TEASER:  Mac and Sturgis go undercover as a married couple to investigate a Marine officer suspected of systematic discrimination.  Harm doesn't.  Why?  It's complicated…

DISCLAIMERS:  As much as I wish they were mine, the usual characters aren't; they belong to the inimitable Donald P. Bellisario, Bellisarius Productions, and Paramount Studios as well as the men and women who have brought them to life.  I'll return them when I'm done, I promise.

RATING:  PG-13, particularly for violence in parts 13 and 14, some sexual themes, and occasional language.

FEEDBACK/ARCHIVE:  I'd be flattered to hear from you (but I get enough flames at work)/Contact me via the e-mail in my profile for permission to archive, which would be even more flattering than feedback.

SPOILERS:  Anything is fair game up through the November 19, 2002 episode "When the Bough Breaks" and the December 17, 2002 episode "All Ye Faithful".  "The Killer", although well-written, couldn't be a real episode because THERE WAS NO MAC, so I'm ignoring it almost completely.

TIMELINE NOTES:  I've put the events of the end of Season 7 and the beginning of Season 8 in the summer of 2002 because Mikey Roberts was already a Midshipman at Annapolis when Bud was injured.  We're going to pretend that Mac's replacement arrived on the U.S.S. Seahawk prior to the ship's arrival in port "in two weeks", so I accept full responsibility for any errors in JAG storyline development – particularly the lack of crossover between Mac and Loren at JAG HQ before Loren took her 30 days' leave – and beg forgiveness ahead of time. 

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  I've included the local times in addition to the Zulu (Greenwich Mean) Time because we have JAG officers in two or three places at once throughout the story.  I've also given Sturgis Turner's father a first name and created a little bit of back story for Jack Keeter that may or may not be in line with the "canon" of the show.

=====

0845 Zulu/2245 Local
NCIS-Pearl Harbor Satellite Office, Marine Corps Base Hawaii – 27 August 2002

NCIS Agent Kenneth Carrollton locked the office door from inside, then stepped out into the humid tropical night with a firm tug on the heavy glass portal behind him.  It was a good night; he had enough information now to go up the chain and press for the case that had possessed him since Christmas to be reopened.  Everything was safely stored away in the most obvious place possible and documented so defense lawyers would have a hard time proving bad technique or chain of custody issues; he had dates and names in his head that he intended to put on paper later tonight at home, the better to e-mail to a neutral party for safe keeping until he could plead his cause.

All these things flitted through his head as he made his way across the empty parking lot toward his personal car, a 12-year old Toyota Corolla he'd bought new during his first assignment as a Marine security guard at Barbers Point Naval Air Station and kept in storage until he returned three years later as a civilian to marry the woman of his dreams.  He knew, intellectually, that her death in early December of 2001 had led directly to his obsession with this particular case, but he would never admit the need to have a focus other than the demons which haunted him and taunted him with visions of the deadly traffic accident which had left him unscathed.  That they were out celebrating her first pregnancy after four years of trying made it all the worse.

Shaking his head to clear the unwelcome thoughts of his beloved and the child they never had, Carrollton unlocked his car and opened the door.

"Kenneth Carrollton?" a voice shouted at him from across the parking lot.

He turned, his mouth open to reply, but his answer died in the soft popping of a silenced pistol and the unerring accuracy of a single 9mm bullet entering his forehead.

=====

2310 Zulu/1310 Local
Marine Corps Base, Hawaii – 20 November 2002

"Mr. Samir, I find that your religious practice interferes with the exercise of your duties," barked a Marine Colonel in the face of a younger officer.  "It is disruptive to good military order to have you running off to pray three or four times during a 12-hour shift and the fact that you flaunt your so-called piety in our faces adds to the injury."

The first lieutenant, a handsome Arab American, stood at stiff attention, holding himself in check with obvious effort against his commanding officer's tirade.

"I don't know who's worse, you or Captain Goldstein with his…Never mind.  As of today, you do not have permission to leave your duty station for prayers or any other religious observance and if your name comes up for Friday duty, you will stand it as a normal duty day.  Dismissed."

"Aye, sir!"  The lieutenant executed a smart about-face and marched out of the CO's office.  He barely acknowledged the Colonel's yeoman as he stormed past her desk and out of the headquarters building, heading straight for the Chaplain's office on the Navy portion of the sprawling military complex.  It didn't take him long to find the man he was looking for, and only a little longer to explain why he needed help.

The Imam, a Navy lieutenant commander, nodded thoughtfully after several moments of silence.  "I wish I could say this is the first I've heard of it, but we've been wondering if something like this was happening for about 12 months now.  Don't you worry, lieutenant.  I know just who to call.  We will have this taken care of shortly."

=====

1305 Zulu/0805 Local
JAG Headquarters, Falls Church, Virginia – 21 November 2002

Rear Admiral AJ Chegwidden looked at his gathered staff over his reading glasses and pondered them each in turn as they settled in for the daily briefing. 

Lieutenant Loren Singer, now four months pregnant with someone's baby – he was pretty sure he knew whose despite her best efforts to keep the secret – was the most ambitious and the least deserving of the lot.  She had the potential to go far if she could ever learn the connection between teamwork and competition, although AJ suspected that behind the ruthless, overbearing persona was a very scared, very inadequate feeling child who could benefit from several years of psychotherapy.  She wouldn't be the first female JAG in the Navy, even if she did someday overcome all of her deficiencies to earn the position.  Someone else – perhaps even two someone elses – would get there first, and both were in the room.

Lieutenant Bud Roberts, absent from the table for a long time and so recently returned to limited duty, faced challenges of his own trying to earn permanent limited duty status with a prosthesis in place of his missing right leg.  Bud was the sentimental one of the bunch, the man who found something decent about every human being he ever met – including, on more than one occasion, Loren Singer – and who would be in his turn an exceptional occupant of the position AJ currently held, if only he could pass his physical tests.  AJ considered him a son and often wished the young man's own father would really come to understand just how incredible Bud was – and what a gift his wife Harriet and son little AJ were, as well.

Lieutenant Commander Tracy Manetti was still a bit of a mystery to the admiral.  The soft-spoken Virginian with the Harvard Law degree wanted no favors because of her father's relationship with the new Secretary of the Navy; she expected to earn whatever came her way and had proved thus far to be a good addition to the team.  Beyond that, he couldn't tell yet, but he was pretty sure she would make an excellent JAG herself if she made a career of the Navy.

Commander Sturgis Turner, the submariner turned lawyer whose father had once helped a young SEAL get through a bad Christmas in Vietnam, certainly won the award for most stable individual on staff.  Turner would never run off half-cocked to Russia in search of a missing family member or surprise him in the middle of the night with a phone call from jail after shooting a previously unrevealed spouse.  If AJ read Representative Bobbi Latham correctly, however, Turner would be the spouse of United States Senator Bobbi Latham-Turner in two years, which could be just as bad as anything the two remaining members of his legal staff had ever done.

Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr., Naval Aviator and JAG officer, was and in fact had been the recruiting poster man of the new Navy.  If Bud Roberts were the younger son the admiral had never had, Harm was the older one – brash, competitive, righteous almost to the point of insufferable at times, and extremely good at both his designators.  AJ vacillated along a continuum of amusement, anger, and disbelief at the antics of Commander Rabb, who kept the admiral guessing about 80% of the time as to what crusade he might be off on for the week.  At least it would always be in service of the truth with his partner's invaluable assistance.  Chegwidden wished he could manually extract the younger man's head from his six regarding said partner, the last person at the table.

Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Mackenzie, known as Mac with rare exception, was all Marine.  AJ kept carefully hidden away from everyone else a part of him that wondered if her underwear were green like almost everything he ever saw her in, instead allowing himself to show that she was the daughter he could do better by than he had his own flesh and blood child.  Aside from that, Mac was his chief of staff – the best executive officer he'd ever had, in fact.  She would be the first female JAG if he had any say whatsoever in the process.  Smart, tough, loyal, and more dedicated to finding the truth in any case than winning it for her record, she completed and balanced her partner in every conceivable way.  And AJ was pretty sure that Mac knew her own feelings regarding Commander Rabb well enough not to make any more disastrous dating or marriage plans before the aviator could admit his own feelings in return.

All of which was to say that the two main cases on the table today would be most interesting to assign.  Whether he would live to see the sunset was an open question – but he thought he knew how to live at least until his usual coffee break, even if it came at the expense of a fellow flag officer's sleep.

"Updates?" he began, looking at Lt. Singer and laying his glasses down on the table upside down.

"Sir, the Harrison court martial will proceed to trial as Commander Rabb was unable to convince the petty officer that a plea bargain was in his best interest.  I apologize for the wasted time, sir, but it's inevitable."

AJ watched Rabb shift in his seat; Loren Singer had a way of phrasing things that left out the most pertinent details.  Or maybe Rabb just hadn't…

"Admiral, on the contrary, sir," the man began, right on cue.  "I have new evidence since the Article 32 that exonerates my client that the lieutenant will not accept.  I'm serving notice now on the prosecution of a motion to dismiss and we have a hearing with Captain Culler as soon as we're released."

It was unbecoming to one of his rank, but Admiral Chegwidden enjoyed watching the pesky pregnant lieutenant deflate at the senior officer's words.  She should have seen that one coming, especially from Rabb.  And he knew the senior litigator well enough to know that he wouldn't be presenting a motion to dismiss at this stage unless he had it sewn up, so that let two pieces of the puzzle fall into place.  "So either you two will be in for a quick trial or the case will be dismissed by lunchtime.  Very good.  Lieutenant Roberts?"

Bud smiled.  "Sir, I've finished up the filing and the research for Commander Turner and am available for whatever assignment you may have."

"Excellent."  Piece three clicked in.  "Commander Turner?"

Sturgis' barely audible sigh said it all.  "Sir, I have a filing deadline of 1700 tonight for the Fredriksen appeal, after which my case log awaits filling."

Piece four, and knowing Turner the appeal would be done and out the door before lunch.  "Commander Manetti?"

"I have nothing on my logs at the moment, Admiral, sir." 

Piece five slid home.  The newcomer sat up straighter in her chair and leaned forward, putting her elbows on the table and steepling her fingers together in anticipation, AJ thought.  It would wait.  "Colonel?"

"Yes, sir.  I have a disciplinary issue to discharge in-house and I'm still supervising the 'conduct unbecoming' investigation at Quantico with the Marine JAG candidates."

"When do you anticipate that the investigation will be completed, Mac?"

"Tomorrow, sir.  We're waiting to interview three witnesses who are out on maneuvers until late tonight, and we'll know after we've talked to them whether there's need for an Article 32 hearing or if we're dropping the charges."

So piece six would be delayed a day for full availability, but that partial time would help.  "Get the discipline issue taken care of this morning if you can, Colonel."

"Aye, sir."

The admiral let the six officers sit for a moment, knowing that they each wanted to know what would be next on their respective case logs.  He knew one of two would jump in and ask in any circumstance; today, he laid odds on the younger of the two.  Commander Rabb had developed a little self-control in that regard lately.

He wasn't disappointed.  Lt. Singer opened her mouth to speak twice before sound actually came out.  "Uh, sir, are there new cases to be distributed?"

"Yes, Lieutenant, there are."  He put his spectacles back on and opened up the top folder on the stack before him.  "The Shore Patrol at NAS Oceana arrested a pair of new Hornet pilots over the weekend for drunk and disorderly and assault-one for an altercation at the Officer's Club.  The charges of rape and assault with a deadly weapon are pending as of yesterday because a civilian guest of another officer has come forward and accused the two of rape.  NCIS is conducting the investigation."  The looks around the table were exactly what he expected, particularly from the three men.  "Lt. Roberts, you will prosecute whatever charges are brought with Lt. Cmdr. Manetti as second chair.  Lt. Singer, you will defend both men, assuming there is no need to sever the cases."

Turner looked away from Rabb and Mackenzie with a decidedly guilty countenance, the admiral noted.  Sturgis was the only one of the three who had actually requested that he never be assigned to work with the ambitious blonde again; that scene had been one worthy of Rabb's passion and revolved around the junior officer's deceit and borderline tactics at trial, AJ noted wryly to himself as he watched Harm and Mac struggle with what they each knew had to be coming.  "I will speak with the commanders and the colonel privately concerning the remaining assignments on this case and about the other new case.  Right now, you are all dismissed because I have a conference call with CINPAC."  He used the common spoken acronym for Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and heaved an inward sigh of relief that the call gave him until after his coffee break to consider his own mortality.

"Aye, sir!"  They rose as one and turned to leave, but Colonel Mackenzie lingered for just a moment as he gathered his folders and joined her at the door.

"Yes, Colonel?"

"Sir, it's 0336 at Pearl, sir.  Is everything alright?"

"I'll let you know, Mac.  Would it bother you, Colonel, if you needed to turn your supervision of the JAG candidates from Newport over to someone else for a while?"

His question took her by surprise, but consummate professional that she was, only her eyes gave her away to him.  "Bother me?  A little, I suppose, sir, but if I'm needed for other duties…"

He smiled – once again, exactly the answer he'd expected.  "Just have a suitable Marine officer as a backup in case I need to reassign you."

"Yes, sir."

=====

1555 Zulu/1055 Local
JAG Headquarters, Falls Church, Virginia

"Tiner, get me Mackenzie, Rabb, and Turner," the admiral ordered over the intercom, expecting his yeoman to accomplish the task in minutes.  He did.

"Reporting as ordered, sir!" the three senior attorneys chorused as they stood at attention in front of his desk.

"At ease and take seats, please." 

The admiral waited while they settled, shaking his head at the seating arrangement – Harm moved quickly for the center seat when Mac sat down in the left hand chair.  AJ looked up to see Sturgis grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat at his friend's antics and let his own smile mirror Turner's.  That was clear evidence of a sentiment like his own:  Rabb, just get your rectal-cranial inversion corrected and get on with marrying the beautiful and very much in love Lieutenant Colonel Mackenzie.  There would be no untoward complications from the assignment he was about to give to Mac and Sturgis.

First, though, he would deal with Harm.  "Commander Rabb, I have reluctantly decided that it's time to let you try your hand at adjudicating cases."

The aviator-turned-lawyer had the grace to look stunned before he could reply.  "Thank you, sir.  It's a privil – "

Chegwidden held up his hand to stop the speech.  "Before you say anything further, let me tell you that you will be judging the case I've assigned to Mr. Roberts and Ms. Singer."

"Uh, sir, not to put too fine a point on it, but Lieutenant Singer and I are…"  The unspoken words said a lot and solidified the guess AJ could make as to the father of Singer's baby.

"I know.  And you and Lieutenant Roberts are closer to being true brothers than you and Sergei."

At the mention of his brother's name, Rabb grimaced.  His handsome face contorted in thought before the blue-green eyes met his CO's.  "Is this a test, sir?"

"Yes."  Better to be blunt and spell out the issues for the man, the former SEAL believed.  "I've told you before that I have doubts about your ability to remain impartial.  I think it's safe to say that if you can preside over this trial fairly, they you will have allayed my fears."  If the man could be fair in a case in which the defense attorney was a woman he despised yet who carried his brother's child and was, apparently, seriously considering an abortion, then he was truly the man of honor AJ believed him to be.

"Well, sir, I'll do my best."  It was a promise the admiral knew he could take to the bank, but would it be enough?  "I assume that Colonel Mackenzie will be sitting second chair to Lt. Singer."

AJ controlled the laugh that wanted to erupt.  This could be very good for a few minutes.  "You may assume that."

Mac's knuckles turned white with effort as she fought to keep herself from an inappropriate outburst.

"Sorry, Mac," Turner muttered just loudly to be heard, nodding in her direction.  More quietly with a quirked smile at the admiral, he added to his former roommate, "And you'd better wipe that smile off your face, Commander, before she decides you'd look better without it and removes it for you, judge or not judge."

"Sorry, sir, Mac," Harm whispered, settling his face into a more appropriate, somber expression.

"Your assumption, by the way, Commander, was incorrect.  Colonel Mackenzie will not be serving as second chair with Lt. Singer.  I will."

He allowed himself to laugh with Turner and Mackenzie at the expression of utter disbelief that crossed Harm's face at that announcement.

"Sir, I…I…you're joking, right, sir."  Not a question, a statement with authority.

"Oh, no, Commander, I am quite serious.  And on that note, you're dismissed and I will finish up with Commander Turner and Colonel Mackenzie in private."

Harm didn't question; he leapt from his chair, saluted with the proper acknowledgement, and exited.

The three laughed again.  "Admiral," Mac began, wiping her eyes after a moment, "that was priceless.  Thank you."

"You're welcome.  Now, I need to tell you about your next assignment."  He pulled a thin folder out from under another three or four and opened it to read from the lead sheet.  "We have been asked by the Chaplains' office at Pearl Harbor to investigate the CO of the Third Marine Regiment, Colonel Eugene Waters, on suspicion of religious persecution and racism.  Both the Imam and the Rabbi at Marine Corps Base Hawaii have had encounters of the less than friendly kind with the man and the Roman Catholic priest documents several instances of his parishioners being singled out for derogatory or discriminatory treatment that they wouldn't report up the chain for fear of reprisal."

Commander Turner shifted in his seat, seeing where this case was heading already.  "I can think of worse times of year to go to Hawaii, sir," he quipped.

"But not many worse reasons.  Commander, you and the Colonel will have your work cut out for you – if you choose to accept the assignment, which I'm making completely voluntary because of the particular nature of the investigation."  Both officers nodded their understanding; he went on.  "What I propose is that you go undercover as a Muslim couple."

Mac reacted more quickly than Sturgis did.  "Uh, sir, I understand the Islamic angle given what you've said.  Are you sure we should be married on this assignment and not just two new officers to the unit?"

AJ sat back a bit in his chair.  "We – that is, the chaplains and I along with CINCPACFLT – believe that several hate crimes that have been committed on base may be related to the regimental commander and a few other men at the base.  Commander Turner, you will be the S2 – Intelligence Officer – in the regiment.  Waters has a reputation as a misogynist and there are no women in the command structure of his headquarters company, so there isn't a way for us to get you in there, Mac, and since NCIS at MCB Hawaii has been ordered off the case by the base commander, the detachment at Pearl has been working slowly on the case.  Colonel, we'll build in professional criminal investigative work to your cover so you can get a legitimate job with NCIS.  The marriage will make you far less suspect than a new civilian arrival would be at this juncture."  He smiled.  "And it won't cost us any more because you can share a house."

Mac smiled back; the budget was her responsibility.  "What's the worst case, sir?" 

Sturgis answered for his commanding officer.  "A white supremacist group that the CO either leads or belongs to.  And before you scoff, Colonel, I can assure you that backwards attitudes toward race, at the very least, continue among some in the military."

"Commander, I face those same backwards attitudes at least once a week because of my gender.  When do we leave, sir?"

AJ accepted Mac's agreement to go with a nod.  "Commander Turner?"

"I think Commander Rabb can be trusted to water my plants for a while, sir."

The admiral saw Mac wince at that but had no idea why she did so.  Ancient history with Commander Rabb, no doubt.  "Good.  Any extra time you have on your hands today I expect you to use to build your cover legends and to brush up on your Islam.  You'll be done with the appeal on time, Sturgis?"

"I should be able to courier the appeal over before I break for lunch, sir.  That will leave the afternoon free, Colonel, if you're available."

"I've assigned Petty Officer Phillips to thirty days extra duty and confined him to quarters for the breech of confidentiality, sir, which means that I'm all yours, Commander."

Glad that Commander Rabb wasn't there to hear Mac's statement, their CO ended the interview by passing the folder over to Mac.  "Despite the fact that you will be under cover as a civilian, Colonel, you will be lead investigator.  You will need to school the dolphin over there in how to be a jarhead, as well.  Plan to depart a week from tomorrow to be in place on 2 December.  Dismissed!"

Both officers came to their feet at attention and answered in unison.

"One more thing," the admiral added as the two opened the door.

"Sir?" Commander Turner queried for both of them as they turned back to face a grinning Chegwidden.

"Give me a five minute warning before you tell Commander Rabb."  He saw Mac roll her eyes and shake her head as she slipped out the door; the submariner grinned and gave a "thumbs up" gesture in complete understanding of the reasons for the request.