Merry Christmas Darling
By Shelley Johnston

Jack settled into the hotel bed, and hoped he could get a decent night's sleep.  He hadn't been sleeping too well lately.  He figured it was because he was putting in too many hours at the office.  He told Nora and Serena that he wanted to lower his caseload before the new year, hence the overtime.  Both of his colleagues reacted the same way, skeptically, but accepting of his reason.  But Jack knew why he needed to keep busy.  Memories of Claire were beginning to invade his brain for the last two weeks.  Ever since he heard that Christmas song, thoughts of her flitted in and out of his mind.

December 1995

"I don't know why I let you talk me into getting a Christmas tree," Jack grumbled as he strung the shiny garland around the 6-foot Douglas fir.
"Because you value my opinions, and thought it was a wonderful idea," Claire answered as she spread the tree skirt along the base.
Jack answered with an audible scoff, and regarded Claire with a twinkle in his eyes.
Claire glanced up and noticed that familiar teasing look on Jack's face.  She stood up and walked over to him.  She put her arms around his waist and laughingly said, "Okay, then it must be because you love me, and would do anything for me."
When Jack didn't respond to her statement, Claire immediately regretted her boldness.  They had been together less than a year, each bringing some emotional baggage into the relationship.  Maybe she presumed too much in knowing Jack's feelings?  Claire leaned back and looked up with doubt in her eyes.
Jack noticed the question in Claire's eyes, and knew he held his silence for too long.  Jack leaned in and kissed Claire so there was no doubt where his heart belonged.  When Jack ended the kiss, he rested his chin on top of Claire's head, as he hugged her closely.  "You know I was just playing with you, don't you?"
"Yeah, you're such a kidder." Claire chuckled with relief.
"Okay, now that that's settled, let's finish trimming this tree."
After two hours of stringing lights and hanging ornaments, Jack and Claire declared their job was done.   They were lying on Jack's sofa, admiring their handiwork as the stereo played Christmas tunes.  When Claire recognized the Carpenters' song Merry Christmas Darling, she leaned back and stared at Jack.
"What?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing.  This was one of my favorite Christmas songs when I was a young girl."
"Well, I remember singing this song, and yearning to be with that boy that I couldn't be with."
"And did you ever get that boy?" Jack inquired.
Claire turned to face Jack and put her arms around him.  "I've got him in my arms right now," she answered with a smile.

Jack awoke with a start.  He automatically reached out next to him and came in contact with the same thing he had been feeling for the last six years, nothing.  Jack sank back onto the bed.  He craned his neck to see what time it was.  2:30 a.m.  His wake-up call was for 6 a.m.  It was going to be a long night.  Immediately, Jack began to recall the rest of that day in 1995.
He lightly kissed Claire, and listened to the words of the song.  "It's a rather melancholy song, isn't it?" Jack commented.
"Yes, it is," Claire said in a serious tone.
"What's wrong, Claire?"
Claire looked at Jack, tears brimming in her eyes.  She finally had that special someone she could associate that song with.  And the thought of losing Jack was beginning to take hold.
Jack, sensing Claire's fears, replied, "I'm not going anywhere, lady."
"I know," Claire whispered.
Jack embraced Claire when another thought occurred to him.  "Claire, you're not, by chance, worried about our difference in ages, are you?"  He felt Claire's shoulders sag in resignation.  "Claire..."
"Jack, you know our 20-plus years age difference doesn't matter to me.  It's never an issue with me," Claire interjected.  "It's just that, I wish…"
"You wish that my age wasn't closer to reaching my natural life span?"
"I know, we should just cherish the time we have together," Claire said apologetically.

"You weren't supposed to be the one to leave first," Jack whispered into the quiet room.  Jack punched his pillow and turned onto his side.  Suddenly, he felt a feathery touch on his scalp.  Jack turned around and saw nothing in the darkened room.  He lay back down, and tried to slow his racing heartbeat.  Then, he heard that familiar voice.
This time when Jack reached out, he encountered a very warm body.  He slowly opened his eyes and found himself staring at the most beautiful sight he had ever seen.  There,
lying beside him, was Claire Kincaid.  Jack instantly hugged Claire and began to rain kisses upon her face.
At first, Claire embraced Jack with as much enthusiasm too, but then tried to get his attention by slowly pushing him away.
"Claire, how can you ... why are you…." Jack uttered with bewilderment.
"Jack, you're the one who sent for me."
"Me?  You mean, all I had to do was wish you back and you would've shown up?"
"I wish it were that easy," Claire chuckled.  "No, you just seem to need me more this holiday season than in previous years.  Why is that?"
"I don't know.  You have to know the holidays have been rather tough since you, well, you know.  But with all that's happened this year, I guess, I was missing you more than ever."
"Yeah, I know.  But, I also know you haven't exactly been living like a monk these last five years," Claire joked.
Jack smiled.  "Not jealous, are you?"
"Jack, I'm dead.  What am I going to do?  Haunt you?"
"I wish you would," Jack said somberly.
Claire reached out and touched Jack's cheek.  "Jack, I came back to tell you that you still have a lot of living to do.  And, it's okay if you find someone who'll make you laugh again."
"You know I can never forget you."
"Yes, Jack, I know.  And we'll be together again one day.  Trust me."  Claire leaned in and gave Jack a long, sweet kiss good-bye.  When it ended, Claire whispered, "Merry Christmas Darling."
With those last words, Claire began to fade.  Jack tried to grab onto her arm, but his hand floated through her image.  He looked into Claire's face in time to see her mouth the words, "I love you."
"I love you too," Jack said quietly.

The wake-up call startled Jack into consciousness.  He grabbed the phone to stop the incessant ringing.  He glanced around the room and tried to find any physical trace that Claire was indeed with him.  Get a grip, McCoy.  You know, it was only a dream, he thought.  Jack got out of bed and promptly went into workaholic mode.  He wasn't in Boston on December 21 to watch the Celtics play basketball.  He was here because of a case, a possible copycat crime in both Manhattan and Boston.  Normally, Jack would have let the police or Serena check out the evidence, but he thought this trip could help keep the holiday blues at bay.
Two hours later, Jack sat in the hotel's restaurant, going over the notes of the case.  He noticed the name of the one person who kept insisting that these two cases were related.  It was the same person who left several messages at the DA's office.  Jack telephoned the very persistent individual and left a message that he would be in town, and that he would like to meet and compare notes.  He hoped they wouldn't be playing phone tag all weekend.
Jack started shuffling papers on the table, careful not to accidentally cover his now-cold breakfast.  So engrossed was he in finding this one piece of paper, he did not notice the woman standing next to his table.
"Jack McCoy?"
Jack froze and slowly raised his head.  He was so speechless that he could only nod in the affirmative.
"Jordan Cavanaugh.  I'm so glad you called."


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