Title: Home for Christmas
Author: Julie Evans
Email: Juli17@aol.com
Rating: PG
Codes: J, All, some P/T and J/C
Summary: It‘s Christmas Eve on Voyager, the sixth to pass for the crew who has been stranded in the Delta quadrant. The senior officers have gathered to share the evening, and some memories, together. Set several weeks after the events in "Pathfinder."

Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of Viacom/Paramount. I am just borrowing them for fun not profit.

Sentiment alert: There is definitely sentiment contained herein, along with the lyrics to various Christmas songs. If you are allergic to either of those elements, you can hit the escape key now ;-)

Notes: Okay to archive to the ASC, PTFever Archive, PTCollective Archive, and BLTS. All others please ask author for permission.

This story is dedicated to my friends at PTFever and the P/T Collective. Have yourselves a merry little Christmas all :-)

Home for Christmas
by Julie Evans

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly,Fa la la la la, la la la la ‚Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la, la la la la..."
"Captain‘s Personal Log, Stardate 53361.4, 1857 hours.

"The Holiday Season on Voyager. That has a strange ring to it, even after almost six years. It‘s a popular holiday period on Earth, encompassing Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and a few other localized traditional winter holidays, along with the standard calendar New Year. It‘s a popular holiday in Starfleet circles too, not only because Starfleet has a strong human complement, but also because it‘s viewed as the representational Earth holiday by other cultures. Much as many humans in Starfleet choose to observe Vulcan Ancestor Day, Betazoid Goodwill Week, the Klingon Day of Honor, and several other holidays highly representative of the central values of their respective cultures, many nonhumans in Starfleet observe the Earth Holiday Season as symbolic of the human rebirth of the spirit, the ideal of peace, and the passing of the old year into the new.

"The observation of holidays hasn‘t always been enthusiastic on Voyager. The first couple of years most holidays, Earth or otherwise, were celebrated quietly by those who chose to observe them. Many were determined to simply ignore the passage of a day, or days, that only served as a reminder of how far away home and family were from them. As time has passed though, we have all become more than just colleagues and casual friends. After years of association and dependence on no one but each other we have become a close and tightly knit group, and the bonds between us have become those of community rather than simply of duty. The goal of getting home to the Alpha quadrant still remains foremost our minds of course. But as we‘ve found ways to leap ever closer, and many of us have had contact now from our families in the Federation, we‘ve found ourselves less consumed by the pursuit. Now that we know in our hearts that the goal is attainable, we are more able to relax and enjoy the connection we have built together—the alternate family and home we‘ve fashioned for ourselves on Voyager. That has included celebrating the important holidays of our cultures more openly and lavishly as each year has passed, though certainly the lavish part of that equation is greatly attributable to Mister Neelix, and in this case, to Naomi Wildman.

"I can‘t be sure there is anyone in the galaxy who enjoys an excuse for a party more than Neelix, and the more sentiment involved the better in his estimation. Certainly the Earth Holiday Season, and in particular its Christmas component, meets those requirements. Besides his love of preparing massive amounts of food, Neelix also considers himself a decorator extraordinaire, and for the past two years he has had a great deal of assistance in that area from Naomi Wildman. Her origins are half-human, and like all human children with a family history steeped in Christmas traditions and celebration, that holiday is irresistible to her. She has enthusiastically acted as Neelix‘s ‚elf,‘ this year more so than any other, and they have happily ‚decked the halls‘ together. Or more specifically, they have decked the hall—the mess hall.

"When I walked into the mess hall for lunch earlier this afternoon with Tuvok, I stopped so abruptly at the door that Tuvok literally ran into me. There was hardly a corner of the place that wasn‘t full of Christmas cheer. Red and green streamers interspersed with gold balls and silver bells hung across the ceiling. Every table sported a tablecloth with seasonal motifs: snowmen, sleighs, reindeer, stars, and the like. Strands of colored lights were strung across the kitchen serving counters, and framed the windows. In one corner was a Christmas tree that reached to the ceiling, the same tree—not real of course—that Neelix replicated two years ago after collecting rations donations from the crew, and that he brought out of storage from cargo bay One. It was decorated with more strands of colored lights, haphazardly placed colored balls and ornaments, and so overloaded with tinsel that the green of the branches was barely visible. It was garish to say the least, but still somehow...charming.

"Naomi was there beaming proudly, and I complimented her on her work. When Neelix noted slyly that Tuvok and I had walked in directly under the mistletoe, which he had so unavoidably hung right over the door, I smoothly slipped into the room and left Tuvok to give Neelix one of his most uncompromising stares. Tom and Harry were eating lunch at a table near the door and had heard Neelix‘s comment, and I deflated their smirks by asking them in a voice heavy with implication if they had happened to walk in together themselves. Harry blushed a little, but Tom, always one to appreciate a good verbal comeback, gave me a rather admiring grin as I moved away.

"Despite the holiday decor, Neelix served a simple stew at lunch. His now two years running ‚traditional‘ Christmas Feast is still a day away. I silently hope this year he will forgo the food coloring that last year rendered every dish either bright red or green, in honor of the holiday. As promised, Neelix hadn‘t altered the flavors, but it was a disconcerting experience eating bright green turkey and vividly red mashed potatoes. I‘d like a less unnerving experience this year...but I don‘t really expect that we will be so lucky.

"In the meantime, while we all wait for the day of Neelix‘s feast with anticipation or dread, depending on one‘s perspective and innate sense of humor, another party has been planned for this evening, Christmas Eve. More than one actually, since Michael Ayala has set up a ski party for the security and services departments in holodeck Two. I‘ve also arranged for a get-together for the senior staff in holodeck One, and I asked Tom to create a setting appropriate for a holiday gathering, leaving him full discretion. Tom has a fairly wide range of holographic tastes, and depending on his current mood--whether he is feeling sentimental, playful, or sardonic--he might pick anything from an intimate inn, to a California beach, to one of those flashy Holiday resorts at Mars‘ north pole. I have to admit I‘ve been curious all day about the type of program Tom will choose, and whether my guess is close. And now that I‘ve finished reviewing the last of the day‘s status reports, I‘m on my way to find out.

"End log."
"Don we now our gay apparel, Fa la la la la, la la la la Troll the ancient Yuletide carol, Fa la la la la, la la la la."

"This really is lovely, Tom."

Janeway spoke with complete sincerity. The lodge Tom had programmed in holodeck One, with its heavy log walls, massive stone fireplace complete with a large crackling fire, and intimate groupings of leather couches and chairs was warm and welcoming despite the size of the common room. The woven throws in their warm muted earth tones, and the matching rugs scattered on the wood floors added to that cozy feeling. Her senior staff was already gathered, all settled on the overstuffed couches and chairs in front of the fireplace.

"Thank you, captain," Tom replied to her compliment, giving her an openly pleased smile.

Janeway glanced at the tree nestled in the corner between the large wooden front doors and the archway leading into what appeared from the narrow view to be a dining room. The tree was nearly as large as the one in the Mess hall, but decorated far more subtly with gold garlands, red bows, pinecones, and twinkling white lights. The rest of the seasonal decorations, the garlands that wound up the wood staircase that hugged one wall, and the bits of greenery in carved reindeer holders on the mantle above the fireplace, were equally subtle and tasteful. "The decorations are very nice also," she murmured approvingly.

Neelix pursed his lips thoughtfully, and answered before Tom could. "They are nice, if just a little bit... plain." Then he reached across from his perch on the arm of the chair the doctor occupied, and patted Tom‘s arm reassuringly, with perhaps just a bit of sympathy for the pilot‘s lack of true decorative instincts. "But still very nice."

B‘Elanna, who sat on the other side of Tom on one of the couches, rolled her eyes, while Tom‘s lips quirked a little at Neelix‘s qualified compliment. "Thanks, Neelix. I wouldn‘t even try and compete with you and Naomi," he said graciously, though with an undercurrent of amusement in his tone.

"This actually seems a little low key for you, Tom," Chakotay observed. "But I like it."

Janeway recognized seasonal music playing somewhere in the background, a low melody just loud enough to hear over the snapping of the fire and the sound of a low wind outside. The soft music added to the intimate ambiance. She‘d guessed right. Tom‘s current mood was definitely sentimental.

"Captain, would you like some eggnog?"

Janeway looked at the tray sitting on the coffee table, with its red ceramic pitcher and matching glasses. On either side were two more trays, each filled with an assortment of decorated cookies.

"It‘s..." Neelix paused, looking for the right word.

"Spiked," Tom immediately supplied.

"Yes, that‘s it," Neelix agreed, nodding vigorously.

"With whiskey. It was Tom‘s recipe."

"Actually it‘s a long standing Academy recipe," Tom said, giving Janeway an insouciant grin.

"I seem to recall the recipe," Janeway said dryly. "It carried quite a kick."

"Not to worry, captain," Neelix reassured her. "I used synthehol."

"But it will still warm your insides," Chakotay said, raising the glass in his hand.

"And help yourself to Christmas cookies," Neelix said. "I got some of the recipes from the crew, and then I searched the computer and found some more. Try one of each."

Janeway looked at the cookies heaped high on the trays. She assumed Neelix had looked up every available Christmas cookie recipe in the database, since there appeared to be several dozen varieties.

"Are they made with synth-calories, Neelix?" Chakotay asked dryly.

"Oh, no," Neelix said, looking offended. "They‘re made with real butter and sugar."

Janeway saw the mischievous gleam in her first officer‘s gaze, and smiled in return. She poured a glass of eggnog and sat down on one couch in the open space between Chakotay and Seven. "I‘m glad you decided to come, Seven," she said encouragingly. Seven had declined the original invitation to join the senior officer‘s gathering as de facto head of the Science department. After Janeway had applied a little friendly pressure Seven had agreed to consider it, which Janeway knew meant likely if grudging capitulation. "I see you even dressed for the season."

Seven raised an eyebrow. She wore one of her traditional bodysuits, but it was a clear bright red rather than one of the shades of blue she‘d been favoring recently. "Ensign Paris said I was required to wear either red or green, in accordance with the holiday."

"It was more of suggestion, Seven," Tom corrected.

Tom had informed Janeway of the suggested dress code for the evening, and she had chosen herself to wear a loose moss-green silk pantsuit fitting to the occasion.

"You do look particularly lovely in that shade of red, Seven," the doctor said gallantly.

Janeway noted that the doctor was wearing a red dress shirt himself, as was Chakotay, while Harry was wearing green. And Neelix was wearing a brightly hued jacket that clashed in various colors, though red and green did seemed predominate over the purple and orange.

"It suits you," the doctor added, looking at Seven with obvious admiration.

"I am aware of that, doctor," Seven said dispassionately. "I viewed myself in various shades of both red and green, and noted that this shade of red compliments my coloring most admirably. It is simply a matter of fact," she added coolly, after her smug discourse elicited a small snort from B‘Elanna.

"That must be why you picked that particular shade of green, B‘Elanna," Neelix said brightly, mediating by intent or not. "It is very flattering."

"Thank you, Neelix," B‘Elanna said almost grudgingly, pulling her annoyed gaze away from Seven. Her emerald green silk dress was nearly as snug as one of Seven‘s bodysuits. The off-the-shoulder dress hugged her slender frame and skimmed closely over her hips, where it flared into long softly clinging skirt. Though Janeway doubted B‘Elanna saw it as a contest between Seven and herself, the brilliant green did indeed flatter B‘Elanna. And from the way Tom‘s gaze deepened on B‘Elanna when he looked at her, Janeway had no doubt he appreciated the effect also.

"B‘Elanna looks gorgeous in red or green," Tom said softly, his eyes glued to her. "Though particularly gorgeous tonight."

B‘Elanna didn‘t say anything, but the half-smile she gave him was pleased.

"Since you suggested the clothing parameters for this social gathering, why are you not wearing a color associated with this holiday, Ensign Paris?" Seven asked, spearing him with her cool gaze.

Tom looked down at his simple white dress shirt and black pants. The neck of his shirt was open and a fine red velvet cord hung over his collar and rested against the white cotton. He flicked the cord and the silver bell that dangled from it tinkled against as it moved. He grinned at Seven. "What about my jingle bell?" Tom asked. "I offered Tuvok one too, and he refused."

Tuvok, who was dressed remarkably similar to Tom, though his shirt was in a Vulcan collarless style, raised one eyebrow. "I do not find it necessary to ‚jingle as I walk,‘" he said, clearly repeating Tom‘s own words back to him.

Tom shrugged, his grin still in place. "It was just an offer. B‘Elanna was willing to wear one," he pointed out.

Janeway realized the emerald string that circled B‘Elanna‘s neck and plunged into her neckline wasn‘t part of her dress. Tom glanced meaningfully at the shadow of B‘Elanna‘s breasts, where the tiny silver bell presumably had become nestled. B‘Elanna glared back at him, then moved her gaze defiantly around the room to anyone who might comment, bringing it back to rest warningly on Tom.

"More cookies, anyone?" Tom asked, choosing the better side of discretion and picking up the nearest tray and selected a cookie. "The spritz are particularly good I think."

As if on cue, Neelix jumped up from his perch and took the tray from Tom. "Tom is right, the spritz are excellent," he said, passing the tray around. "And I believe this is the batch B‘Elanna baked."

Chakotay stared at B‘Elanna. "You...baked, B‘Elanna?"

"B‘Elanna came to the mess hall yesterday to fix the thermoemitters in the kitchen," Neelix explained, ignoring B‘Elanna‘s glower. "Naomi and I convinced her to help us out and bake a batch of cookies, since we were falling behind on our decorating."

Every eye on the room was on B‘Elanna. Even considering the impressive persuasive abilities of Neelix, and Naomi, the concept of B‘Elanna baking seemed improbable. "You baked cookies," Harry repeated dubiously.

B‘Elanna transferred her scowl from Neelix to Harry, who was sitting on the other side of her. "Yeah," she said belligerently, though Janeway detected little real annoyance in her tone. But her half-Klingon engineer had a reputation to uphold. "Do you have a problem with that, Harry?"

Harry shook his head quickly.

"I happened to stop by the mess hall yesterday, and I have to tell you B‘Elanna looked pretty cute in one of Neelix‘s aprons with cookie dough all over her hands, and a little dab of flour right here on her nose—"

B‘Elanna slapped Tom‘s hand away when he tried to touch the tip of her nose. Her legendary glare was on him now, promising retribution if he continued. Janeway figured Tom would find a way to avoid that.

Tom popped the spritz cookie quickly in his mouth as B‘Elanna continued to look daggers at him. "Ummm," he said, with a full mouth as she watched him, eyes narrowed. "Good. Really good." He swallowed. "The best."

B‘Elanna smiled smugly, momentarily satisfied.

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful. But the fire is so delightful .Since we‘ve no place to go Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

"Did you order the blizzard of the century for this program, Tom?" Harry asked dryly as Neelix set down the tray of cookies, and every head turned to look at the large window next to the front doors. Though it appeared sturdy it rattled again and rapidly swirling snow was visible through the panes. The weather was as holographic as everything else, but the storm looked real, and cold.

B‘Elanna shivered slightly, involuntarily, and rubbed her green silk clad arms with her hands. "It looks horrible out there," she said, obviously not at all charmed by the snowstorm.

"Which makes it even more cozy in here," Tom pointed out, rubbing his hands over B‘Elanna‘s bare shoulders as if to take off the chill, though it was plenty warm inside. B‘Elanna didn‘t protest.

"A greater degree of coldness outside does not make it warmer inside, except in your imagination," Seven stated. She looked at the blindly swirling snow, then at the roaring fire. "However, it is an effective contrast."

"A pleasant one," Chakotay agreed, rubbing his hands together.

B‘Elanna nodded, obviously agreeing too, and moved a bit closer to Tom. Tom draped an arm over the back of the couch, allowing her more access as his gaze drifted toward the windows again. "Actually, this is just the way I happen to remember it."

"So this is a real place, Tom?" Harry asked. "You‘ve been here before?"

Tom nodded absently. "It‘s in the Sierras, near Lake Tahoe. It‘s a lodge my family used during the holidays." He pulled his attention from the window and looked at Harry. "When I say ‚family‘ I mean extended family— aunts, uncles, cousins, the whole bunch."

Janeway knew from serving under Owen Paris that his family was large and extended indeed, with many of them serving in Starfleet, but she had never received a clear impression of how close they might all be.

"How many people are we talking about, Tom?" Harry asked.

"Usually thirty or forty would show up for several days at Christmastime," Tom said. He shrugged. "It depended on who was stationed where, and that sort of thing."

"My family was quite large also," Neelix said approvingly, if a bit wistfully. "Lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. There‘s nothing like a large family with dozens and dozens of relatives. We gathered at least once a year at the Great Family Festival."

"My family is pretty small," Harry said. "Just my parents, my grandparents, my aunt and one cousin. And a few distant relations we heard from only occasionally."

"My family is like that too, Harry," Chakotay said. "But small can be intimate and close."

"Bigger is not necessarily better, Harry," Tom agreed.

A few years ago, or even a few months ago, Janeway knew Tom would have said that with bitterness, but now he just said it matter-of-factly, without any real judgment in his voice. "Actually my parents only brought us here for Christmas a couple of times," Tom said. "Once I was four, I think. The time I remember I was six. I had two cousins a few years older than me, Ryan and Andrew, who taught me how to slide down that banister." He nodded toward the stairs along the wall, and the long, polished banister that ran steeply down their length.

"Whoa, Tom," Harry said, half in awe, half in dismay.

"You slid down that banister when you were six?!"

Tom nodded. "It was quite a ride. I flew right off the end and slammed face first into the opposite wall."

There was a momentary silence while everyone tried to imagine a small blond headed boy flying from the banister into the hardwood logs of the wall less than a meter from the end of the banister. Harry looked appalled, and B‘Elanna‘s hand that had been resting lightly on Tom‘s thigh tightened as she stared at the banister.

"Why does that not surprise me, Mister Paris?" the doctor finally said dryly, shaking his head, though there was an almost tolerant smile on his face. "I should have realized head injuries are nothing new to you."

Tom grinned. "It was more of a face injury than a head injury. My nose was broken, and I wasn‘t a pretty sight. But my Aunt Amanda is a starbase surgeon and she patched me up pretty quickly. Though I was consigned to bed for the rest of the evening."

Chakotay grinned. "Somehow I get the feeling that wasn‘t the end of your antics, Tom."

"It was that year," Tom said. "My mother was angrier at me than my father that time for scaring her half to death. But she did come up to sit with me while I fell asleep." A small smile crossed his face. "Before that though my aunts and sisters, and all my girl cousins came to see me, and brought me cookies and hot chocolate..."

B‘Elanna snorted, interrupting Tom‘s reminiscing. "Are you trying to tell me every female in the house was at your bedside, Tom?"

Tom grinned, unabashed. "Yep. But I was only six, B‘Elanna."

Janeway recalled the pictures she‘d seen of Tom as a little boy. With those angelic looks she could easily imagine he had routinely had every female in his family at his beck and call. Seven spoke before Janeway could though, and as she often did Seven ingenuously made a point.

"It appears you had a pleasant childhood and were quite beloved by your family, Ensign Paris," Seven said

Tom‘s brow furrowed a little and he was silent for a moment before he nodded. "You‘re right, Seven. No one‘s childhood is perfect, but all in all I guess mine was pretty nice."

"And I presume the rest of your holiday here was more pleasant once you recovered, Tom?" Janeway asked him.

"It was probably my favorite Christmas," Tom said. "Even though there was a blizzard for two days, the sun shone on Christmas day. I got a sled for Christmas and my father took me sledding that afternoon. I still remember the sensation of speeding down that hill outside, feeling the air rushing past us and the wind in our hair. It was thrilling."

"I‘m glad your father was with you that time, Tom," Janeway said wryly. "That probably means you didn‘t crash into a tree."

Tom grinned. "Nope. Though I did do that once, on skis, when I was ten."

"Don‘t tell us about it," Harry begged.

"Your predilection for speed, despite its sometimes hazardous consequences, appears to have been present at an early age," Tuvok commented. "And reinforced by your father."

"I suppose so," Tom agreed, looking at Tuvok with a thoughtful expression. "My father and I didn‘t agree on a lot of things, but he never exactly discouraged my, uh, need for speed."

Janeway knew that Tom could amend that to say that as long as that need for speed led him to a Starfleet career his father was fine with it. She‘d never doubted how much Admiral Paris had wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. He‘d said as much to her.

Chakotay was chuckling at Tom‘s expressive words. "Need for speed? I guess that does describe you, Tom."

Tom grinned.

"It doesn‘t show signs of stopping, And I brought some corn for popping The lights are turned way down low Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

"What kind of adventures did you get into the next Christmas, Tom?" Neelix asked, eyes sparkling in anticipation.

Tom shrugged. "Not any. The Christmas adventures kind of stopped there. The next year my father received his admiralship post at Starfleet Command, and he was obligated to attend the formal holiday functions at Starfleet Headquarters. So was his family. It was lot less exciting than spending Christmas in the Sierras. I don‘t remember enjoying one minute of it." He shuddered once, as if he could still feel the stiff restricting collar of a formal suit around his neck.

"I don‘t suppose a young boy would," Chakotay said, not without sympathy.

"Indeed," Tuvok said. "Even Vulcan children are often...easily distracted at official Starfleet functions."

Tom smiled at Tuvok‘s implied assertion that Starfleet functions were stuffy even by Vulcan standards. "I guess it was still better than when my father left to fight the Cardassians," he said. He glanced at Janeway. "Then we hardly saw him at all."

Janeway heard the note of regret in Tom‘s voice. She recalled how many times her own father hadn‘t been able to make it home for holiday celebrations, graduations and the like. She smiled sympathetically at Tom, and he smiled back, a shared commiseration between two who knew what it meant to be the child of a Starfleet admiral. B‘Elanna‘s fingers slipped in-between Tom‘s, and a quick look passed between them. Though B‘Elanna didn‘t say anything, Janeway had the clear impression that she and Tom had spoken of this before.

Janeway also recalled her brief conversation with B‘Elanna in the mess hall three weeks earlier, during the celebration of their unexpected contact with Starfleet, and after her own brief and encouraging conversation with Lieutenant Barclay and Admiral Paris. Tom had arrived with B‘Elanna, still looking a little dazed, and absorbed in his own thoughts. By that point everyone had heard the replay of the admiral‘s—Tom‘s father‘s—words, and they‘d all offered Tom well wishes and pats on the back, and some had asked a few politely curious questions. Harry had stayed near Tom, but B‘Elanna had drifted almost immediately away, leaving Tom to talk to everyone else present, though her gaze found his periodically. Curious, Janeway had finally asked B‘Elanna why she was choosing to remain on the sidelines. B‘Elanna had shrugged, smiled, and said with simple conviction that she knew she‘d have Tom to herself later.

That sense of security between B‘Elanna and Tom was fairly recent, Janeway suspected. Janeway could barely recall herself when she‘d been that secure that a measure of someone else‘s time and attention belonged so solely and completely to her. Since someone else had belonged to her at all.

"It sounds like you and your family did have some great holidays together anyway, Tom," Chakotay was saying. "And you‘ve got some good memories out of it."

"Yes, I do," Tom said. His gaze touched B‘Elanna‘s, then Janeway‘s, and he looked unsure for a moment before he spoke again. "I think I‘ve just begun to realize that I‘ve focused so much on the bad moments, and on everything that happened later between my father and I, that I‘d all but forgotten there were a lot of good moments, too."

"Well, you haven‘t forgotten them, Tom," Harry pointed out. "After all, we‘re here."

"Yeah, I guess we are."

Janeway smiled at Tom‘s slightly sheepish reply. It was clear to her that Tom had begun to see his father in a new light, had started to perhaps even before the admiral had spoken of his pride in his son. Maybe the loss of his son had mellowed the father in Owen Paris a little, had made him more willing to forgive old hurts and grievances. She could only guess with Admiral Paris, but she knew for a fact that Tom himself had changed a great deal during his years on Voyager, whatever mistakes he‘d made along the way in that growing process. And it looked like he had begun to discard the blinders children often wear about their parents, to reject the black and white that youthful memories are often painted with, and to see his father as a whole person, with both faults and strengths.

"Well, enough of my childhood Christmas," Tom said firmly, looking a little uncomfortable, as if he‘d just realized how openly he‘d shared himself. "It‘s someone else‘s turn." He leaned forward and picked up the ceramic pitcher, helping himself to more eggnog. "Didn‘t you get into any Christmas scrapes, Harry?"

Harry shook his head. "You know better than that, Tom.

Don‘t you know I was the perfect child?"

"City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style, In the air there‘s a feeling of Christmas. Children laughing, people passing, sharing smile after smile, And on every street corner you‘ll hear.
Silver bells, Silver bells,

It‘s Christmas time in the city."
"San Francisco at Christmas." Janeway smiled. "I remember it well when I was at the Academy." Though the cadets usually attended the official Starfleet Christmas parties out of a sense of duty, the real action and entertainment from a youthful perspective was always in the city—at Union Square, or in Golden Gate Park, or down by the waterfront. She recalled her youthful moments there with fondness.

"So do I," Chakotay said. "It was far more interesting than the Academy Christmas party. Though if I had been at the Academy the same time as you, Harry, I‘m sure your presence in the Academy orchestra would have made all the difference."

B‘Elanna shook her head. "I never went to the Academy Christmas party. I did go down to Union Square once with several other cadets, just to see what it was all about."

"I went to Union Square, and to the Academy Christmas party," Tom said. He grinned nonchalantly. "Any place there was a party going on, I was there."

"It‘s a wonder you ever passed your classes, Tom," Harry said dryly.

"I was very good at that last minute cramming, Harry," Tom said, not untruthfully.

"The setting throughout the city was authentic to the apparent specifications of the holiday," Tuvok observed. "Ostentatiously decorated, and heavily commercialized."

"Exactly, Tuvok," Tom agreed.

"It sounds like my kind of place," Neelix said enthusiastically.

"Oh, it is, Neelix," Harry said, with a grin. "I grew up in San Francisco. When I was a child my parents used to take me downtown to the old district at Christmastime. We‘d see the decorated tree in Union Square, and look at all the holographic Christmas scenes in the Macy‘s windows..."

"Macy‘s?" Neelix asked.

"A department store that‘s been there for almost five hundred years, like everything in the old district. Some of it was destroyed in the 2052 earthquake before the geostabilizers were in place to protect the city, but it was rebuilt, and it looks just like it did back in the twentieth century." Harry smiled, obviously caught up in fond memory. "We usually started with Christmas Eve dinner at the Saint Francis hotel, then went on to Macy‘s and Union Square in time to catch the carolers and the City orchestra. Then we finally stopped in at John‘s Grill for a hot toddy, or in my case, a hot chocolate."

"Ah, the place where Dashiell Hammett used to hang out," Tom said.

"Dashiell Hammett?" the doctor asked.

"He wrote a twentieth century detective novel called ‚The Maltese Falcon,‘" Tom said. "You‘d love it, Doc. It‘s all about a hard-edged detective named Sam Spade, and an Irish beauty named Brigid O‘Shaughnessy..."

Tom gave B‘Elanna a speculative look and she rolled her eyes, clearly reading the light in his eyes as a sign of another brilliant holoprogram idea coming to life.

"The book and the bar were pretty popular in Academy circles," Chakotay recalled. "Though Sam Spade was a bit of an antihero, wouldn‘t you say, Tom?"

"The best kind," Tom replied, with a grin. "And he did have some redeeming qualities, including undeniable charm..."

"Charm?" Chakotay asked.

"In any case, it sounds like you had a very enjoyable Christmas eve with your parents, Harry," Janeway said, pulling the conversation away from any male bonding over hardboiled detective fiction. If she let them go, next they‘d be discussing the twenty-third century exploits of Ilya Romansky, Sleuth of the Galaxy.

Harry nodded. "We went to my grandmother‘s house for Christmas day, but I really loved those Christmas Eves with just me and my parents."

"And you never got into any trouble?" Tom asked in mock disappointment.

"Well, I do remember sneaking two desserts at the Saint Francis once," Harry said.

Tom stared at him, appalled. "No! Say it isn‘t so!"

"You engaged in activities of an illegal nature?" Seven asked. Janeway had a feeling the incredulous tone in Seven‘s voice was purposely exaggerated, and she gave the younger woman an appraising look.

Harry looked at Seven for a long moment, as if he was sensing the same thing. "It wasn‘t exactly illegal, Seven," he said dryly. Then he grinned. "Besides, I put it back."

"Of course you did," Tom said. He wiped his brow with deliberate exaggeration. "Whew. You really had me worried there for a minute, Harry."

Harry scowled good-naturedly. "Eat a cookie, Tom. Eat a bunch of them." He smirked. "Now that B‘Elanna bakes, maybe she‘ll take up sewing next. Then she can take out the waistline in your pants—oopmh."

B‘Elanna jabbed Harry none to delicately in the ribs.

Then she discreetly pushed the cookies away from Tom.

"Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, How lovely are thy branches.

Oh, Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, How lovely are they branches."


"Did you celebrate Christmas as a child, B‘Elanna?"

Neelix repeated.

B‘Elanna clearly hadn‘t anticipated Neelix‘s question, and she looked visibly uncomfortable. Janeway expected B‘Elanna to immediately deflect the conversation away from her past. And when Tom dropped a hand lightly on B‘Elanna‘s knee, she expected B‘Elanna to brush it off. But B‘Elanna did neither.

"Christmas was a big holiday on Kessik, the colony where I grew up," B‘Elanna admitted, a bit tersely. "Not quite as big as Ramadan, but a lot of the colonists celebrated it." She paused for a moment. "My father celebrated Christmas when I was a young child, though my mother didn‘t think it was much of a holiday. But once my father was gone we didn‘t celebrate any human holidays, only the Klingon Day of Honor." Her mouth twisted a little, though her expression was more rueful than bitter. Then she shrugged. "Just another way we were out of step with everyone else. End of story."

"You are half-human, B‘Elanna," Tom said softly. "Those Christmas traditions are as much a part of your heritage as the Klingon Day of Honor."

B‘Elanna looked at Tom and nodded. "I guess I just never think about it much, since it was all so long ago. I was five during the last Christmas my father was still around."

"Do you remember something from that Christmas, B‘Elanna?" Neelix asked, his expression so openly encouraging Janeway had to smile. B‘Elanna on the other hand gave Neelix a look of reluctant resignation. Apparently she couldn‘t fight both Tom and Neelix.

"Did you bake cookies?" Harry asked lightly, perhaps trying to pierce B‘Elanna‘s obvious tension.

"No," B‘Elanna said shortly, giving him a piercing look. She sighed. "I don‘t even remember that much. We had a tree with a lot of twinkling lights. I know I was enthralled by it, even if my mother thought it was just a fire hazard. My father liked to turn out the rest of the lights in the house and then he‘d lift me onto his lap, and we‘d just sit there and stare at the tree for the longest time." Her gaze was distant and unfocused for a moment. Then she smiled a little wistfully. "It was probably only a few minutes, but in my memory it seemed like we sat there for hours together."

B‘Elanna was silent for several moments, her expression faraway, and Tom‘s gaze was so intently focused on her that she must have felt it, because she finally turned and looked at him.
"My only dream when summer‘s here,

Is in the coldest time of year.
Oh, Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree How lovely are thy branches."

"Do you remember anything else, B‘Elanna?" Harry asked curiously, and almost gently.

B‘Elanna pulled her gaze from Tom‘s, and looked at Harry. "I also remember that my father took me out on Christmas Eve and showed me how to set out the luminarias."

The term sounded Spanish and Janeway seemed to recall that B‘Elanna‘s father was from Mexico, or maybe it was Spain...

"Luminarias?" Neelix asked.

"They‘re candles placed in paper bags in front of houses and along pathways on Christmas Eve," Tom answered. Apparently he and B‘Elanna had discussed her childhood Christmases before.

"It was a tradition in my father‘s family," B‘Elanna added. "My father said his family observed a lot of traditions, especially Catholic traditions, an old religion of Earth."

"Some of my mother‘s family is of Irish descent," Tom said, smiling at B‘Elanna. "They observed a lot of Catholic traditions too."

Janeway knew something of Catholic traditions herself, since a branch of her family was Irish.

"It appears you have some good memories of Christmas after all," Harry told B‘Elanna.

B‘Elanna shrugged. "I guess I‘ve never thought they were worth that much. I mean, my father left the next summer. How much could it have meant to him?"

B‘Elanna‘s tone was prosaic rather than angry, as if she‘d simply come to accept it. It was hard to argue that those moments with her father had meant anything to him, when he‘d later left without a backward glance. But trust Chakotay to see it differently.

"Do you think he was pretending at the time, B‘Elanna?"

B‘Elanna looked at Chakotay, momentarily nonplussed. He didn‘t give her time to answer.

"Whatever your father‘s faults, and whatever fears or weaknesses he gave into when he decided it was easier to walk away than fight to be with you, that doesn‘t change anything he did or felt for you while he was there." Chakotay smiled gently. "Those memories you have of him holding you in his lap while you looked at your Christmas tree, and of showing you how to set up luminarias, those are real, B‘Elanna. Don‘t sell them short."

B‘Elanna didn‘t say anything, but it was clear from her thoughtful expression that Chakotay‘s soft-spoken words had struck a cord. Tom didn‘t say anything either, but he flashed a grateful smile at Chakotay, and then smiled warmly at B‘Elanna. She returned his smile, slowly but genuinely.

"I‘m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow."

"A winter solstice celebration?" Neelix asked. He‘d warmed to his subject now, but Chakotay had diverted the question about his own childhood Christmases.

Chakotay nodded. "My family didn‘t really celebrate Christmas, though some families had a long history of mixing Indian traditions with other customs. There were some Christmas festivities in the community, but my grandfather wanted to keep our family traditions pure, so I never got any Christmas presents or went on the community sleigh ride, or any of that. But we did celebrate the winter solstice with a feast."

Neelix grinned. A feast was something with which he could obviously identify. "A good lively feast is fine way to celebrate a holiday."

"It wasn‘t exactly a party," Chakotay said. "It was basically a solemn occasion, a time for reflection on the cycle of nature, and the temporary death of winter that‘s followed by new life in the spring. My grandfather would take me into the forest several days before the solstice, even though it was often snowing at that time of year, and we camped and fasted for two days before we joined in the ritual hunt for the feast."

"You camped in the snow, and you fasted," Harry repeated, looking less than enthused at the idea.

B‘Elanna shook her head. "If it was in the summer, it wouldn‘t be so bad," she said, making it clear where her objection lay.

"That doesn‘t sound like a very fun holiday," Neelix said glumly. Fasting was a concept alien to Talaxians. Fasting might have ritual significance to the humans, Klingons and others who practiced it at times, but no Talaxian could see the sense in depriving the body of needed sustenance for any reason.

"I used see it that way myself," Chakotay said. "I thought that all the old solemn traditions my father and grandfather practiced were a waste of time. But as an adult I‘ve started to appreciate my childhood more, to value what I dismissed or discounted because of my own bitterness."

He looked at both Tom and B‘Elanna as he spoke, the two present who, like him, had been raised with certain expectations they had often rebelled against and yearned to be free of.

"In retrospect then, the experience was valuable, if solemn," Janeway said, a small smile on her face.

Chakotay smiled back. "Yes. The feast was solemn, but it was a story-telling feast. We sat for hours around the fire while the elders told the winter myths and ancestral stories." He shook his head. "I always considered the stories archaic, without any application to real life in the twenty-fourth century. At least I did when I was a teenager, and was obsessed with escaping from mundane colony life to experience what I considered the far more sophisticated ways of the larger galaxy. It was only after I was grown that I remembered when I was a very young child I was fascinated by the stories, and the sense of history and wisdom in them. I‘m not sure why I lost all that for awhile."

Chakotay turned and looked at Neelix. "That‘s not exactly a Christmas experience, Neelix, but that‘s as close as I got as a child."

Neelix nodded. "It was a good experience anyway, Commander," he said appreciatively. Then he looked at Janeway. "Captain—"

"Neelix," Janeway said, holding up her glass. "I think we need more eggnog."

Neelix jumped up immediately. "I actually have something else prepared, Captain." Though Tom had designed the holoprogram, Neelix had been placed in charge of the refreshments. He bounced off before anyone could say a word.

"Trying to avoid your turn, Captain?" Chakotay asked, as Neelix disappeared into the dining room area.

"Not at all," Janeway said. "My Christmases were pretty much of the standard variety, Chakotay," she said at his teasingly skeptical look. "Really." He‘d already heard about some of them after all.

Neelix returned a moment later carrying a tray with a new pitcher and cups. "Mulled cider," he announced as he approached.

Janeway raised her eyebrows. "My grandmother‘s recipe?"

Neelix beamed. "Yes, captain. I have it in my recipe database from last year."

"Along with all those colorful Christmas dishes of yours?" the doctor asked tentatively, as if he hoped those had been lost.

"Of course, Doctor," Neelix assured him as he began pouring the cider. "I know how much everyone enjoyed them last year. I wouldn‘t want to disappoint anyone this year."

There was a pregnant period of silence as Neelix continued passing out the cider.
"Silent night, holy night,

All is calm, all is bright..."


Seven started, and turned to meet Janeway‘s curious gaze. Neelix was holding out a cup of cider and Seven took it quickly from his hand.

"Is something wrong?"

Everyone‘s gaze was on her now, and Seven shook her head. "It was the music—" she stopped abruptly as if she regretted saying anything.

In the ensuing silence Janeway could hear the strains of "Silent Night" playing in the background.

"Silent Night?" Tom asked, obviously recognizing the tune also.

"I do not know its title," Seven said. "I was momentarily struck by its familiarity."

"Neelix most likely played it in the mess hall last year," the doctor commented. "I don‘t think he left any Christmas songs unplayed."

"I did retrieve the entire Christmas music selection from the main database," Neelix said proudly, not noticing the doctor‘s implied sarcasm.

"I did not hear this particular selection during any of my visits to the mess hall last year," Seven said firmly. "Nor the year before."

"Then when did you hear it?" Chakotay asked.

"Do you recall something about your childhood Christmases, Seven?" Janeway asked, guessing the most likely answer.

"I simply noted that this song sounds familiar," Seven said curtly, dismissively, without answering the question.

"I have observed that Christmas often produces lasting memories in human children," Tuvok said. "If your parents celebrated Christmas it is quite likely you do retain some memories of those periods when you were Annika. If they should surface, that would be no reason for alarm."

"I am not alarmed," Seven said shortly. Then, realizing that she had all but admitted she had indeed had such memories, she fixed Tuvok with a stony look. He raised an eyebrow. "It is simply of no consequence," she insisted coolly.

"It must have been of some consequence once if you remember it," B‘Elanna said.

"I hope they‘re good memories," Janeway said softly, a small smile of encouragement on her face, deliberately ignoring Seven‘s supercilious attitude. She knew Seven‘s cool disdain was no less a defense than B‘Elanna‘s belligerence, and Tom‘s irreverence.

"They are...incomplete memories, captain," Seven said finally, reluctantly. "Merely fragmentary moments."

"Round yon virgin, mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild..."

"What exactly do you remember, Seven?" Janeway asked, pressing her gently.

Seven frowned. Janeway glanced around at her senior staff, noting that everyone‘s gaze on Seven was encouraging but respectful. Even B‘Elanna‘s expression held no challenge; it was simply watchful, maybe even a little sympathetic. In some ways B‘Elanna ironically had the most in common with Seven and the lost aspects of her childhood.

Seven, who could be as stubborn as anyone present, and they were group with an uncommon degree of stubborness, nevertheless relented. "I simply recalled my mother‘s voice," she said. Then she reluctantly elaborated. "I believe when I was young, perhaps five or six, she...sang this song to me as I fell asleep."

"That‘s a nice memory to have, Seven," Tom said.

"My mother sang to me when I was little," Harry said, his lips curving into a reminiscent smile. "She had a beautiful voice, and perfect pitch."

"My mother lacked perfect pitch, and she often hit the wrong note," Seven said. "But it didn‘t seem to matter to her." She frowned a little. "Nor to me."

"Of course it didn‘t, Seven," Janeway said quietly. "No child cares what her mother sounds like when she is singing to her. It only matters that she sings."

"Perhaps," Seven agreed. "Children are not discerning."

"More aptly children are only motivated to discern one thing," Chakotay said. "Love." His lips quirked. "In some ways I‘d say our powers of discernment suffer as we grow up."

"An interesting conjecture, Commander," Seven said. She looked at B‘Elanna. "I find I envy you, Lieutenant Torres."

B‘Elanna stared at Seven, startled by Seven‘s abrupt statement, and probably at the idea that Seven actually envied something she had. Janeway had to hide a smile as B‘Elanna‘s fingers tightened fractionally on Tom‘s thigh.

"You may still see your father again one day, perhaps even reconcile with him." Seven said.

B‘Elanna gave Seven a look that indicated clearly how unlikely she found that scenario.

"However remote you consider the possibility," Seven insisted, "it is a possibility. My parents are..." she shook her head, not stating the obvious. That they were gone, assimilated. "In my case it is not even a possibility."

B‘Elanna frowned, then gave Seven a truly sympathetic look. "I‘m sorry about that, Seven."

"Sorrow is irrelevant," Seven replied. "And the events are in the past. They no longer matter."

"They do matter, Seven," Janeway said. She glanced at B‘Elanna. "Chakotay was right. Whatever love you received in the past, it was real then, and part of you. It‘s still part of you, and no less real now."

After several silent moments Seven spoke. "I will...consider that theory, captain," Seven said.

Janeway smiled.

"Sleigh bells ring, are you listening
In the lane snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We‘re happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland."

"What about your childhood Christmases, Captain?" Neelix asked, as he refilled the cups of cider. "You haven‘t shared anything yet."

"It‘s nothing too exciting, Neelix," Janeway said. "I spent my childhood Christmases in Indiana. Sometimes they were even white Christmases. Then my sister and I would build the season‘s first snowman in the front yard, and challenge the other neighborhood kids to a snowball war. I led one team and she led the other."

"And whose team won?" Harry asked slyly.

"Mine, every time," Janeway said with a deliberately smug smile. Then she sobered a little. "But the best Christmases were the ones when my father was able to come home, which wasn‘t often enough. He‘d take us to find a tree in the renewable area of the woods, and we‘d help him cut it down."

"So you have some good memories of Christmas, too," Neelix said, sounding pleased.

Janeway smiled. "Yes, Neelix. Those Indiana Christmases were one reason why I bought a house myself there later, even if I only got to go home on rare occasions between tours of duty. I was even willing to brave the long distance transporter lines at Starfleet Headquarters rather than settle on a place right in San Francisco, much as I love that city."

"Why have a home if you rarely get to go there, and you spend most of your life in space?" the doctor asked curiously.

"When you work in space you do end up having two homes in a way, doctor," Janeway said. "But that‘s not a bad thing. And I did get to go to my home in Indiana sometimes. I even spent a couple of Christmases there. The last one was a white Christmas." Even now she remembered it like it was yesterday, walking through the white-blanketed woods with Mark, while Bear scampered at their feet.

"Even when you work in space, Doctor, it‘s nice to have a home in one place to return to sometimes," Chakotay agreed. He looked briefly regretful, and Janeway knew that he‘d given up not only his Starfleet commission but also his home when he‘d followed his conscience and joined the Maquis. And now his home had been lost anyway.

"It is comforting to come back to the same place after a time, and to find all your things where you left them," Janeway said. "To see your family, and your friends, and..." she paused. And her dog. She hadn‘t thought of Bear lately, but she knew that her beloved dog would likely be gone by the time she got home. Remembering that likelihood always gave her a little pang.


Chakotay was looking at her, and Janeway realized some of her sudden melancholy must have shown on her face. It showed on several other faces too.

"I never thought of you as the homebody type, Captain," Harry said with forced cheerfulness, breaking the silence. No doubt he‘d been thinking of his own home in the Alpha quadrant, or of his parent‘s home.

"Well, I can‘t say I sat around knitting and...baking," Janeway said, giving B‘Elanna a conspiratorial smile. "But to curl up on my couch, with—" she determinedly dismissed her thoughts of Mark, "—a good book, in front of a roaring fire, and Bear next to me..." she paused as she received several sympathetic looks at the mention of Bear. "It‘s a nice thing to come home to, a pleasant way to rejuvenate in-between missions."

"Later on we‘ll conspire
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we‘ve made
Walking in a winter wonderland."

"I kind of like the idea," B‘Elanna said thoughtfully into the momentary silence, staring at the fire. "Especially if there was a fireplace."

"You, B‘Elanna?" Harry asked teasingly. "I thought you were only at home if there was an engine room nearby."

B‘Elanna shrugged. "That doesn‘t mean I would mind also having a place that is actually...mine."

Janeway knew that B‘Elanna had probably never had a permanent home after she‘d left Kessik, other than a brief period in a dorm at Starfleet Academy, and berths on various ships, until she joined the Maquis and then finally ended up on Voyager.

"It would be nice to have a place like this to go to sometimes, with a fireplace, and someone to share it with." B‘Elanna snuggled back almost unconsciously against Tom as she spoke those last words, though her gaze remained on the fire. Tom‘s gaze however was riveted on her, and his mouth dropped slightly open. Janeway had to assume that Tom, like B‘Elanna, hadn‘t had a real home for a long time, not since he‘d left Starfleet—until Voyager. But the idea of putting down those kind of permanent roots in the future clearly pleased him as much as it startled him, and his mouth curved into a slow smile.

"That‘s definitely an intriguing thought, B‘Elanna," Tom murmured softly.

Harry smile was unseen by his two dearest friends, and Janeway caught Chakotay‘s gaze and they shared a brief smile themselves. She‘d seen the changes in B‘Elanna and Tom recently, a sense of possession, both of self and of each other, which neither had worn completely comfortably before. It had given a new sense of stability to their relationship. Perhaps they were ready to consider the idea of a real future together stretching out before them, rather than not counting on anything from their relationship or from each other beyond the moment at hand.

The unexpected beep within the momentarily introspective atmosphere of the lodge startled almost everyone into glancing around, until they realized it was the holodeck commlink.

Janeway answered. "Captain Janeway here."

"Uh, Captain, Lieutenant Ayala here. I‘m looking for the doctor."

"He‘s right here—"

"What is it, Lieutenant?" The doctor asked brusquely.

"Doctor, there‘s been a bit of a ski accident in holodeck Two. Lieutenant Chapman took a spill and hurt his leg. I don‘t think it‘s broken, but I thought you should check it out."

The doctor sighed. "Meet me in sickbay in five minutes."

"Will do, doctor."

The doctor stood and shook his head as the link closed. "I thought I was safe since I had you under my direct surveillance tonight, Mister Paris," he said dryly, looking at Tom. "But it appears you are not the only one prone to repetitive injuries." He moved toward the hidden arch by the dining room.

"At least Lieutenant Chapman likes to injure his limbs rather than his head," Harry pointed out, smirking at Tom. Tom smirked back.

The doctor looked at Harry as the arch opened, and then at Tom. "Of course, I could send you to sickbay to deal with this, Mister Paris," he said with a contemplative look on his face. "You are fully qualified to treat Lieutenant Chapman‘s leg."

Tom looked alarmed, and B‘Elanna annoyed.

The doctor looked satisfied for a moment, and then he sighed heavily. "However, I am resigned to the sacrifices I must make as ship‘s doctor," he said in his longest suffering tone.

Janeway knew the doctor also wouldn‘t pull Tom away from the holoprogram he‘d created, even if the doctor wouldn‘t admit to such affectionate consideration for his reluctant yet surprisingly adept medical assistant. Tom must have realized it also. "Thanks, Doc."

The doctor nodded his acceptance of Tom‘s gratitude, managing to look magnanimous and persecuted at the same time. "Goodnight. Enjoy your party."

"It won‘t be the same without you, Doc," Chakotay assured him.

"Thank you for coming, Doctor," Janeway added.

"And don‘t forget to be in the mess hall tomorrow morning," Neelix said.

"As long as no one else manages to have a holodeck accident accident, Mister Neelix," the doctor commented dryly.

"I won‘t slide down the banister, Doc," Tom promised, grinning.

The doctor harrumphed and rolled his eyes before he stepped through the arch.

"I‘ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me,
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree."

"I guess you missed out on Christmas, Mr. Vulcan, since you‘re not even from Earth," Neelix said sadly, after the arch closed behind the doctor.

"I have had experience with Christmas, Neelix," Tuvok replied. "I attended the Academy, and in many areas of Starfleet where humans make up a substantial portion of the population, the onset of Earth‘s Holiday Season is always apparent. Including on Voyager."

Janeway smiled at Tuvok‘s pointed tone. "Haven‘t you developed a fondness for Christmas by now, Tuvok?" she asked him teasingly.

Tuvok speared her with his direct gaze. "As you know captain, it is not in my nature to develop a ‚fondness‘ for anything. Despite the excess celebration involved I do appreciate the meaning humans derive from the Christmas holiday. Peace is a meritorious objective, and the high valuation of home and family is equally laudable."

"Yes, it is," Neelix agreed wholeheartedly. "It must be hardest on those here who have left children home in the Alpha quadrant," he added, shaking his head. "In the letter from his family, Joe Carey‘s wife told him their children had bought him a Christmas present every year, and they are just waiting for him to get home to open them." He gave Tuvok a sympathetic look. "You must miss your family more too, Mister Tuvok."

Tuvok raised an eyebrow at the Neelix‘s words. "My degree of separation from my wife and children is not altered by the passage of particular dates such as holidays or birthdays, Mister Neelix. Such arbitrary reminders do not aggravate the sense of separation..." He paused, then added, "Nor do they alleviate it."

Janeway thought she heard graver than usual note in Tuvok‘s voice, but when she looked at him closely he simply raised an eyebrow. From the ensuing silence she didn‘t think she was the only one who‘d detected it.

"Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams,
I‘ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams."

"We‘re getting ever closer, Tuvok," Neelix finally said, his tone compassionate. "We‘ll be in the Alpha quadrant before you know it, and you‘ll see your wife and children."

"Your efforts at consolation are well-intentioned but unnecessary, Mister Neelix," Tuvok said simply.

Janeway wasn‘t so sure, but she‘d learned from long experience not to try and offer sympathy to a Vulcan, so she didn‘t say anything.

"And it may happen sooner than we think," Chakotay said. "And now that we‘ve had contact from the Alpha quadrant again, it seems more and more likely, doesn‘t it?"

It did. One reason for the cautiously higher than usual spirits this year. They still had a long way to go, but with a little more help and a little more luck, it could turn out to be short time indeed.

"In the meantime, we may get more letters from home," Harry said hopefully.

"We just may, Harry," Janeway agreed. Their brief unexpected contact three weeks earlier hadn‘t allowed any exchange of personal logs and letters, but the next time might be different. "We know Starfleet will keep trying. There‘s a good chance they‘ll reach us again."

"Or we‘ll reach them," B‘Elanna said confidently. She and Seven had both initiated projects on their own, hoping to recontact Starfleet.

Tom smiled at B‘Elanna, as if her effort was for him personally, and Janeway knew that it probably was in some part.

"In the meantime, you have a family right here, Tuvok,"

Tom said lightly

"The correlation is inaccurate, Mister Paris," Tuvok said.

"But the concept of ‚family‘ is a broad one, Tuvok," Janeway pointed out.

"That is true, Captain," Tuvok agreed, perhaps reluctantly.

"I didn‘t mean to imply that we could take the place of your wife and children, Tuvok," Tom said hastily.

"I did not infer that from your comment," Tuvok said. "You meant to imply that I have two families, if I were to apply the concept of ‚family‘ to the Voyager crew."

"I think in a sense we all have two families now," Janeway said. In reality some, like Neelix and Seven, and the doctor, considered the crew of Voyager their only family. And others had left behind family ties in the Alpha quadrant that were strained and less than cordial, and had gratefully accepted the Voyager crew as their primary family. Then there were those who had found a very significant other on Voyager...

"I used to not care much if we ever got back to the Alpha quadrant," Tom admitted. "For myself anyway, not for those who had family waiting anxiously for them," he amended. His mouth twisted a little, perhaps at the irony that he‘d doubted until recently that his family was one of those waiting anxiously for Voyager‘s return. "But now, even I‘m looking forward to seeing the old homestead again."

Janeway smiled at Tom‘s wording. She knew how much he‘d been affected by his father‘s words, much in the same way B‘Elanna had been affected by her reunion with her mother in Gre‘thor, surreal as that reunion had been. Both Tom and B‘Elanna seemed to have come to anticipate their homecomings now, to look cautiously forward to renewing and repairing old ties that perhaps weren‘t as severed as they‘d feared.

"The way things have been going for us, I do think we‘ll be home sooner rather than later," Harry said confidently.

"I must concur. Given our recent contact with the Alpha quadrant and the data specifications Starfleet provided, the general rise in efficiency achieved in the periodic upgrades to the warp core, the likelihood of additional boosts we might receive from alien technology based our averaged past gains from encounters with such alien technologies, and calculating in the outside possibility that one of the experimental propulsion projects under development might prove ultimately successful, our odds of reaching the Alpha quadrant sooner rather than later are...favorable."

Every eye was on Tuvok.

"That was a stunningly precise calculation, Tuvok," Chakotay said teasingly. "And you didn‘t even take a breath."

"It was quite imprecise, Commander, given the many unpredictable variables," Tuvok said, responding to Chakotay‘s comment seriously, though clearly aware of the first officer‘s humorous intent. "And a Vulcan can hold a breath for an average of six point eight minutes," he added for good measure.

"It might have been imprecise, Tuvok, but I like your plain old optimism," Tom said.

"It is not plain old optimism but a simple application of logic," Tuvok said. "And it is why I am content to be patient."

Tom shrugged and smiled. "Whatever you say, Tuvok."

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas Make the Yuletide bright From now on our troubles will be out of sight."

"It is 2307 hours," Seven announced as she stood. "I have several project files to update before I begin my regeneration." Surprisingly she said it almost reluctantly.

"And I have to go check on several items for tomorrow‘s feast," Neelix said, as he rose also.

Janeway hadn‘t realized that four hours had already passed. "Thank you for coming, Neelix, and Seven. We don‘t have the opportunity to sit around and relax very often, without having to worry about ship‘s business." She gave Seven a shrewd smile. "And relaxation can be regenerating in itself."

Seven nodded. "I found the experience..."

"Enjoyable?" Harry asked at Seven‘s brief pause.

Seven raised an eyebrow. "Diverting," she said, giving Harry an almost challenging look.

"It‘s not over yet, Seven," Neelix said. "Don‘t forget that Naomi will be in the mess hall tomorrow morning to open all her gifts."

"There are advantages to being the only child on the ship," Tom said, grinning.

There were indeed. Exchanging Christmas gifts was generally a personal matter on Voyager, conducted between friends in private quarters if they so desired. The dozens of gifts under the tree in the mess hall, some replicated, some picked up on recent shore leaves, were all for Naomi from virtually everyone on Voyager, all of whom Naomi had come to consider just one hundred and forty or so aunts and uncles.

"Did you find that gift you wanted for Naomi, Tom?"

Neelix asked curiously.

"Yep," Tom said.

"After searching the database for two weeks, and watching several dozen Christmas themed vids," B‘Elanna said pointedly.

"Another twentieth century ‚classic‘ vid, Tom?" Harry asked. "Like that last one about the grouch who stole Christmas?"

"It was the Grinch who stole Christmas, Harry," Tom corrected him. "This one I just found is a classic too. It‘s by one of the great cartoonists of the twentieth century. It‘s called ‚A Charlie Brown Christmas‘. I promise you Naomi will love it."

Janeway didn‘t doubt it. Tom had an unerring skill for ferreting out old stories and vids that became instant favorites with Naomi. "I‘m sure she will, Tom."

"It even has the B‘Elanna seal of approval, which is not an easy thing to get, mind you."

B‘Elanna gave Tom a narrow look and he just smiled innocently. She caught several curious gazes on her "It was..." she paused, then shrugged as if there wasn‘t any reason she couldn‘t admit it, "sweet." Her expression dared anyone to make any further comment.

"Then Naomi will love it," Neelix said happily. "And you‘ll both have to be in the mess hall at 0600 to watch Naomi open it."

"0600, Neelix?" B‘Elanna asked, groaning.

"Of course," Neelix replied, his brow furrowing if he was confused by B‘Elanna‘s protest. "Children always want to open their Christmas gifts the minute they wake up, don‘t they?"

"You might recall that it was 0530 last year," Chakotay reminded B‘Elanna. "Sam got a concession from Naomi this year to make it half an hour later."

"The hour is not inconvenient for me," Seven said. "I will be present."

B‘Elanna gave Seven a disgusted look, though it lacked any real ire.

"We‘ll all be there, Neelix," Harry said. "Just make sure there is plenty of coffee to go around."

"Plenty of coffee," Janeway reiterated, with emphasis on the word "plenty."

Neelix nodded enthusiastically. "Don‘t worry, captain. And in honor of the holiday I‘ve made a special Christmas blend."

No matter how many time she told Neelix "coffee, Colombian, black," he always jumped at any reason to do something to it. Janeway stifled a sigh. Hopefully her morning coffee wouldn‘t taste like a candy cane tomorrow.

Neelix looked at Tuvok. "And you will be there, Mr. Vulcan?"

"It is my regular hour to break my night‘s fast," Tuvok noted.

Neelix took that as a yes. "Excellent. And the Christmas dinner will commence at 1200 hours and be served all day, for the benefit of every shift. I have so much to prepare, I really do have to be going."

"Thank you again for coming, Neelix."

"Thank you for inviting me, captain," Neelix said. "I didn‘t have a Christmas experience to share, but I enjoyed be able to share all of yours."

His tone was so sincere as he glanced around the room that Janeway had to smile. "I think we all actually enjoyed sharing them, Neelix."

No one contradicted her, not even Seven, who looked particularly solemn for a moment as she nodded to Neelix.

Neelix nearly bounded out the arch. Tuvok and Harry elected to accompany Seven out, and after exchanging brief goodnights they followed closely behind Neelix.

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas, Make the Yuletide gay From now on our troubles will be miles away."

"Thank you again for arranging this setting, Tom," Janeway said as Tom and B‘Elanna stood to leave also. "I heartily approve of your choice."

"Thank you for asking me, captain," Tom said.

Janeway thought she heard just a bit of wistfulness in Tom‘s tone, as if he was really saying "thank you for trusting me." It had been a sometimes difficult road back for Tom and herself over the past year, personally even more than professionally.

"I really enjoyed working on it once I got started," Tom added. "It brought back some good memories."

"I know it did, Tom," she said softly. "And I‘m glad."

Tom smiled, then looked a little sheepish. "I was sure you‘d enjoy this place, captain, but to be truthful, I think maybe I chose this program as much for myself."

Janeway smiled at Tom‘s admission. She knew he‘d been spending a lot of time lately thinking of his family, and of his father. And she knew one of these days soon Tom and she needed to have a talk about Owen Paris, the long, open talk they‘d still never had, about the man who‘d had a profound influence on both of their lives. About the man Janeway knew, and the man Tom knew. Maybe they were finally ready for that. "I didn‘t mind at all, Tom," she said. "I enjoy hearing about your childhood and your family. I‘d like to hear more. And to tell you more about your father, as I know him."

Tom looked at her for a long moment, then nodded. "I‘d like that too, captain."

B‘Elanna had been standing silently next to Tom, and now she clasped his hand warmly in hers. He glanced down at her and she smiled up at him. Then he reached over and straightened her dress where one sleeve had slipped slightly, a natural but oddly intimate gesture. His fingers lingered on her bare shoulder for a moment longer than necessary, and Janeway wondered how long that dress would even stay on once they got to whichever quarters they intended to occupy tonight.

Tom and B‘Elanna turned and looked at Janeway at the same time, both a little discomfited when they saw her shrewd and slightly amused expression. Tom dropped his hand from B‘Elanna‘s shoulder. "I guess we‘ll be saying goodnight, Captain," Tom said.

"I guess you will," Janeway agreed with a small smile, and a barely perceptible wink. "See you at 0600."

"That means we‘ll have to cut our personal celebration short this evening," Tom said glibly. He grinned when B‘Elanna gave him an reproving look. "But we‘ll be there. See you both tomorrow."

"Goodnight, Chakotay," B‘Elanna said, looking toward the fireplace. Chakotay echoed her words, and as Tom and B‘Elanna walked out, Janeway looked at her first officer who had turned back to the fireplace. She felt mildly chagrined that she‘d almost forgotten he was still here.
"Here we are as in olden days,

Happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who are dear to us Gather near to us once more."

Chakotay stoked the fire that was slowly going out, then turned to Janeway. "Are you staying for awhile?"

"Maybe for a little while," Janeway said.

"Do you want some company?" Chakotay asked.

Janeway shook her head. More often than not she enjoyed Chakotay‘s company. He was a good friend, and an easy companion. But she was feeling a little...solitary all of a sudden. That didn‘t necessarily mean lonely, she told herself. "You should go get some sleep," she told Chakotay. "You‘ll want to be prepared for Neelix‘s feast tomorrow."

Chakotay returned Janeway‘s small, wry smile. "I‘m not sure there‘s any way to be truly prepared for a Neelix feast."

Janeway smiled a little wider. "Probably not, but I‘m sure we‘ll all survive. We have so far."

"We‘ve survived a lot together," Chakotay said softly.

They had at that. The whole crew, as well as she and Chakotay. "We‘re not the same people anymore," she said, not sure if she was referring to the crew, or to Chakotay and herself, or both. She added quickly, "This journey has changed us all."

"Yes, it has," Chakotay agreed. If he‘d interpreted any personal meaning in her words, he didn‘t allude to it. "Look at Tom. How different is he from when we started this journey? And B‘Elanna? Harry. Even Seven, though with her it is slow progress."

Janeway smiled at Chakotay‘s dry tone. "It‘s slow progress for all of us sometimes. We all take steps backwards. Seven will get there eventually."

"I‘m sure she will," Chakotay agreed.

Janeway looked at the cup in her hand. She‘d almost forgotten she was still holding it. It was still half full. "How about a toast," she said, raising her cup. "To this crew. To watching them all become the people they were meant to be. And to knowing that one day soon we will get them home." She paused, her smile a little crooked. "And even if they‘re not home yet, they are in a way, as much a home as we can make it."

Chakotay held her gaze for a moment, then raised his cup. "To the crew. To getting them home. And to the home we‘ve made here."

Janeway took a sip of her cider, and watched Chakotay take a drink of his. She glanced around the now empty room. Christmas music played low in the background, the tree lights sparkled, and the fire was low but it still crackled pleasantly. "Tom really outdid himself tonight."

"Something Tom is more than capable of, when he puts his mind to it," Chakotay observed quietly. He stared at the fire for a moment, then peered into his cup. His eyebrows rose. "I have enough left for one more toast."

Janeway‘s lips quirked. "Okay. What do we toast now?"

Chakotay held up his cup. "To Christmas. To the Christmas memories so many of the crew carry with them. To Christmas here and now on Voyager. And to future Christmases, whatever they may bring, and wherever we all may be."

Wherever we all may be. Janeway forced a smile and raised her glass slowly. "To Christmas—past, present, and future." She quickly downed the last of her cider, and looked at Chakotay. His gaze on her was scrutinizing.

"Are you sure you don‘t want me to stay?" he asked.

Janeway nodded, then realized that gesture was probably ambiguous. "No. I‘m fine," she said. When Chakotay continued to look at her, she reiterated softly, "Really. You don‘t have to worry about me."

Chakotay looked at her for several more moments, then set his empty cup on the table near the fire. "I will anyway," he said simply, softly. "Goodnight, Kathryn." He leaned forward, closing the several centimeter distance between them, and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Merry Christmas."

"Through the years we all will be together If the fates allow Hang a shining star upon the highest bough And have yourself a merry little Christmas now."

"To you too, Chakotay," Janeway murmured several moments later, after he‘d walked out through the arch.

Janeway set her own empty cup on the table and sat in the chair the doctor had been occupying near the fire. Maybe she should have asked Chakotay to stay. She knew he would have, willingly, as her friend.

She wasn‘t really lonely. She couldn‘t be lonely on Voyager, though maybe sometimes she did miss the kind of companionship that came with an intimate relationship. The kind of companionship she‘d had with Mark. And probably could have had with Chakotay.

She shook her head at that thought. It had been a real possibility once. She couldn‘t deny that to herself. But she had made choices, and so had Chakotay. The right choices. And, strangely, they‘d come to understand each other better in the process. They were friends now, nothing else. But that friendship was no small or lightly taken matter. She couldn‘t be exactly sure what the future held, or as Chakotay said, where any of them would be, next Christmas, or any of the Christmases to follow. Who could know that, after all? But she knew right now that she was content with the choices that had been made, and she thought Chakotay was too.

She did miss a few of the satisfactions of a more intimate relationship, a little. But the contentment and fulfillment she received from her position on Voyager, from being central to the lives of her crew, both as their captain, and in a more personal way as something of a surrogate mother, that more than made up for any of the sacrifices she‘d had to make in her own life.

Whatever occasional sentiment she felt for her old, and often easier life, it was easily borne. It wasn‘t that she wouldn‘t be glad to get back to Earth, to see her mother and sister, and her friends, and Bear, if her faithful dog was still there. She did miss them all. And she knew they missed her. But they didn‘t need her, not like her crew needed her. She wondered if the small ache she sometimes felt thinking of them would compare to what she might feel if she lost her crew.

It was ironic in many ways. She‘d worked so hard trying to get them all home, and was working still, putting in her best effort every day. She would never give up trying, for them. But sometimes, in the middle of the night, that thought crept into her mind. The thought of what would happen when they did get back to the Alpha quadrant, when her crew might choose to go their separate ways, and she might lose what she‘d come to see as her family now in as many or more ways than any family she‘d left on Earth.

Her thoughts drifted as she stared at the fire.
"Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace."
The majority of the crew had retired, after their second shifts, or after an evening spent gathered in friendly camaraderie in the observation lounges, or at an impromptu poker game in the mess hall, or at Michael Ayala‘s ski party, or in a few cases in more intimate settings behind the closed doors of private quarters. Now the ship was nearly silent, as third shift periods generally are, except for the occasional low murmur of conversation from those who were on duty, and the soft hum of the ship‘s systems that never shut down.

In cargo bay Two, Seven had begun her nightly regeneration. She stood at restful repose in her chamber, a position almost any other bipedal being would very uncomfortable. The doctor had informed her several months earlier that he could "wean" her from the chamber, except for brief periods weekly. He had told her that she might receive almost all the regeneration her mostly human body required through biological sleep, in which case she could be assigned her own quarters on the crew decks, rather than residing in cargo bay Two. She had pointed out that using the chamber reduced the time necessary to regenerate all her systems, cybernetic and biological. She‘d also noted that she had no need of furniture or other nonessential personal items, since she did not require comfort and did not form sentimental attachments. In the end she‘d agreed to consider the doctor‘s proposal in the near future. What she hadn‘t admitted to the doctor was that she remained stubborn about leaving the regeneration chamber because its very familiarity gave her the sense of comfort she disavowed needing, perhaps because she hadn‘t admitted it to herself.

Seven did listen to music on occasion as she entered her regeneration cycle, music of acknowledged aesthetic value, usually classical music from Earth or Vulcan, though she had experimented (without noting so to anyone, particularly Lieutenant Torres) with Klingon arias. Tonight though, she had requested a new selection of music as she‘d entered her chamber. Though the request itself made her uncomfortable, she assured herself it was simple curiosity rather than any sentimental motivation that prompted her request.

Now, as Seven hovered in her semi-conscious state of regeneration, the strains of "Silent Night" echoed softly, and repeatedly, within the cavernous walls of cargo bay Two.

"As long as you love me so,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

In quarters not far away from cargo bay Two (since nowhere on Voyager was very far away from anywhere else), on Deck Nine Section Twelve to name the locale within a certain hearing range, all was quiet also, thought it hadn‘t been a short time earlier. In the near darkness of the bedroom in question, a pile of clothing lay on the floor by the bed as it had fallen: a pair of black pants, a crumpled snowy white shirt, an emerald green dress, and a pair of white boxers with red and green Christmas boxes on them tangled with a red satin camisole and panties. On top, discarded last of all, were two slender velvet strings, one red and one green, with silver bells attached. On the bed, arms and legs entwined in the sheets and in each other, Tom and B‘Elanna had finished their own very satisfactory private celebration and were soundly asleep.

B‘Elanna had fallen asleep first, almost immediately after Tom had in his own way once again redeemed himself, this time for the selection of Christmas music he‘d chosen to accompany their private celebration. B‘Elanna hadn‘t objected to the "jingle bells" tune, or to the method Tom had come up with to ring the jingle bells that hung around their necks. Nor had she objected to "rocking around the Christmas tree," though there was no Christmas tree in her quarters, and their version of "rocking" was certainly not the original intent of the song. But the selection with the words "Merry Christmas, pretty baby...I hope you‘ve been a real good little baby, because Santa Claus is back in town" had elicited a typically outraged reaction from B‘Elanna. A reaction Tom had no doubt intended. He‘d atoned readily, and B‘Elanna had drifted into sated slumber after Tom had applied his apologetic ministrations with tender skill. She‘d considered his apology sincere enough, and dexterous enough that she‘d decided she would still surprise him in the morning with the narrow box wrapped in green paper that was stuffed under her bed, exactly where she‘d placed it two days earlier.

Tom had stayed awake only long enough to sneak into the bathroom and rummage behind a small stack of toiletries in the back of the cabinet that B‘Elanna had probably forgotten were even there. Once he‘d retrieved what he‘d sought, what he‘d hidden there a week earlier, he‘d quickly returned to the bed. He‘d set the small red box with its little gold bow on the edge of the bedside table, then he‘d slipped back between the sheets and wrapped himself around B‘Elanna, and he‘d fallen contentedly asleep mere minutes after her.

At that point the silence reigned complete on Deck Nine Section Twelve.
"I‘ll be home for Christmas,

If only in my dreams."
Tuvok was not yet asleep. He was practicing his nightly meditation, a method of relaxation that was nearly as regenerative to Vulcan physiology as sleep itself. He rarely required more than four hours of sleep at a time when combined with his nightly two hours of meditation. In his meditation alcove were the candles that signified the subjects of his meditations. Those representing the standard elements of Vulcan discipline were lit, as always. The candles reserved for individual matters of personal significance were also lit, as they had been every night that he‘d been in these quarters aboard Voyager. They represented his wife and children, his life back in the Alpha quadrant that was so far away from him now. All except one. That candle represented Voyager, and its crew, with whom he interacted every day. Making such an association with humans successful often required a great deal of reflection and deliberation on his part.

There was one final candle, the candle designated for transitory matters that required attention and resolution. He‘d lit it previously, at times such as the night Kes had transformed and departed to pursue her own destiny apart from Voyager, and the night after Tom and he had returned from the planet where they‘d been stranded in the gravity well, as well as on several other occasions. He lit it now, and placed it between the candles that represented his wife and children, and the candle that represented the crew on Voyager, forming a link of sorts. As his captain had said, the crew of Voyager was in many ways symbolic of a family now, a group interdependent on each other in almost every sense, a group of which he was part.

He began to reflect on that fact.

"Hang a shining star upon the highest bough, And have yourself a merry little Christmas now."

A soft metallic chime startled Janeway. She sat up straighter in the chair, and realized that she must have dozed off. She looked at the grandfather clock that stood near the stairway. It had chimed at every hour, but its soft deep sound had gone almost unnoticed in the midst of the companionable conversation. She listened as it finished chiming out twelve times. It was midnight.

It was Christmas.

Janeway stood and stretched a little. She looked again around the large, comfortable room. It was warm and bright and cheerful, yet its very emptiness made it feel oddly bereft. It was a room that was meant to be filled with people. With family—whether it was an extended family encompassing aunts, uncles, and cousins, or the kind of family that was forged by the bonds of friendship and mutual support.

Janeway knew she could find a way to assuage her personal loneliness. As for a way to replace her family on Voyager, should she lose them one day, for that she had no answer, and a part of her didn‘t want to face it. In fact she deliberately dismissed the thought. Voyager had brought together a disparate group of people, all looking for different things, who had each to their own surprise found something of lasting importance here. What would come in the future, would come. But even if things didn‘t stay the same, and certainly nothing stayed the same, Voyager was part of her now. It was a part of all of them and always would be. And right now they all had each other. At this moment, for all of them, for her, Voyager was home.

Janeway walked toward the arch that was set to automatically open, which it did as it sensed her approach. She glanced back at the room once more and smiled. Maybe she would ask Tom to recreate it next Christmas, if they were all still on Voyager.

Then she stepped through the arch, back to Voyager, to Christmas.

The End