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Classification Eventually romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 33,000 words; 75 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Spoilers None
Rating CF
Author's Notes It's taken me a really long time to write this story due to the amount of research it took. I also had continuing problems with getting a feel for it. In terms of real life, this is a skewered version but the reality is that the process of fostering and adopting children can takes months or years to accomplish and I couldn't have that kind of timeline in the story. However, there are exceptions and I milked them all as much as I could. Yes, there are some things that wouldn't be plausible but it is simply a story and one I hope will entertain you. I want to say a special round of thank-yous to my great friend Michelle. She is an attorney who has dealt with family cases and was invaluable in getting me on my way. She also answered numerous questions for me about the laws. And also to my true-blue friend Audrey who kept me going when I was terribly afraid this was the most boring story ever put to paper! Without the help of these two ladies, I'm very afraid this work would still be sitting on the hard drive here it sat for a year or so before I actually got busy on it.

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

 

 

1640 ZULU - TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15
THE SHANE RESIDENCE
1420 LOCKHART ROAD, GEORGETOWN
WASHINGTON DC

 

"Hello again, Mrs. Shane."


The petite woman who answered the door looked like she was carrying the weight of the world but her smile was warm and welcoming. "It's so good to see you, Commander," Ava Shane greeted.

She closed the door behind Harm and led him into the living room, where she pointed to the couch.

"It's nice to see you again, too, Mrs. Shane," Harm answered, smiling easily.

"Please, call me Ava, and thank you. Daisy is thrilled about having someone to spend time with all by herself."

"I'm looking forward to it myself," Harm returned. "I love kids although my exposure has been limited until recently when I became a godfather. My partner has been a Big Sister for many years and I watched what she's gained from the relationship…" his voice trailed off. "This is going to be every bit as good for me as it will be for Daisy."

"I'm so glad," Ava said softly. "This has been very hard on all of us…" her voice wavered slightly and she drew a slow breath. "Most of the couples who have inquired about the adoptions pass Daisy over because she's older ad carrying a lot of baggage."

"That's a shame," Harm arched one brow. "She's a charmer," he grinned.

"I've done my best by her. I spend as much time as I possibly can with her-we all do-but it's difficult to manage with the other children to care for and now with Robert's cancer. It will do her a world of good to have someone whose only goal is to be with her," Ava sighed. "Are you really committed to what this program is going to require of you, Commander? Daisy has suffered through so much in her young life and I want to protect her from more as much as possible. I have to know that you aren't going to decide in a few days or even weeks that you don't want to do this anymore," Ava went on.

"Ava, I understand your concern. Being a military officer may not matter to some people but to me it represents who and what I am. I take my commitments very seriously. I wouldn't start something like this without knowing I could stay with it," Harm promised gently. "I'll take very good care of her," he put in. "No matter what lies ahead."

Finally, Ava smiled. "I'm convinced. I took her to lunch today and this was all she talked about," she admitted. "I know this is going to be the best thing for her."

"I hope so," Harm grinned.

"Let me go get her." Ava patted his hand as she rose and went toward the stairs.

Looking around the small house, Harm could feel the years of memories it contained. Though old and worn, it was clean and displayed the warmth and love of the woman who owned it. Pictures of her 'kids' were everywhere, even ones who'd gone onto permanent families or grew old enough to be on their own. His thoughts floated back to the first day he had met with Erin Parker about becoming a mentor. She was enthusiastic and dedicated to her job of helping children, especially those in high-risk or unstable situations. She had been thrilled to have an applicant of Harm's caliber and diversity. Harm had envisioned a young boy much like Chloe that he could build a relationship with. Someone to give him purpose away from work and fill an empty hole that had been steadily growing larger.

"Why are you applying to be a mentor, Commander Rabb?"

Harm stared thoughtfully at Erin Parker. "My partner at work is a Big Sister, has been for years. She said it gives her a lot of pleasure and satisfaction to be a steadying influence in Chloe's life. For the past year I've been struggling with a feeling of emptiness. My whole life is centered around work, Ms. Parker, and I want something more. I started researching different youth programs because it seemed like a perfect way to… pass something on, I guess. I want to know that something I'm doing away from the Navy matters to someone. Someone who doesn't really care about what I do every day or where I come from. Does that make sense?" he asked, frustrated that he couldn't find the right words.

Erin smiled, her dove gray eyes kind. "It makes perfect sense, Commander, and it's the main reason people volunteer. Many are single like yourself who feel they have something to give but aren't sure how to do it. With the rising tide of adolescent crime and broken homes in our society these days, children need a steadying influence more and more," she explained.

Harm nodded thoughtfully. "That's what I want," he confirmed.

"I've gone over your file extensively and I have a special case I'd like to talk to you about. Ninety-nine percent of the time we would place you with a young boy who is without a regular male influence. And girls would go with our female volunteers. However, we're currently very short on female volunteers and a new case came across my desk two weeks ago for a little girl. Her name is Daisy and she lives in a group foster home. There are three other children, all up for adoption. Another consequence of today's society is the drive for couples to adopt infants, even going so far as to adopt overseas so Daisy has been passed over repeatedly. Her foster parents are not able to continue because the husband has recently been diagnosed with cancer."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Harm murmured. "What happened to her real parents?"

"We don't know where her mother is. She abandoned Daisy at six months and we haven't heard from her since."

Harm's mouth flattened into a tight line at her last words. "People like that should never even be allowed to have children. There are so many people in this world dying to have children of their own and can't and someone who can tosses theirs away," he stated in disgust.

Erin hid a smile at his words. "I agree, Commander. It takes much more than biology to be a parent."

Her words reminded him of how lucky he'd been to have Frank. "And her father?" he prompted.

"Her father is deceased. He was a corporal in the Air Force, killed during a mission in Bosnia. He was listed on the birth certificate but he had no family so without a DNA test, we can't confirm paternity. It's most likely that Daisy was the result of a one-night stand or something close. Unfortunately, we see all too much of that in the foster-care system. More often the children come from broken or abusive homes. Anyway," she cleared her throat slightly. "Daisy is in desperate need of some steady adult contact beyond that of her foster parents. Mr. and Mrs. Shane have agreed to keep her until the other children are all adopted. If Daisy isn't adopted by then, she'll be moved to another foster home. Someone like you that she can build a relationship with, will be helpful in making any future transitions by giving her some kind of permanence," Erin explained.

"That certainly makes sense. How old is she, Ms. Parker?"

Erin hesitated a split-second. "Four."

"Four?" Harm exclaimed. "And she's already being passed around?"

Erin nodded sadly. "It happens much more than people realize. I could sit here for the rest of the day regaling you with things I've heard and seen. There are so many of them who slip through the cracks - we do the best we can to help them all, but unfortunately, there is never enough of us to go around. I know you were probably expecting to have a boy to do guy type things with but please consider taking Daisy. She's a wonderful child. I'll make you a deal - I'll take you to meet her and the Shanes. After that, if you would rather still have a boy, I'll find one for you ASAP," she promised earnestly.

Harm held up one hand and smiled. "Deal. I would be glad for the chance to meet her, Ms. Parker."

"Great," she beamed. "Can you go right now?"

He laughed at her enthusiasm. "I can. Your car or mine?"

In the end, he rode with Erin to the small suburban neighborhood in Georgetown, not too far from where Mac lived. They pulled up in the drive of a small house. It was older and in need of some upkeep but it was tidy and welcoming.

Erin and Harm walked to the front door and rang the bell. A dark-haired woman around the age of Harm's mother answered the door.

"Hello, Ava," Erin said, smiling gently. "How are you?"

"Just fine, dear. Come in, please," Ava Shane invited.

Harm waited for Erin to go first then followed her into the cool depths of the house.

Ava Shane closed the door behind them and pointed toward the couch. "Would you care for some iced tea? I just made a fresh pitcher." Erin and Harm both nodded. "I'll be right back. Please, have a seat."

Erin made her way into the living room and found a spot on the overstuffed couch while Harm chose to look at the pictures all around the room. He was about halfway through when he felt a tug on his pant leg. Looking down, he saw one of the most beautiful little girls he'd ever seen.

Slowly, he squatted down until he was closer to her level. "Hi," he smiled.

"Hi," she grinned, flashing small white teeth at him. "Are you a policeman?"

Harm chuckled softly. "No, ma'am. I'm in the Navy."

"You mean on the boats?" she asked, her eyes growing wide.

"Sometimes I go out on a boat," he answered. "I work in an office and sometimes I fly."

"In a big plane?" If possible her eyes grew wider.

"I fly in small jets," he told her, trying to think of explaining it in a way she would understand.

"Oh!" she nodded then as if she completely understood. "Like my Daddy did."

"Did your Daddy fly big jets?" Harm asked.

"No. He flied little jets. He was in the 'force."

Harm looked at her for a minute. "The Air Force?" he guessed.

"Yes, silly. That's what I said!" she rolled her cornflower blue eyes.

Harm couldn't help but laugh. "Yes, that's what you said," he agreed.

She planted one hand on his bent knee and leaned forward, her other hand coming up to fiddle with his tie. "What's your name?"

"My name is Harm. What's yours?"

"Harm? You got a funny name like me!" she giggled.

"It's short for Harmon," he told her gently. "It was my Dad's name, too. What is your name?" he prompted.

"It's Daisy." She said it with such drama that Erin laughed, too. "Mama said it was 'cause I'm pretty as a daisy but I think it's yucky. 'Cept there's Daisy Duck and I like her."

"I think Daisy is a lovely name," he murmured, his eyes taking in her long fall of white blond hair and the slightness of her build that left only a warm spot against him. "How old are you?"

"I'm old," she grinned outrageously. "I'm four."

"Gee… that is old," Harm agreed.

This got a laugh from her. "You're silly," she announced, patting his cheek with a small hand. "Did you come to play with me?"

"Today I came to visit. But I'd like to come back and play," Harm told her, making his decision without anymore thought. "Would that be all right?"

"Yep. I gotta go now. Promise you'll come back tomorrow?" she demanded.

Harm mentally went over his schedule. "Promise. I'll come over after work. Deal?" Harm asked, holding out his hand to her.

"Deal," she answered, slapping her small palm against his.

And now here he was after work about to embark on a new adventure with the little girl who had so effortlessly wrapped him around her finger the day before.

"Harm!"

Before Harm could even stand up, Daisy flung herself into his lap, her thin little arms coiled around his neck in her imitation of a bear hug. Harm laughed and hugged her back, surprised by her exuberance.

She pulled back and he helped her back on her tiny feet.

"Aren't you pretty as a picture!" he exclaimed with exaggerated surprise.

Daisy giggled and did a lopsided curtsy. "Auntie Ava helped me make my hair pretty." She leaned forward a bit. "She even ir'nd my dress!" she whispered loudly.

Harm suppressed a chuckle. "Well, you look quite lovely, Miss Daisy." He rose to his feet and held out his hand. "May I have the pleasure of escorting you to dinner?" he asked.

Daisy made a perfectly straight face and placed her hand in his as formally as any Queen would have. "Of course," she stated.

They ended up at McDonald's, Daisy's favorite place. He talked her into eating before they headed out to the playground. There were three other families with kids in the area. Daisy eyed them for a moment and Harm wondered if she was too shy to go play by herself.

"Want me to push you on the swing?" he offered.

She beamed at the suggested and took off, yanking at his hand. Harm hurried his steps and she let go of him so she could get up on the swing.

"Don't push me too high, 'kay? I might get scared."

"I'll be very careful," he promised.

He pushed her for several minutes and she seemed content not to say anything. She asked to go a little higher and he obliged her. As she swung away from him, she tipped herself back and looked at him upside down. It made her giggle hysterically. She did it again and Harm stuck his tongue out at her. On the third pass he crossed his eyes and wrinkled his nose. And still she laughed, the musical sound stealing inside of him. Finally she told him she was ready to get down. He caught the plastic covered chains and drew her to a halt.

"That was fun," she stated. "You're sooo silly!"

"Think so?" he asked.

"Uh-huh!"

He walked her out to the SUV and buckled her in before going around to his own side.

"Would you like to see a movie?"

She looked at him and her eyes grew wide. "Can we really?"

He nodded, knowing it would be a special treat and silently promising himself there would be more movies. Ava had mentioned to him before that money was tight and there weren't many extra luxuries.

"What will we watch?" she asked.

"How about a Disney movie?" he suggested.

"Oh, yes! That's my fav'rite!" she answered, clapping her small hands together.

"Disney it is," he grinned and put the car in gear.

They went to see Monsters, Inc. and Harm found himself laughing almost as much as Daisy. By the end of the movie she was draped over his arm, struggling to keep her eyes open. As the credits rolled, Harm rose to his feet. Daisy didn't make any move to get up and held her arms up to him. Bending, he lifted her easily and settled her against his chest. Daisy held onto his wide shoulders and tucked her head under his chin trustingly.

"'s good movie," she mumbled.

He smiled over her head. "It was a very good movie."

"Are we going home now?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am. It's almost time for you to be in bed," he murmured.

"'kay."

She was asleep when he got her home and Ava smiled at the sight of the tall Commander carrying the little girl up the front walk.

"Did she have a good time?" Ava whispered.

"I hope so. I did," Harm grinned easily. "Do you want me to carry her to her room?" he offered.

"That's okay, I can take her," Ava returned.

"Tell her I'll see her Friday after work," Harm promised.

"I will. Goodnight, Commander Rabb."

"Goodnight, Ava."

 

1930 ZULU - SEVERAL WEEKS LATER
JAG HEADQUARTERS
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

 

"Hey, sailor."

Harm looked up and smiled as Mac stopped in his doorway. "Mac."

"It's Friday and it feels like we should go out to dinner."

He arched an eyebrow at her. "Dinner? What brought that on?"

She smiled warmly. "We haven't had dinner in a long time and you've been running out of here every night right on time a lot lately." Her face clouded slightly. "Are you seeing someone?" she asked hesitantly. Harm hesitated long enough for her to get a bad feeling. "I'm sorry, I didn't…"

"It's not what you're thinking," he interrupted, rising to come around the desk. Harm put one hand on the doorjamb next to her head and leaned closer. "There isn't any other woman except you," he murmured, looking right into her eyes.

His words seemed to take her by surprise. Mac opened her mouth the say something then closed it when she couldn't find the words.

He smiled slowly and her knees weakened. "I can't believe I made you speechless over that," he teased.

She recovered quickly and thumped his shoulder lightly. "Don't think it's going to be a habit," she warned.

"I have been going someplace after work the past few weeks and if you'll come with me, I'd like to take you there tonight," he asked gently.

She searched his eyes. "It's important to you," she guessed.

He nodded. "One of the most important things I've ever done."

A short while later they pulled up at the house and got out. Mac looked at Harm expectantly, a little confused by where they ended up. He only smiled.

"You'll see in a minute."

He rang the doorbell and it took several minutes for Ava to answer.

"Oh, Harm, I'm so glad you're here!"

It was the first time she'd ever called him by his first name and Harm was alarmed by Ava's haggard appearance. He ushered Mac into the house with him and shut the front door. Ava was twisting her hands together in agitation.

"What's wrong?" he demanded. "Has something happened to Daisy?"

"No, no, it's Robert. He collapsed this afternoon and I had to call for an ambulance. He's in the hospital now."

"Where's Daisy?" Harm asked. The other three children had gone to permanent homes in the past weeks, leaving the little girl by herself.

"In her room. She was with me when he collapsed, poor thing."

Harm's mind spun. "You need to get to the hospital," he told her firmly. "Daisy can come with me."

Ava's eyes widened slightly. "Oh, Commander, I don't know if that's…"

"You don't have any other choice right now. If it'll make you feel better, I'll have Mac stay with us or Daisy can stay with her." As soon as the words left his mouth, Harm realized Ava didn't know yet who Mac was. He introduced them quickly. "Ava, just go. It'll be okay," he promised. "Call me later tonight and let me know how your husband is. I'll pack Daisy enough things for the weekend and then we'll see where we are later. You're place is with your husband," he stated gently. "Daisy will be fine with me for the weekend at least and if necessary, I'll call Erin."

Ava looked like she was about to object again then finally nodded. "Thank you so much. I really do need to be with Robert…" her voice trailed off.

"Go," he ordered gently. "And drive carefully."

"I will," she nodded, her dark hair bobbing. She grabbed a sweater and her purse from the rack behind the door and was gone in a flash.

Mac looked completely bewildered as she touched his arm. "What in the world is going on? Who's Daisy?" she asked.

Harm ran a hand over his hair. "I'm so sorry, Mac. This wasn't at all how I envisioned telling you this. I've been mentoring Daisy for the past few weeks. You know, kind of like how you are with Chloe. Ava and Robert are her foster parents and Robert has cancer."

For the second time in as many hours Mac was speechless. "Mentoring?" she finally managed to get out. "A little girl?"

Harm nodded. "The National Mentorship Program. I didn't say anything before because I didn't know how it was going to turn out. I thought it might not fly," he admitted.

"But…" her voice trailed off slightly. "You could have told me." Her eyes were faintly accusing.

"I know and I'm sorry now that I didn't. I guess I was afraid if it didn't work out… hell, I don't know why I didn't do it. Maybe because I thought you'd think it was a game to me," he admitted.

Mac tilted her head a fraction to the side. "I would never think that. I've watched you with little A.J. and Chloe many times and I'll never forget our case with Darlynn. I'm just surprised. How did you get a little girl and not a boy?"

"It was a special case and I'll tell you all about it later. Let's go get Daisy so we can get out of here."

Mac followed him up a narrow staircase. It was obvious he was no stranger to the house since he knew just where to go. He carefully pushed the door open and called Daisy's name. She was sitting on the bed with a doll staring into space.

"Harm!" she cried when she saw him in the doorway.

She scrambled off the bed as he walked into the room and he bent to catch her as she threw herself at him. Rising, he cradled her against his chest as she started crying. He smoothed one big hand over her silky hair as she clung to his neck.

"Why are you crying, honey?" he asked softly.

"Uncle Bobby got very sick today. Men came and took him away in the am'lance," she said, scrubbing at her eyes.

"I know - that's what Aunt Ava just told me. She left to go see him and you're coming home with me for a day or so. Think that will be okay?" he asked her.

"'kay," she mumbled. Then she caught sight of Mac. "Who's that lady?" she asked in a pseudo whisper.

Harm turned toward Mac and Daisy shifted in his arms, still holding tightly to his neck.
"Daisy, this is my partner, Mac. She works with me."

Mac smiled warmly and Daisy eyed her solemnly. "Is she your best friend?" Daisy whispered loudly.

Harm nodded and gave her a small smile. "Yes, she is. She's my best friend in the whole world," he stated, glancing at Mac as he said it.

Mac caught the warmth she saw in his eyes and tucked it away in her heart. "Hi, Daisy," she greeted gently.

From her small, sturdy little body and the fall of white blonde curls to her vivid blue eyes and bow mouth, the child was exquisite. She was studying Mac just as hard, sizing her up as an intruder into the relationship she was building with the big man holding her. Finally, she seemed to relax against Harm.

"Put me down, please," she told him.

Squatting, Harm set her on her feet. She walked over to Mac, who went down on her haunches to meet the little girl's eyes. She reached out one tiny hand and touched Mac's oak leaves. Then she traced a strand of dark hair, her touch as light as a butterfly.

"You're pretty," she murmured.

Mac smiled and fingered one of Daisy's curls. "So are you, sweetie. I'm very glad to meet you," she went on.

"Are you a 'mmander like Harm?"

Mac chuckled softly. "I'm a Lieutenant Colonel, Daisy. I'm in the Marines."

"Oh," Daisy answered sagely. "Harm is in the Navy."

"Yes, he is," Mac agreed.

"Daisy, let's get some things packed for you so we can get out of here. I promise you can talk to Mac all you want later if it's all right with her, okay?" Harm interrupted.

Daisy turned and looked at him over her shoulder. "Okay. I got a suitcase."

It took them only a few minutes to gather all of her stuff and Harm was glad to have Mac there or he would have forgotten half the little girl things that needed to be packed. He bundled both of them into the SUV and headed for the loft.

While he ordered pizza and changed clothes, Mac got Daisy in and out of the shower without getting drenched herself, and into her jammies. Mac changed into one of Harm's sweatsuits and they came out to have dinner with him.

"Hey," he grinned. "There's my two best girls. I thought you were going to stay in the bathroom all night!"

Daisy giggled as Mac helped her into a chair at the table.

"Isn't he silly?" she asked Mac.

Mac met Harm's eyes over Daisy's head. "Yes," she agreed. "He is silly."

It was growing late and Daisy's eyes started to droop halfway through dinner. When they finished, she disappeared into the bedroom and came back with a book and her ragged teddy bear clutched in her arms.

"Will you read me and Mac a story?" she asked Harm.

Mac hid a grin because the little girl looked so earnest. Harm took the book and guided her into the living room. Mac followed behind him and lowered herself to the couch while Harm made himself comfortable in the recliner.

"No, no, you have to sit over here, too, Mac," Daisy stated, glaring at Mac like she should have known that.

"Where, sweetie? You want me to sit in the chair and Harm to sit over here?"

"No, on his lap and then me. You read stories sitting on laps," she told them.

Mac shot a quick glance at Harm who merely grinned smugly at her. Without a word, she stood and went to the chair. Sitting down on Harm's lap, she put her legs over the arm of the chair then held out her hands to pick Daisy up. The little girl sat on Mac's lap facing the same direction and curled trustingly against Harm's chest. He opened the book in front of Daisy and the little girl touched the bookmark.

"This is where Auntie Ava read to me last night," she murmured, her voice low with fatigue.

"This is a good book," Mac put in gently. "I love all of the Winnie the Pooh stories."

"Me, too," Daisy answered, snuggling deeper into Mac's embrace.

Harm looked down at their bent heads, auburn strands mixed with pale blonde and felt his chest tighten. He really had everything in the world right there in his lap. Releasing a slow breath, he began to read.

"So they began going there, and after they had walked a little way Christopher Robin said:

"What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?"

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best is -" and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it, which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. And then he thought that being with Christopher Robin was a very good thing to do and having Piglet near was a very friendly thing to have; and so, when he thought it all out, he said, "What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying, 'What about a little something?' and Me saying, "Well, I shouldn't mind a little something, should you, Piglet', and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing."

"I like that, too," said Christopher Robin, "but what I like doing best is Nothing."

"How do you do Nothing?" asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.

"Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it, What are you going to do, Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and then you go and do it."

"Oh, I see," said Pooh.

"This is a nothing sort of thing that we're doing now."

"Oh, I see," said Pooh again.

"It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering."

"Oh!" said Pooh.

"She's asleep."

Mac's soft voice broke in before he could read any further. Harm looked down where Daisy's small head rested under Mac's chin and saw the shadowy feather of lashes on her cheek.

"I would have put her straight to bed if I thought she'd go on the first try," he whispered, grinning.

"Story time is a ritual," Mac assured him.

"Can you get up without waking her?" Harm asked.

"Umm…" Mac shifted slightly and tried to think of the best way to turn herself around on Harm's lap and stand. "You may have to give me a push," she teased.

He gave her a slow wink. "I can handle a push."

Mac gingerly turned and put her feet on the floor. A rush of heat flooded through Harm and he prayed she couldn't feel his body's response to her movement. With her arms wrapped firmly around Daisy, Mac tried to stand up. She didn't have enough momentum and sank right back down on Harm's lap. She heard the barest hint of a chuckle from him and nudged his leg with her foot.

"Once more with feeling," she giggled softly.

"On three," he teased. "One, two… three."

He curved both big hands around the gentle flare of her hips and pushed her up on her feet. She turned, holding Daisy and nudged his leg again.

"Are you coming, too, or are you just going to sit there?"

He shrugged lightly. "You look like you're doing just fine without my help. I'd rather watch you." His tone was light enough but the look in his eyes spoke of something a whole lot more serious.

Mac glanced down at the sleeping child then back at him. "She's beautiful, Harm," she murmured.

Harm's eyes drifted to Daisy. "More than you know," he whispered, almost more to himself than Mac.

"Do you want me to put her down?" he asked.

"Have you ever put a child to bed?" Mac asked lightly.

"No, but it can't be all that hard," he stated optimistically.

She smiled and turned away. "Then come get your first lesson."

In his room, Mac guided him through the motions of tucking Daisy in, making sure she had her favorite bear and kissing her goodnight, even though she was asleep. At Harm's questioning look, Mac shrugged.

"Harriet said it's important because you're still bonding," she whispered.

He nodded as if that made all the sense in the world then bent to press a tender kiss to the little girl's forehead. They went back to the living room and Harm fixed tea before they settled on the couch.

"I know you're dying to know how I came to be mentoring her," he opened dryly. "This isn't how I meant for you to find out."

Mac regarded him thoughtfully. "It was a surprise when you announced it in such a rush today. I'm a little hurt that you didn't tell me you were doing such an important thing. I didn't even know you were thinking about it," she accused faintly.

He sighed helplessly. "It happened fast. I'm not even sure I can explain it to you. Lately, I've been feeling like something is missing. Our lives revolve so much around work and…" his voice trailed off. "I don't know how to explain it. I just felt like I needed something - something I couldn't get anywhere else. I was tooling around on the computer one day and got to the national mentoring website by accident. I started reading some of the stories, thought about you and Chloe and that was that. I didn't want to say anything at first because I didn't know if I could go through with it."

"Why would you think that?" she asked.

"I don't have a lot of experience with children other than little A.J. and I just didn't know what to expect. There was so much emphasis on the website about being a positive influence for these kids."

"Please don't tell me you had doubts about being a positive influence," she frowned.

His gaze was sheepish. "I did," he confirmed. "Doesn't the Admiral always say I walk to my own drummer?"

She laughed softly. "You say that like it's a bad thing and maybe at times it's inappropriate but it's part of who you are. Standing up for what you believe in at any cost is not an attribute many people claim. I think it's a fine influence for a child."

His eyes shone at her soft compliment. "Thank you," he answered, reaching over to squeeze her hand. "Anyway, I just didn't know what would happen and if it didn't work out then I would be the only one disappointed."

"What I really want to know is how you ended up with a little girl. They generally keep boys and girls with the same sex."

"That's what I thought, too, but Daisy was a special case." Briefly he related his first visit with Erin Parker and the subsequent visit at the Shane home. "I was hooked the minute I saw her. It's hard for me to comprehend how easily she was left behind."

"I know that well enough myself," Mac returned softly. "And we saw such abuse with Darlynn. I think it's good you got a little girl. There is a world of difference from little boys," she grinned.

Harm rolled his eyes. "You're telling me. She worries about how pretty she looks when I pick her up for our 'dates' and she can't get dirty so I have to tell her ahead of time to wear play clothes. Geez, she's only four!"

Mac laughed. "And then she'll be thirteen and eyeing the boys and wanting to wear makeup."

He groaned at the picture that invoked. "I hope I'm still around when she hits thirteen! She'll be wearing a gunny sack," he grumbled.


"I have a feeling even a gunny sack won't be able to hide how lovely she's going to be." She murmured sympathetically. "I'm going to bed, sailor-boy. Are you sure you don't want me to take the couch?" she offered.

"Nah, I'll be fine. You sleep in there with her."

Harm jerked out of a sound sleep, not sure at first what woke him. Heart pounding furiously, he sat up and strained his ears. He could hear crying. Jumping up, he ran toward the bedroom and saw Mac cradling a sobbing Daisy in her lap. She held up her hand to ward him off as soon as she saw him coming.

"It was just a bad dream, sweetie. Shh…" she whispered, stroking Daisy's long curls. "Go back to sleep now."

Daisy shifted her head beneath Mac's chin and Harm saw her rub her eyes with her tiny fists. "I was 'lone," she sniffed.

"In your dream?" Mac asked gently, shifting back a bit to look down at her.

Daisy nodded slightly. "I coun't find Auntie Ava or Uncle Robert or you an' Harm. It was dark an' I was scared."

Mac hugged the little girl tightly and pressed a kiss to her silky hair. "You aren't alone, honey, never," she whispered fervently. "Harm's right here and so am I and you'll see Aunt Ava and Uncle Robert very soon."

From the shadows, Harm watched his partner soothe away the remnants of the nightmare. The scene suited her more perfectly than any he'd ever seen.

"Where's Harm?" Daisy demanded, twisting in Mac's arms to look for him.

Harm stepped forward in the darkness to the foot of the bed. "I'm right here."

Daisy scrambled out of Mac's lap and launched herself at Harm, who caught her up against his chest and hugged her close.

"I had a nigh'mare," she whispered against his neck.

"I heard you crying," he murmured, smoothing his hand down her back.

He walked to the side of the bed and carefully put her down. "Think you can go back to sleep now?" he asked softly.

"Will you stay with me 'til I go to sleep?"

"Sure I will. I can't let my best girl be afraid," he teased gently, touching her check.
"Slide over next to Mac and make room for me."

Daisy giggled and scooted over to Mac. Harm met her eyes over Daisy's head as he settled himself on the other side of the bed. A wealth of emotion stretched between them, warming the room and weaving them closer. It was amazing what a short time with a small child could do.

 

2310 ZULU - THURSDAY
THE SHANE RESIDENCE

 

There was a car in the drive Harm didn't recognize and he parked on the street so he wouldn't block it in. As he started up the drive, he could hear Daisy screaming from inside the house. Afraid she might be hurt, he ran to the front door and knocked sharply. There was no answer but he could still hear Daisy screaming so he went in on his own. Every protective instinct he had went into overdrive when he saw a man struggling with Daisy, who was in turn holding on to Ava's legs with a death grip. Harm rushed toward them.

"What are you doing?" he demanded. "Let go of her."

Startled by an unexpected voice, the man loosened his grip on Daisy and spun to face Harm. "Who are you?"

"Harm!"

Daisy plastered herself against his legs, holding on for all she was worth. Glaring at the shorter man, Harm hauled Daisy up into his arms.

"Commander Harmon Rabb. I'm a friend of the family. Who are you?" Harm demanded again.

"Dave Frankey. I'm from Child Protective Services and I'm hear to relocate this child to a new home," the man stated, gathering his composure.

"A new home? Why? Where's Erin Parker?"

"She's on vacation and no matter what this man says, I refuse to believe she would authorize this without letting us know first!" Ava cut in angrily from the other side of the room.

Harm took in her distraught face before turning back to stare down the CPS agent. Calmly, he smoothed a hand over Daisy's hair and turned to Ava.

"Honey, go with Aunt Ava for a few minutes, okay? I want to talk to Mr. Frankey."

Daisy sniffed. "'kay," she said and easily fell into Ava's arms.

When they were gone from the room, Harm stepped toe-to-toe with the man and felt absurdly pleased when the stuffed shirt took a step back in nervousness.

"No one here has requested that Daisy be relocated and I agree with Mrs. Shane that Erin Parker would have forewarned us. That little girl has been through quite enough in her short life and I won't have you causing her any more grief. I want to see proof that Ms. Parker arranged for a move."

"Now, look here," Frankey began. "I don't have to prove anything to you, Mr. Rabb. You aren't even her foster parent. We feel a move is in the best interest of the child because of Mr. Shane's deteriorating health. I am acting on Ms. Parker's behalf while she is away on vacation."

"That 'child' has a name so why don't you use it," Harm snapped. "I'm not letting you take her out of here, Mr. Frankey, and if you have a problem with that, then you and I can go visit your superiors right now and hash it out."

"I could have you arrested for this!" Frankey threatened.

"Go ahead and try it. I'd like to see you explain away the scene I walked in on. It sure looked to me like you were manhandling Daisy."

"That's absurd! Fine, she can stay here but you better believe this isn't over!"

"I'll look forward to your next visit." Harm smiled grimly.

As soon as the front door closed behind the man, Harm called for Ava. She came back in and handed Daisy to him. Harm lowered his tall frame to the couch and settled Daisy on his knee. She was clutching her teddy in one arm and held a cold washcloth in the other. Without a word, Harm took it and gently bathed her flushed face.

"Do I hafta go away?" she asked in a small voice.

"Not if I can help it," Harm answered calmly, keeping his anger at bay for her sake. He looked up as Ava sat down. "This was the first you heard about it?"

She nodded. "He showed up at the door and told me they were moving her to a new home because it would be too difficult for me to take care of her. We've been managing just fine with Robert being sick and I would never have them move her unless it was absolutely the last straw!" she stated, still angry by the man's unexpected visit.

"Do you know when Erin is due back?" he asked.

"Next week, I believe she said. Can he really take Daisy away?"

"I suppose he could but he won't get her without a fight."

"I din't want to go with that man," Daisy interrupted. "He was tryin' to make me."

"We'll get this all straightened out," Harm promised, smoothing her hair down.

"Harm," Ava murmured, drawing his attention back to her. "Have you ever thought about…" Ava nodded toward Daisy and let the sentence trail off.

Harm looked at Daisy then back at Ava. "Briefly. I didn't think they would allow someone like me. I could be called to duty at a moment's notice, I'm single and I work all day."

Ava's kind eyes looked over the loving way the big man was holding the little girl and she smiled. "You're resourceful, Commander, I bet you could figure out a way."

"Would it be easier for you?" Harm asked quietly.

"It breaks my heart to admit it but, yes, it would. I really need to be spending more time with Robert."

Harm looked back down at Daisy, who was playing with his tie. She glanced up and beamed her angelic smile at him. Then he looked back at Ava. "Maybe there is a way," he murmured.

The phone rang and Ava got up to answer it. Harm watched sharply as she talked, noting the relieved look she took on. When she hung up, she was smiling.

"That was Erin's boss. She ordered a stop to any changes until Erin comes back. She'll have her call me then and we'll see where things stand."

Harm nodded. "That gives me a few days to work out a solution."

 

0010 ZULU - SUNDAY NIGHT
HARM'S APARTMENT
NORTH OF UNION STATION

 

"I would have loved to see the look on his face when you were staring him down!"

Harm laughed, looking back on Dave Frankey's visit as he related it to Mac. "I wanted to take a swing at him so bad I could taste it."

"At least you got them to wait until Erin gets back."

Harm nodded. "Yeah, I'm glad. I don't think she'll move Daisy, although, it's getting harder and harder on Ava and Robert to care for her. Ava is torn between Daisy and being with her husband. She…" he paused, unsure of how to proceed.

"She what?" Mac prompted.

"She asked if I had thought about applying to be a foster parent and taking over Daisy's care."

"Really?" Mac asked incredulously. "Are you considering it?"

"Actually, I am," he answered slowly, meeting her eyes.

Mac sat back in her chair and studied him. "It's a big responsibility. What would you do with her during the day or if you're called out on duty?"

"I've done nothing but think about this since Ava brought it up on Thursday. Mac, I don't really want to be a foster parent where there's a possibility of them taking Daisy without a moment's notice. I can't put that kind of emotional commitment forth only to lose her." He leaned across the table and tenderly picked up Mac's hand. Holding it in his own, he studied her slender fingers for a moment. Then he looked up at Mac, hitting her with the full impact of his gaze. "I want to adopt her."

To her credit, she didn't fall over dead from the announcement like he thought she might. But she didn't answer right away, either, just looked at him instead for several long minutes. "Do you have an idea what would be involved? Have you talked to anyone else about this?"

"No, I've just spent the whole weekend thinking about it. I have an appointment to go see Erin on Tuesday. I think she'll be able to tell me what I'll need to do. You didn't react the way I thought you might. What do you think about all this?" he asked.

"Me?" she looked surprised. "I'm not the one who has to make the decision."

"No, but you're the other most important person in my life. Do you think I could be a Dad to Daisy?"

Mac smiled softly at his question. "I think you would be a very good Dad to any child, Harm." His words about her being important caught her off guard and she wondered exactly what he was getting at. "I guess it would depend on what Daisy wants, too. Does she ever talk about her mother?"

Harm shook his head slowly. "She doesn't remember much about either parent, just bits and pieces.

One day when she's older I imagine she'll want to know the whole story about how she came into the CPS system."

Mac was quiet for a moment. "This seems very sudden, even for someone like you who is prone to acting on impulse." She held up a hand when he started to speak. "I meant that in a good way. Making decisions on the fly is another piece of who you are. How long have you been mentoring Daisy?"

"A little over a month."

"How long did you think about becoming a mentor?"

"About a week. I looked at several volunteer options first because I thought it might be a good outlet for me."

"You've never talked much about having a family of your own. I know how much you love little A.J. and that you take being his Godfather very seriously but having a child of your own is so much different. Have you thought about attending some single parent groups? Or what this will do to the lifestyle you lead now? Have you talked to the Admiral? Does he even know you're mentoring?"

"Whoa!" Harm grinned, holding his hands to stop her flow of words. He leaned forward slightly and laced his fingers together. "Tough questions, Mac. I thought you'd be happy for me but instead you seem to be looking for a reason to dissuade me from adopting Daisy."

Her expression softened even more and she immediately rose to come around the table to his side. Bending slightly, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged him. Harm's automatically returned the embrace, curving his arms around her tiny waist.

"I am very happy for you," she murmured. "I'm just worried and that's because of what you mean to me. I don't want to see you hurt by all of this because I know how attached you've gotten to Daisy. And it's clear to anyone watching that she adores you."

She pulled back enough to look down at him. She studied him for a long moment, her eyes tracing the line of his brow, the tiny lines that fanned from the corners of his eyes, the line of his nose and finally, the wide, mobile mouth that smiled so easily at her. Her gaze flicked back to his and emotion darkened his blue-green stare. His hands tightened on her hips.

"What are you thinking?" The husky growl sent a shiver racing down her spine.

Instead of answering, Mac felt herself leaning toward him. Her hands slid up; one at his jaw and one along his throat and she laid her lips on his. The air around them changed slightly and current sparked. Neither one made any moves to deepen the tender kiss. They just rested against each other as if they'd been doing it forever.

Without a word, Harm pulled away and drew Mac down to his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and laid her cheek against his silky hair. Suddenly, Harm felt overwhelmed by the desire to have her this close to him forever. Just holding her against him, feeling the beat of her heart under his cheek, made it seem like all his worries would disappear and the world would magically right itself.

Mac smoothed her cheek against his hair and sighed gently. "You know I'll support any decision you make. I guess I'm just trying to protect you but in the end only you'll know what's best."

Harm moved back, forcing her to look at him. "Do you think I can raise her?"

She smiled but there was a touch of sadness in the gesture. "I'm not the one you need to be asking. I think you can do anything in the world you set your mind to, Harm. Do you think you can raise her? And are you ready to make this kind of commitment?"

There was something else in her words then and he realized she wasn't just talking about Daisy anymore.

"Are you saying you don't think I can?" he asked softly, really afraid for once in their history of what she would say.

"No, that's not what I'm saying. I know you have it in you, Harm, but I've watched you draw yourself back from other types of emotional commitments. Granted, Daisy's demands aren't going to be the same as that of a wife or girlfriend but they'll be just as strong. I think you should talk to the Admiral and to Erin Parker about adoption proceedings then go from there."

 

 
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