A/N: When I wrote "Ooops" I was asked by several people for the back story on how Harm and Skates met so early in their careers. This is my take on how that happened. Set in Season 1, obviously, between episodes, "Desert Son" and "Deja Vu".
Lieutenant Commander Harmon Rabb was now certain that he had been sent to Pensacola, in the middle of the hottest, most humid summer since Florida records had begun way back in the day purely and simply as a punishment. He sat upright, in an effort to distance his back from the chair back and plucked his sweat sodden peanut butter shirt away from his chest and armpits, cursed the absence of air-conditioning in the hut's office and cursed the woefully ineffective fan that spectacularly failed to move the air fast enough or far enough to lend it even the seeming of coolness.
This was, he was certain, Admiral Brovo's subtle way of reprimanding him for punching out that asshole Marine Captain at Pendleton last week, and maybe he deserved it. But Meg, his partner, Lieutenant (JG) Megan Austin, certainly didn't deserve to be punished alongside him, and the humidity was even harder on her maybe than on him. When he'd teased her about not being able to stand the heat, she explained in great detail, along with certain pithy asides on his heritage, breeding and upbringing, that she was from West Texas, much nearer to Arizona than to Florida, and Arizona she had emphasised was so called because it was an Arid Zone. She had then left the office with the final remark that she was leaving because she didn't want to say anything that might leave her open to a charge of insubordination.
Despite his heat and humidity induced irritability, he had been forced to chuckle at that as she'd stormed out of the building; she had crossed that line about ten minutes ago.
His good humour hadn't lasted very long, just about as long as it had taken to 'phone his initial report to Admiral Brovo in DC. The ostensible reason for he and Meg being exiled to Florida was to investigate the loss of an F-14A on a routine training flight. Apparently all had gone well and according to mission schedule. The two jets involved in the mission had completed their objectives and were returning to Sherman Field and had begun final approach when one of the aircraft had been waved off by the tower. Apparently the pilot had forgotten to lower his landing gear!
The pilot had reported that according to his instrument panel his wheels and tail-hook were down and locked, a report that had been confirmed by his RIO. The tower had ordered him to orbit the field and attempt to lower his gear again. Multiple attempts had been made, and on each occasion both pilot and RIO had confirmed they were getting green lights across the board, and each time observers in the second jet had confirmed that wheels and hook had stubbornly stayed locked in the up position
At last, with fuel running dangerously low, the Tower had reluctantly ordered an SAR helo into the air and the pilot of the stricken airplane to take it out sea, south of Fort Pickens and eject, leaving the jet to crash into the ocean.
Despite being battered by the heat, Harm and Meg had started their investigation immediately they arrived, figuring that the sooner they started, the sooner they were through, and had interviewed the trainee RIO, Lieutenant (JG) Sarah Parrish in her quarters and then, in the Humvee allocated to them for their stay, they had driven across to the base hospital where Lieutenant Matthew Graves was bedded down suffering from a wrenched knee sustained during the ejection.
Their accounts had tallied, not too exactly that they would raise eyebrows, with each other and with the accounts they had garnered later from the FlyPri Officer at the Tower, and with the ATC personnel at the same location.
It was definitely not a case of pilot error, and Harm had reported as such to Admiral Brovo, in the expectation of he and Meg being ordered to take the next available transport back to DC, instead to his surprise and horror, the Admiral had instructed them to stay at Pensacola until the wreck had been recovered, and a thorough investigation showed that there was no reason to charge the ground crew with dereliction of duty though faulty maintenance.
Harm had groaned silently, but had no other option that to respond with an "Aye, aye, sir!" and no matter how much he had tried, he had been unable to keep the surliness completely out of his voice. And to make matters worse, he had distinctly heard the Admiral chuckle as he replaced the phone on its cradle.
So, now he'd had enough. He finished typing up his report, closed the file and switched off and packed away his lap-top. He grabbed his cover and made for the door, where he stopped at the top of the wooden steps, swearing quietly to himself. He really had pee'd off Meg, she'd taken the Humvee, leaving him with the trudge back to the VOQ. Still the sun had gone down, and it was marginally cooler, if no less humid, and a land breeze had sprung up, moving the warm, moist air, and giving it the feeling of being slightly fresher than it was. So... it could have been worse.
Harm set out on the weary trudge along Radford Boulevard to the VOQ. He was seduced along the way by the sound of waves breaking on the sand, and with a wry grin, he hopped the wall down on to the beach , where he settled down to enjoy the comparative coolness and the peace and soothing quiet after a stressful day, and reached into his shirt pocket for one of his relaxation aids, an expensive and wholly illegal Cuban Montecristo Corona cigar. He shielded his lighter from the breeze, gentle as it was, and puffed contentedly at his cigar, watching the aromatic smoke swirl away into the night. So absorbed had he become, or maybe it was the rush of the waves on the sand, that he failed to notice the approach of another person until she spoke.
"Those things'll kill you, you know?" the voice was definitely female, sounded young, and had a cynically amused overtone to it.
"So will getting hit by a bus," Harm replied lazily as he squinted to make out the other's features, but it was now too dark to make them out with any clarity. All he could see was that she was petite, had a good figure – her t-shirt and Daisy Duke shorts did little to conceal that - had teeth that seemed very white against what seemed to be a tanned face, and dark hair caught up in a pony tail.
The dark figure merely shook her head, "Well it's your life!" she commented drily and turned to leave.
Suddenly not wanting her to go, Harm called out, "Wait!"
"Why?" she asked coolly.
"Uh... well... you... I... um.." All Harm's law school acquired eloquence suddenly deserted him and he floundered to a stuttering stop.
His answer was a soft, musical chuckle, and another flash of white teeth in a tanned face, "Well, when you've thought of a reason, let me know, and I'll consider it!" she said as she turned away and continued her stroll along the beach.
For a moment Harm was tempted to pursue her, but then reflected that if she had wanted his company she could have stayed when he asked her to, or she could have invited him to walk with her. She had done neither, so evidently she preferred to be out of his presence. Harm sighed, and the half-smoked cigar having unaccountably lost its savour, he mashed it into the sand and continued his interrupted hike back to the VOQ.
Harm was just starting his breakfast the following morning when Meg, after a minute or two of hesitation made her way through the tables in the Mess Hall before standing next to the chair opposite him. Nerves, the product of a guilty conscience, prompted her to formality, "Good morning, sir, May I join you for breakfast?"
Harm looked up, slightly surprised by her mode of address, "'Morning, Meg, of course! But why all the sirs, so early in the morning?"
Meg placed her loaded tray on the table and sat down, "Well... I was a bit snappy with you, sir," she admitted, "and then I did kinda leave you stranded..."
"Yeah, you were and you did," Harm agreed cordially, "But that was yesterday, and I was pushing your buttons. So let's just put it down to us being tired and irritable with the heat and the travelling, OK?"
"So... friends again?" Meg queried cautiously.
"Always!" Harm smiled.
The next few minutes passed quietly as they ate their breakfasts, Harm considering the beautiful blonde Texan tomboy opposite. Undeniably he was attracted to her, he wouldn't have been male if he hadn't been, and he would admit only to himself that she sometimes featured in his fantasies. But that was as far as anything went. There were just too many obstacles for him to take a chance that she could ever see them as more than friends. Meg was his partner – his junior partner – and they were both in the same chain of command. Any romantic relationship between them was impossible, and while they both at times felt a degree of sexual tension between them they got rid of it by light-hearted teasing, and occasionally arguing.
His thoughts were disturbed by Meg's anxious, "Harm?"
"Huh?" he managed eloquently.
"Where were you? I've been trying to get you to answer me for the last two minutes!" Meg said, with an edge of annoyance shading her voice.
"Oh... Nowhere! He replied, feeling slightly flustered, "I was just going over today's programme – in my head."
"And what is today's programme?" Meg asked chasing the last fragments of her scrambled eggs around her plate.
"We have to be at the flight line in..." he checked his watch, "forty minutes for a hop out to the James B Lane, she's a Navy salvage ship, where we shall spend the whole day being incomparably bored while we watch sailors employ their arcane and highly developed skills, of which we won't understand in the least bit, as they try and recover the F-14 from Davy Jones' locker! We shall very probably end up bored to tears, and sunburned. So we'll need to detour via our quarters and pick up some sun-block, or if you haven't got any we'll have to stop off at the Base Exchange!"
Meg winced, "Oh joy!" she said bitterly.
Harm and Meg were both dead beat when they almost fell out of the helo as it landed back on the heli-pad towards dusk, Harm reaching back to lend Meg a hand as she de-planed. Gratefully they made their way into the welcome shade of the hangar and almost fell into a pair of metal-framed canvas chairs.
"That was a hell of a day!" Meg complained fanning herself with her cover. Her peanut butters were sweat soaked, as were Harms, on her back, under her arms and on her chest, where her perspiration had soaked through her bra.
Harm groaned in agreement, "I told you it was going to be hell!"
"M'mm" Meg agreed, too beat to say more.
"You 'bout ready to make a move?" Harm asked, I want to hit the showers, get changed into something that doesn't stink of me!"
"What 'bout dinner?" Meg asked.
"Screw dinner!" he replied savagely, "once I've changed I'm gonna head for the Hangar Deck, and get outside something cold!"
"The Hanger Deck..." Meg mused for a second as she considered the popular on-base bar, and then made up her mind, "Nope, not for this gal. I'm going to take me a long cool shower and then I'm just gonna spread out on my rack and let the fan try and keep me cool..." she ended dreamily.
Harm groaned, and Meg jerked her head around to face him in quick concern. "You alright?" she queried anxiously.
"No... thanks to you..." he said watching her slyly from the corner of his eye, "I just formed a mental picture of you lying on your bed with the water from the shower still on your skin and..."
"Yellow light, Commander!" Meg gasped torn between annoyance, embarrassment and amusement, but blushing fiercely red all the same.
Harm grinned at her confusion, "Yeah payback's a bitch, ain't it?" he asked unrepentantly.
"Payback! What Payback! What for!?" Meg yelped indignantly.
"Leaving me stranded last night," Harm grinned.
"Damn! I ought to leave you stranded again!" Meg huffed.
"You can't!" Harm affirmed, and as the he saw the question in her eyes, he added, "I've got the keys!"
Harm pushed open the door to the Hangar Deck, the bar was pretty much as he remembered it. A bar ran the length of the far wall and booths, each capable of seating eight people lined the side walls, leaving the centre of the floor clear for dancing. The bar was busy but not packed, about average for a weekday night, and the hum of conversation wasn't quite loud enough to drown the music from the juke box, which from the point of view of the three couples on the dance floor was probably just as well. Harm made his way towards the bar, selecting a bar stool near one end, and took his seat, catching the eye of one of the bar tenders, and ordering a draught beer.
The beer arrived in a large glass mug, moisture already beading on the outside of it. Harm took a long sip of the beer and sighed with pleasure, enjoying the cold of the liquid as it eased down his throat.
He sat for some time in peaceful contemplation of his current condition comparing it favourably with the day he and Meg had just had.
This profitless mental exercise kept him busy for a few minutes until his ears registered that the ambient noise level had markedly increased. Looking around he soon saw that a large and boisterous group of young men had taken up occupation of two of the booths in the far corner, and appeared to be holding some sort of celebration, and to compensate for their rowdiness someone had turned up the volume on the juke box. He turned his gaze onto the bar tender and raised an eyebrow, getting a shrug and a resigned smile from the young woman.
Harm frowned, he had been thinking of having another couple of beers before calling it a night, but he wasn't sure now if the atmosphere was going to stay conducive to his plans, and he had almost made up his mind to finish his beer and go when he became aware of a new presence at his side.
He glanced casually at the newcomer, and then took a second closer look. She was about five six, with a trim figure and honey blonde hair bound in a plait at the nape of her neck, a lightly tanned complexion, and as she felt his eyes on her, she looked back at him and smiled politely, but with a question in a pair of cornflower blue eyes that reminded him strongly of Meg, especially when taken with the JG's bar she wore on the collar of her peanut butter shirt. Harm felt himself flush and with a mumbled apology turned his attention back to his beer.
He was not so embarrassed though that when she had collected her order, three beers, which she carried away on a tray, that Harm didn't turn to watch her rear view. And it was definitely worth watching, he grinned to himself. His grin started to fade though when a young man, also in peanut butters detached himself from the large noisy group in their booth and intercepted her on her way back to her own table. Harm was too far away to have a hope in hearing what was said, but her body language was plain enough. Whatever the man wanted, she wanted no part of it. Harm tensed for a moment and then relaxed, whatever had happened the guy seemed to accept it and with an embarrassed grin and a resigned shrug he turned and headed back to his companions, who met his retreat with a chorus of boos, jeers and catcalls. The man stiffened and his face became a mask as he turned and headed back towards the blonde who was by now nearly at her own table. Once again he spoke, and this time she didn't reply, just gave him a scathing look and walked on, his face reddened again, this time with anger and as the young woman left he followed her.
Harm was already on his feet; he had a bad feeling about this and started to thread his way through the dancers, cutting directly across the floor towards the unfolding scene. He was too late.
As she bent slightly to place the tray of beers on the table, the guy's hand shot out and he pinched the blonde's butt where it stretched the cotton of her pants. Ambient noise level or not, Harm clearly heard her squeal of shock, outrage and pain, as did others, if the swivelling heads were any indication.
The blonde spun round, her face full of indignation as she rubbed the offended area, but whatever she might have said or done was eclipsed as one her companions stood, grabbed a mug of beer and threw the contents into the attacker's face, at the same time pushing the blonde behind her.
The guy staggered back and roared in anger, wiping the suds from his eyes and blearily focussed on his diminutive opponent, still using his left hand to blot his eyes, he swung an overhand punch straight at the brunette's face, she was quicker than he was, and although she winced with pain as she used a forearm to block his punch, her right fist shot out and impacted on his nose, and even from where he was till pushing his way through the onlookers Harm was sure he could hear the sound of crunching bone and gristle as her punch landed right on his nose. But broken nose or not the spurt of bright blood that flooded down his face and onto his shirt front, where it mixed with the beer, was witness to the effective nature of her punch.
The guy staggered back his hand going to his nose and then he stared unbelievingly at the blood on his hand. "You bitch!" he yelled and drew his arm back for another punch that if it had landed on the young woman in front of him would have inflicted serious damage. But the punch was never launched. His wrist was taken in a grip hard enough to crush the bones together and bring a yelp of mingled pain and surprise from his lips.
"Stand down, Mister!" Harm ordered in a voice of iron.
"Says who?" the blood and beer stained guy demanded.
"Says me!" Harm retorted stepping in close and getting right in the other man's face.
"And who the fuck are you?" The other demanded still trying to clear his eyes of tears of pain and the remains of the beer, and then as his vision cleared his eyes fell on the bronze oak leaf on Harm's collar and his voice fell silent as his face took on an expression of fear and horror.
"Lock it up, Mister!" Harm commanded having by now seen the Lieutenant's bars on the other man's collar. "The question is, who are you, and what is your duty station?"
He snapped into a braced posture, "L.. Lieutenant H... Harrington, sir! AVI Course Number 822, sir!"
"Well, Lieutenant Harrington, let me assure of two things. Firstly you are the sorriest excuse for a man, let alone an officer, I have ever met. I have never met anyone who is such a disgrace to his uniform as you are at this present moment. No man, no matter what the provocation, ever strikes a woman!"
"Sir, I wouldn't take a beer in the face from any man, and these bitches want equality with us, well she can fucking have it, and take her lumps! Just 'cos she squats to piss doesn't cut any ice with me, sir!"
"Lock it up! I didn't ask you to speak. You disgust me! Would you pinch the ass of any man? No, don't answer that! Now, secondly, the senior instructor of Course AVI 822 will be hearing from me in the morning!" He turned his attention to the group that had been making all the noise, and spoke in a voice laden with contempt, "And the rest of you are no better, if you hadn't been egging him on, Harrington may not have made such a big an asshole of himself as he did. I strongly suggest you get him back to his quarters, get him cleaned up and you might even want to give him a hand to start packing his gear. I strongly suspect that Mister Harrington will shortly be looking for new employment. Now get him out of here!"
He stood and watched as the eight or nine young men filed silently out of the bar, most of them looked sullen, while one or two had grace enough to look shamefaced, but there were one or two hard glances thrown in his direction, whether directed at him or the trio of women behind him he wasn't too sure.
He looked around the room, realising that they had become the centre of attention, "Alright people, the show's over, carry on!" And then turned to the three young women. The blonde who had had her butt pinched looked almost on the verge of tears, while the pugnacious brunette stared at him defiantly, the third young woman, another, taller brunette had her arm around the blonde and was whispering comforting words into her ear.
"Why don't we all sit down, ladies, and then you can tell me what that was all about!" and despite his phraseology and polite tone, it wasn't a request.
The smaller of the two brunettes glowered at him for a moment, and then asked, "What do you want to know... sir?"
"Your names would be a good start," he replied coolly.
She glared at him again and chewed her bottom lip for a few seconds, "Sarah Mayfield, Anne Nicholson," she indicated the blonde and the taller brunette in turn and then added, "Beth Hawkes. We're all here on NFO training, Course Number 127. What happened tonight wasn't too much out of the ordinary, it just went a little further than usual," she finished defiantly.
"Yeah? Well take my advice Lieutenant (JG) Beth Hawkes," he'd noted that all three were JGs, "Next time you pick on somebody, pick on somebody your own size!" The three young women giggled, but Harm was happy to let them do so, recognising it as a release of nervous tension.
He waited until the nervous giggling had stopped and then asked, "What exactly did you mean by 'tonight wasn't too much out of the ordinary'?"
Hawkes shrugged, "Pretty much what I said. There are some men, not all," she added hastily, "who think that women ought not be in the Navy, on board ships, or be allowed to fly, and God forbid they be allowed to fly in combat aircraft. We are the only three women on our course, we've worked damn hard to get here and we've had to work hard, harder than the men, to stay here. We've proved ourselves to the guys on our course, and they at least have accepted us. The guy that was giving us hassle, he's training on F-14s, same as we are and he's made no secret that he will never accept a female RIO."
"So... he's been hassling you for some time?" Harm queried
Hawkes shrugged again and looked at her friends, and some sort of unspoken message seemed to pass between them.
"Yeah, I guess," Hawkes replied again, she seemed to have been appointed the group's spokeswoman.
"Why in the name of all that's holy haven't you brought this type of hazing to your instructors' attention?" Harm demanded.
"It's not that simple, sir. Although the instructors aren't hassling us directly, some of them have made it pretty clear that they don't think we belong in an F-14 either. Like I said, we've had to work harder than the men, concentrate on getting higher marks than them, just to be regarded as equal to them. We've learned that we can't ask or expect any favours just because we're women. If we complain about being hazed or hassled, we're looked at as whiners, expecting special treatment, and told that we need to grow up and grow a pair, and that we're in the navy now! So we've also learned to suck it up and take it, and hope that when we get to a squadron as qualified RIOs then things will be better."
Harm nodded in acknowledgement of Hawkes' point. He didn't like it, but he understood it, however, "OK, if that's how you want to play it... but, tonight wasn't hazing or hassle, tonight was sexual assault, and assault. The only reason you're not in sick bay right now, is because I stopped Harrington in his tracks. Yes," he held up his hand to stop her protest, "I know that sounds wrong, and to you probably just as sexist as a lot of what you've been subjected to since you got here, but Harrington stands nearly a foot taller than you, and about eighty to ninety pounds heavier, so unless you're some sort of martial arts wizard, he was capable of beating you to a pulp. Like I said, I admire your courage, both physical and moral, but you need to pick your fights more carefully."
"Yeah, right... sir" Hawkes sniffed, "Ready, you two?"
Harm grinned, amused by Hawkes pugnacity, as the three women started to gather their purses and covers.
"Tell you what ladies, a couple of those guys didn't look so happy when they left. Why don't you give me five minutes start to make sure that they went back to their quarters?"
"No need for that, sir..." the blonde woman said
"It wasn't a suggestion, Lieutenant," Harm said severely, continuing to give them a level look until they all sat down again. "Just five minutes, OK?"
Harm strolled put of the door and onto the verandah, where he leaned his elbows on the rail and absently fished in his pocket for a cigar, which he lit and puffed on as he considered the events of the evening. It was difficult for him to accept that in today's Navy and in the aftermath of the Tailhook scandal and subsequent witch-hunt, that Neanderthals like Harrington and his buddies had made it as far as advanced flight training, and even more so that their behaviour was tacitly condoned by the flight instructors. He shook his head in wonderment and blew a long plume of smoke into the evening air, and then nearly jumped when Hawkes' voice came behind his right shoulder said.
"Those things'll kill you, you know?"
"Yeah, so will getting hit by a bus" he responded automatically.
There was a second's silence and then "Oh God it was you!" burst from both of their lips.
Harm twisted around and looked down at Hawkes; there was the tanned face, and the white teeth and the dark hair tied back at the back of her neck.
"Why didn't you stay and talk?" he asked, "After all, you were the one who spoke first."
She shrugged, "Opened my mouth without thinking, and then realised I didn't know you... could have been dangerous..."
"Well you know me now, so next time, maybe we can stop to talk."
"No, I don't know you," she grinned, "You haven't actually said who you are?"
"My apologies for my lapse in manners," he said, thankful that the evening darkness hid his blushed, "Harmon Rabb, JAG Corps."
"H'mm... Well, Lieutenant Commander Rabb, JAG Corps, is the coast clear?"
Harm nodded, "Seems to be..."
Hawkes nodded and turned to call her two friends out, and as she did Harm felt a pang of disappointment that this might be the last time he spoke to the feisty young woman, to whom he felt a sudden and inexplicable attraction. "Uh... can I call you some time?" he asked diffidently.
Beth Hawkes turned back towards him and considered his question. He was tall, looked as if he worked out, and had nice eyes... no they were more than nice... they sent a shiver up her spine. "Uh...I don't know as that would be a good... No, I mean yes, you can call me!" she said changing her mind in mid sentence.
Harm smiled, and that smile practically turned her knees to water, "Uh... you'd better take my number..." she faltered as she dug in her purse for a card,and hastily scribbled something on the back of it.
Anything else that might have been said was forestalled by the other two JGs emerging from the door, "Beth?" one of them – the other brunette – asked.
"Uh... yeah, over here!"
"Ah, OK, well you'd better drive, seeing as you've had the least to drink!"
"How much have you had?" Harm asked.
"Just the one beer," she answered.
Harm nodded, "In that case, OK. Ladies, you'll allow me the privilege of walking you to your car?"
Harm took a leisurely stroll back to the VOQ, somehow the heat and humidity didn't seem quite so oppressive, and the prospect of another few days at Pensacola while the investigation team inspected the F-14 didn't seem so much like a punishment.
On reaching his quarters he sat on the side of his bed for a few minutes inwardly debating with himself, and then reaching a decision he picked up his cell phone and dialled.
"Lieutenant (JG) Hawkes,"
"Beth, this Harmon Rabb. You said I might call you some time."
"Yeah I did... I guess I just didn't stipulate what time!" she chuckled.
Harm blew a silent sigh of relief, at least she wasn't pissed at him calling so late. "Um... I was wondering, if maybe you'd like to have dinner with me tomorrow evening, maybe somewhere off base?"
There was a long silence and Harm was beginning to think she'd hung up, when her voice came over the airwaves, "Yeah... I think I'd like that..." she said slowly.
"Fine! Great! Where shall I pick you up and at what time?" Harm asked, unable to keep the excitement completely out of his voice.