“I don't give handouts! Go back through the portal you came from!”
Morty held his breath and lowered the Simple Rick's wafer he'd dared to trade for a hot meal (even if it was some sort of tentacle on a stick). The Rick sneered at the question, insulted by it, and shame burned the teenager’s face worse than the pang in Morty’s stomach. Defensively, he looked toward the ground with quivering lips as the Rick scoffed.
“Just cause there’s a little snow out here, you lazy, fuckin’ teenagers think you’re gonna get a little extra sympathy. Yeah, well I hate to be the one to Rick it to ya’, but the only thing that's gone soft this season is my dick.”
With an abrasive gesture, he turned away from the Morty, and returned to work, cheerily greeting the paying customers at the other side of the concession stand. The warm, aromatic spices of mulled wine pressed against the teen’s mind as he stubbornly fought to keep his gaze lowered to the soiled, melting snow at his feet. Unable to control himself, he licked his lips at the enticing thought of being able to forget the cold for even a moment.
His face flushed with humiliation and too defeated to form a response or an apology, Morty’s bare feet began to fall backward in retreat. He withdrew from the unwanted interaction before it could escalate. The unforgiving wind sent a fresh whiff of roasted sugar and chestnuts into his senses, and the heat of the open flame unrelentingly pulsed against his face. Reluctantly, he pulled further away from the inviting glow as the Rick, irritated, tossed his head back over his shoulder, baring his teeth in warning.
“Get the fuck outta here before I call the- before I volunteer for the neighborhood watch… finally clean up this fuckin’ District.”
The Rick dismissed the Morty and returned to his customers, offering an apologetic aside about the Citadel lowlife. They tsked with narrowed eyes, glancing in the teen’s general direction as they shook their heads in disapproval.
Morty's composure began to break, and the teen turned completely and fled. Pain bit into the unprotected pads of his feet with each hard step. He ran through the blurry atmosphere of snowflakes and multi-colored lights, weaving his way through the flurry of Ricks and Mortys enjoying the commercial holiday. Festive music permeated the Citadel’s downtown shopping center. His path collided with another Rick, and he was accosted with another hateful tone.
“Hey! Watch where you're going!”
“S-s-sorry! I'm sorry!”
Everything was spinning in oversaturated colors around him, and Morty pulled himself to his feet and continued to flee. Ricksmas was a Citadel holiday—gift-wrapped with rarity to guarantee a high commercial demand—and Morty understood his homeless presence, unattractive and uncomfortable, was unwelcomed.
As he traveled away from the main plaza and into the empty hollow streets, the presence of other Ricks and Mortys tapered. Alone, Morty could almost appreciate the quiet artificial snowfall which had covered the surrounding structures in pillowy blankets. The unceasing accumulation, however, was beginning to worry the teen. Unprepared for the sudden change to his environment, the teen didn’t know what to do. He glanced around. Everything was growing worse by the second.
Sharp winds tossed heavy streams of snow into the air in picturesque swirling contours, and forlorn, Morty followed their patterns, upward into the sky. Overhead, a lattice pattern of ice had encroached the dome’s swell of glass, and the teen couldn’t help but feel that he was trapped in the frozen landscape of a snowglobe.
The stars beyond twinkled with impersonal guidance, and the homeless youth clenched the hem of his soiled yellow shirt, thankful he had at least taken the time to collect pieces of cardboard when the snowfall had first begun. He bit his lip, hoping winter on the Citadel this season would not last long.
Empty handed, Morty returned to his spot, a thick wooden box tucked away into the alley behind Big Rico’s pizzeria. Still thankful for the small protection from the elements, the teen fell to his knees and crawled into its embrace. He held back tears, feeling them freeze as they collected at the corner of his eyes. His body trembled against the elements, and he rubbed his arms, watching the warmth leave with each stream of continued breath.
He didn’t know how much longer he could do this.
He settled into the embrace of the small box. It was the happiest space on the Citadel he had been able to find. Morty no longer cared for the outside world, deciding that it might be nice to stay in his box forever. He flicked the lighter to life, lighting a candle he’d stolen from a Morty Caroler, and huddled over the meek light, searching for warmth, despite knowing that he was beginning to lose the feeling in his hands and feet. Streams of tears froze against his cheeks, and his heart flickered as he resigned himself to his frostbitten night.
He was okay with this.
Grandfather Rick wandered through the foreign streets of the tourist district, his shepherd's crook offering assistance as he felt his way across the icy ground below. Even beneath the heavy, insulating layers of his cassock and cloak, he felt the chill of wind bite against his flesh. He considered it a welcome distraction from the fiery thoughts consuming his mind. The small motions, briefly eased the pain of his chosen solitude as he continued deeper into the public plaza of the Citadel.
Even though the tourist district was only a short distance, it had been some time since he had walked outside of the Citadel’s convent, among the laity. The church bells quietly sounded in the distance, beckoning him to return, but the grandfather continued his pilgrimage into the night, growing restless at having strayed further and further from his path.
Lost within the secular streets, and without any sense of consolation, Grandfather Rick had found himself experiencing the darkest night of his soul. He aimlessly drifted through the flurry of snow. How could one’s heart feel so lonely when his heart should have been so full of universal love.
Dominus meus pastor est et stella ... ego timeo ne inanis.
(The Star is my shepherd...I shall not fear the void.)
In the presence of the rare gift of snow on the Citadel, the bishop had impulsively traveled beyond the walls of the monastic structure, yearning to experience the self-evident beauty of creation. Grandfather Rick attempted to return to the simplistic origins of his faith, and in his left hand, he clutched the beads of his rosary, meditating the first prayer as he traveled further into the darkened streets.
Deus ex machina, grátia pléna, óra pro nóbis peccatóribus.
(God of the Machine, full of grace, pray for us sinners)
Carried on the frostbitten wind, a song graced his ears, and with the clarity of a silver bell, an angelic voice traveled through the cold night air. With a force greater than his understanding, Grandfather Rick was drawn toward its source. He entered into the quiet alley, recognizing the song as one of lamentation. From a small, disheveled wooden box ahead, the soft glow of candlelight briefly flickered into the night.
The sight of the emaciated youth was revealed to him, kneeling over the fading light, in his darkest hour of suffering. Mottled fingers wrapped around the candle’s glow, and at the mercy of the harsh elements, his feet had turned alarming shades of blue and purple.
He would not survive the night.
Treading lightly, Grandfather Rick carefully approached.
“My son...be not afraid.”
The youth, who had failed to notice his presence stilled, before lifting his face to gaze upon him. Each eye was lurid with its own hue, either a natural form of heterochromia iridium or the work of a Rick’s genetic alteration. The Morty’s left eye, glowed in warm amber tones, while the right, was the frozen azure blue of the surrounding night. Grandfather was called into the tempered gaze, and the pastoral Rick used his staff for support as he lowered himself to the ground. He soiled his robes in the dirty snow of the alley as he pressed his weight onto his knees, and with gentleness, held the teen’s icy cheek in his palm. He feathered his thumb across the youth’s smooth skin as if he were holding a precious stone.
“Blessed are the light of this Citadel.”
“Grandpa Rick?” The body pressed into the warmth of the older man’s palm in response, closing his eyes as an exhausted voice flickered against him in shallow breaths. “I’m… It’s not cold anymore. I... I think I’m ready to follow you now...”
The shepherd removed his cloak, wrapping the protective garment around the youth, and lifted him, rising to his feet.
“Come, I shall deliver you from this place.”