Sweets to the Sweet
By Lady V

The warm May breeze felt like a lover's gentle caress, but he paid it no mind. The warmth was a blasphemy in a place like this. A place filled with tombstones and mausoleums. A place where death filled every crevice in the earth's soul. Despite the loveliness of the weather, he shivered. He had been standing at the cemetery's entrance, a bouquet of violets in his right hand, all the while fighting the urge to flee the stillness of his surroundings. To enter the lifelessness would confirm an ending that he wasn't sure he wanted to face. But to put it off any longer would only delay the inevitable. He'd put it off long enough. Besides, he'd come too far to turn back so soon.
So he shuffled his feet along the cemetery's paved walkway, taking care not to glance at any of the other graves along the path. He didn't want to look at any other grave until he had to. Finally, midway along the path, he came to the one he was looking for. As he gazed upon it, his throat tightened and a wave of sadness bubbled up from within the deepest regions of his heart. He managed to stop these emotions from escaping, clamping down on them as a dam prevents water from escaping a river. Even as he came face to face with the most tragic, painful event in his life, he didn't want to show his emotions too much in a public place, although no one was nearby. He didn't want to seem weak and ineffectual to anyone who might be passing by. He wasn't sure why he would be so concerned about what others might think at this moment. Surely, the cemetery had seen more than its share of outpourings of grief. But he wanted to try to control himself just the same.
He bent down so that he was level with the tombstone. He cleared away a few weeds, then placed the violets down. He stared at the words that were etched on the stone:



Beloved daughter and friend to many

The words seemed to bark at Jack in accusation somehow. And why not? He didn't care how many people told him otherwise. He always knew that he was partially responsible for her death. He'd ruined everything with just one phone call. Seven little numbers punched into a payphone, a conversation of less than a minute, and fate began its immutable course.
He'd been too drunk to drive. That was indisputable, since he'd downed a fifth of Scotch that night. But he wasn't so drunk that he didn't know that he was too drunk to drive. And being the unreasonable bastard that he was, he'd been too cheap to call a taxi. He'd paged her so that she could pick him up at that smoky bar. But he'd been an impatient ass and had ended up taking a taxi home anyway. He'd left the bar before she'd arrived. If he'd waited, she'd still be alive, filling his soul with her spirit. But now, he had nothing. He would never see her smile again. He'd never hear her laugh again, nor see her luminous brown eyes. He'd been as responsible for extinguishing the strength, the integrity, the skill that formed a steely core covered in silk and velvet, as the drunken driver who'd ultimately dealt the final blow.
Jack reached over to pat the tombstone, as though he were trying to touch his beloved in the great beyond. It was never supposed to be this way. Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy, viewed as an arrogant bastard by many, was renowned for bedding every one of his female assistants. Most were mere playthings and were quickly forgotten once Jack had had his fill. But Claire had been different. She'd managed to evoke feelings in him that he'd never dreamed that he'd experience. They were supposed to grow old together. She didn't belong in such a sterile place. He was never supposed to mourn her like this.
Jack brought his hand back to his side. Now not caring what others thought, he found his voice, the words springing unbidden from his lips. "Hello, Claire...It's strange to be talking to you like this. I never thought there would come a day where we wouldn't have time, you know? I know that you're somewhere where you're happy, where you don't feel any pain... But not one day goes by that I don't think about you. Never is there a second when I don't miss you. You...you made me feel and think things that I never thought capable of feeling and thinking. And -- "
Jack could feel his throat begin to tighten again. Tears were threatening to spill from his eyes, but he managed to put a vise over the flood. He continued.
"...Now...that you're gone...I feel so empty, Claire. Nothing matters anymore. I know this isn't gonna help you now, but I'm sorry. So sorry. I keep thinking that if only I hadn't been so pigheaded and waited for you...if maybe I hadn't even gone to that damn bar to begin with...that maybe you'd still be here with me. If you're pissed off at me in Heaven, I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me...Being without you has been the worst year of my life. I'll never forget what you taught me. Most of all...I'll always love you."
The speech had opened a floodgate of emotions within Jack. Now the tears rained down his cheeks, unchecked. His legs began to ache from crouching for so long, so he slowly straightened himself up to his full height. He felt chilled. He regarded Claire's tombstone one last time, then he pivoted and started to walk away, the heaviness of his emotions lifting with each step he took. Somewhere, Jack imagined that Claire had heard him and that she had forgiven him his weakness.

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