Fingers, stiff from cold, carefully scraped away snow that had been driven onto the face of the gravestone. At the bottom, where granite met ground that was in turn covered by snow, the young man placed a fresh camellia, the red petals vibrant against the white canvas. The hand paused above the petals and a tremble ran through them, a tremble unrelated to the cold. Then the hand closed suddenly and disappeared into a jacket pocket.

“You have no idea what it took me to get that for you,” Andrew Picard said, finally looking at the marker itself. “I have to do whatever Boothby tells me to do for the next semester. I hope you’re happy.”

His attempt at humor, at the same banter that had so often been tossed between himself and his twin when she was alive, faded as quickly as it appeared. He glanced away from the headstone and looked outside the small cemetery plot, his eyes immediately drawn to rows of the empty vines, curved brown lines tracing their way through the snow, all seeming to point toward the house. “I think we are. Happy, I mean. I think we’re happy.” His words were sure, but the voice behind them held a good amount of uncertainty.

He sighed and turned back around, trying not to pace as he spoke. “Papa gave us a tour of the new Enterprise today. She’s supposed to be commissioned tomorrow, so we got a sneak preview. Captain’s privilege, I guess. As soon as we got to the bridge, Gracie sprinted out of the lift and jumped straight into the captain’s chair. She did her best to look innocent, pretending that she’d had no idea what she’d done, but you know how she is. I think she’s been wanting to do that for years and she’s only been biding her time. So you can imagine how Papa reacted. First you could see that he was pissed, because it’s his chair. You could tell exactly what he was thinking by the look on his face. He even looked good and ready to scold her until she just gave him… that look.”

His feet scuffed at the snow, kicking a small chunk toward the headstone. “You know the one. You had it too. He just can’t ever get past that look you and Gracie have.” Andrew glanced up at the overcast sky as he continued. “Meanwhile, Mom was doing her best not to start laughing out loud and once Gracie gave him that look, she was done for. She’s laughing so hard that she’s got tears and Papa keeps getting more and more indignant and then tries to fix a his scathing glare on Mom.”

At the memory, a crooked grin formed on his face. “And you know how well those glares work on her. Only made it worse. As for me, I didn’t dare look up for more than ten seconds at a time, so I’m happy to tell you that the carpets on the new ship are quite nice, as I spent a great deal of time studying them. And the whole time I kept thinking that if you were there, you’d make me look up, and you’d go and get me in trouble, too.”

Andrew stopped looking at the sky and back at the headstone again. “Gabriel got annoyed at all the laughing, squirmed out of Mom’s arms, and walked over to me. Well, for him, it was practically running. I think he wanted out of the line of fire and you can’t really blame him for that.”

He paused for a moment, the image of his little brother bolting towards him, his green eyes wide at the goings-on. “Allie, you should see him. He’s grown a foot and now he’s starting to talk. He’s already giving Gracie a run for her money in the charm department. And Papa thought he was getting off lucky with a boy instead of a girl.”

Andrew dropped to a squat, studying the flower on his twin’s grave. “You did a good job with Mom and Papa before you left, you know. I don’t exactly know how to describe it, but they’re stupidly happy with each other. Things still get rough at times, but I guess that’s how it goes with every family. All in all, for the way things go in our own family, it’s been a downright boring year. No unplanned kids being born, no hasty marriages, no more discoveries of long-lost relatives, not even any real time spent on a starship. Everyone’s been either here or in San Francisco. Utopia Planetia is as far into space as any of us have gotten in the past twelve months. And while the rest of them get to go out on the new ship when she goes on her shakedown cruise, I’m stuck here on this rock until my sophomore field placement. Once, it wasn’t going to be so bad, staying on a planet for such a long time, but you were going to be here.”

He reached out to the cold granite marker and traced his sister’s name as he talked. “But now you aren’t. Well, you are, but you aren’t at the same time. It’s not the same. And when the rest of them are gone on the ship, I’m going to be alone. It wasn’t supposed to be that way.” His fingers traced the date of birth carved into the face of the stone. “You should be here today, of all days. This is the day you were supposed to be eighteen, this is the day when you should be making fun of me for my uniform, this is the day you’re even named for… and you aren’t here.”

Then his fingers finally reached the last set of numbers and his throat closed up. He couldn’t say the rest of what he wanted to. I was never supposed to feel alone because I had a twin. You were never supposed to feel alone, either. And here we are, on our birthday, entirely alone.

He stood up and thrust his hands back into his pockets, but couldn’t take his eyes away from the grave, no matter how much he wanted to distance himself.

Measured footsteps crunched in the snow just beyond the plot, then came to a halt a few steps behind him. “I thought I’d find you here,” said Jean-Luc Picard.

Andrew didn’t turn around. He’d known it was his father ever since he’d noted the measure between the strides of the approaching man. For a moment, he said nothing, simply watched the white puffs of breath float away from his mouth. “I miss her,” he said suddenly, the sound marring the quiet.

“She once told me to make sure that her brother knew that he was never alone,” his father replied.

Somehow, his father had known exactly the right thing to say, exactly what he needed to hear, exactly what… Allie would have told him. Andrew turned. “She told you that?” he asked.

A moment’s hesitation, then Picard gave a slight nod.

It was all Andrew needed. For any of them, any memory that came from the Nexus brought a certain look to their eyes, and his father had it now. “Oh… the nexus,” he said. The hope he’d had before faded within him, the reassurance had been so real, and now he knew it to be untrue. “None of that was real.”

Jean-Luc hesitated again, but not for the same reason. This time, he was composing his answer before he spoke, to make sure it was exactly what he wanted to say. “Her gift to us in the nexus, it’s real. Even after she died, she kept us all together. Even now, she keeps us true to ourselves.” The captain paused and made sure his son was looking directly at him before he finished speaking. “Andrew, how we feel is real, no matter where we are. And you aren’t meant to feel alone.”

Andrew wasn’t sure what it was, if it was the words his father had spoken, the look in his eyes, or even his own thoughts, but he didn’t feel alone anymore. His sister was still physically gone, but her influence only seemed to grow more strong as time went by. A year ago, he and his father wouldn’t have said a word to one another. A year ago, they would have pretended nothing was wrong. And here, a year later, they said what needed to be said instead of hiding. “She wasn’t like the rest of us. Yet now that she’s gone, we’re becoming more like her. One of us will say something to another and it would be exactly something she would’ve said. Something that was exactly what needed to be said.” Andrew paused and saw in his father’s eyes that he knew his son no longer felt alone, that Andrew was talking about the statement Jean-Luc had made minutes ago.

“We should go inside where it’s warm,” Picard said, his tone as warm as his eyes had grown.

Andrew cast one more look back the family plot before walking beside his father down toward the house, the older man’s arm draped across his son’s shoulders, making certain the young man never felt alone.

End.

Author’s Note: The title “In Paradisum” comes from a portion of text in the Requiem. The full Latin version is: In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem.

English version: May angels lead you into Paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your coming and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May a choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.

The first time I heard it, it was a choir of monks chanting it at the funeral mass of one of their brothers who had just died. It was absolutely beautiful and haunting to hear. It also leaves one with hope.

Home