Disclaimer - I don't own Harry Potter, NCIS, or Covert Affairs or Tom Clancy's works (only slight crossovers on the last two).

This chapter's storyline is based in real events, specifically the 2003 invasion of Iraq. While I did research as much as I could online, it is (obviously) not factually accurate. Just thought I should put that out there; don't want anyone thinking I'm Dan Brown, now do I?

For fans of Per Ardua Ad Astra, this event is basically the kind of thing Harry will eventually explain to Teyla when describing his previous career in the PAAA storyline, but should not be considered 'canon.' Unless I change my mind about that.

Wow. I now have my own 'canon.' This is getting Sirius … sorry, serious.

Apologies to fans of Per Ardua - I promise I'll get back to writing it now, I just had to work this out of my system.

For those folks who haven't read Per Ardua, Harry's special powers get more exposition here than in the previous chapter. I'll do my best to explain them without getting boring or interrupting the flow.

I also apologise for butchering the Arabic language, it really doesn't deserve the mutilation I gave it but transliteration into Latin phonetics (ie western letters) for Arabic and Hebrew is bloody hard.


Chapter 2: Desert Warfare

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

George Orwell

Tikrit, North-Central Iraq - 34°36′36″N / 43°40′48″E

April 11, 2003 - 2212 Zulu (GMT) / April 12, 2003 - 0112 Charlie (Local)

The scene was almost biblical.

Not in the sense of shock, awe, and wrath of God, although that was happening somewhere to the east, just over the horizon, as Western jets pounded defensive positions set up by the some still-intact units of the Iraqi Republican Guard. Those positions were much reduced now, after several weeks of heavy air attack, but they were holding for the moment.

No, this scene was rather more pastoral. Specifically, a shepherd boy - teenager, actually - watching over a herd of goats in the chilly desert night, under the vast, timeless constellations that turned the darkness of a new moon night into a half-lit moonscape of rock and sand, rendered in black and white in the absence of actual sunlight.

Yusuf drew his heavy woollen cloak tighter around himself in the lee of the dry-stone walls of the shepherd's shelter on the hillside. His father, a mid-level official in the Iraqi foreign ministry had sent his wife and sixteen year old son back to his tribal home of Tikrit, to live outside the city with a related Bedouin tribe to avoid the anticipated coalition air assault. Despite the exhortations of the ever-more insane-sounding Iraqi Information Minister, anyone with memories of the last time Western jets had ruled their skies knew exactly what kind of storm was coming - hell, anyone with a modicum of common sense could've worked it out.

Yusuf was a child of a more modern, mostly secular Iraq, and was not used to the harsh life of the desert tribes. However, while he personally thought that staying out all night watching over farm animals was just plain dumb - just fence them in! - he knew that if he lost any of them the chief, his great-uncle, would not go easy on him. So he fought to keep his eyes open, paying drowsy attention to the herd and mostly ignoring the destructive light-show to the east that had gotten old several hours before.

It was a quiet sound, at first. The faintest trace of something not quite normal that disturbed the utter stillness of the desert night. A strange, thudding sound, as if someone was hammering rapidly on something some distance away.

The sound grew louder. The goats were disturbed too, the sudden clanking of their bells accompanied by worried bleating.

With a thunderous roar, four black silhouettes exploded over the top of the ridge above him, causing Yusuf to duck reflexively and the goats to scatter in panic as they were battered by downdraft and swirling dust.

Raising his head, Yusuf watched the four shapes - two massive leviathans followed by two smaller ones - and debated whether or not to run to the encampment, at least seven or eight miles away, to tell someone about the obviously not-Iraqi helicopters.

He quickly decided not to - if he lost any of the goats, he'd probably be thrashed soundly … and, looking around, he realised he'd already lost all of them. With a sigh, he got up to start rounding them up again. With luck, he'd have found all the Allah-cursed animals by dawn, and no-one would know of his screw-up. The war wasn't his problem anyway.

Completely unaware of the havoc they had wreaked on one very irritated teenager's night, the four aircraft continued east-south-east towards the city of Tikrit, flying in a standard two-down, two-up formation.

Lower down, flying side-by-side were two MH-47E Chinook heavy-lift helicopters of the US Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, colloquially referred to as the 'Night Stalkers'. These two behemoth cargo carriers were escorted by two AH-64D Apache gunships on loan from the 1st Cavalry Division's Aviation Brigade, flying above and behind the massive tandem-rotor helos to avoid their enormous roiling downdraft, their Longbow radars and thermal vision systems probing the rolling ridges and wadis of the Iraqi desert for any unwelcome visitors.

The troops inside the Chinooks were not, however, American. The sixteen men of Mobility Troop, Sabre Squadron Delta of Her Majesty's 22nd Special Air Service Regiment sat quietly in the four Land Rover 110 DPV Desert Patrol Vehicles, two to each aircraft, keenly aware that the long flight was coming to an end. To avoid contact with remaining Iraqi forces, the Chinooks had looped almost a hundred miles to the west of the known enemy locations to deliver their payload behind enemy lines; soon, it would be their part of the show.

Flight Lieutenant Harry 'Storm' Potter was even more aware of that fact than most of his men. Tonight's mission was a shoot-from-the-hip immediate action plan that he'd had almost no time whatsoever to plan. A communications intercept decrypted by the STORM TRACK listening station on the Kuwaiti border strongly suggested that a high-level meeting between several key members of Saddam Hussein's regime, probably the last before they went into hiding. It was taking place at a villa on the banks of the Tigris River - designated Objective DRAGON - belonging to Wataban Ibrahim al-Tikriti, a former interior minister under Saddam Hussein. According to a further intelligence brief Harry had been given before taking off, the CIA was giving credence to rumours that Saddam himself might be in attendance, grading it triple-A quality intel.

Harry had fixed the briefing officer with a very pointed stare at that point. He was extremely leery of trusting CIA intel right now, as he and his troop had spent the previous three weeks running around checking out several dozen sites that 'Triple-A grade' CIA intelligence had labelled as WMD storage and research houses.

They had all been completely empty. Not some, not most. Every. Single. One. In several cases, the buildings had been abandoned for at least a decade according to the locals. Top work there from Langley, thoroughly earning their current nickname of Certified Idiots of America. Harry wasn't sure who had come up with that particular one, but it fit 'the Agency' rather well at the moment.

Global Hawk recon drones had already been in the process of scouting Tikrit in preparation for a major offensive by Task Force Tripoli, a USMC mechanised regiment that was forming up for a northward push somewhere down near Baghdad. The drones had revealed that Iraqi military presence in the city itself was minimal, having been drawn off south to set up defences, which meant there was a clear shot through the city from the north-west to the manor house.

Objective: recon, then smash-and-grab for the HVI's. If the villa had too many guards for his troop, avoid contact and designate for a precision air strike before falling back back into the desert for extraction via helo.

Harry's battered and cynical second in command, Colour Sergeant Sprayson had taken one look at the mission brief and immediately interpreted the 'smash-and-grab' order as the CIA's not-very-subtle way of screaming 'We need evidence on WMDs NOW, GOD-DAMMIT! Before Congress or CNN find out we screwed up!'. Harry agreed with the experienced SNCO's viewpoint; they'd seen several other increasingly desperate attempts from 'the Company' to find evidence to support their crap intel already.

Harry let none of this apprehension show. He was an experienced SF officer now, and displaying worry would mean it spread to his men, regardless of their professionalism: if the boss starts cracking from the pressure, the rest of the unit suffers for it. From the occasional missions when he'd operated in a team and not off on his own, his reputation as a competent commander was well established in Hereford, so he had that going for him at least.

With a sudden jerk, the Chinooks set down five miles from the outskirts of Tikrit, out of audible range and hidden behind a low ridge. The loadmaster flipped out the vehicle 'planks' on the tail ramp and the four modified Wolf Land Rovers modified for desert operations surged down them before pulling away to assemble away from the dust cloud.

The Chinooks lifted off to go and tank up from an air-to-air refuelling aircraft somewhere a long way out over the desert, followed by the Apaches. Their fuel requirements would force them to fall back, to be replaced by another pair that would meet up with and escort the Chinooks back in for their extraction in, hopefully, about three hours. The sun rose early in these parts.

"What a lovely place, boss. I think I'll take my next leave here."

Harry rolled his eyes as he pressed the transmit button on the troop radio net - not that anyone could see, in the darkness and behind the night-vision goggles attached to his helmet. "Your funeral, Colour Sprayson. This is Mike One Zero to all vehicles, sound off and give vehicle status, over."

"Mike One One here. Vehicle good."

"Mike One Two, all working"

"Mike One Three, present, same here."

"Good. One Zero to all vehicles, proceed in file to Checkpoint Alpha. Make ready on the heavy weapons, permission to engage if contacted but not before. Call out any possible contacts as we move so we can evade. I want this fast and quiet, people. Zero out."

Above and behind Harry the gunner, Corporal Hamilton, racked the charging handle on the M2 Heavy Machine Gun mounted on the Land Rover's roll bars. The HMG made a satisfying cha-CHUNK that was simultaneously comforting and intimidating as hell.

Harry switched channels as the driver - Sergeant Beeler - shifted into gear and pulled out, headlights off and using night vision only, for obvious reasons.

"Hello Eagle One, Eagle One, this is Mike One Zero, Mike One Zero, come in, over."

A few seconds later, the crackly response of a Boeing E-3 Sentry's communications operator came in, orbiting somewhere south of Baghdad and functioning as a relay to the J-SOC main HQ all the way back in Saudi Arabia.

"Mike One Zero, Eagle One. Authenticate, over."

"Eagle One, One Zero. Authentication Zero-Alpha-Zulu-Two-Three-Tango, over."

"One Zero, Eagle. Authentication confirmed, send traffic, over."

"Eagle, One Zero. Relay for King Cobra. Mike One is on the ground and moving to the objective, ETA one hour. No enemy contact at this time. Going EMCON until Checkpoint Alpha, but will break EMCON if under contact. How copy, over?"

King Cobra was the frankly rather ludicrous Hollywood-esque callsign of the Joint Coalition Special Forces Headquarters - unsurprisingly, it was an American-chosen callsign. British doctrine favoured bland, rotating phonetics-based designations to hamper enemy eavesdropping attempts, whereas Americans apparently just liked sounding cool.

Well, Harry could sympathise with that. He wouldn't give up his unit nickname, 'Storm', for anything. It might have been Roach, or Soap, like some of the new guys. Shudder.

"One Zero, Eagle, solid copy on relay for King Cobra, good hunting and any further traffic, over?"

"Negative Eagle. Mike One Zero out."

Harry replaced the handset and cocked the General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) in front of his seat, while activating his 'powers'.

His left eye was hidden behind the rubber eye ring of the monocular night vision headset, but his right was visible. If it hadn't been night-time, an observer would have seen his eyes turned an opaque, obsidian black.

Harry 'connected' with the air molecules around him instantly, and 'pushed' out his awareness in all directions as they drove. His ability gave him control over several aspects of the atmosphere - at first, it had been the ability to create storms and lightning through manipulation of the temperature and electromagnetic polarity of the air molecules - basically, the way storms and lightning were created naturally anyway.

However, after about a year or so - while still at Duke of York's military school, the institution he went to after being expelled from Hogwarts for no longer having magic - he started noticing he could control the wind directly, as in stopping and starting it whenever he wanted. With meditation, which Hetty taught to him, and much patient experimentation, he eventually figured out he could directly influence the molecules physically - nitrogen (N2), oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2), to be exact.

In combat, he could use quick thrusts of air molecules to knock people off balance but not much more - they were too light to do any real damage. And because water was a molecule made up hydrogen and oxygen (H2O) he could sense it, but it was too dense to influence with EM or thermal alterations, let alone manipulating it physically.

Due to this close connection to the actual air molecules, he could also 'see' voids or outlines of objects where there were none, allowing him to map the area around him with more or less complete accuracy in real time for about two miles, although he couldn't focus on all of it at once.

It had taken a lot of training to be able to multitask the 'scanning' and soldiering or indeed any other task at the same time, but he'd cracked it shortly after finishing SAS selection, which he'd completed without using those powers, just to prove he could (mostly to prove to himself he was capable of doing this soldiering lark and wouldn't get all his men killed through sheer incompetence.)

There was nothing but rocks, dry riverbeds and occasional small mammals in the two-mile radius. Excellent.

Twenty minutes later, the jeeps pulled up in a sandy wadi bed - Checkpoint Alpha. They were about half a mile from the city limits, clearly defined by a major road that ran along the west edge of the urban area.

They'd already crossed Iraqi Route One - the main north-south highway - two miles back. Civvie traffic had been non-existent, thanks to the USAF's never-ending enthusiasm for hammering road infrastructure - major junctions, roundabouts, etc - with ground-penetrating ordnance to mess up the road surface and disrupt transport.

They'd had to wait a few minutes for the headlights of a north-bound military convoy to disappear, but it appeared as if all civilian refugee traffic had ceased. Harry called in the location, direction and speed of the convoy just in case some hotshot American ground-attack pilot had the spare ordnance to make some pretty explosions.

Anyone with sense would have left by now. It's only a matter of days until Coalition forces arrive.

Harry and the Colour Sergeant both jumped out to have a peek over the wadi's edge. They were at the top of a long, gentle slope from this angle. The wadi itself cut away south shortly ahead, which was why they had located this exit point on satellite earlier.

There was only some sort of industrial facility on this side of the main road. Lights were out, with no movement.

Then the main road. Some traffic, but nothing military as far as Harry could see. All heading north. The streetlights were out across town, as well. Also, thanks to the USAF's predilection for breaking other peoples' infrastructure.

The run from here was a straight shot. Down the hill, across the highway and then a two kilometre road to the target by the river.

"See anything unwelcome, Colour?" Harry asked, as they both scanned the terrain in front with high powered night vision scopes.

"Actually, boss, it's ain't so much as anything unwelcome, as a lack of anything unwelcome, if you get my meaning."

"Intel did say they pulled most everything to the South."

"Oh, I know that, sir. But at the target itself, I mean. There's no vehicles, boss. Nothing obvious, anyway."

"Huh." Harry refocused on the three-story manor house. No lights on inside or around it, but that was a basic precaution during air attacks, with which Iraqis had a lot of recent experience. No vehicles in front. No men on the gate.

"Oh joy. Intel fucked up again?"

"Maybe. Or the tangos are just being smart, sir."

"True. We haven't seem much of that from them, though."

"No sir, but there's always a first time."

"We assault as planned." Harry decided. "Two Rovers in through the front, two round the back to cut off escape."

"Mega, boss. Let's get on with this and go home." There was a crackle of gunfire in the city, some distance away to the north of the objective, from the tracers going straight up.

"Someone's a bit trigger happy."

"Just hope they don't spot us, sir."

The Iraqi refugees fleeing the fighting up the Tariq-Tikrit road were already pretty worried, especially since the main highway was already out. The view they received now did nothing to alleviate that.

One by one, four vehicles roared out of the darkness of the desert to the West. Each was a four-by-four blocky, wide oblong military jeep, with four seats.

Perhaps a little history is in order.

The SAS is made up of three regiments - one active (22 SAS), and two reserve (21 and 23 SAS). 22 SAS has four operational Sabre Squadrons - A, B, D, and G. Each Squadron is about sixty-four men strong, made up of four sixteen man troops, each with their own specialty - Air (HALO and HAHO parachutists), Mountain (Arctic and alpine warfare), Boat (maritime and scuba) and Mobility (desert and vehicle warfare).

The Mobility Troop could be said to be the true roots of the SAS, despite their name, the Special 'Air' Service.

When the Regiment was conceived by Colonel (then Lieutenant) David Stirling, he envisioned a force of parachutists who would drop in near Nazi airfields and supply routes in North Africa, conduct reconnaissance and sabotage missions then be picked up for extraction by vehicle.

However, on their first mission, most of the sixty-man force broke various bones on the rocky, boulder-strewn deserts of Libya. The rest of the mission was a disaster too, with over thirty percent casualties.

Clearly, parachuting was out. For a while, it looked like the SAS might become one of those 'awesome-but-impractical' wartime ideas that would be consigned to the shelves of military history archives.

But Stirling was a creative soul. He instead reached out to the unit that was supposed to extract the SAS by vehicle - the Long Range Desert Group. Pre-war, the LRDG had been a bunch of eccentric British Imperial expat explorer types who had found a hobby in exploring the Egyptian desert by vehicle. In the process, they adapted and perfected a number of - originally - maritime navigation techniques that proved perfect for determining their position in the landmark-less dune seas and rocky plateaus of the Sahara.

Thus the SAS got a second chance. The LRDG would provide infil and exfil by vehicle - the original 'Pinkies,' actually Chevrolet trucks rather than Land Rovers - and Stirling's already-trained saboteurs would provide the muscle. It worked - and worked damned well. 60 enemy aircraft were destroyed at three airfields on just their first mission together.

However, due to the fact the LDRG was primarily used for the all-important reconnaissance of the German supply route from Tripoli, and 8th Army command was not terribly keen on losing that precious source of information, the SAS were issued their own vehicles in 1942 - Land Rovers, this time - and were told to do it themselves. Not content with just using the vehicles for transport, the SAS attached twin Vickers machine guns to the overhead roll bar for fire support. Then another one, on the back. Then another one on the front passenger side, for the commander. Sometimes yet another one, for the driver to use one-handed.

Hence, the long-lasting idea of the desert gun-truck was born. The SAS no longer parked the jeeps near the target and sneaked in at night to plant bombs, because the Germans had stepped up security; now, they brazenly rammed through the perimeter fence in broad daylight and drove down the line of landed aircraft, shooting them up with as many weapons as they could lay their hands on, throwing grenades, satchel charges and - probably - inventive insults.

Just kidding. Or probably not, actually, given that the SAS was mostly composed of the roughest, toughest sons of bitches Stirling could round up. Case in point, his second in command, a hulking 6"2' former Irish rugby international by the name of Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne, who was in the stockade for striking his then commanding officer and chasing him out of the Officer's Mess waving a bayonet in a drunken rampage. More on him later.

Regardless of their sense of humour under fire, they were very successful. Hard numbers are difficult to find, but most historians credit the Regiment with slightly under 400 individual planes destroyed on the ground in the Africa theatre, including one not-actually-apocryphal incident where Paddy Mayne ran out of ammo and explosives and decided to disable a plane by ripping the instrument panel out.

With his bare hands.

While Mayne was rather famous for his ... um ... anger management issues that is certainly not all he was. After Stirling's capture in January 1943, Mayne took command of the whole SAS and was promoted to Lt. Colonel himself a year later, and led the Regiment with flair and distinction throughout the rest of the war, being awarded the Distinguished Service Order a total of four times - an award only one level down from the Victoria Cross for gallantry under fire - and was one of only seven soldiers to achieve that frankly insane number of DSOs. Subordinates described his personal combat prowess as 'magic,' and his leadership skills as 'soldierly genius.' Bruiser he may have been, but he was one of the most highly decorated officers in the British Army for a reason.


That red herring dealt with, back to the story.

The LR-110 Desert Patrol Vehicles that Harry's troop drove were the direct descendants of the Land Rovers driven by the LRDG - just with bigger guns. All of them carried GPMG's mounted in front of the commander in the left-front seat (as a British vehicle, it was of course right hand drive - only true barbarians drive on the right-hand side of the road), and the fourth man sat facing the back with his personal weapon. In the DPV's turret ring, however, were mounted the true heavy hitters that converted the sixteen-man infantry troop into a veritable hurricane of heavy firepower. Two vehicles had .50 HMGs, another a 40 mm Grenade Machine Gun and the last a MILAN missile launcher.

Woe betide anyone who got in their way.

Fishtailing slightly as the tires protested the sudden high-speed change from sand to tarmac, the four DPVs sped across the motorway and into the city proper. The soldiers riding them must have appeared almost alien in the headlights of the surprised Iraqi drivers - bulky armour and helmets in tan-white desert camo, with 'horns' of night vision sets flipped up, goggles and black balaclavas covering their faces.

Once across the road, they pulled their NVGs down again. The headlights of the civvie traffic would have blinded them otherwise.

"Mike One Zero to all drivers, gun it lads, we don't have all night."

The drivers reciprocated gleefully, hurtling down the deserted road towards the house.

"Eagle One, Mike One Zero. Passed the line of departure, two minutes to objective. Out."

Two minutes, ten seconds later, the target compound's gate - fortunately not a properly reinforced one - caved under the impact of two tons of Birmingham's finest automotive engineering.

The house had a long oval drive that split at the gate and ended at the house. Two DPVs went down each, just in case of return fire … of which there was none yet.

"Boss!" Hamilton yelled. It was obvious what he meant.

Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.

Two guards rushed out the front door, holding AK-47s. They weren't in uniform, so probably not military, just thugs playing at bodyguard. They hesitated, just for a moment, apparently unsure of which pair of Landies to fire at.

Too long.

"Weapons free!"

Hamilton's HMG immediately hammered out two five round bursts of half-inch lead. The guards jerked in a macabre dance of death as the high-velocity rounds tore them apart.

Two DPVs pulled up at the front door - Harry's one with an M2, and Mike One One with the MILAN while the others sped around the back. The operators remained in the turrets, covering the gate in case any Iraqi quick-reaction forces showed up to crash their private party.

Harry jumped out and sprinted up the steps, joined by five other troopers at the still-open double doors. There were some sounds, faint panicked shouting and boots on stone floors coming from inside. They stacked up, three to each side.

"Flash and clear."

Two and half seconds later, the flashbang detonated inside with a thunderous roar.

Harry was the second man in on the left. Sergeant Beeler in front double-tapped a stumbling, blinded armed man straight in front of him then turned left, covering his sector. Harry was a pace behind him, covering straight in front. His power was still 'on', tracking movement in the house. Four on the ground floor, that the other team would deal with. One upstairs.

Movement. Top of the stairs.

The infrared aiming laser of Harry's M16A4 - brand new, 'borrowed' from a friendly USMC armorer - rose to cover the railing, glowing bright green in the night vision system.

A man rushed out of a room and up to the banister.

Harry fired, a three-round burst sending the target flying back.

A second flashbang announced the entry of the other team at the rear of the building.

"Clear left!"

"Clear right!"

"Clear centre!" Harry announced. "Room clear. Ryder, Archer, Sprayson, upstairs. Hamilton, Beeler, with me downstairs."

'On it." Colour Sprayson headed up the stairs with the other two in tow.

It took fifteen minutes to clear the rest of the house. His men reported in via radio as he walked back into the lobby: six targets down, including two more the backdoor team had killed, and two HVIs captured.

"Anyone interesting?" Harry asked as the second team dragged two already zip-tied and black-hooded prisoners in.

"Aye. This one's the Ace of Diamonds, and the other's the Five of Spades, boss."

Harry whistled. "Well, it's a good night for us in Vegas."

In the most-wanted Iraqi playing card deck they'd been issued a month or so ago, the Ace of Diamonds was Lieutenant General Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, the fourth most wanted on the list after Saddam and his two sons. Mahmud had been the dictator's bodyguard, later personal secretary and head of the Special Security Organisation, a secret police outfit. He had been Hussein's right-hand man, from his home tribe, and one of his most trusted subordinates - a big fish.

The other, the Five of Spades, was the owner of the house: Wataban Ibahim al-Tikriti. He had been interior minister until 1995, when he'd been repeatedly shot in the leg and stomach by Saddam's son Uday Hussein in an argument, and retired after his leg was amputated in surgery. He was a smaller fish, but a target nonetheless.

"Caught them heading towards the back door. There's a civvie helo out there on the lawn. Pilot was one of the ones with them."

"Escape via helicopter? That's pretty suicidal with the Americans holding air superiority." Harry looked up. "Anything else?"

"Yeah boss." Sprayson handed him a stack of files, a few inches thick. "Found 'em in an office upstairs. "You might find the top one amusing."

Harry raised an eyebrow and flipped open the top folder. He read for a few seconds, then started laughing.

"What?" Hamilton asked.

"It's a memo, in Arabic, detailing the many reasons why Iraq should not pursue weapons of mass destruction. Including the likely risk of invasion by the United States of America." Harry shook his head as he folded it shut. "The irony is painful, considering nobody's found a single trace of WMD's, but it's not our problem. Get these two stashed securely in the jeeps out back then bring them round to the front again. I'll call it in."

The Land Rovers didn't have much room what with all the extra weapons mounts, but they hadn't been loaded down with desert supplies this time for such a short term mission, so there was some empty space either side and behind the rear gunner's seat, to which the prisoner's wrists would be handcuffed to prevent them causing trouble or escaping. It was going to be a bumping, bruising ride for them, but they'd survive.

Harry and the men from the front ran back out to their vehicles.

"Eagle One, Mike One Zero, relay for King Cobra. Direct patch, priority message, over."

"Copy Mike One Zero, patching you through." There were a few seconds of static, then a few more of random beeping tones, like a dial-up modem as the radio's crypto software synchronised with Coalition Joint Special Forces Command.

"Mike One Zero, King Cobra. Eagle says you have traffic, send message, over."

"King Cobra, Mike One Zero. Sit-rep. Objective DRAGON secured. Six times enemy KIA, two times hotel-victor-india captured. Say again, two times hotel-victor-india captured. Identities are King of Diamonds and Five of Spades, over."

There was a couple of seconds of apparently stunned silence. "Good hunting, Mike One Zero." Harry was fairly certain he could hear cheering in the ops centre behind the radio operator, which he sympathised with. The Spec-Ops portion of the invasion had mostly consisted of failure after failure due to bad information on WMD locations; they could use some good news. "Don't suppose there's any sign of the Ace of Spades as the intel suggested, over?"

"Negative on Ace of Spades, King Cobra. Advise ground forces secure objective to do a more detailed check for intel. We've already found some good stuff just during the assault, over."

'Copy that, One Zero. Will relay that to Task Force Tripoli. Wait one for further orders."

Further orders? What the hell, we just finished the mission.

Hmmm … the gunfire earlier. Someone else's team getting shot up?"

"Mike One Zero, this is King Cobra Actual."

Holy shit, the big cheese.

Actual was an American three-star named Major General Doug Brown, the deputy commander of SOCOM and field commander of the Joint Special Forces Headquarters, coordinating the actions of the various multi-national SF groups spread all across Iraq during the invasion phase.

"Priority mission tasking, approved by CENTCOM. Tel Aviv is requesting - politely - that we extract some of their operatives from Tikrit. They have come under contact and have a man down, with hostile forces believed to be closing in. Since you're in the area, I want you to get to them first, over."

Well shit, that's a first. The Israelis NEVER ask for help.

Wait, the gunfire earlier was only, what, about half an hour ago? Wow. The bureaucracy's moved fast on this one.

"Corporal, any movement out there?"

"Yes sir, got a convoy that just came into sight on the road, heading north. Two kays away, fifteen miles an hour. A technical, two ... No, four three-tonner trucks, one armoured unit at the back, can't make out the type, might be a BTR, or BMP."

Harry pressed transmit. "We have positive on enemy movement, heading north into town. Send mission, over."

"Two friendlies located at grid three-two-five-five-eight-two-one-niner. Tel Aviv says they've bunkered down in a building with bare cinderblock walls, with a big green sign above the front window. Challenge will be Charlie-Charlie, response is Oscar-Oscar. Get there double-time, One Zero. Readback on orders, over."

"Copy grid three-two-five-five-eight-two-one-niner, cinderblock building with green sign, challenge Charlie-Charlie, response Oscar-Oscar. One Zero is Oscar-Mike, out."

Harry grabbed the map, quickly found and circled the Israeli's building, handing it to Beeler with a shouted "Get us here ASAP," above the roar of the V8s as the second team pulled around in front of the house. Beeler pulled out in front, as Harry pressed on the team radio's transmit button.

"Happy days, lads, the brass just gave us a new snap mission." He ignored the groans. "We're to extract a couple of Israeli operatives from a building just over half a klick north of here. Enemy forces are moving in on them. Follow my tail, weapons hot, let's make this quick; I want to get out of here before those Iraqi forces show up."

Ziva David, late of the IDF and very recently of Mossad swore creatively under her breath as she crouched by the window of her and her partner's impromptu safehouse, and kept an eye - and her gun - on the unfortunate civilian occupants of the shop above which they'd hidden. This was not what she'd had in mind for her first mission.

They'd been tasked with assassinating a mid-level Iraqi internal security operative here in Tikrit who had been an Mossad asset, or at least they'd thought he had been. He'd been a double agent, and had betrayed his handler to Iraqi intelligence; the handler had been captured, and later tortured and killed, and the tape sent to Mossad HQ. At first, Tel Aviv assumed it was just bad luck - shit happens, as they say, especially in a business as dangerous as covert espionage - but when intel surfaced that the 'asset' in question had been a plant all along, then it became a matter of professional honour.

No one screws with Mossad. Ever. Especially not a bunch two-bit amateurs who fondly referred to themselves as Iraqi Intelligence. That was just embarrassing.

While not ideal from a timing perspective, the chaos of the invasion would have made it unlikely the hit would be traced back to Mossad. Random looters or even a simple stray round would be more likely explanations in these conditions. Once the target was down, they'd sit tight and wait for coalition troops to pass by their position before getting out of town using pre-arranged covers as war reporters.

It hadn't gone down like that. While scouting the target's house, a two man patrol of Iraqi soldiers had spotted them climbing a wall and had opened fire, assuming they were looters. Ziva and her partner, Eyal Lavin, had returned fire but he'd been hit in the leg, the heavy rifle round nicking an artery or something from the sheer amount of blood. If he didn't get proper medical help soon, Eyal would bleed out.

She'd dragged him back to this building and secured a makeshift tourniquet and bandage before calling Tel Aviv on a secure satellite phone and reporting in. Mossad HQ had told her to stay put, that they were going to try something a little off the wall.

Unbeknownst to Ziva, her father had called a friend and contact in the American intelligence community; specifically, Doug Brown, and damn near begged for help. Brown, surprised that a legendarily stubborn bastard like Eli David would beg for anything at all, cleared it with his superior, CENTCOM's commander General Franks, and checked to see who was in the area; re-tasked a nearby SAS patrol, then informed Tel Aviv.

All Ziva knew was that their handler had told her that extraction was a few minutes away, and the challenge response.

The result, from Ziva's point of view?

Deliverance. In the form of four heavily armed open top Land Rovers, engines purring loudly in the quiet night, slowing to a halt outside the shop.

Then, in a British accent, "Charlie Charlie!"

With great relief, Ziva answered. "Oscar Oscar! Up here!"

The English guy continued, "Okay, I'm coming up."

A clattering of booted footsteps announced his arrival on the second floor. The door swung open, admitting a six foot soldier in bulky armour and helmet, the desert uniform outlining him in the dark room like a ghost. A very well-armed one.

"Higher said you had a casualty. How bad is he?"

"Bad." Ziva replied, getting up from the window. "He's hit in the leg, I had to put a tourniquet on." For some reason, the guy seemed familiar but she couldn't place where ...

"Beeler, Archer! T-One casualty, catastrophic bleed, right thigh. Room at the top of the stairs."

From outside, a muffled, "Coming boss!"

The SAS commander flicked a flashlight over the room, settling on the cowering civilians, a husband, wife and two kids, in the back corner. "Oh hell. Wn'hun luun y'edyke, t'kun had'eha."

Arabic. 'We're not going to hurt you, be calm.' Impressively fluent too, with a ... Jordanian accent maybe?

The father still looked scared, but nodded.

Two more men burst in. One went straight to Eyal, the other started unfolding a stretcher. The first man, the commander she assumed, also joined the medic, to give him light to work with. The outburst that followed was unexpected, to say the least.

"Eyal! Son of a … wake up! Eyal!."

Wait, he knows Eyal?

Groaning, Lavin opened his eyes, drowsy from the morphine she'd given him. "Harry? What the hell are you doing here?"

"Pulling your ass out of the fire, man. I thought you were with Sayeret Matkal?"

"How about that?" Even drugged to the gills on morphine, Eyal wasn't going to give anything away, even to an apparent friend.

"Fair enough. Sergeant, how long?"

The medic finished wrapping another bandage around Eyal's thigh, and checked the tourniquet. "Seems fine. We need to get him to the chopper ASAP, sir, before he loses his leg to the tourniquet."

"Got it. Get him on the stretcher, then into the back of Sprayson's vehicle. You, miss …?"


The flashlight spun to her face, blinding her for a moment. "Ziva David? I knew I knew that voice!"

Wait, what the hell? The only member of the SAS I've ever met was that guy in Eilat ...

Oh. Eyal called him Harry, so ...

"Pilot Officer Potter, I presume?"

"Flight Lieutenant now, Miss David. Jesus, it's like old home week around here."

"You know both of them, boss?"

"Yeah. Talk about coincidences." Potter was interrupted by his radio, to which he listened for a few seconds.

"Move it lads, Colour Sprayson says he can see enemy infantry a few hundred metres back the way we came, but they haven't seen us yet. Ziva, you'll ride with me. Beeler, stay with the casualty when you've got him loaded."

"Yes sir. Archer, ready?"

"Yep, on three. One, two, three!" They hefted the stretcher and manoeuvred it down the stairs, with Ziva and her newly re-acquainted saviour following, after telling the Iraqis not to call the authorities, and apologising to them for the blood.

Of all the strange coincidences …

Harry shook his head as he slid into the driver's seat of One Zero. Very few things in the intelligence community were random events, but sometimes it was just too ludicrously improbable for anything else.

Meeting up with Ziva and Eyal - with whom he'd exchanged some emails since their joint training exercise - in the middle of war-torn Iraq? Not even Mossad could have come up with a plan so convoluted it required one of their agents to be shot just so they could be rescued by a foreign spec ops team that might never have been sent in at all.

Still, it might become irritating. Not Ziva's fault of course, but British intelligence had blocked several increasingly Machiavellian attempts by Mossad's deputy director to find and get his hands on Harry's unredacted file in the last few months. It seemed he was an item of some interest to Ziva's father, an unknown quantity, a wildcard who might change the game.

And if there is anything spymasters dislike, it is an unknown element in their future schemes.

Harry had a feeling this little rescue op - the second time Harry'd saved his daughter - would heighten that curiosity.

Even as he was putting the DPV into gear and moving out, Harry reached across to Ziva's side of the vehicle and retrieved the radio handset. Ziva herself was already manning the GPMG in a very professional manner without needing to be told how. No longer the shaken-up partly-trained girl like she was Eilat, it seemed.

"King Cobra, Mike One Zero. Message, over."

"Mike One Zero, King Cobra Actual. Send traffic."

Jesus, the three-star's still on the line? He must be very interested in this rescue op.

"Secondary mission complete, friendlies retrieved, one wounded. Extracting to LZ Alpha now, ETA one hour, over."

"Copy that, Mike One Zero. Stalker One One and One Two will be at LZ Alpha in seven zero minutes, repeat seven zero minutes."

"Copy extraction in seven zero minutes. Mike One Zero out."

Harry clipped the handset on his side, nearer to hand. "So, following in the family business, Ziva?"

"Yes," was her clipped answer. "How do you know Eyal?"

"Joint training mission with Sayeret Matkal, last year," Harry answered easily as he drove one handed around a car abandoned in the street. "Just before that incident in Eilat."

Ziva closed her eyes for a moment. The pain, grief and raw anger of Talia's death still remained, barely decreased. She'd channelled it into her Mossad training, which combined with the 'training' her father had given her in her childhood had accelerated her through the basic programme.

"I'm sorry about your sister, Ziva." The British officer said, in a quiet tone that barely carried over the engine noise. "I didn't really say it properly that night."

Ziva looked over at him, evaluating him properly. She'd been first embarrassed, then panicked, then grieving the last time they'd met. She'd admit the memory of him protecting her, with his own body no less, and gunning down those mamzers who tried to kidnap her had risen to the surface a few times during training, mostly when she was being introspective - weak, her father would call it - wondering if joining Mossad had been the right thing, if she'd done it for the right reasons.

She'd applied even before that bloody night in Eilat, but Talia's death had twisted her thoughts more than she'd thought. Whereas before she'd thought of joining Mossad in terms of serving her country, Ziva had come to realise she now saw it as a means of revenge, which was decidedly not conducive for a long career, or other important things, like continued breathing. She was still working through that rough patch when this mission came up; her first, with Eyal along as her training officer and partner.

She'd often wondered why Harry'd bothered to protect her that night. Sure, he was in the firing line too, but he'd gone well out of his way to save her, even using his own body to shield her in the street, and again behind the hotel desk. He'd had no reason to sacrifice his life for hers - hell, he hadn't even known her name for most of it, and she'd had a gun to his head! She was of course thankful, but that unthinkingly altruistic attitude had intrigued her, made her wonder if she could ever act so selflessly.

Looking at him now, it was clear he was a soldier to the core. He was in his natural element, comfortable in the directed chaos of warfare, secure in the knowledge that he knew how to manage the chaos, how to steer his team through the dangers as best he could and accomplish the mission. In fact, it was so obvious she wondered how on earth she hadn't seen him for what he was when she first caught sight of him in that club.

Ziva kicked herself back into gear. This was getting uncomfortably close to … something she didn't want to think about. She turned back to the machine gun.

A few seconds later they pulled out of the side streets and across the main road west of Tikrit, and all hell broke loose.

Harry cursed his stupidity as they pulled out onto the road … and not twenty metres away to the left was the lead vehicle of that slow-moving Iraqi convoy Hamilton had spotted earlier. He should have stopped short and checked the route was clear, dammit. Too late now.


Hamilton, apparently prescient, already had his HMG swung in the right direction. He immediately squeezed the double-thumb butterfly trigger of the M2, the heavy calibre rounds pulverising the engine and cab of the pickup-truck technical in the lead, with a Russian-made PKM light machine gun mounted on its roof. The enemy gunner didn't stand a chance, as the armour-piercing-incendiary-high-explosive (HEIAP) bullets punched straight through the thin metal of the unarmoured vehicle and turned the driver, the gunner and the four men crouching in the cargo bed into so much mincemeat, before moving onto the next truck.

Ziva joined in a half-second later, the 7.62mm GPMG spitting tracers into the driver's compartment of the second vehicle, a canvas-sided three-ton military truck. Harry was very aware of her vulnerability right now - she was completely unprotected, as the SAS-modded Land Rovers had no doors, and little armour. She didn't even have personal body armour like he and his men did.

Staying professional, he issued orders into the radio net in a calm voice as he accelerated straight across the dual carriageway. There are very few things more panic-inducing to a military unit than a superior officer losing his cool on the radio, even for truly elite soldiers like the SAS.

"All vehicles, breakaway, breakaway! Suppress the enemy, maximum rate fire and Stay. On. My. Six."

Hamilton continued to rake the remainder of the convoy with HMG fire, but Ziva's dashboard-mounted GPMG now couldn't traverse around far enough as they had crossed the road and were heading back out into the desert.

The Iraqi's seemed to be recovering, as infantry dismounted from the trucks and spread out to either side of the road.

Their cohesion lasted only momentarily, however, as first Mike One Two, with another HMG, then Mike One Three, with the automatic grenade launcher, sped out of the side street behind the MILAN-equipped Mike One One, which, armed with anti-tank missiles, wasn't equipped for firing on infantry. The second HMG immediately started chewing up the sand and tarmac around the dispersing soldiers, while the rapid-fire 40mm grenades marched small explosions up and down the convoy.

Needless to say, the not-very-well-trained and badly-led Iraqi conscripts panicked.

Harry debated for a moment whether or not to bring in some lightning - he'd been keeping the local environment suitably primed for it with his powers, keeping the clouds mostly negatively-charged and air near ground level positive-charged. At a moment's notice, he could ramp up the polarity of both at precise locations, which would result in an immediate lightning discharge between the cloud and whatever target he aimed it at on the ground.

He decided against it immediately. Not only was it probably unnecessary, but with no storm to explain it as anything other than as a completely freakishly convenient occurrence, Ziva, and by extension her father might start wondering if it had something to do with why his personnel file in London was so protected.

Which would defeat the whole point of keeping it secret.

The four Land Rovers sped off as fast as the the terrain would allow. It was rocky, but within the tolerances of the suspension and ground clearance, which made for a fast but rather bouncy ride.

Two hundred metres into the desert, a tracer from a BIG gun zipped past overhead.

"Shit! BMP REAR! At the back of the convoy!"

"Engage with MILAN." Harry ordered. "All vehicles split up, all heavy weapons focus on the BTR to throw his aim off."

Thank god for shitty ex-Soviet equipment, Harry thought as he stamped yet again on the accelerator and spun the wheel left.

The BMP (the acronym standing for some unpronounceable Russian name) was a full-on Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), essentially a light tank with room for infantry and so had a bigger weapon - a 73 mm anti-tank gun - than most APCs, or Armoured Personnel Carriers, which usually just had machine guns.

The gunner would certainly have basic optics, but was unlikely to have night vision in an ageing ex-USSR vehicle, which meant he could see something moving out in the desert but probably couldn't get a proper range on it to engage. This was precisely why Western armies preferred to engage in night fighting, as their better equipment gave them significant advantages over armies who couldn't afford to buy night-vision equipment for general issue.

Another enemy shell chewed up the ground between One Zero and One One, now thirty metres behind and stationary to allow the anti-tank launcher to be stabilised.

A few seconds later came the 'THUMP-hiss' of the MILAN wire-guided missile being fired. Given the short range and high speed of the projectile - 200 metres a second - the missile impacted the side armour BMP before the gunner could fire again.

The BMP's claim to fame was that it was the first ever tracked IFV, a revolutionary design allowing soldiers to fight more effectively in extremely adverse conditions, whether that be intense conventional warfare or zones of biological, chemical or radioactive contamination.

Unfortunately, it has a long list of weaknesses - first of which, the design was nearly forty years old. While its frontal armour might have withstood many of the weapons ranged against it at the time of its introduction, it sure as hell didn't stand up to the punishment it was receiving now. Fifty calibre HEIAP rounds from the two British jeeps were delivering significant damage to the armour, even penetrating it in places, distracting the gunner from returning fire properly.

Secondly, the main gun was slow to reload, taking a full ten seconds due to the badly-designed autoloader, which gave them time to aim and fire the MILAN.

Thirdly, the MILAN missile is designed to take out late-80s era Soviet Main Battle tanks with multi-layer reactive-explosive armour systems. A dinky little badly-made IFV from the 60s? Puh-lease. No trouble at all.

The missile's shaped two-stage HEAT charge (High Explosive Anti Tank) could penetrate a full ten centimetres of Western-quality hardened steel armour. The BMP only had 1.8 centimetres at the point of impact and it was probably at least twenty years old.

The first-stage charge, designed to defeat modern first-layer explosive reactive armour, punched straight through, allowing the main warhead to detonate inside the vehicle instead of blowing though the second armour layer as normal; this was about six inches away from its ammunition storage and two feet from the fuel tank.

A kerosene fuel tank, as it happened. Very volatile stuff, kerosene.

The resultant explosion was impressive to say the least. The armoured turret blasted ten metres straight up on a pillar of white-orange fire, flipped at the top of its arc, and came down the wrong way up, next to the vehicle it originated from. The rear door and drivers hatch also burst open, and the BMP ignited in white-hot flames that would burn for days, probably.

"Target destroyed," said a very satisfied voice on the net.

"Good shooting," Harry answered. "All Mikes, regroup at Checkpoint Alpha in fifteen, out."

Sixty-four minutes after picking up the Mossad operatives, Patrol Mike One pulled into a defensive formation a hundred metres from the landing zone.

"So, what exactly were you doing in Tikrit?" Ziva asked, after he'd turned the engine and checked in with the other vehicles.

"Prisoner raid." Harry jerked a thumb at the other jeeps. "NSA got intel on a meeting at Wataban Ibrahim's house in Tikrit, and some sketchy reports that the biggest fish around might be swimming in."

"You caught Hussein?"

"No such luck. We got Ibrahim, and Abid Hamid Mahmud. No sign of Saddam."

"Damn. That would have been a good break for you guys." Ziva commented.

"True. I'm just as happy he wasn't there, really. Probably would have had better guards, and more of them. We're very good, but it only takes a lucky bullet and suddenly I'm a man down with a casualty to extract. Doesn't matter how elite you are, a seven-six-two taking a chunk out of you is going to take you out of the fight."

"Yeah. I'm … familiar with that now." Ziva said tiredly. "Which one has Eyal in?"

Harry swung out. "Follow me."

He led her over to One One. "How's he doing, Sergeant?"

"Stable for the moment boss. I've replaced the emergency tourniquet with a proper, wider one of ours - tightened it before removing the first one. Blood loss is minimal, he shouldn't lose the leg."

"Good." Harry checked his watch as Colour Sprayson joined them. "Helos here in five, Colour."

"Great. This was easier than most, but that last bit was a tad hairy."

"It's the job we chose, Colour."

"And I'm getting too old for it. Now what's this about you knowing our Israeli guests, sir?"

"Well, I did a joint training mission with Eyal here in Israel last November. I met Ziva at the end of that, on leave in Eilat down on the Red Sea, in that shootout I mentioned. Hamas tried to kidnap her, rather incompetently."

"Huh. Small world, it seems." Sprayson nodded to Ziva, then looked up and gestured to the West. "There they are."

The thudding beat of rotor blades could indeed be heard. "Okay, same two pairs as before Colour."

"You got it, sir."

A few minutes later saw the two Land Rovers driven up into the bellies of the Chinooks, tied down and secured. Harry and Ziva stayed in the front seats while the rest of Harry's men crashed on the deck, the two of them talking privately through intercom headsets kindly separated from the rest of the net by the loadmaster for the trip home. Four hours of flying definitely gave them time to chat.

Harry was reticent, at first, aware that his file - to Mossad, at least - was thin at best, and wanting to keep it that way. But he still opened up a bit, telling her about his parents and stories from his time at Duke of Yorks, RAF College and going through SAS selection, though none of it in great detail. Ziva also relaxed quite a bit, talking about her own childhood and amusing anecdotes from IDF service. Eventually, she got around to asking something that, up until she asked it, she hadn't actually realised she wanted to know.

"Why do you do this?"

"What, soldiering?"


"Why did you join Mossad?"

Evasion. Answering questions with questions.

"You first."

Potter - Harry, she corrected herself, laughed. "Damn. Well … a good friend of mine once said I have a 'saving-people thing.' Joining the military … seemed like a logical extension of that."

Ziva looked at him curiously. He noticed. "Does that surprise you?"

"I was expecting something along the lines of 'for God, Queen and Country.'" Ziva admitted. "By 'saving people' do you mean other soldiers, or anybody?" Given his actions in Eilat, she had a fairly good idea of which, but wanted to be sure.

"Anyone," he said firmly. "Anyone who needs it, who deserves it."

"So you're judge, jury, executioner?"

He grimaced. "I suppose, in a way, although I don't usually see it like that. I just have to make my own decisions out here. On the surface, to the public back home, the world's a reasonably happy place. Government's accountable, mostly transparent, democracy rules, etcetera, etcetera. But we don't live in that world, do we? We're in the shadows, fighting battles no-one will ever hear about, in a war that will never end."


"No, not just Iraq. Since the Second World War, there has only been one year where no British soldier has died in combat with the, or perhaps more accurately, an enemy - 1968, if you're interested. History remembers the big conflicts, but the general public hasn't really recognised yet that war is no longer about states battling in the open for economic or political supremacy. The new war is in the shadows; and as I said, it'll probably never end. It may wax and wane in intensity, but for people like us, the covert warriors, there's always going to be some new threat to track down and eliminate. Doesn't matter if that's a terrorist, a drug kingpin or a black market weapons dealer - there will always be those who profit off, or find power from playing off human misery; and most of the world is pretty miserable. That produces desperate people, and desperate people often lash out or do other stupid things, which requires our governments to send people like us to deal with them in order to protect our citizens, preferably away from the public eye so the stock market doesn't take a hit, which would cause economic damage to livelihoods, and so on and so forth, since everything is interconnected these days. There's a George Orwell quote that's rather relevant to this, you probably know it."

"The rough men."


"Is that how you see the War on Terror? Economic and political, rather than religious fundamentalism? Al-Qaeda?"

Harry snorted. "Al-Qaeda? Al-Qaeda's platform is phrased in traditional Islamic fundamentalist terms, sure, and I have no doubt that it's not 'just for show'. But their end objective is the formation of a world-wide Islamic caliphate - that's political and economic, not just ideological. Nations require rulers, and budgets, and economies, and laws. Their much-beloved Sharia Law is medieval, completely outdated and frankly the top extremist leaders and preachers have probably realised it - after all, the Iranian theocracy hasn't done all that well since 1979, have they? The 'Islamic Fundamentalists' spend as much time trying to find loopholes in or simply outright ignoring the tenets of the Koran to attack their political - and more importantly, their Islamic political opponents like the House of Saud than they do fighting us. Obviously its more complex than that, but that's something to chew on."

He turned back to her, smirking. "Red herring's over. Your turn to answer."

Ziva shrugged. "I asked because ... because I don't know why I want to do this job. Or more precisely, I'm not sure why."

"Hmm … hate and anger will lead to the dark side, you know." Harry said, astutely.

Ziva stared at him. "How on earth did you get that from one sentence?"

"When I mentioned Eilat before, you looked … sad, I guess. Not really something I can put my finger on, I just saw it."

"You don't miss anything, do you."

"Missing stuff gets you killed in this business." Harry grimaced. "Like I should have parked up out of sight and recced the road before just driving straight across in front of that convoy like a complete FNG. You're deflecting again, give it up."

"You're right." Ziva admitted. "I haven't been able to separate Tali's death …" she stopped to take a breath, which proved her point really, "from the job. When I train, or get handed a mission, all I see is a way to hit back at the mamzers who murdered my little sister."

"And that's the trick, isn't it? Sorting out the job from the anger."

"Any ideas?"

Harry shrugged just like Ziva had done. "I don't have all the answers, and this one is yours to find. You need to sit down and figure out why your doing this. If the answer's purely revenge, that might be a problem. If revenge is only a part of it, then you need to learn to control it; to channel it and ride the tiger, so to speak, or to block it completely. Either way, you need to recognise when you're motivated by revenge and not duty."

"Duty." Ziva repeated, thinking about it. "Strangely, I don't think I'd thought of it like that. Service to my country and people, yes. Revenge, yes. Duty … not so much. I wonder why?"

"Duty is a defined as a moral obligation," Harry looked at her piercingly. "I doubt your father cares much for ethics."

Ziva flushed slightly and looked away as she worked out what he was implying, that her father's endless lectures and 'training' of her and her sister - that she'd just told him a bit about - had indoctrinated her to a life of 'service' in Mossad and to Israel as a whole rather than instilling an ethical responsibility to the same, that would have made it a choice she'd made rather than him. A man who rose as high as Eli David in an agency famed for its ruthless devotion to Israel's security probably didn't care much for ethical quandaries in his work … or raising his children.

What does that make me? A slave to my father's manipulations?

"But that doesn't define you." Harry continued, as if he'd read her thoughts. "You're good at this, Ziva. You're well trained, cool under fire. Don't throw the idea of 'service to Israel' away just because your father put the idea in your head. Just make sure you recognise that it's a duty, as well. Make the choice to serve your own."

"What does that mean, though? That I should decide which orders to follow?"

"Yes," Harry answered bluntly, surprising her, before shrugging. "And no. We aren't mindless drones. 'I was just following orders' wasn't a defence at Nuremberg for the Holocaust, and it doesn't work now either - especially not for Israelis given the context of that example, no offence intended."

"None taken. A point well made." Ziva nodded, then raised an eyebrow. "Anything more to say? You are, how do they say, on a turn here."

"I do, actually." Harry told her mock-reprovingly. "And it's 'on a roll.' What I was going to say was that a good soldier follows orders, but in my opinion the best soldier knows when to disobey them. Orders can be illegal, or unethical, or just plain wrong if your superiors don't have all the information that you might have on the ground. So follow orders, but actually think them through too, if you have the time, which won't always be the case. At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own actions, and the consequences rest on our own shoulders, not those who give the orders."

Sunlight burst in through the left hand windows, as the loadmaster pushed up the covers on the windows. A brand new day.

"How far from Camp Udairi?" Harry asked him.

"Thirty minutes, sir."

"Fantastic, thanks." Harry turned back to Ziva.

"Found some answers, I hope? Half an hour more of free consultation time, beyond that the rates for my Dr Phil impression go up quite a bit."

Ziva laughed, a lighter, genuine laugh, feeling happier and more secure than before. She might not have the exact answers just yet, but she was a hell of a lot closer than she'd been before this mission. "Thanks. I needed that. All of that."

Harry grinned at her, the harsh scars and weathered look vanishing, leaving behind a man about her age with a wide, genuine smile. He had his secrets, she was sure, but there was no way in hell Harry Potter was anything less than totally honest and honourable in everything he did. Of that, she was completely certain. There was a spark there, an indomitable will and commitment to his principles she was sure nothing would ever break.

Of course, it didn't hurt he was pretty easy on the eyes, despite the tiredness and the dust.

Just before they landed, Harry scribbled something on a notepad and handed it to her.

"What's this?"

"We're in roughly the same business, Ziva. Mine might be a bit more direct, but similar. And in this business, it's as much about who you know as what you know. Friends you can rely on, people you can trust. They're few and far between, here in the shadows and out in the cold. If you ever need a favour, need someone to pull you or someone you care about out of the fire and Mossad can't or won't do it for you, or you yourself need help on a mission for the same reasons, call one of these two numbers."

Ziva opened the page. Harry pointed at the top one. "That's my cellphone, but I won't always have it. The other's for when I'm out of contact, it goes to an answer machine monitored by someone I trust, who will know how to contact me quickly."

"You don't hand these out to just anyone, do you?"

"Nope. Third time only."

"Who was the first two?"

"First was that old friend I mentioned." Harry smiled enigmatically. "The second is another good friend."

"Okay." Ziva tucked it away in a pocket. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it."

Ziva eventually interpreted that phrase a little more literally than Harry had probably intended.

Two days or so later, after Eyal had received medical treatment at the Coalition base, and both of them had said goodbye and been flown back to Israel, Eli David was wrapping up her debriefing.

"Anything else you wish to add, Ziva?" His tone was professional, almost cold.

Ziva thought about the note Harry'd given her, which she'd quickly memorised and burned, and the long, often personal conversation they'd had on the flight back from Tikrit. She'd be able to add a lot to Harry's file that her father was still working on filling.

She'd mentioned neither so far.

Harry. I'm thinking of him as 'Harry.' That says it all, really.

Khaveyrim. Friends. Comrades.

She looked her father in the eye.

"No, nothing at all."

Mamzer = Hebrew, for 'bastard'.

A/N-1: In the interest of promoting actual historical accuracy, Abid al-Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti was captured in Tikrit in June by the 4th Infantry Division and the Green Berets. Wataban Ibrahim al-Tikriti was taken into custody by American forces in April, the day after this story is set actually, somewhere near the Syrian border, but before that he lived in Tikrit (possibly even at the manor house I found on Google maps for the SAS team to 'raid!')

A/N-2: It's been noted several times even by NCIS's own producers that Ziva's career is patently, ridiculously impossible. She joins NCIS in her early twenties - stated birthday is 1982 - after having graduated school, served two years with the IDF, attended university, applied for Mossad and apparently been immediately tapped for an elite, highly competitive and even more secretive spec-ops unit that sure as hell doesn't take rookies, and still have completed other missions in Cairo, Paris, Eastern Europe, Iraq, and six months worth of liaison work in the UK.

Busy girl. I've done my best to splice it together, and removed her supposed three-year university attendance, but it's still ridiculous - the last chapter only took place six months before this one. Most MI-6 or CIA officers don't become field agents until they're at least twenty-eight to thirty, after exhaustive training.

In her defence, 'my' version of Harry's had a pretty accelerated career too. Joining the SAS straight out of Flight School? Unlikely, in the real world the SAS requires at least six years of service before applying. By way of explanation, the MoD have sped up his training because of his awesome powers which they want to get into action.

Plus, Harry's a badass. In. Any. Story. EVER. Or he should be, I mean, just look at his childhood. Anyone who goes through that and doesn't come out with a really, really cynical viewpoint on human nature is one mentally tough little kid.

Oh, and the minor shout-out to Call of Duty does not indicate a serious crossover beyond - possibly - borrowing characters to round out any SAS teams in future chapters. Price, Gaz and Soap are all possibles.

I anticipate a long gap between this and the next chapter of Khaveyrim, I've got other stories to focus my attentions on, and exams in a few weeks.

Until then, be well. Kol Tuv.