A/N: This goes with the fic In the Light of the Stars
The bed looked inviting and warm, and Jack was exhausted. He wanted to fall across it and sleep for days. The only thing he could think to be grateful about was that Mai hadn't seemed to suffer. She'd slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness. Jack threw his coat across the bed and wearily climbed the stairs to the attic and the stuffy alcove that served as his office. HIs body worked automatically to pull out a fresh sheet of parchment and unscrew the cap of his fountain pen.
March 8, 1967
My Dearest Minerva…
Jack shook himself and stared at the words on the parchment in disbelief. He hadn't written those particular words in over a decade. Since they'd recognized the hopelessness of their situation. Jack felt reproach cramp his gut. His wife - his gentle, serene Mai - had only been dead for less than three hours, and Jack used a salutation to address a former lover that he had no right to use. He started to pick up the sheet of parchment, so he could crumple it up and then burn it. But his fingers traced over the curving lines of Minerva's name, nearly caressing the memory of the sweeping arch of her cheekbone.
Jack drew a shuddering breath and set the parchment down.
Jack could freely admit to himself - and privately to Tony when liquor loosened the restraints of his tongue - that he'd never loved Mai with the fierce passion that had governed his feelings with Minerva. Mai had made him content, certainly, and given him their two children. It wasn't that he didn't love Mai, but it was calmer, tamer, and without the intense fervor he'd had with Minerva.
Jack sighed and closed his eyes. It felt like cheating on his wife, but try as he might, he couldn't Vanish the parchment, nor remove the salutation. Underneath the crushing guilt, he felt a tiny spark of relief that he no longer had to keep such a savage grip on his emotions that it made all his letters to Minerva sound like the stilted politeness of people who despised one another, but kept a gracious public facade for the benefit of others.
He picked up the pen and continued writing.
My wife, Mai, has died. It was cancer. Ovarian, I think. The past few months have been a muddle. By the time we knew anything was wrong, it was far too late to do anything. I should have gone straight to Eileen's house to break the news to Will and Julie as soon as I left the hospital, but it's well after midnight now, and I want them to have one more night where their mother exists in this world.
I've been so angry. At Tony and Jeanne, especially. Only because they couldn't do anything about Mai. During the war, we constantly - and often sadly - reminded each other that magic has limitations and can't solve everything, a fact Tony has reminded me of on a daily basis since Mai's diagnosis. When I haven't been angry, I've been so tired, it was as if I'd been sitting in the shelter in the Chancery Lane station for three straight nights.
I don't even know what to feel just now. It all sort of feels numb, like it's happening to someone else.
I've been offered the position of Head Auror over all the United States several times the past few years, but never took it, because Mai didn't want to leave San Francisco. I didn't mind staying. Will and Julie were happy here, too. Overseeing the Pacific region has been quite enough. But Will will start Salem in September, and Julie is just a couple of years behind him. I don't know what to do. Stay or go to New York? Part of me wants to stay, for the sake of my children, but I'm burning to leave and do something new.
Jack smiled suddenly, seeing Minerva glaring sternly at him in his mind's eye, working herself up to deliver a stinging lecture about duty and responsibility.
I can see you right now. Ready to poke me in the chest with your index finger. A light in your eyes that would make grown men wilt under its iciness. I can't leave San Francisco yet. Not until Julie has started at Salem. I can't disrupt their lives, especially after they've lost their mother. Perhaps I can persuade them to let me operate from California for the time being. At least until Julie starts Salem. After all, this is a situation where magic is eminently helpful. I can use magic to travel between San Francisco and New York every week. Even every day, if I had to.
I've missed you. Every day.
That sounds wrong. My wife has just died, and I've all but admitted to my former lover how much I continue to love her.
There are two people in this world to whom I would admit such a thing. Tony - and I have on more than one occasion - and you. I wish I could say that it's been more than a wee dram of your father's favorite Firewhiskey that's given me the nudge to admit it aloud to you. If so, it might feel less like I've been cheating on my wife.
Jack paused and stared at the letter, fingers tightening on the handle of his wand, ready to slice away the compromising paragraph. He relaxed his hold on the wand and retrieved his pen.
I did my best to suppress how I felt about you. From the moment you returned to Britain to take the post at Hogwarts until now. Mai didn't deserve for my emotions to exist in such a divided state. But you knew that. You always have.
I will grieve for my wife when everything else ceases to be something more than numb. I will grieve that Will and Julie have lost their mother. And I will grieve for the loss of Mai's presence in my life.
But for now, allow me to say - without reservation or hope of reciprocation - that I never stopped loving you.
I hope this letter finds you well.
With my love,
Jack carefully folded the parchment and slipped it into an envelope. He addressed to Minerva at Hogwarts and reached into the back of a desk for the small leather-bound box that held a long-ago birthday gift from Minerva. It was a seal stamp that she's had made with a stylized willow tree carved into the die. Jack wiped the fine layer of dust off the lid of the box and opened it. A half-used stick of indigo blue sealing wax nestled next to the stamp. Jack used his wand to melt several drops of wax onto the envelope and pressed the stamp into the pool of dark blue wax for a few moments,waiting for it to harden. He replaced the seal and slowly closed the lid, slumping in the chair. He started to tuck the box back into the recesses of the drawer, but he stopped. 'Mai is gone,' he whispered to the still house, as he carefully placed it on the desk, no longer needing to keep remnants of his past hidden away. Guilt crashed to the surface once again. Jack made to shut the desk drawer, but a pale smudge caught his eye. He plucked the object from the desk and set it gently on the desk. It turned out to be a envelope. Jack thumbed it open, revealing a dark, wavy lock of hair. He remembered the day he had retrieved it from a bathroom floor in London, mere moments after Minerva had cut her hair. He pressed the lock of hair to his lips and tenderly slipped it back into the envelope.
Jack made to return the envelope to the drawer, when a glint of gold flashed in the lamplight.
His wedding ring.
He twisted the thin band from his finger and laid it precisely in the centre of his desk, next to Minerva's letter.
Jack dragged himself to his feet and stumbled back downstairs into his bedroom. He kicked his shoes off and fell into the bed, not bothering to undress. He should sleep now. The next few days were going to be hell on earth.