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Friends with Benefits
"Are you always this punctual?" asked Alex, impressed when Mac came to a stop a decorous two paces from her just as the Base Clock chimed the three-quarters.
"I'm two minutes early, the Base clock is fast..." said Mac confidently, concealing her delight at having Alex meet her on time. There was nothing more frustrating to someone who kept perfect time than tardiness.
"It is?" asked Alex, instinctively glancing at her watch, which she knew kept perfect time, "....it is...how did you know?"
"It's a gift... was General Hadley's wife happy with my borrowing her guest for the evening?" asked Mac, hoping that Alex recognised the slightly formal phrasing was due to their location and her position, which she'd been informed that afternoon, was actually the highest ranking officer on Base this evening, with everyone else being involved with the exercise or at home, off base. It wasn't the best situation to be in when you were hoping to be enjoying a private dinner as, in the event that something unusual happened, she'd probably be summoned to be one of first on scene, even before anyone realised she outranked every other JAG within perhaps a thousand miles...
"Relieved actually, Jess had to go to some committee meeting, to do with the Base childcare..." Alex tried not to pull an unpleasant face, but all those small children....
"Not a fan of small children?" asked Mac lightly, able to see the blonde's nose twitch in a poorly concealed wrinkle of distaste.
"Ones I'm sufficiently well acquainted with that I can be the generous Aunt or Godmother, either honorary or actual are enjoyable; the thought of my own? If I can find a way to combine a relationship that's right, with a career that's enjoyable...I would love them. Other peoples? Cannot stand them. You?" Alex hoped her rather forthright views on the subject wouldn't be too incompatible with Colonel Mackenzie's.
"I love my godchildren, want to have children of my own but not unless the partner and rest of my life are right...." mused Mac, relieved to find that children was a topic they were reasonably in tune about, if only to ensure that their evening didn't start off too frosty.
"At present, I seem to prioritise finding comfortable footwear above everything else..." murmured Alex spontaneously, suddenly becoming all too aware that these new shoes, which should have fitted perfectly (they were, after all, the second pair she'd owned of this colour in this style, a style which she'd previously owned at least five pairs of), were currently starting to react rather badly with her heel...
"You're not the only one...shall we go in?" encouraged Mac, having spotted a soldier starting to hurry across the parade square, obviously looking for an Officer. She did not want to be the first one he found.
"Do you always get this level of service?" asked Alex once they were seated, impressed with the speed at which they were seated at obviously the best table in the room, with very attentive service.
"Outside military bases? No..." explained Mac, shaking her head sharply when the table staff tried to approach. Whether it was a message or a menu, she didn't want the distractions to start just yet.
"But rank has its privileges?" guessed Alex, smiling with amusement.
"I'm a JAG officer from Headquarters...it doesn't matter which branches of the Service are involved, we're not Base Commanders' favourite people to have come visit, so we either get shunned or courted...." explained Mac, taking a sip from her water glass and taking a quick glance around the room, noting the three Majors and seven Captains already seated, suddenly very glad Alex had already identified that this would be a friendly dinner between fellow attorneys...
"And you have too much rank to be shunned?"
"Something like that..." laughed Mac, resigned now to having to tolerate the interruption from an Army Captain who had just come into the Mess, obviously with a message for her, "...but it does mean we're not going to get to eat dinner in peace I'm afraid..." she apologised as she reluctantly nodded for the Captain to give her the message paper.
"I had a dinner in one of New York's more glamorous restaurants once...and in the middle of the starter, two of my detectives sat down at the table and began presenting the facts of their interviews, wanting to convince me I should ring for a warrant...." explained Alex, recalling a dinner long ago when Munch and Fin had joined her part way through her soup. Her companion, after eavesdropping for all of thirty seconds, hadn't stayed long enough for her to enjoy her fish course.
"I met a criminalist once, when I was in Alaska..." Mac paused as she unfolded the note and scanned it, before continuing her tale whilst her mind turned over the facts, "...she interrupted her colleague's date by dropping a severed finger on the bar table as she walked past..."
"Short date....interesting case?" asked Alex, unfazed by the gruesome detail but finding some amusement from the paling of their interrupter's face.
"Weird more than anything, she said something about it involving a Rabbit costume..." mused Mac, making the automatic association with Peter Rabbit and the carrots she had been here investigating.
"Are they in custody Captain?" she asked sharply, hoping not to have to leave the table.
"Yes Ma'am, being driven back from the exercise in separate trucks Ma'am."
"They need to go to the medics?"
"Major Genson, uh, the Exercise MO didn't seem to think that would be necessary Ma'am. He's cleared them from there Ma'am."
"Have the Staff Sergeant clean them up and locked up. We'll sort this out in the morning Captain."
"Yes Ma'am." Coming stiffly to attention, the young Captain (God she was getting old if she thought Army Captains were young now) turned on his heel and excused himself.
"Problem?" enquired Alex politely, accepting the menu that was now being offered to her.
"Two officers on exercise decided to settle their tactical differences with their boots. General Hadley's asked me to assist the local investigation," explained Mac, mentally wondering how long it would take for her to have to answer a call from Admiral Chedwiggen.
"But you're not Army...he was complaining about that at breakfast...." recalled Alex, enjoying the fact that Mac felt comfortable talking with her.
"The two officers are the JAG officers for the base...suddenly, I'm rather useful to him...." mused Mac, inspecting the menu and spotting a steak that took her fancy.
"So you'll be sticking around?" asked Alex, hopeful. Mac had rung Jess that afternoon and explained the results of her investigation - the damage had been done by a Marine Private, but he had been acting under orders from an Army Corporal, who had accepted all responsibility (the Marine had believed he was digging in one of the base kitchen gardens) and was going to be dealt with by the Base Army JAGs. At present, Mac was booked to return to D.C. tomorrow morning.
"I've got to wait for new orders to be cut in Washington for it to be official..." said Mac, watching Alex's face shift through a subtle range of emotions, which Mac hoped she was interpreting correctly, "...but yes, unless the Army flies in a new JAG, I'll be here for a little while longer..."
"Does that bother you?" asked Alex carefully, hoping that Mac's answer wouldn't be negative.
"Normally, I hate being delayed from returning home..."
"Normally?" asked Alex, trying not to sound too hopeful.
"Normally, I eat on my own..." Mac hoped the neutral sounding comment, a necessity given their location, would be correctly understood by Alex to mean something more personal, a compliment to her company. Judging by the shy smile that briefly formed on Alex's face, before being covered by a more confident, 'socially polite' smile, Mac decided her true meaning had been understood,
"...ready to order?"
"That was a great dinner...."
"I'm sorry for the interruptions..." apologised Mac as they walked across the parade ground, heading in the general direction of the Base Commander's house.
"I didn't mind....really..." replied Alex, again. Their dinner had actually been less disruptive than her last date, with her cell phone not ringing every fifteen minutes about warrants. The three interruptions from the Captain concerning the imprisoned JAG officers and the one telephone call from the Navy JAG informing Mac of her new orders, to stay in Leavenworth for a week to unscramble this mess and visit her Uncle, were nothing compared to a regular evening for the ADA.
"Are you working to a curfew?" asked Mac, wondering if they had time to take a leisurely walk back to General Hadley's house, or whether Mac needed to order a car to drive Alex the mile back to her host.
"Jess said she would be up until 1, something about needing to listen to a live broadcast of a band her nephew was in...her only advice to me was to make sure I didn't walk back on my own after dark...something about not having base ID?"
"I'm signed into the Base, so can escort you," explained Mac easily, checking her internal clock and discovering it was only a 22:12, "...and it's now 22:13..." she continued, knowing that Alex, for whatever reason, was happy to accept her timekeeping skill without too much debate.
"Walk me home Colonel?" whispered Alex flirtatiously, deciding that, with no one else crossing the central Parade Ground at that moment, she could live dangerously and try one deliberately blatant flirtation.
"How are your shoes?"
"Much better - a nice young man gave me some paper to stick over the nail. I'll have them fixed next week sometime...how are your shoes?"
"What does that mean?" asked Alex, turning to see the sparkling eyes of her escort. She'd obviously asked something that was funny.
"It means that every pair you've ever owned rubs in the same spot every day until finally your foot gives in...."
"Your feet are regulation shaped?"
"They are now..." confirmed Mac, trying not to remember the agonies that were boot camp. For some reason, she would always forget the rest of the physical torture those weeks had been, remembering instead the nightmare that was brand new boots, "...in Boot camp you're told to get your boots broken in, that one day the pain will disappear and you'll suddenly love your boots, and every subsequent pair of boots..."
"And did you?"
"Did I what?" asked Mac, suddenly stepping around the other side of Alex.
"Break in your boots...at Boot Camp "
"No, but my boots broke my feet in perfectly..." Alex's laughter echoed across the parade ground, bringing a blush to the blonde and a smile to the brunette.
"Why did you switch sides?" asked Alex, finally unable to not contain her curiosity any longer.
"You're walking too close..." explained Mac, not realising how that sounded to the civilian Alex.
"I'm sorry..." Immediately, Alex took a deliberate stride away from Mac, tripling the space between them, obviously upset.
"Hey...I didn't mean too close in a bad way..." corrected Mac, adjusting her stride so she returned to Alex's side again, "...I liked you walking close..."
"So why did you move?" Although still confused, Alex was reassured to have Mac walking alongside her again. It was a nice night, the sort of night Alex wouldn't have minded holding hands on...
"Because I like your naturally blue eyes to stay blue..." teased Mac, wishing she could squeeze Alex's hand in reassurance, but knowing that she couldn't, not with that guard post just ahead.
"What have my eyes got to do with this?" Before Alex's question could be answered, the quiet still evening was cut with the regimented shouts that called a group of men to attention, ready to salute a Senior Officer.
"Good evening Ma'am..."
"As you were Corporal, have a good night..." responded Mac, smiling at the guards but not stopping to chat, protocol not requiring it.
"Thank you Ma'am...." responded the Corporal, watching as the two women stepped out onto the street that lead up towards the homes of the Senior Officers, waiting until the respectful moment had past, before calling his men to return to their duties.
"I don't want you to get a black one..." explained Mac, picking up her earlier comment, confident now they were on the residential street, that she could be a little slower and less official in her walk. It was a nice night, and a nice date...that she'd like to prolong as long as possible.
"Black what?" Alex had lost her earlier train of thought when they'd passed through the guard post, being distracted by the unfamiliar military protocols that for her companion were instinctive.
"Eye...you walk too close to be safe on my right side..."
"But I'm ok on this side?" asked Alex, gesturing between them and not understanding. Why could she be a couple of inches from Mac's left arm, but not her right?
"I don't salute with my left arm Alex..." said Mac, stopping and turning to look at her confused friend, "...if we meet anyone in uniform, I need to take the salute...I have quite a sharp right elbow..." Mac illustrated her gentle explanation by easily coming to attention and saluting Alex, who, in the moonlight, could see the very angular silhouette of Mac's right elbow...at just the right level to impact with Alex's jaw or worse, her cheekbone, before being distracted by something quite different...
"Moonlight suits you Sarah..." she whispered, suddenly struck by how romantic the twilight had become now they were away from the harsh base lights.
"It suits you too Alex..." replied Mac, dropping the salute and relaxing her stance.
"I want to..." Alex trailed off, not sure how her desire to kiss Mac would go down if articulated.
"I know...and I would reciprocate..." agreed Mac, understanding exactly what thoughts Alex was having, and understanding also exactly why she was hesitating.
"But I don't do..."
"No, neither do I, and it's not because of the UCMJ..." agreed Mac regretfully.
"Uniform Code of Military Justice, section 925, article 125..."
"And that is?"
"The reason Clinton introduced 'Don't Ask Don't Tell'..." explained Mac quietly, mentally quashing the chanting choir that was currently reminding her of every case she'd read or been involved with that had a bearing on her situation.
"Ah...but that's not the real reason..."
"No, it's not..."
"We don't do one night stands, do we?" asked Alex softly, glad that the issue which had been lingering over her thoughts all day was now being addressed.
"Not when I'm sober, no..." agreed Mac, glad they were coming to some understanding.
"We weren't heading to that though, were we?"
"I hoped not...I don't have many friends..." admitted Mac quietly, setting off walking again, but at a very slow pace.
"Neither do I "
"Sarah hardly has any friends " mused Mac, wondering if Alex would pick up the significance of her referring to herself in the third person.
"I'm a start though?" suggested Alex hopefully, liking the idea of being able to keep in contact with Mac in the future.
"A wonderful start...." agreed Mac, suddenly realising that, before they'd stopped, they'd actually managed to arrive virtually at General Hadley's house, with her last few dawdling steps bringing her to his driveway.
"So, friend...." teased Alex, relieved that they'd come to an understanding...whatever was developing between them was more than a moment of lust and their situation was hardly straightforward.
"Yes friend?" asked Mac, her eyes once again sparkling in the moonlight, this time with amusement and relief, relief that their earlier light hearted flirting that was primarily driven by friendship only had returned.
"Care to come in for some proper coffee?"
"The Mess Steward thought he served you some..." recalled Mac, remembering the care with which the coffee was brought to them in the Mess, already far too familiar with Marine views about Army coffee and determined to make a good impression.
"That was their best effort?" asked Alex, aghast.
"Has anyone told you you're a coffee snob?"
"Frequently, which is why I travel with my own beans..."
"Even when you visit a friend?"
"Jess drinks de-caff...you'd be doing me a favour..."
"I can't make coffee by the cup full, only by the jug-full..."
"And you hate to waste it I'm guessing?" asked Mac, deciding it was acceptable, as long as General Hadley's wife didn't object, to stay and keep Alex company: Colonels didn't have curfews....
"I'd be up all night....and not in a good way..." groused Alex playfully.
"In that case Counsellor...you've got a deal....I can't sleep without a decent cup of coffee...and I haven't had one yet!"
"Now who's a coffee snob?" Laughing, Mac followed Alex through the gate and up the driveway...as much as she would have enjoyed something a little more passionate, it was good to have friends....and Alex was rapidly becoming a very good friend.
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