Title: Second Chances

Author: Caitrin Torres

Pairing: AJ/Mac

Spoilers: Not really. Takes place during seventh season or thereabouts.

Disclaimer: Characters not mine. Characters Bellisario's. Please don't sue.


AJ Chegwidden sat slumped on the couch in his den. He absently swirled the last of his bourbon before setting the glass down on top of the legal brief he had been pretending to study. It was his birthday. Work could wait for Monday.

One last round through the channels confirmed that there was nothing on tv worth watching. AJ abruptly turned off the set and moved to go lock up. As he passed by his kitchen table he eyed the small pile of presents he had received from his staff at dinner. There were two tickets to The Tempest at the Kennedy Center from the Roberts, books on naval warfare and the history of baseball from Manetti and Turner, a nice pen and pencil set from Tiner, and a plant from Singer. Creeping ivy - very fitting. He'd sampled the bottle of bourbon from Rabb already, and it was only reluctantly that he decided against a second drink. Something that smooth should be sipped slowly, and he was in the mood to gulp.

AJ checked the lock on the back door, then leaned against the doorframe and stared out into the night. Sarah hadn't been at the restaurant. He thought he'd heard her tell Harriet she planned on attending. He couldn't really fault her for not wanting to celebrate on his birthday. He wouldn't have faulted her for bringing him up on charges after the way he'd treated her.

The worst part of it was that he couldn't bring himself to regret that weekend, not completely. She'd stayed late at JAG one Friday night to polish a brief for the Marcobi court martial. He'd been stuck in his office finishing some paperwork that the SecNav probably wouldn't look at until Monday but just couldn't start the weekend without. Her car wouldn't start, he offered her a ride home, and somewhere along the way he heard himself suggesting dinner at his place.

He hadn't noticed the thunderstorm approaching, hadn't planned on the power going out, certainly never intended to share leftover lasagna with his Chief of Staff by candlelight, but he did, and somehow the glow of the flames and the smudge on her face from the chocolate cake made her look a lot less like Mac and much more like Sarah. He pointed out the stray frosting and she licked it away, and suddenly it was hard to remember just why it was that they hadn't kissed years ago at that party. He leaned in, and half-formed thoughts of duty and honor and regulations were swept aside by the taste of her lips and the sweet sound of her voice and the teasing warmth of her hands as she returned his caresses.

It was disgustingly easy, he thought, to play "what if" now that it was over. What if they'd stopped there instead of spending the weekend lost in each other? What if he'd simply retired instead of accepting her offer to transfer out of JAG? Or if he'd managed to pull his head out of the clouds long enough to double check the listings Tiner pulled from BUPERS before leaving them on her desk? There was a damned large difference between suggesting a new post at the Pentagon and one in Okinawa, and her history there only made it worse. He should have made time to talk with her after she refused the transfer instead of sending her away for two weeks. Surely the shipboard JAG on the Nimitz could have coped without Mac's assistance for one more day. Hell, what if he'd just left the SecNav's paperwork undone and gone home at 1730 with the rest of the office in the first place? Whoever said that it was better to have loved and lost was a fool. Never getting involved at all was less painful.

The sound of the doorbell pulled AJ from his musings. He made his way towards the front of the house and opened the door, then froze when he saw who was there.

"Mac?"

Anything else he might've said died on his lips as he took in her appearance. She evidently hadn't changed after work since she was still wearing a rather rumpled uniform. Had she been crying? The harsh porch light made it difficult for AJ to be certain.

"May I come in?" she asked.

AJ awkwardly moved back to let Mac step around him and pushed the door closed behind her. He took her coat from her then silently led the way back to the kitchen. She would have called him if this had anything to do with JAG, and he had no intention of hashing out his personal problems while standing in the front hall.

AJ saw a flash of regret cross Mac's face as she sat down at the table where that weekend started, and he quickly suppressed his own feelings. He'd decided after her return from the Nimitz to treat her with the utmost of professionalism -- no more, no less. She'd say her piece and she'd go home. Holding her close in the meantime was not an option.

AJ busied himself with making a pot of coffee to fortify himself for the discussion. The silence between them stretched uncomfortably until, finally, the coffee was ready. AJ poured a cup for each of them and took a seat across from her.

"You were missed tonight, Colonel."

"I wasn't sure you'd want me there."

"Mac..." AJ sighed. He'd planned exactly what he'd say to her in case she was ever inclined to listen, but he couldn't get the words out. "You would have been welcomed."

Mac nodded almost imperceptibly. "I know." She looked up from her mug with a strained smile. "I did want to attend, but Harriet brought something to my attention today that couldn't wait." She took a deep breath and let it out as she pulled a small wrapped box out of her purse and slid it over to him. "Happy birthday, AJ."

"Mac?"

"Please, just open it."

AJ unwrapped the present and removed the lid, and for the second time that night he froze as he tried to make sense of what he was looking at. It was a pair of socks, each no longer than his fingers. He pushed them aside to see what else was in the box, and revealed a plastic stick. AJ picked it up and turned it over to examine it. There was a window with two blue lines clearly displayed.

AJ looked at Mac, then back at the box, and his eyes widened as realization dawned. "Is this-?"

Mac nodded. "I've been nauseous this week. Harriet caught me in the restroom this morning and suggested that it might not have been stress that made me late this month."

Good god. She was pregnant, and it was his. Sarah was pregnant with his child. Their child. He thoughts were racing so quickly that he nearly missed what she said next.

"I'll resubmit my request for a transfer on Monday. I'd prefer to stay in the States, but I'll accept anywhere with an open billet."

"Request denied!" If she thought he'd allow her to take their child and disappear before he had a chance to make his case, she had sorely misjudged him. He'd been down that road once before and he had no intention of making the same mistake twice.

Mac's eyes narrowed. "Fine. I'll talk to my detailer. Finding a new posting shouldn't be difficult. General Mitton hints at least once a year that he'd like me to join his staff."

Mitton was a lecherous pig, and they both knew it. She couldn't possibly want to serve under him. "Sarah," he asked carefully, "why now? You were determined to stay in DC earlier this month." Was she that desperate?

Mac fiddled the edge of her placemat as she gathered her thoughts. "I don't know how this happened. I told you I was on birth control, and it was true. I was shocked when Harriet suggested that I might be pregnant."

As was he. He waited for her to continue.

"Our weekend together was incredible, AJ. I've never felt so wanted or cherished by a man before, and I'm certain I've never been with anyone I respect as much as I do you. I never expected to be a single mother when I had children, but since that's what's going to happen - and it will happen; I intend to keep this child - I'm glad it's because of you."

A single mother? "Sarah, do you want to leave?"

"I have to," she said harshly. "Don't you see? I love you!" She slumped back in her chair as if all the fight had suddenly drained out of her. "Damn you, AJ. I know this never should have happened. I know you've moved on, and I won't burden you with a child you couldn't have expected. I need to move on too, but I don't know how to do that if I have to face you every day. I don't think I can."

"So, don't."

"What?"

"Don't move on."

"I don't understand." She looked as if she wanted to run, but the intensity of his gaze pinned her to her chair.

"It's simple. Stay. Don't move on."

"AJ?"

He knelt before her and took her hands in his. "That Sunday, do you remember when I told you I wanted to retire?"

"Yes, but-"

"I meant it. I still mean it."

Mac looked at him, wide eyed. "I don't understand," she whispered.

"Stay. Stay here in DC, stay at JAG if that's what you'd like, stay in my life. Please, Sarah. Let me do this for you."

"You're going to retire for me." The confusion on her face was painful to see.

He took her hand in his and laid it on her belly. "For us." It was a question as much as it was a statement, but the joy and relief he saw in her eyes told him that it was exactly what she needed to hear. He kissed the palm of her hand, then stood and helped her to her feet. He pulled her close, and gave her a gentle, loving kiss.

"We'll figure this out, Sarah. Together."