Title: The Letter

Author: Shannon/Raindrops on Roses

Rating: PG-13
Category: Angst, AJ/Mac unrequited

Spoilers: "Lawyers, Guns, and Money"

Disclaimers: These characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al.

Author's Notes: Damned plot bunnies attacking at damned 3:30 in the morning! I woke up this morning at 3:30 with the idea for this story. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but I just couldn't. My roommate is probably about to kill me. *sigh* I hope I can go get another couple hours of sleep before the alarm goes off.

WARNING--character death. Also, Major Angst. And yes, it deserves the capitals.


AJ Chegwidden gulped his scotch. The smooth taste did nothing to soothe the knot in his stomach. He had lost colleagues, friends, family before. So why did this loss feel like a punch in the gut?

Probably because it didn't have to happen. If he had only refused her request for transfer... He shook his head. She would have kicked his ass if she knew he was thinking like that. 'She's a Marine, AJ. She knew what she was doing when she volunteered for the mission.' But it didn't make it hurt any less.

He stared at the envelope on the table. Across the front, in the small, neat script that he had seen every day for years, was 'Admiral AJ Chegwidden'. Harm had handed it to him with tears in his eyes. "They... they found this in her personal effects," he had said hoarsely. "I thought you should have it."

AJ sighed. Setting his glass down with a plunk, he sat on the sofa and reached for the envelope. He fished his reading glasses out of his shirt pocket, unsealed the plain white envelope, and pulled out a sheaf of paper. The papers were worn, as if they had been handled frequently and not-too-carefully. He unfolded them. The first page was blurred and splotchy--as if from tears.

He began to read.

**** **** ****

2/14/04

Dear Admiral Chegwidden:

It's a bit funny that I address this so formally, but since you'll never see it, I suppose it doesn't matter.

You're getting married tomorrow. I never thought I would see the day. No, I suppose that isn't right. I hoped I would never see the day. I hope you don't think me cruel, AJ. Is it all right that I call you AJ? No matter... again, this isn't for anyone's eyes but my own.

Anyway... back to my statement. It's not that I don't want to see you happy. I do, more than anything. I just... you see, AJ, I want to see me happy, too. And watching you marry another woman will tear my heart to shreds--what's left of it, anyway. Even if it is one of my close friends.

Do you see what I'm saying? Probably not... you're a man, and thus, a bit dense when it comes to emotions. AJ Chegwidden... I love you. There; I've said it. I love you--and I'll never have you.

You're probably wondering, 'Me? How could she love me?' Why does anyone fall in love? They meet a person who is the epitome of all that they want in a prospective life partner, and they fall--hard. At least, that is what happened with me. I didn't know the first day I knew you... or the first month... or even the first year. But somewhere between that rose garden and a military courtroom, I fell in love with AJ Chegwidden, the noble, self-sacrificing Naval officer, the hard-hitting lawyer, the tough commanding officer... the soft-hearted, loving, tender man.

Oh, yes, AJ--you can be tender. I've seen it with your daughter, Francesca (a wonderful young woman, by the way--I can see a lot of you in her), with my godson, your namesake, AJ Roberts, with AJ's mother, our friend Harriet, and with your few significant others over the years. Why is it that you haven't been snatched up before now? Foolish, foolish women.

I know that if you read this, you would be blushing. You would be blushing even harder if you knew what I imagined at night--to be honest, sometimes during the day, as well. I imagine you with me, loving me, letting me love you. I know that you would be a tender, sweet, giving lover at times--and a demanding one at others. I know I could handle you.

But I'll never get the chance, will I? You're not mine to love. Tomorrow, your fiancée will walk down the aisle at the chapel in Annapolis, and you will pledge your undying love and devotion to one another. I wish I didn't have to watch, but... I can't miss my commanding officer's wedding--well, not unless I'm on my deathbed. And that includes my entire body... not just my heart.

****

2/15/04

You and Meredith married today, in front of God and a chapel packed with witnesses. The anniversary of the first time you said you loved Meredith. Yes, she told me. Quite frequently. She knew--as I do, AJ--that you're a closet romantic.

As I watched you kiss your bride, I couldn't hold it in anymore. I could feel the hot, burning tears streak down my face. It was a wedding, so no one commented--not even Harm. How could he? He was crying himself. I don't think it was for the same reason I was, though.

I watched you at the reception. You and Meredith were glowing; radiant with happiness. Even when Harm proposed that drunken toast to your dog, Dammit, you just laughed and went along with him.

I got one dance with you. It was nothing like our other dances over the years. You noticed, asking me if anything was wrong. How like you to sense others' feelings, even when the day is supposed to be about you! Of course I responded in the negative. What was I supposed to do, confess my undying love for you at your wedding reception? I smiled at you, and that seemed to placate you.

I am happy for you, AJ--really, I am. How can I not be? You're happy. You know what they say: If you really love someone, set them free. If they come back, they're yours. If they don't, they were never yours to begin with. Well... you know. You didn't even know I was setting you free. But you were never mine. I had no claim on you whatsoever. It's hard to admit that--but it's the truth. You are my commanding officer--now my married commanding officer. A man forbidden on all counts. And I need to remember that. How could I not? It slaps me in the face, every day of my life.

****

2/23/04

You came back from your honeymoon today. When I saw you in the bullpen, tanned, smiling (for a change), and greeting everyone happily, I wanted to run up to you and throw my arms around you. The impulse hit me straight in the gut. I forced myself to stay in my chair and focus on my work.

My work is all that is keeping me sane, AJ. Every night, visions of you with your new wife dance through my head. I try to block them out, but they come back, taunting me with what ifs.

Would have, could have, should have. My entire life can be described with those three verbs. Would have, could have, should have. I would have admitted my feelings earlier--if I wasn't such a coward. I could have objected at your wedding. 'I object! I love this man, and I can't stand to see him marry this loving, wonderful woman, with whom he is utterly and completely in love.' I should have done something, said something, in the eight years that I've known you. But I haven't, and all of those possibilities disappeared--evaporated like rain in Arizona--with the saying of a simple 'I do.'

Would have, could have, should have... would never be, could never be, should never be.

****

4/9/04

I can't do this any more. I just can't, AJ. When you and Meredith told us, I thought I was going to throw up. My stomach nearly came out through my throat. Not that the thought of it disgusts me--oh, no. You will make an amazing father, AJ Chegwidden. But I was hit again with reality. The reality that I will never have you; will never bear your children.

I wonder what that would be like. I can see a child with your eyes-- and hopefully, my hair. (I have nothing against your hair--or lack thereof--AJ. I just hope that our child wouldn't be prematurely bald.) I can imagine you reading him Shakespeare, or me teaching her how to shoot. Or maybe the other way around.

I need to stop torturing myself like this! This masochistic tendency has gone on for long enough. I love you, AJ. But I can't stay here any longer. I need to get away from you.

Maybe then, my heart can heal.

****

4/12/04

I've never seen you so quiet. When I handed in my request for transfer, you didn't say a word. You silently removed your reading glasses--those glasses that I've fantasized about as much as anything else about you--and stared at me. That nearly unnerved me, AJ. I was about to snatch the paper away and say 'No! There's been a mistake. A joke, that's all.' But I didn't. How could I? It was no mistake.

"Is this what you really want, Colonel MacKenzie?" you asked in a quiet voice. No, AJ. It's not what I wanted. I love being a lawyer. I love my job; my friends at JAG... and you already know I love you. But I just can't do this anymore. I can't stand by and pretend to be happy. I'm not. I need to get away from here.

I told you that there was an opportunity at Quantico that I just couldn't pass up. You told me that there were more important things than career. You smiled that beautiful half-smile of yours as you glanced at your wedding ring. That's right, AJ--just keep rubbing it in my face.

I know... you have no idea how much that hurt. But it did. I told you I knew that. And I do. But for me... there is my career, and only my career. It's a cold bed partner, but it's all I have.

You approved my request, AJ. In a month's time, I will be gone from JAG forever. I will leave you behind in Washington, and create a new life at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. With any luck--good or bad, I don't know--I'll never see your face again.

****

5/17/04

I started my new job today, AJ. I'm in charge of straightening up the legal division--not that it needs to be straightened. We're Marines here--we're as squared away as we possibly can be. Kind of like JAG headquarters under your command.

How is everyone, AJ? It's only been a few days, but I'm already missing all of you. Harm's annoying habit of interrupting me in the middle of some important report to badger me about lunch, Sturgis' methodical planning of every decision, Harriet's presence brightening the office... and you. How did I ever think that I would be able to forget you? Even when I'm not near you, I can hear the sound of your voice, smell your distinctive scent, see your intense brown eyes following my actions...

I was a fool to think I could forget you. But my decision has been made. And Marines don't back down from their decisions.

****

6/13/04

Oh, AJ... I'm so, so sorry. I never would have wished that on Meredith or you. I know what it's like to lose a child.

You never knew that, did you? I never told anyone. How could I? They wouldn't understand. You knew what my teenage years were like. Well... the night before graduation, I was in a car accident with Eddie--my drinking buddy. No one knew this except me and the doctor... but I was pregnant that night. I lost the baby, not in the crash itself, but in the aftermath, at the hospital.

I'm thinking of you, AJ. Of course, I think of you every day of my life. But I'm praying for you and for Meredith--and that you can help each other through this trying time. Meredith is a wonderful woman. I'm sure you know that, though.

****

7/23/04

I received new orders today. I'm headed to Iraq to help with the removal of troops. I can't believe we're still in there.

I was also promoted from lieutenant colonel to full-bird colonel. But I'm sure you know that. You were probably the one to recommend it. How do you expect me to forget you when you go and do something like this?

****

8/12/04

Good Lord, it's hot here. Even in BDUs, the heat is damned oppressive. Arizona in summer has nothing on this.

I still think about you. I still love you. Even though I shouldn't.

****

9/4/04

I'm being sent on a mission tomorrow. My CO found out that I had Intelligence training, and immediately put me on the team. They're desperate for information over here.

I'm told it will be dangerous. Of course it will be--we're at war, aren't we? I'm a Marine; I can handle it. That's not what I told the General, though--I just said that I'm a Marine, and I follow orders. He was satisfied with that.

I still love you, AJ. I never stopped. How could I? To tell you the truth, that's all that's letting me keep my sense of humor over here--knowing that a tough, no-nonsense Marine can lose her heart so fully. But I don't blame you. How could you have known?

I'm being called, AJ. I have to go now. My mission begins. If I don't return, know this--I love you. Be happy. That's all there is.

As Hamlet says, "The rest is silence."

Forever yours, in God and Country,
Colonel Sarah MacKenzie, USMC

**** **** ****

"AJ? Honey, you home?" Meredith Chegwidden called as she entered the darkened house. She found her husband slumped on the couch, a hand covering his eyes. She placed a hand on his shoulder. His head snapped up.

"Meredith," AJ said, smiling. "How you doin', Darlin'?" he asked, kissing her.

"About as well as you, AJ," Meredith replied, smiling sadly. She reached over to turn on a lamp. "Why are you sitting here in the... AJ. You're crying."

"Am I?" AJ asked in surprise. He reached up to brush his cheek. His hand came away damp with his tears.

"AJ... what's wrong?" Meredith asked gently. "Is it Mac?"

AJ swallowed convulsively. He unclenched his left hand, which was still holding the letter. "Harm... Harm gave me this last week. I just read it."

Meredith removed the papers from AJ's unresisting hand. They sat in silence as she read the letter. "Oh... AJ," she breathed. She set the letter down and took her husband's hands in hers. "It's not your fault, AJ. She didn't blame you."

"But... but how could I have not known?" AJ whispered.

"AJ, you know Mac. She is--was--very good at hiding her true feelings. If she didn't want you to know something, then you didn't know. She wanted you to be happy." Meredith gathered AJ close as his shoulders began to shake. "It's okay, sweetheart. It's okay," she murmured as her husband cried in her arms.

"Thanks, Mer," AJ said hoarsely when he finished.

"That's what I'm here for, love." Meredith smiled, handing AJ a box of tissues. "Come on. I'll make you something to eat." She kissed him and stood.

AJ gathered the papers together and placed them in the envelope. Going into his study, he opened his safe. He placed the envelope inside and closed the safe, then joined his wife for dinner.