by Incatnito

A/N: Well, this has been quite a season. While I haven't agreed with all the developments that have taken place, I have to admit it's kept my attention. Dealing with the direction that TPTB has taken has been made easier by the wonderful efforts of the authors on this board. Bravo to you all and my heartfelt thanks for all your hard work. I've been terribly remiss in feedback because of sharply curtailed access time on the net and I apologize. It's either read or write and I've selfishly gone for the former. However, my situation is about to change for the better with the acquisition of a laptop computer and wireless networking. Sooo... you may expect to hear more from me quite soon.

It's summer (almost) and I can feel my verbosity popping up like so many dandelions. Time for another tale to carry through until the season premiere. Even though I started this months ago, if I wait until it's almost finished I won't be posting until August.
Those of you who have read my work know that I'm off in my own little rose-colored JAG universe. I try to stay close to the storylines of actual JAG episodes with the difference in that Harm and Mac are already a couple. Obviously, I've had to adjust a bit to stay within my worldview - something that was particularly difficult this season. In keeping with that, Mac broke off their relationship in Paraguay rather than saying there was never a chance and I've made the rather arbitrary decision that she and Webb never get romantically involved. I've always liked Clayton Webb (and I liked Mic Brumby too) but definitely not as Mac's significant other. The JAG writers seem to be terrible at handling relationships (...maybe we should be grateful they haven't put H/M together yet!). They should check out some of the authors here for a 'How-to' manual. I still don't see how it would torpedo the show if H/M were a couple. They could easily make it a non-story, background filler sort of thing. Throwaway shots of them having breakfast together or coming home from dining out... maybe one episode or two a season, they could trot out an 'Adam's Rib' sort of conflict for our heroes to deal with. Oh well... in the words of Bloom County: 'Anxieties are in the closet, pipedreams are under the bed.' Enough ranting.

Now... about this story. I tend to write from Mac's point of view as she is my favorite character. Don't get me wrong, I like Harm. It's just that, on occasion, he has been such a man (I do think they come from Mars). I try not to bash either character - which doesn't mean that I don't sometimes take them to task. Normally, I insert my stories into the JAG timeline at some particular point, giving my interpretation of the season up to that time as a kind of 'here's where we are right now' intro. Usually, I manage this in the first chapter or so. This time, however, I'm up to chapter 8 and it's still going on. I haven't reached the end of the season yet and I'm sure if I'm going to... we'll see. I've also done a bit of a crossover with NCIS - it seemed logical. Mostly it's with Kate Todd but others make their appearance as well. (Can I date myself and tell you how thrilled I am to see David McCallum again? Can you believe he's 70?! I had a serious crush on him when I was seven or eight years old.)

The fly in the ointment here is that I still don't have a lot of time to write so moving this story along has been frustratingly slow. I probably won't post as frequently as y'all would like but definitely once a week and hopefully, more often. Hmmm... that was egotistical, wasn't it? I usually just hope that somebody will enjoy it besides me.

Oh yeah... the usual disclaimers: Don't own 'em, just borrowing, will return when done. Got no money, please don't sue.

Part 1
The Anchorage Bar & Grill
Washington D.C.
0130 Local

Staff Sergeant Mallory ambled unsteadily out of the seedy little bar and headed for his car. He'd had enough beer and shots to create a pleasant euphoria. He would take the back roads to his house, no sense in making himself a target for some ticket-happy cop. Reaching the beat-up Honda Civic, Mallory fumbled in his pocket for the keys.

" Sergeant."

Surprised, he turned around to see a tall, dark-haired woman standing about five feet away. It was hard to make out details in dark. It would have been hard even if he hadn't been three sheets to the wind. He blinked a couple of times, "Yeah, do I know you?"

" No."

A sense of confusion permeated the alcoholic haze as he braced himself against the car. He wasn't in uniform, how did she know he was a Sergeant? The confusion turned to annoyance, damn hookers showed up everywhere. "Listen sweetheart, it's late, I'm tired and I'm broke. Try somebody else."

She didn't say anything, just stared at him. Irritated now, he pushed himself upright, "What are you? Deaf? Beat it!" She still didn't move and his temper, never good, began to flare. Scowling, he took a step towards her, fists clenched. If there was one thing that pissed him off, it was some goddamn, miserable whore not doing what she was told. Mallory froze when she pulled a pistol out of her coat pocket and leveled it at him. His eyes widened and a moment later, the slug hit him in the forehead. The Sergeant was dead before he hit the ground. The woman stepped up to the body, her hand reaching into the other pocket. She fingered a globe and eagle insignia, "Semper fi, you bastard." Turning away, she disappeared into the darkness.

Mac's Apartment
0600 Local

Mac walked into her apartment and then headed for the bathroom and a hot shower. Running was usually therapeutic for her but lately, it was more of a stopgap measure. She dragged a hand through her hair and then turned on the water. Stripping out of her sweat-drenched clothes, she gratefully eased into the steaming shower. Life had gone to hell in handbasket in the last year. Why in the world had she ever let herself pursue a relationship with Harm? Never had she met anyone who could cause her such joy and such pain. When it came to her physical well-being, he willingly did whatever it took to keep her safe. Emotionally, however, he could and had been devastating. Mac closed her eyes, letting the water stream over her. The problem, of course, (and despite her words in Paraguay) was that she still loved the big jerk.

Paraguay. It had wound up costing her almost everything but her life. What she wouldn't give to have those days back, to have said no to Clay when he asked for her help... But then Clay, and probably Gunny as well, would have died down there. Sadik Fahd would have had 100 Stinger missiles with which to kill Americans. No, her duty had been clear. Webb, whatever his motivation, had been right about stopping Sadik. It hadn't really surprised her to discover that the CIA operative had been skating on the fringes of a legitimate mission. Years of working with Harm had made that a familiar territory. Sometimes you just did what you had to do, higher powers be damned.

Harm... Goddammit to hell, never would she have imagined that the outcome of that mission would be her telling him to forget about their relationship. Looking back, she barely recognized herself. She'd been so off-balance and things had spiraled out of control.

It hadn't been that she hadn't realized how dangerous the mission was going to be. It seemed like Clay had pointed it out to her at every turn and God only knew how often these things went sour. She'd thought she was ready for whatever might happen down there. Unfortunately, there was no way she'd been prepared to listen to Webb's screams for hours on end. It had taken all her resolve to stay with their cover story but she hadn't been acting when she'd gotten on her knees to beg that son of a bitch to stop torturing Clay. Terror, guilt, frustration, helplessness, anger - all melded together into an unimaginable weight.

Later, when Sadik had shoved that knife into her pregnancy suit, she'd been appalled to find herself grateful to the bastard for not killing her right then. She hadn't been ready to die just yet, hadn't accepted that that might be her fate. Had she known on some subconscious level that Harm would appear to the save the day? Or was it just something she had grown to expect over the years? Either way, he had shown up when she needed him most and then things had gone haywire. One minute, he's blowing holes in Sadik's goons and freeing her from that miserable little shed and the next, he was all business, wanting to know about the missiles. Running on adrenaline and stress, she had followed Harm's lead, telling him what she had managed to overhear about the whereabouts of the Stingers. Keeping things on a professional level was a damn sight easier than dealing with personal issues. Hell, the two of them had had years of practice.

If ever she had needed proof that Murphy ruled the Universe, Paraguay was the clincher. It couldn't have come at a worse stage in their relationship. She and Harm were both primed for misunderstandings. Things hadn't been quite the same between them since that bizarre incident in the Blue Ridge. They barely had time to recover from that when the shocking murder of Lauren Singer and Harm's arrest occurred. Although she knew with a surety that went right down to her toes that he hadn't committed the murder; in all fairness, his odd behavior from the moment they heard about Lauren had had her investigative alarm bells ringing. NCIS obviously had felt the same, throwing him in the brig almost immediately.

It had been horribly frustrating when the Admiral had ordered them all to back off. She'd gone to talk to Chegwidden privately later. It'd helped a little to find that he was as mystified as she was about Harm's actions. Unfortunately, she also discovered that his hands were tied about the isolation of his senior attorney. The SecNav had been adamant that the "integrity" of the JAG corps not be compromised. It didn't make any sense until one filtered it through the Looking Glass of Washington politicking. Mac found the whole situation ludicrous.

After her interview with Gibbs, she was ready to concede that Harm's solitary confinement had saved his life. If she could have gotten to him just then, she would have surely strangled him. Why hadn't he talked to her about his suspicions of Singer and Sergei? Why hadn't he trusted her? The distance between them widened once again while she juggled worry over his trial with the anger and hurt. After he was exonerated, she let the resentment fester until the night before she left on the mission. Her parting shot at Harm had been undeserved even if there was some truth in it. Mac regretted the words almost as soon as she'd said them but her stupid pride had kept her back stiff and her feet moving - right into the perdition of Paraguay.

With her rescue by Harm, the surreal quality of her life increased tenfold. Everything around her was changing so fast that it was almost impossible to keep up. Moving from unimaginable feelings of guilt and fear over Clay to the horror of watching the Robinsons executed to the tightly held terror while being shackled to the table to the amazing relief of seeing Harm and the shock of finding Victor still alive. The worst was her absolute lack of control. Although she hadn't said so to Harm, he wasn't the only one with that particular fear. The difference was that he expected death and she had experienced worse.

Unfortunately, the relief of being rescued by Harm had been decidedly short-lived. It was nipped in the bud by the abrupt change in his attitude. It suddenly felt like she was the weak and bumbling 'Bimbo in Distress' that he, the Hero, was forever rescuing. She hadn't liked it but events were moving so quickly right then that she hadn't made the correlation about Harm's change of demeanor. Later at the hotel when she had time to think about it, it became obvious. The turning point had come when she'd kissed Clay. Harm had been behind her and right after that, the professional mask had dropped into place. And he'd been angry - his affronted attitude and sarcastic manner had grated on her already raw nerves. How dare he be offended? Webb had gone through a physical hell to keep the same thing from happening to her and Harm was jealous that the ordeal had made her and Clay closer? Dammit, it wasn't like they'd been on an extended date! Every time she thought about it, she couldn't decide whether to cry or swear.

Saying good bye to Clay at the hacienda had been wrenching, he'd been so badly hurt. It was her fault, really. She was the one who had insisted on rescuing Victor. Webb, despite his heartless agent facade, cared enough about her to go along and he'd paid for it dearly. Mac sighed and leaned against the shower wall, closing her eyes. She didn't think she'd ever absolve herself of the guilt she felt. The man had been a bloody wreck and he'd laid there and apologized - apologized! - for getting into her into such a mess. Not one word of recrimination for her pigheaded 'Marines don't leave their own behind' philosophy that had led to their capture. She was fairly sure that Clay hadn't expected to survive long enough to reach medical care or he probably never would have told her of his feelings.

Things had gone downhill pretty quickly between her and Harm after Victor had left with Clay. Against all common sense and past experiences, she had once again climbed into the cockpit of a plane with him. To be honest, it had been the only way to find and destroy the Stinger missiles but, dear God, when was she ever going to experience an uneventful landing with the man? Okay, leaving an unconscious Harm to find transportation had been a mistake. She knew better than that. All she could say in her defense was that she hadn't been thinking all that clearly either. Hell, she'd barely been thinking at all. Her mind had decided to take some time off for a euphoric high after having survived two life or death situations in less than a day (three, if you counted Harm trying to blow her brains out when she came back with the truck). It had been the weirdest feeling. There she was: bruised, exhausted, filthy, dealing with enough stress to power the city of Detroit and her head was telling her that dancing a little jig would be entirely appropriate. Undoubtedly, she was more flippant about their situation than she needed to be but she couldn't seem to help herself. At first, it seemed like Harm was answering in kind but then she began picking up an edge in his comments. Before she knew it, her remarks were becoming more cutting and things just escalated.

They might have still been able to work it out when they finally reached the hotel if Webb and Gunny hadn't shown up. As relieved as she'd been to find that Clay was still alive, Mac could have wished for a little more time alone with her pigheaded aviator. She'd been floored when Harm told Clay that he had resigned in order to come down to Paraguay. Why hadn't he told her? Instead, he'd brought up some cock and bull story about getting married! He had been more concerned with tweaking her for a reaction than the fact that he had given up the most important aspect of his life in order to rescue her. What the hell was he thinking!? That Harm had been forced to do such a thing was a scenario that had never even occurred to her. It seemed like every moment she was being knocked further off-kilter, trapped in some real-life Twilight Zone. Had everyone gone nuts? The Admiral was a SEAL, goddammit, he KNEW you didn't leave people behind. Her shock readily turned to anger - Chegwidden would have left her fate in the hands of the CIA? He might as well have shot her himself.

Although it hadn't occurred to her while it was happening, now it struck her as the height of irony that someone with her time sense could have had such incredibly poor timing. Trying to get Harm to talk about what was left of their relationship while they were both reeling had all the portents of the Titanic leaving her home port. Still, she had persisted and look what it had gotten her: He'd been obsessed with the notion that she and Clay were a couple, dismissing her disavowal of any feelings beyond friendship on her side. It had hurt to learn that he thought so little of her and when he asked to table the discussion for a later date, she hadn't fought it. The next day it seemed that Harm was still angry, belittling her input like she was some sort of incompetent civilian and not an experienced Marine officer. It had taken Clay's reprimand to get him to listen to her at all. God only knew what Victor had thought of whole thing. He'd wisely kept his mouth shut most of the time.

While he didn't come right out and accuse her of cheating on him, Harm's unsubtle hints that she had slept with Clay during the mission only added fuel to the fire. That wasn't even taking into account the slur against her professionalism. It hadn't helped that Webb had egged on Harm's jealousy and it did nothing for her temper to discover that he had bought into it without bothering to suspect Clay's motives. Dammit, why was Harm always so ready to assume that she would immediately jump in the sack with whatever man she happened to be friends with? He'd done it with Mic, conveniently forgetting that the first time she had actually gone on a date with Brumby had been after Harm's return from flying and after he'd blown off her invitation to dinner. To discover later that Harm had blown her off for a date with Renee Peterson had been particularly galling.

Mac shook her head as she turned off the water in the shower and grabbed a towel. It had been terribly naive of her to believe that once she and Harm became a couple that all their problems would disappear. They were still the same two mule-headed people who didn't communicate as well as they should.

JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, VA
0930 Local

" Colonel MacKenzie?"

Mac looked up from her computer to see a woman standing in her doorway. Her courteous response died in her throat and she visibly tensed at the sight of the NCIS ID badge. She still hadn't forgiven those agents for the hell they put Harm through. Warily, she leaned back in her chair, "May I help you?"

Kate Todd did her best to keep her surprise off her face at the Marine Colonel's reaction. Goddammit, how many JAG HQ officers had Gibbs pissed off? No wonder Tony didn't bitch and moan when she got this case and not him. Stiffening her spine, she pasted a polite smile on her face, walked in and offered her hand, "Special Agent Kate Todd with NCIS, Colonel, and I do hope you can help."

Mac shook her hand and gestured towards a chair, "Have a seat, Agent Todd."

Well, it wasn't much but it was a start. Kate opened up her case and pulled out photographs, "Do you know this man or the woman?"

Mac studied the pictures carefully. She hadn't seen the man before. There was something vaguely familiar about the woman but no names came to mind. She handed it back to Kate, "I don't think so. Should I?"

Kate regarded the JAG officer for a long moment. There had been... something, recognition perhaps?... before the Colonel had answered. She leaned forward to take the photographs back, "Are you sure? For a moment, it looked like you knew them." MacKenzie's expression grew stonier, something Kate hadn't thought would be possible. She wondered fleetingly if the woman ever played poker. Still, sometimes a lack of reaction was as good as an overreaction. What was she concealing? According to her information, the Colonel had a connection with the late Vincent Mallory. Granted, it was somewhat oblique but Kate wasn't willing to leave any stone unturned - not when she was working for Gibbs.

Mac glared at the NCIS agent, "I didn't." She gestured towards the stacks of files on her desk, " Is that all? I have quite a bit of work to do." The sooner she could get this woman out of her office, the better. Dammit, seeing a man dead from a head wound was bringing back unwelcome memories of Paraguay. At least this man still had his face, something that couldn't be said of those two missionaries Sadik executed. Right now, Mac couldn't tell if the familiarity she was feeling was because of method of death or if the woman just reminded her of Carla Robinson. She couldn't concentrate with Agent Todd staring at her and now her mind was dragging up the sounds of Clay's screams.

Narrowing her eyes, Kate returned the photographs to her case and stood up, "Fine, Colonel MacKenzie. Sorry to have wasted your time." Standing up, she strode out of the office feeling irritated at the lack of cooperation. Dammit, Gibbs had probably gone too easy on the JAG officers if the Colonel thought there was some sort of percentage in playing dumb. When she got back to the office, she would take a more thorough look into MacKenzie's personnel file and find out just what type of weasel lawyer she was dealing with. If the Colonel tended to play fast and loose with the truth there was bound to be something she could use for leverage.

Mac sat straight-backed until Todd had cleared the bullpen before slumping a little to massage her forehead. Nothing like a visit from NCIS to bring on a headache. Pulling open a drawer, she started rummaging for the bottle of Ibuprofen and then jumped at the sound of Harm's tight voice, "What did NCIS want?"