Standard Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine, I'm just taking them out to play. Not profiting from their usage, other than that of my own personal enjoyment. Hope that you enjoy too.

October 27, 2003

Grace Aviation – Blacksburg, Virginia

1912 Eastern

Harm had spent a long time thinking after his talk with Admiral Chegwidden, thinking about what he wanted out of life compared to what he had now. And as he walked and thought, he came to realize that except for a desire to serve his country, there wasn't anything that he didn't like about his life now. Just as he had told the Admiral, he liked his boss, didn't have to wear a suit and tie and he put in his hours. Plus, there was the flying and while he found a sense of fulfillment in the law, flying was in his blood.

Now, he found himself back in front of the hanger owned by Grace Aviation. All of the planes had been pushed inside and the large door was closed. However, Harm could see a light coming from where the office was located. Thinking that perhaps Mattie's father was working inside, he went to the side door and pulled. Inside, he careful made his way towards the office, calling out as he neared.

"Mr. Johnson?"

Now, however, Harm could see into the office and realized that it was Mattie sitting at the desk. Her head had come up when he'd called out and she now turned in her chair, a certain sadness playing at her features as she faced him.

"You're here to tell me you're going back to work for that mean, old man," Mattie said bluntly.

"No."

"Then why are you here?"

"I was walking past on my way to my bike when I saw the light. I had hoped it was your dad," Harm said, watching her face. She was good, he gave her that, but he could see the fear in her eyes. "Mattie, how come I've never met your dad?"

"He was driving the night my mom was killed in the accident. He'd been drinking and he hasn't stopped since, as far as I know," Mattie replied.

"Where is he?"

"Don't know, don't care."

"How do you take care of yourself?" Harm asked.

"I've got Grace Aviation, it pays the bills," Mattie said.

"And what happens when he comes back."

"He's not coming back, not after what he did."

"And when the FAA or Children's Services find out. Because they will, you know," Harm told her.

"You going to tell?" Mattie asked, afraid of the answer.

"No. But what I will do is look after you, until we can arrange for me to be your legal guardian. Part of that means you need to go back to school."

"I know everything I need to know already."

"Somehow, I doubt that very much," Harm told her. "I'll bet you don't know how to fly."

Mattie's eyes lit up at the implication of the words.

"Come on, Mattie. Let's get dinner, then tomorrow we can start planning this out."

Mattie turned off the office light, but turned on a row of the hanger lights. Once they had reached the door and Harm had opened it, she turned those off as well. After making certain the hanger was locked up for the night, she got into the truck. Harm wasn't exactly pleased with the idea, but she'd either have to drive herself or he'd have to drive the truck and then come back here to get his bike, meaning she'd still end up driving at some point. This seemed to be the best solution all around.

October 28, 2003

JAG Headquarters – Falls Church, Virginia

0722 Eastern

Harm had decided to get things over with, rather than letting the matter drag out. This had an added benefit of not giving himself any time to second guess the choice that he had made. So, this morning had seen him dress in a tan colored suit, with matching tie and white shirt. In the inside pocket of his coat he carried a letter which gave his decision in plain language. He was going to leave the letter with the duty officer downstairs, who would see that it was delivered to the Admiral.

Fate had other ideas, however, as Harm happened to arrive at the same time as Admiral Chegwidden did today. The older officer took in the appearance of Rabb and mentally sighed. The man's choice was obvious.

"Commander," AJ started to say before remembering their words from the other day. "Sorry, force of habit."

"Admiral, I came by to ask that you don't have my commission reinstated. That part of my life is over," Harm told him.

"Join me, Mister Rabb."

Harm was left with little choice but to follow the Admiral upstairs and through the bullpen to the older man's office. Only when the door was closed did AJ speak again.

"Have you really thought this through, because this is an offer I don't intend to make a second time. You're what, two maybe three years from having your twenty and retirement benefits, not to mention a job that's certainly more important the crop dusting."

"I've considered all of those things. I've also considered something else as well."

"And that is?" AJ asked.

"A question for you, actually. If the whole Imes mess hadn't arisen, would you have offered to get my commission reinstated?" Harm asked in turn, watching the Admiral's face and though the other man tried to hide it, the truth was there to be seen. "I thought not. You were glad to be rid of me when I resigned my commission and only the current crisis facing this office has you coming to me. So, thank you, but no thank you."

For his part, AJ could hear the finality of the words and reluctantly accepted the letter that Harm held out, before shaking the outstretched hand.

December 24, 2003

Roberts' Residence – Alexandria, Virginia

1854 Eastern

Bud and Harriet had invited the whole JAG Ops staff over for refreshments before the Christmas Eve services that Chaplain Turner was performing that evening. So, in addition to Mac and Admiral Chegwidden, Petty Officer Coates and Commander Turner were also in attendance, as was the newest member of the staff, Major McBurney. Admiral Chegwidden had been somewhat reluctant to choose another Marine as the replacement for Commander Imes, but after reviewing several dozen candidates for the posting, the man had been the most qualified.

Still, there were significant problems with the overall dynamic of the office. Commander Turner could scarcely conceal his contempt for Lieutenant Roberts, while Major McBurney was distant from the entire office staff. As for Mac, she and Turner spoke only as needed. The Admiral had seen all of this and tried his best to get the staff past the issues, to no avail. Turner blamed Bud for his reputation being damaged, while Mac's issues with the Commander were unknown. McBurney was another matter entirely, with the whole office being suspicious of the man who'd almost put Harm in prison.

So, this gathering was proving to be uncomfortable at best. Yet, because the Admiral was in attendance, the rest of the personnel felt the occasion was a duty call. Meaning that there wasn't an individual amongst them who was going to leave before their commanding officer, even if it meant spending a few hours in an almost silent room, save for some Christmas music that Harriet had intended to be only background noise for the party.

Eventually, Bud, Harriet and Mac found themselves next to each other, creating a group that at least would talk to one another.

"This is a nice party, Harriet," Mac told her, trying to be gracious.

"It's a disaster, Colonel," Harriet replied with a sad smile.

"That's not your fault, though."

"Maybe. But, I still wish it was like it was when the Commander was still at JAG."

"Harriet, he's obviously moved on and we should too," Bud told his wife.

"Just because he's moved on doesn't mean we're no longer his friends," Harriet said in a huff.

"I take it you haven't heard from him either," Mac said.

"No, Ma'am."

"The last time I spoke with him was during the Imes case, Ma'am," Bud said. "I've tried calling his telephone, but the number has been disconnected. Harriet and I have even stopped by his loft, but he's either not home or not answering."

"Yeah, that's what I've found too."

"Maybe Mr. Webb…." Harriet started to say before Bud hushed her.

"Somehow I doubt Clay would go for that, especially since Harm's out of the Navy and there's no sign of foul play involved," Mac said. "Besides, Clay and I have been having our own problems lately."

Bud decided, wisely, to move away so that Mac and Harriet could talk. Besides, his leg had been bothering him a little lately, so he could use the chance to find a seat for a little while.

"Ma'am, what's the problem between you and Mister Webb?" Harriet asked.

"He was offered a desk job at Langley, one that would have been as close to a nine to five position as I could have hoped for. Clay didn't even discuss it with me before he turned it down. He's focused on finishing his recovery and getting back out into the field."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"What makes it even worse is that he's started to drink, not a lot but certainly more than he used to," Mac told her. Despite the difference in their ranks, Mac looked on Bud and Harriet as true friends, her only real friends now that Harm had vanished.

"Have you asked him about seeing a doctor, Ma'am?" Harriet asked.

"He says there isn't a problem and I'm not sure whether my pushing the issue would make things better or worse."

Realizing that there was little else she could say, Harriet settled for laying a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder for a moment before moving off. The boys were upstairs watching a movie, but she felt the need to check on them just the same. For her part, Mac decided that she'd had enough of the evening. Not particularly caring that she was the first to leave, she found her coat and headed outside. The light snow that had been coming all day was finally stopping, but the roads looked anything but clear. Days like this made her less than happy with her choice of the Corvette. If Clay had been able to join her, they could have at least come in his car rather than hers.

The Burnett Residence – La Jolla, California

1712 Pacific/ 2012 Eastern

Harm was sitting on the patio, a bottle of beer in his hand with a pair of others in an ice bucket on the little table next to him. The last month had sucked a lot of life out of him, leaving him worn down. The mess with Mattie had been just the beginning. Once Children's Services had gotten involved, they had placed her with a family while they tried to track down her father. Harm had petitioned for guardianship of the teen, only to have charges brought against him for suspected child abuse and sexual relations with a minor. The very fact that those allegations had been raised, despite being almost instantly disproved, had been enough for the judge hearing his petition to categorically deny it and also forbid him from having any further contact with Mattie.

With that order, Harm had also found himself out of a job, since Mattie was Grace Aviation for the time being. He had also been compelled to make new arrangements for the storage of his Stearman as well. Now it was in a hanger at an airfield in Manassas, Virginia, which did make it easier to reach than it had been in Blacksburg. If he had the money to fly, that is, which right now he really didn't. Oh, he'd managed to save a fair amount while he'd been in the Navy and almost all of the money he'd made while working for the CIA. Still, he knew he'd have to be careful with that money until he decided on what to do next with his life.

The next blow to come had been his Grandma Sarah, who had passed away at the beginning of the month. Even though she'd been almost 90, it had still come as something of a shock. The owner of a neighboring farm, Mr. Winters, had stopped over after not seeing any smoke coming from her chimney. The one thing her neighbors had long grown accustomed to was the smoke from her wood-fired kitchen stove in the mornings, when Sarah would get up to start fixing her breakfast. That sight was as much a signal of the new day as the rooster crowing.

The neighbor who had gone to check on her found Sarah in her rocker in the front room, her bible resting in her lap. When he'd called to tell Harm, he said it looked like she'd passed on peacefully, possibly during an afternoon nap the previous day. Thankfully, Sarah had been more prepared for this eventuality that her grandson, so that by the time Harm arrived in Belleville the funeral home had already prepared the body and posted a death notice in the local papers.

Harm had spent the week of the visitation and funeral out at the farm. Both Frank and Trish had elected to find a hotel in town, leaving him to say his goodbyes in his own way. During the years he'd been married to Trish, Frank had visited the farm on many occasions and always been warmly welcomed by Sarah, yet he could never escape the feeling that he was intruding. That, but for Harm Senior being shot down, he would never have been there in the first place.

For Trish, there were similar feelings. After that horrible Christmas in 1969, the bond that had connected the two woman had been damaged. Harm Junior was their only remaining link and Trish made certain that her son spent as much time as possible with his grandmother. Yet, she could sense a certain disappointment from Sarah when she had remarried to Frank, putting further emotional distance between the two women. So, while Trish too had visited on many occasions, her welcome had always been slightly less warm than it had been when Harm Senior had still been alive.

Sarah's estate had been remarkably simple, with Harm being her only living relative outside of a few cousins. So, after some small bequests to them, the bulk of the estate passed to him. The farm and some investments, plus her life insurance and a little cash. The same neighbor who had discovered her body was also tenant farming her lands, sharing the profits with her. Harm, who had almost no idea about farming, was perfectly willing to leave the arrangement alone for the time being.

Those dual losses were the reason Harm had decided to spend this Christmas with his mother and Frank. Besides, there was nothing compelling keeping him back east. He could honestly say there was actually nothing compelling keeping him anywhere anymore. It was a simple fact that not having to work was giving him way too much time to think and drink, he decided as he lifted the beer to his lips.

"Darling, are you getting ready soon for the party this evening?" Trish asked from the doorway to the house. In the few days he'd been staying here, she had noticed many things wrong with her son, beginning with the fact that he seemed to spend all of his time just sitting on the patio drinking beer and ending with the fact that he didn't seem to care that that was all he was doing with his life now.

"Sure, Mom. Give me a moment, alright?"

Trish started to close the door, only to watch Harm empty the bottle in a long swallow. A soft sigh escaped her lips as she took a sad look at her son. She could only hope for his sake that something changed soon.

Harm walked into the house a moment later, putting the remaining beers in the refrigerator and depositing the empty bottles in the recycling container before making his way to his bedroom. There, he opened the closet and looked at the two suits that he had brought out to California with him. After a couple moments of thought, he selected the tan suit. This he matched with a light gray shirt and tan tie. Satisfied, he went into the bathroom and quickly showered. The beard he'd started growing was presentable, he saw in the mirror as he toweled dry and splashed on a little cologne.

Frank and Trish were waiting in the living room when Harm came out.

"That's a nice suit, Harm," Frank said as he stood to shake his stepson's hand.

"Thanks, Frank. You're looking good," Harm told him.

"It's all your mother's doing, really."

"Nonsense," Trish said with a smile. "The suits I make you buy wouldn't look as good if you didn't take care of yourself by golfing every morning."

"Well, maybe I can talk you into joining me, Harm," Frank said.

"Maybe next time I'm out this way, Frank. My flight back leaves on the twenty-sixth," Harm told them.

"So soon, darling."

"I can't exactly stay unemployed forever, can I?"

"Have you thought about moving back home? I'm sure you could find something out here," Trish said, with something in her tone suggesting she had some ideas in that regard.

"I could, but then what do I do about the farm? And then there's moving Sarah out here, along with the rest of my things," Harm said, as if that explained everything.

"Well, Harm, there are moving companies that could see to your cars and possessions. And you could always take a week off and fly Sarah across country," Frank told him. "As for the farm, isn't Mister Winters already farming the land? You could ask him about taking care of the house for you, too."

"And your grandmother really trusted the Winters, darling," Trish put in. "I know she wouldn't want the farm sold, not while there was still family alive, but I doubt she'd expect you to give up your life just to move there and live."

Both Frank and Trish could sense Harm was getting a little annoyed, so they left things there as everyone went out to the car for the drive to the country club and the Christmas Eve party they had. What neither of them knew was that Harm might have been getting annoyed, but he was also sensing possibilities in the suggestion. Maybe something like that was just what he needed to get out of his downward spiral. Make a clean break from the past, just disappear and not look back. No more Navy, no more JAG, no more to the people he'd once called friends. A fresh start, however, would also mean avoiding La Jolla as much as possible. Too many people knew where his mother lived and it would be easy to track him down there.

As the car approached the country club, Harm took a silent inventory of his skills. He was a pilot, including both piston and jet engine qualified. He was a lawyer, accredited with the state bars of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Other than that, he was a naval officer, with a basic knowledge of firearms and tactics. Now that he was no longer in the navy that left either flying or the law as the only things he was trained for. So, he could either find a job as a lawyer or find a job flying.

When the car stopped in the drive of the club, Harm got out and opened his mother's door for her. While he was doing this, Frank was turning his keys over to the valet. It didn't surprise Harm to see that much of the crowd was closer to his mother's age than to his, given that they had planned on attending the party long before Harm had let them know about his visit. So, for the first hour, he was introduced to their friends, who were all delighted to see him or pretended to be.

It was only after dinner that he began to mingle more or less on his own. Or rather, he was working his way closer to the bar in the back of the ballroom. Others had apparently developed similar ideas, judging by the small crowd that seemed to be gathering near it. Still, his height held an advantage in situations like this and Harm was able to make his way closer. Just as he reached it, he was jostled. Harm turned to apologize when he found himself looking in to the most stunning pair of green eyes he'd ever before seen. Their overall effect was to render him speechless, which the petite redhead noticed with a grimace.

"I'm sorry, Miss," Harm was finally able to say.

"Well, I can't see why. After all, I'm the one who collided with you," she said tartly.

"Still, it is polite to excuse one's self, isn't it?"

"Only if the collision could have been avoided. In this crowd, bumping into someone is just about inevitable, I would think."

Harm was slightly taken aback by the forceful tone coming from the woman, yet also drawn to it at the same time.

"Perhaps we could start over, Miss…." Harm said.

"Perhaps not, Mister Rabb," she replied as she turned back toward the bar, leaving behind a slightly frozen Harm.

"So, she shot you down too," came a man's voice from behind him. Harm turned to see a man about his age, holding a whiskey glass in his hand and a smile on his lips.

"Not certain I would call it that," Harm told him. "I don't think I was even airborne."

"That's Doctor Lawson for you. She works fast, I'll grant you."

"Doctor Lawson?"

"Yeah, Doctor Rebecca Lawson. I got that far at least, although my parents know hers, so I had a bit of an advantage," the man told Harm.

"How did she know my name?" Harm asked.

"Most of us know about you. Your mother is a rival to ZNN when it comes to spreading the news, especially where you're concerned. Plus, there was that rather spectacular footage of you landing that big plane on the carrier, too."

Harm had the good grace to look a little sheepish at that, as they neared the bar. Harm settled for a glass of draft beer, while the other man took another whiskey.