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Shadows from the Past Part 2
The day at the museum had gone much better than in Harm’s nightmare. Chris studiously took in all the different displays. When Harm explained he had a plane similar to the Stearman on display, Chris began asking an avalanche of questions that never stopped the rest of the day. She wanted to know everything from: Why you don’t fall out of the plane if it doesn’t have a top, and why would you want to walk on the moon, to what is World War II, and why don’t the planes fall out of the sky?
Ray managed to show a little more discretion than Mac, biting his lip to suppress his laughter. Mac on the other hand, giggled and chuckled out loud at some of the expressions on Harm’s face, and other times at his answers. When he began reciting his academy aerodynamics class, Ray thought Mac was going to double over in laughter. “Don’t laugh too hard. She’ll probably explain it to you, verbatim, on the way home, and not miss a step,” he whispered into Mac’s ear, very proud of his granddaughter. She was a very smart little girl.
Chris had finished her happy meal and was now bouncing gleefully in the ball cage.
“I had hoped we’d have an opportunity to chat somewhat in private.” Ray set his coffee cup down on the table, his expression changing from one of a delighted grandfather to that of a very pensive person.
“I think I’ll go keep a closer watch on Chris.” Mac stood up without hesitation.
“No, Mac. Stay, please.” Harm hurriedly placed his hand on hers, momentarily confused by the sly grin that spread briefly across Ray’s face.
Mac took her time evaluating the situation. This was, technically, not something she needed to be involved in, and yet, Harm’s eyes were definitely pleading with her not to leave. Turning her head slightly, her eyes silently asked if he was sure. Accepting his gentle nod, Mac retook her seat at the table.
Ray had taken in the entire scene with a tremendous amount of satisfaction. When he first discovered that Harm and the Colonel had never married as Jordan had expected they would, he feared there might not be a mother figure for his precious granddaughter. He was delighted to see Jordan had not been wrong in her evaluation of this man or his relationships. He was obviously a good man. So far, he showed all the right instincts to be a good father, and Ray suspected that some day very soon, Harmon Rabb would be a very good husband to one Sarah MacKenzie.
“Now that you’ve had some time to spend with Chris, I think there are a few things we need to discuss. I’ve always known the time would be coming soon when we would have to tell you about her. My wife and I were in good health, but no one would have considered us spring chickens. I’m going to be 75 on my next birthday. Chris deserves to have parents young enough to keep up with her.” Ray noticed Harm reach across, under the table, and take hold of Mac’s hand.
“When you’re ready, I would like for Chris to go and live with you.”
Harm’s stomach began doing flip-flops. He was torn between the elation of having a child of his own, and the absolute terror of having a child of his own.
“I suspect you are too much of a gentleman to request this, so I am going to propose the topic,” the older man continued. “I think we should have DNA testing done to assure everyone involved of your paternity.” Ray sat back slightly, waiting for Harm’s reaction.
After a long moment of silence, Harm finally found his voice. “I don’t think that will be necessary.” He’d seen himself in Chris every time she smiled.
“I do,” Ray said adamantly. “Not that I have any doubt you’re her father, but it’s best for everyone’s peace of mind down the road if we prove it now.”
“I suppose you’re right.” The lawyer in him knew it was the best way to proceed. The man in him was still overwhelmed. “We could probably use the lab at NCIS. I’m sure we could get an answer more quickly that way.”
“Very well. Just tell me where and when to take her,” Ray smiled. “In the meantime, I will let you dictate how much time you spend with Chris, let you set the pace. I have no intention of dropping her in the lap of perfect strangers, but if you’re in agreement, I do believe this is what’s best for her.” He tried to hide the pain in his heart at the thought of not having his only grandbaby constantly underfoot.
Noticing Harm’s silence, Ray reconsidered what he was about to say. “Perhaps, I should have asked first if this is what you want? Based on the kind of man Jordan described you to be, and what I’ve observed the past two days, I just assumed you would want Chris with you.” It had honestly never occurred to him that Harm might not want Chris to live with him, that he might be satisfied with the role of weekend father.
“I think we all want what’s best for her.” Harm took a deep breath and let it out slowly. There was so much to consider. He was going to need to have a very long, very serious talk with Mac, and soon.
“Colonel, Colonel!” Chris came running up between Harm and Mac, her hands dropping excitedly on Mac’s lap. “Did you see that?” She was practically bouncing out of her skin with enthusiasm.
“What happened?” Mac asked animatedly, fairly sure Chris wasn’t upset about anything.
“I came down the big slide! Watch!” Not waiting for an answer, Chris turned and ran back across the play area to the long tube slide. All adult eyes were now on her.
With her eyes intent on the happy little girl, Mac wasn’t aware of how both Ray and Harm turned briefly to glance at her, each amazed that Chris had come to her first. Taking a minute to think about it, Harm realized that from the very first time they met, Chris tended to respond to Mac first.
A few minutes later Chris came swooshing out of the tube, immediately running towards Mac. “Did you see! Did you see!”
“WOW.” Mac grinned, slightly stunned as the bundle of energy threw herself into Mac’s arms, hugging her tightly. “That was great,” Mac whispered into her hair, soothing her back.
“Can I do it again?” At first she asked Mac, then as though some higher understanding had kicked in, she stepped back and turned to her grandfather. “Can I?”
“I don’t know. Can you?” he answered.
Correcting herself, she asked a little sheepishly, “May I?”
“One more time, and then we need to get going. It’s starting to get late.” Her grandfather smiled as she scurried off again.
“How long will you be able to stay in the DC area?” Harm asked, his eyes still following his daughter, wondering what sort of time frame he was working with.
“I don’t have a schedule. Some things can’t be put on a timetable.” Ray had already taken measures to sell his house. If Harm did as Ray expected, and wanted to care for Chris, Ray wouldn’t be able to stand being so far away. Without Sally or Chris, retirement in Florida would only be lonely. He still wanted to play an important role in her life. She was almost all he had left in this world.
Mac could tell Harm was completely lost in thought. Other than a few minor comments about how the day had gone, the two friends had ridden in near total silence. The car was turning into the JAG parking lot when Mac finally spoke up.
“It’s still early, would you like to come over for some bad coffee?” She shrugged, remembering something he’d said to her once, long ago.
“That depends. Do I get to catch you in your pajamas?” Harm remembered the same night, another time when they were starting over.
“We’ll have to see about that,” she chuckled.
“I guess I’ll just have to settle for coffee and good company then.”
“Good. See you in a few.” Letting herself out, Mac walked to her car.
Harm watched closely as she made her way around the sports car, settling quickly into the driver’s seat. Once she had pulled out of the lot, he followed right behind her. He had a lot of changes to make in his life, and he needed to talk to Mac. The only question was, where was he going to start?
Mac could hear Harm’s footsteps coming up the stairs as she unlocked her front door. Leaving the door open, she headed straight for the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee.
“I just put the pot on. Make yourself at home, coffee will be ready soon.”
“Do you need some help?” Harm called, closing the door behind him.
“Nope. Not much to it,” she smiled.
“Okay. Mind if I turn on some music?”
“Knock yourself out.”
Slipping in a few of his favorite CDs and hitting shuffle, Harm made himself comfortable on Mac’s sofa.
“Here we go.” Mac carried in two mugs. Setting one down in front of Harm, she took a seat beside him.
“She’s really a very well behaved little girl. You should be proud of her.”
“You know, I really am.” Harm leaned forward for his mug.
“Were you like that as a child?” Mac smiled before taking a sip of her drink.
“Why? What did you expect from me as a child?” Dennis the Menace?” Taking a swallow, Harm wiggled his brows at her, the hot coffee feeling good going down.
“Just asking.” She half nodded with an amused grin. “What are you going to do?” Mac was thinking about the doubts Harm had expressed the night before. If he wanted it, Ray Parker had given him an out, but she was sure he wouldn’t take it.
“Mostly, take it one day at time. I did a lot of thinking last night after I left here. I have a lot to do, starting with declaring her my dependent. The Navy needs to know about Chris.” Harm took another sip of coffee, even though it wasn’t the coffee he’d come for.
“Do you think maybe you should wait for the results of the DNA tests?”
“You know she’s mine, don’t you?”
“Yes, but still...”
“I guess it won’t hurt to wait a few more days, but I want to get the tests taken right away, tomorrow.” He looked up at Mac, wondering if making a place for Chris in his life would hinder his chances of convincing Mac to go through with their pledge of years ago, or if he could convince her to do this together as well.
“I’m sure Ray won’t mind the rush. What else have you been thinking?” Mac wrapped her fingers more tightly around her mug. She could see the weight of Harm’s thoughts clouding his eyes, turning the normally earthy green into a stormy gray.
“Lots of things: my apartment, my work, you, us, and don’t tell me there is no us.” He hadn’t meant for the last part to come out as harshly as it had, but he hated the idea that Mac might use this situation as an excuse to take a step, several steps, back in their now growing relationship.
“No, I won’t do that.” She tried to smile, but it was too hard.
“Do you know how much I appreciate your being with me for this? Yesterday, today?” He tried to ease into the direction this conversation needed to take.
“I think I have an idea.” One corner of her mouth curled upward in a hint of a smile.
“Did you notice, today, when she came down the slide, she ran straight to you?” Harm put his coffee cup down on the table.
“She did, didn’t she?” A huge grin spread across Mac’s face at the recognition.
“I always knew it would be that way.” Harm let out a heavy sigh.
Mac looked at him curiously, unsure of what he meant.
“I knew our children would always run to you first.” Harm stared ahead at his empty mug on the table.
Mac scooted to the edge of the couch in order to set her cup on the table beside Harm’s. Not letting go, her hands still wrapped around the now cool mug on the table, Mac swallowed the lump in her throat. “She’s not our child.”
“I know. Sometimes when I watch you together, I forget that.” Harm reached over, letting his hand fall gently on Mac’s leg.
“How can you possibly forget I’m the one who can’t have children?” She hadn’t moved, hadn’t looked at him. Her fingers gripped the mug more tightly.
“You don’t know that for sure. There are options. We could explore the possibilities.” His thumb began mindlessly caressing her thigh
“Don’t you think you’ve got enough on your plate already?” Mac barely glanced in his direction, almost afraid to look him in the eye. Afraid of what she might, or might not see.
“No, I don’t. Mac, are you even considering it? Except for a few insinuations the other night, you haven’t said much about it for months.” Harm shifted his weight, setting his other hand on her knee.
“I’ve thought about it.” Boy, had she thought about it! Only every day for the last five and a half years. Even when she should have been thinking of a future with Mic or Clay, her mind still wandered to that one moment years ago when they made what most people would consider a crazy deal.
“If you hadn’t gotten sick, if you thought we had a chance, then would you want to go through with it?” Harm needed some hint of what she was feeling.
Mac turned her head to honestly look into Harm’s deep green eyes for the first time since the topic of conversation had shifted to their deal. Closing her eyes, searching deep in her soul, she heard the sound of her own voice. “Yes.”
“Then maybe we should discuss this? Seriously, with no cryptic comments or insinuations, and no vague ‘I’ll let you knows.’
“Harm, I really don’t think this is the best time to be getting into this. You have a more pressing matter to be concerned with. Chris.”
“I don’t need you to remind me about her, Mac. It’s unlikely I could forget I have an almost five year old daughter whose mother never saw fit to mention her existence to me, but that doesn’t change what’s been happening between us. I told you before that I wanted to be a part of your life, not just on the outside looking in, but all the time. The question I have to ask you now is; do you still want me in your life if it includes a little girl? Someone else’s little girl?” Harm silently crossed his fingers. The question really got right to the crux of the matter. What he had always wanted or envisioned held little importance if Mac didn’t have any interest in being saddled with someone else’s child.
“She’s still yours.” Mac couldn’t help the small smile that flickered for only a fraction of a moment. Chris looked so much like Mac had always pictured Harm’s daughter would look, with his green eyes and the trademark Rabb smile. Somehow, it was easy to forget she wasn’t hers, too.
“Could she be ours? I don’t mean instead of one of our own, but along with?” Harm was having a hard time reading Mac. She was sitting in an almost defensive position, despite teetering on the edge of the sofa as though ready to bolt, she was still gripping the coffee cup as if it were her last connection with sanity.
Mac finally released the mug on the table and took Harm’s hand in hers. “Are you asking me because you still want to share my world, or because you’re afraid to do this alone?” Not that sharing his child didn’t appeal to her, but he did say no vagueness, or insinuations. He’d recently made it clear, more than once, that he wanted them to share a child, and maybe even a life, but he never mentioned exactly how he pictured that life. If it was to be as a happily married couple sharing fully in the life of their children, or a happily divorced couple with an amicable custody agreement. If it was the latter, she wasn’t so sure she could take being Jordan’s substitute.
“Of course I’m afraid to do this alone, but I wouldn’t be the first or last single father to raise a daughter by himself if I have to. The thing is, I’ve never wanted to. When I said I wanted to be a part of your life, I meant all of it. The mornings, the nights,” his eyes twinkled mischievously at those last words, “and everything in between. I wanted us to be together to share the good, the bad, the easy, the hard, and if all there ever would be was the two of us, that would have been okay, so long as we were together.” Watching her carefully as she processed every word of what he’d just said, “What did you think I meant?”
“I...I was never really sure. I mean, we’ve been spending more time together since Clay died and reappeared, and I did feel we were finally facing all the obstacles we’ve avoided for so many years. I’ve just spent so many years confused by the mixed signals and miscommunications, I was afraid to put too much faith in something that would simply turn out to be another broken dream.” Mac couldn’t help but remember Harm’s voice urging her to come to him, only to find another woman seeking comfort in his arms.
“I know I’ve let you down in the past, Mac. You have no idea how sorry I am for that, but I promise, if you’ll let me in this time, you can count on me, forever.”
Reaching up and gently running one finger down the length of his cheek, Mac took a deep breath. “I want to.” Her finger was trembling by the time it came to a stop on the seam of his lips.
“Then do it,” he whispered into her finger.
“Then do it,” he whispered into her finger. Raising his hand to cover hers, he enveloped her timid hand in his, dragging it away from his face, and leaning up close to her. “Please?” He breathed against her lips before capturing them in a slow, delicate tangle of simple pleasure.
Allowing the moment to linger, Harm indulged in the tenderness of the kiss, in the feel of her softness beneath his fingers, and the warmth of her body pressed heavily against him. He needed to feel her with him a little while longer, yet he knew he needed to keep his feelings and desires from escalating to a level that simply couldn’t be fulfilled, not tonight. No matter how tempted he might be by the feel of Mac’s soft body fully in his arms, Harm knew now wasn’t the time to let this kiss go any further. It was too soon, there was still too much to decide, too many unknowns to deal with, and their newly budding romance was still on very tenuous ground.
In all of the few times fate had allowed them a glimpse of what they could be like together, this was the most compelling moment of all. Every fear and concern Mac had ever experienced was slowly melting away in the warmth and safety of Harmon Rabb. For the first time in a very long time, she felt as though this was right, as though nothing could get in their way. The urge to touch and feel him that she had been so strenuously repressing was surging to the surface, threatening to overtake all common sense. She was most definitely ready to let Harmon Rabb into her life, but no matter how much she wanted this, wanted him, she knew their emotions were too raw, their fears too fresh. As hard as it might be, they still needed more time.
As if fueled by one mind, Harm and Mac both pulled back gently with a sigh. Their hands dropping to their sides, their fingers instantly entwining in a tangled grip as if their very lives depended on the small thread of physical connection.
“Would you like another cup of coffee?” Mac’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“The last thing I need right now is another stimulant.” Harm closed his eyes, a flush rising in his cheeks at having been so blatantly honest.
“How about tea instead?” Mac wasn’t ready for him to leave just yet, and she wasn’t ready to deal with his slip of the tongue.
“I should really head home. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. I’ll need to at least tell Sir Sturgis what is going on, then I’ll need to arrange for the blood tests, and somewhere in there I’m supposed to actually get some JAG work done.
“Will you need my help?”
“I don’t think so, but I’ll let you know if I do.” Harm managed to force himself to let go of one hand as he stood up.
“You’re sure you don’t want to stay a little longer?” Mac got up off the sofa still holding tightly to Harm’s other hand.
“It’s not that I don’t want to, I just don’t think it’s a very good idea right now.” If this was really the beginning of a more serious relationship for them, then he was going to have to give her the unbridled truth, no diversionary tactics.
“I know. You’ve got a lot to work through.” Mac followed him as he walked slowly to the door. Neither one of them wanted to break the connection, and yet, both knew it was for the best.
“I’ll see you in the morning.” Tempting fate, Harm looked into those beautiful brown eyes once more and leaned in for a short, heartfelt kiss. “Good night,” he whispered, then walked out the door.
Mac watched him walk down the hall from her doorway. Could this finally be ‘the’ time they get it right? Lord, she certainly hoped so. Her heart would never stand another relationship fiasco.
It had been a busy morning for Harm. First thing, he had phoned Abby over at NCIS and arranged for Chris and himself to be tested. She promised to keep it all on the QT, feeling they owed him at least that much.
“How’s it going, sailor?” Mac asked, standing just outside Harm’s office door.
“Better than I thought.” Harm dropped his pen on the desk and motioned for Mac to take a seat. “I’ve been waiting for you to get out of court. How’d it go?”
“As expected. We taught Bud too well, the jury believed him. They gave Meyers three years confinement and dishonorable discharge. About what I expected.”
“Sorry.” Harm wiggled his brow at her.
“No, you’re not. You know as well as I do, he was guilty as sin,” Mac chuckled. “What were you wanting to see me about?”
“I spoke with Abby at NCIS this morning. Everything is all taken care of.”
“I see.” Mac was a little surprised he’d contacted Abby, but had no intention of making a big deal of it.
“I also spoke with Ray. He and Chris don’t have anything planned for the day. We discussed the options and thought it might be easier on her if we did it together, sort of a solidarity type thing, so they’re going to come here first.”
“That’s a good idea, then you can make coming to the office somewhat of a day trip, a mini excursion before the less pleasant part of the day.”
“Well, it won’t be that unpleasant. Abby says there’s no need for a blood test. A simple cotton swab of the mouth will do for what we need. She’s also going to give Chris a short tour.”
“That sounds like a good idea. This way you won’t have to explain very much to her until the time is right.” Mac took a deep breath, she hoped timing wasn’t going to continue to be a daunting thing in their relationship.
“I was just about to give Sturgis a heads up. I don’t suppose you care to wait around and pick up the pieces.” Harm’s grin was malicious and infectious.
“It won’t be that bad. You can do this, superman.” The smile on Harm’s face was as wide as a carrier deck. Despite not enjoying his meetings, or confrontations, with Sturgis, Harm was beaming from head to toe at the prospect of proving Chris was his daughter, and to Mac’s surprise, the sheer delight in his eyes had her thrilled as well.
Jennifer Coates knocked lightly on the door. “Excuse me, sir. I’m sorry to interrupt, but there are two guests you authorized on their way upstairs.”
“Yes, Jennifer. Thank you.” Harm waited for the petty officer to leave before speaking again. “I guess I won’t have time to meet with Sturgis after all. It’ll have to wait until we get back.”
“I doubt it will matter.” Mac smiled, happy she was going to get a chance to see Chris again.
“Want to join me at the elevator?” Harm asked on his way around the desk.
“Sure, I’ve got time.”
The elevator doors with JAG’s newest visitors opened just as Harm and Mac made their way through the glass doors. The first thing they saw was the wide-eyed smile on Chris’ face. “There they are, Grandpa!” Chris pointed, running towards Harm and Mac, dragging her chuckling grandfather behind her.
“Remember what I told you,” Ray reminded her. Earlier that morning, he’d made his best effort at explaining military protocol to the excited four-year-old.
“Yes, sir.” Slowing her pace, Chris stopped short in front of the two officers. “Thank you for inviting me.” Tucking her chin deep against her chest, she made a fruitless effort to contain her youthful enthusiasm.
“Would you like to see my office?” Harm extended his hand to the little girl.
Looking to her grandfather for approval first, “Yes, sir!” she squealed, happily slipping her hand in Harm’s before reaching over to take hold of Mac’s with her other hand.
The lunch hour meant the bullpen wasn’t buzzing with its normal level of activity. They made it to Harm’s office without any distraction by curious onlookers.
“Here we are, this is my office.” Harm waved inside as Chris stood in the doorway looking everywhere, studiously taking in her surroundings as she did with everything new.
“Look, Grandpa.” Pointing to the top of the door, “That’s my name.”
Looking up in the direction Chris was pointing, Harm stood wide-eyed focusing on his nameplate. Understanding slammed into him with the force of a speeding motor vehicle.
“Yes, sweetie. The Commander and you have the same last name,” Ray answered nonchalantly.
Harm was at a total loss for words. It shouldn’t have been such a surprise, but somehow he hadn’t expected her to be a Rabb. Feeling Mac’s hand gently squeeze his arm, he glanced in her direction.
“Isn’t it, Harm?” Mac repeated more clearly.
“Excuse me?” He had no idea anyone had said anything.
“I said, isn’t it special that you both have the same last name?” Mac looked at Harm pointedly. Her mouth twitching in Chris’ direction, her eyes frantically suggested he snap out of whatever daze he was momentarily in.
“That’s right. I guess that makes us special.” To his surprise, Chris’ smile grew even brighter.
“Would you like to sit in the big chair?” Mac asked, giving Harm some obviously needed time to regroup.
Not waiting to answer, Chris scurried over behind the desk and climbed into Harm’s chair. Joining her, Mac clicked on a game of Minesweeper. “Do you know how to play this?” she asked.
In the meantime, Harm pulled Ray into Mac’s office and closed the door.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?” Ray was somewhat startled by Harm’s irritation.
“She has my name.” Harm wasn’t angry, exactly, but he was clearly upset.
“What did you think? I told you it was never Jordan’s intention to always keep you out of Chris’ life. She just needed time. Something she ran out of sooner than she expected.” Ray didn’t see the problem.
“Then my name is on Chris’ birth certificate?”
“Yes. You are her father. Did you expect Jordan to have made up a name?” Ray was beginning to get a little annoyed with Harm’s attitude. It was obvious Harm was taken with Chris. They were on their way to prove his paternity. What in heaven’s name was so upsetting about not needing to change her records? “I’m afraid I don’t understand what’s bothering you?”
Harm swallowed a laugh. “First, you come and tell me I have a daughter that no one saw fit to inform me of sooner, essentially robbing me of almost five years of her life. Then I discover that according to public record, my name has been on her birth certificate all along, without my permission. And she carries my name! Just about anyone in her path the last four years knows she’s my daughter except me!”
“Harm, trust me when I tell you, I think you’re overreacting.” Ray gave Harm a look that reminded Harm terribly of Frank scolding him after trying to sneak in after curfew.
“Ray, I feel as though my name and child were stolen from me. If Jordie had said something, anything, to give me a hint of what was going on...” Harm trailed off, turning to look out the window. He couldn’t explain why finding this out upset him so much. It was like rubbing salt in his wounds.
“Harm, as much as I’d like to sit here and discuss the finer points of Chris’ birth so you understand exactly what it was like for my daughter, there’s a very sweet little girl next door who thinks it’s really cool to have the same last name as you. She’s also expecting to go visit some of your friends. I think it’s time we set this aside and get back to taking care of business.” Ray dropped his hand on the back of Harm’s shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get going.”
This must be the crux of parenting, Harm thought to himself, doing what you have to do, no matter how out of sorts life makes you feel. “Alright, let’s get this done.” Harm walked briskly passed Mr. Parker, and proceeded to his office.
“Well, ladies, are we ready to get going?” Harm forced a smile he didn’t feel.
Short time later
They’d ridden together in Harm’s Lexus. After opening the door for Mac, Harm turned to open the door for Chris. Taking her hand in his, the two of them walked together towards the large glass building. Ray and Mac followed only a few steps behind. It was an amusing sight. With Harm’s height, he had to lean just a tad to his right, at the same time Chris’ arm was fully extended. It appeared as if he were going to lift her off the ground at any moment. Once inside the doors, Chris’ eyes opened wide with her youthful curiosity. Harm could tell she was taking in every detail. Letting go of Chris’ hand long enough to sign everyone in and receive visitor’s passes, Harm took hold of the little girl’s hand once again and the group made their way to Abby’s lab.
Though inconceivable, the wide-eyed look on Chris’ face grew larger still as soon as they stepped into the ample room. She intently took in every table, every test tube, every nook and cranny. Harm could just imagine the questions running through the four-year-old’s mind. Hearing the commotion as they came through the doors, Abby turned from the project she’d been working on and walked up to greet her guests.
“It’s nice to see you again, Commander.” Abby gave a somewhat apologetic smirk.
“I appreciate your helping out with this,” Harm replied, his smile obviously reserved. He was doing this, but everything about this NCIS team still made his blood pressure rise.
“My name is Abby.” The dark haired woman in the white lab coat bent over to greet her young visitor.
Chris’ curious expression flashed to near panic in an instant. Taking a short step back, she pulled away from Harm and reached frantically for Mac’s hand, sidling up nervously beside her.
Startled by Chris’ odd behavior, it took Mac only a few seconds to recognize the problem. Abby had a rather unusual spider web tattoo on her neck that had no doubt scared the unaware pre-schooler. Squatting down on her heels, Mac turned to look at the little girl.
“Abby is an old friend. She’s offered to show us around this lab. Do you know that she has art on her body?” Mac waited a moment as the little girl shook her head no. “Some people paint pictures on themselves. Abby has some very interesting ones. Would you like to see them?”
Chris wasn’t sure how to answer, so she just stared at Mac.
Immediately, Abby rolled up her sleeves and showed Chris the smaller rose tattoo on her upper forearm. “This is my favorite. It reminds me of my mother’s rose garden.” Abby tried to put the little girl at ease. “You can touch it if you like?” she offered, knowing the more you knew about something, the less you had to fear, even at four.
Chris looked at Mac first, who immediately reached out and touched the tattoo, setting the example for Chris. Slightly reserved, Chris extended her hand slowly, her fingers barely touching the colored arm. Her shoulders relaxing, she looked up at Abby, then rubbed the spot a little more firmly. “You have really soft skin.”
“Thanks.” Relieved, Abby smiled broadly, especially thankful she’d opted not to wear the spiked collar this morning.
With Chris feeling much more at ease, Abby took the group on a quick tour of the facilities. Having first checked with Ducky to make sure there was nothing out and about, so to speak, that would give a four year old nightmares for the rest of her life, they even did a tour of the morgue.
“The information Abby and Ducky send to us helps us do our job. This is how we make sure we don’t send the good guys to jail by mistake,” Harm explained on their way back to the lab.
“Is this where they found the person who hurt mommy?”
Harm and Mac shared a passing glance. “In a way. This is where they told us whoever had hurt your mom had a dog.”
Extending her hand to the little girl, Abby walked Chris over to one of the apparatus’ on the tabletop. Lifting her up onto the chair, “This machine lets us look at details of really small things, like hair. When we looked at some hair from where your mom was...hurt, we found the hairs belonged to a dog.”
“So, you found the man?” Chris looked up curiously at Abby.
“Well, not me, but someone doing the same job as me.”
“Remember, honey, the person who hurt your mom was a lady, a very sick lady. It wasn’t her fault.”
“I remember. It was an accident.” Making a huffy noise that showed more wisdom than her years, Chris hopped off the stool and returned to Mac’s side.
“Some of these machines tell the scientists all sorts of small details. They can tell you if you’re sick, what you ate for lunch, who your mommy and daddy are, all sorts of fun things.”
“I’ll show you.” Abby jumped in, already having the swabs ready. “Mac, open ah,” she instructed as she took a quick swab of her mouth, “You too, Commander. Now you Mr. Parker.” Turning to the little girl, “Open wide, Chris.” Putting each of the swabs in a clearly marked plastic bag, she told them, “Now, we can look at these and tell you all sorts of things.”
Chris walked away from Mac and moved in close to Abby. “Can I watch?” A low cough from her grandfather quickly reminded her. “May I?” she corrected.
Looking up at Harm for some guidance, Abby watched Harm and Mac silently exchange information.
“Maybe another time. Aren’t you hungry?” Harm asked.
Chris bit her lower lip as if debating what was more important, her hunger or her curiosity.
Harm watched her thought process with interest, “What if we stay for a few more minutes to watch Abby set up, and then we all go get some lunch?” he suggested.
A bright smile immediately spread the width of Chris’ face. Test or no test, there was little doubt in anyone’s mind, this child was most definitely a Rabb.
“Okay, Mister. You want to tell me what that was all about?” Mac huffed taking the seat in front of Harm.
“All what?” Harm dropped heavily into his desk chair. After eating lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant, Harm and Mac had said goodbye to Ray and Chris in the JAG parking lot and returned upstairs.
“Mr. Oblivious when Chris mentioned the names. Jordan put you on the birth certificate, didn’t she?”
“Why did you react as though you’d just been told she wasn’t yours?”
“It’s not that. I was surprised. I didn’t think someone could be named my child on official records, and carry my name, without needing to inform me. I just assumed her father’s name wasn’t on her birth certificate, and she went by Parker.”
“Then you don’t want her using Rabb?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Enlighten me. What are you saying?”
“I don’t know.” Harm ran his fingers through his hair and along the back of his neck. “It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It just caught me off guard. I’m sorry if I scared her.”
“I think we covered quickly enough, but you’re going to have to learn not to react so harshly to surprises. I hear they pop up a lot raising children.” Mac shot Harm a whimsical smile.
“That’s what worries me.” He rolled his eyes, smiling back at her.
Harm was on pins and needles the remainder of the day. He and Mac had enjoyed a quiet dinner alone at her apartment. They discussed a few cases, how Harriet was feeling, what a pain Sturgis was being with his mountains of paperwork, but they didn’t bring up Chris, or their relationship. Without having spoken the words, they somehow knew they needed a quiet, stress free evening. Two old friends enjoying each other’s company.
That had worked just fine until Harm woke up the next morning. Then reality slapped him in the face. He and Mac wanted more than simple friendship, and he was going to have to stop waiting and do something about it. Chris was now a part of his life, and hopefully sometime today, he’d find out just how big a part. And somehow, he was supposed to go into his office and function as though today were any other day.
He was failing miserably. By lunchtime, every enlisted person on the floor had discovered it was best to stay out of Commander Rabb’s way, even at the risk of disobeying a direct order. The officers weren’t overly thrilled with him either.
“At the risk of putting my own life on the line, any word yet?” Mac asked from a safe distance.
“No. Am I that bad?” Harm dropped his pen on the desk.
“The bullpen is drawing for the short straw now,” Mac smiled, uncrossing her ankles and walking into his office.
Harm sighed heavily, “Well, I’m trying not to think about it, but it’s hard.”
“I’m sure it is. How long did Abby say it would take?”
“She thought I’d hear by the end of today, but it could be tomorrow.” Harm pushed his sleeve back to read his watch for the millionth time. Only 1310.
“Are you going to be able to wait that long?”
“I don’t have much choice, do I?” Harm picked up the pen and began fidgeting, not sure what else to do with the nervous energy.
“Were you able to talk with Sturgis?”
“No, he was gone when we got back yesterday. I had court this morning, and he has meetings scheduled all afternoon. Coates says she can squeeze me in at 1600. I’m hoping I’ll have some more definitive news for him by then.”
“I’ll keep my fingers crossed.” Mac had barely made it to the door when his phone rang, stopping her dead in her tracks.
“Rabb.” Listening to the voice on the other end, Harm shook his head no, silently letting Mac know it wasn’t the much awaited phone call.
It was going to be a very long night if Harm didn’t hear something today. Mac shrugged a smile and went back to work. Definitely, a very long night.
At 1545, Harm was just getting ready to go to Sturgis’ office when his phone rang for the umpteenth time that day. He’d pretty much accepted that it wasn’t going to be the call he’d been waiting for when he heard Abby’s voice on the other end. “What shall I get you for father’s day, Papa?”
“Really?” He knew it all along, yet somehow, it was still a shock to his system.
“Really.” Abby grinned from across town. She liked the little girl, and oddly enough, she liked Rabb too.
“Thanks, Abby. I owe you one.” An enormous smile spread across Harm’s face.
“Let’s just call it even.”
“Deal.” Harm hung up quickly. Not having enough time to really talk with Mac before his meeting with Sturgis, Harm tapped loudly on her doorframe as he walked past. When Mac looked up, he gave her a thumbs up, even though the smile alone would have been a dead giveaway.
As pleased as Harm had grown with the idea of being Chris’ father, he found himself overwhelmed with the joy swelling in his heart, and wishing he had cigars to pass out. God, how he wished he had been there when she was born.
“He’s waiting for you, sir.” Coates pointed to the admiral’s door.
“Thanks, Jen.” Harm simply couldn’t wipe the huge smile off his face.
Jen cocked her head curiously. Talk about night and day. Not a sane human being wanted to be anywhere near Commander Rabb most of the day, and now, he looked happier than Peter Pan on Christmas.
Coming to attention inside Sturgis’ temporary office, Harm waited impatiently.
“At ease, Harm. Have a seat. What is it you needed to see me for?”
“I’m going to be needing to make some changes to my official records, and I wanted you to hear it from me first.”
“Changes?” Good grief, Sturgis hoped Harm wasn’t going to jump ship in the middle of his watch.
“Yes. You see...Well, it’s basically just my next of kin. Dependents, actually.”
Sturgis watched Harm intently. He was nervous, but not really scared. Surely, if something had become of his mother or Frank, Harm would be much more upset. No, this had a different feel to it. He said dependents... Holy Moses! Sturgis’ eyes flew open wide. He and Mac finally...Well, good! Despite their differences of late, Sturgis knew Harm and Mac would be great parents. He could hardly wait to see all 6’4 of him handling a newborn infant.
“Are you okay?” Harm paused noticing the odd expressions flashing across Sturgis’ face.
“It’s about time, buddy!” Sturgis jumped up from behind his chair and practically flew around to slap Harm on the back. “I couldn’t be happier for you two. Really. Man, when she told me how she felt about you all those years ago, and yet, I watched you grow further and further apart, I thought for sure I’d never see the day you’d get your heads out of your sixes.” Sturgis was now vigorously shaking Harm’s hand.
“Sturgis, what are you talking about?”
“You and Mac. What do you mean what am I talking about? You’re having a baby, aren’t you?” The broad grin on his face slowly froze into a crooked question.
“What? No! What gave you an idea like that? Wait, what do you mean how she felt all those years ago?” Now Harm had the odd look on his face.
“Never mind that. Back up, and start over again. What change in dependents?”
Opting to temporarily put aside Sturgis’ unusual comment. “I have a daughter, Christine. She’s almost five.”
“Are congratulations still in order?” Sturgis hesitated. He was confidant Harm would relish the responsibility of parenthood, but he wasn’t going to make a fool of himself twice in the same afternoon.
“They are.” Harm accepted Sturgis’ hand and watched him silently doing the math in his head.
“The psychiatrist?” Sturgis calculated.
“And she never told you?”
“Apparently she wanted to before she died, but didn’t get the chance.”
“I see. Of course, there’s no room for error?”
“The lab just called. DNA confirms she’s mine.”
Sturgis nodded his head and made his way back around to his seat. “Have you told your mom yet?”
“No, we thought it was best to make sure before I told her.”
“It was Mac’s suggestion.”
“So, she knows?” Maybe he wasn’t that far off after all. Sturgis smiled to himself.
“Yes, I told her right away. I wouldn’t have made it this far without her help,” Harm admitted.
“I’m assuming you’re going to want your daughter as beneficiary for your life insurance, and of course, as you said, as you’re daughter you’ll need to add her to your next of kin list.” Boy didn’t that sound odd to his ears. Harm’s daughter.
“I’ll make sure Jennifer gets all the forms you’ll need to correct your records and implement the changes. Is she going to be living with you now?” Sturgis didn’t want to pry, but he was curious how far off the mark he was on this.
“Eventually. I have a lot of things to set straight first.”
Nodding his head, Sturgis swallowed a smile. He’d be willing to bet a year’s salary he knew exactly what, or who, Harm had to set straight first.
Harm wasn’t surprised to find Mac waiting for him in her office.
“You ready to blow this joint a little early, sailor?”
“Works for me. I’ve got a few things I need to clear up, and then I’d like to go see Chris. Is that okay with you?”
“If you want me. Yeah.”
“Mac, I thought we’d been there, done that. You know exactly how I feel.”
“Well, now is certainly not the time to discuss it if I didn’t,” she smiled. “I’m all set to go. Come and get me when you’re finished.”
JAG parking lot
Short time later
“Why don’t you follow me to my place. I can change quickly, and then ride with you back to your apartment.” Mac really didn’t want to leave her car at JAG again. She wasn’t comfortable with what people might be thinking. After all, if she were having a torrid affair with Harm then she’d at least deserve the speculation, but what fun was being talked about if you weren’t doing anything.
“Meet you there.” Harm walked around her towards his car. His mind already running at ninety miles an hour. He had so much to decide he wasn’t sure where to start.
Leaving work a little earlier somehow spared them the usual heavy rush hour traffic. Harm wasn’t sure but he was going to take the unusual good fortune as a sign that things were finally going his way, even if he had no idea where that was.
It hadn’t taken Mac but a few minutes to throw on a pair of slacks and a sweater and to run a brush through her hair. He liked the way her longer hair framed her face and brushed against her shoulders. Neither said much while Harm waited for her to change. She tried not to take long. She could tell he was anxious about this evening.
They’d been on the road to his place for almost ten minutes and neither had said a word. She could only imagine the number of things Harm was most likely trying to sort out.
“What’s next?” That seemed like the most basic place to start. At least, Mac hoped it was safe if nothing else.
Harm turned to Mac for a split second with a slightly incredulous stare, then turned his eyes back to the road.
“How does I have no earthly idea grab you?”
Mac could almost feel the heaviness of his sigh from where she was sitting.
“I’m debating if I want to call mom before we go over to see Chris, or if I want to save it till we get back after I’ve had a chance to talk to Ray.”
“How much of a difference will talking to Ray make on what you’re going to tell your mom?”
“Not much, probably.”
“Maybe. How do you tell a woman that she has a four year old granddaughter?”
“Well, I suppose ‘carefully’ would be obvious.” Mac smiled coyly trying to ease some of the tension in the car. “Consider it practice. You’re going to have to tell everyone you know, and eventually Chris herself.”
Mac could see the blood drain from Harm’s face.
“How am I going to find the words for that?” Harm thought out loud, not really expecting Mac to answer.
“Don’t worry, you will,” she smiled. Of the many things she was unsure of, that wasn’t one of them. They rode the rest of the way in a comfortable silence. Harm was still thinking, but there was a lot to sort through.
Dropping his keys on the table by the door, Harm called over to Mac, “Get yourself something to drink. I’m going to get out of this uniform, then I’ll fix us a quick bite to eat before calling Mom.”
“Better yet, why don’t we call your mom first?” Mac suggested, her head already in the refrigerator.
“You want me to call my mom on an empty stomach?” Harm teased from his room.
“Consider it your appetizer,” she laughed back, closing the fridge door, two bottles of water in her hand. “What were you thinking of fixing?”
“I’ve got a casserole in the fridge from yesterday.”
“Want me to warm the oven?”
“If you don’t mind, thanks.” Harm started down the stairs. He was wearing a pair of dark jeans with a deep blue v-neck sweater that made his eyes glimmer like sapphires. The sweater fit snugly enough to emphasize his strong physique, and a hint of chest hair peeked out from the point of the v. He looked so damn sexy, just watching him walk made her knees weak.
“350 okay?” Swallowing hard, Mac swung around and grabbed the oven door handle with one hand to steady herself, and set the temperature knob with the other. Taking a deep breath, she turned back to face Harm again, her knees barely holding her up.
Brushing past her, he pulled the dish out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter. “I guess I’d better get this over with.”
Picking up the phone, he walked over to the sofa, already dialing the number from memory.
“Hey, Frank.” Harm began tapping his fingers on the cushion beside him. “I was hoping Mom might be home? ...Yeah, things are doing great here. We’ve been having a pleasant Indian summer... Thanks.”
Rubbing his hand across the back of his neck briefly before resuming his fingertip symphony, Harm called over to Mac, “She’s on the deck. Frank’s getting her now.” His eyes followed her every move as she placed the casserole into the now warm oven.
“MOM,” Harm snapped, not intending to sound so startled. “How are things going?”
“Fine, now that I’ve recovered from the shock. I didn’t think you remembered our phone number. Is something wrong?” Trish Burnett didn’t believe in beating around the bush. Her son didn’t call very often, but the last two years, not often was more than a gross understatement. If she hadn’t taken the time to check on him, she wouldn’t be sure if he were even still alive.
“Can’t a son call his mom to tell her he loves her?”
“Of course he can! Right after he tells her what’s wrong.” She couldn’t help chuckling at his lame diversion.
“Well, nothing’s wrong, but I do have some news.”
“Please tell me I’m finally going to be a mother-in-law.” Trish sidled up next to her husband. If that was what had kept Harm too busy to call the last two years, she’d never complain about anything again.
“Not exactly. Is Frank with you?”
“Yes, he’s right here. And what do you mean, not exactly?”
“Well, take a seat and put me on speaker phone.”
“Harmon Rabb.” She stabbed quickly at the buttons on the phone, the static echoing clearly. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“It’s not bad news, Mom. At least I don’t think so.”
“Then you ARE getting married!” She grabbed hold of her husband’s hand and dropped into the large easy chair by the phone.
“No.” Harm looked up at Mac. How he wished he could have answered yes. “You’ve always wanted grandchildren.”
“Mac’s pregnant!” She sprang up off the seat again. She’d have rather had the wedding first, but this was good, too.
Harm turned to Mac again, his brows curling awkwardly in confusion. Why the hell did everyone assume he and Mac were pregnant?
Mac moved closer to the sofa. So far, from what she could hear the conversation had gone much like she expected, but the contorted look on his face started her heart racing with concern.
“No, Mom. Do you remember Jordan? The psychiatrist I dated a few years ago?”
“She’s pregnant?” Trish dropped back down in the seat.
“No.” He should know better then to ask his mother leading questions.
“Then who’s pregnant?” Trish shrugged at her husband’s questioning glare.
“No one is pregnant, Mom. You’d better just let me get this out.” Harm extended his free hand up in Mac’s direction as a silent invitation to sit beside him, then took tight hold of her hand in his when she sat down quietly next to him.
“Jordan and I broke up when I returned to flying five years ago. When I returned home she wouldn’t answer my calls and only spoke to me briefly once before taking an assignment in Spain. She did contact me two years later, but she was murdered before we had a chance to speak.” Harm was cut off by his mom’s gasp.
“You never told me that!” Trish had forgotten all about weddings and grandchildren. What a horrible thing for her son to have gone through.
“It turns out, when I left to fly, she was pregnant. I have a four year old daughter, Mom. Christine Elizabeth.”
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