Title: Devolution

Author: Incatnito

Rating: PG-13, a little language, a little violence, maybe even a little plot

Classification: JAG story

Spoiler: Everything up to Defending His Honor and (call it continuity or conceit) Sleight of Hand

Disclaimers: Taking them out to play, promise to put them back. All characters of JAG belong to Donald Bellasarius and Bellasarius Productions; no copyright infringement intended

AN: Action-adventurewise, this one is a little slower out of the blocks. I don't think of this as a sequel to SoH, more of an interim piece. I'm also kind of letting the show dictate where H/M are in their relationship (don't shoot! don't shoot!); well, my interpretation of their relationship anyway. The premise for this started with Port Chicago: I started wondering, what if Mac got stuck with Singer on a out-of-town case? Toss in our favorite aviator and away we go...

Part One

JAG Headquarters
Falls Church
0908 Local

Admiral Chegwidden shuffled through the various cases. "Commander Rabb, we have a Petty Officer accused of embezzling funds from the O Club in Norfolk. You'll defend." He slid the folder across the table.

"Aye sir." The tall commander opened it and briefly scanned the contents.

"Commander Turner."

"Yes sir?"

"Apparently the middies down in Annapolis became a little too exuberant this weekend. A barroom brawl spilled into the street and turned into a near riot. The state troopers had to intervene. Find out who started it and do what you can to assist the Commandant in soothing ruffled civilian feathers."

"I'll do my best, sir." Sturgis looked up to see Harm give him a sympathetic smile.

"Colonel," AJ looked at a folder. "The military police at NAS Memphis together with Federal authorities have broken up an internet porn ring. I'd like you to go out there to oversee the investigation and make sure all the ends are wrapped up quickly. The Navy is juggling enough negative publicity and I'd like to have this embarrassment handled by the time the media jumps on it."

"Aye sir," Mac hesitated a moment, "Admiral? Won't I be stepping on the toes of the base JAG?"

"Apparently not, Colonel, Lt. Cmdr. Brighton was one of those arrested."

Mac's eyebrows went up in surprise. "I'll get right on it, sir."

"Fine Colonel," Admiral Chegwidden paused and then said, "Lt. Singer will accompany you."

"Thank you, sir," Lt. Singer said with a satisfied smile.

Harm chanced a quick look at Mac. Her face was completely blank. He winced mentally, this wasn't good. All she said was 'Yes sir' in a neutral tone.

AJ looked around the table, "That will be all. Dismissed." He waited while they came to attention and began to file out of the room, "Colonel? A moment please."

She turned and waited, her face still expressionless, "Sir?"

"Colonel... Mac... I realize the Lieutenant is probably your last choice for a partner on a case." AJ looked at her for a moment, 'Damn, she's really ticked.' He cleared his throat and continued, "Singer needs more seasoning in the field and I need someone to show her that she doesn't need to run roughshod over everything in her path," he paused again and then said dryly, "and it will get her out of the office before Lt. Sims tries to kill her." He gave a silent sigh of relief when he saw Mac relax and glance away for a moment.

She looked back at him with a ghost of a smile, "Will I be expected to keep anyone else from trying to kill her?"

"Within reason, Colonel." He smiled back. "Tiner has your travel arrangements. You'll leave first thing in the morning."

Harm did his best to hover unobtrusively in the bullpen, not easy at 6'4". He was waiting for Mac to come out of the conference room. When he saw her, he moved in on an intercept course.

"Hey." Harm said nonchalantly as he walked with her to her office. He followed her in and shut the door, "You okay?"

"Yes. No. I don't know." She dropped into her chair with an exasperated sigh. "It was all I could do to keep from strangling her during the McBride case. And then that stunt she pulled with Harriet and Bud." She propped an elbow on her desk and rested her chin. "How much do you think it would cost to get the flight attendants to jettison her midway?"

Harm smiled, "That would depend on whether or not she opened her mouth before you made the offer."

Mac chuckled, "Maybe I can get Tiner to change her travel arrangements, Tennessee by way of Afghanistan."

"When do you leave?"

Mac glanced at the itinerary, "Flight 386 out of Dulles at 0920. Gives me twenty-three hours and fifty-two minutes to adjust to having Lt. Singer as a partner." She looked at Harm, "That's not nearly enough time."

"Look, why don't you stop by my place after work? I'll make you a 'Good-Luck-You're-Gonna-Need-It' dinner." Harm grinned at her.

Mac arched an eyebrow, "Cute, but aren't you going to be in Norfolk? When would you have time to cook?"

"Okay, why don't you stop by my place after work and I'll order a 'Glad-It's-Not-Me' pizza." Harm said without missing a beat.

"Jerk," Mac said with smile. "What time?"

"How about 1930?" Harm said as he stood, he needed to get going.

"Sounds good. Oh, and Harm?" He stopped in the doorway and looked back. "Thanks." He waved a hand and headed out.

Washington, D.C.
Dulles Airport
0715 Local

Mac glanced at Harm as he maneuvered his SUV through the airport towards the area designated for departing flights. Sometimes she felt she knew him better than she knew herself and other times... well... Harm was, without a doubt, featured in the dictionary under 'enigma'. To be fair, she was probably found under 'incomprehensible'. Mac smiled wryly to herself - obviously they were meant for each other. She had finally admitted her feelings about her best friend to herself (... and Sturgis - what the hell had she been thinking?!), she just wasn't sure about him. When she had been swept up in the firestorm of the 'Archangel' case, it had seemed like they were drawing closer. As things settled down in the aftermath, so had their relationship. Harm seemed content with the 'best friends' routine and she'd be damned if she'd get herself killed just to attract his attention. The absurdity of that last thought almost made Mac laugh out loud, she settled for a quiet chuckle. She glanced over to see Harm watching her with a puzzled smile. She shook her head and grinning, said, "There's fifty cents in it for you, Rabb, if you'll take my place on that plane."

Harm raised his eyebrows, "I'm shocked! You think you can buy my integrity for fifty cents? ... The going rate's a buck."

"It's not your integrity I want on that plane, mister." Mac rejoined, now she was laughing.

"And the part you want would be... ?"

Mac was saved from answering when he pulled into the parking area. Instead, she said, "Thanks for the ride, Harm. You really didn't have to do this, I could have driven myself."

Harm shrugged, "But then you'd be worried about your 'vette the whole trip. You better get going. Have a safe flight and don't forget to return Singer in the same condition you found her."

"Do I have to?" On impulse, she leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek, "Thank you." Grinning at his expression, she added, "Try to behave yourself while I'm gone."

Harm smiled, that was a pleasant surprise. If he'd seen it coming, he could've turned his head just a bit... The rest of her words registered and he looked over to see Mac grinning at him. Putting on his best wounded expression, he said, "Who? Me? Sturgis is the rowdy one." He watched her disappear into the terminal and then pulled away from the curb. Their relationship was solidifying, he was hoping to let it progress naturally. Mac had a tendency to throw up walls when pushed emotionally; something he could thank that SOB father of hers for. But the next time those walls went up, he planned to be inside the gates.

Memphis International Airport
Memphis, Tennessee
1045 Local

Mac and Singer walked out of the gate area. It had been a quiet flight. They'd gone over the details of the case, Mac had told the lieutenant how she planned to handle it. Neither felt inclined to small talk, so the rest of the trip was spent in silence. Fortunately, it wasn't very long. Mac turned when she heard her name being called.

"Colonel MacKenzie? Lt. Singer?" At their confirming nods, a young ensign came to attention. "Ensign Tyler, ma'am," he said addressing Mac. "Welcome to Memphis. May I take your bags? I have transportation, ma'am, if you'll follow me please." He was slightly built, with a soft southern accent.

They handed over their carry-ons. "Thank you, Ensign," Mac said as they walked with him down the concourse. "How far is it to the base?"

"Less than thirty miles, ma'am, but with the traffic, it will take about an hour to get there," the ensign replied looking over at Mac. "I'm assigned to the JAG office, I'll be your driver while you're here."

"I see," Mac said with a smile, "Thinking about becoming a lawyer, Ensign Tyler?"

"Yes ma'am," he said with enthusiasm, "I'm taking pre-law classes at night. Cmdr. Brighton says... " his voice trailed off uncertainly.

They walked along in silence for a few minutes when Mac spoke again, obviously changing the subject, "I've been trying to place your accent. Are you from this area?" Behind her, Lt. Singer rolled her eyes. If there was anything less interesting than the ensign's career plans, it would be his place of origin.

Ensign Tyler hesitated, catching the look on Singer's face. When he saw Mac's questioning glance, Tyler said hurriedly, "Ummm, not far from here ma'am. I'm from a little town near Murray, Kentucky. It's right by the southwest corner of the state." They arrived at the car and Tyler quickly stowed the bags in the trunk and went to unlock the doors. He was feeling somewhat confused. The office had been in turmoil ever since the arrest of Cmdr. Brighton. Then the news that they were getting not one, but two JAGs from Headquarters.

He'd been anxious ever since he learned he would be their driver. Not only would he be ferrying around two big-league JAG officers, but one of them was a Lt. Colonel in the Marines. In his limited experience, Marines weren't famous for their warmth. He'd been hoping the Navy Lieutenant would be approachable and he wouldn't have to deal with the Colonel at all. Apparently, he'd gotten it backwards, it was the Lieutenant who looked at him like he was dirt.

He was vaguely relieved when Colonel MacKenzie decided to ride shotgun. Perhaps the drive to base wouldn't be too uncomfortable. They were mostly silent as he negotiated the Memphis traffic. When he turned on to Hwy. 51, Mac remarked, "It's beautiful country out here. Everything's so lush."

"Yes ma'am," Tyler said, glancing her way. She was still looking out the window. She looked back at him and smiled.

"I grew up out west. This much greenery still surprises me." She resettled herself in the seat, "So tell me, Ensign, it's pretty landlocked out here. What made you decide on the Navy?"

He offered a tentative smile, "Well ma'am, according to my daddy, the service would make a man out of me. I get airsick when I fly and I wasn't crazy enough to join the Marines..." He froze, the look of dismay on his face was almost comic. He stammered, "I'm sorry, Colonel! No disrespect intended, I ... "

Mac interrupted him, "Ensign." He glanced at her in trepidation. "We prefer the term 'enthusiastic'."

"Yes, ma'am," he said hesitantly. The Colonel was letting him off the hook? Maybe this assignment wouldn't be so bad...

Lt. Singer sat back in disgust. She'd have been all over that ensign's six. Then again, she would have never bothered with such a banal conversation. He was their errand boy, not some long lost relation. All she was concerned about was that he jumped when she told him to. At least they were almost to the base and could get started on this assignment. Lauren was anxious to show them all what she could do.