Speak to Me, in the Middle of the Night
Author: Lady Chal
Category: JAG/NCIS crossover
Disclaimer: They don't belong to me, and I'm not making any money off of them, so Donald Bellisario and CBS please don't sue. You won't make any money off of me, either.
Spoilers: Major Spoilers for Ice Queen / Meltdown
Summary: So who was the father of Singer's baby? Inquiring minds--and one slightly eccentric member of the NCIS team--want to know. --Mostly Mallard, with cameos by the JAG regulars, Gibbs, and our favorite spy.
Author's Note: This isn't my first JAG fic, but the first one that I've actually gotten around to posting. It's also one that I didn't expect to write, but the whole "Ice Queen" episode really struck a chord with me, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. I especially liked the way they used the camera angles from the corpse's perspective to evoke the sense of Singer's presence still being there somehow, and that's what led me into this story. --If you're not into Singer or didn't care a fig for the new NCIS characters, this one may not be for you. Heck, I didn't even like Singer! But there was something about that storyline that really got to me. Even though she was the character we all loved to hate, I still had to feel a little sorry for her in the end.
And finally, advance apologies for any minor details I might be a shade off on (i.e. rank, timelines, etc.) I don't tape all the episodes and there are just some things that slip under my radar. I'm sure you'll all let me know about them when you see them and I will be quick to make corrections. One minor point of debate that I will maintain for the purposes of the story, however, is the advancement of Singer's pregnancy. I could have sworn that Mallard stated at one point during the show that she was much farther along than anyone thought--almost ready to deliver, in fact. This, of course, would serve to rule out Sergei and everyone aboard the Sea Hawk and cast suspicion on Lindsey (whom she had been seeing before she left for the Sea Hawk)...or others...
Part One: A Friend
Arlington National Cemetery
2 May, 2003
The sharp crack of the rifles pierced the damp, muggy air. The report rolled slowly across the neat rows of white marble headstones, fading at last to a distant rumble that blended with the voice of the thunderheads on the far horizon. From somewhere in the distance, a Marine Lance Corporal brought a bugle to his lips and winded the long, sweet, melancholy strains of Taps. The notes echoed mournfully down the hillside, floating across the open grave, and the chaplain decided that if perhaps some of the small droplets of water that ran down the faces of those stern, uniformed men was not actually rain, then it could not be held against them. He felt the tightening in his own throat each time that solemn call was blown.
As the final note faded and died, the chaplain found himself studying those gathered about the grave with a small amount of curiosity. The group of mourners huddled beneath the blue canvas of the funeral canopy was uncharacteristically small. Less than a dozen, if he failed to count himself, the rifle squad, and the Navy honor guard that had borne the flag-draped casket to its final resting place.
As a result, the slight, distinguished looking man in the drab gray trench-coat and rain spattered spectacles stood out quite noticeably from the small cadre of JAG personnel clad in their dark mixture of Marine Corps and Navy dress blues. The chaplain had found his own eye falling upon the man time and time again throughout the simple military ceremony. Aside from the fact that the man in the trench coat was clearly a civilian, he had kept himself at some distance from the others throughout the brief graveside service. Though there had been plenty of room beneath the canopy, he had stood several feet from it, preferring the thin shelter of his dripping umbrella instead.
The chaplain stood by silently as the flag was removed from the casket, carefully folded and presented to the two-star admiral that was seated in the center of the front row--a position traditionally reserved for family or next of kin, had there been any in attendance. The admiral, a tall, balding man of about fifty or so, accepted the flag from the Navy Lieutenant and nodded his solemn thanks. Recognizing his cue, the chaplain uttered a few more quiet words of blessing and condolence and then joined the mourners that were slowly rising and filing away.
From his vantage point at the edge of the canopy, Dr. Donald Mallard met each of their curious stares with his own cynical gaze as they filtered past him. He pushed away the brief surge of disdain that momentarily overcame him, and settled instead for pity--with a dash of anger. They were here out duty more than friendship. He would have bet his last week's paycheck that not a man of them had ever seen past the cool facade she had presented to the world. They had no idea what they had missed.
'Ask not for whom the bell tolls...' he thought acidly.
'...It tolls for thee.'
He was not entirely certain that she would have wanted them here. None of them had really known her. None of them had even made an attempt. Except, perhaps, for that petty officer--a delightful brown-haired girl who even now was hesitating beside the casket. None of them had particularly cared for her. That had been miserably apparent throughout the course of the investigation and the trial.
He had not witnessed it firsthand per se, but enough small tidbits had filtered through from Gibbs and Blackadder's interrogations, and people did discuss such things about the water cooler--even the one located just outside the morgue. The deceased had not been well liked by her colleagues. They had described her as cold, conniving and ruthless. She had no friends that anyone was aware of... No lovers... And yet, Mallard could not help thinking, someone must have loved her... at least a little bit... at least once. The small scrap of humanity that had been returned to her body and interred with her in the cold Virginia earth was proof of that. As he stood at the edge of the canopy, staring at the polished blue steel of the casket, Mallard could not help but think of the title he had bestowed upon the nameless woman in his morgue only a few short weeks ago.
He had dealt with frozen bodies before, and he fully expected that he would see more of them before he exited this illustrious if somewhat gruesome career. But he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would never confer those words upon another. There was a bitter irony in the fact that his description of her death too easily summed up her life in the eyes of those who had known her, and Dr. Ducky Mallard knew that he would always remember Lt. Loren Singer as his one--and only--Ice Queen.
A pleasant faced African-American man, bearing the rank of Commander, paused to speak softly to the young Petty Officer before moving away from the casket. Spying Mallard at the edge of the rapidly dissipating gathering, he studied him with a look of curiosity. The Commander hesitated only a moment, and then with a look of solemn determination, he crossed to the coroner and offered his hand.
"Commander Sturgis Turner," he said, offering Mallard a small sympathetic smile. "Were you a friend of Lt. Singer?"
Mallard considered the question for a moment. He thought of the hours they had spent together. All those long conversations, the quiet musings, the small observations, the little jokes--one-sided though they'd been. He had enjoyed his time with her. He had found her to be a truly fascinating woman--and that was before he'd even discovered the leopard tattoo.
"Of a sort," he said at last, studying Turner with careful interest. There was an open friendliness about the man; a sincere concern and solemnity that made Mallard wonder if Turner, like the young Petty Officer, might not have harbored the smallest kernel of true regret for the passing of one Loren Singer. He felt himself softening slightly towards the Naval officer.
"I became acquainted with her only recently," he confessed, "but I found her to be a delightful young woman."
There was a flash of surprise in Turner's dark brown eyes as if, Mallard thought, 'delightful' was not a description he would have associated with Loren Singer. To Turner's credit, however, it was quickly followed by a nod and a healthy dose of what appeared to be genuine regret.
"I'm afraid I didn't have the privilege of seeing that side of her," Turner confessed with a small smile. "Lieutenant Singer was not an easy person to get to know."
'That was certainly an understatement,' Mallard thought. It had taken him nearly a week just to confirm her identity. "She certainly was a challenging individual," he agreed.
Turner's smile broadened. "You can say that again. Lord knows she kept me on my toes on more than one case." He offered Mallard a curious look. "How did happen to meet the Lieutenant?"
Mallard was still trying to frame a tactfully vague answer when a harsh voice interrupted.
"In the morgue."
Mallard glanced up over Turner's shoulder and into the glowering countenance of the man he had last seen sitting in the defendant's chair only a week before. He returned Commander Harmon Rabb's cool gaze with his own unruffled smile.
"Actually, it was in the midst of a lovely grove of trees on the banks of the Potomac," Mallard corrected, hiding the sudden surge of dislike he felt behind a bland but pleasant tone.
Rabb's eyes narrowed upon him. "Do you always attend the funerals of your autopsy cases?" he asked, a hard edge of suspicion entering his voice.
"Only the special ones," Mallard admitted, flicking his gaze towards the casket that was slowly being lowered to the ground. From the moment he had seen her bedraggled but well preserved body cradled in the limbs of that tree and looked into that ghastly, faceless countenance with only the strands of long blonde hair and delicate cheekbones picked clean and white to attest to what must once have been beauty, he had known she was going to be one of 'the special ones.' He couldn't remember how many cases he had worked over the years. Certainly hundreds--possibly thousands, if one counted the cases of mass fatalities. He had seen so many dead bodies over the years that even he, with his almost perfect memory, could not remember them all. But this was different. Like the Hollywood movie actress in '83, that Peruvian dancer in '94, or that CIA station Chief in Hanoi in '72, Lieutenant Loren Singer was going to be one of the select few he would not forget.
"Is there a problem here, Commander?" The Admiral had reached them now, the folded flag tucked under his arm. He was flanked by a rather striking female Marine Lieutenant Colonel on one side and an elegant auburn-haired civilian woman on the other. Dark eyes shot a stern warning from beneath bushy black brows as he looked from Mallard to Rabb.
"No problem, sir," Rabb said easily. "I was just wondering what business an NCIS Coroner has with a closed case."
Mallard felt the weight of Chegwidden's dark gaze shift from Rabb to him, and somehow managed to maintain his inane smile. "Absolutely none," he said easily. "I just came to pay my respects."
"Why?" Rabb demanded. "You didn't know her."
"Harm," the Lieutenant Colonel cut in, laying her hand upon his arm, "this really isn't the place for this." There was a note of caution in her voice and her brown eyes warned him not to make a scene.
Rabb opened his mouth as if to protest and was immediately cut off by the Admiral's stern admonition.
"Stow it, Rabb," the Admiral barked. "Mac is right. This is neither the time nor the place. Besides, judging from your own experience, I would think you would have learned by now that it doesn't pay to tangle with the NCIS." He fixed his three Junior officers with a stern gaze. "I expect Tiner and Lieutenant Roberts will be wondering what's keeping us. They've arranged a luncheon at the Realto Grill."
It was a not-so-subtle dismissal, but it had the desired effect as Rabb ground out a slightly disgruntled, "Yes, sir," and allowed himself to be pulled away by MacKenzie and Turner. Chegwidden followed their progress for a few paces until assured that they were out of earshot. Then, he promptly rounded on Mallard.
"No offense, Dr. Mallard, but why, exactly, are you here?" he demanded, narrowing his gaze upon the coroner. "Last I heard, the case was closed and sewn up tight. Commander Lindsey goes to trial next month. Is there a problem that I am unaware of?"
"No, no problem," Mallard assured him. "As I said before, I simply came to pay my respects."
The Admiral, like Rabb, seemed unconvinced. "Not the usual mode of operation for a coroner."
Mallard sighed, knowing he was going to have to find some way to explain it. He realized, in retrospect, that he probably shouldn't have come. If he'd been smart, he'd have waited until later. But then he always had been a bit impetuous when it came to beautiful women.
"No, it's not," he agreed, and offered the man a small, bemused smile. "I'm not quite certain that I can explain it myself." He nodded to the casket. "I spent a great deal of time with her these past few weeks, trying to identify her, trying to find out how she died and how long she'd been dead, trying to prove who killed her..." 'Wondering if there was some man out there wanting to know what happened to her--and his child...'
Mallard shrugged and shook his head. "You don't spend that much time studying a person and not get to understand them a bit. She seemed to me to be a very strong and determined young woman--and a very lonely one." He pulled his gaze back from the casket to the Admiral and saw the truth of his words written in the man's eyes.
"I simply thought..."
"Thought what?" This from the auburn-haired woman who had now taken the admiral's arm.
Mallard smiled apologetically. "I simply thought she could use a friend."
The woman looked at him in surprise. "That's very sweet of you, Doctor, but quite unnecessary. Of course Lieutenant Singer had friends..." she said, and trailed off as she saw the look that crossed the Admiral's face.
"No," A.J. Chegwidden said slowly, a hint of sadness creeping into his voice, "She didn't." He raised his eyes to meet Mallard's. "Thank you for that, Doctor. I think she would have appreciated the thought."
Chegwidden took the flag from beneath his arm and looked at it uncertainly. "Lieutenant Singer didn't have any family, either. Her father died when she was in college and her mother passed away last year. She was an only child. She had no next of kin listed." He smoothed his hands across the rain dampened nylon fabric. "A fallen soldier's flag is a thing of honor, something to be treasured. We give it with the thanks of a grateful nation--but there's no one to give it to."
Mallard hesitated, he was unsure if he should offer a suggestion or not. To hell with it, he decided. Chegwidden was right. The flag should be given to someone who would appreciate it--and her.
"You know," he said carefully, "There is a program where servicemen's flags that are no longer wanted may be donated to the Boy Scouts or the Legion. They fly them over their headquarters and camp posts, and the serviceman's name is added to a memorial plaque. Lieutenant Singer was found by a local scout troop here in the DC area. Gunnery Sergeant Gibbs had them in yesterday for a tour of NCIS, and the Scoutmaster asked if we knew if there was some sort of memorial for her that they might contribute to. Perhaps they might have an appreciation for it."
The Admiral's face brightened at this. "Really? You know, that's a fine idea, Dr. Mallard." He glanced to Meredith for confirmation, and she nodded her approval.
"Would you be willing to arrange it for me?"
Mallard nodded. "Yes, of course," he replied. "I believe we have the Scoutmaster's name back at the office. I would be delighted to handle it."
Chegwidden nodded once more. "Then do it, Dr. Mallard," he said and solemnly placed the flag in the coroner's hands, "...With the thanks of a grateful nation."