Disclaimer: It's Christmas, for goodness sake! I know, Paramount owns all things Star Trek, but the spirit of this season is universal!
Author's Note: I've had a tradition for many years of writing Christmas stories to send as a small gift to my close friends and family. This year, I've decided to share it with all of you who read my stuff. I hope you enjoy it!
This story is dedicated to my family, the Michaels clan, for proving to me that your real family is made up of the people with whom you share the joys and sorrows of life, those people who are there to understand when you're down and help you celebrate when you're happiest. And to my old friends who've shared so much with me through the years. I'd also like to remember those of you who have become my friends over this past year. May you have a wonderful Christmas and find much happiness in the New Year!
As I'm writing this, "Mortal Coil" has not aired. According to rumors, this episode of Voyager will give Samantha's baby the name Alixia, after Neelix' sister. I've always thought she should have (and would have) named the baby Kim after Harry since in "Deadlock" he brought the baby across from the other Voyager. So, I'm calling her Kim. Fanfic writer's prerogative!
Winter snow is falling down,
"There," Sarah Carey said as she finished placing the star on the top of the heavily decorated tree. "I think that does it." She nodded toward her husband.
Joe Carey smiled up at his wife as he triggered the controls that both dimmed the room lights and illuminated the lights and ornaments on the tree.
"Oh, wow!" exclaimed the older of the two boys seated on the floor near the fireplace.
"Yea!" his younger brother added as he clapped his hands, his face shining with delight.
"I think this is the best tree we've ever had," their mother agreed, climbing down the ladder that had been erected next to the large Douglas fir that dominated the living room.
"You say that every year, Mom," Hunter replied.
"And she's right every year," Joe defended as he stepped up behind his oldest son and ruffled the boy's curly red hair. Hunter ducked away from the attack, batting playfully at his father as Joe sat down next to him.
Sarah laughed at their antics, sinking down on the floor next to little Joey and pulling him into her lap. She wrapped her arms around him, resting her chin on the top of his head as they both admired the Christmas tree.
"Can we come up here again next year?" Hunter asked.
"Yes, please, Daddy?"
Joe shared a smile with his wife. They usually spent the holidays at home in San Francisco, but this year, they decided to accept Sarah's parents' offer to let them use the cabin in Colorado for an old-fashioned holiday. It had proven to be a good choice. Hunter always loved the snow and had already become a pretty good skier. For Joe, Jr., it was all a wonderful adventure. It seemed to make this Christmas all that much more special. "We'll see," Joe replied to his son's question.
Sarah gave Joey a squeeze. "You know how it is, boys. When you're in Starfleet, you never know where you'll be spending Christmas."
"Ricky Prager's father is in Starfleet and he's taking his whole family on the ship with him!" Hunter said.
"That's because Commander Prager has been assigned to a Galaxy class ship, son. They go on long trips and have plenty of room for families."
"Galaxy ships are big!" Joey explained, stretching his arms wide to demonstrate.
"That's right," Joe nodded. "My new ship isn't so big and it won't be going out for long extended missions."
"Why couldn't you get posted to a Galaxy class ship, Dad?" Hunter asked.
"You know better than to question Starfleet orders, Hunter," Joe replied. "They send me where I'm needed most. This Intrepid class ship is a brand new design with a whole new kind of technology to run it."
"And they need the smartest people, like your dad, to keep that technology running," Sarah added.
"Can we see the new ship, Daddy?" Joey asked.
"You bet!" Joe replied. "The first time we get back to Earth, I'm gonna take you guys on a tour!"
"Oh, boy!" Joey cried, bouncing up and down in his mother's lap. Sarah looked at Joe, then glanced at the old grandfather clock meaningfully. Her husband took the hint.
"Time you went up to bed, isn't it, boys?" Joe Carey asked, only to receive a chorus of "nos" and "not yets" in pleading tones from the two young boys.
"It's too early," Hunter objected. "I'm old enough to stay up late now."
"Oh, you are?" his mother asked. "Well, you know when you're old enough to stay up late, Santa will think you're too old for him to bring you presents."
"Besides, you have to get *some* sleep! If I know you boys, you'll be up at the crack of dawn!"
Hunter sighed, "Okay, come on, squirt." He took his little brother's hand and let him toward their bedrooms. All the while, Joey kept looking back at the tree until finally the boys disappeared up the stairs.
Joe scooted across the floor and wrapped his arms around his wife from behind. "I thought they'd never leave."
Sarah laughed. "They never would if I didn't remind you. Admit it, Joe, you're just as much of a kid as they are."
"Hey, if a guy can't be a kid at Christmas, when can he?"
"Well, I guess we'd better get started getting the presents out or *we'll* never get any sleep!" She started to pull out of his grasp, but Joe refused to release her.
"So, who needs sleep?" he asked. "Now's the time for a little grown up Christmas celebrating."
Sarah looked over her shoulder at him. "I thought you were a kid."
"I can mature at will."
"I always knew I married a talented man."
"And smart, too," Joe added. "I got something good here and I know enough to hold on tight."
Sarah leaned her head back against his shoulder and they sat quietly gazing at the fire for several minutes. Then, her eyes drifted toward the window.
"Oh, look, it's snowing again!"
Joe chuckled. "Baby, up here we're practically guaranteed a white Christmas!"
"I know, but it's just so..."
"Perfect," she concluded. "Just you and me and the boys, with a real tree and a fireplace and snow falling outside. It's just like I always dreamed of when I was a little girl."
"Guess I'm not the only one who never grew up," Joe quipped and Sarah slapped at his arm. "Hey, that was a compliment!"
"Christmas is a time for families, and I couldn't ask for a better one."
Joe kissed her temple. "Me either." They lapsed into silence again for some time. Finally, Sarah stirred.
"We really have to get those presents out and wrapped and under the tree."
"I know," he replied reluctantly. "Guess we have to get to bed before Santa comes, too!"
Sarah turned to look at him thoughtfully, then a smile spread across her face. "You're the best present I ever got, and Santa didn't have to bring you."
Joe placed his hands on either side of her face and leaned in to touch his lips to hers. "I love you," he whispered.
"And I love you," she replied, running her hand down the side of his face. Then, taking a deep breath, she pulled out of his grasp and climbed to her feet. "And the sooner we get things ready for in the morning, the sooner we can go upstairs and cuddle under my grandmother's quilts."
Joe jumped up off the floor. "You don't have to say another word!"
Most of the work had already been done, so it didn't take them long to finish placing the gifts under the tree and readying things for the hectic morning they knew they would soon be facing. Joe had just finished carrying the last large box from the closet and stashing it behind the tree when he noticed Sarah was standing at the window, staring out at the falling snow. He stepped up behind her, wrapping his arms around her again.
She shook her head. "No, just making memories." She turned in his arms. "Shall we go upstairs and make some more?"
Joe nodded. "You go on up and warm the bed for me. I have a couple more things to do first."
She smiled again, and the lights from the tree seemed to sparkle in her eyes. "Don't take too long or Santa will catch you."
"I won't," he promised, kissing her forehead before releasing her. He stood and watched as she climbed the stairs, stopping to look back and smile at him once more. He'd always remember how beautiful she looked that night, standing on the stairs in the light of the fire and the soft glow from the tree. As she, too, disappeared up the stairs, Joe turned back to look at the tree again. It was a great tree. He wondered if they'd have an even better one next year... wherever they were next Christmas.
He stepped to the window and gazed out at the white blanket on the ground that was growing ever deeper as the flakes continued to fall. Making memories, Sarah had said. Well, he was making memories, too. Memories that would stay with him for a long time to come.
And all I want is to hold you forever;
Lt. Joe Carey stood at the viewport of his quarters and gazed out at the stars as Voyager traveled past them on its long journey home. Another Christmas Eve so far away from that perfect family. It was always harder at times like this, and not just for him, he realized. The ship was full of people who hadn't expected to spend so many Christmases away from the ones they loved. So many, and so many more to come. It was harder every year to keep hoping, to keep believing that maybe next year...
Well, this was no time to be moping around. Neelix had planned a big Christmas party for the crew in Holodeck 1. And while the captain had made it clear that attendance was not mandatory, he knew it was a much better idea to spend the time with his friends instead of sitting all alone in his quarters. Besides, this year, he had plans. A smile touched his lips as he turned and gathered the stack of brightly wrapped boxes on his way out the door.
The party turned out better than Neelix could have hoped. There were still a few members of the crew who couldn't bring themselves to make merry and hadn't come to join in the festivities, but by and large, most of the crew at least put in an appearance. And Neelix had outdone himself with this one. He had researched every mid-winter celebration in Voyager's database and added elements of all to the decorations and the refreshments. Some gifts were shared and many of the crew really got into the spirit and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Others were obviously finding it more difficult to put forth the effort.
At one point, the captain had addressed them all, thanking them for coming and remembering all those that they wished they could share the celebration with. There were tears in her eyes as she spoke, but somehow it seemed instead of making the rest of the crew even sadder, it served to draw them together.
"This is, after all, a family now," she told them. "All of us, right here on this ship. We all need each other and we all have something to share. I think I'll always think of this crew as my family, even when we get back home. And we will get back home," she said firmly. "But until we do, we have each other. I wish you all a Merry Christmas in the fellowship of this family."
After a little while, the crew seemed to break up into groups. Some gathered around a piano and sang centuries old carols. Others collected together for smaller conversations, some filled with laughter, others quieter and more melancholy.
Joe Carey ended up in a group that had gathered around the captain as she told stories of her childhood Christmases. When she paused, a little overcome by the emotions her memories brought with them, Commander Chakotay stepped in to tell them stories of Native American winter celebrations. The doctor added stories from his own research into Christmas literature. At Harry Kim's prompting, Tuvok even related his first Christmas experience with classmates at Starfleet Academy which proved to lighten the mood considerably. The Vulcan's somber delivery made the story even funnier. Carey even imagined he caught a hint of a smile on Seven of Nine's face, although what the former Borg was really thinking about all this was anyone's guess.
Joe found himself watching the faces of the people in the group, watching the emotions play across their features as the stories brought forth other memories, some shared, some held privately in the person's own thoughts. Inevitably, his eyes fell on Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres and he couldn't help smiling to himself. Tom and B'Elanna had become good friends to him and he was glad to see them sitting together, Tom's arm wrapped around B'Elanna's shoulders as they listened to each story. Neither of them spoke much. From what he knew of their lives before Voyager, he doubted either of them had many warm Christmas memories. He had no idea if B'Elanna had ever even celebrated Christmas. After all, peace on Earth wasn't exactly a Klingon concept!
Tom, of course, probably had memories of many holiday's spent with his family, but the troubled relationship he had had with his father might darken those thoughts. As if in answer to Carey's musings, Tom began to speak.
"We always had big parties at Christmas," he told them. "Entertaining half of Starfleet Command! But my mom usually managed to arrange things so we had Christmas Eve for just the family. She'd bake cookies and we'd drink hot cocoa."
"Did you leave some out for Santa?" Samantha Wildman asked as she cradled her sleeping daughter in her arms.
Tom laughed. "Of course, we did! That's how I learned the value of a well-placed bribe!"
B'Elanna gave him a gentle elbow in the ribs as everyone else laughed.
"What about you, Sam?" B'Elanna asked. "Do Ktarians celebrate anything like Christmas?"
Samantha smiled. "Not as a rule, but I managed to convince Greskrendtregk that it was a good idea. He even tried to put up a tree once, but it didn't have any leaves and the limbs were all knots!"
"Not exactly traditional, huh?" Joe asked.
"No, but we managed. We painted the knots to look like ornaments and added lights and... it wasn't half bad."
They went on talking for a couple of hours until the captain noticed that most everyone had left the holodeck. She announced that it was time for her to call it a night. Everyone started to follow suit and began wandering away, when Joe nervously cleared his throat.
"Um, Tom, B'Elanna, if you don't mind, I'd like a word with you."
"Sure, Joe, is something wrong?" Tom asked.
Carey laughed. "No, I just wanted to thank you for the Mustang," he held up the model car Tom had presented him with earlier, "and the slippers." He smiled at B'Elanna.
"Well, I couldn't allow my 'uncle' to get cold feet!" she laughed.
Joe's smile brightened, before he became more serious. "I just wanted you to know how much I appreciated your thinking of me. I didn't bring you anything, but..."
"Hey," Tom held up his hand. "You've managed to save both of our lives in the past few months. I don't think you owe us anything."
"Tom's right," B'Elanna agreed. "We didn't give you presents because we expected anything in return. We just wanted to let you know how much your friendship means to us."
"It means a lot to me, too," he replied. "And you didn't let me finish."
B'Elanna crossed her arms in front of her at the gentle rebuke, and Tom chuckled.
"As I was about to say, I didn't bring you anything, but I have arranged a little something for the two of you if you're willing to accept it."
B'Elanna looked at him with a puzzled expression on her face. "Why wouldn't we accept it?"
"Well, it involves a little of your time, like right now?"
The couple glanced at each other, and Joe could read the hesitation in their expressions before the turned back to him with smiles. So, they had been planning to spend the rest of the evening together, Joe thought. So much better!
"Sure, why not," Tom replied for the both of them.
"Then, if you'll follow me?"
Joe stepped toward the exit, grinning like the Cheshire cat as he led his two friends down the corridor to Holodeck 2. "I reserved it weeks ago and, although I may not have quite the flare at holoprogramming that you do, Tom, I think I've done an adequate job." He pressed the controls outside the door and spoke to the computer. "Activate Program Carey Christmas."
A few beeps indicated the program was ready and Carey led his two clueless companions inside. Tom and B'Elanna made it just inside the entrance before coming to a halt as they gazed open-mouthed around them.
"This cabin, or rather the real one, belongs to my wife's parents. It's in Colorado, not too far from Aspen, but away from the more touristy spots. This is where we spent the last Christmas before I left to join Voyager."
"It's beautiful," B'Elanna breathed as she took in the room surrounding her. Joe stepped up to the large Christmas tree and touched one of the branches. "It was the best tree we'd ever had." He smiled, for a moment, lost in memories.
"Joe?" Tom's voice called softly, bringing him back to the present. "This is lovely, but this place has to hold a lot of very personal memories for you. Are you sure you really want us here?"
Joe grinned. "I created it for the two of you."
They looked at him in speechless surprise.
"I've had the real thing and all those memories are safely stored up here," he tapped his temple, "and here," he touched the center of his chest. "I just thought it would be something nice I could share with you."
"Thank you, Joe," B'Elanna whispered and moved quickly to place a kiss on his cheek.
"Thanks," Tom smiled warmly. "So, do we get the grand tour?"
"Nope," Carey replied. "I'm going to leave you to fend for yourselves."
"What?" B'Elanna stared at him.
Joe laughed. "There's food in the kitchen if you get hungry and skis in the closet if you care to try the slopes. They aren't really challenging, but the scenery is nice. Of course, I'd wait until morning to try it, if I were you."
"Morning?" B'Elanna asked.
"Yeah, I reserved the whole night and tomorrow morning, too. Oh, there's a really nice bed upstairs, first door on the right, with a pile of blankets and quilts if you get cold. Of course, whether or not you use it is up to you." His grin widened at the shocked look on B'Elanna's face and the knowing smile on Tom's. "What you do with the program is up to you. I have my memories; you can make your own."
Then he stepped past his two friends, who were still somewhat in shock, and headed for the exit. He paused just before leaving and looked back at them. "Merry Christmas, you two."
"Merry Christmas, Joe," Tom replied immediately. B'Elanna sighed and shook her head, then smiled at her friend.
"Merry Christmas, Uncle Joe."
Carey chuckled and started to turn away, but his gaze paused instead on the stairs leading to the floor above. In his imagination, he could see Sarah standing there smiling at him as she had that last Christmas night. As he watched, he could see her turn to look at Tom and B'Elanna, the smile growing even brighter, then look back at him with a nod of approval. He closed his eyes for a moment, then turned and left.
As he stepped out into the corridor, he was startled by an unexpected voice.
"You look very pleased with yourself, Lieutenant."
"Ensign Wildman!" he said in surprise at seeing the young woman carrying her still sleeping child. "I thought you'd already gone back to your quarters."
"I was talking to Neelix. He really put a lot of work into the party. I'm glad it went well. I think it did, don't you?"
Joe nodded. "Yeah, I think we all needed to be together."
"Christmas is a time to be with..."
"Your family," Joe finished when she hesitated. Sam looked a little sad for a moment, then returned the engineer's smile.
"Well, I'd better be getting Kim to bed. She's just getting old enough to start to understand what Christmas is and with all the aunts and uncles she has on this ship, she'll be opening presents all day tomorrow!"
Joe looked at the peacefully sleeping child. "You know, Sam, except for those little horns, I think she looks like you."
Sam laughed as she shifted the little girl in her arms.
"She must be getting pretty heavy," Joe realized. "Here, let me carry her for you."
"Oh, I don't want to impose."
"No problem," he replied. "Fact is, I sorta miss that kind of thing."
Sam studied the far away look in his eyes for a moment, then carefully handed Kim over to Carey. "You could help me tuck her in if you'd like," she offered hesitantly.
Joe smiled at her. "I think I'd like that a lot," he replied and they headed down the corridor together.
Watching as you softly sleep
Tom awoke and immediately groaned at the stiffness in his back. It took him a moment to realize the reason: he had been sleeping on the floor. Then, it all came rushing back to him and he turned to find B'Elanna still sleeping peacefully beside him. A smile curled his lips as he propped himself up on his elbow to watch her. She really was so very beautiful, but he was afraid he'd never be able to convince her of that. Maybe it was enough that she'd finally begun to accept that *he* found her beautiful.
His eyes moved from her face to the slowly dying fire. The program had compensated by making the cabin a bit more chilly. Tom took a moment to tuck the quilts more securely around B'Elanna. She stirred, and Tom thought for a moment she was about to wake up, but she settled back into the covers, a contented expression on her face. The hard floor didn't seem to bother her. Of course, they could have been quite comfortable in the old-fashioned double bed in the room upstairs, but B'Elanna had wanted to stay by the fire and the Christmas tree, so they had brought the quilts and blankets downstairs and made themselves a place on the floor.
Tom smiled as he remembered the expression on her face as she'd gazed at the brightly decorated tree. There had been a sparkle in her eyes, something of the little girl she had once been before her childhood had abruptly ended. Klingons didn't celebrate Christmas, but there had been one time she had remembered. She couldn't have been more than four years old and her father had brought home a tree and insisted on decorating it. Her mother had thought it a stupid idea, but had managed to keep most of her disapproval to herself and allow her husband to share the time with their daughter.
"The tree wasn't this grand," she had recalled as she lay in Tom's arms and gazed up at the large one in the cabin. "It wasn't any taller than I was and the decorations weren't all so shiny, but I thought it was wonderful. After my father left, I couldn't think about that tree. It hurt too much to remember. Funny, it doesn't seem to hurt so much any more."
"We used to have two trees every year," Tom had recalled. "The one in the main room that connected to the dining room where we entertained all the big shots was always huge and Dad hired people to decorate it with all those expensive lights and ornaments, the kind with little holographic scenes in them. I thought they were pretty neat, but that was never *our* tree. *Our* tree was the smaller one in the family room. Mom used to buy new ornaments for us to put on the tree every year to add to the collection of old ones and we decorated it ourselves, that is, Mom, my sisters and me. But that was the tree Santa always visited." He had fallen silent for a moment. "It may not have been perfect, but Christmas used to be special to us. I'd forgotten how much I missed it," he had turned to look at B'Elanna, "until now."
B'Elanna had tenderly touched his face and he had drawn her into his arms. They had spent their first Christmas together sharing their love under the twinkling lights of the Carey family's last perfect Christmas tree.
Tom gazed at that Christmas tree now. The first rays of the Colorado morning sun were beginning to filter in through the cabin window and reflected off the gold and silver tinsel on the tree. Yes, it had been a wonderful Christmas.
"What are you thinking about?"
Tom turned at the sound of B'Elanna's softly spoken question to find her peering up at him from under her mound of covers. "Oh, lots of things," he replied. "Mostly, how lucky I am."
"Lucky?" she asked.
Tom ran his fingers over her face. "To be able to wake up on Christmas morning next to the woman I love."
She smiled in response. "It was a beautiful night, wasn't it?" she asked.
"Yes, it was."
B'Elanna looked toward the window. "It's still snowing."
Tom laughed. "Somehow I don't think we're going to get around to using those skis in the closet."
B'Elanna chuckled. "No, I think I'd be too cold to enjoy the view."
"That too," Tom said. "Actually, I was thinking it was just too nice cuddling up in here to leave."
"That too," B'Elanna agreed, drawing him back under the covers with her.
"I should get up and build the fire back up. It's getting a little chilly in here as well."
"We could always just ask the computer to raise the temperature."
Tom shook his head. "That would spoil the mood and we wouldn't want to do that after all the trouble Joe went to to set it."
B'Elanna settled her head against his chest. He stroked her hair with one hand as he rested his cheek against the top of her head.
"What was it he said about making our own memories? I think we've managed to do pretty well, don't you think?"
Tom smiled. "Yeah."
"I got you a present, you know," she told him. "It's back in my quarters."
Paris laughed. "Yours is in my quarters! Guess we'll just have to have another celebration tonight."
"Maybe we could bring them back here to open them?" she suggested.
"Somehow I don't think Joe would mind." He looked at her for a long moment. "But I don't think anything could be better than the gifts we received tonight, from Joe... and from each other."
B'Elanna remained silent for a long time and Tom began to think she'd fallen asleep again, but she hadn't.
Tom kissed the top of her head before pulling her closer against him. "Merry Christmas, B'Elanna."
Joe Carey stood again at the window in his quarters. All in all, it had been a nice Christmas. In a lot of ways, he'd come to think of this crew as his family. They could never replace Sarah and the boys, but there were a lot of people here that he'd grown to care about. He smiled at the memory of little Kim Wildman tucked in her bed. This was the only home she'd ever known and Sam had been right when she'd said the child had a lot of aunts and uncles. The Wildman quarters were overflowing with gifts for the little tyke. Sam had invited him to the Christmas breakfast Neelix was catering in her quarters to watch Kim open all those presents. He knew it would make him miss his own boys, but it would be good to see the joy in a child's face once again on Christmas morning. There would be about a dozen people there, according to Sam, including the captain and first officer. But somehow, Joe doubted Tom and B'Elanna would make it.
They were busy making memories of their own.
"It was a wonderful gift you gave them," he heard Sarah's voice echo in his mind.
"They're my friends. I wanted them to be as happy as we were that Christmas in the cabin."
He could see Sarah's smile. "You know most people just give people gifts for Christmas. You gave them Christmas itself as a gift."
"I was always an overachiever."
He could hear her laugh, like the sound of Christmas bells tinkling in the wind.
"Merry Christmas, Santa Claus."
"Merry Christmas, my love," he whispered, and he could imagine he felt her lips touch his cheek.
The computer picked that moment to announce the time. Joe sighed. It was time to go join his new family. It was Christmas morning.
Time to make a few more memories... to take home with him.
And all I want is to hold you forever
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, one and all!
*"The Gift" by Jim Brickman and Tom Douglas (from Jim Brickman's album, "The Gift")
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