It takes Jack a bit to catch up on it, is the thing. He doesn’t notice it until the second one, or maybe the third. It takes even longer for Jack to realize that he wasn’t actually the first, and that’s just not something he ever considered after meeting Mac. Still, he probably should have guessed, given that Mac had already spent a significant amount of time in the desert before ever meeting Jack. There were a lot of former or current Jack-like guys around, and Mac did have that slightly lost puppy look to him…
The speed with which Desi got attached to Jack’s boy did surprise him a bit though, no matter the kid’s history.
Jack has a mental tally of overprotective former-or-current-soldiers of more or less questionable reputation who took one look at Jack’s partner and decided the kid needed a keeper.
Jack’s just glad none of them ever challenged him for the position. (Except for Desi, but they share custody now.)
Leroy Jethro Gibbs
Jack is going to shoot someone, preferably that sleazy, very-special-agent Dinozzo who’s been talking his ear off for the past ten minutes. Jack is here to get his partner, and then get them the hell out of DC, because he hates DC with a passion based on too little sleep, and too many hours being forced to stand at parade rest in various office buildings while his superiors decided what to do with him after he inevitably had to go off book to save one mission or another.
Jack’s been inducing headaches long before Patricia Thornton got her loving claws into him. He’s also forgotten what his cover is supposed to be, Patty told him over the phone, but all he could think of was getting to Mac as soon as possible. He’ll go with FBI, they always make for convenient scapegoats and Jack hasn’t had cause to hassle the Bureau in a while.
“Agent Dalton?” Jack turns around to the owner of the voice. The man he spots would scream 'Jarhead' even if he didn’t have the haircut. He’s older than Jack, probably old enough to actually be Mac’s father, and Jack’s partner is standing next to him, shooting Jack a sheepish grin that tells him absolutely-fucking-nothing about why they’re here.
The guy holds out his hand. Jack shakes it.
“Jethro Gibbs. I understand you’re Mac’s partner?” The fact that Agent Gibbs, who, for all intents and purposes, looks like the kind of badass who eats terrorists for breakfast, uses Mac’s preferred name is the first red flag. The fact that Gibbs’ entire team looks very surprised at that little fact, is the second.
“Jack Dalton and yeah, I am. What the hell happened kid?” He addresses Mac directly. They’ve been partners for all of six months, and sometimes Jack still suspects that Mac doesn’t tell him half the shit he gets up to simply because he’s so unsure of his place in this new world of spy vs spy. In Afghanistan, things were simpler, Mac knew what was expected of him, but now they’re playing in Jack’s world, and he spends a lot of time wishing to have a few words with whoever is responsible for the kid’s frankly shitty sense of self-esteem.
Agent Gibbs interrupts Mac. “He provided first aid to a Petty Officer shot in a robbery a few hours ago,” Agent Gibbs tells him and looks at Mac, eyes going soft in a way Jack doubts people get to see very often. “Managed to keep him alive against the odds – our medical examiner was very impressed with his improvising skills.”
Mac looks down, blushing slightly, clearly embarrassed by the praise for something he probably considers just another day at the office.
“That sounds like the kid,” Jack adds because it really, really does. He looks at Agent Gibbs who seems to be caught between glaring at Jack for whatever reason and trying to reassure Jack’s partner that he did good. Jack has to admit that the guy does have an impressive glare, the kind that would make a lesser man check when he last updated his will, but thankfully Jack is made of sterner stuff.
“Can I take him home now?” Jack asks, ignoring how that makes him sound like the owner of a wayward puppy, and Mac like – well, the puppy.
Gibbs clearly isn’t impressed, judging by his eyebrows. “You can. Your partner gave us his number in case we need to reach him for further questions.” Gibbs turns to Mac. “If you remember anything else, you know how to reach me.” He and Mac shake hands. Jack wants to ask the Agent why the hell Mac is supposed to call him, and not one of his people, but he refrains in favour of getting the hell out of the dodge.
He feels Agent Gibbs’ glare on his back all the way to the elevator. Jack breathes easier, once the doors close behind them, already pushing the encounter out of his mind. He needs to focus on getting the whole story out of Mac, tomorrow, because right now his partner looks like a gentle breeze could blow him over.
Jack has no idea that meeting Agent Gibbs is just the first instance in the development of a serious pattern.
James Buchanan Barnes…The Winter Soldier
“I told you to count to ten, then throw it Jack,” Mac yells over the gunfire. They’re in yet another abandoned warehouse, getting shot at, and if Jack didn’t earn his money by shooting back, he’d be writing a serious complaint to Human Resources right about now.
Jack takes out two goons with his last bullet and turns to his partner. “Couldn’t hear you over the gunfire – also, I’m out of ammo, Mac.” The kid grimaces and looks around their hiding spot, trying to find something that might get them out of here if Jack had to guess. They’re effectively pinned down behind a row of boxes filled with stuff Jack doubts is going to do them any good.
Just when Jack decides to put the kid out of his misery and suggest making a run for it, someone vaults over the barrier separating them from the bad guys and lands next to Mac.
Jack, being weapon-less as he is, punches the guy in the face. It hurts – a lot.
“Fucking hell, what are you made of – stone?” The guy blinks at them, not speaking. He’s wearing jeans and a sweater, too warm for the weather, but Jack’s not one to judge, too long hair tied back haphazardly. The leather gloves might be overkill though and they don’t really go with the rest of the outfit either. Still, he hasn’t killed them yet so Jack doesn’t try to punch him again.
The guy looks at Mac, there’s something in his eyes that looks almost like recognition, and then it’s replaced by a glint that Jack really doesn’t like.
“Wait here,” the guy says and vaults back over the boxes. The shooting starts again, except, the goons stop shooting in their direction and focus on the mysterious new player. Jack is already preparing himself to explain to Patty how the strange, concrete-jawed civilian got killed when the shooting stops, all of it, at once.
The guy steps around the boxes this time and motions for them to get up.
“Come on, this way.” And alright, he’s apparently terrifyingly efficient, Jack can appreciate that in a guy.
“Jack?” Mac looks at him, eyes wide. The kid might take the lead a lot of the time now that he’s gotten more comfortable in the field, but he usually defers to Jack when it comes to tactical decisions like this. Jack nods at him.
They follow their mysterious rescuer out of the warehouse and into the evening sun. The guy seems strangely lost, now that he’s rescued them, and Mac, kindness incarnate that he is, tries to put him at ease.
“Hey, thank you for helping us,” Mac begins, taking a step towards the stranger. Jack barely manages not to grab the kid and shove him behind Jack for protection.
“I’m Mac.” He holds his hand out, but the guy just looks confused, as if he really isn’t used to one of the most common ways of greeting. He takes Mac’s hand, carefully, like he’s afraid to crush it or something.
“I’m – Steve?”
“That your name?” Jack asks and the guy shakes his head. He lets go of Mac’s hand and steps back, looking around frantically. “You need to leave, they’re almost here,” he all but whispers, and Jack has the vague feeling that he’s addressing Mac, already forgetting that Jack is even there. He tries to say something else to the guy, but that’s the moment a Phoenix chopper appears over their heads, and when they look down again, the guy is gone without a trace, like he’d never been there in the first place.
It takes them years to understand the encounter, and it’s only when Jack looks into the eyes of another blond, blue-eyed former soldier with too much heart and too little sense of self-preservation, that he understands how close Barnes likely was to just hefting Mac over his shoulder and making off with him into the woods.
Not that Jack doesn’t understand that urge a little too well sometimes.
Jack isn’t jealous, nope. He’s taken Mac to Hawaii, on vacation this time, a few weeks after helping out in the aftermath of that earthquake. Steve invited them to stay at his house and promised peace and quiet with the occasional trip to the beach. Jack expected Steve to like Mac, they have a lot in common after all. Jack just didn’t expect them to hit it off quite this quickly, though he probably should have.
And that was before Mac mentioned that he liked surfing.
“You know, I always thought that Steve was pretty unique in his…Steve-ness,” Danny Williams, formerly of New Jersey and now more or less semi-attached to Steve tells him, waving around a hand to indicate their respective partners on the beach. Mac and Steve are doing something related to the case they’d helped Steve’s team close earlier that day, and so much for the promised peace and quiet. Jack didn’t really understand Mac’s earlier explanation, but it involves some rather flammable chemicals and a random assortment of household appliances. Jack glances at the fire extinguisher next to Danny’s chair. There might be an entire ocean right next to them, but better safe than sorry where those two are concerned.
Jack grins at the detective. “Yeah, there are very few people in this world able to keep up with McGarrett – figured Mac had to be one of them.”
Danny nods thoughtfully. “You know, Steve’s been looking to expand the team for a while now. Might want to keep a hold of your partner if you don’t fancy moving to Hawaii permanently.”
Jack’s heart clenches. He’s noticed the considering looks Steve’s been throwing at Mac during the case. Jack’s beginning to think that he can count himself lucky for having found Mac before some other soldier came along and saw the kid for the treasure he was. Jack is always careful not to cross any boundaries Mac doesn’t want him to cross, but he really doesn’t want to move to Hawaii right now, and if telling Steve that Mac is off-limits is the only way not to lose Mac to 5-0…
He lowers his sunglasses and glares at Steve who is busy enthusiastically gesturing at Mac about something.
“I wouldn’t worry too much,” Danny adds, shrugging slightly, when Jack shoots him a look. “The way your partner looks at you – I don’t think you could separate him from you with a crowbar.” He leans back in his seat and ignores Jack’s incredulous stare.
Jack tries to come up with something in response, but is interrupted by Mac running up to him, breathless with excitement, eyes shining in a way that always makes Jack want to do everything in his power to keep Mac looking like that, to keep him happy like that.
“Hey, Jack. Want to see what Steve and I came up with?” Mac asks and Jack can only nod and follow him to where Steve is smiling in anticipation of whatever they cooked up.
Danny will tell them I told you so, nodding sagely as he douses the flames with white foam later, but for now, Jack lets himself be pulled into the excitement.
John “Hannibal” Smith
“The A-Team, Mac?” Jack shouts incredulously while running after his partner, away from the having-recently-exploded building, courtesy of some very meticulous planning on the part of Hannibal Smith, and Mac’s deft hand with cleaning supplies. When Matty briefed them on this mission and told them there were some occasional Phoenix contractors already on the job, she’d thrown a very pointed glance at Mac that Jack hadn’t really understood until roughly half an hour earlier.
They jump into the truck that the team’s second, Templeton “Face” Peck managed to find…somewhere and hold on for dear life while escaping the very angry guys whose warehouse they’ve just blown up.
Why is it always warehouses anyway? Sometimes Jack feels like he’s living in a badly-written TV show.
“You know how we never talk about the fact that I spent some time in Iraq before transferring to Afghanistan?” Mac asks over the gunfire. Jack nods in response. It’s one of the things that they both know they know, but don't acknowledge because it's classified to kingdom come.
Mac looks at Hannibal who quirks an eyebrow at them before nodding slightly. Jack suddenly understands.
“Told you you should have joined my team, kid. We could use a brain like yours,” Hannibal says while Face snickers at the face Jack makes in response.
“Don’t think the Sergeant likes that too much, boss.” He grins at them, and Jack briefly contemplates shooting the guy before Mac nudges him with his elbow and shakes his head in warning. Jack contents himself with glaring at Hannibal until they make it to the A-Team’s temporary base instead. He’s not in the Army anymore, and technically, neither is the Colonel, so Jack doubts he can be brought up for insubordination on that one.
They survive the op, leaving behind a few destroyed hideouts, and one very confused fruit vendor (don’t ask, just…don’t), and Jack comes to the realization that he wasn’t the first overprotective guy in Mac’s life after all, just the first who managed to hold on for long enough, Mac took Jack home with him after leaving Afghanistan.
That has to count for something.
Desi gets attached – quickly. Far more so than Jack expected if he’s honest with himself. The Desi he remembers is prickly, blunt, and likes to keep her private life separate from her work. The Desi he finds after returning from hunting down Kovacs is still prickly and blunt, but she’s also a regular at evenings around the fire pit, and she and Mac like to go surfing together as often as they can between missions.
Jack has a brief, terrifying moment, thinking that Mac doesn’t need him anymore now that he’s got a younger, fitter backup, and it’s Jack’s own fault, really, he’s the one who chose Desi in the first place, but then Mac hugs him after Jack’s unexpected appearance in the War Room, telling them that they got Kovacs, that it’s over…
Mac clings to Jack, almost desperately, and Jack suddenly realizes how much he's missed the kid.
Desi and Jack work something out. It involves a few sparring sessions and Jack being handed his ass far more often than he’d like to admit, but Jack is happy with the outcome.
Also, it’s far easier to keep track of his partner and the team when he has backup. Desi thinks so, too. Their life gets easier after that.
“Hurt him, Jack, and you’re going to be very, very sorry you ever returned from hunting down Kovacs,” Desi says apropos of nothing while she’s handing Jack another beer. They’re at Mac’s, waiting for the rest of the team to arrive. Mac is inside, on the phone with a Phoenix engineer who’s had a bit of a mishap in the lab, and Desi clearly decided to use their uninterrupted moment to - threaten Jack on Mac’s behalf?
She just raises an eyebrow in response, silencing whatever Jack was about to say. Jack swallows heavily. He’s apparently a lot more obvious than he thought about his feelings for Mac, or maybe he’s just grown soft during the time he spent away from LA.
Jack’s known specialists for enhanced interrogation who weren’t nearly as good as seeing through Jack’s bullshit as half of the people at home – Desi apparently now among them.
He looks towards the house, considers his options, and makes a decision.
“’Scuse me for a moment,” Jack says to Desi, ignoring her knowing grin, and makes his way inside. Mac is standing in the kitchen, phone on the counter, back towards Jack.
“Hey partner,” Jack announces his presence. Mac turns around, smiling at Jack, and Jack just – can’t.
“Punch me if I’ve read this wrong,” Jack whispers right before grabbing Mac’s face and bringing their mouths together, kissing Mac the way he’s only ever been able to in his dreams until now. The expected punch doesn’t come – Mac wraps his arms around Jack instead, pressing himself as close as possible, opening his mouth to let Jack explore him with his tongue.
They separate only when the need for air becomes dire, foreheads resting against each other. Mac smiles at him with wonder in his eyes.
“Not that I’m complaining, but – what brought this on?”
Jack chuckles wryly. “Was tired of everybody stealin’ you away, sweetheart. Thought it was time I got to keep you – that we got to keep each other.”
“What are you talking about?” Mac asks bemused, but Jack goes back to kissing him, unwilling to waste time, now that he’s got permission.
He’ll explain later.