubbed his forehead with his other hand.
Mattie exhaled. "Well? She probably did."
"Did you deserve it?"
"No! And at least I like Jason."
"Mac is my best friend, Mattie." He frowned at himself, but it was true.
It still felt perfectly natural to say that.
"Right. She sure doesn't act like it."
"Yeah. Like I did in court yesterday."
"But…" she hesitated. "You still like her that much, even after she was
so nasty to you?"
"Yeah, Mattie. Friends find the way to forgive. Just like family." He
sighed. It was so much easier to say than to do. "Even if it's hard."
Shaking his head, he looked out through his office blinds. "And friends
don't take shots at people just to see if it will hurt."
"You know I'm not crazy about her."
He grinned. "I believe you've made that abundantly clear."
"But I'll try not to say anything… if you still think she's your
Smiling at the concession, Harm nodded. "Thanks, Mattie." His smile
changed to a frown. "Did you say you like Jason? You mean like like?"
There was a teenaged pause. "Yeah. You know, to tell you the truth,
that's probably why it hurt so much when he acted that way." A series of
noises made it clear that dishes were moving around. "Did Mac get real
upset when you took a shot at her?"
Harm stared out the window again, his stomach tightening in a compact
little knot. "Yeah."
"Hey. Don't change the subject. Tell me about this Jimmy character."
Colonel Sarah Mackenzie's Office
Mac sighed at the phone as she hung it up carefully. Clay was pushing
for more time together, and as fond as she was of him lately, she was in
no mood to rush. A knock on the door made her look up, and Commander
Harmon Rabb stood in the doorway, his arms folded tightly across his
"Ah... Mac. Do you have a minute?"
"Yeah. What is it."
He paused, looked at her face. "You know, if you're busy…"
"No, I just –" she stopped, shook her head. Getting into a discussion
with Harm about Clay would not be on her top ten list of fun things to
do. "My head was still on the phone, but I'm here. What's up?"
He stepped into the office but left the door half open. He wasn't sure
if that made her feel safer, or gave him a less claustrophobic feeling
about being in her space.
"Mac, I wanted to apologize."
She frowned, her eyes darting as she tried to figure out what he needed
to apologize for. Today.
Stepping closer to her desk, he consciously unfolded his arms. "Do you
still want to be friends?"
Visibly taken aback, Mac sat back in her desk chair. "Do you?"
"I asked you fir-" he stopped, smiled at himself with downcast eyes.
"Yes. I would. But it takes two, and I need to know if you're
Mac watched his eyes for a long moment. "Yes. Our friendship has always
meant a lot to me." She gave him a futile little smile. "You mean a lot
to me, Harm."
He smiled, a bit resigned but warm. "Then I think I need to be honest
with you. I haven't always told you things."
"Reaally." She drawled the word, and they both laughed.
"Yeah. Well. It's always been easier for me to say what I'm thinking
than what I'm feeling. Probably easier for me to understand what I'm
She watched him struggle curiously. Where this was going was a mystery,
but she did want to remain friends with him. "And this means…?"
Harm was staring at the floor again, seemed to argue with an inner
voice. "Okay. What I want to say is this."
With an act of will he shifted his gaze to her eyes, and she could feel
the openness. The vulnerability. It was attractive, damn him.
"I was really out of line yesterday in court. I had no right to say
anything about your personal life to begin with, and taking a shot like
that was more than unprofessional, it was unkind. I'm sorry." She
blinked at him, nodded.
"Thank you, Harm. But I thought we-"
"And the reason that I did it was because I still have feelings for you,
and I guess some adolescent in my mind wanted to see if I could make you
feel anything at all. Even hurt."
Her eyes dropped to her desk. "Harm-"
"Wait." He shook his head. "I'm not looking for anything you can't give,
really. There's no sense in that, and I accept it. But I want you to
know that I'm still… well… healing, I guess. I just want to be able to
do it as an adult, not a teenager." He paused, smiled lightly. "I want
to be a better friend."
Mac looked back up into his eyes, and felt the sincerity. These were not
the kind of statements he was accustomed to making. She stood up and
moved to the other side of her desk, leaned against it. "Thank you. I
know that wasn't easy to say." He shrugged and she went on. "For what
it's worth, I think we're both 'healing'. This has felt like more than a
friendship and less than a relationship for a very long time. I just
hope someday we figure out what the hell it is."
They were looking at each other, their eyes trying to continue the
conversation, when Bud knocked on the door and stuck his head in.
"Excuse me. Commander?"
"Yeah, Bud. What is it?"
"There's a Judge Alberti on the phone?" The look in Bud's eye made Mac
think there was something he wasn't saying. Harm, still distracted by
his conversation with her, frowned.
"Yes, Sir. You wanted to talk to the judge that would be assigned to
the, ah…custody case…" he faltered, and Harm's eyes widened.
"Right. Thanks." He barely nodded to Mac and was halfway out the door
before she could call to him.
"Is everything alright? What's going on?"
He looked back, opened his mouth and closed it again. "I'm adopting a
daughter. Later." And he was gone.
Mac stared after him, then narrowed her eyes and looked at Bud. "Well?"
Bud looked at her, shrugged. "I really can't say, ma'am."
Mac stared for a moment longer, as her temper flared. "Right. He wants
to be friends, but he can't tell me what the hell that meant before he
flies out of here." Sitting down at her desk, her voice dropped to a
dangerous mutter. "Why do I even bother." Bud, who had been
diplomatically heading for the door, paused.
"Ma'am. I'm sure he'd tell you if he-"
"No, Bud. Don't bother doing the good ol' boy defense. I'm sick and
tired of him acting like things will be different and then shutting me
out. 'Adopting a daughter'. Right." Her voice was a bit sharper, a bit
louder than she intended, but she didn't look back up at Bud to ease it.
She just slammed a folder open and began shifting through papers.
Realizing, after a few moments, that Bud had not left her office, she
finally looked up.
"Lieutenant?" Her voice was chilly.
Lieutenant Bud Roberts, the kindest, most patient man in the office,
looked more angry than she had ever seen him.
"Bud?" The expression threw her, and she backpedaled. "What-"
"He's doing something important. Alright? Important. I can see why he
didn't want to tell you."
Mac looked at him in shock. First because Bud was clearly angry with
her, which she had never seen, and secondly because it sounded like Harm
was involved with something... Her defenses got to her mouth first, and
she continued to sound angry. "What do you mean? He's not really
He was almost out the door when she pushed it shut and leaned on it.
"Lieutenant, I don't want to order you…" she stopped, caught herself.
"Good, Colonel, because you couldn't."
"I'd think you, of all people, would understand. Would back him up on
"And why would I do that? Harm, adopting a child?"
"He'd be her legal guardian. And she's not exactly a child, not at
"Fourteen? Dear Lord, a teenage girl? Is he-"
Bud rounded on her, his tone cold as if he was addressing a murderer in
court. "She's alone, Colonel. Alone. Her mother is dead. Her father is
an alcoholic who ran away from the responsibility. She's been working on
her own for years… and Harm is trying to help her. Is that so crazy? Is
that so stupid and irresponsible?" His voice had risen to a yell by the
end of his sentence, and he stopped. "I thought you would understand,
but he was right."
She was more than confused now, but clearly there was nothing she could
say, not when he had that expression on his face. She crossed her arms
and looked down for a minute. "I'm sorry if you think I'm being
insensitive." When she looked up, her eyes looked a little watery, and
he seemed to sag at that. "I'm sorry you're mad at me, Bud. I never
thought that would happen, and now I know why the image of it worried
me." She put out her hand, touched his arm. "Can you please tell me
what's going on? If I promise not to make a scene?"
"I'm sorry, Colonel. That was out of line. But I can't say."
"It wasn't out of line between Mac and Bud, and this doesn't sound like
a military matter. Look, I know things are weird with Harm and me right
now, but I'd like to know if he's getting into something that might be
over his head. Please?"
Bud sighed. "Ma'am…"
"Please, Bud. I promise I won't say a word."
Chapter 2: What Friends Do
Bud looked thoughtful for a moment, then shook his head. "I've already
said too much, Ma'am." He put his hand on the doorknob, but she remained
leaning against it. Her expression shifted slowly to one of resignation.
"Fine, Bud. You have to do what you think is best."
He looked at her seriously. "Yes, I do."
She stood away from the door and crossed her arms. "I admit I'm hurt."
"We used to be like the three musketeers, Bud. We always knew what was
happening with each other. Now…" she shrugged, covering a rush of
sadness that surprised her, one that she couldn't quite explain.
"That's true, Ma'am. But things change. People change."
"I suppose the 'mystery woman' knows all about it, though."
"Oh, please. The one he's been making so much time for on weekends. You
know, the one that calls all the time-" she stopped as he exhaled a
humorless laugh. "What?"
"Yeah, I'm sure she knows all about it." He looked exasperated, and a
little sad. "She is her, Ma'am. No need to be jealous of a fourteen
year-old. –oh, wait. You wouldn't be jealous anyway…" his sarcasm stung,
and this time the hurt showed in her eyes.
"That was below the belt."
"Sorry." He shook his head, seemed surprised at his own anger. "Things
certainly do change."
"And we're no longer friends?"
He sighed. "Permission to speak free-"
"For the love of- Bud, if you haven't been speaking freely already, then
I'm in more trouble than I thought." Her frustrated expression fell into
his thoughtful stare. "Bud?"
"I can't pretend I've ever completely understood the relationship you
two have. Or try to have. Or try not to have. But I know this: when Harm
blew off the Admiral, quit his job-"
"I never asked him to-"
He held up a hand, and that, along with his expression, stopped her.
"-quit his job, broke God knows how many laws, just to get you out of
there – well. There was no doubt in my mind that he felt more than
friendly toward you. Nothing he did was your fault, but…"
She blinked at him, shook her head. "I don't deny any of that."
Bud's head dropped to one side. "Then why didn't you even thank him?"
She stared. "I thanked him." Her expression became a frown. "Didn't I?
Come on, I didn't gush, but I must have actually said 'thank you'…"
Bud exhaled heavily. "Maybe you were too busy letting him know how
things were going to be." He paused, wondering how much he should admit
Harm told him over wine that evening after dinner at their house, while
Harriet put the kids down for the night. Frankly, he wasn't sure, given
the Commander's state of mind that night, that he would even remember it
all. It was as if Harm had been talking to himself, and Bud happened to
"Oh…" Mac turned away, back again. "But he must realize – I mean – I
would have done the same…"
She felt herself wavering as Bud shook his head. "I don't know what he
knows, Ma'am." His hand reached for the door once more. "But I don't see
any real friendship here. It's more like family you're forced to be
around, but don't even really like." Pausing, he added, "And I've got to
say, Colonel, if we're not the 'three musketeers' anymore, it's because
you decided you don't want to play anymore."
"Bud –" He shook his head as he left the office, leaving Mac standing
alone. Feeling very alone indeed. Her eyes were watering now, and she
closed the blinds before moving to sit behind her desk. She reached for
the phone, wanting to talk to someone. There was a moment when she
almost dialed Clay's number, but she returned the receiver to its cradle
with an exasperated noise. Shutting out the rest of the world, she
rested her head on crossed arms for a few minutes.
After a while she lifted her head, took a tissue from the box on her
desk and blew her nose. Another tissue, her eyes dried, she looked at
the computer. Nodding, she began typing a search. Family court. Judge Alberti. She jotted some notes down and tried another direction.
guardianship. Living parent, abandoned child. Ramifications. Mac quietly
thanked God for the efficiency of military legal search engines, took a
deep breath, and continued to make notes.
"Damn, Harm. This isn't going to be easy no matter what he's done." She
stared at the screen for some time, doing her best to stay in lawyer
mode, reading carefully. Sitting back, she stared thoughtfully at the
desk, the ceiling, the wall, looking for inspiration. Her eyes
brightened with a little aha, and she picked up the phone, dialed an
outside line. "Hello, Chaplain Turner? This is Sarah Mackenzie, from
JAG… yes. Good, thank you, and you? No, no, he's fine. Listen, Chaplain…
can we talk for a minute?"
Commander Harmon Rabb's Office
Mac walked through the empty bullpen and up to the office door, which
was closed tightly. The blinds were drawn, and it appeared that the
lights were out. She frowned. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out
her cell phone, dialed his extension. She gave an affectionate little
smile as he picked up, his voice weary.
There was a pause. "Mac?"
"Yeah. You're working late, flyboy." She almost bit her tongue, but the
nickname was already out.
"Not really." The silence dropped back into place, and she took a deep
"Can I come in?"
Another pause, where she could actually picture the frown. She heard him
get up from his desk, walk to the door. "Where are you." He opened the
door as he asked, and they looked at each other, phones still at their
ears. He almost smiled, and spoke into the phone. "Hey, I've got someone
here. I'll talk to you later."
"Bye." They hung up and continued to look at each other. "You could have
"And you could have not answered."
"Right." He motioned for her to come in, and returned to where he sat
slumped at the desk. She almost turned on the lights, but decided the
dim light filtering in from the bullpen might be better.
"How did it go?"
He sighed, looked at her. "Bud usually keeps a secret better than that."
"He didn't have much choice. I provoked him."
Harm's eyebrows raised. "You provoked Bud?"
"Yeah." She clearly didn't want to talk about that. "This is important
to you." It was a statement, not a question.
"Yeah." He didn't seem inclined to elaborate, and she nodded.
"Okay. Then it's important."
He seemed surprised by her attitude, and a little guarded. "You think
Mac sighed. "It's what friends do, Harm." She extended her hand, waited,
and he reached out and gave it a squeeze.
"Thanks, Mac." He released her and slumped back in his chair. "Although
at this point, I'm not sure what's going to happen."
"What happened with Alberti?"
He looked pained for a moment. "She checked my records."
"You have an exemplary military record…" Mac hesitated, thinking.
"Right. The amount of travel bothered her, but what really seemed to get
her was the letter from Annie that's in there."
Mac's jaw dropped, her eyes wide. "Annie complained? Officially?"
"Yeah. Well, not so much an official complaint as … well, I don't know.
All I know is that there's a letter from her in my files, stating that I
not only took her son on an outing without her express permission, by
doing so I put him in direct personal danger. I suppose you'd call it an
"Wow. That could be a problem… but her mental state would certainly be
an arguing point."
He waved his hand. "I don't want to hurt her any more than I have. Hell,
I don't want to even talk with her again." His hands moved restlessly to
a pen on his desk, toying with it absently. "I don't know what's going
"But Harm, the judge must have seen that you're squeaky clean on the
important things – “
"She said, and I quote; 'We can't play the law of averages here'."
Mac nodded. "Everything I read about her says she's tough. But she's
supposed to be fair." There was a longish, quiet pause.
"'Everything you read'?"
"Yeah. You don't think I'd be here this late for nothing, do you?"
He shook his head and exhaled a little laugh. "I should have known." The
quiet settled back in for a stay, as their thoughts unraveled. Mac
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was afraid you wouldn't support the idea. Or that you'd think I was
trying to replace you somehow… one relationship with another."
"Replace me with a fourteen year-old girl?"
"Yeah. A real spitfire with an absent mother and an alcoholic father."
"Oh." A pause. "Were you?"
He chuckled. "No. Although you influenced me. I know you came from a
similar background, and have turned out so successful, so amazingly…
well. I know how much you credit your uncle for being there, taking an
interest, supporting you. I guess I felt like maybe I could be that for
her." He tapped the pen a few times, then dropped it and rubbed his face
with his hands. "I would have liked that."
"You're not giving up, are you?"
"I don't want to, but I don't see how…and how will I tell-" the phone
rang and he picked it up. "Rabb. Oh, hi, Mattie… yeah, I talked to her.
Well…" he looked up at Mac, his eyes shining sadly. She felt her heart
go out to him, and even more so, to this girl she didn't even know.
Her whisper was clear in the dim room. "Tell her it's going to be tough,
but we're not done fighting yet."
"Hang on, Mattie." Harm covered the receiver. "Mac, I don't want to get
her hopes up."
"Her hopes are already up, I'm sure of that. We just have to figure out
how to make it work."
Harm gaped. "We?"
She exhaled and looked into his eyes, her own shining with emotion.
"Hey. We're the dream team, remember? If it can happen, we'll figure out
He stared at her for a long moment, his expression unreadable.
She nodded. "It's what friends do." Turning, she walked out and went
back to her office, determined to make a few more calls before she went
Chapter 3: Waiting
Two Days Later
Outside Courtroom B
Mac reached up instinctively and straightened his collar. "You look
fine. It'll be fine, Harm. Just be yourself."
"That's what I'm worried about. What if myself isn't good enough?"
"Harm." She looked at him, willing him to calm down.
"This is ridiculous, Mac. I've never been this worried before a case,
not even when my career was on the line."
She sighed at him. "That's because this isn't a case, Harm. It's just a
hearing. Just a formal conversation about Mattie." Mac looked down the
hall to see if the courtroom had opened yet. "And you're not worried
about the case, you're worried about her."
His eyes found hers, and the aquamarine edged toward green in his
concern. "What if I let her down, Mac? I started this whole thing-"
"You're doing a good thing, Harm. Let's not borrow trouble." She gave
him a tight little reassuring smile, and he skimmed his hand over her
"Thanks." The commander shrugged his tension and tried to grin. "Getting
Chaplain Turner was a great idea."
"Well, I figure he's God, Man, and the Military all in one nice little
package. Not to mention he's a wonderful advocate."
"It was brilliant." His expression was sincere. "Thank you."
Mac brushed it off. "I try to be brilliant once a day."
"Usually before lunch."
They laughed together lightly, although the tension was still evident.
"You're incorrigible, Rabb."
"Just don't let the judge hear that." His expression shifted abruptly to
his previous nervousness. "What if she won't give me a chance?"
"Listen. We've got good paper. We've got the Chaplain's letter of
recommendation, we've got the Admiral, Bobbi…" She stopped, looked up at
him sincerely. "You have a lot of people on your side, Harm."
"I know." His eyes met hers and became uncommonly gentle. "I don't know
if I'll ever be able to thank you for this. You know I would have been
too worried to tell people, let alone ask for help."
Mac shook her head. "It was only two days. And just some leg work. Or
phone work, as it was. You built your own reputation." She looked up at
him. "And I hope the best way to thank someone is to still be there for
them when they need you."
They stared at each other, and impulsively, he reached out and pulled
her into a hug.
They stood quietly for a moment, and she grinned into his chest. "Butch
and Sundance ride again."
"Thank God." They laughed quietly, still unsure of their footing, but
better. "I just hope it's enough."
Mac sighed. "Harm, at least you have the lawyer's advantage."
He frowned at her, confused. "And what would that be?"
"You know that no matter what happens, you can always challenge it,
fight it, try to find another way. I've seen you do it a hundred times."
He brushed a fond kiss on the top of her head. "Keep it up. I may begin
to believe you." She put her hand on his chest, looking up at him, when
he suddenly tensed, releasing her from his arms.
"There they are." Mac stayed where she was while Harm walked briskly
down the hall to meet Mattie and Bud, who had driven out to pick her up
while Harm readied himself for the hearing. "Wow, look at you." He
smiled down at Mattie, who brushed her hands over her outfit nervously.
"You think it's okay?" She was wearing a simple suit dress of navy blue,
the white blouse underneath showing a bit of lace. "I feel all girlie."
Harm laughed as he hugged her. "You look beautiful, Mattie. And very
professional, as well." She dimpled, looked nearly embarrassed, and saw
"Harm? Why is she here?"
"Mac's been helping me with the case, Mattie. She's been a real
"Mattie…" Harm hesitated, looked between the two women and took a deep
breath. "If we make this work, we'll have Mac to thank for it. She's
worked really hard."
"Why?" The question shone in her young eyes, and Harm looked into them
"Because it's what friends do." He took her by the shoulders and gently
steered her toward where Mac stood quietly down the hall. "And now we'll
see how well you've been practicing the diplomacy thing." Mattie rolled
her eyes at him, then put on a somewhat reluctant smile as they walked
"I don't know if you two have been formally introduced. Miss Mathilda
Grace Johnson, Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Rose Mackenzie." As he hoped,
that earned him a shocked glare from both of them, and he smiled to
himself as they looked back at each other, unable to help the 'do you
believe him?' look. The colonel was first to extend her hand.
"Hi. Most people call me 'Mac', and no one uses the 'Rose' part."
"Mattie. People who call me 'Mathilda' often get smacked."
"It's nice to meet you. Harm speaks very highly of you."
Mattie blinked at the polite offensive, but gained her composure
quickly. "He speaks often of you, as well, Colonel." Mac's smile quirked
into a grin as she noted the phrasing, and the girl relented. "Should I
call you 'Mac'?"
"I would like that."
"Alright." The girl looked around the hall and back to the colonel.
"What do you think the chances of this working are, Mac?"
"Mattie-" Harm's voice was controlled but firm.
"I just want to know, Harm." She looked up at Mac, and Harm was amazed
at how similar their expressions were. "Well?"
Mac looked over her young adversary and made as quick a decision as she
ever had to in court. Harm recognized her 'opening argument' voice and
stared. "I believe that this will be a difficult fight, Mattie, but also
believe that most things worth having are worth fighting for." She
avoided Harm's gaze as she continued, feeling his stare. "You should
also know this: Whatever happens after this interview, Harm will always
be there if you need him. A piece of paper or someone else's opinion
isn't enough to dissuade him once he's made up his mind. Trust me."
Mattie looked away from her and up at Harm. Her defenses crumbled just a
bit, and her voice was younger sounding. "Is that true?"
His expression was completely sincere. "Yes." He grinned. "A deal's a
deal." When Mattie looked away, his eyes darted back to Mac, but she had
backed up a step to stand next to Bud.
"We should probably go find a seat so they can go over the details
before Judge Alberti calls them in." Bud and Mac made eye contact, and
the intensity of his expression made her a little nervous. They hadn't
really spoken about anything but the custody hearing since he blew up at
her two days ago. "Lieutenant?"
He slowly smiled, extended his elbow to escort her into the courtroom.
"You can call me 'Porthos', Ma'am." She stared for a moment before the
reference clicked, then smiled tightly as she put her hand on his arm.
Turning to Harm and Mattie, she said, "We'll see you inside." Her eyes
met Harm's once more. "We'll be right there if you need us."
He nodded, and frowned as they walked away. He thought he heard Mac say
'does that make her D'Artagnan?' followed by Bud's chuckled response.
'We'll have to see how she handles a sword'.
Mattie was still watching them, a delicate frown creasing her brow. Harm
looked at her, puzzled. "What is it, Mattie?"
She sighed and looked up at him with resignation in her eyes. "She's
harder to hate than I thought."
The Commander really laughed for the first time that morning. "Tell me
Chapter 4: Courting Disaster
Judge Alberti was a tall, striking black woman in her fifties. She had
eyes that glittered intensely, and a sharply regal profile. One look at
her and it was all Harm could do not to salute. "And where do you
propose the young lady will live, Mr. Rabb?"
"With me, of course, your Honor." He folded his hands in front of
himself, felt them slide wetly against each other and dropped them to
his sides. He resisted the temptation to stick them in his pockets only
by calling on all his military training and pulling himself to parade
Mac, sitting in the courtroom, could see it from far. She whispered
something under her breath.
"Ma'am?" Bud, sitting next to her, whispered quietly in response. She
looked at him and shook her head.
"He's really nervous. I don't think I've ever seen him this bad, not
even when the Admiral was on his back."
"I know." The lieutenant shook his head. "I wish there was something I
Mac shot him a smile, put her hand on his for a moment. "We're doing it.
And he's not done yet." She looked back up at her partner, who seemed
totally out of his element, and wished she could shake this strange
nervousness that was sitting in her chest. Taking a deep breath, she
listened to the judge.
"But where, Mr. Rabb? I understand the young lady has property that will
be left to her when she comes of age, some distance from here?"
"Yes, your Honor, but we've talked about it, and I'd like to have her in
town with me."
She looked at her notes again. "You're a pilot, correct?"
"And you, as legal guardian, would have jurisdiction over that property
- which includes a hanger, I believe - until she's older?"
Mac stared, amazed. This woman pulled no punches. That she could
actually suggest that Harm might be after the airfield property was
shocking – but also told the colonel that this judge had seen her share
of impropriety in this kind of case. Come on, Harm. Speak to her
concerns, don't just be defensive.
Harm frowned. "I'd help her manage the business, but the properties are
hers and will remain so."
"I see." The judge filtered through some papers on her bench. "You seem
to have a lot of friends in high places, Mr. Rabb." Harm looked at her,
trying to figure out how to react to that comment. "While I appreciate
their fervor, it doesn't change the fact that you travel a great deal,
and are a single man looking to take responsibility for an adolescent
"Your Honor, she would need to be placed somewhere-"
"Which also begs the point: Why didn't you tell child services as soon
as you realized her situation?"
Harm floundered. "She would need to be placed somewhere. Doesn't it make
sense to put her with someone who is willing, even anxious to help?"
Alberti looked down at him over her reading glasses. "Some might say
anxious, Mr. Rabb."
"Your Honor!" He stopped, bit back the objection, realizing his usual
combative style would get him nowhere here. "I assure you that I would
do my best to give Mattie a supportive environment to live in."
There was some quiet as the judge sifted through more of the stack of
papers before her. Eventually she looked up once more, focusing on
Mattie. "Young lady, I'd like to ask you a few questions. Would you come
up here please?" The judge indicated the witness stand chair. Mattie
shot a nervous look at Harm, who nodded with a reassuring look. She
stood and walked up to sit.
"Do I have to swear in or anything?"
It earned her a rare smile from the judge. "No, I just want to know a
few things. For example, how did you meet Mr. Rabb?"
Mattie bristled a bit in spite of Harm's training. "Commander Rabb keeps
a plane at our airfield. A Steerman."
"I see. Does he take good care of it?"
"Yeah, it's in great shape."
The judge raised her eyebrows. "And how did it develop that this
customer decided to try to become your legal guardian?"
The girl frowned. "We just get along, that's all. We're friends. And
when he heard I was on my own he was worried about me, and said he would
do something about it." She looked at Harm and smiled bravely. "It's
what friends do."
He grinned back at her from where he sat.
"Yes. I'm sure. What I'm not sure of is why you want to do this. Your
father is still living. If he comes back, he is still your father."
"He's not coming back. I don't matter to him."
"People change, you know. Are you saying you wouldn't give him a chance,
even if he changed?"
Mac shook her head from halfway back in the courtroom as Mattie
struggled through her response. "Oh, my."
Bud turned to look at her. "It doesn't look good, does it." She shook
her head, unable to answer. While the judge quizzed Mattie on school,
moving, and the business she had been running, Mac frowned and picked up
her briefcase. Quietly she opened it, pulled out a pad, jotted down a
few notes. She handed the paper to Bud.
"Listen," she whispered. "Can you check this out?" He scanned it
quickly, his eyes widening as he did.
"Please, Bud. Would you? You have your laptop with you, right? I can't
leave… I don't know if it will help or not, but we're in the thick of it
now." He looked at her, his expression grim, and nodded.
"I'll see what I can find." Quietly he ducked out of the back of the
courtroom without disturbing anyone. Mac turned her attention back to
"Thank you. You may return to your seat."
"Your Honor?" Mattie's voice sounded quite small in the nearly empty
"I- well, I just want to say that I really want Harm – Commander Rabb -
to be my guardian." The judge gave her a polite smile.
"Yes, that's clear. But I'm sure that you realize what we want is not
necessarily what is best for us." Even Mattie could feel the steel
behind the softly spoken comment, and as she walked back to sit with
Harm her eyes began to water. He leaned over to say something when she
whispered furiously at him, blinking hard. He looked a little dubious,
"Your Honor, if we might take a short recess?"
"Recess? I believe we're nearly finished here, Commander."
Mattie stood and blurted out, "I have to go to the bathroom, okay?" Her
voice cracked and she swiped a hand hard over her face. Harm looked at
her, then at the judge pleadingly.
"Your Honor-" The judge nodded with an elaborate sigh.
"Fifteen minutes. No longer." She stepped down and vanished into her
Harm turned to Mattie but she had dashed down the aisle and out the door
of the courtroom. Mac stood up and looked at him. "Should I follow her?"
"No." He rapped his knuckles on the table. "She'll come back. She just
–" he faltered a bit – "she just doesn't like people to see her cry."
Mac walked down to where he was and put her hand on his arm.
"How are you holding up?"
"How do you think? You can hear it in her voice. Oh, Mac." He rubbed his
fingers against his forehead and closed his eyes. "She's not going for
it. What am I going to do?" He exhaled heavily. "God… what am I going to
Mac blinked back her own tears, trying desperately to find some way to
remain professional, and thereby helpful. He went on, almost talking to
himself, his voice bleak.
"I don't know. I can't even begin to explain why I want this so much. I
didn't go looking for it, she was just dropped in my lap, like a gift…
and now I can't imagine not being there. Not having her." He half turned
away from Mac, staring at the far wall. "The story of my life. Always
too little, too late."
Mac reached out toward him. "Harm –"
He was too distracted to notice. "My dad, us, and now Mattie… Anytime I
try to do something, anything that really means something, it always…"
He seemed to abruptly realize that she was standing there, and shook his
head. "I'm going to get a drink of water. And find Mattie." With a few
long strides he was out of the court, and Mac was left standing there
She took a deep breath, walked up to the judge's bench, and ran her
fingers idly along the smooth maple. Turning, she looked at the room,
one of she didn't know how many court rooms that had shaped her life,
molded her character. Rooms that were built for the sole purpose of
making important decisions.
"I guess that's what I need now."
"Pardon, ma'am?" Bud had walked up to her, silent as her thoughts were
loud. "Is it done? Or are we recessed?"
"Bathroom break. But it doesn't look good. Any luck?"
"Some." He handed her the paper. "Harm might still manage to get primary
custody if her father should show up. It's happened before." Frowning,
he shrugged. "Do you think it will make much of a difference?"
She looked at the paper and smiled wanly. "I'm grasping at straws, Bud.
I wish there was more… but I'm trying to figure out what the judge's
biggest worries are."
"Well, the single fatherhood."
"Right. And the property, but I really don't think that's huge. I think
it's the lifestyle…"
"Right." Bud shook his head. "Not much we can do about that."
"No." Mac looked up as Harm and Mattie walked in from the back of the
courtroom, his arm around her as he leaned over to say something with a
smile while Mattie struggled to keep her composure. Mac swallowed hard.
If that girl knew how hard it was for Harm to smile right now…
She sighed. "There must be something. Something I'm missing." She turned
and saw Bud was watching the connection of the would-be father and
daughter intently, his eyes filling abruptly.
"Sometimes, there just isn't anything you can do, Mac." Her eyes
followed him as he walked slowly back to his seat, looking just a little
older than usual.
"Oh, Bud…" Mac tried to push back the flood of feelings that this case
was stirring up for all of them, and only noticed absently that her cell
phone was buzzing. Blinking back tears, she stepped out in the hallway
to answer it.