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The Ghost of Christmas Past

Chapter Text

"Mince pie, anyone?"

There were groans from around the table.

"I couldn't eat another bite," Vermilion said, massaging his stomach. "I don't think I've ever eaten so much before!"

"I used to be able to eat that much," Indigo complained half-heartedly. "I guess that I still have a lot to learn about my limits."

"You'll adapt," General Scarlet told her. "I remember that it took me a while to find certain things out, too. Like not being able to gorge myself on delicious food, for example. I think that retrometabolism was a blessing when it came to Christmas."

"It certainly was," Indigo concurred. "How the hell are you still hungry?"

Former General Claret was peeling the foil case from a mince pie, having given up on her three human companions. "Different digestive system," she said. "Also, this is the first time I've ever had Christmas dinner. I want to sample everything."

"You certainly did a good job making it," Indigo complimented her. "Just like I remember."

"I wasn't sure everything would come out right," Claret confessed. "It's my first attempt at anything like this."

"It was fantastic, Lanna," Scarlet said, giving his wife a peck on the cheek. "You've done yourself proud."

"You would say that even if I'd burned everything," she pointed out.

"True," Scarlet conceded, after pretending to give the matter some thought. "But you'd know that I was lying."

"I have something that I need to say," Vermilion announced abruptly, setting down his wine glass and turning to Indigo.

"Rose, the past two weeks have been the happiest of my life. I've wasted so much time ignoring how I feel about you, time that I should have spent persuading you that I never cared that you were different, that we could make a go of it. I don't want to waste a moment more." He slid off his chair and knelt beside her. "Will you marry me?"

From his pocket he produced a small box, which he opened to display the ring nestled inside.

Indigo's eyes sparkled as she looked at the ring, recognising it instantly. "Why, you old romantic!" she exclaimed delightedly. "Of course I'll marry you."

Vermilion extracted the ring from its case and slid it gently onto Indigo's slender finger. The diamonds surrounding the central ruby shone brightly, catching the light of the candles burning low on the table. He stood, and she stood with him, gazing up into his eyes. He bent to kiss her tenderly, although he was mindful of their audience on this occasion, and reluctantly parted from his new fiancée after a few moments.

"This calls for champagne," Scarlet declared, disappearing into the tiny kitchen for a moment, reappearing with a champagne bottle and four flutes.

"I hope that's non-alcoholic," Claret said half-heartedly, knowing her husband too well to expect him to pay attention to the rules regarding alcohol. She had let the wine slide, but this was going a little too far, even though she understood that it was a human custom.

"Of course it's not," Scarlet replied, scandalised, as he unwound the wire covering the cork. "I'm not breaking with long-established tradition. You know as well as I do that we never use non-alcoholic champagne in Spectrum. There was an… incident the one and only time it was done." The cork popped out of the bottle, and Indigo smiled as she recalled the old story she had been told so often.

"You two have planned this," she accused the two men. "The bottle of champagne that you just happened to have handy, this ring… Where did you find it? I thought it was lost for good!"

"It was in the house at Winchester," Scarlet told her, handing her a flute, filled almost to the brim with fizzing champagne. "Behind one of the picture frames on the mantle in the lounge. I found it years ago and put it away for safekeeping. You were off world, on assignment, and I forgot about it when you got back. When Jack asked me for your hand, just before you left Starbase all those years ago, I asked him whether he would like to give you your mother's engagement ring."

"I wasn't sure at first," Vermilion continued, picking up the story. "But then I remembered how upset you'd been when you lost it, and I knew you'd be pleased to know it was safe."

"And you hung on to it all these years?" Indigo asked her father. "You're more romantic than you let on."

"Oh, he's certainly that," Claret remarked. "When he proposed to me, we were on shore leave together. It was the first time I'd been to the family house, and we walked through the woods to the lake. He had a picnic of all my favourite foods, all of them fresh from Centaura, and when he asked me, he spoke in Centauran, absolutely word-perfect."

Indigo let out a low whistle. "That's not easy," she said. "Took me years to learn Centauran, and I'm a linguist. The pronunciation is very difficult for us Humans, and that…" She frowned for a moment, trying the phrase out in her mind. "That's a real tongue-twister."

"That's what you said when I asked you to teach me, too," Scarlet said with a smile. "The other you, that is. It was worth the struggle, though."

"The 'other me'," Indigo repeated thoughtfully. "I still haven't quite gotten used to that."

"Neither have I," Scarlet concurred. "I have to keep reminding myself that you didn't have the same life as she did. You and Jack lived through thirty-six years of hell instead."

"I still have problems remembering that none of that ever happened now," Vermilion agreed. "I always hated stories about paradoxes when I was a kid, and now half my life has been swallowed up in one. Not that I'm complaining – it's great that none of it has happened."

"Bit weird, finding photos of ourselves, together," Indigo added. "I know things happened differently, but it's a real reminder of how different this place is to the one we left."

Vermilion nodded and took a sip of wine before speaking. "Is it normal, now?" he asked thoughtfully. "Mixed-species marriages? I don't think I ever heard of one before."

"No," Claret said emphatically.

"It's not common," Scarlet added. "Lanna was the first Centauran to marry outside her species, and I… Well, I don't have much of an option, do I? It never stopped me before." His words could have been serious, if not for the wide grin on Scarlet's face. "There are a few mixed couples now, mostly within Spectrum. I think we proved that it could be done, and others weren't afraid to follow once there was precedent."

"And your proposal was so lovely," Claret said. "And before that, I thought that I was too old and too sensible to be swept off my feet."

"Never," Scarlet said smoothly. "You're still in the prime of your life. Wait until you get to my age before you start saying things like that."

Claret and Indigo exchanged knowing, tolerant glances. Now that she was getting over her wild elation at simply being able to see him whenever she wanted, Indigo was starting to realise that he was much happier than he had been for many years before she had changed him. The prospect of eternal life no longer hung over him, and he seemed much more alive now than he had been for the last hundred years. There was just one thing left to complete the dream that he had told her about all those long years ago.

"Actually, I've got an announcement of my own," she said with a shy smile. "As I'm sure you remember, Dad, Verdant and Chartreuse kept us under close scrutiny for the week following our change, and Chartreuse has kept it up since we arrived in this time."

"Yes, Verdant did the same with me," Scarlet confirmed as he handed a second flute of champagne to Vermilion. "It took him about a year before he gave up on the weekly physicals."

Indigo nodded. "Well, Chartreuse discovered something during one of those exams before we left. I didn't want to say anything just then, and it's still very early days, but I'm expecting a baby next September."

"A… baby?" Vermilion stammered. "You're pregnant? That's…" Vermilion's expression changed in a moment from one of shock to utter delight. "That's brilliant!"

"A double celebration then," Scarlet declared with a wide smile. Quickly, he found a spare champagne flute, filled it with lemonade and gave it to his daughter. Indigo gratefully traded it for her champagne.

"A toast," Scarlet said, raising his glass. "To the future."

The four glasses met at the centre of the table, with Vermilion and Indigo echoing the toast. In unspoken agreement, they linked arms and drank.