Evening Shadows

a Vignette by Mylochka

(Standard Year 2253)

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“I like it dark,” a voice growled as Calaya entered the unlit cabin.

“I know,” she replied softly as she nonetheless brought the lights up to a dull glow.

The crunch of glass beneath her feet confirmed that Noel was in the aftermath of one of what Indiians would term gheyatna sul, or 'whirlwinds of the spirit.'

“Baby,” he warned, as she picked her way carefully through the broken bottles to retrieve a suction unit to clear the shards. “Jus' go.”

Ensign Michaels was barely two years out of the academy. An excellent engineer with a quick mind and a wit as sharp and ribald as Noel’s own. Short. Stocky build. Not conventionally attractive for a Human female, but with a kind, earnest, freckled face. Quick to anger, but just as quick to mirth.

In the intricate, unfathomable web of informal naming customs among Humans, Michaels had, upon her arrival on the Lincoln, impudently dared to call her chief “Pere” in reference to Père Noël, a mythological figure. When others followed her lead and DelMonde had strenuously objected, she switched to referring to him as “Pater” – the same term in a more ancient language… which was somehow supposed to indicate a more respectful attitude.

Instead of becoming even more outraged, Noel had inexplicably been amused and reciprocated by calling the ensign “Li'l Sister,” “Sister Mike,” “Miss Sis,” or “T-Rouge.” The last he claimed was in honor of her short stature and orange-colored hair. None of which seemed in keeping with either interpersonal or military decorum to Calaya, not to mention that none of it made any sense linguistically.

“Girl…” The engineer’s eyes were red-rimmed when he turned them on her unsmilingly. “You not no damned maid.”

“No,” she replied firmly as she continued to clear the debris of his grief-rage. “I am not.”

“Then jus' leave that shit an' get th' hell out.”

When Calaya had cautioned Noel that Ensign Michaels’ teasing attitude concealed a strong – and unreciprocated – sexual attraction, DelMonde had merely shrugged. Of course he knew. In a typical Human male reaction, he was flattered -- and completely unconcerned about the probable complications inherent in mismatched levels of attraction existing in two working together so closely.

“So ol’ Sis Mike got herself a litty bitty bit o' a crush on me,” he had said, dismissing her concerns with a wry half-smile. “She gonna get over it when she know me better.”

Michaels’ devotion to her chief turned out to have more deadly consequences than even Calaya had imagined...

“Girl,” Noel interrupted her thought as if he could stop the tragedy that had taken place three weeks ago from happening. “You need t' get up out my face right now.”

The Lincoln had been ordered to aid a starbase caught in the middle of a planetary civil war. When insurgents had over-run the power station the engineering team was repairing, Michaels had unhesitatingly stepped between an armed combatant and her beloved superior…

“Get out,” the engineer ordered. “Before I throw you out.”

Calaya picked a bottle of blue pills up from under Noel’s desk, noting how few were left in the container.

Dr. Han had insisted that because of his past history of abnormally intense reactions to personal loss, DelMonde be put on a special, six week, shipboard mental health leave after the ensign’s death. At first the psychologist’s orders had seemed like an overreaction. The engineer had grieved as anyone in a similar situation might and grumbled about the inconvenience of being “clucked over by a couple o' hens like I a chick wit' a broke leg.”

It was only after he’d snuck back into Engineering a few times to check on his crew that the true, black depression had emerged.

As the Lincoln’s chief engineer, DelMonde was almost never truly off duty. He therefore had begun to drink less and less in fear of unexpectedly being caught too incapacitated to fulfill his obligations. For the same reasons, he was also forced to rely less on sapphire to regulate his stress levels.

Fortunately, Calaya was there for him instead.

In the Indiian language, the rare, precious thing that existed between them was called corius thy lythu. Standard had no better equivalent for the richly spiritual and romantically meaning-laden term than “special affinity.” From what she understood of the language, “soulmate” might be a better approximation, but failed to incorporate the very real, physical phenomenon identified by the Indiian term. By a wondrous stroke of fate, the energetic emanations of their psychic beings harmonized so perfectly that the resonance of their feelings strengthened the electro-chemical functioning of their brains. In other words, her love literally healed his ability to think and feel.

But now black night had fallen. He drank without pausing, deadened himself with drugs, and pushed her away, preferring to keep company instead with cold memories of the women he had loved and lost.

“You are under physician’s orders to ingest nutrients at this time,” she said, deliberately mimicing Dr. Han's clipped delivery when annoyed. She reached up to key in the combination of the wall compartment where the container of blue pills was kept. “What form do you prefer? Soup? Capsule? An injection?”

Blue-black seething rage enflamed her lover’s being. He was suddenly on his feet, towering over her, grabbing her wrist. “I prefer,” he snarled. “That you get th' hell out an' leave me be.”

The touch of his darkened emotions was a painful as his grip on her wrists. “After I've seen that you've eaten,” she replied stubbornly, forcing her feeling self to remain open to his anguish.

Blue waves of ice pushed her back. “You not my nursemaid,” he said between his teeth. “You not my mama. You not… hell, I not even know what t' call what we tryin' t' pretend t' be t' each other…”

“Noel…” Calaya swallowed the bitter tears that rose up inside her and straightened. “I am not leaving.”

Mais, I am.” He snatched the bottle of sapphire from her grasp and stalked to the door. He paused before exiting, but did not turn around. “If you got th' brains t' know what be good fo' you, you best not be here when I get back.”

Calaya stood motionless for a few moments, blasted too raw by his rejection even to cry.

When the tears did come, she leaned against the silent, unyielding wall of her lover’s cabin for support. It offered no resting place as she slowly slid down to the bourbon-stained carpet.

As a girl, she had longed – as did every young Indiian – for someone with whom she could share corius thy lythu. How could she have ever dreamed that such a perfect connection could inflict such exquisite pain?

The harmony between their psyches might be perfect, but their relationship was not balanced. In the privacy of her thoughts, she was forced to finally admit that Noel was correct in that much at least. He was – as he had so often pointed out -- so much older, so much more damaged by life. She had never experienced – and hoped never to experience – the sort of losses that had made him believe his love was a poison that destroyed the ones who cared for him the most. She was not scarred by the kind of pain that made him think it was kinder to abandon than it was to embrace.

She had had lovers, but they were happy memories, not aching shadows on her heart.

And oh, what long shadows the women in Noel’s life cast!

First there was his mother, omnipresent guardian of his soul. He mourned her as a devout might weep for a fallen goddess. His tears would stain her altar until the day of his death.

And then there was Ruth Valley, whom he had fought with - and for - to the point of soul-deep exhaustion and despair that cracked his already broken heart in two. Her mark was indelibly burned into the brain she had healed and unintentionally damaged so many times.

And Pelori MacIntyre, whom he had loved briefly, but so deeply that a part of his heart had forever died with her.

Even Ensign Michaels whose unrequited passion had prompted her to die in his stead.

Going through the list, Calaya could now see why Michaels’ death was pushing Noel into such a dark place. The little orange-haired ensign manifested pieces of all his great loves: A fierce defender like his mother, an impudent but loving jester like Ruth Valley, as brave and selfless a soldier as MacIntyre…

Noel’s sense of loss and guilt was not for one woman, but for four.

Calaya sighed deeply. Those four women had dug an incredibly large and gaping fissure for her love to attempt to fill. Was Noel right? Had their loss made his heart into a bottomless pit into which she would uselessly pour out all her strength and compassion until there was nothing left of her to sustain herself or to give to anyone or anything else?

Without warning, the door to the cabin swooshed open.

“Yes, Lieutenant,” Noel was saying to an unseen second party. “You can assure th' good doctor I am jus' fine… an' headed back into my quarters this very minute… while you jus' stand there an' wait… like a damned red-shirted brick wall!”

After the cabin door closed, the engineer turned and leaned back against the portal with a weary sigh. When his black eyes finally met hers, Calaya could feel that the darkest of his whirlwind rage was now -- at least temporarily -- diffused by whatever had occurred in the corridor.

DelMonde crossed his arms sourly. “Well, you coulda told me Miss Jade Busy-body Smarty-Pants Han had done sicced Security on me wit' orders to haul my ass down t' Sickbay if I should happen ' get three damn steps out my door before I stormed out an' made a fool o' myself.”

Although the tempest between them was not over, Calaya dried her eyes and was thankful for this break in the clouds. “I didn't think you would be appreciative of her… level of concern.”

“An' you were right.” The engineer’s sigh was wryly bitter. “As usual.”

A long silence stretched between them like the sea after a gale – each wave of subdued emotion bringing up wreckage.

“Well, gal…” DelMonde blew out a long breath and shook his head. “I not know what we gonna do now…”

Emotion choked Calaya. She had no reply for him even if she could speak...

“‘Cause I not want no soup,” he continued dryly as he returned his blue pills back to their drawer. “I not like th' taste o' them nutriment pills.” He sat down beside her. “An' a man takin' his meal as a shot is jus' not civilized.”

“No,” she agreed, a smile forced from her like a sob. “To someone of your highly developed taste for fine dining – Not at all.”

“Nope.” He brushed her bangs aside and kissed her on the forehead like he might do to a beloved child. “Not at all.”

“Then…” When she turned to hide the resurgence of her tears, her eyes fell upon his guitar. “How about a song, instead?”

“Oh… If music be th' food o' love, hmm?” he asked, retrieving the instrument.

She smiled, recognizing the line as being from a play they had seen performed on Starbase 11. “It may not fulfill Dr. Han’s orders for your nutritional needs, but play on,” she replied, matching his reference.

The engineer began to play seemingly without plan or reflection. The tune that emerged beneath his long fingers was slow and as melancholy as their mood.

Even before Calaya fully recognized that she knew the words, she began to sing:

Click here to hear the song

When the rain is blowing in your face,
And the whole world is on your case,
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love.

When their eyes met, Calaya knew Noel was as taken unawares by the song’s lyrics as she was. She used them to promise,

When the evening shadows and the stars appear,
And there is no one there to dry your tears,
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love.

When an overabundance of emotion made him turn away, she caressed his cheek.

I know you haven't made your mind up yet, she sang, accepting his doubt
But I will never do you wrong.
I've known it from the moment that we met,
No doubt in my mind where you belong.

I'd go hungry; I'd go black and blue, he sung back to her, attempting to hide his feelings in joking.
I'd go crawling down the avenue.

No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do, she replied firmly
To make you feel my love.

The storms are raging on the rolling sea, they sang, their voices a reflection of the perfect harmony of their lifeforces.
And on the highway of regret.
The winds of change are blowing wild and free,
he warned, but she only smiled and replied,

You ain't seen nothing like me yet.

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true, she continued passionately
Nothing that I wouldn't do.

Go to the ends of the Earth for you, he returned fondly.

To make you feel my love, they finished together.
To make you feel my love

The kiss they shared when Noel put aside his guitar was deep, but when he pulled away, his eyes were still sad. “Girl, my daddy always told me t' not never marry a woman better than myself. In th' end, it bound t' pull you both down.”

“Fortunately you are not your father,” Calaya replied pragmatically, keeping her arms around him. “I, as you pointed out, am not your mother. And we are not contemplating marriage at present.”

“I know that,” he retorted with a reproving kiss. “An' you know what I be sayin' is that you young, beautiful, smart, an' so, so, so special. You can go further an' do a lot better than th' likes o' me.”

“Even if that were true, Noel,” she said, knowing that in his arms, she did not feel drained by the love she gave to him. Giving strengthened, not weakened her because she was so freely given love in return. The engineer had not yet correctly calculated that their ratios did balance in the end. The depth of his pain was forever offset by the neverending abundance of his affection. “I have no wish to.”

“You sure?” he teased, to hide how touched he was. “You may look back on this moment an' say, 'Damn, that were th' last chance I had t' leave that mean ol' drunk.”

“I hope so.” She kissed him lingeringly. “I want no more 'chances.' I never intend to leave.”

Mais, then, we best send out fo' a couple buckets o' that soup, gal,” he joked, pulling her onto his lap and kissing her hair.

“Why?” she asked, holding him close. “We have enough music to live on forever.”

The End

To Make You Feel My Love written by Bob Dylan, performed by Adele.

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