Virtual Season 2004: Episode 9
Title: "Here Be Monsters"
Author: Selena
Feedback: gonzo112376@yahoo.com

Thanks to all the nifty VS authors who helped with ideas and support. A HUGE thank you to Susan for finding the story idea, fixing my numerous typing and factual errors, and for otherwise being a great, great friend.

Disclaimer: All canon characters belong to Mr. Bellisario and Co., and original characters belong to the VS. I own nothing. Please do not sue me.

Summary: The title comes from ancient maps, wherein cartographers would inscribe "Here Be Monsters" on areas of unchartered waters. This would warn travelers that they were about to sail into the unknown.

Notes: I do not have a medical degree, a law degree, or any military expertise. Even though this story line is "ripped from the headlines," all mistakes are mine. I'll apologize in advance.

~*~*~*~
Baghdad, Iraq
0417 Zulu

"Damnit, Lewis. Move!"

The young man continued to stare at the mangled body in front of him, oblivious to the angry shouts of his superior officer. His voice trembled as he muttered, "No, this isn't... Why is this..."

His voice trailed off as a comrade grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the carnage. As soon as he was shoved out of the line of fire, Lewis put his hands on his knees and emptied his stomach onto the desert sand. His fellow Marines turned their attention back
to the lingering skirmish fire.

As more shots rang out, Lt. Colonel Scott called, "Thompson!"

"Sir?" The major moved quickly from his present position.

"Take Jones with you for cover, and go back to base." Scott jerked his head towards Lewis, who now sat with his head cradled in his hands. "Get him out of here."

Major Thompson nodded. "To the infirmary, Sir?"

His eyes never leaving the expanse of sand in front of him, the Colonel replied in a disgusted tone, "No, not this time. Take him to the brig."

~*~*~*~
Music swells...credits roll...Shippers sigh since they know that in this version, Harm and Mac have declared their love for one another and will never let blonds, Aussies, CIA agents, or ghosts come between them again. Ain't the Internet great!?!
~*~*~*~
80's Song Lyric break! Name the song and artist, please!
"Once upon a time/There was light in my life/Now there's only love in the dark."
~*~*~*~

JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia
Monday
1200 Zulu

"You do realize that this is the scariest thing we've ever done in our lives, right? Poachers, punch-outs, Russia, Sadik...none of that stuff even compares with what we're doing right now."

Harm could feel the tension radiating off his partner's body, so he replied with a smile, "Mac, we're just riding in an elevator. I'm pretty sure we're going to be okay."

Harm's glib reply earned him both a smile and a friendly cuff on the arm, both of which he'd been expecting. He did not, however, expect Mac's expression to become quite so serious as she continued softly, "We're going to have to get off the elevator, Harm, and then it's a whole new ball game. What if..."

When Mac's voice trailed off, Harm silently asked the other occupants of the building for forgiveness and pulled the red stop button. He then laid a hand on the side of Mac's face. "Tell me why you're scared."

Mac leaned gently into the hand that cupped her cheek. "The last few days with you have been amazing, and I'm not entirely sure that I'm going to be able to hide that fact. I'm afraid that everybody in there is going to take one look at me and know, well, everything."

After leaning in for a quick, yet sweet kiss, Harm asked quietly, "And what if they do? Would that be so bad?"

Choosing her words carefully, Mac replied, "Several months ago, no. It wouldn't have been bad at all. In fact, I think we might earn a standing ovation from half the people in there for finally figuring 'us' out. But now..."

"Blankenship."

Hearing that name, Mac had to fight back a sigh of disgust. "I don't know what the man has against me, Harm. Maybe it's because I'm a woman...or a Marine...or maybe it's just the combination of the two. Add that to my less-than-stellar track record, and..."

Harm stopped her with a stern look. "Hey, you're talking about the woman I love." After another bolstering kiss, he added, "And I won't ever let the fact that there is an 'us' hurt you, especially not by his hands."

Almost unbelieving of the sweetness and kindness the man before her was offering, Mac touched her brow to his before she pulled slightly away. "It's not me I'm worried about, Harm. It's you. Blankenship has made his mind up about me, but it's not too late for you.
I refuse to let whatever he has against me touch you."

Touched, Harm took Mac's hands in his. "So, sounds like we're on the same page."

With a mischievous smile, Mac said, "Finally."

Rolling his eyes, Harm continued, "We're going to walk out these elevator doors...preferably before someone calls the fire department to come rescue us...and then
we do our jobs."

"Business as usual?"

Harm squeezed Mac's hands before releasing them. "Yeah, that sounds about right...just as long as we work on the whole 'pleasure' thing after hours."

"You have a deal, Commander." Mac smiled and straightened her uniform, while Harm dislodged the stopped elevator. Both took deep breaths as the doors slowly opened.

~*~*~*~
Boy Band Song Lyric break! Name the song and group!
"Don't you know you're my type/You're just what I like/Girl, you're everything/Don't you know you're all right"
~*~*~*~

JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia
Monday
1425 Zulu

Mac and Bud stood at attention long after any other commanding officer would have required as they waited for their new assignments. Both could tell that the other was fighting frustration as Blankenship blustered about, adding what he must have thought was
importance to his message.

"It appears we've been asked to clean up another one of our friends' mistakes."

To her credit, Mac did not so much as bat an eyelash as she listened to the admiral's unkind explanation of the case of Corporal Andrew Lewis.

Lewis, an otherwise by-the-book Marine, had experienced difficulty adjusting to life in Iraq after shipping out four months ago. Although he was well-liked by his fellow Marines, Lewis had been a frequent visitor to the infirmary, complaining of dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath. His superiors had "put up with this behavior" (as Admiral
Blankenship snidely put it), believing that medical care would help his condition and allow Lewis to continue his duties. In a skirmish last week, however, Lewis was with a group of Marines who walked into an ambush. During the firefight, a guerilla was killed at close range to Lewis, who fell ill upon seeing the man's body. When conditions allowed, his
superior, Lt. Colonel Scott, sent Lewis with an escort back to base, where he was held on cowardice charges.

"Cowardice, Sir? That's a serious charge with some pretty heavy consequences."

Bud's comment seemed to irritate the senior officer, who sat down at his desk and continued, "Yes, Lieutenant. Seems the man was too weak to perform the duties his country required of him. He's being held at the Naval Yard pending the investigation and
subsequent court-martial. I trust that the two of you can handle this inquiry, and will do the case justice when it's brought to trial."

Mac wisely fought the urge to correct her superior and say "if it's brought to trial." Instead, she nodded and took the files Blankenship offered her. She hoped the relief didn't show on her face as he briskly dismissed them.

Walking towards her office, she asked Bud to join her and then closed the door behind them. Before the two of them sat, she allowed herself to sigh deeply. "Bud, I'm sorry you got stuck with me on this one."

Unused to the defeated tone in Mac's voice, Bud replied quickly, "It's always an honor and a privilege to work on a case with you, Ma'am. I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of this."

Mac was grateful for the younger officer's confidence, so she gave him a smile. "I'm sure we will, but still...you might want keep a bit of distance from me. We wouldn't want Blankenship to think that whatever he believes I am has rubbed off on you."

Absently rubbing his leg, Bud replied, "That could go both ways, Ma'am."

Mac understood immediately, and sat up straighter in her seat. "So, what do you say that you and I show Rear Admiral Blankenship what we're made of?" With that, they overviewed the case files and arranged to meet with Lewis that afternoon.

~*~*~*~

Mac's Apartment
Georgetown
Monday
0015 Zulu

Harm watched Mac wash down her dining table three times before he finally interrupted. "So, are you going to clean all night, or are you going to tell me what's going on?"

Wincing slightly, Mac turned and faced the man who stared at her intently from the sofa. As she walked towards him, she replied, "Guess I haven't been very good company tonight, huh?"

Harm grabbed her arm and gently pulled her down on the sofa beside him. "No, your company has been a pleasure, as always." He placed a kiss on her forehead before continuing, "But I can tell that something's on your mind. Spill it, Mac."

Mac sighed and snuggled against Harm before she answered, "Just another run-in with our new superior officer."

"Blankenship is giving you trouble with the Lewis case already, I guess?"

Mac leaned back so she could see Harm's face. "How'd you hear about that already?"

Pulling Mac close to himself again, Harm replied, "Bud talks, and I listen." Pleased at himself for making Mac smile, even if it was brief, Harm continued, "It sounds like this has given the admiral the opportunity to show his appreciation for the Marines yet again."

"You should have heard him when he gave Bud and me the case, Harm. He was ready to arrange for the building of the gallows...or maybe even build them himself."

Sympathy in his voice, Harm replied, "Hey, I know it hurts that it seems the man has no confidence in you, but..."

Interrupting, Mac countered, "But that's not even it, or at least not completely it. We met with Lewis today."

"How did that go?"

"He's scared, Harm, and I would be, too, if I were facing these charges. It's been a long time since anyone in the military has been brought up on them, and if the court-martial happens, and Lewis is found guilty..."

When Mac trailed off, Harm said in an even tone, "You really don't think they'll push for the death penalty, do you?"

Shrugging helplessly, Mac replied, "I don't know. All I know is that we have a young man who volunteered for the Corps, and has four solid years of service under his belt. His training and service records were all exemplary until he was shipped out. After that,
everything went to hell in a handcart. Now he's sitting in a cell waiting for the people he's served to decide his fate."

Harm attempted to play devil's advocate and asked, "Is there any way Lewis is faking it, the illness, I mean, just to get himself out of Iraq?"

Mac was thoughtful for a moment before answering. "It's possible, Harm, but I guess anything is. My gut says that he's telling the truth. I just don't know why an otherwise healthy, stable, and dedicated young man is experiencing these symptoms."

"Was there a psychological evaluation?"

"A medical, as well, but nothing could conclusively show a preexisting condition or PTSD. The panic attacks began when he started his tour in Iraq. I have the files around here somewhere..." Mac rose, and returned from the brief search with a neat stack.
"I wanted to look over them again."

Mac stopped when she saw Harm looking at her with an amused smile on his face. "I've officially lost you to business, haven't I?"

Harm stood and took Mac's hands in his. She looked sheepish as she said, "I didn't mean to. I'm sorry, but..."

Quieting her with a kiss, Harm replied, "No apologies. And I happen to love watching you work."

A mischievous glint in her eyes, Mac questioned, "And what else do you love watching me do?"

Harm's mouth sought hers again, and moments passed before they broke apart.

Mac's voice was low when it finally broke the silence. "Do you want to, I mean, would you like..." She laughed nervously before finishing. "Are you going to stay?"

Hoping his own voice was steady, Harm answered, "Yes, I want to. I would very much like to, in fact. But no, I'm not going to."

Unable to take the tinge of hurt from her voice, Mac tried to answer lightly. "Yeah, I guess we should both get some sleep. I get to go another round with both the admiral and Lewis tomorrow, so I'd better look over some things again."

Mac turned to pick up the files again, but Harm stopped her with a touch on the arm. "Mac, I meant what I said. I want to stay, maybe too much. But I don't want to rush 'us,' because I refuse to hurt you, physically or emotionally. I've waited too long, and I love you too much to let that happen."

Understanding, Mac slipped her arms back around Harm's shoulders. "It's okay, Harm. I don't mind taking this slowly. In fact, I think I prefer it."

"And why is that, Marine?"

"Because I want to make sure I remember every moment of this." With a final kiss, Mac sent Harm on his way out the door.


~*~*~*~
Country Music lyrics break! Name the song and artist!
"I ain't got a dime/But what I got is mine/I ain't rich/But, Lord, I'm free"
~*~*~*~

JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia
Staff Meeting
Tuesday
1320 Zulu

"MacKenzie, Roberts, where are we with the cowardice case."

Ignoring the Admiral's annoying use of the "royal 'we,'" Mac began, "Sir, both Lieutenant Roberts and myself have reviewed all the documents, and the Lieutenant has interviews with Lt. Colonel Scott, Lewis's superior officer and some other colleagues, scheduled via satellite later today. I'll also be speaking with Lewis again today."

"When will you be ready to push ahead with the charges?"

Taken aback, Bud replied, "Sir, as we've not fully finished the investigation, we've not determined there's merit to the charges or if this will ever go to court-martial."

Dismissing Bud's answer, Blankenship turned to Harm. "Commander Rabb, be prepared to take the prosecution on this one. I'm sure MacKenzie and Roberts will fill you in." The Admiral took one last look at the agenda before him before announcing, "Dismissed."

Mac made it back to her office, with both Bud and Harm on her heels, and drew the shades before she lost her temper. "What was that?! How dare he!"

"Mac..." Harm moved forward to try to calm and comfort Mac, who was now pacing behind her desk. He was only a few inches from taking her into his arms, before he realized that Bud was still in the office.

Luckily, Bud was still fuming himself, and had barely noticed Harm's sudden stop. With only a slightly confused look at the two officers, Bud said, "Ma'am, this is not over. I'm going to make sure the communications equipment is working correctly for the meetings."

A few seconds after Bud closed the office door, Harm dropped into a seat and looked at Mac. "I'm so sorry, Mac. I wasn't thinking."

Sitting on the corner of her desk and facing Harm, Mac smiled. "Actually, you were thinking. You were thinking of me, and that's something I could get used to. I think about you a lot, too, you know."

Smiling now himself, Harm replied, "Looks like we're getting dangerously close to mixing business with pleasure, Colonel."

"I also might be fraternizing with the enemy if this thing does go to trial. What do you think Admiral Blankenship would do if he knew just whom he'd put on opposite sides of this case?"

"Hmm...I imagine there would be a concern about pillow talk."

Mac offered a wry smile. "Knowing what we do about the Admiral, he just might be more worried about the consequences of the pillow talk as opposed to, well, whatever else we might be doing in bed."

"Speaking of..." Harm tried to continue, but found himself tongue-tied. He muttered, "We've known each other almost nine years, so it should be easier than this."

Mac smiled encouragingly, so Harm cleared his throat and spoke in a low voice. "I was wondering if you wanted to sleep at my place tonight."

Nervously biting her lip, Mac took a few seconds before she replied, "Harm, I thought we talked about this last night."

Harm stole a look at the still-closed door and drawn blinds before answering. "We did, and I still mean what I said. I'm asking if you'd like to stay with me tonight. Just to sleep, I promise." When Mac didn't answer, Harm continued, "I found out something this morning, Mac. I don't like waking up without you."

"You know what? I didn't much like that, either, and I'm still not entirely fond of letting you out of my sight for long periods of time. The Connors' case, the helo crash...there are too many times recently when I could have lost you."

When Mac trailed off, Harm took her hands and began to speak. Mac, however, interrupted him with a shake of her head. "No, I'm not going to focus on that right now. Instead, I am going to tell you that, yes, I would love to stay with you tonight. Wait, what about Mattie?"

"At her dad's."

"And Jen?"

"On vacation, spending the week at the Outer Banks. So, there's no chance that anyone will see a certain, distinguished Lt. Colonel coming or going from a certain, dashing Commander's apartment at all hours of the night or morning."

Mac grinned, "So, you've really thought this through, huh?"

"I have." With that, Harm released Mac's hands and rose. "Now, I'm going to go to my office before anyone thinks we're in here making out."

"Or planning the demise of a certain Rear Admiral."

Harm allowed himself to grin at that before continuing. "That, too. So, I'll do my work, and you will go and see if you can't rescue a certain Corporal from himself. And then, the best part, we'll meet at my place by seven. I'll even provide the food."

"You're going to spoil me, Harm."

Turning, with his hand on the doorknob, Harm smiled. "That's my plan."

~*~*~*~
Selena's Favorite Rock Band Lyrics Break! Name the band and song!
"If dreams are like movies/Then memories are films about ghosts"
~*~*~*~

Naval Yards
SE Washington, D.C.
Same Day
1645 Zulu

Mac had already spent forty-five minutes talking with Corporal Lewis, but his story had not changed. He still looked like the innocent, scared 22 year old Mac had met the day before. She sat across an empty table from him and continued to take what she was afraid
were useless notes.

"Corporal, you're sure there has never been a time in your life when you've experienced these kinds of problems? Maybe when you started your training? Or when you were under particular stress in school."

The young man answered respectfully, "No, Ma'am. Never."

"And you didn't have them before you shipped out? They began when you arrived in Iraq?" When Lewis nodded, Mac sharpened her tone a little. "Did you want to ship out, Corporal?"

A flash of anger crossed Lewis's face before he answered, "Ma'am, no one ever really wants to walk into a war zone, but a Marine does what he's told. More than that, I owe a lot to my country, to the Corps, and to the men and women who serve with me.

I'm not shooting myself in the foot or crossing the border to get out of my duty, Ma'am. If it meant that I wouldn't feel like this, I'd gladly go back over there today."

Mac help up a hand. "Wait. You're still having symptoms?"

"Yes, ma'am. Dizziness and some nausea."

"Have you reported this to anyone here?"

Looking down, the young man shook his head. "No, Ma'am. I figured the panic attacks were still happening because of, well, the stress and all."

Mac stood. "We're going to get another medical evaluation, Corporal. I'm not going to continue with this until we have a handle on what's causing your problems."

What might have become a smile formed on the Corporal's face, but quickly was overtaken by a glazed expression before the man slumped to the floor. Calling his name, Mac was both cautious and quick as she rounded the table. She began shouting for a guard and medical help when she saw Lewis convulsing on the floor.

~*~*~*~
Classic Country Lyrics break! Name the artist and song!
"Or I may simply be a single drop of rain/But I will remain/And I'll be back again"
~*~*~*~

Bethesda Naval Hospital
Maryland
Same day
1850 Zulu

Harm rounded the corner and felt his heart flop in his chest when he saw Mac pacing in the waiting room. He took a minute to force himself to calm down before he crossed to her. "Are you okay?"

Mac almost reached to embrace Harm, but thought better of it when she considered where they were. "I'm fine, Harm. I'm just really tired of hospitals."

Nodding towards the chairs, Harm placed a hand on the small of his partner's back and led her towards them. "What's going on?"

"He was stable by the time the ambulance got here, and they've been running tests ever since. I haven't heard anything yet."

Though he wanted to reach out and take Mac's hand, Harm resisted. Instead, he tried a gentle smile. "So, there's this invention called the telephone. Next time something like this happens, I get a phone call so I don't have to hear the slightly confused and somewhat scary message secondhand from Bud."

Mac shook her head. "I couldn't get your cell, so I left a message at work on your voicemail and at home telling you exactly what had happened and where I was. I didn't want you to worry."

Those words soothed Harm a bit, so he replied, "I haven't been home yet, so I didn't check the machine there. I ran into Bud as I came back from court, so I never made it to my office. All I got from him was, "Colonel MacKenzie, incident with Corporal Lewis, Bethesda" before..."

"Before what, Harm?"

"Before I kind of, um, pushed past him and ran back down the stairs so I could get in my car and drive here."

Even with everything that was happening around them, Mac couldn't help but smile. "Poor Bud. Now he has to know something's going on with us."

Harm just shrugged. "Have you talked to him again?"

"He's double checking with the medic and test results from Iraq as well as the initial tests run here to see if he can find any answers." Mac looked around, "And that leaves me here. Waiting."

Not worrying about their surroundings, Harm slipped a hand over Mac's. "Between the both of us, we've done too much waiting in hospitals during the past couple of years. But, you know what? Lewis is going to be okay...and so are you."

Mac knew exactly what Harm was referring to, so she answered quietly, "I hope so."

Mac's next words were interrupted, however, as a Major rounded the corner calling her name. "Colonel MacKenzie? I've spoken with Corporal Lewis, who is doing well. He's given me permission to disclose testing results to you. Both he and I believe it will affect his case."

Both Mac and Harm allowed the doctor, Major Nelson, to lead them to her office. Mac introduced Harm as an associate from JAG, so the doctor began to tell them testing results after they sat. "Some areas of concern on the initial scans we ran on the Corporal led us to perform more extensive tests. The MRI and EEG indicate some areas of minimal brain damage."

The shocked look on Mac's face preceded her question. "I wasn't aware of any accident or problem with Lewis that would have caused brain damage. Is this an old or new injury?"

Dr. Nelson replied, "We believe it's not from an injury, Colonel. Are either of you familiar with the recent studies involving military members suffering from exposure to chemicals or drugs?"

"Are you talking about Gulf War Syndrome?"

"In a way, though, it may be worse than that. We have more and more members of the military who are suffering from these kinds of symptoms. Some of my colleagues have made a pretty tight connection to one of the standard vaccination drugs being administered to service men and women who are deployed overseas. Although there isn't an overwhelming number of cases with effects this severe, there does appear to be a link."

Mac crossed her arms over her chest, "And the Corporal was vaccinated with this drug before leaving for the desert?"

Nodding, the doctor continued, "It's very possible, even quite probable, that his physical symptoms and emotional reactions are tied to the brain damage."

"You're willing to testify to that in court?"

"If necessary, yes."

Mac thanked the doctor politely and somehow managed to wait until after she'd gone to see Corporal Lewis and then walked to her car before allowing Harm to give her a congratulatory kiss.

~*~*~*~
Last Song Lyric Break! The Hair Metal Edition! Name the group and song!
"Close the door/Leave the cold outside/I don't need nothing/When I'm by your side"
~*~*~*~

Harm's Apartment
North of Union Station
Same day
2330 Zulu

"Hey."

"Hey, yourself."

Harm stepped aside so Mac could come into the apartment, then he took her things and led her to the living room. "How did Blankenship take it when you and Bud presented the findings in the case against Lewis?"

"He didn't sound entirely convinced, but I think Bud and I assured him that any grand jury in the country would be. It appears as though all charges will be dropped against the Corporal, and the Corps will do everything in its power to see to his medical needs."

"Good job, Colonel." Harm bent down for a kiss.

"Thank you, Commander." Mac countered with a kiss of her own.

"And that, Ms. MacKenzie, officially ended the business portion of this evening. Now moving on to the pleasure portion. If you'll take a seat, please."

Harm indicated a chair at the bar, and then moved to take two covered plates out of the oven. "I wasn't sure when you would get here, but I think this held up pretty well."

"You cooked for me?"

Because he was busy getting glasses and finding the mineral water in the refrigerator, Harm missed the wonder in Mac's voice. He replied distractedly, "Yeah, I had some time while you were in with Bud and the Admiral."

When Harm turned back to the table, he was shocked when he saw a sheen of tears in Mac's eyes. "You cooked for me...and you came to find me at the hospital today. You've been to all the doctor's appointments and tests and..."

"Hey, Mac, it's okay. Everything's going to be okay."

Mac swallowed back the tears and offered a smile as Harm came towards her. "You take good care of me. You always have."

"And I always will." Harm drew Mac to her feet. "I do it because I love you...and because you take care of me, too. You have for a long time."

"It's only because I love you, too." The fact that she could finally say that out loud sent a jolt through Mac's system. "This is really happening, isn't it?"

Harm nodded. "Yes, it really is. You still scared?"

In the warmth of Harm's embrace, Mac couldn't imagine anything to be scared of.

~*~*~*~
The End
~*~*~*~

On the next JAG...

*****Cut to Chloe, talking to Mac on the phone:*****

["It's a preparatory journalism class. For those who're interested in the media and got at least a B on their last creative writing test."]

"So you were wondering if you might just go visit your old friend Mac in the Capital and pick up some kick-ass story on the way, right?"

*****Cut to Coates, talking to Chloe at JAG:*****

"So, how's your research going? You talked to Commander Roberts and Commander Turner, didn't you?"


"Yeah. But their cases are kinda freaky. I need to come up with something dramatic, not that kind of comedy or soap opera they're dealing with."

*****Cut to Harm, talking to Mac on the phone:*****

["What do you think would happen if Chloe suddenly found herself involved head over heels in a case that couldn't be more dramatic? If this is all about interpreting reality, we could go about and...well...suggest the kind of reality she might want to interpret."]

*****Stay tuned...*****


Final Notes: That whole deal about a drug causing these kind of problems is true and is currently under investigation. I, however, did not mention its name or use for the purposes of this story, as I would not want to be sued by a pharmaceutical company. Also, cowardice is a charge that carries a possible death penalty in the U.S. Military, though the last time these charges were formally made was in the Vietnam War era.