A Cajun Christmas Carol

A Vignette
by Cheryl Petterson
(Merry Christmas, Mylochka!)

(Standard Year 2249)

Return to Valjiir Stories

Return to Valjiir Continum

"Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail."

Now, what th' fuck is so dead 'bout a damned door nail is somet'ing I not rightly know. If I was to call it, I say a coffin nail 'bout the most dead piece o' ironmongery they is. An' this a fuckin' stupid way t' begin a book.

Noel DelMonde closed Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and frowned at the actual leather-bound book in his hands. Ruth had given it to him as a gift; she said for Chanukah, he called it a Christmas present. What he didn't understand was why. Not only why this damned stupid book, but why she'd given him anything in the first place. They hadn't exactly been chummy since he'd signed on board the Enterprise. But as he stared at the finely crafted and tooled cover, he realized it just might be a peace offering. It was something old and cherished - like a friend s'posed t' be, he mused. And he knew it was one of her favorite stories. She liked the whole idea of redemption... The thought soured. Yeah, through fear and manipulation, he grumbled to himself. I s'pose I ol' Scrooge an' she the damn Ghost o' Christmas Past. He suddenly chuckled. 'Cept I bet she say th' Ghost o' Chanukah Past.

Again his thoughts soured, and he slammed the book down on the shelf next to his bed. Whatever her intent, whatever she was trying to tell him, one thing was certain. What they had shared was most definitely a ghost of the past.

XXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXX

The sound of the door chime woke him. He gazed with bleary eyes around his cabin, noting the chronometer said 0100. A quick glance at the empty bed across the room from his told him Pavel Chekov was undoubtedly spending the night with Daffy Gollub. There was no second chime, so he chalked it up to hyper-awareness; someone somewhere else on the deck must have chimed at someone else's door. The word 'chimed' brought back unwelcome memories of Dreamland and Flower Loonies and he scowled and placed his pillow around his head. Like that gonna muffle people's thoughts, he chided himself, but didn't remove the comforting fluff.

"Chime, yeah, man, but do you?"

Del bolted upright at the very clear voice, but couldn't see anyone in his cabin. "What the...?" he began.

"Oh, right, I reach," the voice said again. The sound of snapping fingers was followed by the most surreal thing Del had ever experienced - and that, of course, was saying something.

The cabin aboard the U.S.S.Enterprise disappeared, to be replaced by a dark, cold bedroom, dominated by a large four-poster bed with velvet curtains in which he was sitting. The rug on the floor - not Del noted, a carpet, but rather a round thing of vaguely Oriental design - was faded and threadbare. There was a window to his left, its panes rattling in the wind which was blowing snow against it. A large fireplace, dusty and coal-streaked, was built into the wall across from the bed, but the hearth was cold. Ancient gas-jet lamps flanked the bricks of the fireplace, and Del abruptly realized he was wearing a long linen night-shirt, a wool stocking cap and woolen socks that came up to his knees. From underneath a doorway to his right came an intense, bright light.

He pushed the heavy blankets aside and gasped as the rush of cold hit his flesh.

"Bear but the touch of my hand, and you'll reach for sure, man," the voice said again. The door opened and a brightly shining Eden-head walked into the room. He wore all white, but Del could discern shades of white making flower patterns on his clothing, which looked like a sleeveless vest and a ragged shorts. His hair was an unruly mop topped by what looked like a silver dunce cap, his face broad and smiling.

Suddenly the picture came into focus. "Fuckin' hell, you th' fuckin' Ghost o' Somet'ing Past, non?"

"Something," the young man grinned.

"Hey, in the book there s'posed t'be a Jacob Marley firs'," Del pointed out.

The Ghost sighed. "You're still so tied to the linear, man." He shook his head. "But if you need it, who am I to judge, you reach?"

He snapped his fingers again, and Del was confronted by a very annoyed looking young man with dark, curly hair and intense blue eyes - in an Engineering uniform.

"What the holy hell is this?" the man demanded. "And who the hell are you?"

"You not look like no Jacob Marley t' me," Del drawled.

The man's eyes narrowed. "And you don't look like Ebenezer Scrooge." He paused, glancing critically at his fellow engineer's clearly Victorian attire. "Though you're certainly dressed for the part. What the hell is going on?"

"You s'posed to be my ol' partner?" Del asked uncertainly, his mind frantically trying to make sense of the situation.

The man shrugged. "How should I know? I was having a wonderful time building rockets with Robert Goddard when poof! I ended up in a Victorian bedroom looking at a scrawny, half-dressed nitwit who thinks he's Ebenezer Scrooge."

"I not no fuckin' nitwit," Del snarled in answer. "I a galaxy-class Maker an' th' best engineer in Fleet."

"Maker, huh?" the engineer sniffed, clearly unimpressed. "And I work for the best engineer in Fleet and you're not him."

"Yeah? Who your boss, then?"

"Montgomery Scott." The note of pride in the young man's voice was unmistakable.

"Non, man, I work fo' Scotty an' I not know you from shit."

"YOU work for..." The man glanced around him uneasily. "What's your name, Ebenezer?"

"DelMonde."

That got a reaction. The man stood up straighter, then leaned forward, carefully scrutinizing Del. "You know Ruth Valley?" he asked.

"In more ways than I can count," Del grumbled. "Includin' Biblical."

The man smiled. "Me too. John Thompson."

Del scowled. "You dead, man," he pronounced.

"I know that, idiot," Thompson returned. "And since I guess I was your predecessor on the Enterprise, I AM kind of your Jacob Marley."

This is some bullshit here, Del thought, and in his head, heard the smiling Flower Loonie answer, "Well, it's the bullshit you wanted, man. Ask him what advice he has for you."

"So what you got t' tell me?" Del snarled.

"Easy," Thompson said. "Don't let that purple-eyed beauty fuck up your life, 'cause she will without meaning to and without even knowing she's doing it."

"Shee-it, I already know that one," Del returned. "Th' question is... how?"

Thompson laughed, then said, "You will be haunted by Three Spirits."

"Fo' the fuckin' love o'..." Del began.

"Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls one," Thompson said, then added, "but I guess that would be now, wouldn't it?"

"Couldn't I take `em all at once, an' have it over?" Del quoted wryly.

"Expect the second on the next night at the same hour," Thompson went on, still laughing. "The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!"

There was the sound of fingers snapping yet again, and Thompson disappeared. In his place stood the Flower Loonie.

"Let's get this life lesson on the road, man," he said.

Grumbling, Del got out of the bed. "You got a name?" he asked as he took the Ghost's outstretched hand.

The Ghost looked surprised. "Don't you know me, Del?" he said. "We shared consciousnesses once. I'm Adam."

"Fuckin' sheee-it," Del moaned and the Victorian bedroom winked out around him.

XXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXX

The day was overcast and cool, typical December weather in New Orleans. Del knew where he was instantly; the corner of Royal and Elysian Fields in Washington Square. The neighborhood was known as Marigny - and something wasn't at all right. It looked more like a run-down version of the French Quarter. All the streetlights were gas lamps and the road was paved with cobblestones. The people that walked by wore clothes more suited to the 19th century than to the New Orleans Del had grown up in. Yet there, on the corner just inside the square, stood five young boys, all dressed in clothes that were clearly hand-me-downs about a thousand times over, all of a Victorian style.

"You know who they are?" Adam asked brightly.

"That T-Boy an' Cole an' Too an' Willie," Del answered, not at all certain he was believing his eyes. "An' that tall one is me when I was 'bout eight or nine. But we never wore no caps an' scarves nor waistcoats like they is."

"Blame Dickens, man," the Eden-head laughed. "Look, it's gonna start snowing in a minute."

"In New Orleans?" Del scoffed, then choked back the sound as white flakes began to fall all around him.

Then the group of boys started singing, flawless harmonies falling from their lips in tones as clear as any crystal.

"God rest, ye, merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay..."

"Shee-it, they never sang that good in they whole damn lives," Del commented. "'Cept fo' me. My mere said I sang like an angel. An' I still do." Beside him, Adam shook his head. "'Sides, they be more likely to be doin' some dancin' music, not this sorry ol' hymn..."

Before the words were even out of his mouth, the music changed, and the five boys began dancing, each in his own street style.

Click here to hear the song.

"You not need a penny, jus' t' hang around," the younger Del was singing.
"But if you got a nickel, won' you lay that money down.
Over on th' corner, there a happy noise
People come from Vieux Carré to watch th' magic boys!"

The rest of the boys joined in.

"Down on th' corner, out in th' street
Willie an' th' Poorboys are playin'
Bring a nickel, tap your feet."

"You were pretty good, you have to admit," Adam commented.

"An' jus' what th' fuck this s'posed to teach me 'bout Raw-eth?" Del asked sourly.

"Look at yourself. Your cousins hated you and tormented you - but there you are...'

"Beggin' fo' pennies," Del interrupted.

"Well, nickels, actually," Adam corrected jovially. "Point is, you could harmonize with them when you needed to."

Del scowled. "Yeah, okay, I takin' th' point. But 'harmonize'? You gotta be that damn literal?"

Adam shrugged. "Don't ask me, man. This is your trip."

He took Del's hand again, and the scene before them vanished in a flash of white.

XXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXX

Calvario's penthouse was decorated to the hilt; trees with ornaments and garlands and tinsel and lights, menorahs and suns, wreaths and candles and holly and mistletoe, depictions of deer and Pere Noel.

"Fuckin' shee-it," Del grumbled. "Whyfor you gotta bring me here?"

Adam grinned. "This is where the party scene is at, man," he replied.. "You're not some herbert now, are you?"

Del shook his head. All the usual partygoers were in attendance - Kam and Daffy and Cobra and Gypsy and Barak - but they were all dressed in Victorian clothing and toasting with glasses of something in a large punch bowl.

"He never spared any expense, did he?" Adam mused, glancing around. "And you never really appreciated that."

"Yeah, I jus' a big ol' ingrate," the engineer snarled. "Never had no proper appreciation fo' him killin' my friends an' fuckin' up Kam so bad, an' manipulatin' the fuck outta ever'one else..."

"Look, there you are," Adam interrupted as he pulled him out of the main room onto the balcony overlooking Rio.

A very young man sat in a chair by himself, a guitar nestled in his arms. His head was down, his eyes half-closed, playing and singing very softly to himself.

Click here to hear the song.

I have a blue christmas wit'out you
I be so blue jus' t'inkin' 'bout you
Decorations o' red on a green christmas tree
Won't be the same, mere, 'cause you not here wit' me

An' when those blue snowflakes start fallin'
That when those blue memories start callin'
You be doin' all right, wit' your christmas o' white
But I have a blue, blue blue blue christmas

"You missed your mother very much, didn't you?" Adam asked.

"None o' your fuckin'' business," Del glowered. "What bein' back wit' the sick-fuck gonna teach me?"

"That before Ruth, you were lonely and bitter and never let anyone help you," was the Eden-head's response. "You have friends in there..."

"Barak never no friend o' mine," Del interrupted.

"...who would gladly try and ease your pain but you always pushed them away, and then used sapphire to numb it."

"I use sapphire to get me some sanity!" Del corrected stridently. "You not know what it like..."

"Oh, I think I do," Adam again interrupted. “Where – is – Irina – Tongo – Mad… Find the way, brothers, live the dream, sisters.” He grinned again. "Remember?

"Fuckin' shee-it," Del muttered.

"Come on, we have one more stop to make."

"We gotta?"

"That's the story, man. You reach?"

"I gonna reach my hands 'round that neck o' yours in a minute here."

Cal's penthouse disappeared as had the New Orleans Street corner, in a flash of white.

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There was a snow-covered bridge over a frozen stream. A church was in the background, and it, too, seemed to be all-white. A bench sat on the bridge, the snow carefully dusted off it, and on it, in a somewhat threadbare Victorian dress and bonnet, sat Ruth Valley, her hands inside a fur muff, her huge, purple eyes downcast. A young man - not so young as in Calvario's penthouse, but not yet as old as Del was currently, paced before her. His Victorian suit was much fancier and in much better repair.

"It matters little," Ruth said softly. "To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve."

"What Idol has displaced you?" his younger self rejoined.

"A golden one."

Del snorted loudly. "She 'bout as golden as they come," he declared, and Adam hushed him.

"This is the even-handed dealing of the world!" the Victorian gentlemen exclaimed. "There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!"

"You fear the world too much," Ruth answered, gently. "All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?"

"What then?" he retorted. "Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then? I am not changed towards you."

She shook her head.

"Am I?"

"Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man."

"I was a boy," he said impatiently.

"Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are," she returned. "I am. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and can release you."

"Have I ever sought release?"

"In words? No. Never."

"In what, then?"

"In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us," said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; "tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!"

He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of himself. But he said with a struggle," You think not?"

"I would gladly think otherwise if I could," she answered, "Heaven knows. When I have learned a Truth like this, I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if you were free today, tomorrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl -- you who, in your very confidence with her, weigh everything by Gain: or, choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to your one guiding principle to do so, do I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? I do; and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were."

He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she resumed.

"You may -- the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will -- have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen."

"This bullshit!" Del burst out vehemently. "Not'ing like this ever happen 'tween us! I not change toward her. She th' one who change her heart toward me. An' the' las' t'ing - th' VERY las' t'ing I care 'bout is gain!"

"Turn it around man," Adam advised. "Chime with the message, not the messenger."

"What the fuckin' hell you talkin' 'bout?" Del demanded.

"She's letting him go, knowing he's changed. With a full heart, for the love they once shared. She's got no just cause to grieve. You reach?"

"Fuck you!" Del cried furiously. "Fuck you an' fuck all this an' most especially FUCK YOU!"

He reached for the ridiculous dunce cap Adam wore and - knowing it was an equally ridiculous gesture - he pushed it down over the curly hair and the smiling face, pushing down and down until the Eden-head's entire body disappeared within it. Just before the bright light winked out, Adam's voice seemed to come from all around him.

"You're really sledging the vibe, man."

XXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXX

The sound of the door chime woke him. He gazed with bleary eyes around his cabin, noting the chronometer said 0100. A quick glance at the empty bed across the room from his told him Pavel Chekov was undoubtedly spending the night....

Damn, I fuckin' hate deja vu, Del snarled.

"See, that's your problem right there," a very familiar voice commented. "You don't wanna learn from experience."

"Aw, Mary fuckin' mother o' God," the engineer moaned. His cabin once again underwent the transition to a Victorian bedroom - but this time there was a roaring fire in the fireplace, suffusing the room with a warm, golden glow. Seated to the left of the fireplace in a golden throne atop a humongous mound of food and drink was the familiar figure to whom the familiar voice belonged. He was dressed in a long red robe of velvet, trimmed with white fur. A wreath of holly and mistletoe encircled his short, tightly curled hair, the ruby in his left earlobe sparkling in the firelight. In his hand he held a golden cornucopia with the traditional snake-and-staff emblem of the medical profession inscribed upon it.

"Come in, and know me better, man," Jeremy Paget quoted.

"I know you 'bout as well as it possible fo' one man to know another," Del retorted sourly.

"I am the Ghost of Something Present," Jeremy continued, still quoting. "Look upon me. You have never seen the like of me before!"

"Cut th' crap, Jer," Del scowled as he climbed out of the four-poster bed. He noted that he was still in the ridiculous nightshirt and cap..

With a grin, the Security man hopped down from the throne, and came over to Del, draping one arm around the engineer's shoulders in a manner that was as familiar as his voice and his face. "So, you ready to test the warp drive with me?"

"Jeremy Maurice..." Del began.

Jer cut him off. "Ghost of Something Present," he reminded, then winked.

As before, the room vanished in a flash of light, but this time it wasn't blinding white, but soft, warm gold.

XXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXX

The Science Lab Christmas/Chanukah/Solstice party was in full swing. Daffy Gollub's "Special Holiday Punch" was an unsurprising hit even though the chemist refused to reveal exactly what was in it. Ruth Valley and Jilla Majiir were playing quiet carols on guitar and lyrette - until Monique DuBois went to the sound system the ship's engineers had rigged up and programmed it to play lively songs, then grabbed Ramon Ordona's hand and dragged him into the center of the room to dance. Sulu was soon dancing with Daffy - since neither Jilla nor Chekov were inclined to such public displays. Ruth grabbed the Captain's hand, who shrugged a 'how do you say no to her?' look in Spock's direction, then danced his brassy heart out.

"Looks like fun, non?" Jeremy asked as he and Del floated in the vicinity of the punch bowl. "Why aren't you there?"

"I not in Sciences," the Cajun grumbled.

"Neither is Chekov," was Paget's blithe answer. "Or Sulu. Or Jilla. Or the captain. Or Monique. Or..."

Del cut him off. "I get th' fuckin' point."

"Do you?"

"Yeah, it th' same as th' las' one. I could be lettin' friends help me stop mopin' 'bout Raw-eth..."

"Aw, hell no!" Paget exclaimed. "The point is you're missing one hell of a good time by moping about Ruth!"

"Like I be able t' have a good time while she..." the engineer began.

"That's the point, mon ami," Jeremy interrupted again. "You're letting her control your life, letting her decide where you will or won't go. You're serving on the same ship and you're letting her suck all the fun out of it just because she's there!" He made a tsking sound, wagging one long finger at his friend. "Not healthy, man. And not like you to go into hiding like this."

"Fuckin' shee-it, I done went into hidin' all the damn time..."

"Before you met her. We were quite the pair of troublemakers on the Hood, weren't we?"

Del snorted. "We was both miserable on th' Hood 'cause you pinin' fo' Sulu and I was missin' Raw-eth like crazy."

"My misery's not on the table here," Jeremy scolded. "When you're the Ghost of Something Present you can torment me." He took a deep breath, and Del noted that he looked several years older than he had when they'd started. "But even when you were missing Ruth, you weren't the foul tempered son of a bitch I'd known and loved for five years. You were a happy foul tempered son of a bitch." He grinned.

"An' what I got t' be happy 'bout now?" Del insisted. "She married t' ol' horse-face there an'..."

"So get th' fuck over it," Jeremy said, his voice a perfect imitation of Del's own growl.

Del blinked, startled and a little hurt. "When I ever tell you t'..." he began.

“Yeah, you sure taught me not to underestimate the stayin' power of a twelve-year-old's crush.” Jeremy quoted.

Del's mouth twisted into a grimace. "I not bein' cruel 'bout it," he muttered.

"Come on, we've got more to see," Paget broke in, the and Science Lab Christmas/Chanukah/Solstice party blurred into warm gold.

XXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXX

A Starfleet cabin slowly emerged from the golden light. Del knew whose it was, even though he'd never been in it: there were flowering plants all along one wall, a display of ancient alien weaponry along another, two separate computer stations, a large coffee pot on one of the desks, and on the chair of the other desk, a pink and silver ball of fur that was purring contentedly to itself.

"Fuckin' shee-it, I NOT gonna be here!" Del immediately insisted.

"Why not?" Jeremy answered with a bright smile and a deliberately false show of innocence.

"I am so gonna kick your ass, motherfucker..." the engineer growled.

"I am so gonna teach you the meaning of Something Present," Paget responded cheerfully.

The cabin door hissed quietly open. Commander Spock and his lovely Antari wife strolled in. Ruth was carrying her guitar and once inside the cabin, the Vulcan took it from her, setting it on a stand next to the bed. A scowl began on Ruth's lips, and was interrupted by Spock's calm explanation.

"You were going to toss it on your chair in the name of being too tired to put it away properly," he said. "Then complain in the morning when you sat on it, forgetting it was on the chair."

"Womprat," Ruth muttered, but she was smiling.

"She never let me get away wit' somet'ing like that in a month o' Sundays," Del muttered.

Paget shushed him.

"Something arrived in the day's mail shipment," Spock said as he moved to his own deck. There were two packages there, each wrapped in brightly colored paper with elaborate bows. "Merry Christmas," the Vulcan finished.

"I'm not Christian, remember?" Ruth giggled.

"Nor am I," Spock returned. "However, my mother is."

With a wide grin, Ruth went over to the packages. "Hey, both of these are for me!" she exclaimed.

"Indeed. My mother knows not to send gifts to me. However, when she asked, I informed her that you would be delighted to receive them, despite not being Christian."

"Double womprat," Ruth said, but there was true affection behind the verbal teasing.

"I gonna puke here in a minute," Del grumbled. He turned away, not wanting to see what Ruth's mother-in-law thought were appropriate gifts. "What th' fuck this s'posed to teach me? Wait, I know," he interrupted himself. "This th' Something Presents, non?"

"You are just too cute, my man," Paget answered with a grin. "This is supposed to show you how happy Ruth is. And since you love her - you do still love her, right? - you're supposed to be happy that she's happy. Oh wait, I forgot." His voice once again became DelMonde's own. "Dysfunctional emotional feedback loop jus' the clinical term fo’ love.”

The Cajun's eyes widened. "How th' fuck you know 'bout that?" he demanded. "You not even on that dragon planet."

"I know all, man," Paget quoted again. "I see all."

The cabin dissolved, as had the Science Lab, in warm golden glow. But before anything else could materialize, Del grabbed Paget by the shoulders, shaking him.

"I not want no more o' this!" he shouted. "No more showin' me what I missin' - which, by the fuckin' way, include the happy scene you jus' done showed me! That should be me givin' her Christmas presents, not th' damned Vulcan's mama! That should be me tellin' her I know she not Christian, but I am so suck it up an' accept joyeux Noel! That should be me...!"

Abruptly, Paget pulled back and Del realized that the Security man's curled hair was white, as was his neat beard. His mahogany features were etched with deep wrinkles. A look of caring sorrow came into his dark eyes, and he pulled aside his robe. Two withered, emaciated child-like things fell from beneath it. DelMonde too fell back, startled and revolted.

"What the' fuck..." he breathed.

"They are yours," Jeremy said, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their father. This boy is Despair. This girl is Bitterness. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

"Fuckin' shee-it..." Del began.

Jeremy cocked his head to one side.

"Testing the warp drive always was as much teaching aid as wasted debauchery," he reminded. "Etre audacieux, être audacieux, mais pas trop audacieux de peur que le sang de votre coeur devrait courir le froid," he quoted for the last time, then disappeared in the golden glow that soon became the flames of the hearth in DelMonde's Victorian bedroom.

Be bold, be bold, but not too bold, else the blood o’ your heart is bound to run cold.

Del shuddered, hearing a distant chime somewhere begin its slow count toward twelve.

XXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXX

A sudden, heavy fog enveloped the room and a tall, cloaked figure emerged within it. Already an arm was rising, the skeletal hand pointing.

Del scowled and folded his arms.

"Hell no," he stated adamantly. "I know th' rest o' th' damn story. You gonna show me how nobody care if I live or die an' I gonna end up in St. Louis Cemetery wit' that skinny-ass hand pointin' at a mausolée that got my name on it an' I s'posed t' be all tremblin' an' scared shitless an' wailin' 'Oh, Spirit, I not th' man I was, I will not be that man, why show me, if I past all hope.' Mais, I got news fo' you, damned Ghost o' Somet'ing Yet To Come. I already know how it gonna be when I die. I known fo' years an' years. I known ever since my mama got taken from me. Nobody care then, nobody care now, an' nobody gonna care in th' future so you can jus' float your skeletal self th' fuck on outta here 'cause I was that man, I am that man, an' I gonna be that man so we can pass on all this shit an'..."

The figure raised an eyebrow - although how Del knew it was doing so when he couldn't see its face was a little disconcerting - and continued to point into the fog.

"Fuckin' shee-it, when th' fuck I gonna wake up outta this stupid dream," Del muttered, but he began walking through the fog to where the Ghost of Something Yet To Come was pointing

XXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXX

The predicted mausoleum was a small one, though it had an angel on top, its hands outstretched in sad welcome. Jeremy Paget, in somber civilian clothing stood before it, carefully placing an old, battered guitar case against the pedestal. His hair was back to its usual black, and there were tears in his chocolate brown eyes.

As Del watched, Sulu, Jilla and Sakura Tamura came up behind Jeremy. Sulu carried a beautiful sapphire blue pot which contained a black orchid, DelMonde's fellow engineer holding a well-worn leather case. Gypsy had a magnolia carved out of what was clearly dylithium. She put it on the guitar case, Sulu placed the orchid next to the case, while Jilla put the tool kit at the angel's feet. The Indiian's eyes were slate-rimmed, Sakura's reddened, and Del noted to his surprise that Sulu's were as sorrow-filled as Jeremy's.

"Why the hell did he have to..." Paget began, his voice somewhere between rage and pain. Saki went to his arms, holding tightly to his chest.

"We know why," the pretty Asian woman said, her tone a match for Paget's.

Sulu shook his head. "It's not her fault, Saki," he murmured. "His shielding just wasn't strong enough to endure it." He stepped forward, putting his arms up and around Jeremy's neck, pulling the taller man's head down so that their foreheads were resting together. "We always knew he'd do it someday," he whispered.

"I do not understand it," Jilla added softly, her hand resting gently on the TerAfrican's arm, "but he was in so much pain, perhaps it is for the best."

"Maybe for him, Lady," Jeremy returned bitterly. "How about for the rest of us?" Sakura sobbed as the handsome face twisted in grief. "Selfish bastard."

"And that surprises you, Mr. Paget?" came the voice of Pavel Chekov from out of the mist that surrounded the cemetery. He, unlike the others, was in uniform, and he carried a velvet-covered box. Daffy Gollub hung on his arm, silent tears falling down her cheeks.

"It is unseemly to speak ill of the dead," Jilla admonished.

Chekov turned wide, brown eyes to her. "I do not, Mrs. Majiir. I am only agreeing that Noel was, most of the time, a selfish man."

"Shut up Pav," Sulu said wearily. "And no, I don't care if you think you're only speaking the truth."

Chekov - who had opened his mouth in protest - immediately fell silent.

"He was our friend," Sulu continued to the group at large. "It didn't matter - doesn't matter that he could be a foul tempered son of a bitch. We all know why. He was so skinless, so acutely aware of what everyone was thinking and feeling all around him all the damned time, and we loved... we loved him...." He stopped speaking abruptly and Jilla went to his arms as tears began washing from his tightly closed eyes.

That started Daffy sobbing, and she stumbled forward with something in her hands that Del couldn't identify - except that it was butter yellow. She tried to place it in the angel's hand, thwarted by her height.

"Here, let me, Daffodil," Paget whispered hoarsely, and the object came into sharp view.

It was a perfect replica of the Buttercup.

Del had to swallow a sudden lump in his throat. "What th' fuck is goin' on here?" he wondered aloud.

The Ghost only continued to point silently.

"I - I have something as well," Chekov offered awkwardly. He placed the box at the bottom of the mausoleum, and Del recognized it.

"There is not much left," the Russian admitted. "Mostly because Noel drank most of it, but..."

Paget pulled the shorter man into a fierce hug. "He woulda loved it, Tovarish," he said.

Slowly, more and more people came to the small mausoleum: Monique DuBois and Ramon Ordona. Mrraal and M'ress. David and Judy Miller. Montgomery Scott poured a bottle of bourbon onto the angel, and broke into heavy sobs when Leonard McCoy did the same thing with Saurian Brandy. Jade Han quietly placed a fragrant bowl of Rigellian next to Sulu's orchid, then buried her tears in Jim Kirk's tunic. Uhura and Tomor Rand added a small pouch that Del somehow knew contained several hits of sapphire.

Next, the officers and crewmembers of the Hood joined the growing group of mourners. Captain Aronson and Klaus Brandt, Chief Jacobs and Russ Rabinowitz, Greg Halloran and Dr. Donleavy - even Carlo Mangini and Serena Kane. There were a great many tears, a lot of wistful - and angry - memories shared. But there was no laughter, and no music.

And no Ruth Valley.

XXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXX

Del frowned as the swirling mist began obscuring the cemetery. "So this tellin' me I as much a cold-hearted bastard in death as I done been in life?" he asked the skeletal spirit beside him. There was no answer - not that the Cajun had expected one. "Mais, it sure as shit tell me how much Raw-eth care 'bout my..."

He fell abruptly silent as the fog surrounding him cleared to once again reveal a Starfleet cabin with flowering plants all along one wall, a display of ancient alien weaponry along another, two separate computer stations, and a large coffee pot on one of the desks. He began another scowl, then stopped, blinking.

Ruth's guitar was shattered in pieces on the deck, the woman herself slumped in the middle of the wreckage, sobbing hopelessly. The streaks of tears on her face, the blotches on her blue uniform, the wet mass of hair hanging over her shoulders was silent testament to the fact that she'd been crying for a very long time.

The cabin door slid open as Commander Spock entered. He stared at the mess for only a moment, then went to kneel beside his wife.

"Deilarrei, what can I do?" he asked, his arms beginning to come around Ruth's trembling shoulders.

She pushed him away, her purple eyes blazing.

"Don't touch me!" she shrieked at him. "It's my fault, don't you understand? It's MY fault!"

"Ruth..." Spock began.

"No, I knew how he felt - it was so obvious on Naois! I should've known what he would do - damn it, I DID know! I just didn't want to! I didn't want to face it!" She got up, pacing frantically through the debris, clearly not caring that the splintered wood was cutting her bare feet. "Me and my damned game of odds or evens, deciding who'd leave first - stupid, stupid game! If only it could last, I thought," she spat out, "a day longer, a week – forever?" A wild laugh was torn from her. "No, we both know it can't, don’t we, I said. What we have is only good in small doses, I said. It starts out wonderful and fulfilling and warm – and grows hot and frightening and destructive so quickly… " Her voice caught in her throat, sobs once again overcoming her. "I was scared, too damned - HA! - too FUCKING scared to work through the destruction! Too scared to take that wild ride with him. I went for safe! I went for comforting!" She turned, glaring at the Vulcan who was still kneeling on the deck. "I went for YOU!"

"Ruth, you do not mean..." he began.

"And now he's gone - gone from me forever - and it's my fault. I destroyed him! I let him come here, I didn't tell him about us - I WANTED him to want me that badly, to need me, to... it's my fault... my fault... my fault...."

She collapsed agony pouring off her in tangible waves. Her pain-wracked mind was bright to his senses, glaringly, blindingly bright in its grief and self-loathing and hopelessness. Tears were scalding Del's eyes and as he tried to blink them away, he saw that Spock, too, wept. He watched as the Vulcan again tried to comfort his wife, watched her refuse him again, listened again to her litany of despair and bitterness and blame. Time after time Spock would go to her, time and time again she rejected his help and his love, until finally she screamed at him.

"We KILLED him and I'll never, never NEVER forgive me... I'll never, never NEVER forgive you!"

She ran from the cabin, leaving Spock to slump to his knees, his hands covering his face.

Del swallowed heavily. "That what I got waitin'?" he rasped. "I destroy her? I do this selfish t'ing, not t'inkin' - not carin' what it do t' her? An' she blame herself?"

In swift succession he saw her resigning Starfleet. He saw Jilla's pleading with her and Sulu's hopeless sorrow. He saw Daffy's fury and Pavel's unhelpful stoicism. He saw Jeremy and Sakura become joined together in a descending spiral of hedonism and excess, neither having anyone to stay sober for. He saw the Vulcan he hated so much falling into pon farr - and without Ruth, calling to his mate. He watched as Jilla was unable to resist the call of her blood, and Sulu's broken anguish.

"Non," he whispered in real dread. "Non, this not all happen 'cause o' me. I not have this effect on them, I can't..."

The Ghost didn't answer, only pointed to the broken pieces of Ruth's guitar slowly fading before them.

Del scrambled, trying desperately to pick them up, to somehow reassemble the precious instrument. When the fragments began turning to dust and blowing away, he glared at the Ghost, then charged, knocking the figure to the deck that was now little more than mist.

"You take it back!" he screamed into the shadowed hood. "You take the whole fuckin' t'ing back! I NOT do that to my Raw-eth - I NEVER do that! I NOT that selfish, I not th' man who say 'if I not have her, no one have her.' I LOVE her, I do, and yeah, Jeremy Maurice, that mean I DO wanna see her happy, so whoever th' fuck you are, Ghost o' Somet'ing Yet T' Come, you fuckin' take this shit back right th' fuck NOW!"

His flailing hands caught the edge of the hood, pulling it back - but instead of the grinning skull he expected to see, there was the cold, grinning face of his father.

XXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXXOOOOXXXX

The sound of the door chime woke him. He gazed with bleary eyes around his cabin. A quick glance at the empty bed across the room from his told him Pavel Chekov was undoubtedly spending the night....

Del bolted upright. The chronometer read. 0237. He threw off his blanket, revealing bare skin. No woolen socks. No linen night shirt. His cabin remained his cabin. There was no transformation into a cold, dark Victorian bedroom. The door chime sounded again.

The relief that washed through him was so great that he didn't growl his usual "who th' fuck is it" and actually leapt up from his bed to answer the door. When it slid open, a very annoyed Ruth Valley was standing there in a bathrobe.

"Will you please stop flooding every telepath and empath and sensitive in a seven parsec radius with your version of Dickens? And for god's sake put some clothes on!" the Antari said irritably.

Del's grin was so wide it nearly split his face. He grabbed Ruth, picking her up and swinging her around in a dance of sheer, unadulterated joy.

"It your fault," he said breathlessly, then started laughing at the scowl on Ruth's face. "It actually is," he explained - which, he knew, explained nothing.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Ruth demanded. "And put me down!"

"You gave me th' damn book!" Del cried merrily, then planted a warm, loving, grateful kiss on her still-frowning lips.

"Del, you'd better..." she began, and he could feel both the longing and the embarrassed anger building up in her mind.

He set her down, still grinning. "I sorry, cher," he said, "but it really is your fault fo' givin' me th' book." He paused. "An' that all that's your fault. I came here of my own volition. I not tell you I was comin'. I not give you th' chance to try an' stop me, or t' tell me that the visions on Naois were more'an visions. I not give either one of us th' chance t' work it through. I love you, darlin', I do, an' it on me, never on you."

He stopped speaking, then smiled warmly at her again. "You be happy wit' th' life you choose, cher," he said earnestly."

"Where... what... how...?" Ruth stuttered.

"The Spirits o' th' Past, th' Present, an' th' Future gonna strive wit'in me," he quoted. "Heaven an' the Christmas Time be praised." He leaned down, kissing her again, this time on the cheek. "Or in your case, Chanukah Time."

Ruth blinked at him, her expression clearly saying, he's really lost it this time. "Uh - you want to tell me what..." she began again.

"If I floodin' ev'ry telepath an' empath an' sensitive in a seven parsec radius wit' my version o' Dickens, then you already know," Del answered, folding his arms in something approximating his usual gruff manner. "Jacob Thompson an' Loonie o' Christmas Past an' Cobra o' Christmas Present an' my Reaper Ol' Man o' Christmas Yet T' Come. That tell you what you wanna know?"

"You do realize that that's all in your head, right?" Ruth said. "That it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with reality..." Her voice faded on the word at the challenging look in Del's eyes.

"You gonna admit it?" he asked.

The Antari sighed and shook her head. "Just tone down the telempathic noise, okay? Some of us are trying to sleep."

Del nodded and grinned victoriously - then again when, before turning around to leave his cabin, Ruth stole a furtive glance down his body.

With the cabin door closed behind her, Del went to his bed and picked up the book on the shelf next to it.

"I not shut out th' lessons they teach," he murmured. "An' God bless us, ev'ry one."

The End

Down On The Corner by Credence Clearwater Revival
Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley

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